Saturday 27 October 2018

The Stygian Library Finished

So, the module is finally done. Here it is.
It's a project I started in June, first mentioned in this blog post. I've been working on it intermittently since, and finally got it done in a spurt of activity this month. It's out in time for halloween, too!

Really, this is a direct sequel to Ynn. The structure is exactly the same: you roll up locations as you explore deeper, building a map as you go. Some minor tweaks to this, such as the Progress score, minor alterations to running blindly, and what's on the Events table. But nothing huge. If you liked Ynn, you'll like this.
In terms of atmosphere, the Library is likewise similar to Ynn, with many of the same motifs appearing. Genteel yet dangerous environments, old machinary built into the space, mutation and madness. Things skew darker, though. Necromancy gets a big focus. Many of the monsters are ghosts of various forms, some of them the products of almost industrial processing. Other encounters are undead, or use the dead somehow. Similarly, many of the locations in the library feature magic that messes with the soul, and many of the library's machines use phantoms in the same way 20th century technology used electricity. Overall, when I've run it (or bits of it) you alternate between a sort of comfy 'English stately homes' feel, and a sense of subtle creepiness. I wouldn't go so far as to call it a horror game, but it has its spooky moments.
Mechanically, I've abstracted the process of finding specific information in the library to a running 'progress' score that accounts for navigating the place's layout, looking up references, putting facts together, and so on. Every time you read the right books, talk to the right NPCs, etc, you get a little bit closer to your goal. I've found that its fairly intuitive, since it mirrors the 'attrit away HP' mechanics we're familiar with: tot up numbers until you reach a goal.
There's books everywhere in the module. A d100 table for what a given shelf of books is about, and a couple of pages of special books that grant benefits to the reader. Bonuses to attributes in the manner of those old 'manual of bodily health' books, revelatory texts that let you switch class, occult works that let the magician or cleric add spells from the other's list to their own, that sort of thing. Rather than physical mutations, these books let you improve yourself through knowledge.
Lastly, there's a little class at the back, the Mummified Sage. Basically a scholar who's been in the library too long, died, and kept on researching without noticing. They get a little spellcasting (only one spell slot), some advantages for being undead, and a flat chance to recognise anything weird they encounter from their studies.

So, that's about it. Visually, it's a bunch of art nouveau and 19th century stuff mostly. All public domain. I think it works well together. The rest of the layout is pretty simple, with two collumns and big titles. It should work in play.

What now? I'm still hashing out and formalising the system I used to test it. I might bundle that system, this, Ynn and a hub location into a single omnibus. Howl's Moving Castle and Gormenghast are feeling like inspiration here, the players inherit an old magical mansion that they must explore, pacify and master, and which has portals leading to these two pocket dimensions.

So yeah. I'm happy enough with it, and I've had fun running it in tests. It's four bucks on DTRPG. You can get it here.

Monday 22 October 2018

Into the Library - An example of play!

So I ran a little expedition into The Stygian Library last night. Just one player, my partner, who seemed to have fun. Here's how it went down.
The system was a weird cludge mostly using bits of Into the Odd, Lamentations of the Flame Princess, and Esoteric Enterprises. Set in the modern day.
The PC was Lucy Farrell, the scion of a wealthy family of occultists, with an interest in demon-summoning. A magic-user with 1 HP, intelligence 17, shit stats otherwise, and the spells Command and Fortune Telling in her spellbook.

