Thursday 28 December 2017

The Gifted - Freeform OSR Magic

Because people keep asking how to do it in the chats I frequent, here's my take. It's strongly inspired by the Old World Of Darkness rules for mages, psychics/sorcerers and changelings.

The class itself represents characters with magical power, but little training. They create magical effects through creativity and instinct rather than through application of distinct spells. These are your latent psychics and self-taught hedge-witches. Think Carrie, Scanners, etc.
The skeleton of the class (saves, weapons allowed, XP totals, and so on) are just like the magic user in your system of choice, except that the Gifted does not use a spellbook, cast spells or have spell-slots.
A first level Gifted has a single Aspect and a single Process. Each time they gain a level, they get another Aspect of Process.
The gifted combines Aspects and Processes to create Effects. Each day, they can safely create as many effects as their level. Thereafter, they can continue creating effects: each such effect they create permanently reduces their lowest attribute by 1.

Aspects are the areas of the world that the Gifted can influence through magic; things like 'fire' or 'writing'. A Gifted can only affect something directly if they have the relevant aspect. For example, a mystic with the 'wood' aspect cannot throw people about to damage them, but they can throw wooden objects at them to damage them. The full list of Aspects is:

  1. Fire (the flames themselves, the things that are on fire require the aspect of whatever is burning).
  2. Emotions (the basic feelings people have such as fear or greed. The emotions can be directed towards a particular focus, such as causing a fear of spiders, but more complex sentiments cannot be created).
  3. Metal (metal objects, either raw ores or worked items such as locks and chain-mail).
  4. Wood (either still in a tree, or worked into objects such as a boat).
  5. Writing (which covers diagrams and illustrations in written works).
  6. Flesh (including meat, and the living flesh and bones of animal life. It can, however, only affect the biological body of the subject.).
  7. Water (including ice and mist).
  8. Darkness (lack of light, shadows and supernatural gloom. Nothing metaphorical).
  9. Animals (natural animals like wolves, not supernatural ones like hydras).
  10. Treasure (gold, gems, works of art and anything else where the most important thing about it is how much money it's worth).
  11. Stone (including worked stone - even cement - and rock in its natural environment).
  12. Senses (the five senses, and any esoteric senses monsters might have such as echolocation. Only raw sensory input can be affected).
  13. Weather (including fog, rain, lightning strikes and so on).
  14. Plants (including living and dead ones, but not those worked into something else such as a rope made of hemp).
  15. Clothing (anything worn, including armor, jewelry, clothes and so on).
  16. Decay (the processes of rot, entropy and degradation. Only applies to those processes which occur naturally as a function of time).
  17. The Dead (dead people; corpses, their spirits, and the aftereffects of their death).
  18. Memories (things people know or remember, but not physical recordings).
  19. Connections (the links between things, perhaps emotional, legal or causal).
  20. Devices (complex objects such as locks, crossbows and so on; things with several interdependent moving parts).

Processes are what the Gifted can do with their magic; the verbs to an aspect's noun. The processes available are:

  1. Manipulate (cause fine movements, adjustments and re-positioning in: the kind of thing done with tweezers, probes, needles and scalpels).
  2. Hurl (dramatically and potentially violently move something about, such as throwing it across the room. Delicate manipulation is not possible).
  3. Create (cause a sample of it in its raw for to spring up from nowhere).
  4. Grow (cause it to become bigger, more potent or more active for a duration)
  5. Reduce (cause it to become smaller, less potent, or less active for a duration).
  6. Ward (requires two targets, and the aspect to affect each. The first target cannot affect, harm or influence the second for a duration).
  7. Detect (become aware of examples of the aspect, even hidden ones).
  8. Understand (gain greater knowledge of something that the Gifted is already aware of).
  9. Hide (remove it from perceptions or awareness, for a duration). 
  10. Summon (bring it to the Gifted from a distant place).
  11. Shape (make broad changes to it's form, direction and function. Delicate manipulation is not possible).
  12. Fuse (combines two things into a single whole; the Gifted must have the appropriate aspect for each).
Creating Effects
To create an effect, the Gifted simply states what they want to achieve, and which Aspect and Process they want to use to do it. For example, in order to hurl a firebolt, the Gifted simply states that they wish to use Create and Fire to do so.
The GM determines if the effect is possible and makes sense. They may wish to clarify the player's intent, or suggest a modification if the effect doesn't make sense. Once this is done, they choose any mechanical effects the Effect has, and apply it just like if a spell had been cast.
If the Effect does not work, then the player's action is wasted, but it doesn't use up any effects-per-day.
The GM's decision is, of course, final. After the intended effect has been stated, the player has little to no control over how it manifests.They need not be consistent with previous effects created; after all, the Gifted has little control over their powers, and are operating on instinct rather than study.

