Thursday, 5 July 2018

Henry Justice Ford Project - The Trees That Bleed

Armour class: As Leather.
Hit dice: 2
Move: Rooted to the spot.
Attacks: Branches (d6) and roots (d4)
No. Appearing: 3d8

Morale: 12
Treasure: 50 GP per tree.

Alignment: Neutral

Trees That Bleed are a perversion of the natural order in which plants are inanimate and don't resist the depredations of the animal kingdom. These trees seem, at first glance, to be much like any other. Their only distinguishing feature visually is that, instead of sap, thick red blood flows through their woody veins.A careful observer can spot scabs of congealed blood on the tree's bark.

They are found growing in dense copses, each tree within reach of several of its peers. For the most part, the trees are dormant. They remain inanimate, content to simply grow and photosynthesize. Only when one of their number is threatened - perhaps by woodcutters or dangerous beasts - do they stir into motion. At this point, the whole grove goes berserk, lashing at intruders with branches and roots.

An encounter with Trees That Bleed is all about positioning. By the time the trees animate, the PCs are probably in their midst. Draw a map of the grove, put the PCs somewhere in the middle. Each tree ought to be within 10 feet of one or more of its peers. Each tree has 15 feet reach with its branches and 5 feet with its roots. With the large numbers of trees present, the skill in the fight is to find points where fewer trees can reach you: the gaps and clearings. 

As plants, Trees That Bleed are affected by spells like 'command plants' and 'talk to plants' but not by spells like 'hold monster'. Their tough, woody nature means that they take a maximum of 1 damage from everything except Axes & Fire. 

Turn Sequence in The Dolorous Stroke

I've been thinking about how the turn procedure and activations work in my wargame. I initially had a setup very much like GW's LotR game: roll for inits, player 1 moves, player 2 moves, player 1 does actions, player 2 does actions, resolve fights.
It was... okay, I guess.

But I've moved away from that. I dare say what I came up with isn't massively revolutionary, but it's working nicely for what I have in mind.

The turn starts with a roll for inits. After that, players alternate acting with their models until everybody has done something, and then a new turn begins.
When you activate a model it gets to do one thing. It can move, or shoot, or fight, or cast spells, or whatever. But each turn it gets one action. So, if you use your action to charge into combat, you don't resolve the fight on the same action.
Any model in base-to-base contact with the enemy is locked in combat. When it activates, it must use its action to resolve the fight: both sides roll off, the winning side strikes blows against the losing side, and the fighters are seperated (meaning they're then no longer locked in combat). 

What this means is that charging is good because you get to control the tempo of the game with it: you force your opponent's model to use their action to resolve the fight (which could go either way). Effectively, you lock them out of doing anything but fight for the turn, whilst the charging model still gets their charge move. 
Since you don't have to activate a model locked in combat immediately, you can charge more of your own models in to try to get a numerical advantage. Or you can activate early and resolve the fight 1-on-1 to prevent your opponent from ganging up on you. 
It makes the order you activate stuff in become critically important. Activating the right stuff in the right sequence becomes how you control the action-economy, and controlling tempo and so on is a thing I want to be a focus of the game.

To reinforce this, I'm putting a few options in that are explicitly tempo-based mechanics. 
Every model has a 'delay' action available to them. You do nothing for your action, but if you pass a Wits roll, you get to make a second activation. You can only delay once per turn, or it gets silly. Effectively it gives you a chance to wait and see what your opponent is doing before actually acting, letting you slow down in the normal pattern of alternating.
There's a fighting style (Hold the Line!) that characters can learn that lets them Delay even if locked in combat. Basically, it lets a character locked in combat delay to keep their enemies pinned in place without resolving the fight and thus seperating the combatants.
Duels and Jousts also mess with the normal action economy: in a duel, you don't separate the fighters after resolving the fight. They stay locked in combat until one side wins. Both sides need to agree to the duel, but when they do you're efectively putting two models out of the running for several turns as they only focus on each other. Jousts are kinda the opposite of this: after resolving a joust both sides get a free move as they hurtle past each other. So, jousting becomes a way to get disproportionate mobility whilst also getting hits in against your enemy.
I've put in a few skills that directly fuck with the alternating action sequence. Leader lets you chain activate: after you activate the leader, you can immediately activate somebody under their command before your opponent gets to respond. Follower is the inverse of this: after activating a model, you can immediately activate a follower. Both of these let you get a burst of two actions (or three if you go leader-normal-follower in sequence) without your opponent getting to react. You don't get to do more stuff but, again, I've found it gives players ways to control the tempo.

One thing that was mentioned in response to my post about fiddling with gender-roles is that it makes sense for noblewomen in the game to have more of a behind-the-lines leadership role. Giving them a lot of the tempo-control tools seems like a good way to realise this. Similarly, giving peasant characters abilities that make their interaction with tempo reactive means that they'll always be following the lead set by the knights, which feels right.