So she's going into the library in search of a grimoire teaching her how to summon and control a particular demon.
She finds a doorway to the Stygian Library in her house's study, hidden behind a bookshelf. It's only three feet high, so she opens it up and crawls inside. Within, there's a dark room full of scrolls, with picture-frames on the walls. Lucy realises she can't see shit without bringing her own light source, and so returns with some candles to see by, very sensibly locking the door behind her. When she gets back, she finds the picture frames contain maps of various locations - some mundane, some mythical. Right away, she ignores the ominous ticking coming from below the floorboards and finds a map of the Library itself from among them (giving her some progress towards finding her goal).
Continuing to investigate, she looks for the source of the ticking, lifting up a loose floorboard to find a cobweb-filled lair the size of a coffin beneath, filled with dead mice. Within, an abandoned satchel, containing some cash and a strange book of esoteric exercises that increases the reader's physical health! She reads it (because it has a hunk on the front cover - Lucy is only 18 after all) and gets +1 dexterity! Then, being a reasonable individual, she picks up the satchel, so she can hand it in to the library's lost & found desk.
As she searches further, she hears a skittering noise approaching; the giant ogre-spider whose lair she'd found is returning. Before it can reach her, she's headed deeper into the library to avoid it.
Deeper in, she finds a room lit by a roaring fire, with a big stone sarcophagus. Investigating reveals that the tomb is that of one Lady Muriel Farrell, who died in the early 19th century. She thinks for a bit, and remembers that Muriel was a daughter of the family like her who went missing, everybody assuming she eloped. She says a quick prayer, and continues on her way.
Her way, as it happens, leads her to a chapel in the library. Here, she finds some candles, and on the pulpit a holy tome dedicated to Orcus, Dis Pater. She reads it and learns Cosmic Secrets that cause her to instantly level up! Since she levelled up reading the revelations of the Lord of Dis, the spell she gets is Speak With Dead. She gets a single extra HP, too!
This gives her a plan. She goes back to her ancestor's tomb, and casts Speak With Dead, calling up the ghost to have a chat. The ghost gives her some pointers on the layout of the library, including the rough direction of the demonology section, and roughly where to find the help desk! They chat some more, and the ancestor tells her that she'd died of 'having her brain eaten by a man with an octopus for a head'. After a long and heartwarming chat, the ghost asks to be dismissed since 'it's dangerous to be a ghost in the library'. Lucy obliges.
As she's preparing to leave, she encounters some nuns, also exploring the library! They're polite and helpful, but cross themselves and pray enthusiastically when Lucy asks if they know where to find books on demonology. Quite why she thought they'd know is unclear. Still, they give her pointers towards the library's help desk, which should help her deal with the lost property she's carrying. The nuns leave in one direction - discussing where to find a book called 'The Adventures Sensuale Et Romantique of Sainte Therese' - and Lucy goes back to her original entrance to start searching other 'shallow' locations for the help desk.
After not too long, she finds it, half-way up a flight of stairs, manned by a Yellow Librarian! She hands the satchel of lost property over, and is thanked by the Librarian, who gives her some pointers on where to find the Demonology section. Her progress score is doing alright at this point! Thanking the Librarian, she continues on her way.
At the top of the flight of stairs, she finds a room filled with statues, and containing many scrolls about ancient medicine. She's just starting reading one when she notices a puddle of rippling ink oozing out from under a shelf towards her; an Ink Elemental! She starts to walk briskly away, the Ink Elemental starts to ooze briskly after her. Pausing, she turns, and casts Command on it, telling it to leave her alone! The elemental passes it's save, and responds by engulfing her in a tide of ink. Maximum damage is rolled. Lucy starts to drown, hits 0HP, and takes critical damage. Lack of oxygen to the brain has given her permanent brain damage (disadvantage to any roll involving thinking clearly - luckily she's still int 17 - and a reminder every now and then that she's suffering 'sewious braim dablage') and causing her to cough up chunks of bloody lung as she starts dying.
She struggles free, staggers back down the stairs - pursued by the ink elemental and the inkblots that trail behind it, and collapses before the Help Desk, gasping out 'help... me...' before falling unconcious.
(During her unconciousness, the Librarian on duty does, in fact, help her - stabalizing her bleeding so she's not gonna die, and summoning more Librarians to fight the monster before it can damage any books. Lucy drifts in and out of conciousness, seeing them defeat the elemental, rip its soul out, turn the soul into a Phantom, and put it in a bottle for later.)
She awakens, and discovers that the magic the Librarians used to stop her dying has had the unfortunate side-effect of aging her by a good decand and a bit, and she's now biologically in her early 30s. And most of her body is permanently stained jet-black by the ink. And she still has sewious braim dablage.
She encounters a floating spell escaped from its spell-book, which encourages her to climb the stairs, casts Spider Climb on her a few times, and is eventually shooed away by a Librarian with a broom. At the help desk again, she helps the Librarian with his paperwork, and then decides to try and find a book about how to fix her braim dablage before continuing with her search for demonology. A few pointers from the Librarian on where to go later, and she sets off!
Upstairs, she finds some more rooms filled with statues, before hearing the approach of somebody fleeing from a swarm of bees! Hiding under a carpet, she hears the bees defeated by... some sort of magic... and makes sure its safe before emerging. Before her, a man with an octopus for a head is idly toying with dead giant bees. They talk, she thanks him for defeating the bees, and asks if he's going to eat her brain. He responds that 'no, you've got some nasty brain damage. It would be like eating a sandwich that somebody stomped all over wearing football boots.' He does, however, suggest that the book she's looking for lies in the Brain Room, which also contains many delicious brains. She asks him what he's doing in the library, and he says he's hear to eat all the brains, and that the Librarians think he's a monster because of it, musing that 'there's so much hatred in the world.' He further suggests that they should go looking together, and Lucy (seeing no other option), goes along with it. The neurovore declares that they are now Friends, and that his name is Urglefloggah the Spine Ripper.
Further encounters ensue. They meet some Librarians trying to fix a collapsed shelf. Urglefloggah goes invisible and sneaks off, Lucy tries to help. One of the librarians goes to get supplies, and Urglefloggah ambushes him around the corner and eats his brain. Lucy seems unphased by this.
A little deeper in, they meet some skellingtons, which helpfully point them in the direction of the Brain Room. As they get close, they are cornered against a portcullis they can't open as a monstrous Shade pursues some obsidian monkeys, killing them before their eyes as the pair hide. They see the monkeys become spiritual slaves to the Shade, and become concerned. Eventually working out how to get past the portcullis, they find a magical shroud that protects the wearer from having their soul damaged, which Lucy puts on, being somewhat concerned by what she just witnessed.
Deeper in still, they find a room filled with phantoms in jars! They decide to rest and recover spells here, but as they settle in they are assaulted by a mass of crawling, twitching limbs! Retreating back to the portcullis, they get to the other side just in time, and close it behind them, trapping the crawling limbs on the other side but also meaning they'll need to find a new route to the Brain Room.
So they set off. A few more, less interesting, rooms are found, including ones where Lucy finds a bottle of Conspiritor's Ink (invisible to authority figures!) and Infernal Ink (good for magical contracts!) before, eventually, they find a planetarium.
Urglefloggah sets himself down to read contracts while Lucy starts experimenting with the Astrolobe in the centre of the room. She establishes, after some experimentation, that if you set the astrolabe back, time goes back for the people in the room. Making a little cut on her finger, she sets time back, and finds that the cut has healed.
This gives her an idea. She sets the astrolabe back to before she was attacked by the ink elemental! Her braim dablage is undone, her skin is no longer ink-stained, and she's back to being 18!
Urglefloggah sees that her brain is juicy and whole again, and starts staring at her thoughtfully.
Urglefloggah passes his Save vs Friendship to see if he cares about Lucy enough not to eat her: turns out she's lunch now. Lucy tries to cast Command on him to make him leave her alone, but he passes his save!
In desperation, as he drifts towards her, Lucy sets the astrolabe back a minute. Urgelfloggah is peering thoughtfully at her again. He makes another Save vs Friendship, and once more, decides to eat her brain. She casts Command again (since she'd gone back to before the spell-slot got used!), but he passes his save once more! As he floats towards her, tentacles twitching, she once more desperately resets the clock!
Urglefloggah peers at her thoughtfully, and then declares "Oh, don't worry, I won't eat you. We're friends! Now, shall we go and find this big room full of brains, and then your demon-summoning book?" Lucy, realising that Urglefloggah has decided not to eat her, figures she's stuck with a clingy, overly-friendly neurovore who is - at least - not planning on eating her, and resolves to accompany him until she can find a way to give him the slip.
And we ended the session there.
All in all, we had fun. The player says they want to continue it, as there are all sorts of things they want to explore or try that they've heard about in passing. So that might happen.