The specific mechanics for different types of effect are given below. It is up to the GM which, if any, they apply to a given effect.

The amount of damage dealt by an Effect depends on the Gifted's level, as given on the table below.
  1. a d4
  2. a d4
  3. a d6
  4. a d6
  5. a d8
  6. a d8
  7. a d10
  8. a d10
  9. a d12
  10. a d12
  11. a d12
  12. a d20
After level 12, the damage dice remains a d20. The dice size cannot be greater than a d20. The dice size below d4 is d2, and the dice cannot go lower than this.
If the source of damage allows a save to resist or avoid it, then the dice size is one higher.
If the source of damage requires a roll to hit, then the dice size is one higher.
If the damage is 'tacked on' to an existing attack (such as an arrow that is on fire), then it happens if and only if the original attack succeeds, and the dice size is one higher.

If the damage is to effect multiple individuals, then the dice size is one lower. The maximum number of targets is gen in the table below. To target multiple individuals, a single effect must be created that encompasses all of them in its area (such as a fireball); Area Effect maximums might restrict this.
  1. two targets.
  2. three targets
  3. three targets
  4. four targets
  5. four targets
  6. five targets
  7. five targets
  8. six targets
  9. six targets
  10. seven targts
  11. seven targets
  12. seven targets
The maximum number of targets does not increase beyond 12.

Healing damage is treated just like dealing it.
Curing poisons, sicknesses and so on is more complicated. The Gifted must understand how the problem works (so, for example, that a paralyzing poison works by causing all the muscles to tighten at once), and create an Effect to counteract that. This may require magic (spells or effects) or close examination of the patient. The GM may need to suddenly come up with exactly how the problem functions.

Duration is applied where a temporary modification is made. Duration lasts in rounds (for combat and similar high-speed situations), turns (for effects relevant to room-by-room exploration), days (for things relevant to travel or interacting with society) or years (for the longest durations). Which to apply is a matter of the GM's whim. The effect lasts as many rounds/turns/days/years as the Gifted's level.

Range is how far away the target can be. For fine manipulation, the range is one foot per level. For rough manipulation, the range is one yard per level. For broad cross-country effects, the range is one mile per level.

Mind Control
A victim can never be forcibly compelled to do or think a particular thing, although their emotions, perceptions or memories might be affected to push them in a certain direction. The upshot of this is that the victim always gets a roll (perhaps a save, or perhaps roll-under-intelligence, or whatever seems appropriate) to resist, wriggle out of, ignore or suppress any attempt to mind-control them. This only applies to what they do; they still feel, perceive or remember what the Gifted wants automatically, they just manage to grit their teeth and ignore it rather than being compelled.

A victim who would be rendered useless, helpless or otherwise utterly disadvantaged by a transformation gets to make a save of some kind to resist it. This only applies to creatures; inanimate objects don't save.

Areas of Effect
An Effect cannot target particularly large areas or things. If the GM wishes to restrict the size of the effect or thing affected, then they can do so, but they don't have to.
When Area of Effect is limited, the area can be as many feet across as the Gifted's level.

