Friday, 18 May 2018

=]|[= GW's Inquisitor as inspiration =]|[=

In which I talk about the best thing Games Workshop ever made, how it was totally underappreciated, and how to apply some of its ideas to oldschool RPGs.

When I was a kid, I was into Warhammer, which was cool, with its big armies of goblins and skeletons and stuff. However, right about the time I was 12, Games Workshop released Inquisitor. 
And Inquisitor, as a game (and particularly for GW) was weird.
To start with, rather than the big armies GW was known for, it was a tiny skirmish (smaller even than something like Mordheim or Necromunda), with 2-5 54mm figures on a side. These figures were unique; you didn't get a generic soldier or anything. Instead, the book gave you a bunch of setting details and then told you to come up with something cool for your characters and stat them yourself, with only a few guidelines on how to do that. And then to convert your own figures; using the miniatures out-of-the-box was rather looked down on.
The basic expectation of play was that you had a GM, and one or more players with their little warband of an imperial inquisitor and his followers, and you'd play through a custom narrative scenario to see what would happen. The game's text was pretty explicit that the point was not to win but to create a cool story from the game. You had characters doing things like disarming bombs, trying to get all the parts to summon a demon... hell White Dwarf literally published a battle report that was mostly both sides talking like adults (well, until an angry third party showed up with a chainsaw).
Oh, and the rules had a bunch of cool stuff with things like realistic injuries, psychological stats, dangerous psychics and so on. But they're less important here.
It's an interesting approach. Don't bother balancing things or trying to make character creation 'fair', just trust the players not to be dickheads and to pick interesting things rather than game-breaking things. Knowing GW's standard model (points allowances and competitive games), their playerbase didn't really know what to make of it. It got a cult following, but GW stopped supporting it after about half a decade.

I really liked it. I'd been into wargaming for a few years already. Inquisitor came into my life at about the same time D&D 3rd edition did, and I'd not really encountered RPGs before then. However, while 3rd kinda turned me off with the vast amounts of prescriptive mechanics and requirements and prerequisites getting in the way of the fun stuff... Inquisitor captured my imagination. Here's the setting. Make something cool. We trust you not to be a dick about it.

What if we took that approach to RPGs? I've read a bunch of games, ranging from the avowedly old-school (I blog about OSR stuff mostly), to the weighty tomes of Vamp and its ilk, to the weird experimental art games like The Mountain Witch and Monsterhearts and so on.
All of them - all of them - have mechanics for character creation. Even in the 'pass the talking stick' story-focussed hippy games, all of the ones I've played require you to fit your character concept into the mechanical constraints of the character gen procedure.
What if this wasn't the case?

Here's how you work it. I will be using OSR games for my examples here, but you can apply it just as well to other games, too.

Character gen works like this:
  • You come up with a character concept.
  • You read the rulebook, look at what a starting PC might have, what they get as they level up, etc. What different monsters get. How it all fits together.
  • You then choose all of your stats. Set your six attributes, Hit-dice, saves, class abilities to what you think is appropriate. No restrictions. Think your barbarian princess should have charisma and strength both at 18? Fucking go for it. Want to have a wizard with a spellbook who casts mostly cleric spells? Go for it. Want Turn Undead and Thief skills on your vampire-slayer? Go for it. 
  • So long as your character is mechanically viable (IE you've not forgotten to give her, like, hit-points or something), you can write that. It doesn't need to obey the rules of normal chargen. Give them what matches your concept, just like the GM does when designing a monster or NPC. Hell, make up abilities if there's nothing in the rules modeling what you want already.

You do all of this alongside your other players and the GM, you bounce ideas off each other and check in to make sure nobody's PC is vastly stronger/weaker than anybody else's. I'd say level 2-5 is probably your sweet spot for power. Don't worry too much about balance though. 
Make characters with strengths and weaknesses and exploitable flaws and potential. Give them an interesting playstyle. Be the amateur game designer you always wanted to be.

So, how is this balanced? There are three things to bear in mind here:
1) you are not trying to win, you're trying to create an interesting character.
2) nobody has to play with you if you're a powergaming dick.
3) if you are being a powergaming dick, then the GM (and to a lesser extent the other players) need to solve that as a social thing by talking about expections like fucking adults.
Like, obviously this is a thing you do if you're all on the same page. If you are playing with somebody who will willfully go against the social contract of the game so they get to feel they 'win' a non-competitive venture, that person is an asshole. Why are you playing with them?

