Archive for January, 2013

There Is No Such Thing As a 2nd Level Blogger in D&D

January 24, 2013

I just saw a picture on a writing site of a woman sitting on her floor next to the couch, grapes and nail polish kit, two phones, shoes, and an empty notebook on the floor. It made me want to write this:

Adventurers in D&D get levels because they’re rough and tough and don’t take shit from nobody (much like Clint Eastwood brand toilet paper). You dig into a dungeon full of death-traps and alien brainsuckers and you come out more experienced and tougher. I can get behind this.

What I don’t like is some NPC in town who never left his neighborhood and someone says he’s a 4th level Shoeshine or Meatpacker. Take any Receptionist and add 20 years of experience, I don’t think that’s going to represent even a single extra Hit Point. If anything, a sedentary lifestyle should reduce HP.

I think that’s why I don’t like the NPC classes in 3E D&D (Expert, Commoner, Noble, etc) because some peasant who hits 20th level Milkmaid shouldn’t be able to take 20 stabs to the head and walk away whistling. And if the game doesn’t give detailed rules for a Limner/Painter’s daily duties, and the only people who will be good at it are dedicated NPCs, and there are in fact no ways for the NPC to actually gain levels unless he spends all day taking potshots at sewer rats and stray children from his roof, why include levels for townie NPCs at all?

I’d just as soon say the NPC gains “pseudolevels” based entirely on time spent working, and he acts as multiple workers based on his rank.

Apprentice: 0-1 yr – Acts as 1/2 man
Basic: 2 yr – Acts as 1 man
Normal: 3-5 yr – Acts as 2 men
Expert: 6-11 yr – Acts as 3 men
Master: 12-22 yr – Acts as 4 men, always produces excellent work
Grandmaster: 45+ yr – Acts as 5 men, always produces amazing work

You could stick with the standard D&D system if you really wanted to. Here’s how I’d construct an NPC class.

Commoner
Gains XP: Every month of work gives 120 XP (except first year is no XP apprenticeship)
XP Requirements: As Fighter
Benefits: Act as men equal to level for work related to specialty (choose something fairly specific – blacksmith vs. jeweler or armorer or weaponsmith is ok, metalsmith is too broad, blade maker is too specific).
HP: Only 1d6 ever, modified by CON (never improving)
Saves: Worst of 1st level Fighter, M-U, or Thief in each category (never improving)

Partial work months or part-time hours give partial XP. So if you’re a PC Fighter who wants to do blacksmithing (because World of Warcraft has you convinced it’s a great idea or you just need to fulfill the Dwarf Smith stereotype) and you practice for 8 hours one day per week while your party is in town, you’ll gain your first 150 blacksmithing XP after 7 months.

And no, you can’t gain XP in Blacksmith by adventuring, much like you can’t gain Fighter XP by blacksmithing.

Now we could use the 3E model for professions and crafts, where your skill check (in this case, your worker-equivalent) determines how much money you make. In that case, a lawyer earns as much as a shoeshine and a basketmaker earns as much as jeweler. That is to say, it’s dumb. But it’s also very simple.

We could rate professions, say 1-6, in terms of (a) portability, (b) profitability, and (c) demand. A jeweler or tailor is a much more likely profession for an adventurer than a smelter because it’s tough to carry a forge around. Jewelery is much more profitable than weaving per piece, but the number of pieces demanded is much lower. Then we have to figure out based on population how much demand there is for the PC to dump his goods on the market. Maybe a jeweler just ends up working fewer hours than the weaver and still makes more money: that’s fine. Maybe craftsmen and professionals end up gravitating toward cities: that’s expected.

Of course there will probably be guilds, or at least strong-arm types who want to control the market illicitly. The easiest way to handle this is adding the fees / extortion money to the normal taxes levied, and roleplay it only if someone tries to dodge the tax.

When we talk about sale price of goods, remember the book price is how much adventurers pay for things at the shop. Unless a tailor spends half his time working the register, or hires someone to do it, he’s going to be selling his goods to a merchant instead of selling directly. The merchant is thus a speculator instead of a professional, and his profit is based on how much of his investment he sells and at what price. His role doesn’t fit in this rule. Even if he participates in the carrying trade, he hires sailors and so forth, and we’re talking about caravans and foreign trade instead of a guy working on some metal to make it pretty.