Saturday 20 October 2018

Classes for an ItO-esque system.

So here's the deal for a stripped-down system I'm looking at hacking together. Largely inspired by Into the Odd.
You roll your six stats in order as normal. You can 'invert' them if they suck, so a 3 becomes an 18, etc.
Your class is determined by your best stat. If there's a draw, you get to pick between them.
Strength = Fighter (you all know what a fighter is)
Dexterity = Expert (covers thieves, rangers, doctors, assassins, etc etc. All the 'skilly' characters)
Constitution = Survivor (basically the dwarf/halfling, with big defensive bonuses)
Intelligence = Magician (vancian casting from a spellbook).
Wisdom = Cleric (small list of known miracles, pray and hope your god grants the prayer).
Charisma = Psychic (always-on minor supernatural abilities that /just work/).

All classes get a d6 hit-dice.

Each class has a benefit or two for their class.
Fighters add their level to rolls to hit and damage, and get to follow through as many times per round as their level (follow through = if you drop a victim, you can make another attack immediately).
Experts get a 'second chance' on skill rolls (IE roll-under-attribute) rolls. If they get their level or less on a d10, they succeed. They get to make this d10 roll even when normal humans can't roll at all (climbing without handholds etc). They pick one area of expertise (like stealth or medicine or outdoorsmanship or whatever) and roll their second chance for that on a d6.
Survivors get a flat +5 hitpoints at first level. They add +5 to their saving throws to avoid bad stuff. They get to pick one area (like running away or spelunking or whatever) and have a second chance on skill rolls there like an expert.
Magicians cast spells. (Spells don't have levels). You start with two spells in your spellbook and memorize them vancianly: you can have as many spells as your level memorized simultaneously. There's a big d30 list of spells including a lot that are like 'protection from ...' or 'charm ...' that roll a bunch of different spells into one template, where the magician picks what it applies to when they pick the spell. Experimental magic like casting spells weirdly or copying from somebody else's spellbook has a chance to cause fuckups (from a big table).
Clerics know the following miracles: Cure Sickness, Cure Wounds, Detect Unholy, Sanctuary and Turn Away Unholy. (unholy is undead, and also demons, worshippers of evil powers etc) (sanctuary blesses a victim so that enemies must save in order to be able to attack them). To cast a miracle, the cleric must roll their level or less on a d6 (6s always fail). If they succeed, the miracle happens, if they fail there is instead a complication as divine forces pay attention to them and make demands.
Psychics get a minor supernatural power from a big d30 list. It always works. Stuff like creating/controlling shadows, being able to move things without touching them, having a mesmerizing gaze. Freeform improv what you can do with them, with some guidelines for the GM (numerical/mechanical effects scale off level. So a first level psychic using their power to attack does 1 damage, etc). Get double the effect by taking d4 damage and risking a magical fuckup, triple for taking 2d4 damage and a fuckup, etc.

Once you've picked your class, your starting gear is picked off a table comparing your best stat (the one that determines your class) vs your HP roll. Same as how ItO does it.
I'm thinking this table maybe also generates your starting spells/powers/chosen skill as well.

Saturday 13 October 2018

Shit games don't get about combat situations.

So, as you'd expect I've never been in an active warzone. The number of actual punchups I've been in is fairly low. I've got comparatively little experience with real violence.
On the other hand, I've been in a lot of simulated combat. I've been larping for, like, ten years, I've done airsoft and dabbled in reenactment. The biggest battle I've been involved in was roughly 800 on each side. Big enough that each side is divided into units with unit commanders, runners to take commands from the generals and return with situation reports, actual formations and manoeuvres.

Here are some observations on how combat tends to go down based on this live-action experience, how games tend to get it wrong, and maybe how to fix it.

ONE: Shields
Shields win fights. Going up against somebody with a big shield without one yourself is fucking difficult. Like, maybe 8 times in ten the shield-user wins.
Shield walls as a formation are rock hard in a direct fight. Stand shoulder to shoulder, shields up, weapons ready, and a frontal assault trying to take that on is going to have real problems. Unfortunately, shield walls, because of their tight formation, move slowly, get broken up by terrain like woods, and are hard to maneuver. Plus, they're super vulnerable if you can get in among them or round the back or whatever because the densely packed mass of fighters make it hard to respond once somebody's past the wall.
How to model this: make shields better. No, not '+2 AC rather than +1' better. Like a shield fundamentally changes how you fight. A shield user going full defensive against an enemy to their front is basically unhitable. In massed battles, make 'shield wall' a formation you can take that makes it hard to move but gives huge bonuses to defence.

TWO: Reach.
Spears are good because they can stab you before you can stab them. Likewise, this is why swords are better than knives. Keep an enemy with a smaller weapon at bay, and they're not gonna be able to hit you without getting hit by your weapon first.
Counterpoint to this: if you get inside the reach of a long weapon, now the short weapon has a huge advantage. Get past the tip of a spear so you're stood next to the shaft and the tip is behind you, and you're spear-wielding victim is fucked unless they drop the spear and draw a shorter weapon. Same goes for knife vs greatsword etc.
How do you prevent them getting inside your reach if you've got spears? Lots of buddies. Line up a couple of ranks of spear users, get them (again) densely packed together and you get basically a fence of spikes pointing at you, and however you try to get past, you get stabbed. Pike blocks are like shield walls, but stabbier.
Again, this can in theory be countered by going around the side or getting right in among them if  you're super reckless. Getting in among them is gonna be hard though, since behind the front row of spear-tips there's gonna be another row from the second rank, etc etc. Actually charging a pike block from the front is basically just voluntarilly kebabing yourself.
How to model this: Work out the range you're fighting at: the person who's weapon's range you're fighting at gets the first attack, and the other only gets to attack at all if they can get past it somehow.