So that's character gen. Now, in play things work basically the same. Follow the normal procedures and methods that you normally would, with a few exceptions.
Find a fun Death & Dismemberment/Critical Wound/Injury table, or something. I put a fun one in WP&WS, I'm putting another fun one in Esoteric Enterprises. WHFRP and the 40kRPGs have some pretty great ones too. Hack the game so that taking damage (or taking enough) damage inflicts a relevant wound on you. Off the top of my head 'any damage roll that does more than [the max on your Hit Die] also inflicts a Wound on you' works.
You do not earn XP. You only advance by Doing Tangible Stuff in game. In D&D, the fighter finds a magic sword, the wizard loots a spellbook, the cleric makes dark pacts with horrible inhuman things they encounter for more spells (if your cleric isn't a boggle-eyed cultist loony worshipping something creepy, it is boring and I will judge you). Maybe you drink from a magic fountain for +1 wisdom. Maybe you eat the heart of a dragon and it grants you DRAGON BLOOD (whatever that does). In vampire the masquerade, there is already a wonderful mechanic for this called Diablarie; playing a sabbat pack who's only mechanical advancement is by diablerizing their enemies would be cool as fuck.
Basically, events in world can make your character weaker or stronger based on what happens to them, but it's in response to specific events; there isn't the expectation that you'll gain levels.
(I have, incidentally, played in a 6-year-long Larp that used that method of character advancement: the only way to get stronger than the standard mortal you started out as was by getting blessed by the gods or doing magic experiments on yourself or being turned into a monster. No XP. No expectation of advancement except for what you did in world. It worked brilliantly).

So, why play this way? A few reasons:
  • I fucking HATE character gen minigames. Like I've gotten really good at bending the oWoD character gen to let me make a specific concept, but fuck it. Let's just write up the stats for what we want to play as, this isn't a fucking competitive venture and even if it was the balance provided by character gen rules is always laughably terrible. 
  • Getting Cool Stuff feels more special. When you're on the mechanical treadmill of constantly gaining XP and new NUMBERS or ABILITIES it looses its luster fast. Sometimes, having to earn improvements feels that much more satisfying. (This feels to me like you have a 'automatic vs earned advancement' scale with XP-for-showing-up-to-the-session at one end, and XP-for-Gold like OSR stuff uses towards the other. And then this is even further on the 'earn your shit' end than XP-for-gold even).
  • You get to just play what you want without needing to give a shit about 'but to get more NUMBERS I need this' which an XP system looms over you. So there's an immersion benefit.
  • The design space for this is TOTALLY UNEXPLORED. Like, maybe one of the pass-the-talking-stick games does this, but playing something fairly traditional like D&D or WoD this way? I've never seen it written about.
  • Honestly, GW went out on a limb with Inquisitor and did something weird and arty and experimental. Let me reiterate that. Games-fucking-money-grubbing-Workshop went out on a limb to do something weird and experimental. And the ideas in it never really went anywhere because there's a prevailing consensus that of course RPGs have restrictions on character gen and advancement and you can't trust PCs not to be munchkins you have to constrain them for their own good and FUCK THAT Inquisitor deserved to be way more influential and critically recognised than it was.
And, yeah. I've never actually played this. It's just a thought experiment that I might institute when I next run a game or I might not (because fiddling with what gives XP as a way to shape PC personalities is a favourite mechanic of mine). Let me know what you think.

Also some of the art for Inquisitor was fucking badass. Look at this shit.

Fuck I loved this game an unreasonable amount.

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Esoteric Enterprises visual stuff

In which I talk in a vague sort of way about making my next book look pretty.

One of the early decisions I made was to try to give the book a fairly distinct color palette. Specifically, a sort of grungy high-saturation-low-contrast green and purple. Like the tint to old photos. It's a palette that I always associated with marijuana (from the purplish lights shining on green leaves when its grown), which seems appropriate, and it pops up in the colouration for a decent amount of stoner metal albu covers. The coloration is fairly distinct, I think. Most RPGs go for black & white (if they're going for a gothic look, or a strong inked style), or a sort of faded sepia parchment tone (to look like old books), or blues and greys (all modern and scifi). Its a bit psychadelic and odd.

Here's an example of the palette that I'm using for chapter headings. Similar images are used for the section markers going down the side of the page, for the page numbers and so on, all using the same textures.

This also gives a good example of the sort of grungy texture I want: the edges look ripped and ragged rather than being smooth straight lines.

