Saturday, July 28, 2018

Lazy DM + Ugly Dice = Astrology!

I've never been good at keeping track of time in the game.  I rarely remember to let torches go out, for example.  By Uncle Gary's standards ("YOU CAN NOT HAVE A MEANINGFUL CAMPAIGN IF STRICT TIME RECORDS ARE NOT KEPT.") I kinda suck at this part of DMing, which is why I've never had any decent astrological events impacting a game.

So here's how to make some astrology happen in your game.  First get some dice.  You want one of each size (one d4, one d6, etc.).  Break out you ugliest, most colorful dice.  The speckled ones.  The marbled stuff.  Just make sure that no two dice are of the same color scheme.  Just trust me for the moment.  I'll explain soon why you need these dice.

(I suck at taking pictures with my phone.)
Okay, that's too many dice.  Six dice is all you really need.  I'll cut the white percentiles, the yellow d24, and the orange d4.

So here's the deal.  The six dice you've got now?  Those are the planets visible in the sky of your campaign world (or alternatively, the moons that orbit the gas giant your campaign world also circles).  The die size is the relative size of the orbit (bigger dice are further from their star), while the color scheme is what the planet looks like up close.  I'd suggest naming these planet in a way that helps your remember which die to use.  Thirty-sider=Thea, Icosahedron=Iggwilv, Twelve-sider=Tweenus, etc.

At the start of a session, at the beginning of the adventure, after a week has passed in game play, or whenever you feel like consulting the omens, roll all them dices.

So you see the seven-sider and the d12 have both come up as 6?  That's a conjunction.  That's what you're looking for.  A conjunction indicates something is up with the universe that will impact the PCs' insignificant little lives.  You'll need to write a minor mechanical effect for each conjunction.  In an ideal world, it would be a die table for each one, but by my count 6 planet dice means 15 possible conjunction, that is, 15 different effects (or 15 die tables).  Here are a few dumb ideas for effects.

d30 + d20 - Chaotic characters +1 saves versus petrification
d30 + d12 - Non-humans get one free reroll
d30 + d8 - Dwarves get 150% xp from gold and golden jewels
d30 + d7 - Thieves +1 saves vs poison
d30 + d6 - Arcana casters may make an Int roll to memorize one extra first level spell each day
d20 + d12 - Clerics +1 to turn corporeal undead
d20 + d8 - Humans get +1 reaction rolls when parlaying with dragons
d20 + d7 - Neutral characters +1 saves versus charms and enchantments
d20 + d6 - Fighter types +1 to-hit beasts and animals
d12 + d8 - Henchmen and hirelings +1 saves versus Death Rays
d12 + d7 - Elves may call one trick shot with an arrow on a normal to-hit roll
d12 + d6 - Lawful characters +1 saves to disbelieve illusions
d8 + d7 - Halfbreeds (half-elves, half-orcs, etc) are surprised one pip less
d8 + d6 - First level characters get +1 to all saves
d7 + d6 - Halflings gain d6 bonus hit points

If three or more dice come up on the same number, then you have a multiple conjunction and all the relevant bonuses above apply at the same time.  If a week passes during play, roll all the dice again to find the new arrangement of the planets.

What if people want to game the system?  That's what astrologers are for!  For a fee (100gp, at least), they will be able to tell a querent when the next favorable conjunction will be.  If they just want a conjunction of some sort, it will be d6 weeks away.  If the party is looking for a specific effect, roll d20 for the number of weeks from now and charge 'em double for the extra work.  If the greedy bastards want a triple conjunction, add d100 to the d20 roll and charge triple.

A proper astrology system would also have bad omens that hinder the party.  Frankly, I don't want to keep track of that stuff.  Making all the possibilities into bonuses for the PCs means the players can do all the remembering.  If they forget their little bonus, that's their problemo.  And it gives me yet another excuse to be harder on the poor buggers, as they are getting bonuses the bad guys aren't.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

What does this monster know?

Here's a go at something I've wrestled with forever.