THREE: Archers.
Everybody hates archers.
There are two ways you can use them. A unit of archers all in one go can shoot at one of the dense formations above, just pumping arrows into them, and the casualties will be spread about and break up the formations: this can give you the weak-spot you need to break past their defence IF you time a charge well enough.
Otherwise, you're taking potshots at vulnerable spots, picking people off when they're out of cover or a juicy target. Shooting officers if you can tell who they are is super easy. Same for medics etc.
Arrows have limited range for being able to take accurate shots in the heat of battle. A lot of experienced archers will wait until their victim gets closer to shoot: most combatants know this and keep their distance/get into cover if they see an archer taking aim at them. Having an arrow nocked and at half-draw while scanning for targets has - in the past - let me hold of five enemies when it was just me: broken terrain between us meant I could definately drop two of them before they reached me and nobody wanted to be first.
As such, a few archers can define a 'threat area' and keep enemies at bay (unless they're heavilly armoured, bonkers, etc).
You can nock an arrow, draw and take aim at a slow walking pace. Your accuracy suffers a little, but it's doable. This is useful for projecting your 'threat area'.
Keeping an arrow nocked and half-aimed zooms your focus in on the targets in front of you. The rest of your situational awareness suffers.
You cannot shoot if somebody's actually in melee range. You're dodging about or backing up or parrying, you just can't nock an arrow in that situation. Legolas isn't real, that shit isn't practical. Drop your bow and draw a melee weapon.

FOUR: Being in a shield wall.
So, there's a bunch of you. You can see in front of you. Your flanks are obscured by your comrades to either side. Hard to tell what's going on in the wider battle, mostly. If you're actually in a fight, then you've got maybe one or two enemies right in front of you that suck up all your focus. Maybe the ones to either side of them too if the press is less dense. You know how the fight with your enemies is going. You can see how your comrades to either side are doing and - if your direct opponents give you the chance - maybe intervene too. Weapon reach is a big factor here: if you've got a spear you're much better at supporting those to either side of you than if you had a sword just because you can reach further.
Outside of you, your mates to either side, the enemy in front of you, and his mates to either side, you have NO FUCKING CLUE how the rest of the line is doing while in the thick of combat. You better hope your formation is strong and disciplined enough to hold: if it breaks then your nice shield-wall or pike-block will get rolled up as the formation is disrupted.

FIVE: Line-on-line fighting.
Line-on-line fights don't last long. A couple of minutes max. The lines start out a little outside of reach. Maybe ten yards. Push forward, try to find openings, take casualties. Pull back again.
The side that's been fighting worse tends to get pushed back in the press. This is simple, really: if your being overpowered in your duel, you'll take a step or two back to protect yourself. If the guy next to you steps back, you take a step back too so you aren't stood out on your own like a wally (and thus vulnerable).So, the side that's doing worse will take surprisingly low casualties, but will lose ground in the press and generally pull back, ceding ground to the enemy. (Do this enough and the wider formation between units breaks up, letting you start doing real damage by getting behind enemy units once the unit next to it has been pushed right back).
Discipline and leaders are everything here. Morale is a huge, huge factor. After shields/spears, morale is the biggest factor. Fights are seriously won by somebody with a loud voice shouting "PUSH FORWARD ON THREE: ONE, TWO, THREE, PUSH! AGAIN! ONE, TWO, THREE, PUSH!" and the rest of the unit going with it. If it's done to you by serious, disciplined troops who don't break formation, it's terrifying.
DO NOT BREAK FORMATION. DO NOT BE A HERO. DO NOT GO OFF ON YOUR OWN. That shit will make you isolated, vulnerable and dead in quick succession.
How to represent this: fights don't pin you in place over multiple turns. You close, exchange blows, and then one side gets pushed back. They probably don't break ranks and flee, they're just ceding ground.

SIX: Armour
You can run in armour. You can be agile in it. I have climbed trees in chainmail.
The problem is that it's exhausting. You get tired way quicker. heavilly armoured fighters are way more exhausted at the end of the fight than lightly armoured ones.
How to represent this: different movement rates for different armour/encumbrance is dumb. Enforce more rests for more armour, and if they don't punish them severely. Every event I'm at, somebody is an idiot, doesn't hydrate properly in battle, and makes themself ill: don't be that person and punish your PCs if they try to ignore fatigue.

SEVEN: Skirmishers.
Skirmishers are great. An enemy with a big shield, heavy armour, whacking great pike, etc is weighed down by it in the long term. Light troops aren't.
Likewise, an open and flexible formation lets you maneuvre waaaay more easilly. This is good for doing things like hitting flanks, sneaking around the back, taking out behind-the-lines juicy targets (like medics, commanders, wizards, artillary, etc), exploiting weak spots.
Skirmishers dart in, hit something vulnerable, and fall back before the formation can bring itself to bear on them.

EIGHT: Trading blows.
A simple observation: its really easy to hit an enemy in a fight, it just means that they're probably going to hit you too. Trading blows like this is pretty doable and actually fairly realistic if both sides are in full heavy armour (think gothic plate, a full coat of chain, etc). Being able to get a hit in while denying your enemy the chance to hit back is key to winning fights.
Simple ways to do this: Superior reach (or getting inside their reach). Pushing aggressively with a shield. Chucking a javelin at them as you close.
The #1 best way to do this: have a buddy with you when they don't. They can't fend both of you off.

NINE: Firefights
I don't play fps games so maybe this is all obvious to you, I dunno.
COVER COVER COVER. Be in cover or somebody will shoot you. If somebody is in cover, shoot at their position and they can't leave it. Now, your mates can sneak round the flank while they likewise pin you down. Or they can sprint to a better position while you keep them pinned to prevent them picking of your mates as they make a mad dash for it.
You flush people out of cover by either going round the side or chucking a grenade over it.
If you're crazy, a bunch of you can charge straight at them firing from the hip on full auto. Surprisingly effective if you're OK taking massive casualties in order to get that one bastard who's stopping you advancing.
Camouflage is important, since it's harder to pick you off if they aren't sure exactly which bit of the cover the shots are coming from. Colours that match the environment are nice (neon colours get you killed), but more important is breaking up your silhuette. Ghillie suits and capes are great for this.

