Friday 28 December 2018

Gosh Darnit Somebody Is Wrong On The Internet

So I found this blogpost,from the guy who did the hilariously naff review of MotBM, and it  mentions my stuff in it a few times. And it sorta pissed me off, but since it doesn't have a comments section I can find I'm gonna write about it here in an incoherent and vague sort of way.
Maybe there'll be some insight in here. Maybe it will be useful. Mostly it's venting.

part 1: anecdotes
I find this argument to be pretty weak given how drab, and often even out-right bad the ancedotes of OSR-driven games tend to be. For example, on Emmy Allen’s post about her DMing style, she lists five of her favorite gaming anecdotes. Two of these involve being vindicated that a player character died, another is basically “I almost died because of a bad die roll, but then another die roll also failed so I lived”. The only anecdote that seems mildly interesting ironically comes from VTM, a story game.
So, this right here is the point. 'Mister C. Reservations' takes these little anecdotes and assumes that these are the best plots and storytelling that I've experienced in RPGs, and that if this is as interesting as it gets, then the playstyle must be uninteresting. Which is untrue. 
In my time roleplaying, I've done all sorts of interesting things. I've been involved in melodramatic sweeping tragic love stories that, to this day, I find genuinely touching. I've seen political intrigues and skulldugery that took out-of-game months to pull of. I've played through crises of faith and experiences of religious fervour. I've played a mystery campaign that took literally three years to conclude, start to finish, and was consistently weird and intriguing every week as we probed deeper. At larps, I've fought in mass battles with 800 on a side, blocks of troops manoeuvring against each other. 
The thing is, though, those stories don't make for pithy anecdotes. They don't make for the sort of story you share in the pub("Remember that time Hideaki botched his drive roll so badly he owed a major boon?") They didn't prompt those moments of unbelieving laughter at the table.
Those little anecdotes got picked out because they were times something unexpected happened and it took the game in weird new directions.
[[also, if you call Vamp a story game to actual story gamers, they'll laugh at you. It's pretty much as trad as they come. Fuck, the whole indie forge thing happened as a direct reaction to why they felt Vamp wasn't working.]]

Here's the thing. Other people's games are boring. They are! To the extent that 'let me tell you about my PC's backstory' is joked about in some circles as being the stereotype of boring RPG conversations. The reason we like Actual Play (in my experience) is when it's being used for illustrative purposes; when the events in the game are being taken apart and analysed to show what makes a particular rule-set or module or setting or playstyle tick. 
But those same stories that seem boring to an outsider form a sort of shared mythology between the people that were actually there. We still joke about Grub, the caveman who died to the first dice roll of the game (and whose corpse was taken apart for materials by a ruthless band of players, making him in many ways the MVP of the campaign). Gaming is a social experience, and after your four hours of gaming are up, you're left with a set of shared memories that mean fuck all to people who weren't there.

Moving on.

Part two: OSR principles and discussion thereof.
I don't know what this guy is advocating for, really, except that he doesn't seem to like the whole OSR style of play. He says he does, but... Iunno.
A lot of the discussion in OSR circles tends to define OSR ideas in relation to the other big trad game: WotC D&D. A lot of the points about things like death being expected, lack of balance, the world existing outside of the PCs... all of those points are being made compared to the distinct style of play that modern D&D produces. That is, a sequence of combat heavy encounters tightly balanced to provide a tactical challenge but no real risk of character death, strung together by a pretty linear plot where the PCs move from one set-piece to another. 
If you're coming from playing a game like Vampire, Call of Cthulhu, Shadowrun, Dark Heresy... well, those games already do most of the things being discussed in OSR circles, to a greater or lesser extent. So if you're used to playing Call of Cthulhu, and then the OSR tells you to embrace lethality, then you're going to think we mean 'even more lethal than CoC' which is... just gonna be unplayably silly.

So, I'll say this again: the OSR exists as a reaction to the direction WotC took D&D in. This is a pretty well documented fact (that I can't be assed to provide proof for). I don't just play/run OSR stuff, and the dirty little secret nobody talks about is that these principles - the ones OSR thinkers bang on about, and that those outside the movement are so perplexed by - are seen just as much in other games. When I've had Vamp or Hunter or Mage run for me, particularly in larp settings but at the tabletop too, 95% of the time the STs are using very similar principles to what I see OSR players use. The idea of a living world, of challenges that aren't perfectly matched to PC capabilities, of death being a risk, of player agency, all of that... I see the GMs using it when running everything from Lacuna to Monsterhearts to WoD.
Hell, there's been a pretty neat series done by necropraxis about how Apocalypse World and OSR gaming use basically the same set of assumptions if you drill down to it.

Part 3: the bit that pissed me off
Here's the whole quote:
I have serious problems with the way RPGs are written, presented and designed. Why do I mention this? Because from what I’ve read, much of the OSR does as well. In that Emmy Allen post, she mentions that she hates “fights that go on forever, setting agnostic systems… slavishly rolling for everything” and mentions that she “doesn’t play RPGs for the story”, but rather the “ancedotes” and the setting. The things she’s describing are things common to almost all RPGs, and she can’t even enjoy the story–but she does enjoy the setting.
If this sounds like you, I’m going to be frank: You do not like RPGs. Or at least, not the part of RPGs that people commonly sign up for. What you like is emergent gameplay, which can be better obtained through video games and board games, without any of the awful scheduling issues or any of those things you said you don’t like. What honestly seems likely is that many people (overwhelmingly these people are DMs) are attempting to reverse-engineer the medium into something more palpable for them, and to be honest? I was once like that. It is an almost addictive experience, being a DM controlling a “living, breathing world”, and many people find that the desires of the players get in the way of this euphoria. It’s an ego trip. The OSR provides unlimited fuel for this ego trip, providing adventure after adventure where “anything can happen” but none of it really requires much consideration or personal sacrifice. Maybe I do understand the OSR, or maybe I have it all wrong. But it’s just like I said: all games have expected outcomes, and the ones I see in OSR games are overwhelmingly not healthy.

[angry cavegirl noises]
So, let's pick this apart.

The things she’s describing [these things: "fights that go on forever, setting agnostic systems… slavishly rolling for everything"] are things common to almost all RPGs, and she can’t even enjoy the story–but she does enjoy the setting.

So why are these bad? Why don't I like them? (In the post, I also lump in 'PvP' and games that encourage system master in character gen). In short, because they get in the way of the stuff I enjoy: mystery solving, exploration and discovery. In quick succession:
Most boring fights take up a disproportionate amount of time for the amount of decision making and information learned the players actually get. Since the chance of death is probably high, you need to do the fight 'fairly', but dividing a group of 5 and one GM into strict initiative order means that one sixth of the time a given player is just sitting twiddling their thumbs waiting for their action to come up. It gets in the way of the activity of roleplaying: if you want constant violence, a skirmish game like Malifaux or Inquisimunda is much better. A good game is one where violence is scary but over quickly: nasty, brutish and short.

PvP is horrible and I hate it, and like fights it eats up game time and distracts from the important stuff.

Slavishly rolling for everything is just... bad design and/or bad GMing. Most players don't play RPGs so they can roll lots of dice. Those players are off playing 40k or, I dunno, yahtzee. The problem is that while randomness is good (in that it keeps things exciting) but too much randomness makes the game too unpredictable, where chance has a greater effect than anything the players choose to do. In my view, skillful play largely consists of taking a situation where random chance might fuck your PC up, and reducing the ability of random chance to do that (such as, finding ways to stop that monster making attack rolls against you).
Lastly, setting agnostic systems... well. Why don't I like those? Because fundamentally, my enjoyment of the game - both as a player and as a GM - comes from the setting. It's a common saying that the game mechanics are the physics of the game world, and that's a sensible viewpoint imho. The strength of a game like Vampire or Call of Cthulhu is that the game mechanics represent how things work in that world. As a slightly twee example, the Blood Point in vamp is not an abstraction used for game mechanics. It's about a pint of blood sat in the vampire's system. It's a fact known in-world that rising for the night, or sprouting claws with Protean, or mimicking being properly alive use about a pint of blood. The mechanics aren't just abstractions and shorthands, they refer to actual things in the world. So I can play and not have to worry about game mechanics intruding on my immersion in the setting, because the mechanics are the setting.

So there's that. Saying that I can't enjoy fights or dice rolling or whatever is missing the point; what I'm complaining about is when an element of the game becomes disruptive of the overall experience. And then saying I can't even enjoy the story is likewise missing the point. The story is, by and large, whatever happens in play. Largely, what I - and other OSR writers - argue for is games that model narratives other than the hollywood 3-act script. Perhaps a soap opera where characters rise and fall, plotlines are introduced, some elements grow to prominence and others fall by the wayside. An organic story. Why? Because other mediums - films, novels, etc - do conventional narrative better. The strengths of RPGs (particularly RPGs where the PCs go into dungeons) lie in other styles of narrative, so you're better off playing to the medium's strengths.
If this sounds like you, I’m going to be frank: You do not like RPGs. Or at least, not the part of RPGs that people commonly sign up for. What you like is emergent gameplay, which can be better obtained through video games and board games, without any of the awful scheduling issues or any of those things you said you don’t like. 