The art I'm using is all photographs (all creative commons, because I'm poor). For a modern setting with the conceit that it's the real world with hidden magic, I think this works. The images give things a more immediate feel, which then feels a little more surreal due to the purple-green filter applied over the top.  It should help make things feel like the real world gone strange, rather than a fantasy world. Here's some photos.

Other than that, I'm going for a fairly simple look. Black text, white backgrounds. Two-columns, no page border. Tables are white text on black backgrounds, mirroring the white text on dark backgrounds in the tittle bars. Fairly minimal.
I'm putting a bar on the side of the page that gives you which section you're in, so when you flick through the pages it's easy to find where you are. Trying to be careful to keep most sections of information on a single two-page spread where possible, to avoid page-turns in the middle of reading.
It ends up looking like this:
Which I'm OK with. It's not particularly flashy or exciting like some of the work out there. But then, I'm working with free software and public-domain photos, so it will do. I figure that so long as I don't look totally zero budget I'm good (I mean, I am going with £0.00 budget here, but there's no need to advertise that).

Some other thoughts, in no particular order:
  • Black Metal gigs are a great source of images of vaguelly occulty looking weirdos. All you need to do is 'shop out the musical accoutremants, and you're good.
  • It's really hard to find interesting public domain photos that aren't of regular-looking white dudes. 
  • There's a wonderful variety of photos of sewers, tunnels and other underground spaces out there. Urban Exploration looks far more popular than I'd expected, and some of the weird eerie photos they've produced have been a big influence.
  • Most photos of 'monsters' and so on are either zombie walks or of people dressed as the Krampus and similar folklore-ey figures.
  • Public domain pictures of people waving guns around are surprisingly rare.
  • There's far less gore and nastiness out there than I'd hoped for. Which sucks for me doing layout, but is probably comforting if I look at the big picture.

Saturday, 5 May 2018

Orcs, Violence, and Evil

Another rambling blogpost about my thoughts.

I was reading a discussion about Keep on the Borderlands, and in it people were complaining about how the orc (and goblin and so on) tribes in the caves have children and noncombatants that, after all the orc warriors have been slaughtered, the PCs will have to decide what to do with.
I like that. It drives home that the orcs are people (dangerous, fucked up people, but still...) and that the world is one where you can't just solve everything with violence.
Apparently, being presented with orc children, and deciding whether to slaughter them, leave them to die, drag them back to civilization... coupled with the realization that the PCs have invaded these creature's homes and killed everybody. It left a bad taste in people's mouths, apparently.

So. Why does this happen? Because the game presents orcs as having two qualities:

  • They are people, with language, culture (however crude), families (however disfunctional), homes, babies...
  • They are all evil, and must be removed, probably through violence.
Combined, these qualities produce results that can seem troubling. Tolkein struggled with making orcs Always Evil, and never arrived at a solution he was happy with. Gygax made many smart game design choices, but went a little mental here when he basically declared that, yes, in D&D you morally ought to exterminate the orc babies (helpfully clarifying that, after all, 'nits make lice').

D&D handles morality in what is the most stupid way I've encountered in any setting: good and evil are objective forces in the world (like fire and entropy) and alignment means serving one of these. And, for all the PHB talks about good PCs doing mercy and selfishness, in actual play mostly alignment is used to designate which monsters you're meant to kill. Now your PCs are genocidally righteous crusaders for an abstract cosmic principle. It's fucking daft.
(I'm VtM player. I like paths and roads. I like moral greyness and subjectivity in my characters).

This post, then, is about how I handle these things in D&D style games.

Firstly, alignment. 

Fuck alignment, it was always a stupid idea.The 3x3 grid of good vs evil and law vs chaos is a rubbish way to classify PC personalities, and repeatedly results in shitty play experiences as the GM and the player argue about whether the player is roleplaying their character right, which inevitably devolves into two people disagreeing about the fundamental principles morality is built on. The D&D books are fucking useless at resolving this since, fundamentally, alignment is either there to tell you that you should kill those orcs or else just a vestigal leftover from previous editions.
Perhaps you want alignment in your games, though? Who am I to judge, people watch the Marvel films so there's no accounting for taste. For starters, ditch the addition of good vs evil. It was a later addition anyway, and it messes things up. Make alignment about law vs chaos, with both being cosmic principles rather than moral judgements. Even better, go full LotFP and have law mean 'the divine plan', neutral be 'the shitty imperfect material world' and chaos be 'unnatural influences'. Have extremes of law and chaos be alien and incomprehensible. Have sensible humans all be neutral.