TEN: Discipline and formations.
I've said this a lot, but seriously. If you break formation, you will get picked off by archers and skirmishers. If your formation loses its coherency, it loses its protection and light, aggressive troops will take advantage of it.
HOWEVER. Forming a shield wall and parking yourself somewhere will get you killed as more maneuvrable troops go round the side. Or just ignore you and go for the vulnerable targets. You need to keep moving forwards (to keep the enemy pushed back) or failing that to be able to fall back to a better position without turning your back.
Ideally you want to keep pushing forward. Hit hard, push the enemy back, claim ground.
DO NOT form a circle. If you're back-to-back with your allies, you can't step back if you need to. You'll be surrounded, unable to retreat, and pressed so dense you can't fight properly. You will all die. All of you, to a man. Better to break formation, run for it, and reform somewhere safe.

ELEVEN: People on the floor.
Executing a fallen enemy is quick and easy and you can do it as your line pushes past them. Do it to avoid nasty surprises: if you don't you are an idiot and deserve it when your enemies get mysterious reinforcements from behind you.
You'd be surprised how often you can pick up stragglers, injured allies (or ones who've lost a weapon/shield but are still in the fight) to reinforce you if your enemy aren't doing this.

TWELVE: Big monsters, elites, vehicles etc.
Something big and scary is basically worthless if it's not supported. A war-rhino or chariot or whatever will be surrounded and dispatched really easy if the enemy knows what they're doing. So, put the secret weapon in your formation, guard its flanks. If you don't, it's isolated, and isolated combatants quickly become dead combatants.

Much of this is based on my experiences at the UK larp Empire, and it's preceeding systems Odyssey and Maelstrom. If you're in the UK, you should absolutely try the events, they're pretty brilliant. There isn't much that compares to being part of a huge medieval style pitched battle in terms of sheer visceral spectacle. 

Friday 12 October 2018

Bandwagons - OSR for the perplexed questionaire.

So zak posted this just now. It can't hurt to leap onto the bandwagon and share a little snapshot of what OSR looks like to me, so here you go.

1. One article or blog entry that exemplifies the best of the Old School Renaissance for me:
In Corpathium from last gasp grimoire. It's got a wonderfully weird, decaying, eccentric tone, which is nice. And it's basically a setting entirely conveyed through random tables, which is like the most osr thing I've ever seen. 2. My favorite piece of OSR wisdom/advice/snark:
So it's not one that I see stated explicitely so much compared to the more well-publicised wisdom, but:
As a GM/writer, do not be afraid to fuck shit up.
Like, here's some examples. Deep Carbon Observatory can start an apocapyptic war, Death Frost Doom has the zombie army. LotFP's summon spell can break reality in hilarious ways. Skerples's Monster Menu-All is a big collection of ways for PCs to mutate horribly by eating things they really should't.
OSR design isn't afraid of things that drastically alter PCs or warp the game setting. There's no sense of things needing to stay on track - you play, mad shit happens, it's fine.
3. Best OSR module/supplement:
Module: I'm gonna give a shout to Clint Krause's The Stygian Garden of Abelia Prem. It's a simple little adventure with a garden, an abandoned mansion and some spooky cellars all linked together, along with some odd monsters and cool (plant-based!) treasure. Plus a little guide in the back for if your players decide they want to start taking cuttings to grow their own crops of the various plants they find. Nothing revolutionary, but it hits its tone wonderfully and I just really like it.
Supplement: A Red & Pleasant Land is full of cool shit and my go-to example of how the OSR can produce weird and wonderful stuff that you wouldn't expect of D&D. Plus it's Alice and vampires, so it ticks all my boxes.
4. My favorite house rule (by someone else):
Everthing Logan Knight writes is amazing. Particularly his take on magic and the chaotic body-horror weirdness it unleashes. Go start here, but it's all good.

5. How I found out about the OSR:
A buddy of mine in university ran a campaign of (heavily modded) LotFP,  mentioned some cool blogs (D&D with porn stars, Last gasp grimoire, hack & slash I think) which I read and loved.
6. My favorite OSR online resource/toy:
The swords & wizardry srd is actually super helpful to me just for collecting a fairly standard example of the different spells, monsters, magic items etc. I refer to it a lot while writing.
7. Best place to talk to other OSR gamers:
Currently G+. I intend to stay there until the bitter end.
8. Other places I might be found hanging out talking games:
I'm sometimes on rpgnet, but not often.
I have a tumblr, I'll probably take it out of hybernation when g+ dies.
I actually post on 4chan's /tg/ OSR thread quite a lot. If you post there already, you probably know me, so hi! If not, don't go there it's a hive of scum and villainy and the shitposting ratio has been pretty poor lately (enough that I swore of the thread forever a few months back, but it's improved a bit and I have no self control). If you can ignore the frogposters, /pol/ shitstirring and constant shrieking of FOEGYG it produces the occasional funny or interesting thing juuuust enough that I keep checking back. God, I fucking hate foegyggery though.

9. My awesome, pithy OSR take nobody appreciates enough:
OSR is the playstyle. If it's about exploring something dangerous and cool, goal and challenge-oriented, doesn't pull it's punches in terms of danger, and prioritizes the in-world events over mechanics, it's OSR. I've seen stuff I wrote run with Exalted and Dungeon World. I've run Veins of the Earth using Vampire the Masquerade. The dice/stats/mechanics engine you use doesn't matter if your play is oldschool.
Cue angry shrieking from purists.