Monster's Dungeon Knowledge

Roll Hostile Neutral Friendly
2 or less Walks into nearest trap Wanders randomly for d6 turns Moves in circle 2d6 turns
3-5 Nearest hostile lair Nearest stairs, etc. Nearest potential ally
6-8 Leads into nearest trap Nearest dungeon menace Nearest secret door
9-11 Nearest monster allies Nearest safe room Nearest trap
12 or more Nearest enemy of monster Nearest big treasure Nearest unguarded treasure

Modifiers: Leader or significant NPC +1, Smart +1, Cannon fodder -1, Stupid -1

The party may be searching for something specific.  If it is on the chart and either above and/or to the left of the chart, the informant can help, but with a chance of misinformation equal to 1 in 20 for each step away from the result.  Double the chance if the informant is Stupid.

If misinformation occurs, treat result as if the original roll had been 2 or less.

Example: The PCs meet a sphinx and obtain a Friendly reaction roll.  The net roll for Dungeon Knowledge is a 12, so the sphinx could lead her new friends to the nearest unguarded treasure.  However, the party is desperate to exit the dungeon, so they specifically ask her about stairs or other conveyances up.  "Nearest stairs, etc." is 3 up and 1 to the left from the indicated result, so the chance of misinformation is 4 in 20.  Of course, since this is a sphinx, misinformation is probably the result of her talking in riddles.

Q: Why doesn't the average monster know as much about their immediate environ as most people know about their neighborhood?
A: Because this is a game and letting one dumb kobold ruin all the surprises in the level is no fun.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Amulet of Spell Immunity

Here's a full write-up for an item mentioned in passing in Supplement IV: God, Demi-Gods & Heroes by Robert Kuntz and James M. Ward.

Amulet of Spell Immunity

An ancient goddess of magic and motherhood whose name is now lost to antiquity first bestowed the method of creating these potent magical defenses upon humanity at the dawn of its first civilization. The secret procedure for the creation of Amulets of Spell Immunity were lost--as was much early magical lore--during the Revolt of the Battle Pyramids. Therefore any Amulets of Spell Immunity discovered today are at least 5,000 years old.

The amulet takes the form of a small round or oval medallion of old gold, slightly larger than the largest coins. Both sides of the amulet are covered with ancient pictograms, now well worn. An off-center hole pierces the medallion, allowing a cord, leather thong, or very fine chain to be threaded through it. A full 50% of all encountered Amulets of Spell Immunity show signs of past use in the form a brittle texture not usually associated with gold and one or more thin cracks along the surface.

When worn around the neck, an Amulet of Spell Immunity grants the wearer immunity to a single spell. The spell is not cancelled; if more than one person can be targeted (such as an area effect attack), the others are still subject to the spell.

Each time the Amulet protects a wearer from a spell, there is a 50% chance that the enchantment wanes and the amulet becomes damaged. A fully intact amulet becomes brittle and cracked, as described above. An already brittle and cracked amulet (whether found in that condition or through repeated use) crumbles into pieces of a dry, spongy material not unlike old cork.

Since these Amulets were created in the earliest days of Magic Use, they only protect from a narrow range of possible spells:

01-08 Charm Person
09-16 Sleep
17-23 ESP
24-30 Hold Person
31-37 Fire Ball
38-44 Lightning Bolt
45-51 Slow
52-57 Polymorph Others
58-62 Confusion
63-66 Charm Monster
67-72 Magic Jar
73-77 Cloudkill
78-83 Feeblemind
84-88 Flesh to Stone
89-92 Death Spell
93-96 Geas
97-00 Disintegrate

The alchemist Grumthrap Viloodle theorizes that the strange residue of a destroyed Amulet of Spell Immunity is not entirely useless. In his work Secrets of Alchemy Revealed Viloodle speculates that this substance can be used as a substitute material component for the spell the amulet previously protected against and/or as the key ingredient in a potion of similar effect.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

coming this Gen Con

So I have a short adventure that James Raggi of Lamentations of the Flame Princess will be releasing at GenCon (the Lord willing and the creek don't rise, as my grandpa used to say).  OSR2 is my attempt to write an adventure in line with the Early Modern Age of Horrors default setting of LotFP, but it should also slot into more traditional faux medieval worlds with just a little finagling.  As I was writing the manuscript I was thinking about several things: the old TV shows Cheers and Gilligan's Island, module T1 The Village of Hommlet, and the old film version of Lair of the White Worm with Hugh Grant and Amanda Donohoe.  