I actually, now I think about it, like how LotFP does alignment. It works with the setting LotFP wants to depict, and avoids stupid arguments about utilitarianism or whatever.
So there you go. Alignment should not about morality; if you want to roleplay 'a good person' then you can totally do that, without having to wrangle game mechanics to do so.

Second point: Who are the PCs?
PCs should not be heroic. PCs should not be noble and good and all of that. Or at least, they shouldn't default to that (a noble or altruistic PC would be an interesting quirk, not the expected standard).  PCs are amoral (or morally dubious) treasure hunters. They're tomb-robbers and mercenaries and weirdos. 
I tend to think of adventurers as being roughly the fantasy equivalent to members of street-level drug gangs in the real world. When you've come from a shitty background with few prospects, and want to get rich or famous or badass, and normal society gives you few options for that... you become a gangster/adventurer. Its really fucking dangerous, and kind of frowned on, and there's no formal recognition. Its you and your buddies trying to make a big score. You probably die young, law enforcement probably has it in for you. You are the desperate fringe elements willing to risk it all dong grubby unpleasant dangerous stuff in the hopes of getting rich.
(how do clerics fit into this? I tend to run clerics as being cultists, mystics, prophets... religious nutters tapped into alien cosmic forces. Dregs. Not members of an established catholic-style church, as those priests have theology to debate and flocks to minister to and are far too busy with that to go tomb-robbing).
Why have this as the default PC, rather than a more heroic archetype?
Firstly, by making PCs amoral you increase their agency in the world. You no longer have the 'no, you're good, you ought to take this plot hook or you're RPing badly' issue. An amoral character can act altruistically if they want to,  if the whim takes them. A heroic party is expected to act heroic.
And being heroic inevitably leads to quests to save the world with only one outcome (the world is saved and goodness prevails... or I guess the campaign ends?) where you just follow the quest to its end result. Those stories in those genres bore me. Further down the page I will start frothing at the mouth and ranting about why.
Secondly, it totally fucks up the synergy between game mechanics and character motivation. You're PC wants to get rich quick; so they go into a dungeon to get treasure. You want to get XP so you can level your PC up, XP is rewarded for treasure, so you go into a dungeon to get treasure. They line up. If a heroic PC wants to do heroic things, but the player wants treasure to level up... you get a disconnect and the game is worse for it as you struggle to justify doing what the system incentivizes. (you could remove xp-for-treasure but that probably leads to either XP-for-killing shit, and so games that are nothing but constant slaughter, or XP-for-merely-showing-up, which is unbelievably shitty and pointless).

So, then. The problem of evil.
I, as a person in the real world, think that murdering people is wrong. Sometimes it's arguably necessary for a greater good, but killing a person is still a bad thing. I am, for most definitions, a fairly enthusiastic pacifist in the real world.
I find the idea of whole races of people (orcs, goblins, dark elves etc) being presented as 'evil and so you should kill them' bothers me. It's easy to make this about racism, but to me it's less that and more about the normalization of killing.
Violence in games (and wider media) is a topic I have strong complex feelings about. I don't think that it makes you kill people IRL or anything. But, I look at a video-game protagonist gunning down hordes of enemies, and I find it hard to support that character; they're committing mass slaughter. I don't like it.
Making broad catagories of goons that it's OK to kill doesn't really help that. Orcs, stormtroopers (guess whether I mean the german ones or the ones from starwars), and so on are still people, even if the media in question tries to dehumanize them so that killing them feels less murdery.
It's not even the violence itself (I like playing villains: my PCs at the moment include a tzimisce koldun who commits casual attrocities to keep people too frightened of her to cause problems, and a weird death-cultist necromancer who firmly believes that most problems can be solved by killing people until the reincarnate into a more compliant personality. Note that both of these people are, by their own moralities, behaving morally, they're just a bit fucked up. And, you know, see my comments above about D&D PCs being amoral thugs). But when a work expects me to treat constant unrelenting murder as laudable, I just lose my ability to treat the protagonist as the good guy. 

This seeps into how I run my games. I don't like presenting scenarios where the correct course of action is to run around killing people. (you'll notice how in Wolfpacks & Winter Snow, I set it up so you get XP for hunting and killing animals, but never for killing humans/people). So, monsters tend to manifest themselves in a few forms. Mindless zombies, dangerously territorial or predatory animals, and so on... fighting them isn't an issue. They're not people. (if you want to be an angry vegan at me about this... fuck off. You're welcome to lump wolves in with orcs and treat them like I treat orcs down below).