10. My favorite non-OSR RPG:
I'm super torn between Vampire: the Masquerade, Changeling: the Dreaming and Wraith: the Oblivion so I'm just gonna compromise and say old WoD stuff. 
11. Why I like OSR stuff:
I'm gonna use a music analogy. D&D is heavy metal. It's been going since the 70s. Everybody knows the progenitors of the genre (dungeons & dragons/black sabbath). You know the genre conventions, the weird cheesy stuff that only makes sense in the context of metal/D&D, the patterns things are going to follow.
You've got a recognised template and set of motifs and techniques to pull from with a big back catalogue and lots of depth.
Now, the OSR is in a similar place to (say) Doom Metal right now. You have bands that are recreating the feel and tone of the classics (Electric Wizard's latest album is one big black sabbath tribute, let's all be honest). But at the same time you have bands like, say, Sunn 0))) or Nadja or SubRosa experimenting and doing weird artsy creative stuff with the genre. And all this stuff is drawing from the same well, part of the same tradition, feeding into each other. It's big and vibrant and constantly growing to new places while staying very firmly rooted in the traditions that started it all.
I like that in a scene. It's healthy, it's a good place to start doing your own work in.

12. Two other cool OSR things you should know about that I haven’t named yet:
Yami Bakura (who gets mad props for being named after the best thing on yu-gi-oh) writes cool shit here. Go check it all out.
K Yani has put more interesting worldbuilding in the friggin' armour class table than most games manage in their setting explanations. Go read this cool post.

13. If I could read but one other RPG blog but my own it would be:
This is an unfair question to ask and I refuse to answer, there is too much good shit out there.
Real talk though it's Last Gasp Grimoire.

14. A game thing I made that I like quite a lot is:
Mutilate your PCs when they hit 0HP.  Injury charts for different types of injury, keying off the amount of damage done. Bleeding out, mutilation, health problems, delayed death, etc. I'm super pleased with how it works out in play.
15. I'm currently running/playing:
Playing in a couple of Vamp games (one is a larp!). Gonna be doing a few one-shot larp events over the winter. Looking to run Ynn for some local people soon.

16. I don't care whether you use ascending or descending AC because:

17. The OSRest picture I could post on short notice:

Some More Monsters From The Library

I've been writing more monsters. Some of these monsters are quite weird, I often write whilst quite sleep-deprived, I hope they make sense to people less addled by sleeplessness. Monsters are mostly done now, though, the book near's completion.

Lost Souls
The soul of one who died within the library, not yet drawn into the library’s machinery and distilled into a phantom.
A lost soul knows what happens to the souls of the dead here. They seek to avoid capture by the grey librarians and to preserve their own independence and sanity. Talking with one can reveal a great deal about the inner workings of the library and the nature of the engines and calculations within.
Roll a d12 for who the Lost Soul once was.
1. A mortal librarian.
2. A lost child.
3. A nun.
4. A mad nobleman.
5. A professor of mathematics.
6. A master burglar.
7. A famed assassin.
8. A plague-stricken doctor.
9. An emotionally tormented artist.
10. A mortal census-taker.
11. A historian.
12. A genteel necromancer.
Hit Dice 4, HP 8, Armour as unarmoured humans, see below for attacks, save as fighter 4.
Souls are gaseous beings, immune to all physical damage save that caused by magical items. They can pass through permeable objects, and are unaffected by fire, poison, and so on.
Roll two d8s for what powers the lost soul has.
1. Move objects about like a poltergeist. Roll to hit at +4 for d6 damage if it throws them at people.
2. Cause wet inky writing to appear on things.
3. Alter the memories of those present in minor ways: a Save vs Magic resists and alerts the victim.
4. Cause something to catch fire for a few moments: a Save vs Breath might be needed to avoid fire, and  it does d6 damage.
5. Lock doors securely.
6. Make vermin appear: masses of flies, cockroaches or woodlice:  attacking, they do d6 damage.
7. Create gusts of wind.
8. Make objects collapse or fall apart. Roll to hit at +4 for d6 damage if used to attack.

Ink Elementals

An oozing, creeping mass of ink. By turns, black, deep blue, or iridescent. Formless and fluid. As big as a horse. It seems and drips. It leaves a sticky black residue behind it.
The semi-elemental nature of Ink is to spread and flow. Whilst its own form is transient and ever-shifting, the marks it leaves behind are indelible. It is the constantly-shifting force that leaves a permanent record.
Hit Dice 5, HP 30, Armour as unarmoured humans, engulf (+5, d10), save as fighter 5.
Immune to physical weapons. Set alight by fire (takes 1 less damage each subsequent round as it continues to burn), normal damage from cold, electricity and other elemental damage. Can take any shape, seep through gaps, creep up walls.
Anything it touches is permanently stained black.
Each round, can ‘spend’ d6 HP to produce an Inkblot, or absorb an Inkblot to heal d6 damage.

The residue created by Ink Elementals. Slithering black stains that trail behind the elemental, leaving a trail of black smudges. The size of a handprint.
Hit Dice 1, HP 1. Armour as unarmoured humans, engulf (+1, d10), save as fighter 7.
Immune to physical weapons, normal damage from fire, cold, electricity and other elemental damage. Can take any shape, seep through gaps, creep up walls.
Anything it touches is permanently stained black.
Can combine with up to 4 other inkblots to produce a new Ink Elemental.

A large skull with a single eye-socket, perhaps taken from a cyclops, perhaps from some beast such as an elephant or deformed whale. Bleached white, perfectly preserved. Hanging in the air as if from invisible threads.
Intelligent. Pompous, impressed only by its own cleverness. Uses big words, belittles the intellect of those in discussion with it, loudly proclaims its own genius in conversation or battle. Despite its arrogance, a mighty foe that projects beams of necrotic power from the cavities and crevices in its skull.
Hit Dice 11, HP 22 Armour as chain, d6 necromantic laser-beams (+11, d6), save as magic-user 11. Normal undead immunities & vulnerabilities. Levitates.
The skull-warden’s single eye-socket emits a gaze that supresses magic. All magic ceases functioning where it looks for as long as its gaze lingers.
Each round, it can use one each of any of the following rays instead of one of its laser-beams. (They roll to hit as normal).
· Levitation (subject is lifted 10 feet per round while in the ray).
· Expansion (subject doubles in size while in the ray).
· Contraction (subject halves in size while in the ray).
· Stasis (subject is held in place and cannot move from its current position while in the ray).
· Attraction (subject is pulled 10 feet closer to the skull-warden each round that they remain in the ray, and cannot escape or move back).
· Petrification (turned to stone for d6 rounds, save vs magic resists).