Anyway, the tailor will buy materials, add his labor, and sell the goods to a merchant. But the merchant wants to make a profit! So the tailor obviously can’t charge book price. And his costs for materials, facility, and taxes will cut into his profit. He probably makes just about enough to live off of and save a little tiny bit.

And that’s great! That’s how it is. Adventurers despair, you can’t actually get rich working for the Man. Yes, it’s more profitable to steal from the dungeon or whatever. Why do players keep trying to get a sideline in crafting? In my experience, it’s because they either want to roleplay a craftsman (very rare) or else get a little extra money. But by “a little” they mean “a good percentage boost to what I make in the dungeon” otherwise it really isn’t worth the time and skill points.

As a side note, there’s no reason to play an NPC class in 3E. Not even if you’re an NPC. NPCs should all just be Rogues because they get lots of skill points and are more survivable.

Heck, you could ignore the two proposed NPC level schemes and say every NPC is a Thief.

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Fix This Dungeon

January 18, 2013

Back in the day, System Shock was pretty awesome. In it you play a cyberware hacker type of guy who has to deal with problems on this broken-down space station. SS2 was also good, and while the graphics and controls were better the details in the original were good enough to play them both.

But there was a complaint that the game felt like playing a space-plumber because your melee weapon was a wrench and you spent most of the time fixing broken things in the ship. The quest to fix the elevators took several hours and it was nearly the first thing you were assigned!

Dead Space is a lot like System Shock. It’s not exact, but if you removed all the text and audio dialogue I’d have guessed it was SS3. In DS you’re actually a space-engineer and many of your weapons are repurposed tools, so it makes sense. And you do even MORE space-repairs!

Anyone who has ever had to find a battery in the garage to jumpstart the generator so you can use the elevator has experienced this gameplay. It’s a nice re-imagining of the “find a blue keycard to open the blue door” game and looks a whole lot prettier.

But what if the dungeon was functional like a spaceship? It would have rooms devoted to controlling various processes. There would be conduits to move energy or materials from room to room. The controls could be broken or missing parts, the conduits could be clogged or mis-routed, and maybe the energy or material source is broken too.

The functional dungeon doesn’t need to have some ultimate purpose that the players can exploit. It could be simply the side-effect of these functions that the players want. Maybe since the level 3 drain system is completely toast you can reverse gravity on level 3 so the water drains upward into level 2, which has a working drain system. Or maybe to get across the Howling Wind Chasm you can extend an ore escalator across. If you also get the escalator working you can zip across really quickly in one direction while people have to labor slowly in the other direction. But does activating it make noise that disturbs the Honkbats? If you activate the Drill Golems on level 8 and the Haulems in the Grand Ramp you can get a steady stream of ore from below – but will this anger the Albino Orcs who were otherwise peaceful before?

Anyway, the ingredients in this recipe are pretty easy to throw together.

1: The dungeon has to be made by people who can make really complex things like this.

2: The dungeon has to have a purpose. Mining, collecting souls, distracting a demon, running a calculation, imprisoning a god, getting heat from lava to make steam power.

3: You need to come up with a Rube Goldberg series of separate processes and break these down into little parts, and think about how each part could go wrong and be fixed.

4: Draw the dungeon map so it performs the function in an efficient way. Maybe throw in a natural obstacle they had to work around when building it.

5: Make up reasons why each process step would be helpful to have working or not, and what effect on the map and inhabitants deactivating / reactivating it will have. Maybe whole rooms shift and levels flood with gas!

6: Parts needed to fix things should be placed where players wouldn’t otherwise go, so exploration is important. Just for a change of pace, have some important stuff just laying out in the hallway. Might help to mark important things – such as emerald and gold circuit boards or something – so players don’t just assume it’s trash.

7: Include a large amount of trash. Maybe the players can think of cool uses for things that you didn’t.

8: The dungeon has to be ruined somehow – the thing that did the ruining could even still be there hiding in dark corners. Are the original makers or their heirs still around somewhere? In stasis?