Orcs and so on are treated as 'just people'. They're dangerous, sure. They're your enemies, sure. Their culture might be cruel or fanatical or aggressive, sure. But they are, fundamentally, people. They bleed and scream when you stab them. They have families and friends. They want to avoid dying.
In my games, you can totally negotiate with orcs. It's hard, sure. Orcs are dickheads. But you can do it. Hell, it's probably smart to negotiate with them rather than fighting; they tend to be just as smart as you are, and fighting smart enemies means that I the GM will fuck you up with every dirty tactic they might be capable of. Traps, hostages, ambushes, formation-fighting, psychological warfare... And then they'll flee or surrender if obviously beaten. They'll hold grudges. Their buddies will want to avenge them.
Violence against people gets messy, because they're people.
However, they aren't intrinsically evil, any more than the Romans invading Gaul were intrinsically evil to the gauls. They're just your enemies. They're just dickheads.
Those orc babies in KotB? They're great. They drive this point home.
LotFP's referee book, now I remember, explicitely says that you might as well just use humans instead of humanoid monsters. I like that, too. 

The other catagory is supernatural, alien stuff. Demons? Well, they're just too weird and fucked up. You can't reason with a demon, it wants you to suffer in the same way you want to keep breathing. They're just evil. They're wrong. They shouldn't exist. Kill them, burn them, purge them with fire.
But they're also not people, not properly. A demon can't reason like a person; it wants to cause suffering and that's all it ever will - indeed ever can - want. It's a fragment of a personality, single-minded and almost robotic (though potentially very intelligent). It exists to cause suffering.
This doesn't only apply to demons. A fire elemental only wants to burn things. That includes you, or your house, or your family. It can't really be reasoned with, it's a force of nature, not a person. Or, in Ynn, the Idea of Thorns. It's a virus that just wants to infect more and more minds. It's not a real person. Alien, dangerous. Not really sentient.
Fighting these things is like fighting a forest fire or a plague.

Interlude while I talk about Absolute Evil.

I hate - fucking hate with a deep-seated loathing - fiction which is about a battle to defeat an absolute evil. And it's so rooted in pop culture these days. Indeed, in culture in general these days. The sith are just evil and you need to defeat them. So are the combine in halo, Chaos in 40k, so are whatever the avengers are fighting today. Ultimate evil means you can do - must do - whatever it takes to defeat it. If you need to compromise your principles (batman hacking everybody's phones to find the joker or whoever), do it. If there's colateral damage where you Fight The Evil, well... you had to to fight the evil. If you need to sacrifice some buildings or some principles or some civilian lives to win, that's justified and it will always be justified because absolute evil provides absolute justification.
Here's what a city looks like after the avengers save it (new york, I think?):
Here's what winning ww2 looked like. (Hiroshima, iirc)
Ruined buildings, dead civilians. Horrific damage. But it was justified, right? They had to do it to stop the axis powers. That makes it OK, right? They were Evil. Right?

But that's where we are as a culture, still. Our enemies aren't merely our enemies, who want things we don't. They're the Evil Other.
Us vs them, good vs evil. Don't negotiate with terrorists. Punch nazis. SJWs and/or the alt-right are ruining pop-culture so we dox the shit out of them. If you don't like what's on TV its Fake News, but it's OK to distort things as much as you need in order to win the propaganda wars. It's justified because they're the baddies and we have to win.
Fuck it.
Fuck everything about it.
Pop-culture reflects and influences how we see the world as a society. Right now, we seem to love apocalyptic struggles of good vs evil. And, right now, if you're online, like... ever... you will see the Internet Culture Wars raging. Brexit and trump and all of that. Our politics seem to have no room for compromise or cooperation, just a constant struggle to pull control to your side, and if you must sacrifice ethics to do it, you sacrifice ethics. I'm pretty left wing, but the state of left-wing discourse online is so virulently hostile, poisonous and thought-policey that I'm sick of it. And then the other side is... baffling to me in how openly horrible they are.

Ahem. Games about orcs and treasure. Let's make this relevant to tabletop gaming.
(can you tell I've not slept in 18 hours?)