Wednesday, 4 July 2018

Gender in the Dolorous Stroke

I've been thinking about the role of women in the world I'm slowly building up for my Arthurian-inspired skirmish game. As False Patrick talks about in this post, gender roles are rather strong in the chivalric romances I'm taking inspiration from. Courtly love, questing to win the favor of a particular lady, damsels needing rescuing and so on are central to most of these stories. On the other hand, I'm a bit of a lefty, and I like playing chicks in the games I'm in, and this is a skirmish wargame about knights fighting each other. The normal roles of women in these tales would keep them from the battlefield. So, if I'm to find a place for women in the setting beyond 'the object of the main characters' quest', what should it be?
Right away, I rejected the idea that we just make the setting gender-blind. I've seen this done well; for example, the larp Empire has the nation of dawn, which are strongly Arthurian inspired and feature a lot of themes of courtly love and so forth, in a setting which doesn't distinguish along gender lines. However, I wanted to stick to the narratives seen in the stories I was emulating more closely.
In the end, I decided to flip the assumed power structure in the setting, making things essentially matriarchal. Essentially, the business of leadership is seen as a woman's task; the setting is ruled by queens and princesses rather than kings and princes. Men (at least as far as the nobility are concerned), are essentially subservient to female rulers. Their place is to serve a queen or other (female) liege. 
Of course, with women in all the positions of political power, the status of noblemen depends entirely on their queen's favor. This, naturally, leads to men jostling to attract the affection of their rulers. Which, in turn, leads to the quests for a lady's favor that make up so much of the canon of chivalric romances.

This, of course, contrasts with the ideas of knightly orders as a more exclusively male arena. Like with many esoteric societies (medieval mason's guilds, the cult of mithras, etc) there's probably quite a strong gay undercurrent here. Probably nothing worth going into in much depth, but in the same way that IRL the Navy has a reputation for being the gayest of the armed services...
Interestingly, in the historical medieval period, there was actually a similar phenomenon with monasteries and nunneries. People for whom normal marriage wasn't at all appealing often got out of it by joining a cloistered community, so the number of gay individuals in cloisters seems likely to be quite high. Indeed, the catholic church even had particular recognitions for pairs of male monks with 'a particularly strong brotherly love for one another'. Whilst not recognised as gay in the sense a modern audience might, the parallels are clearly there. But I digress.

I'm also writing the setting so that breaking expected gender roles is more possible than it was historically. A nobleman who's driven to rule as a seneschal can do that, it will just be seen as effeminate and out of place. Providing he's good at the job, though, nobody's going to stop him. Likewise, women who want to take up armour and become knights can do that, they just open themselves up to all sorts of scandalous gossip. At least a few of the example PCs I'm writing up subvert the expectations of their sex in this way.

So yeah. That's where my thoughts are on the matter. 
Incidentally, anybody who starts shitting up the comments by shouting about the culture wars/SJWs/pol/whatever is getting blocked and deleted. This is far more about creating the atmosphere I want for the game than any sort of political agenda.

Sunday, 24 June 2018

The Amaranthine Lyceum - intro bits

So, the l-space project I mentioned here continues to take shape. I've settled on a name, too: The Amaranthine Lyceum, which I think sounds suitably archaic. It's still in the early stages, but here's some stuff I've written so far.

Between Locations
Locations are simply points of particular interest. Between them, the Lyceum sprawls out, a network of corridors and rooms all lined with books. Nothing interesting; if it was interesting, it would be a location.
Travelling from one location to the next is quick. It takes about a turn (ten minutes). Doors are not locked in the Lyceum, nor are there particular obstacles to exploration unless a location indicates it.

Life in The Lyceum
The lyceum is entirely indoors. There are no windows, no signs of a theoretical ‘outside’. Some locations are lit, by fireplaces or candles or soft gas lamps, but the bulk of them are dark, as are the spaces between. Explorers will need to bring their own lights to explore.
In some locations, food and drink appears if left unobserved. Presumably, the Librarians replace it, although where they’re getting it from is unclear.
The whole place is incredibly flammable. All that dry paper would go up in a flash.

Searching For Specific Books
The most obvious reason to explore the Lyceum is to find information. For any given question the PCs might want answers to, assume that the answer is in the Lyceum somewhere. Likewise with specific books, texts and so on.
When the PCs enter the Lyceum, they can declare they’re looking for a given piece of information. Track the player’s progress towards finding a specific work using the following method.
Give the party as a whole a Progress score, that tracks how close they are to finding what they want. This single score encompasses all the relevant factors: cross-referencing from other related texts, following rumours, making deductions about the layout of the shelves, and so on. Any factor that might bring the party closer to or further away from what they want to know is abstracted into this score.
The Progress score starts out with a value equal to the highest Intelligence in the party. Various events, encounters and locations will cause the Progress to rise and fall. 
For any given piece of information sought,   the GM must set a value for how hard it is to find.
· Basic information found in most good libraries in the real world has a target of 20.
· Slightly specialist information, the sort you’d need to find specific experts or collections for, has a target of 25.
· Obscure information, the sort of thing known only to a few scholars  and jealously guarded, has a target of 30.
· Information that has been forgotten entirely in the real world has a target of 35.
· Information that has never been uncovered in the real world has a target of 40.
The PCs find what they’re looking for as soon as they meet two criteria at the same time:
1. Their Progress score is equal to or higher than the target value for the information they want.
2. They are at a depth equal to the target value minus 20. (IE if the information has a target of 25, they must be at depth 5 or more.).

The Librarians & The Great Avernean Calculation
The Lyceum is inhabited by its own peculiar race of custodians, known only as the Librarians. Diminutive figures, clad in figure-concealing robes, they rarely speak or interact with visitors, instead hurrying about their tasks. Perhaps the Lyceum created them to inhabit it; every library must have librarians, after all. They tend to its structures, like gardeners almost, and pursue more esoteric goals.
The Librarians are split into 5 orders; the red, yellow, black, white and grey librarians, each distinguishable by the colour of their robe. 
The red librarians see to it that the physical structures of the lyceum are maintained; they see to it that the shelves do not break, that the lyceum’s corridors do not catch fire, and that the ceiling stays up.
The yellow librarians tend to the books themselves, repairing and restoring them as necessary.
The black librarians are tasked with the lyceum’s doorways. Whilst this covers the doors within the lyceum itself, more importantly, it also deals with the doorways out into the real world. They keep the doors open (or at least open-able) on their side, and construct further doors into the real world wherever sufficient knowledge accumulates.
The white librarians deal with corralling souls. The lyceum attracts visitors, and is not without its dangers. The white librarians collect and manage these souls, filing them away as if they were perfectly normal books. These souls, now compressed into a simple, easily managed form, become phantoms.
Lastly, the grey librarians see to it that the Great Avernean Calculation be continued, maintaining the Calculation Engines, Phantom Databanks and Sheol Computer itself.