Little floating teeth, each perfectly preserved. They hang in the air in a roughly mouth-shaped pattern. They talk in unity, the ‘mouth’ they create changing shape to match their words.
Their intelligence is somewhere between a group of children and a flock of birds. They chatter endlessly, think everything is exciting.
If a skull-warden is present, then the tooth-wardens fawn over it like children over a favourite grandparent. Everything the skull-warden does is wise and interesting and brilliant.
Hit Dice 1, HP 1 Armour as chain, chomp (see below), save as magic-user 1. Normal undead immunities & vulnerabilities. Levitate.
All the tooth-wardens make a single attack representing their collective jaws biting. It rolls to hit at +X, and does exactly X damage, where X is the amount of tooth-wardens in the jaws.

Animate Spells
A spell that has broken free of its constraining spellbook and now roams the library as an independent entity. A data-cloud of disembodied text hanging in the air, paragraphs intersecting with one another at odd angles. Letters cast strange shadows from the emergent, occult-significant, shapes they form.
The spell’s personality, nature and goals will depend on which spell it actually is, as will its powers. It wants to see  itself cast and to see the effects of its magic repeated (IE an animated fireball  spell just likes to see things burn in general, while an animated charm person spell likes people to be friends with each other).
Roll up a completely random spell from whichever game you’re using. If there are multiple spell lists, randomly select one, and then roll up a spell of a random level from that list.
Where the stats below refer to ‘spell level’, roll a d8 to determine the spell’s level if the system you’re using (Wonders & Wickedness, for example) doesn’t use spell levels.
Hit Dice = spell level, HP = double spell level Armour as unarmourmed, cannot attack, save as magic-user level = spell level.
Can cast itself once a round at no cost, with perfect control over the results.
As a spell rather than a creature, immune to all damage from non-magical sources. Furthermore, physical magical damage (IE from magic weapons) only ever deals 1 damage at a time.
Immune to damage and negative effects from sources that match up to the spell’s type (IE an animate ‘fireball spell’ is immune to fire).
Whenever the spell’s own spell (or a related spell) is cast  nearby, that effect is controlled by the animate spell, not the spellcaster (IE if you try to cast any ’charm’ spell near an animate ’charm person’, that spell is controlled by the animate spell). Effectively you lose the spell and it gets to cast it instead.
A successful antimagic field, dispel magic, etc, neutralises the animated spell.
Any unfilled spell-slots in magicians are immediately filled by the animate spell’s own spell on encountering it. Likewise spellbooks immediately gain a copy of it for free.

Infernal Merchants
A visitor from Hell. The library contains souls, trapped and catalogued, and considering that souls form the main currency of Hell, this has resulted in a certain degree of financial interest from the devils.
The infernal merchant is here to trade souls. He might buy them or trade them for some service, or else be willing to sell souls from his stock if a good price is offered.
He will seem helpful. He isn’t. His three goals are to enrich himself, to entice mortals into damning themselves and to cause mortals to suffer. Everything he offers is a trap, his contracts carefully worded to screw the mortal signee. Small print is written on an atomic scale.
His prices are, when you think about them, very reasonable.
HD 8, HP 16, Armour as chain, Whip/claws/pitchfork/flensing knife (+8, d8 damage), saves as fighter of equal HD.
Halve damage not from holy, magical, or silver weapons. Double damage from holy sources. Immune to mind-control that doesn’t specifically target infernal beings.

Roll a d12 for its appearance. It is:
1. Angelic
2. A goat-human hybrid.
3. A bat-human hybrid.
4. A huge serpent.
5. Corpselike.
6. Perfectly human looking. other than tiny horns.
7. Perfectly human looking, with an evil goatee and moustache.
8. A serpent-human hybrid.
9. An empty robe that oozes smoke.
10. A mass of chains and locks in a humanoid form.
11. An innocent-looking human child, with a forked tongue.
12. A savage-looking humanoid with six arms.

Roll a d12 to determines a special ability the devil possesses.
1. Can turn any object or being to solid gold by touching it, at will.
2. Can transform into a cloud of flies.
3. Can transform into a harmless-looking animal.
4. Can mimic the appearance of the viewer’s loved-ones.
5. Touch drains memory (d12 damage to intelligence).
6. Can teleport short distances in a puff of smoke.
7. Can sculpt flesh like soft wax (2d6 damage when used to mutilate).
8. Can locate the soul of a specified individual unerringly.
9. Immune to fire.
10. Casts charm person when it shakes your hand.
11. Casts suggestion at will, but requires the victim to answer a direct question to do so.
12. Can resurrect the dead. No need for an intact body. The dead come back… altered.

The devil can grant each mortal a single wish. It requires payment to do so. Perhaps their soul upon death. Perhaps the murder and delivery of somebody else’s soul. Perhaps some seemingly innocuous task. Unless you’re incredibly precise with your wording, the wish will be perverted and made evil. You’ll get precisely what you asked for, but you’ll wish you hadn’t.
It is evil. It is smarter than the PCs.