Well this is just presumptive. Video games and board games are often highly competitive and require a often lack that sense of immersion in a world that I want. (This doesn't apply to all video games. Some - Dark Souls and Silent Hill spring to mind - totally do this.). Besides which, I like RPGs as a social activity with friends. 
And now we get to the bit that pisses me off.

What honestly seems likely is that many people (overwhelmingly these people are DMs) are attempting to reverse-engineer the medium into something more palpable for them, and to be honest? I was once like that. It is an almost addictive experience, being a DM controlling a “living, breathing world”, and many people find that the desires of the players get in the way of this euphoria. It’s an ego trip. The OSR provides unlimited fuel for this ego trip, providing adventure after adventure where “anything can happen” but none of it really requires much consideration or personal sacrifice. Maybe I do understand the OSR, or maybe I have it all wrong. But it’s just like I said: all games have expected outcomes, and the ones I see in OSR games are overwhelmingly not healthy.
What the fuck, mister ChimRes? The implication that everybody GMing OSR games is just in it so they can engage in an unhealthy ego trip is just obnoxious. This was the point where I went from perplexed to irritated.
My experience has always been that GMs run the game they'd want to play in. If a GM enjoys games about characters' emotions and relationships as a player, then the games they run will facilitate that. If a GM enjoys crunchy tactical combat, they'll run that sort of game. And, when a GM enjoys games about exploration and discovery, they'll run those games. 

Part 4: Why OSR?
There's a lot of misconceptions about what OSR games are out there. I've come up against this a lot. My ex used to refuse to play in my games because 'well, they're basically D&D, and D&D is boring'. Other people think the genre's about constant grinding death-by-kobolds, or tomb-of-horrors-style GM power trips. 
As I mentioned earlier, when OSR games are largely explained using their relation to modern D&D and games of its ilk, then that's going to produce a distorted image in people who don't play them.
When discussing this stuff with people that haven't got into it, you're going to hit misconceptions like this stuff all the time.

So what is OSR to me? Why do I make stuff for it, why do I like it so much?
The answer, I think, comes in three parts.
Firstly, the skeleton of the game (six stats, hit dice, AC, etc etc) is a lingua franca. This is incredibly important. It means that you can have a family of games and rules and hacks that all inspire each other. Since the game's comparatively simple, has been around for ages, and has been hacked to hell and back, it's well understood. Any given mechanic is pretty well grocked by the community at large, and so your tweaks to that mechanic (or stuff in the world that interacts with it) is coming from a position where everybody basically knows how it all functions. 
The fact that it's based on D&D is, to my mind at least, largely incidental. The point is that this is the common language everybody basically understands, so when you describe things in those terms or analyse those mechanics, people know what you're doing.
The second reason is the creative people that make OSR stuff. A few points stand out here: the OSR is largely amateurs and small-press publications. Most people making OSR stuff are doing it for the love of the game, and are driven by artistic vision over the corporate line. A company like WotC wouldn't produce Veins of the Earth or A Red & Pleasant Land. It's weird and risky and cool.
That's not to say you don't also see this in other indie RPG scenes. Apocalypse World hacks have a similarly vibrant and diverse scene, because again it's a scene made of hobbyists using a common lingua franca to inspire each other. 
Lastly, I find that what motivates me as a player is discovery. I want to explore the game world, to find new things, to investigate mysteries, to solve puzzles. I want to feel like I'm learning about the game world. When I GM, I'm GMing to facilitate that experience in my players. When I write game stuff, the product is likewise there so the GM can facilitate that experience.

Now, to plenty of players, that sense of exploration and discovery isn't what they're here for. If you don't enjoy that sort of game, that's fine! Other games exist, and serve that niche. If you like politics, join a vamp larp. If you like melodramatic emotion, play monsterhearts. 
The appeal of the OSR, to me at least, is that it's a community that's grown around a shared love for a specific experience in play, and creating games that help create that experience. 

Wednesday 26 December 2018

Thoughts on Discovery and the Dreamscape Game

One of my favourite sequences in any film I've seen is in the american remake of The Ring, about halfway through where our protagonist starts investigating Samara Morgan, and the evidence begins coming together in a slow montage, and we begin to realise that things are far worse - and far stranger - than we initially realised.

One thing that I really love in RPGs, which I only see rarely but always makes the game amazing for me, is the sense of the world unfolding before me. The feeling that there's a big world that's not apparent to me immediately, a setting that exists beyond the scope of the PCs, mysteries and depth and all that stuff.
I want a game where the world has depth that's not explained right out of the gate. The feeling of unravelling the setting's secrets is important to me. I don't think I'm alone in this: the fun in picking the setting apart and learning how things really work is seen in a lot of settings. I see it a lot at larps. I suspect it was initially a big part of the appeal of games like Mage and Vampire, although these days everybody into those settings knows the deep mysteries inside out and the publishers make a concerted effort to tie everything together and present a coherent setting for the players.
I've found that when a player can just read the book to learn what's up, it robs the game of it's sense of discovery. When I first got into Vamp larps, each game I attended I'd learn more about how the oWoD setting fitted together and it was great. But once I started reading the books, that kind of robbed the discovery from the game, and most vamp STs expect you to read the books in depth and know the setting well. So... :/ 
Call of Cthulhu is (in theory) a brilliant game for this, it's structured well for this style of gameplay. The only problem is that the players are mostly Lovecraft nerds. I'm guilty of this, last time I played CoC, I predicted all the monsters ahead of time since I was familiar with the setting. This was, incidentally, still fun. Knowing OOC that you're up against (say) Shub Niggurath's young is really scary, since there's that suspense where you know the horrible thing that's going to happen. But you don't get the sense of uncovering the setting if you know you're dealing with the HPL mythos.

So implementing this sense of discovery.

You see this in a lot of OSR modules, where they implement the Weird as a way of introducing unfamiliar elements for the players to puzzle together, and it works OK. But it doesn't quite scratch the itch, since the stuff in a module doesn't tie into the greater setting. When each Wierd element is unique, you don't feel you're unpicking the setting by working it out. This is why I prefer a module like Death Frost Doom or The Monolith From Beyond Space And Time (which hint at a wider setting beyond what you encounter), over something like The God That Crawls or Tower of the Stargazer, which is self-contained.

One of the best things that I've seen in the original games is the tradition of dire warnings to players not to read the GM's book. Basic D&D did it, Paranoia did it. I think the original Call of Cthulhu did it too. This tradition has somewhat fallen by the wayside; these days players are customers like the GM is, so if you can sell them the GM's book. And there's a sense that good players understand the game, which means reading the GM's stuff. Fuck this idea. If you want the game to be fun do not read the GM's book, do not read the setting book. Just don't. Resist the temptation.
You're reading an OSR blog, so you're probably keen about game stuff and seeing the nuts and bolts of games working. I assume my readers are GMs rather than players. But that's 'mostly' rather than 'entirely'.

This brings me to the matter of the dreamscape project. 
If I was to sum up what I want the dreamscape project to be about, it's this little hypothetical snapshot: 

After a few sessions of exploring the layers of dreamscape, the PCs meet another agent like them, who says he's from something called the 'Theresan Order'. The Theresan Agent carries an icon of Saint Theresa, and is bleeding from the palms in a classic case of stigmata. They talk, and it turns out he's also projecting into the dreamworld from somewhere in the real world. Like them, he's capable of astounding - he would say 'miraculous' feats while projecting.
They return to the waking world. Their research turns up no signs of this Theresan order. Then one day, as they leave the office, they see a car-crash, and one of the victims is badly wounded, bleeding to death. An anonymous passerby steps out of the crowd and, offering a prayer to Saint Therea, causes the crash-victim's wounds to heal up miraculously before vanishing back into the crowd of onlookers. 
The players take a moment, clearly, they've just seen a Theresan Agent perform one of their miracles. But, Agents only get their powers while projecting into the dreamscape. One of the players asks "Guys. Could we be living in the dreamscape?"
The setting suddenly widens to reveal mysteries they didn't initially suspect were even there.
This example is hypothetical, and something like it will probably occur quite early into the campaign. I won't say if the player's guess is correct or not, or what the truth of the situation is, but it's moments like this that I want the game to facilitate.

How to achieve this?
Firstly, players do not read the setting book. No, really, not ever. There's nothing relevant to them in there, everything they need to know fits on their printouts and character sheets. There will come points as they level up when new areas of the game open up to them, and when that happens there'll be new briefing sheets the GM gives them, and indeed new character sheets that reflect different ways of engaging with the world. As a not-too-spoilery example, there's a whole seperate character sheet for when the agents aren't projecting in the dreamscape, and are instead running around doing adventures in the real world. That adventures in the waking world use a whole different set of stats should be a nice inception-horn moment.
A lot of mechanics are deliberately hidden from the players at first. What happens when you die in the dreamscape? What exactly happens to you when your heart-rate hits its max value? You don't know. Play the game to find out.

The GM's book has a bit on how to use different mechanics in the front few pages, as well as mechanics that the players don't need to know at first. The rest details the setting, the various factions and weird monsters and covert agencies in the world. I'm working on an 'instant conspiracy generator' where, whenever the players investigate what's really going on somewhere, you drop some dice and get a web of interested factions, as well as their hierarchy and the connections between them. There's probably going to be a rough timeline of events leading up to the point where the PCs start exploring the dreamscape, and what will likely happen if they don't get involved. Among monster stat-blocks, almost everything comes with a way to subvert, control, impersonate or monitor the monster's victims, rather than just going for brute violence.
I'm getting pictures for the project by Scrap Princess. The first images have a wonderful dreamlike film-noir feel to them. Strong black shadows, directional lighting, tight angled perspective. 