9: It may help to have a way for players to know what to do here. In the video games I talked about, there’s always a ton of audio and text logs from the crew of the doomed spaceship you’re in. Maybe you could use journals from previous adventurers who were bright enough to think of stuff on their own. You could also just assume that players will gather information using Commune and such, which makes the adventure much more difficult for parties that aren’t high enough level or lack those resources. Maybe notes from the creators are in a strange language or holograms and can help. Maybe Magic-Users will have a roll based on level to get a hint about how something works.

10: Put in some other reason why the PCs would want to be in the dungeon, and make it possible though very difficult to complete this objective without “fixing the dungeon” along the way. Note that partial repair is preferable and PCs may want to take over the dungeon after repairing it. Maybe this is a good way to encourage the domain-endgame? Don’t worry that the PCs will have a huge automated mining operation – assume they will get it and move the game on from there! I think it’s fine when players break my game because the shattered pieces are sometimes beautiful.

M-U Familiar Benefits

January 15, 2013

I like the idea that familiars add to M-U power, and killing one is a pretty hard blow to the M-U. But taking permanent HP loss on its death means as a player I never use a familiar under 1E D&D rules.

Here’s my take on it:

Familiars can gain effective M-U levels if the M-U puts XP into the familiar. It’s kinda like how we do henchmen: instead of the henchman taking a 1/2 share of XP, the employer can split up to half his XP with the henchman. So if the party gains 600 XP, and the master’s share is 100, he can give up to 50 of that away among his various henchmen, familiar, etc. He has to take at least 50 for himself though. An NPC recipient can’t get XP from more than one PC per award (so the whole party couldn’t employ a guy and give him 300 of their 600).

In this case, the familiar doesn’t actually get to cast spells. He gains the HP, saves, attack chance, etc. for his HD or his M-U level, whichever is better. But if the M-U casts a spell from his memory, the familiar can give him a spell from its roster to replenish him (one per round let’s say).

If the familiar dies, the bond is broken. The familiar can be raised from the dead but won’t be your familiar anymore unless you cast Find Familiar again and somehow ensure that he’s the target. Especially important is that he loses his entire store of XP, which means the M-U is now back to square one in terms of familiar level. He’s stuck with his own spell capacity.

Other benefits of having a familiar include:

1: Telepathic communication with it, which means you might have an interpreter if the familiar knows other languages.
2: Sense through its eyes/ears/etc. up to 1 mile away.
3: If the familiar is on your person, and you save against an area-effect (Fireball, Lightning Bolt), the familiar is unaffected. If you fail the save, the familiar must roll on its own.
4: The familiar is always 100% loyal and while it may express misgivings it will obey even the cruelest mistreatment.
5: The familiar can remain awake while the M-U is occupied or asleep, making a surprise attack on the M-U less likely.
6: Familiars typically have some excellent ability: birds can fly very fast and have good vision, toads can swim and breathe water, many others can climb easily or run quickly, and all are small and good at hiding.
7: If a familiar completely stays out of a fight, on the M-U’s person, monsters typically don’t attack it. If the familiar starts giving spells, administering potions, or even entering melee it’s fair game and will probably get whacked as it tends to have little combat ability (AC, HP, saves).
8: Familiar Maladies are hilarious.
9: Familiars give some special benefit to the M-U as a trait that rubs off on him. I don’t like the 3E D&D familiar trait table because it’s all skill check or saving throw, which is weak and isn’t useful in 1E/2E. Use the below:

Basic Familiars
Badger … +1 STR, remain active until dead (such as a system with up to -10 HP before death)
Cat … +1 DEX, Hide in Shadows / Move Silently as Thief
Hawk … +1 CHA, triple vision distance
Mouse … +1 DEX, Pick Pockets as Thief
Raven / Owl … +1 WIS, speaks 1d4 languages master doesn’t know and 2 he does
Serpent … +1 CON, normal snakes won’t attack
Toad … +1 CON, swim at full walking speed, triple hold-breath duration
Weasel … +1 STR, Climb Walls as Thief

Note that no familiar gives +1 INT (unless you want most M-Us taking that familiar) and the benefits are visually subtle and non-damaging (no familiar lets you blast people with Acid Arrow or something).