Seeing into the past or future are treated the same, except that the future cannot be known for certain, only the most likely outcome.
Specific details such as exact numbers or specific wording can be seen as many turns in the future/past as the Gifted's level.
Accurate details such as appearances and detailed sequences of events can be see as many days in the future/past as the Gifted's level.
Rough details, such as betrayals, cause of death and so on can be seen as many years in the future/past as the Gifted's level.
The Gifted will only see things directly relating to the aspect they are using to divine. They other matters will need another Effect (using the appropriate aspect) to look at.

Thursday 7 December 2017

LotFP Bards

One class that a lot of people seem to want to run in oldschool games that often doesn't have a published version is the bard. It's seen various incarnations over the years, from the multiclass thief/fighter/druid weirdos of AD&D, to the minor-spellcaster skill monkeys of 3rd, to the wizard-like full caster of 5th.
I'll be completely frank, and say that I don't like the idea of 'magical music' that pops up a lot. It seems somewhat more flippant in tone to what I want from my games. So, whilst performance is an element of the character, I see knowledge as being far more fundamental to the class's function. The bard is the person you bring down the dungeon with you because of their hidden lore, so that they can identify the things you find down there. With this in mind, I'm OK giving them some magic-like abilities that reflect their depth of knowledge.
Bards should, to me, be a fairly squishy class that relies on foreknowledge and trickery rather than brute force. No spell slots, but useful tricks. I also like the idea that a bard levels up quickly, representing the way they learn fast.

The bard, then, uses the same framework as the Specialist; the same saves, hit-dice and XP progression. They also get as many skill-points as a specialist, but can spend them on different skills.
Rather than the specialist's skills, they get access to the following: Architecture, Languages, and Sleight of Hand all work like the Specialist's equivalent. In addition, they get the following skills to pick from: Identify, Leadership, Legend Lore, Manipulation and Read Magic.
Manipulation covers the bard's ability to leverage their social skills to avoid fights. It starts at 0-in-6. For each point in Manipulation, reaction rolls to the bard are 1 point better and enemy morale rolls are 1 point worse. Manipulation only applies when the bard can make themselves understood (although it doesn't depend on language); against wild animals, mindless undead and so on it doesn't function.
Leadership covers the loyalty the bard can instill in their followers. For each point in it, improve the loyalty and morale of the bard's followers, hirelings, retainers and so on by 1.
Identify and Read Magic both start at 0-in-6 chance. Using the skill takes a turn, and if it succeeds the Bard casts the spell in question. If the roll fails, the bard can't use Identify or Read Magic on that subject again.
Legend Lore also starts at 0-in-6. It allows the bard to cast Identify, taking as much time as if it were cast normally. Where the casting time is more than a day, this represents extended research; the bard is visiting libraries, consulting scholars and tracking down rumors. This requires the bard to be in an urban area; in the countryside or wilderness there simply aren't enough collections of knowledge for the bard to consult. If the roll fails, the bard gets no knowledge, but can try again; the only cost is lost time.
Although the Identify, Legend Lore and Read Magic mimic spells, they are not magical abilities and are in fact perfectly mundane, the result of the bard's extensive knowledge.

The result of this is a character who has advantages to the social aspects of the game, and who can innately access the kind of knowledge other characters would rely on magic to achieve. They don't cast spells by singing or anything like that (because that would be silly). However, a bard who's put points into Read Magic can cast from scrolls as easily as a magic-user or elf.

Thursday 23 November 2017

Pochtli's Children: a bloodline for Vampire the Masquerade

So, I love vamp, and my favorite clans are (by a wide margin) the Giovanni & Cappodocians. Spooky undead necromancers just sits right with me. Perhaps its the Warhammer Fantasy of my youth bleeding through.

In VtM, the Pisanob, and their leader Pochtli, are somewhat oddities for the Giovanni. Apparently, the Giovanni traveled to central America, and found a family of necromancers there, practicing essentially the same nigrimancy as they did, whom they promptly embraced into the family. These are the Pisanob, one of the minor branches of the Giovanni, locked in a war with the Harbingers of Skulls and the Sabbat.
Pochtli himself is supposedly a premescine (a member of the clan from before Augustus put the bite on Cappodocius), but it's unclear if that means he was an existing cappodocian, or one of Augustus's childer. Considering his central american appearance, name, customs and so on, it seems unlikely that he's one of the standard Giovanni.