I've been looking into psychadelic and paranoid fiction lately. Paprika, Jacob's Ladder, Mulholland Drive, 12 Monkeys. There's a rich vein to explore here, I think.

Sunday 23 December 2018

Mini Adventure - The PCs Save Christmas!

Monster stats are as mentioned in my previous post here~.
This is statted assuming PCs of level 5ish. 1st level characters will die horribly.

The plot hook:
Before running this adventure, maybe have an encounter or two with the Court of the North Pole. Have the PCs meet some elves or something, to get a feel for this stuff.
It is the night of the midwinter solstace, and the PCs are staying somewhere isolated and rustic. An inn, coaching house, hunting lodge, whatever fits for your campaign. Outside, a snowstorm rages, inside the building fires render things cosy. The doors and windows are tightly barred against the things that roam the night in the midwinter.
All at once a hue and cry goes up! An entire family are missing from their rooms! Although their doors and windows are securely locked, the fire has gone cold in the grate!
If the missing family can be recovered, there is surely a reward to be offered. Plus there's probably something supernatural going on, and that means treasure. Or whatever, find a motivator that fits your group.

Searching the Room:
If you search the room that the missing family was taken from, you can find the following.

  • The names of the Sawyer family, on yuletide cards.They are Jedediah (19, mute), Grandpa (76, male, patriarchal), Drayton (39, family dad), Sally (36, family mother), Kirk (10) and Pammy (7). 
  • No signs of a break-in through the doors or windows, no signs of a struggle. It looks like the 7 were taken from their beds while sleeping.
  • Scattered about the room, a few lumps of coal. Meanwhile, the fireplace is fed with wooden logs.
  • A set of 'Mince' pies. Rather than the expected mincemeat made of dried fruit, spices and treacle, these have minced human flesh as their filling. Investigating them by splitting the pies open will reveal the meat, pink and well seasoned, and a single human tooth in one. Otherwise, the PCs might recognise the taste of man-flesh if they try them.
  • Sooty footprints leading from the family's beds to the fireplace. 
  • Up the chimney (wide enough to wriggle up with a little care), a shifting multicoloured light flickers like a hologram, resembling aurora borealis. On the other side of this curtain of light can be glimpsed an entirely different room; this would seem to be a portal leading... somewhere. The portal lasts for as long as the storm outside does; once the storm dissipates, so does the portal.
If the family's possessions contain the following:

  • Clothes, toiletries, toys etc as you'd expect for the family of six. Clothing has nametags for various missing persons.
  • A number of butcher's knives, flensing knives, hacksaws meathooks, etc.
  • 5 little (human) leather dolls with human teeth in their mouth. Each is magical: if anything placed between the teeth, the dolls bite through it. They make good bolt-cutters.
  • A magical hatchet, slightly rusty and stained. The wielder can (by concentrating) instinctively tell the direction towards anybody whose flesh, skin or blood they've ever tasted. Against those people, the hatchet does double damage.
What Happened To The Sawyers?
The Sawyer family were cannibals of a particularly murderous and sadistic bent. Their sins have drawn the attention of the Fairies of the North Pole, who have spirited them away for their sins. 
They've been in disguise for some time. The PCs probably interacted with them when they arrived at the inn (or wherever), they portrayed themselves as normal, slightly shy, travellers on their way to visit family for the festive season.
A little research with local law enforcement will be able to match the Sawyers with various reports of murderers, bandits, evil cultists etc. There may well be a reward for their arrest or bodies presented to local sheriffs. 

Up The Chimney
Going up the chimney leads to the North Pole. In the first room, the portal opens into a fireplace in the corner, burning with a blue-green-purple flame that doesn't hurt you as you emerge or step back into it to escape.
If you've run Ynn or the Library, the procedure for exploring here should be familiar to you. Use the same mechanisms of Depth, Locations/Details, Events, Going Deeper/Going Back/Exploring and so on.
In short: 
  • The PCs arrive at Depth 0.
  • Where the PCs first arrive roll a location and details on the relevant tables and combine the results. Put it on the map as their starting point.
  • Each turn they can Go Deeper, Go Back to a previous location, or Remain where they are currently.
  • If they Go Deeper, add 1 to their depth, and roll a new location & details at their new depth. Link it to their previous location with a line.
  • Whenever the PCs make a noise, linger in one place too long, or are getting to complacent, roll an Event.
The Conflict
As the PCs arrive, most of the Sawyers have managed to break free, and are running amok in Pere Noel's winter wonderland. So, you have a two-way fight between the intoxicated, laughing madness of the fairies and the cold, cunning calculated malice of the Sawyers. Throw the PCs into the mix, and you've likely got a three-way fight.
Meanwhile, Jack Frost is staying out of things for the time being. If things get too out of hand, he'll rise up and retake his home from the interlopers (fairy and mortal alike). If this happens, Jack is basically omniscient here, has perfect control of all snow ice in the complex and for a few leagues around (doing d12 damage with it), and can create basically unlimited snowmen. So now you've got a three-way fight in a falling-apart ice-fortress under attack by what is basically a zombie horde of snowmen. This only happens if the appropriate Event is rolled.