I don’t think the Thief skill benefits are out of line or in any way diminish the Thief. As I’ve said before, I consider a Thief’s most important skills to be Open Locks / Remove Traps / Hear Noise, and it’s great if more people can Hide/Sneak like the Thief because then he’s not the lone scout (and Rangers, Monks, Elves, and Halflings already get sneaking abilities anyway).

Special familiars like pseudo-dragons and imps give special abilities as shown in the monster description (it seems these creatures exist in the rules to be familiars). I’d add a bunch like Hypnotoad, Mini-Beholder, and Winged Cat. Also I don’t see why some people have a problem with Brownies, they’re like awesome little magical butlers.

There should be plenty of magic items a familiar can use, such as amulets, rings, anything really small. I’d say only speaking familiars can activate a command word – it’s up to you whether familiars can talk but I’d definitely say Ravens and Owls can even if the rest can’t. Remember if that Owl keeps firing off Magic Missiles from his master’s wand he’s going to be a pretty tempting target for enemies.

From a game balance perspective, this is also great news for the monsters, since if a familiar is wearing a Ring of Protection it means one of the PCs isn’t wearing it.

Generate a Village

January 13, 2013

Let’s say your players are travelling through the wilderness and occasionally come upon a fort, or are travelling through a settled land and come across villages pretty regularly. You could draw up a ton of villages but here’s an easier way.

Decide on a number of d6s to roll. This relates to population.

Roll your d6s all at once so they scatter a little. Each pip is a family. Each die is a number of families living close together. Where the dice fall is where these buildings are in relation to each other.

Results of 1 are shops or inns. The first shop in any village is definitely going to be a general store, but any additional shops could be specialists who attract business from the surrounding villages or else travel regularly. Or it could be a church. Maybe the church can act as a combination inn and general store, since you could ask to sleep on the floor and they might have some used gear from failed adventurers they would cough up for a small donation.

Results of 2-5 are farming families. Their hovels are grouped together and walled in so the chickens and pigs don’t get out.

Results of 6 are wealthy people, such as minor nobility or merchants or landowners. The first family is their own, another is a group of servants, and the remaining are attached peasants.

If you don’t get any 6s, then the highest dice are the local gentry. If there is only 1 of the highest dice, there’s just one, but if there are multiples then you have multiple wealthy people.

Example: 1, 4, 4, 5, 5
One general store, two sets of 4 peasant families, one local noble + servants + 3 serf families, one merchant + servants + 3 employee families.

Example: 2, 2, 2, 3
Three pairs of peasants, one headman with his family + servants + scattered men-at-arms.

Example: 5, 6, 6, 6
A stockade of five peasant families, and three local wizards’ towers each walled in with servants and serf families.

One family should be considered as 6 people, or you could roll d6 adults + d6 children or something. I’d say the content of the family is another layer down which you might care about enough to write a method for generating them.

Now you’ve got the layout and content of the village. Draw blocks on the paper to reflect area of control – that is, the plot of land around the buildings – and then draw in the buildings wherever the dice actually fell. Draw roads along the borders between the plots. If it seems like everyone has a long driveway, consider adding a village green in the middle to soak up some extra space with a road surrounding it. Or scoot the dice a little closer together to make it look more village-y.

You could determine what a given building is by making a list of 1-4 and looking at which side of the die was facing you (for this you need to use dice with numbers instead of pips). 1 = top, 2 = right side, 3 = bottom, 4 = left side. For example, you could roll a 3 (peasant families) and if the right side of the number 3 is toward you that peasant family does shepherding. In general, I’d rather just blast through those decisions with stuff that makes more sense, otherwise you could end up with six villages in a row that each have a blacksmith but no other stores …

(Props to Zak for turning me on to die-drop generation which, among other Vornheim and blogstuff, helped inspire this)

Monster: Necroflux

January 6, 2013

The Necroflux is an electric ghost, probably something to do with weird Frankenstien experiments, storms during powerful planetary alignments, or an execution. This creature always inhabits a piece of metal. When it jumps from metal to metal it trails lightning between. Creatures killed by it are re-animated as electro-zombies.