(everything after this point is stuff I'm making up, based on my own fan-theories)

So, here are the assumptions for this bloodline. There are, actually, two bloodlines that make up the Pisanob. One is the main Pisanob. Their mortal families are native americans, and their vampiric blood comes from the Giovanni who brought them into the clan. The other is Pochtli's Children. These are again descended from native american mortals, but their vampiric blood comes from Pochtli. Pochtli himself is a Cappodician Elder who (like The Capuchin and Baron Samedi) has managed to come to some agreement with the Giovanni. Unlike Samedi, though, he's managed to have his childer absorbed into the greater Giovanni clan.
The bloodline is largely indistinguishable from the greater Pisanob family, forming the inner circle around Pochtli and the rest of the family's leadership. Nominally loyal to the Giovanni, they in fact hold that Gehenna has arrived, and that Augustus is not strong enough to defend his childer from the other Antediluvian when they rise. Instead, they are bolstering their own defences so that when the time comes, they at least stand a chance of surviving.

Pochtli's Children tend to focus rigorously on necromancy, often neglecting other disciplines entirely. Many have strongly intellectual concepts, focusing on mental attributes and knowledges, but a good proportion are physical-oriented, combining necromantic power with combat ability in their wars against the Sabbat.

Bloodline Disciplines: Necromancy, Potence, Auspex
My reasoning is that this puts them firmly between the Giovanni (necromancy, potence, dominate) and the Cappodocians (necromancy, resilience, auspex). Potence fits the 'spooky monster' archetype in VtM (hence why the nos and the lasombra get it), whilst Auspex tends to be found in more cerebral clans.

Bloodline Weakness: Pochtli's Children gain half the benefit from blood taken from living donors. If the donor is dead when they start drinking, they get the full benefit. Furthermore, they can't ever spend blood on the Blush of Life; they will always look at best unhealthy and at worst corpse-like.
This works out similarly to the Giovanni weakness when the vampire feeds on living hosts, since they deal two damage for every point of blood they get. The difference is that Pochtli's children feed on living hosts less efficiently, so while a ruthless Giovanni can get 10 blood from a mortal, Pochtli's children only get 5. This pushes them to mess around with corpses, or at least kill their victims before they feed. The 'no Blush of Life' thing is another throwback to the Cappodocians, putting them somewhere between the two clans.

Sunday 19 November 2017

Character Death Can Be Liberating

I've been running a Wolfpacks game for a few months IRL now, and rapidly lost track of the number of character deaths we've had. Last week, we tried to count them up and got a total of at least 30, in about 1-12 sessions.
PCs frequently get magically transformed, crippled by injuries, ressurected as undead, mutated weirdly, and more. Any semblance of balance is totally out of the window, and death is sudden and unexpected. By all accounts, it's been absolute slaughter.
And yet, we've been having fun.

In a game where you put effort into building a character, and where death is rare, you get attached to PCs. Dying is something to angst over, because this artistic thing you made is gone forever. So, death is avoided, the GM pulls their blows, and the 'death is a big deal' thing gets even worse.
Here, though, death is no biggie. When it happens, it's often morbidly hilarious, but with quick character gen and quick levelling, it's no big deal to roll up a new character and get back into the fray. Knowing that life is cheap and death constant means that players loosen up, take risks, and don't sweat it when they fail horribly.
Plus, a constant meat-grinder of characters dying means that, should a PC get too powerful (to the extent that they're dominating play and making everybody else feel useless) that's only a temporary state of affairs; I can sit back and, pretty soon, hubris will get them and they'll be taken out. Problem solved.
Plus, players get to see more of how the game fits together, since high turnover means they'll try lots of different playstyles and classes and options. My players have just twigged the 'one of each spell-caster class is optimal' setup* for Wolfpacks, and I couldn't be prouder, but that wouldn't have ever happened if they hadn't had lots of deaths.
There's a tipping point when dying lots goes from disheartening to fun, and once you hit that tipping point, the game loosens up and lightens up in ways that I like. Recently, though, as the players have gotten smarter, the deaths are slowing. They're progressing, gathering followers and allies, and making plans. And, sure, the individual PCs are dying a fair amount still (two deaths last session, along with a fuck-ton of PCs going a bit crazy), but the group as a whole is getting stronger.
Which is the thing. It's not about individual PCs, it's about the group, and the world, and exploring what's out there. A given character is just a pawn to interact with the world with.