Phantoms are a form of lesser, immaterial undead. They are the soul of one who has passed on, stripped of humanity or emotion. All that is left is memories and information, condensed into a greasy whisp that hangs in the air like the smoke from a snuffed-out candle. Most phantoms have little power to act or think, and are hardly beings in their own right. The white librarians store them in bottles and pump them through glass tubes.

The Great Avernean Calculation is the overarching goal of the librarians of all orders, although only the grey librarians interact directly with it. What the calculation might actually be is hard to say; it exists in a scope that is so huge and complex that any attempts to divine its purpose produces incomprehensibly incomplete results.
What is known, at least to the librarians and those who study them, is that the calculation will, one day, reveal some grand truth about the universe as a whole. Matters of the soul, the written word, entropy, and information play into it. The calculation is far from complete, but every day the vast information-processing machinery of the Lyceum - through which the librarians scurry like ants through a glass maze - explores and finalizes ever more specific details, and over the course of centuries the entire answer is brought into focus.

Monday, 11 June 2018

On Cosmic Horror

The core of cosmic horror is this: it takes the audiences assumptions about how the world works, and subverts them by positing a world where those assumptions are tragically wrong. I'll use three examples to discuss this: Arthur Machen's The White People, HP Lovecraft's At the Mountains of Madness, and lastly Chaos in Warhammer 40,000. 

So, The White People.
Machen was writing for an audience who were probably good, mild-mannered Christians of the peculiar British sort that are very genteel and civil and pleasant. Tea-With-The-Vicar Christians, of a sort I get the impression was a common position at the end of the 19th century. 
Right away, Machen starts taking this apart. The story opens with a discussion on the nature of good and evil - 'Saints' and 'Sinners' as the characters discuss it - and suggests that most people are neither good nor evil, just a sort of muddy mundane neutrality. To be truly Good or Evil is a spiritual pursuit that requires great dedication and is, inevitably, supernatural in nature*.
It goes on to illustrate this point with the story of a young girl being corrupted by Evil. The story mixes in folklore, deep history, witchcraft, fairies etc etc. It paints a picture of the natural world as being innately wicked and sinful, an active spiritual force. There are sexual undertones, and hints and an established cult. 
So why did it work as a story? It subverts that Victorian understanding of the world in nice, simple, Christian terms. It presents as our great sinner not some horrible corrupt faustian figure, but an innocent child frolicking through the woods and streams of the English countryside. It portrays Evil as a spiritual abyss that one might plunge willingly into, but that you could meet a truly Evil, corrupt person and have no idea; indeed their deeds would not seem particularly unpleasant since the Evil is an inner spiritual journey. It suggests that one might have a journey of personal revelation where one comes to [pan/satan/the black man in the woods/the fey/whatever the fuck it was in this] that is every bit as deep and involved and intense as the relationship with Christ that makes up the Christian experience. 
It's a fairly simple story, but the way it presents an inversion of Christian spirituality that seems innocuous but reveals a corrupt core with just as much spiritual strength and power as anything Jesus might be capable of... I can see how it would have been unsettling.

I take The White People as my go-to example here, but this subversion of Christianity appears in other works by Machen (The Great God Pan is the most famous example), and similarly influences works by other Weird writers of the time such as Algernon Blackwood.

(*Could this be an inspiration for alignment systems in RPGs? Perhaps. Certainly, I like to tie 'chaos' in my cosmologies with the picture of nature-cults as supernatural evils depicted here. Druids should be chaotic IMHO. But I digress.)

Next up, let's look at At The Mountains Of Madness.
I'm just going to assume that if you read this blog, you've read this story. Lovecraft takes the ideas that humanity and human civilization are the pinnacle of evolution, that we matter and are important, and rips them apart. Humans are insignificant, existing only briefly compared to the might empires of aliens to which Earth is just an outpost. We are a byproduct of ancient aliens, an accident, a mere flash in the pan. Furthermore, it shows civilization as self-defeating; the Shoggoths' utter destruction of the Elder Things' culture rips down any comfort we might take by transferring our 'loyalty' to the aliens who accidentally produced us. They don't matter any more than we do. Things just happen, there is no 'point' to evolution, all this is just happenstance.
Which, again, when Lovecraft was writing, was shocking. The assumptions that humans were the pinnacle of evolution, and [western] civilization was the apex of human history were quite effectively demolished in this story. Hence, horror.
This takes things a step further. As Christian influence starts to fall away, we get more rationalist positions emerging and Lovecraft basically takes those positions and pushes them to their horrible extreme. 