Locations (roll d8+depth)
  1. A Grotto. A room made of blue-tinted ice, decorated with holly and ivy. Icy furniture. Probably empty.
  2. A winery. Stone room, filled with barrels of wine, brandy and sherry, too large to fit down the portal back. Also 2d6 bottles. Each barrel/bottle does something fun, roll on the Confectionary table if the PCs eat/drink from it. Each bottle is worth 50 GP if sold to a conniseur. 
  3. Bedrooms. Plaster walls, wooden floor and ceiling. Merry little fireplace and some candles. Warm inviting beds. It's very cosy.
  4. Confectionary Laboratory. Plaster walls, wooden floor and ceiling. Bubbling vats, clanking pumps, ovens, strange clockwork mixers. The elves make confectionary here; candy canes, chocolates, peppermints, liquorice etc. Getting pushed into the machines does d4 damage each round and turns a random body part to candy, rendering it useless and immobile. (roll d8 for what: 1: hand, 2: foot, 3: eye, 4: ear, 5: mouth, 6: shoulder, 7: naughty bits, 8: knee). d6 elves here, singing jolly songs and working the machines. Roll on the Confectionary table if you eat the candy (including part of somebody who's been in the machines).
  5. A workshop. Stone room, benches, tools made of silver and bronze, supplies of wood, metal, paint etc. d8 Elves here, making toys. 
  6. A kitchen. Stone room, roaring fireplace, bubbling pots and pans, big brass cooking range (aga style) with a goose roasting in the oven and vegetables on the hob. Pudding being steamed. D6 elves working on the cooking here, and a 50% chance of a Lesser Knight as well. Roll on the Confectionary table if the PCs try eating something. 
  7. Feast-hall. Big ice chamber, dimly illuminated from above the ice ceiling by moonlight and aurora borealis. Furniture is made of the bones of huge monsters or the bodies of sinners (sinner-skin upholstry etc). A magnificent feast on the table. Guess what happens if you eat it (roll...).
  8. Prison cells. 5 cells. One cell contains the long-dead body of a kidnapped sinner. One cell contains Pammy Sawyer, who for all intents and purposes looks like a harmless frightened child. Unless you look at her teeth, those are worryingly sharp. She plays the shivering innocent victim, gets you to let her out of the cell. She's cunning, wants to join back up with the rest of her family and will kill lone PCs if she gets the chance. 1 HP, 1 HD, AC as unarmoured, Hidden Knife (+1, d8), Saves as Thief 1, 5-in-6 chance to hide or ambush if not strictly watched, Triple Damage against surprised or unaware victims.
  9. Shrine to Jack Frost. A room carved from ice, all weird angles and strange baroque curves. Red-pink stains in the ice. The floor is etched with a huge hexagramic snowflake pattern, which can be read by an MU to cast Create Blizzard (and if the design is copied into a spellbook, then the spell is learned). The dessicated, frozen corpse of Grandpa is here, left by the fairies to die of cold as an offering to the eldest of their kind. Regardless of what else is going on, Jack Frost can always see what's going on in here, can teleport into here at will, and he and his snowmen recover 5HP per round while in here.
  10. Library. Most of the books are filed under 'non-fiction' and are collections of childrens fairy-stories, christmas carols, etc. In the 'fiction' section there's a few books on warfare, theology, cookery and a single spellbook containing Detect Sinner, Animate Toys and d6 other random spells.
  11. Chapel, scene of havoc. Carved from stone, windowless. Stark and austere, lit with hundreds of candles. A nativity scene was once on a table here, but lies smashed amidst the pews. Font contains holy water (d6 damage to unholy things; all the Sawyers, and Jack Frost and his Minions). Bloodstains. Saint Nicholas is in front of the Alter, he has been impaled through the chest onto a candlestick in a fight with Sally Sawyer. He has 2 HP left, but removing the candlestick does d6 damage to him and he can't heal himself. St Nic brandishes a simple wooden crucific, mumbling prayers on blood-slick lips to hold Sally at bay (as if by Turn Undead). Sally herself is covered in horrible burns where Saint Nicholas's whips have scorched her sinful flesh, and is unable to approach but unwilling to leave her prey; she's hungry and enjoying watching him suffer, and once he bleeds to death (in a few hours) she'll be able to take revenge. 10 of 15 remaining hp, 5 HD, Unarmoured, Butchers Knives (2 attacks, +5, d6 each), Saves as Thief 5, 5-in-6 chance to hide or ambush if unobserved, Triple Damage against surprised or unaware victims. Subsequent chapels are empty, lit by eerie candles.
  12. Papa Noel's Throne Room. A big throne made of animal bones and red velvet, bodies of long-dead sinners in gibbets or icicle spikes. Kirk is here, hiding under a table with the corpse of Père Fouettard, upon which he gnaws. 3 HP, 1 HD, AC as unarmoured, Hidden Knife (+1, d8), Saves as Thief 1, 5-in-6 chance to hide or ambush if not strictly watched, Triple Damage against surprised or unaware victims. Treat subsequent encounters as feat-halls.
  13. or More. The arctic wilderness. A doorway leads outside, where there is only snow and jagged ice and howling winds in the night. Endless frozen desert. If you keep Going Deeper from here, you'll only find more wilderness, and you're hundreds of miles from civilisation. Maybe reindeer will take pity on you.
Details (roll d8+depth).
  1. Silent and empty, lit by candles on jolly candlesticks.
  2. Contains store-rooms full of food for the winter feast.
  3. Contains a fir tree decorated with glittering gems worth 100 GP total. 
  4. Contains boxes of toys wrapped in brightly coloured paper. 25 GP worth of treasure per box.
  5. Bloodstains.
  6. A big cauldron of mulled wine. Guess what, roll for confections if you eat it.
  7. Littered with confectionary: chocolate and candy canes and so on. If you eat it, etc.
  8. Decorated with holly and mistletoe. Anybody you kiss under the mistletoe heals fully if you genuinely love them. (you can love your close friends or comrades in arms, but are the PCs friends? Lets find out.) If you kiss somebody you don't love, you take 2d6 damage immediately and begin to bleed from the mouth. The potential to RUIN marriages in pursuit of free healing is gonna be funny.
  9. The corpse of a dead elf, gnawed on by the sawyer that killed her.
  10. A store-room of letters to Father Christmas etc. Sorted into 'virtuous', 'sinful' and 'truly wicked' piles. 
  11. A disembowled reindeer, his guts spilled across the floor, eyes rolled back, twitches and dies. His killer is close by.
  12. A roaring fireplace against one wall. If you throw a letter into the fireplace, then the fire becomes a portal leading to the return address on the letter for as long as it burns.
  13. or more: the roof is missing, above the room the aurora borealis can be glimpsed through the driving snow.
Events (roll d12, or d12+1 if anything has been done to anger Jack Frost).
  1. A secret passage is found! Draw a line to another area, perhaps one already discovered, or else somewhere interesting like the chapel, throne room or cells.
  2. The doorway back vanishes, probably buried behind a mass of snow or gift-boxes. Erase the route to the previous room.
  3. The PC's light sources flicker and go out, leaving them in near-darkness.
  4. Encounter! 2d6 Elves, in chain armour and wielding whips (d6, or 2d6 against sinners). Hunting escaped prisoners.
  5. Encounter! 2d6+1 Yule Lads.
  6. Encounter! A lone Knight. Not Père Fouettard, though, he's dead.
  7. Encounter! A Knight, accompanied by 1-2 lesser knights and d6+1  Elves. Gearing up for the hunt.
  8. Encounter! D6 Reindeer and d6 of jack Frost's snowmen. Holding the place down, in case the fighting gets too bad. Jack Frost himself is watching.
  9. d6 Elves Fighting Drayton 18 HP, 6 HD, AC as unarmoured, Knife & Meathook (two attacks, +6, d8), or Bite (+6, d4 and heal by that much from the meat), ( Saves as Thief ,6 3-in-6 chance to hide or ambush if not observed, Triple Damage against ambushed/surprised/unaware victims.
  10. Jedediah fighting a Lesser Knight and his retinue of d4 Elves. 21 HP, 7 HD, AC as Chain, Chainsaw (+3, d12, don't question the anachronism), or Bite (+6, d4 and heal by that much from the meat), ( Saves as Thief 7, 2-in-6 chance to hide or ambush if not observed, Triple Damage against ambushed/surprised/unaware victims. Wears a magical mask made from a human face (the wearer cannot speak, but can sense every living person within 10 yards instinctively).
  11. Papa Noël, a Knight, and d6 Elves. All wear plate armour, wield lances as well as whips, and are riotously eager for a fight against the sinners running around in their home.
  12. Either Father Drayton or Jedediah, lying in ambush. An Elf is pinned to the floor with a knife, wailing and dying as bait.
  13. Jack Frost is angered and rises to wipe away the invaders. Shit has hit the fan.
Confectionary! (roll d8)
You only get each benefit once. Subsequent eatings only taste nice.
  1. +1 HP
  2. +1 Charisma
  3. +1 Wisdom
  4. +1 Constitution
  5. 2K XP immediately, and visions of primal midwinter festivals throughout the ages. Lots of blood, fire, mushrooms, sacrifices and booze.
  6. Become a Fairy of the North Pole (immune to ice stuff, vulnerable to iron, see in the dark).
  7. Can cast Detect Sinner once per day for free.
  8. Save vs Poison or trip balls.

Some Christmas Themed Monsters

The Court of the North Pole are a fairy court inhabiting the upper reaches of the arctic circle. Dormant beneath the ice for most of the year, they awaken on the night of the winter solstice and ride out in a wild hunt, to punish sinners and reward the virtuous.

All of the Court of the North Pole possess the following qualities:
  • As fairies they take double damage from iron weapons and cannot use iron themselves, preferring equipment made of tin or brass.
  • They can see in starlight as if it were broad daylight.
  • They are immune to any damage or effect that relies on cold or ice; even blizzards, walls of ice etc etc have no effect on them.
  • Other weaknesses or vulnerabilities of elves/fairies in your system & setting apply to them.

The encounters are suitable for mid-level parties, level 4 to 8 perhaps.

Elves of the North Pole (the lesser fae) 
Child-sized creatures whose bodies and faces nonetheless seem elderly. Sharp of mind, with cunning, dexterous fingers. Like all elves, they show little regard for civilised needs, living in a state of wild innocence among the snow-drifts and ice floes. Here, they can dedicate themselves to their arts - they favour brewing, the construction of clever toys, and elaborate confectionery - and throng around the noble fae of the court.
HP 4, HD 1, AC as leather, Attack with tools (+1, d6), saves as Elf 1. 
Twice per day (after sunset), can cast Animate Objects on any Toy, Artwork or Food/drink they made with their own hands.
Once per day (after sunset), can cast Sleep.
Can perform mundane work supernaturally fast; a task such as lock-picking, mending equipment etc that would normally take them a turn takes them only a round, and other tasks are similarly accelerated.

The Yule Lads (lesser fae of the court).
A gang of thirteen less wholesome elves. Where most such elves concern themselves with making confectionary and toys, these thirteen delight in mayhem and theft, creeping out to torment those whose homes are vulnerable in the mid-winter.
Their mother, Grýla, is an old she-troll dwelling in the mountains around the north pole. She is known to make stew from the bodies of wicked children, a feast all the court enjoy.
HP 4, HD 1, AC as leather, Attack with tools (+1, d6), saves as Elf 1. 
Twice per day (after sunset), can cast Invisibility on any object they're touching.
Can enter any residence by creeping under doors, down chimneys, through pipes etc so long as all within are asleep. No locks, defences or magical wards will keep them out, although this ability fails should anybody within remain awake.

Reindeer (fairy steeds of the North Pole's wild hunt)
Enormous arctic deer, shaggy-coated and with large branching antlers reminiscent of crowns. Intelligent, capable of speech. Wild in temperament, taking delight in storms, reckless chases and dangerous hunts (as prey or hunter). Often serve as mounts for other fairies of the court, or draw their chariots.
HP 7, HD 2, AC as leather, Attack with antlers (+2, d6), saves as Elf 2. 
Can cast Flight at will, on themselves or a fairy of the court touching them.
At will - so long as they are not observed by any non-fairy - can teleport from anywhere within a blizzard or storm-cloud to anywhere else in the world experiencing similar weather. Any fairies of the court that see them do so can follow with them.

Knights of the North Pole
There are 6 knights in service of the court:
  • Belsnickel, a ragged, masked man in a fur coat (varyingly his own hide or crude clothing) with a long, prehensile tongue. 
  • The Badalisc,  a wide-mouthed bestial creature, with a furry hide, small horns and red eyes.
  • Knecht Ruprecht, a limping man in tattered robes with a huge wild beard.
  • The Krampus, a figure with claws, goat-like horns, a monstrous face complete with long fangs, and a beast-like furry skin, who carries a knife to slit open the guts of those who sin.
  • Perchta, an ugly old woman with a single large swan's leg in place of human legs, horns, and sharp teeth.
  • Père Fouettard, a man in dark robes, with wild straggly hair and beard, carrying a whip and with a basket upon his back to carry away sinners.