*to exploit the magic system to its fullest you need one each of a magician, morlock, mystic, neanderthal apothecary and wendigo.
The magician lets you do experiments with magic and has good flexibility, but is stuck with a sanctum they can't move. Meanwhile, the morlock can't experiment, but is a walking spellbook for the magician. You need a neanderthal, so any weird magic you encounter, the neanderthal can turn into a potion for the magician to study and turn into a spell. A wendigo gets to pick their spell when they level up, unlike everybody else, so that's how you make sure all your vital spells (cure wounds, dispel magic, etc) are covered. Lastly, the mystic spams magic better than everybody else, so they're your simple blaster in an emergency.

Saturday 18 November 2017

The 'Spook' Class in Esoteric Enterprises

So, I wanna talk a bit about one of the odder things I'm doing with Esoteric Enterprises, which is the Spook class. Basically, the idea is that the Spook class covers all the different non-human PC types. So vampires, ghosts, fairies, werewolves and all sorts of other weirdness are possible as player characters.
The class is a toolbox, so you can emulate different monster archetypes. In this, I've taken a lot of inspiration from the old World of Darkness games and the wide variety of monsters there. The big difference is that WoD is prescriptive with it's setting. It says that vampires work like this and there's an underlying structure to them. I want EE to pull away from that prescriptiveness. Vampires (for example) aren't a coherant species found all over the place. Instead, each vampire or brood of vampires is unique and independent, with its own quirks and abilities and folklore. There are bloodthirsty and canibalistic undead creatures all over the world, sure, but the similarities  between a ghul and a wendigo are mostly coincidental.
How this works in practice is like this: you pick the 'type' of Spook you want to be. This basically just covers what the spook is made of and what their biology is like; undead, made of stone, human, intangible etc etc. These have some mechanical impact; an undead spook, for example, doesn't need to worry about diseases, but can't be given HP back with medicine. There are a few different types available, covering broad categories like fae and ghosts and so on.
Each level, the Spook picks up a 'power'. These occupy a similar space to spells for a spellcasting character. However, powers are fairly low in power level, and always-on. They're things like 'you can see in the dark' or 'you can heal by drinking blood'. Since the spook gets one every level, most are pretty simple.
At first level, the power you get is randomised (same as the spells a magic-user gets), from a short list based on your type. So, like, a fairy is picking from a list of nature and trickery related powers, while the undead's powers are all either brutal, spooky or gory. After that, powers are grouped by themes, and you're limited to taking powers with a theme in common with powers they already have. Basically, this means that if you get a sneaky-stealthy ability to start with, your next abilities will mostly also be sneaky-stealthy until you start branching out.

Pretty much, the class is based off LotFP's elf. Saves, XP totals, all of that are as the elf. Instead of spells, you get powers.
In theory, what this means is that spooks can be lumped into rough groups, with low-level members of those groups all being roughly similar. But the more powerful members will diverge more and more to become increasingly weird and unique. Like, a first-level spook that's modelling a vampire is probably undead (so vulnerable to turning and holy water, but basically safe against poison), and heals by drinking blood. And the next few levels, they're gonna pick up stuff like a bite attack, or being bolstered by darkness and weakened by light, or super-strength. Typical vampire stuff. But higher level vampires will have branched out into other themes of power and have their own weird stuff they do. So, one vampire has addictive blood and lots of social manipulation, while another experiments with reanimating dead flesh, and another is a pure combat monster with claws and fangs.
This applies to spooks that aren't vampires, too! The higher level the spook is, the more weird and divergent the powers it's picked up are. All low-level ghostly PCs are gonna be pretty similar, but high-level ghosts will have all sorts of mad shit they can do.