Moving on, let's consider a more modern example: Chaos in the Warhammer 40,000 setting.
This seems to be written with a particular set of secular western ideals in mind: the sort more common in Europe than America, perhaps more common on the political left than the right, and disproportionately represented among nerdy types. IE: Games Workshop's writers and audience in the late 80s when 40k was being written. Here are those values, bullet-pointed:
  • Science can explain everything.
  • There is no supernatural.
  • The world does not care about you.
  • There is no God taking an interest in you.
  • Nothing you do is particularly important.
  • With no real significance to your actions, hedonism is a perfectly good goal.
  • Things are basically OK.
It's a sort of casual rationalist nihilism. Bland secularism that asserts that 'hey, it's all meaningless, so buy stuff and be happy, it's not like you're being judged'.
The role of Chaos in 40k utterly subverts this:
  • Science can't explain a world where things happen at the whims of mad Gods.
  • The supernatural is there, is uncontrollable, and is intrinsically tied to the physical world.
  • The supernatural is shaped by the souls of you and people like you.
  • There are Gods. They care deeply about you, they hunger for your soul. They are horrific.
  • Your actions lend power to these Gods, and can attract their attention.
  • Hedonism is a sure route to being subverted by these Gods; so are most other approaches to Nihilism (despair, rage and Nietzschian ambition).
  • You are totally fucked by forces beyond your control that are coming for you personally.
Worth noting, the four chaos gods (slaanesh, nurgle, khorne and tzeench) represent four responses to nihilism (hedonism, despair, rage and ambition). This is why there aren't chaos gods of (say) Death or Romance or Leadership.
Chaos in 40k posits that in fact, there are Gods, and they are watching you, and they have an interest in you. They want your soul, they want you to reach out to them. They have gifts for you, if you only let them in. 
It's like... 40k looks at the rationalist/atheist/materialist/secularist position which arises as a response to Abramic religion, that we see in the modern day. The rejection of the idea of a personal God and Savior that's waiting for you to open yourself up to them. 40k takes that position and says 'no, that's bollocks, there are Gods'. And then takes the Abrahamic position and says 'no, that's also bollocks, because the God you're worshipping is an insane monstrous thing that wants to eat your soul and turn you into a tentacle monster'.

Remember the White People? How it describes a world where, just as one can have a relationship with a benevolent God and all that Christian spirituality happens, one can also have a relationship with forces of wild, corrupting Evil that is just as deep as the Christian version.
40k says 'well, what if you only had the Evil option?' What if Machen's Pan was the only deity, and it was everywhere?

So, this is a gaming blog. How to make this gameable?
I play a lot of LotFP, and LotFP is the main influence on my other OSR writing. Weird fiction and cosmic horror influence the worlds I set up for my players. 
If your approach to cosmic horror is merely 'there are space aliens, they have tentacles, lose 1d8 San', you're failing at it. To make it work, you need to use this framework:
  1. Take some basic assumptions your players have about the real world out-of-character.
  2. Work out what the horrible inverse of those ideas would be.
  3. Slowly reveal that the world your game takes place in is one where the ideas from point 2 are correct.

So lets workshop this. Take some ideas that our players will probably hold, based on our current cultural climate.
  • Humans control the world and Nature, through science, industry ect.
  • Humans are destroying the Natural World (see: climate change, extinctions, etc etc).
  • The Natural World is a passive thing that we are wrecking.
  • Nature is a good thing that should be cherished and protected.
Now, let's invert these:
  • Nature is something humans can never truly control, no matter how advanced our science.
  • Humans don't pose an existential threat to the natural world; rather the Natural World poses an existential threat to humans.
  • The Natural World is an active force that seeks to undo humanity's works and which is stronger than us.
  • Nature is brutal, horrible, savage, untamed; it does not need protecting from us, but we need protecting from it.
What would a game set in such a world be like? A world of ruined, overgrown machinery. Parasites and sicknesses that inflict body-horror on humans. Most enemies are features of the ecosystem, not 'people' or spiritual forces. Survival in the wilderness is difficult. Plants and wild animals as dangerous threats. Humans as unwelcome parasites that the immune-system of the green world will soon purge. The wilderness as a tidal-wave of crushing savagery that will overwhelm human settlements.

Oh look, it's The Willows. Or The White People. Or Ynn. Or Wolfpacks. Or Frostbitten & Mutilated.
So, yeah. 
If you want to do cosmic horror, maybe use that stuff as inspiration. 

Saturday, 9 June 2018

Dungeon Concept - L-Space

With apologies to the late Terry Pratchett, who's ideas I'm unashamedly nicking.

Here's the basic foundation from the diskworld novels.
Books are collections of knowledge, and Knowledge = Power
Anybody who has studied high-school physics knows; Power = Energy over Time
And according to Einstein, Energy and Mass are interchangeable, and mass warps space time.
So the power contained in a book will warp spacetime as time progresses. That's just logic, right?
Ergo, any sufficiently good library will have highly warping effects on the space it occupies. To quote Pterry,  "[a] good bookshop is just a genteel blackhole that knows how to read." The books go on to posit that all sufficiently dense libraries connect into one huge extradimensional 'L-Space'.

So, there's your setup. A library dimension accessible through any good enough normal library. Corridors and shelves that wind around and fold in on themselves and multiply fractaly. A non-euclidian layout with imaginary dewey-decimal numbers.
If I end up making this, it'd be a similar setup to how I did Ynn. Procedurally generating points of interest that form a linked network that goes ever deeper, and gets weirder as you get deeper. The same basic structure (location + features, roll for events every turn, navigate by 'Go Deeper' vs 'Go Back' vs 'Explore Here', depth shifting you up and down the random tables).

So, why is this interesting? Well, L-space is effectively a genteel megadungeon. Remember, Knowledge = Power, and Power Corrupts. Thus, the warping effect of the books on the world around them will produces all sorts of interesting weirdness. Monsters might be transformed librarians, characters escaped from the books written about them, animated books, things that have made their way in from other dimensions via shared L-Space. Weird features like rooms filled with candles, spacial anomalies, sealed vaults of censored materials. Spellbooks that have gotten even stranger under the altering effects of L-Space.