When midwinter comes, the knights set out to hunt sinners. Their methods vary. Some beat them to within an inch of their life, some slice their bellies open, and some spirit them away never to return. Those whose sins are mild might escape with only a beating and a symbolic gift of a stone, coal or bundle of sticks. The truly wicked likely perish.
Lesser knights encountered include Klaubauf, Bartel, Pelzebock, Befana, Pelznickel, Belzeniggl, Schmutzli, Rumpelklas, Bellzebub, Hans Muff, Drapp, Buzebergt. Each takes a similar appearance; a ragged or bestial figure, often horned and dressed in furs or robes. They serve as squires and heralds to the six main knights, and should one fail or perish a squire will step up to take their place.
HP 15, HD 5, AC as leather, Attack with whip (+7, d6 or 2d6), saves as Elf 5. 
Can cast Detect Sin at will (as Detect Evil, but rather than an objective measure it detects those who've transgressed against local standards and expectations). Their whips do 2d6 damage to those they know to be sinners, or d6 otherwise.
Once per night, they may cast Sleep, Silence, Darkness and Create Snowstorm.

Jack Frost (eldest of the court)
Jack Frost is the first of the court, older than humanity, older - he claims - than warm-blooded life. A fairy spirit of ice and darkness. His body a mass of interlocking ice crystals, all edges and spikes.
He cares little for the court's work of punishing sinners and rewarding the virtuous. To him, all that matters is that he spread the frost and snow that is his main delight. To him, humanity - and indeed the modern fairies - are but interlopers in a world that is at its heart cold and cruel and beautiful.
HP 7, HD 7, AC as plate, Attack twice with claws (+7, d4), saves as Dwarf 7. 
Merely being in his presence is uncomfortably cold. 1 damage each round, you get a Save vs Paralysis to avoid it if you're wrapped in thick winter clothes.
Can create blizzards at will, and perfectly control any cold weather, snow etc.
Triple damage from fire.
Can animate snow into crude lumpy Snowmen (7 HP, 2 HD, AC as Leather, bludgeon +2, d6, Save as Dwarf 2, triple damage from fire.). 

Saint Nicholas (confessor to the court)
Taking the appearance of a frail man in a red monk's habit and hood, carrying a large sack over one shoulder.
A christian saint, who long ago abandoned humanity and mortality, taking up a sort of eternal half-life among the fairies of the arctic. He accompanies the court, absolving the fairies of the sins they commit against those they punish (and rest assured, the fairies sin; they cruelly murder those they deem wicked, and have little restraint, engaging in theft, arson, lechery and drunkenness when the fancy takes them). For his own part, the old saint accompanies them on their hunts and rewarding the few whose virtue is sufficient for the fairies to spare them.
It has been, at this point, several hundred years since Saint Nicholas turned his back on humanity. Why he abandoned mankind and his reward in Heaven is unclear.
HP 21, HD 7, AC as leather, Attack with whip (+7, d6 or 2d6), saves as Cleric 7. 
(lesser knights have only 3 HD, 9 HP and other stats appropriately).
Can cast Detect Sin at will (as Detect Evil, but rather than an objective measure it detects those who've transgressed against local standards and expectations). His whip does do 2d6 damage to those he knows to be sinners, or d6 otherwise.
Saint Nicholas and those who accompany him count as holy and magical, and completely bypass any damage resistance or immunity possessed by supernatural beings.
At will, can cast Cure Wounds, Create Food & Water, Purify Food & Water, Cure Disease and Break Curse.

Papa Noël (king of the court of the north pole)
Papa Noël appears much like his six knights; an old man, in long fur robes, with a wild beard. Sometimes his appearance includes antlers, sometimes his face is hidden below a red hood. Where he travels, a blizzard follows in his wake. He travels in a chariot drawn by reindeer, and hunts out those of notable virtue or vice to receive appropriate rewards.
Many peasants leave out offerings of food and alcohol on the night of the solstice, that Papa Noël will stay his hand. Sometimes, this even works.
HP 30, HD 10, AC as leather, Attack with whip (+5, d6 or 2d6), saves as Elf 10. 
(lesser knights have only 3 HD, 9 HP and other stats appropriately).
Can cast Detect Sin at will (as Detect Evil, but rather than an objective measure it detects those who've transgressed against local standards and expectations). His whip does do 2d6 damage to those he knows to be sinners, or d6 otherwise.
Can enter any residence by creeping under doors, down chimneys, through pipes etc so long as all within are asleep. No locks, defences or magical wards will keep them out, although this ability fails should anybody within remain awake.
Can cast Time Stop at will, affecting all those within a single residence so long as everybody present is asleep.

Encounters with the Court of the North Pole
The Wild Hunt of the North Pole is only encountered as random encounters, in the month around midwinter. Whenever a random encounter is rolled, roll an additional d6, and on a 6e instead the Wild Hunt is encountered.
The first encounter with the Wild Hunt does not involve any of the fairies in person. Instead, a blizzard brews up, with enough snow in the air to reduce visibility to a few yards. Even underground, the PCs will find themselves trudging through snow-drifts and noticing frost forming on surfaces.
For as long as the blizzard lasts (until sunrise) any subsequent encounters roll on the following chart instead of what you'd normally use:

  1. 2d6 Elves of the North Pole.
  2. d6 Elves, each riding a Reindeer.
  3. 2d6+1 Yule Lads.
  4. A lone Knight.
  5. A Knight, accompanied by 1-2 lesser knights and d6+1  Elves.
  6. Jack Frost, and d6 Reindeer.
  7. Jack Frost and d6 Snowmen.
  8. All six Knights.
  9. Saint Nicholas, and a 50% chance of d6+1 Elves.
  10. Saint Nicholas, a Knight, and d6+1 Elves. All riding a Reindeer.
  11. Papa Noël, Six Reindeer, and a 50% chance each of a single Knight and Saint Nicholas.
  12. The full court: Papa Noël, Saint Nicholas, Jack Frost, all six Knights, all twelve lesser knights, all thirteen Yule Lads, 3d6 reindeer and 3d6 elves.If this shows up, your PCs should just flee or pray.
Your PCs are almost certainly Sinners according to the court (violence, tomb-robbing, failure to say their prayers, lack of respect for their social superiors, not taking care of their parents, etc etc. Inventing suitable fairytale sins for them shouldn't be too hard): those with the ability to Detect Sin will use it early and often, loudly proclaiming the sins of those they survey and setting about them with whips. This is a good excuse to reveal the secret crimes any PCs might be hiding, or for that matter those of any nearby NPCs (learning that a trusted NPC is actually a cultist of Shub Niggurath when Santa turns up and attacks him with a whip is always good for a laugh).
The court arrives suddenly, out of the snow or around the next corner. All (except Jack Frost and Saint Nicholas) are probably uproariously drunk, possibly encountered swigging from a bottle of brandy or brandishing a leg of duck. As far as they're concerned, this is a wonderful game, and the PCs shouldn't sin if they don't want to be punished by gleeful partying murder elves.
If your PCs (or at least one or two of them) are actually genuinely good people, they get a pass from the mayhem.The Knights, Saint Nicholas and Papa Noël all carry sacks. The truly virtuous can ask them for a magic item or other treasure as reward, and 50% of the time they recieve it from said sack. If their requested treasure isn't there, then they either get something close (a magic sword rather than their specific magic weapon of choice) or else just booze and chocolate.

Remember to ham it up when playing these loonies. Say HO HO HO a lot, ask if they've been good. That said, this isn't cosy and jolly per se: your PCs are trapped in a storm being hunted by mad fairies obsessed with sin and carrying big whips. Insanity, excess and the brutal winter are all elements here.
Go have fun with it.

Friday 14 December 2018

Dreamscape project - Rules For Players!

Here's the plan:
The players get an a4 printout with their character sheet on one side and the rules on the other. The character sheet takes them through character creation step by step, and then all the rules they'll need to know in order to play are on the other side.

Here are the steps for Character Creation:
1: pick which department your Agent is from (IE which class they are). You get given the relevant character sheet for this.
2: roll your Age. 3d6+18, giving a result of 21-36, and an average of just under 30.
3: roll your Intelligence, Will and Charisma on 3d6 each.
4: roll a d6 for your HP. Security agents get +6 hp.
5: your resting heart rate is 70 bpm. Add your Age to get the lower end of your optimum heart rate. Add triple your age to get the upper end of your optimum heart rate. Subtract your age from 200 to get your maximim heart rate. (So a 25 year old's heart-rates are 70 resting, 95-155 optimum, 175 maximum, for example).
6: saving throws, defence and to-hit chances are determined by your department; your int/will/cha don't affect them.
7: you get a package of equipment depending on your department (normally uniform, ID, an in-ear communicator and perhaps something relevant to your department) and then any one other item of your choice. It can be anything, so long as it's small enough to carry on your person.
8: each department has department Techniques- special things only they can do. Sometimes they pick from a list, sometimes the abilities are the same for all agents in that department. Each department's mechanics work slightly differently.

Each stat on your sheet explains how you generate it and how it's used in play. So the box for saving throws tells you what your saving throws are, and how to roll a save when the GM says so.