Escaped Fictions
Once, these beings were mere characters in a story-book, but now they’ve clawed their way out into the fractally-dense information-cloud of the library. They’re not really real, but its hard to tell because they’re so convincing.
They subconsciously crave reality. To warp the real world around their narrative so that they are part of the everyday order of things. Reality obliges. Where they pass, things alter to fit the fiction they have emerged from. You’re playing by their rules, now.
Roll a d12 to determine who you meet:
1. Don Quixote, who tilted at windmills.
2. Frankenstein’s Monster, who was built from corpses.
3. Grendel, a monstrous inhabitant of the wilderness who hates noise and celebration, one arm torn clean off.
4. Doctor Faustus, an occultist regretting selling his soul.
5. Count Dracula, the monstrous vampire.
6. Lady Macbeth, ambitious and murderous, and of much-degraded sanity.
7. The Ghost of Christmas Future, who delivers dire warnings to the mean-spirited.
8. Bluebeard, a dashingly handsome murderer of his many wives.
9. Sir Lancelot, brilliant knight and enthusiastic adulterer.
10. Robin Hood, a charitable bandit and excellent shot.
11. Puck, the mischievous fairy sprite.
12. Jack the Giant-slayer, young and reckless but cunning.
5 HD, 15 HP,  Armour as that worn by the character, as weapon carried by the character (+5, d8) or else unarmed (+0, d4), saves as Thief 5.
Have any vulnerabilities, quirks, powers or immunities appropriate to their character.
Attacks or other actions against them that do not fit the setting or ‘narrative style’ of the work they are from fail automatically.  (For example, guns simply don’t exist to Sir Lancelot, and he cannot be harmed by them).
Reality shifts to accommodate the character, and behaves like the setting they’re from, not ‘real’ reality. Actions intended to fit the character’s setting and narrative automatically succeed.
 In practice, this means that you should alter the tone and feel of your game while an escaped fiction is around. Some examples include:
¨ Blood doesn’t get spilled around characters written for children. Tone down any descriptions of gore or violence.
¨ Conversely, for characters from more bloody and brutal tales, ratchet the violence all the way up.
¨ Horror characters come with appropriately gothic lighting and effects.
¨ Technology reverts to that of the time-period of the character’s setting. Items from later in history (such as guns and clockwork, perhaps) simply cease to function.
¨ In extreme examples, the PCs may be able to hear the non-diegetic soundtrack (trumpet fanfares for Lancelot, or low, tense strings for Lady Macbeth for example).

Patrolling Apparitions
A spiritual monstrosity, dozens of souls stripped down to their barest essential nature and fused into an amalgamated weapon. Like the spiritual equivalent of weaponizing nuclear waste.
It’s barely more than a presence. A shimmer in the air, a mirage. Out of the corner of your eye, an impression of humanoid silhouettes, screaming faces, grasping hands. The smell of dust and rusty water.
It should not be. Every conscious being knows that what has been done is degenerate, instinctively finds the presence horrifying. They loathe and fear it.
The librarians use these beings to track down thieves and spies. They don’t seem to mind their presence at all.
Hit Dice 3, HP 9, Armour as unarmoured humans, Chill Miasma (save vs paralysis to avoid, d8 damage), save as fighter 3.
Apparitions are gaseous beings, immune to all physical damage save that caused by magical items. They can pass through permeable objects, and are unaffected by fire, poison, and so on.
Merely being in an apparition’s presence is painful. Each round, take 1 automatic damage.
Attacking it (in melee, at range, with spells, or in any other way) likewise forces you to concentrate on it, dealing another 1 automatic damage.
Any damage dealt by the apparition also permanently reduces your lowest stat by that much.
If anybody is killed by damage by the apparition, their soul is ripped from their body, twisted and mutilated by the apparition, and becomes a shade (See P. XX) under its total control.
If anybody is reduced to 0 in an attribute by the apparition, their soul is syphoned out by the apparition and consumed. It is gone forever, that person can never be recovered or resurrected. As a final insult, the apparition heals all damage when they consume a soul in this way.

Black Ooze
Like the green slime found infesting less genteel dungeons. Black ooze is a simple life-form that grows in unattended nooks and crannies. It feeds on mental energy. Touching it allows it to digest your brainwaves, causing it to grow rapidly as it absorbs and incorporates your mind. It oozes like an amoeba. It creeps under floorboards and behind wallpaper.  It’s hungry.
Hit Dice d8, Hit Points = Hit Dice, Armour as unarmoured. Mental Digestion (see below)saves as Fighter = Hit Dice.
As an ooze, takes a maximum of 1 damage from any slashing or piercing attack. Mindless. Can climb up walls, squeeze through gaps, etc.
Mental Digestion gets a bonus to hit equal to the ooze’s current hit-dice (IE a 5HD ooze gets +5 to hit). Every time you touch it, it gets to make a free Mental Digestion attack against you (rolling to hit as normal).
It deals d6 damage to the victim’s intelligence score, plus the victim’s current Intelligence modifier. (IE an Int 8 victim takes d6-1 intelligence damage, because they have a –1 intelligence modifier). The ooze then gains as many hit dice as the damage dealt.

Conceptual Wells
An intellectual absence, cosmic censorship. A space that cannot be perceived or conceptualized. Like a psychological black hole.
It cannot be perceived directly. Describe it in the negatives; for example ‘there isn’t something horrible in the room’ or ‘nothing has rolled a 6 for its initiative’ or ‘the thing that is not in front of you attacks’ or ‘nothing is definitely responsible for your comrade’s death’. The players might catch on eventually, it’s just a matter of how badly it will have mutilated their PCs.
The PCs can target it using the same language. ‘I’m going to shoot nothing’ or ‘I’m not fleeing from anything’. Likewise they can get details about it by asking negative questions, such as ‘where isn’t there anything?’ or ‘what does nothing here look like?’
(If it matters, the conceptual well doesn’t look like a helpless child of around four years old. It isn’t young and innocent, and it isn’t curious about its surroundings and playful. It isn’t basically helpless as soon as the PCs actually attack it, and it doesn’t die pitifully.)
It will get confusing. Good. This is an accurate simulation of what it’s like encountering something you can’t perceive and which directly assaults your ability to comprehend the external world.
Hit Dice 1, Hit Points 1, Armour as unarmoured, Erase Concepts (save vs magic to resist, see below), saves as magic user 1.
Each round, for each PC that fails their save, the conceptual well drains their ability to comprehend some idea or concept. Roll a d10 for what they forget:
1. That People Can Die
2. Money & Its Value
3. That Violence Exists
4. What Fire Is
5. That Other People Have Feelings Too
6. Gravity & That Things Fall
7. That People Can Lie
8. Where New People Come From (IE Babies etc)
9. What Families Are
10. That Social Inequality Exists
Acting in any way that suggests the PC is, in fact aware of an erased concept deals d20 damage to them unless they immediately retcon the action when prompted.