Why go in? The place is obviously totally packed with books, so in order that it's not a total XP-For-Gold bonanza, I'd say that only particularly noteable books are going to be worth XP. On the other hand, L-Space contains all the books you could want. Need an atlas that maps that new continent you're voyaging to? Go to L-Space. Need the historical records of that ancient evil? L-Space. Looking for a particular rare spell? L-space. Dictionaries of dead languages? L-Space.

So yeah. Not sure when I'll develop it, but the idea is there knocking about in my head.

Wednesday, 6 June 2018

Duels in OSR

This is inspired by my work on The Dolorous Stroke, but adapted for OSR games.
Here's a system for when two characters duel.

Duelling requires that two combatants agree to one-on-one combat, and are not interfered with by any third fighter. Once the duel has begun (which might be in the midst of a larger fight), the combatants continue to fight round-by-round as normal, until the duel ends. The duel might end because one duellist is slain, because a third party interferes, or because one duellist admits defeat or tries to break away from the fight.

The fight is resolved normally, with both sides rolling to hit each round on their action. 
At the start of each round, however, both sides must choose their tactic for that round; either Push, Parry or Feint. Each chooses secretly and reveals simultaneously, like for 'rock-paper-scissors'.  Compare each fighter's tactics, which will modify the rolls for the round.

Parry beats Push, as the parrying character turns away the obvious attacks of the push. The character who parried gets +3 AC.
Push beats Feint, as the aggressive push forward batters through the attempts at finesse. The character who pushed does +3 damage if they hit.
Feint beats Parry, as the feinting characters creates openings to strike past their enemy's guard. The character who feinted gets +3 to hit.

If both sides Parry, then the duel becomes a defensive stand-off. Both characters get +3 AC.
If both sides Push, then they just batter at each other furiously for the round. Both characters do +3 damage if they hit.
If both sides Feint, then the duel becomes a complex dance of strikes and counters. Both characters get +3 to hit.

* * * 

Feint/Parry/Push are named for sword-vs-sword duels, but you can use the same mechanic for other 1-on-1 fights. For example:
A joust has Evasive (+3 AC), Aim for the Body (+3 damage), and Aim for the Shield (+3 to hit).
A firefight with both parties shooting from in cover has Hunker Down (+3 AC), Shoot Recklessly (+3 damage), and Aim Carefully (+3 to hit).
A fistfight has Back Up (+3 AC), Swing Wildly (+3 damage) and Dirty Blow (+3 to hit).
And so on.

* * *

What's my reasoning? I wanted 1-on-1 fights to have an extra layer of tactics to them, rather than just being 'roll to hit' each round. In my experience reenacting and larping, a 1-on-1 duel is a fairly tense affair, with both sides trying to read the other so they can take advantage of their mistakes. So, the rock-paper-scissors model works well here: predict what your opponent wants to do, and you can capitalize on that.
For predicting your opponent to be viable, there needs to be some asymmetry between the 3 options, otherwise which option is picked will be basically a 1-in-3 random chance. So, each option gives a different advantage if it succeeds, motivating you to pick different options depending on the situation. In a round, the duelist must decide if they care most about not getting hit, about damage if they hit, or about successfully landing a blow at all. If you're losing badly, pick Parry to go on the defensive, for example. Since different combatants will have different talents and priorities, you can take a good guess at your opponent's tactic based off that. 
Likewise, it's possible that the situation can make one tactic obvious for you: perhaps your down to 1HP and any hit will drop you. The obvious move here is to parry, for the AC bonus, but your opponent knows that and so will want to go for a feint in order to beat your parry and get that last hit in: if you instead go for a push, you catch them off guard, negating their feint entirely and getting extra damage in.

Thursday, 31 May 2018

Knightly Orders

I'm writing this for my wargaming project (which I'm tentatively calling The Dolorous Stroke in my own head), but it's loose at the moment. You can adapt it to other medieval settings, since basically it's a collection of weird chivalrous orders and why they go on quests and adventures. So, you get a nice set of motives for fighter/knight/cleric/cavalier/paladin PCs.

Here's the idea. The setting has knights divided into orders. Each Order is a distinct organisation with a few distinguishing features:
It's stronghold. This is a single geographic location where the Order is based. It could be a castle, a subterranean vault, a village, a cathedral. All sorts. This is where they meet, store their knowledge, get their equipment and salley forth from.
Its image of the True Knight. This is what they think a knight should aspire to. Basically the orders are all on a sort of quest for self-perfection but disagree over what that perfection looks like and how to achieve it.
Its Quests. Basically, what they do to become a True Knight. So the Order of Herne (who believe that a True Knight is one who has vanquished all monsters) quest to find ever more dangerous and exotic beasts to slay.

Its Insignia. This is how you recognize the Order. This could be heraldry (often an Order have something distinctive that appears on every knight's heraldry) but is just as often not. For example, the Order of the Wyrm don't wear a gauntlet on their right hand, to keep it free for spellcasting.

So you have various weirdos venturing out from their central stronghold to go on some personal quest that will make them a Better Knight, and of course their ideals won't match those they encounter most of the time. You have knights trying to slay wild beasts, to dig up the bones of dead heroes, to drink their foes blood, to get the most blinged-out gear ever, and so on.

Here are some of the Orders I'm ruminating on. Most are only loose ideas at this stage.

The Order of the Wyrm:
Magician-knights. Believe that the true goal of knighthood is power, and that magical knowledge is the surest root to it. They quest to find new grimoires and improve their arcane power. Their stronghold is a bleak black granite tower, filled with libraries of forbidden lore and fell spirits bound into the dungeons. Their insignia is a bare right hand, free of a gauntlet, with which to cast spells.