Then, on the other side of the sheet, you get the rules for players and some fluff explaining the basic setup; you should be able to play based off what's on this sheet and nothing more. The rules are these (things in brackets and italics are explained on the front of the sheet):

Heart Rate 
You begin the mission at your resting heart rate. 
Whenever you roll dice for any reason, add the result of the roll to your Current Heart Rate.
You are more effective when in your Optimum Heart Rate as you can Push Yourself To Do Better.
When your Heart Rate reaches your Maximum Heart Rate, you suffer cardiac arrest and are removed from the mission to receive emergency medical attention.
Sometimes the Referee will tell you to add an amount to your heart rate (typically 10) if you are performing stressful or tiring actions, without a roll being required.
When you are able to calm down, your Heart Rate returns to its resting level. The Referee will tell you when this happens.

Types of Dice Rolls 
The Referee will tell you when to roll and what sort of roll to make. Dice rolls are Normal, Reckless or Careful.
Normal dice rolls only roll once.
Reckless dice rolls roll twice and take the higher number.
Careful dice rolls roll twice and take the lower number. Ignore the other dice result  entirely and don’t add it to your Heart Rate.

Pushing Yourself To Do Better 
When in your Optimum Heart Rate, you are more focussed. If you don’t like a dice roll, you can push yourself to do better. Roll the dice again, and take the new result. 
So long as you remain in your Optimum heart rate, you can re-try a roll by pushing yourself as many times as you want. Remember, every time you roll dice, you always add the result to your Heart Rate.

(Attribute Rolls
Roll under a relevant attribute with a d20 to succeed in difficult tasks outside combat. The referee will tell you what and when to roll.)

(Saving Throws
Roll your saving throw value or better with a d20 to avoid some hazard. IE, 13+ to avoid glitches. The referee will tell you what and when to roll.)

To attack, roll To Hit (roll a d20 and beat the score given on your sheet, IE 10+). If you succeed and the roll wasn’t negated by the victim’s Defence, the attack hits (defense means that particularly high rolls to hit are blocked, IE if you have defence 19+ any roll of 19 or more to hit you is deflected and does no damage).
Roll a dice for damage. When the victim has taken as much damage as their HP, they’re taken out of action.
Enemies attacking use the same procedure.
If you take as much damage as your HP, you are forcibly ejected from the mission to receive emergency medical attention.

Gaining Experience
When you leave the mission. you will receive a number of Experience Points. You receive 1 experience point for each of the following: 

  • Completing each mission objective. 
  • For each area of the dreamscape discovered during the mission. 
  • For each entity of the dreamscape discovered during the mission. 
  • Each new area or entity encountered which you are able to give a comprehensive description of to the agency during your debrief. 

You may be awarded an experience point for other achievements in the dreamscape if they further the agency’s understanding or objectives.

Increasing Clearance Level 
When your Experience reaches 10, you raise your Clearance level to 2nd. You raise it to 3rd at 20 Experience, to 4th at 40 Experience, to 5th at 80 experience, etc. 
Each new Clearance level requires twice as much Experience as the previous.

  • When you raise your Clearance Level, you gain the following benefits:
  • You get d6 more HP.
  • You improve your To Hit chances by 1 each.
  • You improve your Saves by 1 each.
  • You increase one of Intelligence, Wisdom or Charisma by 1 (your choice which).
  • (Some agents will also gain a benefit from their class, for example surveillance agents also get a new surveillance technique each time they level up).

Note that you may, eventually, reach the point where you succeed some rolls automatically. You still need to roll, as you still risk increasing your Heart Rate.

Lastly the back of the sheet has some details about the setting. What you get on every sheet is this:

The Dreamscape 
In the early 20th century, psychologists such as Carl Jung theorised the existance of a collective human subconscious all people access, that contains various archetypal psychological constructs. The Dreamscape is, so far as anybody is able to tell, a real place. You can visit it. You can interact with the various inhabitants of the human subconscious. Needless to say, this is somewhat risky. 

The FBPI Machine 
The FBPI Machine is the best known way to access the dreamscape. The agent is placed in a druginduced altered state of consciousness and wired into a complex life-control system. Each agent has, grafted into their nervous system, a small plug like a USB port on the back of their neck, which allows them to access the Dreamscape in this state, and links them back to their body for monitoring and retrieval by Control. 

Control is the collective term for the personnel monitoring and facilitating the mission. As well as medical personnel who monitor your body in the FBPI machine, other members of Control are able to view the events of the mission. Some agents can contact them from within the mission. On request, they are sometimes able to make adjustments to the dreamscape from outside. 

Interference is the collective phenomena of corruption, uncertainty, distortion and noise as they affect the connection between your physical body in the waking world. As Interference rises, contact with Control becomes more difficult and the dreamscape responds by become stranger and more dangerous. 

Areas of Interest 
Our explorations of the Dreamscape are incomplete and fragmentary. We know that the dreamscape seems to reflect the waking world (familiar landmarks can be identified, for example). At the same time, it contains entities that have no equivalent in the waking world. The following are all of interest to The Agency: 

  • What are the 770 Stairs? 
  • What is the distinction between the Shallow, Deep, Far and Nightmare dreamscapes? • Who are the Squid Men?  
  • What happens when you sleep or die in the Dreamscape? 
  • What does ‘Hypnos Ascendant’ mean? 
  • What are the Orphic Mysteries? 
  • What interest does Orpheus have in the Agency?  
  • What is the Leviathan?  
  • Why do entities interviewed fear the Leviathan so much? 
  • What is the Burrowing Vorm? 
  • What are Leng and Ib? 
  • What is the significance of the various sleeping fish?  
  • Who Else can access the Dreamscape? 
  • Why are spiders so commonly encountered? 
  • Why do human dreamers in the Dreamscape behave the way they do? 

A big inspiration with all this has been the playbooks in Apocalypse World games; the fact that you can hand a player the relevant playbook and they have everything they need to run their character right there is good design imho. On top of this, putting all the player-facing rules on the player handouts means that players don't ever need to read the rulebook.
This is good, and ties into the other big point of the game: Mysteries and Discovery.

The players start out not knowing how anything works. The 'areas of interest' listed above give them hooks into the world, things that they know are going to be interesting to find out about, and a sense that there is a big world out there. But, they don't know how it all actually fits together and must learn about it in play. I've written here about how the sense of discovery is important to me in play: finding out about the setting, encountering new things, etc etc are the *point* of the game to me.
So in this game, there's a reasonably big setting with various features, conspiricies and conflicts that the players start out knowing nothing about, but will uncover in play. The more they delve, the more the setting opens up before them. 
To really reinforce this, there are other character sheets for the PCs to use when they unlock new aspects of the setting. (for example, there's a sheet for doing things in the waking world). When they realise they can go and do things in the real world, you hand them their 'waking world' character sheet to fill in, and the experience of play shifts to work in new ways. Its a lightbulb moment for the players as they realise that there are new, weird possibilities. There are, incidentally, plenty of other 'oh shit we can do that' moments for the players to discover if they look in the right places.

I'm also adding a timeline to the game that explains a) how things got to where they are when the PCs first start exploring the dreamscape and b) what probably happens if the PCs don't interfere. Factions out there will see the PCs entering the dreamscape, and react. The balance of power will alter over time to respond to what the PCs do, and if they don't prevent it, the setting will change. Orpheus by WW is a big influence here. 
I want the experience of playing this to feel like a conspiricy thriller, unpicking the threads of what's going on piece by piece, and learning how to use that information.

I'm not giving specific details at present because, tbh, I don't want to spoil the setting for potential players. Not knowing how things work when you start the game is important to the experience, I've found.

Monday 3 December 2018

Monster - The Quantum Ogre

An ogre that displays quantum properties.
3 HD, 11 hp, AC as chain, attack at +3 for d10, saves as fighter 3.
A quantum ogre exists as a wave function distributed across all locations in the dungeon. When you map the place out, assign each room or corridor a chance for the ogre to be there: they should all add up to 1. Maybe some rooms have 0 chance for the ogre to be in them, to help things add up nicely.
An quantum ogre can exist in two states: wavelike and particle-like. It starts out in its wave-like state.
A wave-like ogre partially exists in all rooms at once (IE the ogre is 1/10th present in a room with 1-in-10 assigned to it as its chance for ogre). It can tell what happens in all of them, with a sort of dim awareness proportional to its chance for that location. A wave-like ogre cannot interact physically. Those that encounter it percieve it as a sort of hazy probability cloud of potential-ogre. They can tell that there might be an ogre here.
A particle-like ogre exists in only one place, where it fights normally like any other physical creature.
Collapsing the wave-function: when somebody tries to attack the ogre (or similarly interact with it in a way that would require it to be in its particle-like state), roll to collapse the wave function. IE make the chance roll to see if the ogre is present in that room. If it's not, assign that chance to another location that hasn't yet been proved not to contain the ogre. Eventually, either the ogre shows up or the chance is condensed into one place with 100% certainty (where the ogre then achieves particle-like form).
When the ogre is in its particle-form, whenever it wants to it can try to revert to wave-form, with its probability remaining distributed across various locations. The chance for this is the opposite of the chance to pop into particle form (so if a room has a 1-in-6 chance of ogre, the ogre has a 5-in-6 chance to go back to wave form in it). If the room has 0 chance of ogre, it reverts to wave form automatically. Becoming wave-like again doesn't alter the probabilities for each room.
The ogre can also try to collapse its own wave-function by making an attack: roll to see if it's actually there. If it is, the wave-function collapses and the ogre becomes particle-like enough to bash its victim with a club. Otherwise, it's not there and the probability gets shunted to another location.
Once the Ogre's location is known with 100% certainty, it immediately automatically takes particle form without needing a roll. When it next reverts to wave-form, the probabilities go back to their starting state (before they started getting condensed).