I love vampire the masquerade because it makes it clear that there is no good side. The camarilla are hypocrites and ruthlessly authoritarian, the sabbat claim to be saving the world but spend a hell of a lot of time doing masacres and not much tracking down antediluvians, the indie clans are mostly serving ancient blood-gods who have no good intentions, and the anarchs are short sighted idiots who will ruin everything for everybody. Nobody is in the right, everything is messy. Talk and maneuver because you can't afford to go in guns blazing.

A big strength of oldschool games, to me, is their amorality and the freedom that grants for characterization and decision making. Trying to add mechanical, world-imposed morality to the game weakens that. Trying to present enemies as intrinsically evil weakens that.
Enemies that are just there to fight and be die and give XP are boring, and they're thematically shallow. 'It's a monster, I guess we fight it' will never be as engaging an experience as 'OK, what's up with these guys? should we fight them?'.
In an OSR game I'm able to just explore cool dungeons and get treasure. Why fuck that up?

And, most importantly, fuck the fucking marvel films.

Wednesday, 25 April 2018

The Gardens of Ynn is now Ynn Print!

Exactly what it says on the tin: my book is not available in paperback, for a mere 18 bucks. Here it is.

Honestly, Ynn's reception has been brilliant. People seem keen about it and stuff. Now it's in print, and I can watch this weird little project of mine scurry off into the sunset without me. Hopefully there will be more on the same vein from me.
So what next? Currently, I've got a few projects on the go:

  • Little PDFs for two classes: The Dancer of the Black Labyrinth, a cleric-variant that's all about reincarnation; and the Conjurer, an MU variant that uses freeform magic instead of spells (based off this blog post). 
  • Into The West: a hexcrawl adventure with mysterious islands, styled after The Voyage Of The Dawn Treader. It's still early days, but bits and pieces are coming together.
  • And lastly, Esoteric Enterprises: a modern-day occult-punk OSR system, inspired by a mixture of LotFP, and WoD. The player's book is mostly written up at this point, but the ref's book (which is likely to have a lot of content and tools) is only about 20% done. This is a fairly hefty project that I've been working on for quite a while, and won't be done for quite a while yet. I might post up bits and bobs that are close to their final forms, though.
Back in the real world, I'm running Ynn and Wraith: the Oblivion, and playing in Dark Ages Vampire and a psychic in a mixed WoD game. I'll be larping a bunch over the summer, so I might post up my thoughts on that as they relate to tabletop stuff. And, yeah. That's roughly where I am currently. 

Friday, 13 April 2018

Rose-Maiden Virtuosos, A Class

So, I'm running a game in Ynn for a couple of players, and among other things they've made friends with a rose-maiden whom they treated after finding her injured. They call her rosebud, her true name is unpronouncable if you have human mouths rather than stamens and petals.
I think that I'd let them take over playing her as a PC when one of them dies. And, for that end, they need a class for rose-maidens.
Now, as written, the rose-girls can only cast if they're in a choir; multiple rose-girls need to sing at once to create the harmonies for the magic to work. That's not ideal for PCs, so I'm making a class for the rare virtuosos who have learned to produce multiple distinct notes at once, mongolian-throat-singing-style.

So, the Rose-Maiden Virtuoso.

  • Hit dice is a d4, as for the MU.
  • Saves are as the MU.
  • XP is as the MU.
  • Rolls to-hit are as the MU.
  • AC is as leather. The Rose-maiden may not wear armour; it interferes with her photosynthesis and its hard to find armour that will fit a walking flower.
  • The Rose-maiden may not use weapons. Her thorny branches can't grasp weapons firmly enough for use in combat.
  • The Rose-maiden gets two attacks with her thorny fists, each dealing damage like a dagger.
  • The Rose-maiden does not start out with any equipment, but may be able to use it if she aquires it. Magic rings will fit on her branches, but magic cloaks just get shredded by her thorns. Use your common sense.
The Rose-maiden is both a plant, and a person. Effects that target plants effect her just as well as those that target people.