The Order of Herne:
Hunter-knights. Believe that a knight is measured by the monsters they have slain, and that the greater the foe defeated, the more noble the knight. They quest to hunt down and slay ever more mighty and exotic beasts. Their stronghold is a hunting lodge in the deep forest, and their insignia a pair of antlers mounted on their steed's brow.

The Order of the Red Maw:
Vampire-knights. Their esoteric order holds that nobility is a property of the blood (after all, aristocracy is hereditary; the right to rule is carried by blood). It stands to reason, therefore, that by taking on the blood of noble foes, the vampire can absorb that nobility into themselves. They quest to find and defeat the most worthy knights they can find, drinking their opponents' blood. Their stronghold is a deep underground vault, where the blood of every member of the order and every one of their defeated foes is poured into a huge well to be stored forever. Their insignia is a red stain to their armour.

The Order of the Unicorn:
Penitent-knights. They hold religion to be the most important ideal, and thus that the true knight is pious and holy. Their stronghold is a huge cathedral where the knights of this order pray, fast, flagellate and meditate, and their quests tend to be missions to protect nunneries, shrines and relics from danger. Their insignia is long reams of holy text pinned to their surcoat.

The Order of Golden Splendour:
Miser-knights. They believe that prosperity, opulence and luxury are the properties of a true knight, and thus that a knight should endeavor to be known for their vast wealth and the great works they achieve with it. Their stronghold is a beautiful manor surrounded by well-tended gardens, at the heart of which lies the Order's treasure vault, Their quests tend to be concerned with acquiring ever more wealth for their order, and their insignia is the gold trim on their armour.

The Order of the Black Lance:
Murder-knights. These knights believe that a knight's role is simple; they are a soldier, which is to say a killer of their fellow men. Thus, a true knight has only one defining characteristic, an immense talent for murder. Their methods are varied and dishonorable, and they are shunned by other orders for the unpredictable killings they commitThey have no true stronghold nor insignia, and are organised only loosely around a number of safehouses.

The Order of Thorn and Sting
Torturer-knights. They hold that the measure of a knight's worthiness is his ability to endure suffering. Thus, their quests tend to involve the knight taking on some horrible peril that will cause them pain and injury before they can prevail; when no such peril is available they train their fortitude by scourging one another's flesh with ever more inventive torments. Their stronghold is a dour fortress of grey stone and weather-beaten wood, lit from within by orange fires and with smoke pouring from its high chimneys. The insignia of the order is, inevitably, their many highly prominent scars.

The Order of Bones
Gravedigger-knights. They believe that an appreciation for their own mortality marks a knights true worth, and that whilst life is fleeting the legacies of the noble dead are eternal. These morbid knights study the bones of the dead, so as to gain a greater understanding of the forces of entropy and extinction that act upon all mortals. Their quests and studies are esoteric, and many step slightly outside of normal mortality, becoming living-dead revenants or sustained more by will than biology. Their stronghold is a great ossuary, and their insignia is a bone taken from this great mass grave as a reminder of their own impending death.

Tuesday, 29 May 2018

Arthurian Narrative Wargaming

Just a quick one.
I've been hacking together a set of wargame rules. The basic idea is that it's a narrative skirmish game in the style of GW's Inquisitor. Small groups of detailed characters engaged in action scenes. Freeform character creation, custom missions, playing with an eye towards RP and making a cool story rather than winning.
Setting is a sort of dark fairytale Arthurian thing. Inspiration coming from Warhammer Fantasy's Brettonians, tales of King Arthur, the stuff over at this amazing blog, and the more grounded sort of pseudo-historical fantasy. Each warband is a knight errant and their entourage, roaming the countryside, getting into scrapes, doing quests, duelling other knights and so on.

Mechanically, places I'm nicking ideas from include GW's Inquisitor, Malifaux, GW's lord of the rings skirmish game and ideas taken from tabletop RPGs such as various OSR games.

Things I'm doing with the rules:
Stats are rated 1-10, with 4-5 being about normal. Mostly roll-under to succeed, with the dice you roll varying depending on difficulty. So, to hit with a bow, you must roll under Accuracy on a d8 normally, but if it's raining perhaps that goes up to a d10.
Stats are: Speed (how far a model moves each turn), Accuracy (roll under to hit with bows etc), Prowess (roll a dice and add Prowess to see who wins a fight), Strength (roll a dice and add Strength to see if armour is penetrated), Toughness (this plus armour value is the target value you must beat in order to penetrate armour), Wits (used for awareness and initiative), Education (used for spellcasting, medics etc) and Charm (used for social stuff).
 Turn sequence is move phase (players alternate moving a model), Action phase (players alternate resolving models actions such as shooting, spells, healing etc), and then fights.
Fights are a roll-off to see who wins, like the LotR game, and then the winning side injures the losing side.

Injuries are handled in a way I'm really pleased with: Each character has a deck of cards with them, split into the four suits. Clubs is injuries, with the ace through to the king each representing a different wound like a gouged eye, pierced lung and so on. When the model is injured, draw a card from the deck and see if it's an injury the weapon in question can inflict (you can't impale somebody with a club). So the more dangerous weapons can inflict more of the different injuries, and so you're more likely to get a valid injury on the card you draw. If an injury is inflicted this way, the card gets put with the PCs character sheet as a reminder.
Blood loss is done with the Hearts suit. You start with all 13 hearts, and when you lose blood discard one or more, dying when none are left.

I'm setting up special combat rules for jousts, for sword-duels on foot and stuff. Special abilities for characters that will push them into certain fighting styles.
Magic that depletes willpower. The spades in a character's deck of cards are their willpower, and you discard them as your willpower is worn down by tests of your nerve and spellcasting.