A three room complex, with rooms A, B, C and D. Each is given a 2-in-8 chance of ogre.
The PCs enter room A and try to stab the ogre. The wave-function is collapsed, and gets a 5 (no ogre). The ogre is not in room A, and the probability is distributed so that room B has a 4-in-6 chance and room C and D a 2-in-6 chance.
The PCs enter room B and the ogre tries to hit them with its club. The wave-function is collapsed, and a result of 3 (yes ogre) means the ogre becomes a particle and is able to bash them with his club.
The PCs flee to room C, and the ogre pursues them out. It decides to pursue them in wave form, and rolls a 5 (no ogre): thus itreturns to wave-like state, with a 4-in-6 chance for room B and a 2-in-6 chance for room C and D.
The ogre tries to hit them with its club again, and the collapsing wave-function rolls a 4 (no ogre). The ogre is not in room C! The probability is assigned to room D, so now B and D both have a 4-in-8 chance of ogre.
The PCs go back to room B, and the ogre once again tries to leap out at them, but gets a 7 (no ogre). So it is now definately not in room B. The probability is assigned to the last possible room - room D - where it has an 8-in-8 chance and so pops out immediately.
The PCs arrive in room D, and the ogre flees! The ogre takes wave-like form and the wave-function returns to its original state (2-in-8 for each room).

Edited bonus content: Interferance!
If there are more than two quantum ogres in a dungeon, track the chances of each seperately. HOWEVER! The many ogres interfere with one another when nobody is looking (fnar fnar). Track the interferance like this:
When one ogre fails to pop into particle form in a room, then all the other ogres also Don't Exist In That Room and must redistribute their probabilities appropriately.
When an ogre successfully pops into particle form in a room, every other ogre MUST test to see if they pop into particle form too (simultaneously): those that pop in appear in particle form and those that fail must redistribute their probabilities as normal.
Where there are exactly two ogres, the ogres are entangled (it's not my fault quantum physics was written by perverts). One begins in particle form. When one pops into particle form, the other immediately pops back to wave form.

Sunday 25 November 2018

Dreamscapes & Deletions - a potential project

Idea 1: could I make a game that is entirely contained in 1-page handouts (apocalypse world style playbooks & cheat sheets) with no central rulebook.
Idea 2: Could I hack together an OSR version of Lacuna.
Fuck it lets do both.
So some background. Lacuna, by Jared Sorensen, is a weird indie game about MK-Ultra inspired agents exploring a psychadelic film noir dreamscape. It's fucking brilliant, you should all get it and play it. Here it is,and here it is in Spanish. Seriously. Play Lacuna.
The rulebook is short and has large gaps for the GM to fill in, but one of the best campaigns I've ever played (lasting 3 years and getting fucking trippy by the end) was run in Lacuna. I'm a huge fan of it, it deserves more attention.

Of particular interest is the Heart Rate mechanic. When you roll dice, you add the total to your Heart Rate. An elevated heart-rate makes you more efficient at what you're doing. Go too high, though, and you risk cardiac arrest. So I'm going to take that and bolt it onto an OSR framework.

Here's how I'm gonna make it work.
You roll your Age on 3d6+18 (for a range between 21 and 36).
Heart Rate is a number you track similarly to XP and HP.
Your resting Heart Rate is 60 beats/minute for women, 70 b/m for men. This is what you start at.
Your Optimum Heart Rate starts at (Age + 60) b/m and caps out at (Age tripled + 60) b/m. In this bracket, you're more efficient.
Your maximum Heart Rate is (200 - Age) b/m.

So older agents take longer to reach their optimum heart rate and hit cardiac arrest sooner. However, they spend much longer in 'peak' performance. Younger agents hit peak performance quickly and take longer to max out and have a heart attack, but they also spend less time at peak performance.

Whenever a player rolls dice for any reason, they add the result to their Heart Rate. Dice rolls in the system are:
To Hit. Used in combat. Roll X or more on a d20. So, to succeed you want to roll high, resulting in elevated heart-rate. Enemies have Defence rather than AC, which negates all rolls of Y or greater.
(IE you might need 11+ to hit, but an enemy negates all hit-rolls of 18+). Combat is stressful, but if you go overboard your less likely to succeed.
Damage rolls. Roll a dice if you hit, the victim loses that many HP.
Saves. Roll X or more on d20, like the saving throws you're familiar with. Danger is scary, the near-misses of a successful save are scary. High rolls mean you pass but also add more to your heart rate. Save catagories are Normal Hazards, Psychological Trauma, Glitches, Hacking & Malfunction.
Attribute Rolls. Roll under a relevant attribute to do a thing outside combat. You want low rolls to succeed (failure is frustrating). Uses the six base stats (str/dex/con/int/wis/cha) however since you're not in your body str/dex/con are irrelevant, you don't even bother rolling them in cgen. Wisdom is replaced with Willpower. You use intelligence rolls for attempts to make sense of or investigate the dreamscape, Willpower to alter the dreamscape, and Charisma to interact with the residents.

Rolls can be Careful or Reckless depending on what you're doing. This works like 5E's advantage/disadvantage. Roll twice, take the lower/higher result. Of course, the Heart Rate mechanic (and some rolls being roll under/roll over) means that sometimes you want high rolls and sometimes you want low.

In your Optimum Heart Rate, if you don't like the result of a roll you can ignore it and roll again, since you're on top form. Of course, you still add the old roll to your heart-rate. So when you're in your optimum zone, you can just refuse to accept failure and power through any obstacle, but doing so brings you closer to maxing out your b/m and having a heart attack.

So, those are the mechanics. You can fit them on one side of A4. A character sheet that takes you through CGen and a short brief on the setting fits on the other.
I'm working on four sheets:
Security Agents (basically fighters. Best to-hit rolls & defence, lots of HP, good saves vs Hazards & Trauma, can follow through in combat to get additional attacks when they drop a foe).
Logistics Agents (basically wizards. Poor to-hit rolls, defence and HP. Good saves vs Hacking and Malfunctions. Can contact Control to request aid in the mission.)
Support Agents (basically clerics. Poor to-hit rolls, but decent defence and HP. Good saves vs Trauma and Malfunctions. Can interact with the programming of the mission to restore HP and similar).
Surveillance Agents (basically thieves. Decent to-hit rolls but poor defence and HP. Good saves vs Hazards & Glitches. have always-on abilities such as the ability to walk through walls).
Then additional briefing handouts you can give the party detailing the setting as and when relevant, and stuff for the GM.

Tuesday 20 November 2018

Children & Gaming & some shout-outs

So this chap Douglas Carter has been using The Dolorous Stroke to run wargames using 90mm figures. He's got a blog over at ludus giganticus and it's pretty cool reading. Definately check it out, he's doing something cool and different here.
It's interesting that another play report (JC over at, also very cool, touching on oldschool rpgs and skirmish gaming) also had the author playing with their kids.
You see a lot (both tabletop and otherwise) of games ~for kids~ are written to be super simple and have their content toned down. You see these primary-coloured designs, mechanics that are set up to involve minimal complicated stuff and little room for upset, and so on. Honestly, I remember being in school and hating a lot of the dumbed-down stuff aimed at me. 
TDS, meanwhile, involves some fairly complex procedures in play, what with tracking cards, stats, etc. No maths that a kid can't handle - at most you're adding and subtracting two-figure numbers, or dividing by two - but it's a reasonable amount of information to track. (Then again, I'm a firm believer in letting the rulesy people handle the mechanics if its confusing, regardless of the age or experience of the player -  you say what you want to do, the GM rolls the dice). 
More interesting is that the violence in TDS is, really, quite graphic. People get run through, bleed to death, have their guts spilled, get eyes gouged out. It's nasty. JC literally says "One approving note from the kids: "This game is really gruesome!"." This is, to be honest, fine as far as I'm concerned. You know if your kids (or kids you're in a position to run games for) can handle different content. I knew I could at that age - my parents wouldn't let me watch anything pg rated on TV for the longest time, and then were completely OK with the violence and blood in stuff like Darren Shan or the Dark Materials trilogy. Hell, even classics of children's literature (The Hobbit, Narnia, etc etc) have some scary violence. Don't mollycoddle kids, they can handle stuff a lot of the time.

There's a larp I do that I've mentioned a few times, Empire. There's no age limit, and you have parents bringing the whole family along to dress as pseudo-medieval families and roleplay in a field for a weekend. It's pretty great. My IC group has a few kids in it (ranging from age around 8 to late teens) and I'm consistently impressed by some of the stuff they do. Not 'considering they're kids', these people are some of the most interesting roleplayers I deal with regularly. 

And sure, their characters are still basically children. They're kid-sized, they have kid-priorities a lot of the time. But at the same time, they're fucking clever. I've seen them tackling plots that the adults are stumped by. I've seen them make a total killing trading goods and services*. Hell, I've seen some of the older kids (13 & up, for health and safety reasons) take to the battlefield and be pretty darn effective with a spear or a bow. It's not just that they can keep up with adult players. The game's better for their being there.
*child labour laws don't apply when you're all pretending to be wizards and trading fake potions and mana.