The Rose-maiden can perform magic by singing. The abilities she has available to her are:
  • Walk Through Plants (allowing her to move through any plants as if immaterial)
  • Grow Plant (causing a plant to grow rapidly, at a rate of rounds or turns rather than days or months, in the shape the Rose-maiden wishes)
  • Talk With Plants (allowing her to speak to and understand plants)
  • Move Plants (allowing her to make a plant move for a single round, as if animated).
  • Charm Plants (causing a plant to consider her a friend if successful)
These work like a thief/rogue/specialist's abilities. The rose maiden sings for a round, and there is a chance that the ability will take effect.
In b/x and similar games where % chances are used for thief skills; Walk Through Plants uses the chance to Pick Locks, Grow Plants uses the chance to Move Silently, Talk With Plants uses the chance to Climb Sheer Surfaces, Move Plants uses the chance to Hide In Shadows, and Charm Plants uses the chance to Find Traps.
In LotFP and similar games where skills are x-in-6, each of these skills starts with 0-in-6 chance to succeed. The Rose-Maiden has 5 'skill points' to put into them at 1st level, and then 2 more for each level she gains thereafter.
Remember, the Rose-Maiden is a plant. It is very possible to use these abilities on a Rose-maiden. Possibly even the rose-maiden herself.
When multiple rose-maidens sing at the same time, combine their chance of success (so two level 1 rose maidens each with a 17% to Walk Through Plants, can sing together and have a 34% chance to do so).

When she doesn't cast spells, the Rose-maiden can produce a droning song that distracts those listening, which works in addition to making an attack or other action. When she does, everybody able to hear is affected; there is a 1-in-10 chance that any action requiring concentration (such as casting a spell, first aid, etc) simply fails. This effect stacks; it's 2-in-10 when two Rose-maidens drone, and so on.

Lastly, Rose-Maidens evaluate everything in terms of beauty and ugliness. They get double the XP for killing ugly monsters, and half XP for killing beautiful monsters. Likewise, they get double XP for beautiful treasure, and half XP for ugly treasure. One should expect Rose Maiden PCs to be thoroughly snobbish to ugly people, and deferentially polite to beautiful ones.

Monday, 9 April 2018

For my island-crawl - the ship

One thing that I'm working on for my next big project (a dawn-treader inspired island-crawl adventure) is the idea of the PCs ship as almost an NPC. Since its their base of operations and only means of surviving the ocean - and the biggest thing brought with them from the old world - the ship becomes a powerful totem of the familiar contrasted against the weirdness of the isles.
As a result, I need ship rules. In the end, I've lifted a lot of ideas from the Lamentations book. The ship is, where relevant, treated like any other stat-block, with hitdice, hitpoints, AC and so on.
I wanted the ship to have a strong and comfortable identity; in the end (and after a little reading) I settled on a retired tea-clipper.
I'm abstracting carrying capacity somewhat. I want to drive home the logistics of such a long-scale sea journey, and how there's not enough room to carry everything.

* * * * *

The Primrose
The Primrose is the ship on which this voyage takes place. It was once used for coastal trading voyages, but is now several decades old and reaching the end of its use. It has seen many former captains come and go, and has been mended and altered enough to become its own idiosyncratic vessel, almost a character in its own right.
The primrose is painted black, the hull tarred, with the various railings and masts painted a pale yellow. It was built as a tea-clipper, so its frame is narrow and angular. To look at, its silhouette almost reminds one of an elegantly curved knife.
The figurehead is an owl, wings spread wide, as if swooping down on prey.
Below deck the cabins - like the ship itself - are angular and narrow. The furnishings are a little old fashioned, the Primrose nearing the end of its useful lifespan and so rather old itself. None the less, until overcrowding becomes an issue, things are reasonable comfortable by the standards of merchant shipping.
The ship has three masts, each bearing a broad, square sail. It is 90 yards long by twelve yards wide. It has three lifeboats, each enough to hold 12.

Mechanics for the Primrose
For most purposes, where there is peril
involved, the Primrose can be treated much like a creature, as follows.
ò 40 Hit-dice.
ò 200 hit-points, and completely ignores any attack that deals 10 or less damage.
ò AC as an unarmoured human against those physically on-board, or AC like chainmail against attacks from outside the ship.
ò Mostly either automatically passes saves, or automatically fails them, based on the nature of the effect. Where the an effect’s outcome is truly in doubt, treat the save as 11+.
ò Immunity to cold, poison, mental effects, sickness, etc.
ò Double damage from fire. Once it has taken damage from fire, it will continue taking that much each round thereafter. Putting it out requires 1 action spent dousing the flames for each round it has already burned. (This can be a character acting once each round, or several acting all in one round, or somewhere in between).

When the Primrose hits 0 hp, it is effectively wrecked. It cannot move, and will begin to sink, taking 3d6 rounds to do so.
The Primrose does not attack. Those on it, however, are capable of manning the cannons.