A Necroflux notices when living creatures come near and waits for a good opportunity to attack. It will try to arc to someone in metal armor, since it’s difficult to take the armor off. Anyone between the start and end of the arc gets hit by a 3d6 Lightning Bolt (including anyone wearing or holding either piece). The arc can be up to 40′, or 80′ if both pieces of metal are connected by water. A given Necroflux can’t arc to the same piece of metal ever again. Consider a suit of armor as one piece of metal (chainmail for example) but if your rules count a helmet as a separate piece then it’s fair game. Shields are typically wood and leather unless your game specifies.

A Necroflux can shock the wearer / bearer of the metal it inhabits instead of arcing, for just 1d6 damage (no save).

Very small metal pieces can’t hold it. Ignore things like coins, belt buckles, sewing needles, and arrowheads. Include things like daggers, metal flutes, and grappling hooks. If it’s 1 pound or over in one piece, it’s possible.

The metal is unharmed by the arc.

Anyone slain by the electric attack will rise in 1 turn as an electro-zombie under the general command of the Necroflux. It shambles with a jolting gait, is immune to electricity, but if immersed in water it shorts out and dies. Can be turned. Stats are otherwise as “Zombie”. Electro-zombies tend to gather up metal objects and carry them around, providing the Necroflux some mobility, though it’s not intentional and won’t happen in combat.

If a Necroflux jumps into an intelligent sword (or similar) there is a lightning-fast battle of wills. Roll 3d6, and if the result is under the sword’s Ego the Necroflux is ejected automatically and hangs in the air as a man-shaped electric cloud for 1d6 rounds. This is the same thing that happens when you turn it (although a “destroy” result still means it’s destroyed). An ejected Necroflux can’t move or act, and in this state it’s most vulnerable (HD 3, AC 6).

If you hit an ejected Necroflux with a metal item, it arcs into the item without harm, although it remains stunned for the rest of its ejected duration. If you destroy a metal item holding a Necroflux using a metal tool the Necroflux arcs into the tool without harm. If you destroy the metal item using a non-metal tool the Necroflux has nowhere to go and it’s ejected as above.

If an ejected Necroflux ends its stun duration and there’s no metal within range it can arc to, it dissipates (dies).

Necrofluxes are found in a place with plenty of metal to arc to, such as an old battlefield or dungeon, or else in the bottom of a deep hole trapped in a hand axe or something.

Gas-Steal Potion

January 6, 2013

It’s a potion that absorbs gasses. “Well that goes right on the old post-adventure sell pile” you think. But it’s actually pretty cool.

You uncork it and it soaks up any gas in the area. If there’s natural explosive, suffocating, hallucenogenic, or poison gas around you’re safe for a while. It also sucks up any gas spells like Stinking Cloud, Cloudkill, Incendiary Cloud, or Green Dragon breath. Up to your DM whether it sucks up Fog (I’d say sure) or a gaseous Vampire (which would be hilarious).

The best part is when it’s soaked up the gas, you can cork it and later throw it to shatter and release the stored gas. This way you could grab some nasty gas you find in a dungeon that’s supposed to be a trap and use it later as a weapon!

Let’s say you find 3 vials of this stuff. You might think it’s a great idea to just load up all three and have 3 weapons available. But you’ll probably find interesting gas in the dungeon, so save a couple to use in there.

By the way, normally I wouldn’t bring up any sciency mumbo-jumbo, but if you drink this stuff your blood can’t carry any air. You suffocate using whatever suffocation rules exist in your game, and Water Breathing won’t help. You’d need a Dispel Magic or something that lets you survive in a vaccuum.

Monster: Spelljacker

January 4, 2013

Spelljackers grab onto a Magic-User’s spell and take its power to rampage around causing trouble.

The Spelljacker is a creature with two parts: the main bulk of its body drifts along suspended in the weightless Astral Sea with a tenuous connection to the Prime Material Plane. On the Prime Material it looks like a wisp of smoke unless it’s riding a spell. If you can Astrally-project you can see the Silver Cord connecting the two and if you sever the Cord the Spelljacker loses its Prime Material part until it regrows in a year and a day.