I'm sure there's some deeper thought about how we're all just playing pretend, but fuck that noise I don't wanna go theorizing about child psychology or something.

Edit: I'm sure there's something interesting to be said about how two of my more successful projects (Ynn and the Library) are directly inspired by the stuff I read as a kid and aim to re-capture that feel, and are also home to some fairly fucked up stuff. There's no disconnect; kids' entertainment - at least the stuff that stays with you - has some fucked up stuff in it.

In conclusion, I'd like to (mis)quote Sideshow Bob at the conclusion of Crusty Gets Busted:

Treat kids like equals, they're people, too! They're smarter than you think! They were smart enough to [catch/impress] me!"

(also seriously, those blogs are neat).

Saturday 17 November 2018

Why I like the OSR

There's been lots of doom and gloom in my gaming circles lately, so I'm writing about why I love the OSR to cheer myself up.

My gaming has really four distinct areas I'm interested in. Namely larping, Warhammer, World of Darkness and the OSR. I only really publish stuff for one of those, though.
In the case of larping it's because a successful larp is an event. You need a good venue, a team working with you, supplies for your effects and sets and stuff. You need a budget and a supply of people willing to follow your instructions. I don't have those. So, as a larper I mostly just play and have fun, or occasionally I follow instructions and make special effects.

For Warhammer and WoD, the issue is a little different. I have, in the past, produced a whole load of content for Warhammer. Alternate army lists, campaigns, rules hacks, and so on. Even entire variants on the game. I've produced homebrew for WoD as well. None of it got published. None of it is really publishable because it's so tied to somebody else's IP.
This is what bothers me. People over at The Gardens of Hecate or Iron Sleet is producing work as skillful, as beautiful, as creative as anything in the OSR. But because the IP they're working with is so tightly tied to the company that makes Warhammer, they'll never be able to really capitalise on on that, promote themselves and carve out their own niche like you might in the OSR.
Likewise in the World of Darkness communities I see STs putting huge amounts of work and creativity and funds into their projects. (One recent larp I was at booked out an entire hotel for their post-event crew party. The larp itself was at a different venue, this was just so the crew could unwind and get sozzled somewhere nice afterwards). Again, they don't get the recognition the deserve, while people pick apart what White Wolf are doing with a fine toothed comb.

This is a problem. These projects are, ultimately, fan works. They're a rank below the stuff officially published. It restricts creativity, but more than that it restricts your ability to publish. You can't buy anybody's homebrewed hacked together Vampire the Masquerade project on DTRPG.

This, then, is what I love about the whole OSR movement. Nobody owns it. Nobody has authority over it. It's a shared communal space that exists either through a weird quirk of a licensing agreement around D&D or else in a sort of rejection of the big company's claim that they get to decide what D&D is.
Rather the OSR is made up of fans, creators, the small press, the indie outfits, and the homebrewers. The lines between all of those are vague and blurry. Anybody can make something good, and publish it, and get recognition, without needing to give too much of a shit about the rigors of intillectual property. This is, really, wonderful and rather unique if you compare it to any other tabletop gaming community.*

The OSR has fuck all barriers to entry. Most gamers are familiar with the basics of six stats, hit-dice, levels, armour class. It's a lingua franca of sorts. You can get yourself some cheap-ass layout software (I use MS Office), some public domain art, and just make whatever you think is cool. Self-publishing is super easy and if you have a blog or any sort of social-media presence, you'll find an audience who are keen to see new, weird content from new, weird creators.
Nine months ago I released a daft project about using random tables to make a fairy garden, basically out of nowhere and with no industry credentials, and it went great. I'm not special in this regard: loads of people are dropping cool stuff (so many that I'm not gonna try linking, as this post will be entirely made of links) these days. It's a great time to be into D&D.
These days, if you want to make stuff for the OSR, the single biggest obstacle is sitting down and writing it. Everything else is great.

So, yeah. Not to downplay various real issues, but I felt it worth writing out why I wanted to be part of this creative community in the first place, at least in part for my own sake.

*the only exception I can think of is the historical wargamers, who again aren't really limited to specific franchises.

Sunday 4 November 2018

Law Enforcement in Esoteric Enterprises

Security Guard
The standard rent-a-cop that might be found guarding warehouses, banks and so on. Training and experience are very varied, some are veterans of the police or military that have drifted into the career, others are pretty much sitting ducks. Equipment is typically poor.
Security Guard: 3 flesh (1 dice), 3 grit (1 dice). AC 14 (stab vest). Saves 17+. Nightstick (+1, d8 damage). Radio and flashlight.

Beat Cop
The standard officer on the street. Reasonably well trained. Reactions and equipment vary wildly depending on your location; cops in the UK have only basic weaponry and are trained to de-escalate or restrain, while American cops have sidearms and the will to use them.
Beat Cop: 3 flesh (1 dice), 6 grit (2 dice). AC 14 (stab vest). Saves 16+. Nightstick (+2, d8+1 damage) or tazer (+1, d6 damage and save or be stunned for a round) or pistol (+1, d8 damage). Strength and Wisdom 13. Handcuffs, radio.

Plain Clothes Officer
An undercover cop. Could pop up in all sorts of situations, from a plant in a criminal organisation to an unrelated officer pretending to be an environmental protestor. Smooth talking yet reserved.
Undercover Cop: 3 flesh (1 dice), 6 grit (2 dice). AC 14 (stab vest). Saves 16+. pistol (+1, d8 damage). Charisma and Wisdom 13.

Riot Cop
Heavily armoured police sent to deal with large-scale disturbances. Seasoned veterans equipped for close combat. Aggressive, well disciplined.
Riot Cop: 3 flesh (1 dice), 9grit (3 dice). AC 17 (riot armour & shield, high dexterity). Saves 15+. Club (+3, d8+1 damage) or stun baton (+3, d6+1 damage and save or be stunned for a round). Strength and Dexterity 13. Handcuffs, gas-mask, radio.

Firearms Officer
For when the police really want to shoot somebody, typically only brought out to deal with armed standoffs, raids on criminal bases, and dealing with occult criminals. Well trained and determined.
Riot Cop: 3 flesh (1 dice), 9grit (3 dice). AC 16 (riot armour). Saves 15+. Shotgun (+3, d12) or automatic rifle (+3, d10) Wisdom and Dexterity 13. Handcuffs,  radio.

Police Marksman
As with firearms officers. Employed to shoot people the police really want dead. Slow, careful snipers. 
Riot Cop: 3 flesh (1 dice), 9grit (3 dice). AC 16 (riot armour). Saves 15+. Marksman’s Rifle (+3, d12 or –1, d12 if not aimed already) or pistol (+3, d8) Wisdom and Dexterity 13. Handcuffs,  radio.

Men In Black Field Agent
Black suits. Dark glasses. Earpieces. Strange firearms. ID doesn’t match any agency you’ve encountered.
An unearthly presence. Unsettling, commanding. Always composed, relentless, seems not to feel fear or pain. Civilians shy away from the instinctively. The police obey them without question.
Field Agent: 6 flesh (2 dice), 9 grit (3 dice). AC 15 (smart suit). Saves 14+. Hypertech Pistol (+4, d12). All stats are 13.
Can cast any of the following spells by brandishing their ID, 3-in-6 chance the spell is cast successfully when they do. Command, Sleep, Silence Dispel Magic, Antimagic Shell.
Their attacks count as holy & magical. Immune to mind-control.

Men In Black Paladin
Smart suits. Scarred skin glimpsed behind porcelain masks. Odd weapons. Strange sigils on their cufflinks. Voices are mere whispers.
The specialists of the Men in Black. They display agency ID that hurts to look at. Their command of police and bystanders is absolute, mundane humans submit to their will wordlessly or cower beneath their gaze.
Field Agent: 6 flesh (2 dice), 15 grit (5 dice). AC 15 (smart suit). Saves 12+. Hypertech Pistol (+4, d12). All stats are 13.
Can cast any of the following spells by brandishing their ID, 5-in-6 chance the spell is cast successfully when they do. Suggestion, Dispel Magic, Protection from Weapons, Spectral Step, Spell Immunity, Time Stop.
Their attacks count as holy & magical. Immune to mind-control.

Men In Black Abomination
Dressed in a smart black suit. Gloves over their hands. Face hidden behind a reflective black glass mask. They smell of ozone, the air around them crackles with static electricity. Silent. Unarmed.
Looking at this thing makes your eyes hurt. Civilians and the police shudder and weep where they pass. Small animals die, plants wither.
Their demeanour is blank and emotionless. They pursue their targets with a single-minded dedication. Injury doesn’t seem to bother them. The powers that be only bring out such creatures when dealing with the worst disturbances.
Abomination: 9 flesh (3 dice), 12 grit (4 dice). AC 15 (smart suit). Saves 8+. Hand (+4, d8 and memory wipe). All stats are 13.
On first encountering an Abomanation, Save vs Stunning or spend d4 rounds weeping and cowering. Save again if you see what’s under the mask.
Touching the Abomination’s skin attacks your memory: Save vs Stunning or forget the last 5 minutes.
Their attacks count as holy & magical. Immune to mind-control.