This creates a wide variety of different weird monsters, and a distinct play style for monsters overall. Where a spellcaster has a limited number of chances to totally negate an encounter (spells like sleep or hold portal or whatever), a monster instead has a small, but slowly growing, list of problems that are just easier for them to solve, statically. Plus, by pushing all the weirdo PCs into one 'build your own monster' class, you get both a wide variety of inhuman PC archetypes, and a game where 5-out-of-6 classes are human, and so probably a human-focussed campaign.

So, here's what's up with Esoteric Enterprises

So, Here's what I'm working on:
It starts out with the idea that magic works but is innately prone to going horribly wrong. So, every sensible government has banned the practice of actual magic, and the art's gone underground (figuratively and literally). Magicians and mystics exist in a criminal black market where grimoires and magical components are smuggled in similar ways to narcotics and illegal firearms.
And the government are absolutely aware of this, and have their own departments of Men In Black who extend the long arm of the law to deal with illegal magicians.
Add onto this the idea of a literal undercity made of sewers and crypts and burrows where weird-magical creautures live and the black markets meet. Which are, of course, dangerous in their own right, forming a network of dungeon-like complexes and safe meeting-places. And then cults, criminal cartels, broods of monsters, covens of occultists and so on form their own social networks overlaid onto this - with the PC group as part of this network - meaning that PCs are going to be getting involved in the underworld's politics and going on various missions to advance their position.
It's a big psychadelic blend of Lamentations of the Flame Princess and Orpheus and and Hunter and Call of Cthulhu and Kult. Black metal and trip hop and stoner-doom aesthetics overlaid with occult tomes and blasphemous sacrifices, overlaid with cash drugs n guns gangster culture. PCs are poor-ass weirdo scumbags scrabbling for position, dabbling with nasty magic and nasty people in the hope of making it big.
It is, incidentally, built on the same core as b/x D&D, with the rules adapted to fit a modern setting and work better with the black-metal-gangsters tone I'm going for. Magic's less reliable, and prone to causing weird or dangerous phenomena. Normal occultists do your standard vancian 'memorizing spells' thing, but can experiment with magic a little, with the risk of it going wrong. Mystics, meanwhile, have to pray to their deity and hope it's listening every time they want to cast.
Character level also directly reflects position in the criminal underworld; the higher level you are, the richer and better respected you are. And being high level won't protect you perfectly; a knife in the back or poison in your drink will kill you stone dead regardless of level.
However, the rules are pretty much compatible with most other OSR systems. So you can run things like Death Frost Doom or A Red And Pleasant Land in it without too much adaptation.
Also, the rules are gonna be totally compatible with wolfpacks, for bonus crossover.
It's gonna be a fucking blast when it's done.

Friday 17 November 2017

First (ish) post

So! I got a blog. Again.
I had a blog before. It was found here but, unfortunately, I lost my login details. Even more unfortunately, the recovery email I put in had a typo in it, so some total stranger presumably had a brief but intense torrent of spam emails asking if they wanted to re-set the password to a blog they'd never heard of.
So, instead, after a lengthy absence, here I am.

This blog's gonna have sporadic stuff that I write on it. I'll talk about the games I run (currently a Wolf-Packs & Winter Snow game at my old university society), play in (currently a big ol' Vampire the Masquerade campaign online), and write.
Speaking of writing, I write games. I put out Wolf-Packs and Winter Snow, which is basically stone-age weird-fantasy oldschool D&D with neanderthals and aboleths in it. Work is in progress (mostly proofreading) to get it into print.
I'm writing another game, Esoteric Enterprises. It's early days still. It's gonna be about occult-crime gangs exploring a nasty under-city of sewers and crypts in the modern day. Aesthetics are all black metal and hard drugs and blasphemous cults and gangsta rap. 'S gonna be the fucking bomb once it's done.

It's 4AM. More when I have the brain for it.