The interior art is by Yancy Beterly, a.k.a. Journeyman1029.  He streams on Twitch as he works, so I got to see my module come to life in real time.  Very trippy.  This is Jman's first LotFP gig and I hope he gets more paid work in the RPG world.  He's also done some indy comics and sells things like t-shirts and prints online.  If you do a google image search for either of his monikers you'll find some of his work.  Great stuff!

Friday, June 15, 2018

Six Wands that Kinda Suck

So sometimes I like to try to rip off MERP (Middle Earth Role Play) for D&D ideas.  Today's idea started by asking the question, "Why do MERP wands suck so bad?"  Per the rules, wands can only hold 1 to 10 charges and they can contain no more than second level spells.

First and second level spells in MERP are pretty dang lame.  This is because MERP is the kid brother of RoleMaster, where spells run up to level 100.  It's a little like the passage in Holmes Basic D&D that points you to AD&D for the grown-up version of the game.  MERP explicitly makes that same sort of connection to RoleMaster.  This relationship is why I tend to think of MERP as the game for running the adventures of Men and Hobbits in the Third and Fourth Age, while RoleMaster is the system for Epic Elvish Nonsense of the Good Ol' Days.

So here's my answer to the question as to why MERP wands are so limited in power: they are pre-apocalyptic elvish disposable technology.  You go to the corner store, buy a wand for a specific household annoyance, use it once, then stick it in the junk drawer in your kitchen, and forget about it until you need it again.  In a world of hundredth level magicks, these prosaic devices are of no real consequence.  They're churned out by the dozen, enchanted en masse by schmucks who flunked out of the Alchemist Academy.  Here are six examples of the kind of drek these losers have unleashed on the world.  They are only considered treasure nowadays because the world has gone to crap.

Wand of Boil Liquid
Class Allowed: Magic-User/Elf/any arcane caster
Range: 10'
Charges: 1d10, can't be recharged

This device was developed for those rare times when the arcane fire in your elvish hearth goes out.  It's also useful when camping.  Use of a single charge brings to boil a volume of water, soup, coffee, etc. equal to 1 cubic foot (approximate 7 and half gallons or 28 liters) per round, up to a maximum volume of one cubic foot per level of the user or 10 cubic feet, whichever is lower.  When directed at creatures made entirely of water or ice, the wand will do 1 point of damage on the first round, 2 on the second, 3 on the third, etc.  No other lifeforms are affected by this wand.  The user must concentrate the entirety of the usage of the wand, or the effects are cancelled early.  To move at more than quarter speed or take any other action save utter a word or two will end the wand's effect.

Wand of Item Assessment
Class Allowed: Bards only
Range: touch
Charges: 1d10, can't be recharged

A tool used by junior lore-bards of old to help ensure equitable transactions in the marketplace, touching this wand to any non-enchanted item less than building size and expending a charge allows the user to determine its fair market value, with a margin of error of + or - 10%.  If used on an enchanted item, the wand returns a value of zero.  Artifacts and relics return a false value of d100 x 100gp.

Wand of Frost & Burn Relief
Class Allowed: Anyone who doesn't cast Arcane spells
Range: touch
Charges: 1d10, can't be recharged

Use of this household first aid device allows for the healing of 2d4 points of fire or cold related damage.  If fire and cold damage has not been tracked separately (after all, who does that?) assume that no more than 50% of current lost hit points have been due to heat or cold, unless the character has been exclusively fighting monsters that only do heat or cold damage.

Wand of Limbwalking
Class Allowed: Ranger only
Range: self only
Charges: 1d10, can't be recharged

This wand was issued to new recruits to the Rangers of the Great Forest, the area now known as the
Robyn Greenarse laughs at
your pathetic civilization.
Sea of Cinders.  Use of this device allows the wielder to walk (not run) on tree limbs as easily as they would on the ground.  Duration is one round per level of the user, up to a maximum of 10 rounds.  The wand must be held the entire durations of the Limbwalking, but no additional concentration is required.  The limb is not magically strengthened by this magic; it must support the users weight of its own accord.

Wand of Nasal Repair
Class Allowed: Cleric or Druid only
Range: touch
Charges: 1d10, can't be recharged

This item was once a minor component in the standard medical kit for elvish healers and parents of rowdy elf-children.  A single charge will repair any specific damage to the target's nose.  It will not regrow a lost nose completely, but a severed nose can be reattached if the nose is available and the wand used within 24 hours.  If a wound did hit point damage to the nose, it is healed d6 points.  Wounds to the face in general can be healed d4-1 points, while wounds to the head in general can be healed 0-1 points (50/50 chance).  Non-nasal areas are unaffected by this wand.