It should be a sort of mix of old fashioned fairystories and legends and gritty fantasy. Questing knights jousting with elfin princes. Black-armoured vampire-knights and their retinues of skeletal thralls. Old hermit-knights uncovering the weapons of their youth to defend their shrines from ghostly marauders. Young nobles duelling in the midsummer sun over courtly romance.

I have no fucking clue what to call it, though. Suggestions?

Monday, 28 May 2018

VtM - New Koldunic Paths

I play a Tzimisce blood-sorcerer in an online Vampire: the Masquerade game, and I really like the style of magicthat kolduns use. Rather than the accademic hermetic magic of the Tremere or the morbid ceremony of the Cappadocians, a koldun directs the raw elemental power of the land they inhabit. Their magic tends to have a nature-ey feel to it, and is rough and brutal in application.
As ever, when I get keen about things, I write homebrew for them. So, here you have some: the ways of Wood and Blood.

The Way of Wood
This path utilizes the koldun's connection to the forests of their territory, controlling trees like a vampire with animalism controls wild beasts. A koldun with this power typically grows various trees around their haven to act as servants and sentinels. Many eschew wooden or stone buildings entirely, shaping their havens from the living forest.
To use each power, the koldun must spill their blood into the soil at the base of the tree, so that it soaks in and is absorbed by the tree's roots. 
Dice pool: Dexterity + Occult/Koldunism, with a difficulty of 3 plus the power's level.

Shape Wood
This power is the most fundamental of the Way of Wood, allowing the koldun to direct the tree's growth into whichever form they wish. This power is most commonly used with Accelerate Growth to rapidly produce plants of whichever shape the koldun wishes.
System: The roll allows the koldun to shape the tree's growth as they wish for as many 'stages' of its growth as the amount of successes achieved (see below for the specific details). The control is near perfect, producing any shape that could be produced through careful pruning, wiring, and trimming, and with none of the ugly scars. The tree can even be warped into distinctly unnatural shapes, far weirder than anything found in nature.

Accelerate growth
The koldun feeds a tree their blood, and it fills the plant with vigor, causing it to grow rapidly. This power is most commonly used with the preceding power to allow a young plant to grow overnight into whichever shapes the koldun wishes.

System: Each success on the activation roll advances the tree one 'stage of growth'. This growth takes a full day to complete; after twenty-four hours, the tree will have rapidly expanded to its new size. The stages of growth are:

  • Seedling (an inch or so)
  • Sprout (up to a foot)
  • Sapling (up to five feet)
  • New tree (up to ten feet)
  • Young tree (up to fifteen feet)
  • Adult tree (up to twenty feet)
  • Mature tree (up to thirty feet)
  • Old tree (up to forty feet)
  • Ancient tree (up to fifty feet)
  • Methuselah tree (sixty feet or more)

Awaken the Green Speech
This power awakens the slumbering mind within the tree, allowing it to communicate. The koldun interprets the creaks and groans of its limbs and the rustle of its leaves as readily as they would the speech of humans.
System: Each success on the activation roll awakens the tree's speech for one night, allowing the koldun to converse with it freely. The tree perceives everything that happens beneath its branches or above its roots, but its mind is strange: compared to humans, it is slow, sedentary and patient, considering most animals to be brief flickering things that appear and disappear without meaning or purpose.

Animate Huorns
This power causes the trees to move under the koldun's control, limbs bending and grasping like arms. Trees animated in this way are strange beings, but intensely loyal to the koldun; possibly the blood absorbed through their roots causes them to effectively become blood-bonded to the koldun.
System: Each casting of this power animates one tree into a huorn until the sun rises.
The huorn has as many health levels as their age category (so a seedling has one health level, all the way up to a Methuselah tree with ten), and the same amount of strength and willpower. Each success gives 1 dice to all attributes other than strength, and to the abilities Alertness, Athletics, Brawl, Dodge, Stealth and Throwing.
The huorn's thick bark grants it three dice of armor. Fire and axes deal aggravated damage to it, which it can only soak with its 'armor'. Everything else deals bashing damage, which can be soaked with its stamina + armor, if it affects the huorn at all (sunlight, cold and poison, for example, do nothing to a tree). The tree heals damage only very slowly, one health level per week of growth.
The huorn cannot move from the spot - its roots remain fixed in place - nor can it speak (unless Awaken the Green Speech has been used on it). 
The huorn is loyal to the koldun, obeying any instruction given absolutely. Absent of any instructions, it will fight to defend her and protect her territory as it sees fit. 

Strange Fruit
This final power invests the koldun's power into the trees they work it on; they feed the tree their blood and the tree absorbs it, storing it in bloated red-black fruit that swell from the underside of its branches. The koldun can pick the fruit to consume the sap-like blood within, or allow the tree to use it when animated as a huorn.
System: The koldun spends a willpower point and makes the activation roll; each success allows them to feed the tree one blood point. Each blood point the tree has ingested is stored in a single fruit. A tree can have up to three times it size category in fruit (from 3 for a seedling to 30 for a Methuselah).
A vampire that picks and feeds on the fruit gains a single blood point. The blood does not form blood bonds, nor can it be mystically linked back to the koldun who donated it, only to the tree from which it was picked. The sap within is thick, sticky and cloying, and the experience of feeding on fruit is likely very strange to kindred who normally only drink the blood of animal life. 
Alternatively, if the tree is animated as a huorn, it can spend the fruit like a vampire spends blood points, in order to increase its physical attributes or heal damage. Treat its generation as being the same as the koldun who animated it. In addition, it may spend a fruit to gain an additional action in combat (much like using celerity), but cannot make more actions in a round than its age category (so a maximum two actions for a sapling up to ten for a methuselah).