Damage and Repair to the Primrose
During an encounter, keep a tally of how many times the Primrose has taken damage. Once the encounter is over and it is possible to take stock of the ship’s state, for each tally mark, roll d20 on the table below to see what damage has been done to the ship. If the same result is rolled twice, ignore the second time it comes up; the ship cannot lose a rudder it no longer has, for example.
-1- Rigging is shredded.
-2- Forward mast is useless or lost entirely. -25% speed until fixed, requiring a new mast to be found in order to do so.
-3- Middle mast is useless or lost entirely. -50% speed until fixed, requiring a new mast to be found in order to do so.
-4- Rear mast is useless or lost entirely. -25% speed until fixed, requiring a new mast to be found in order to do so.
-5- Sails are damaged. -25% speed until fixed.
-6- Rudder is inoperable. Steering is impossible until fixed, which will require 10 batches of timber and the ship securely anchored to work on it.
-7- Anchor lost. Will require a new anchor; something big and heavy and ideally grappling-hook shaped.
-8- Upper deck torn up.
-9- Forecastle deck torn up.
-10- Quarterdeck torn up.
-11- Poop deck torn up.
-12- Bowsprit lost.
-13- Hull damaged above the waterline; port side.
-14- Hull damaged above the waterline; starboard side.
-15- Holed below the waterline; forward port side. Ship will sink in 2d10 turns.  Requires 10 batches of timber to fix.
-16- Holed below the waterline; rear port side. Ship will sink in 2d10 turns.  Requires 10 batches of timber to fix.
-17- Holed below the waterline; forward starboard side. Ship will sink in 2d10 turns.  Requires 10 batches of timber to fix.
-18- Holed below the waterline; rear starboard side. Ship will sink in 2d10 turns.  Requires 10 batches of timber to fix.
-19- Figurehead lost.
-20- Tiller damaged. Steering is impossible until fixed, which will require 5 batches of timber.
Each HP of damage done to the ship can be repaired. It requires one batch of timber, and somebody working for a turn.

The primrose requires at least 28 on board to be able to sail reliably. This can be both NPC sailors, and PCs who are willing to do the work.
For each person below this, -1 to all d20 rolls related to sailing it, navigation, and so on (for example, roll-under-intelligence or saving throws). For every 4 people below this, -1 to all rolls related to sailing it, navigation and so on (for example, surprise rolls).
The ship has enough room for up to 35 crew plus the initial number of PCs. So, with a party of 4 PCs, there is enough room for 39 on board.
NPC sailors have the following statistics, where it matters:
ò 1 Hit-dice.
ò 4 HP.
ò Armour as leather (if properly equipped) or unarmoured otherwise.
ò Knife (+1, d4)
ò If properly equipped, Maritime Weapons (+1, d8)
ò Saves as Fighter 1.

The ship can carry 1500 batches of cargo. Cargo that can be carried includes:
ò Provisions: each batch of provisions feeds one person for one day.
ò Timber: each batch of timber is enough to repair 1 point of damage to the Primrose.
ò Cannon Ammunition: each batch is enough for one shot from a cannon. (Assume that the gunpowder uses up very little space, and that it does not run out when the cannonballs do).
ò Armaments: each batch of armaments is enough to arm a single NPC sailor with proper weapons and armour for maritime combat.
ò Treasure: each batch of treasure found on the voyage uses up space on the ship if it is to be carried. As a rule of thumb, 500 XP’s worth of treasure makes up one batch; maybe more or less for particularly bulky or easily transported goods.

The Primrose has been fitted with 6 cannons, 3 down each side. Each sits in its own little gun-port, with the necessary tools and supplies to hand.
There are four stages required to fire a cannon:
ò It must be loaded with a charge of powder.
ò It must be loaded with a cannon-ball.
ò It must be aimed.
ò The powder must be lit, which fires it.
Each of these stages takes a round's activity to perform. Multiple crew can work together, so that four of them can charge, load, aim and fire a cannon each round.
When firing a cannon, roll to hit as normal with the bonus of the person who actually fired the thing. If hit, things that are normal-sized (people, wolves, etc etc) get to make a Save vs Breath Weapons to get out of the way of the shot. (Larger things like giants and other ships get no such save). A cannonball does d6 x 10 damage.
If used to fire grapeshot, a cannon does d10 damage to everything in front of it, with no to-hit roll required. Smaller-than-ship-sized things still get their Save vs Breath Weapons to avoid it, as normal.