Wand of Vibrations
Class Allowed: Anyone who doesn't cast Divine spells
Range: 100'
Charges: 1d10, can't be recharged

The original use of this wand has been lost.  Or maybe the elves are too embarrassed to explain.  What is known is that it can cause any object up to 5 pounds in weight to vibrate rapidly for one round per level of the user, up to a maximum of 10 rounds.  Fragile or poorly constructed objects are likely to shake to pieces.  If used in combat, the wand can be pointed at an enemy weapon.  The wielder must save versus wands each round or fumble the weapon.  If no fumble rules are being used, the weapon is dropped instead.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

better living through polearms

A common source of confusion and merriment for AD&D1 players is the ludicrous number of polearms detailed on the weapons list.  Every designer has their fetishes and blades on long sticks was one of Uncle Gary's.  Over many years of play, I've seen players make use of only a handful of the 16 polearms statted out in the original Players Handbook, but today I'm going to show you DMs how to use all these crazy weapons as a worldbuilding tool.

This post was inspired by the chart below, which I found on wikipedia, and FLAILSNAILer Shoe Skogan, the only player I've ever seen whose character wields a partisan.

Click to Embiggen
So here's how to do it.  Start by naming 16 different polearm-wielding factions in your campaign setting.  Here are some examples:

  • One or more dwarf clans (per the Monster Manual, 10% of dwarf forces are armed with polearms)
  • One or more gnoll tribes or mercenary units (35% polearms)
  • One or more hobgoblin tribes (30% polearms)
  • One or more orc tribes (30% polearms)
  • One or more large, successful, and long-running bandit gangs (10% polearms) 
  • A famous merchant city (10% of merchant guards have polearms)
  • A well-known unit of mercenary heavy footmen
  • One or more ethnicities or nationalities (the Hill People, the Islanders, etc.)
  • An elite foot unit of a major nation
  • A now-dead empire
  • The elite guards of a city, a king, a high priest, etc
  • An order of fighting monks
  • Any other weapon-wielding monster that might use a polearm (the Gith, for instance)

Now, arbitrarily or randomly assign each of these groups a Signature Polearm from this list:

bec de corbin
fork, military
hammer, lucern

So now you know that 10% of the Dwarfs of the Ironbutt Clan wield fauchards.  Big hairy deal.  Here's the next part.

This chart, adapted from the first chart above, is a relationship map.  It tells you who has interacted with each other in your campaign's past.

Items in the same column have had some sort of friendly contact in the past.  If the items in the same column are adjacent, that alliance continues.  If there is another item in between, the friendly contact was long ago.  So the Ironbutt Dwarfs have an ongoing alliance with whoever on your list wields fauchard-forks, and they once got along with the military fork people, but the relationship has cooled for some reason.

The three horizontal lines identify the major factions in three big wars.  The top line is the most recent conflict, the bottom line the most ancient.  The left half of the row were allies against the right half of the row.

Working through this stuff means you should 16 factions, some alliances past and present, and 3 wars that have been important to your campaign world.  It also allows canny players to make observations like these:

"Those orcs have guisames.  That means they're not the same tribe as the ones we're warring against.  Let's try to enlist them in our cause."

"Some of the skeletons were wielding bardiches.  That means this tomb must date back to the Torgonian Empire!"

"These ladies claim to be Amazonian Mercenaries, but they wield halberds.  I think they're really members of Lady Katarina's bandit gang."

"There's a broken lucern hammer by the dwarf corpse?  He must have been a kinsmen of mine.  No other dwarf clan uses that polearm."

Friday, May 04, 2018

I'm a player tomorrow!

It's been nearly four years since I was a player in a FLAILSNAILS game.  Below are my guy and his associates.  Tomorrow we'll see if any of them can survive Aleksandr Revzin's Stonehell campaign.

Donnal MacDonnal, a fighting man sometimes mistaken for a knight

His shield

Elford, Donnal's magical pet lizard, which hovers constantly over his left shoulder and telepathically urges him to take greater and greater risks

Donnal's henchman Stan, the world's worst magic-user

Polg, Donnal's rascally squire