The Way of the Blood
The Way of the Blood functions much like the Way of the Spirit, allowing the koldun to spread their perception to those they have blood ties to; as their mastery grows, the koldun can extend their perception to those with ever less potent ties to the koldun. 
To use this power, the koldun rolls Appearance + Occult/Koldunism, with a difficulty of 4 plus the level of the power to be used. Each success allows the koldun extend their awareness for one hour.
When active, the koldun perceives not only through their own form but also through the forms of those they have an appropriate blood tie to. They simultaneously see, hear, smell, taste and feel all that those they are extending their awareness into do. Although they share perceptions, they are not directly affected by things their conduits are: exposing their conduit to fire does not provoke a frenzy roll, they cannot be dominated through their conduit's eyes, and tasting another's blood with a conduit's tongue does not blood bond them.
Furthermore, the koldun can cast other koldunic magic through any of the conduits as if they were there in person. The power is limited, however; they cannot use a koldunic power from another path at a rating higher than their rating in Way of the Blood (so, for example, they cannot use the fourth level of Way of Fire through a conduit if they only have three levels in Way of the Blood). 
Finally, whilst the power is active, any individual who becomes blood bonded to the conduit becomes likewise bonded to the koldun themself.
Even when the power is not active, the koldun instinctively knows if an individual is a conduit to any levels they possess. 
The conduits allowed at each level of Way of the Blood are as follows. Each level also includes those of the level above it.
  1. The koldun's childer, and any vampires directly descended from those childer (their grandchilde, great grandchilde etc).
  2. The koldun's ghouls (IE any ghouls at all blood bonded to the koldun).
  3. Any mortals (human or animal) with any level of blood bond to the koldun.
  4. Any vampires directly blood bonded to the koldun (or with a vinculum to the koldun).
  5. Any ghoul or mortal blood bonded to a vampire conduit from the previous levels.

Paradox Beasts for Esoteric Enterprises.

Paradox Beasts are the various beings brought into existence when magic goes dangerously wrong. It’s unclear if they’re created by the magic itself, intruders from other realms of existence, or formed by reality as scar tissue against the damage done. What is clear, however, is that they are dangerous.
Where a paradox beast exists, the basic structure of reality is altered. Causality becomes more shaky, the laws of nature don’t quite apply in the same way. If allowed to remain, their influence will grow, infecting ever greater areas around them with their contagious unreality.
Each paradox beast is unique, and most utterly bizarre in appearance, but there are common motifs. Most are biological-looking, resembling alien life-forms. Often, their anatomy is nonsensical, and outside the aura of altered reality they create their biology wouldn’t be able to sustain life.
It’s impossible to say if they’re intelligent like we are. They don’t talk, and don’t really seem to have tools of their own, and seem to be struggling to cope with the world they find themselves in. It seems that mundane reality is as alien and confusing to them as they are to normal humans. Most go on a blind, baffled rampage on arrival in the real world, unable to properly comprehend what’s going on. A rare few survive, hide and grow used to the world they’re in. They warp the environment around them and grow old and cunning. Perhaps many of the true horrors of the deep earth were once paradox beasts, now acclimatized to this world. Perhaps they have plans that even now are being brought into fruition.
The appearance of a paradox beast is likely to attract the attention of Men In Black and other authorities, who will deal with the outbreak with brutal efficiency. Witnesses are mind-wiped, evidence destroyed. They aren’t demons or devils, but to an ignorant civilian they might as well be.
They shouldn’t exist. Every fibre of your being tells you that.

Creating a Paradox Beast
The first step is to determine how many Hit Dice the paradox beast has. Normally, the total number will be determined by the effect that brought the beast into existence. Otherwise, roll a d12 for it.
Of these hit-dice, some will be flesh and some will be grit. Roll a d10; this is how many dice are flesh dice, the rest are grit. If the result is more than the creature’s total number of hit-dice, then instead the creature has two flesh dice, and the remainder grit. (Obviously, a creature with only one hit dice only has that one dice of flesh). The number of flesh dice the creature has determines it’s size, according to the table below.
The Paradox Beast’s AC has a default value of 12. Its saves are determined by it’s total number of hit-dice, as seen on table XX.
Assuming it doesn’t have any other attacks granted by its features, a paradox beasts attacks once. The to-hit bonus is equal to its number of hit-dice, and the damage depends on its hit-dice, as shown on table XX.
All paradox beasts have certain strengths and weaknesses. If they enter an anti-magic field or similar area where magic is suppressed, they blink out of existence for as long as the field of Antimagic remains in place. If they are hit by Dispel Magic or similar spells, that deals d12 damage to them.

Paradox Beast Forms, Features, and Effects
Each paradox beast has a particular shape that its body takes. Roll a pair of d20s on table XX overleaf to determine what the beast’s basic form is; the first determines the basic shape, and the second gives an adjective that modifies it. The creature’s form and adjectives may modify its basic stats.
After this, determine the paradox beast’s features. These are the unusual organs or special abilities that the creature has.  Roll a few d20s on table XX to generate them. At least one, maybe as many as six. Keep rolling until you’ve got a satisfying amount. If you want to go fully-random with it, roll d6 features.
Lastly, each paradox beast has effects; the way they warp the world around them. Like with features, roll a d20 on table XX to determine what their effect is. Keep rolling until you feel you’ve got a good selection, or just roll up d6 effects.

And there you go. Paradox beasts for Esoteric Enterprises, since they aren't in the player book. Have fun!