The Spelljacker wisps around until it finds itself near Magic-Users. It bides its time, watching the kind of spells that come out. It doesn’t understand human thought or language, and it can’t predict what kind of spell will be cast. After the watching period of 1d4 days, every spell cast by an M-U near the Spelljacker has a 1 in 10 chance to be grabbed.

If the Spelljacker grabs hold of a spell, the spell will fail to materialize. The Spelljacker has hitched a ride across the magical conduit into the M-Us brain and now resides there. The specific spell the M-U was going to cast is still there memorized and the M-U doesn’t feel any different. But the next time the M-U casts that spell the Spelljacker will ride the spell out and take the spell’s shape and powers. The spell doesn’t go off the way the M-U intended.

A Spelljacker riding a spell looks like the spell’s area of effect, even for normally invisible spells. The jacked spell also has a continuous duration instead of whatever the spell normally does. Here are some examples:

Detect Invisibility: The Spelljacker looks like a cone of shimmering light in which anything invisible becomes visible temporarily.

Lightning Bolt: Spelljacker looks like the full length of the LB, and anything it crosses must save or take the damage as if it were struck by a LB (I’d say no more than once per round per target regardless of how many times the Spelljacker passes over you during its movement).

Magic Missile: Spelljacker looks like the individual missiles (however many there would be according to the caster’s level) which can strike as Magic Missiles once each per round, but without dissipating like MM normally do on impact.

Raise Dead: Spelljacker looks like a vaguely humanoid white aura which, if it passes into a recent-enough corpse, will raise it from the dead as the spell, once per round.

Transmute Rock to Mud: Spelljacker is a sparkling mass that, when it intersects with stone, softens it as long as it’s present and re-hardens when it leaves.

As you can see, the Spelljacker’s ability is actually much more powerful than the spell it’s riding because it gets the effect constantly, every round, at full movement.

The Spelljacker is immune to weapons except +2 or greater in any form, and as it lacks a typical physiology it’s immune to disease, poison, petrification, etc. It counts as a “monster” for purposes of charms, holds, etc. It’s also extraplanar, so banishing spells can be helpful in either form. Spelljackers are incorporeal so you can’t grapple it or trap it in a cage.

If the Spelljacker is riding a spell, the spell can be cancelled through:
Counterspelling (a Fireball can be cancelled by an M-U casting Fireball as a counterspell),
Anti-spelling (a Fireball could be cancelled by a water or ice-based spell or other flame extinguishing magic or possibly air-controlling magic of 4th level or higher since Fireball is a 3rd level spell), or
Dispelling (the Spelljacker’s hijacked spell is dispelled at 3 higher than the one who cast it).

Any cancellation results in the Spelljacker shedding its spell. It leaves on a 1 in 6 chance per level of the spell used to cancel it (thus, always if you use a 6th level spell), otherwise it hangs around in the periphery to try to grab onto another spell (1 in 10 chance per spell as usual).

Noticing a latent Spelljacker skulking around is very difficult, equal to noticing a 6th level Invisibility effect. True Seeing or similar 6th or higher detection spells can locate it. If pressed in combat when it isn’t riding a spell it generally flees to harass some other unlucky M-U.

Noticing a Spelljacker inside an M-U’s brain requires x-ray vision or life detection, and it shows up as a spectral worm coiling around in there. It can be exorcised through banishment magic, or dispelling (causing it to flee using the chances given above rather than actually rolling to dispel the creature), or the death of the M-U.

Using whatever rule set you use, a Spelljacker’s stats should be mostly useless since it attacks mainly through its spell. For 1e/2e I’d give it 7 HD, AC 0, MV 12″. On the Astral the Spelljacker is a brainy hulk with inscrutable desires (if desire is a thing it experiences at all) and if attacked there will defend itself with any spells it has hijacked in the past cast at 14th level – roll up 2d20 random ones of spell level 1-6. The Astral body has 14 HD, AC 10, MV 6″ (bigger, squishier, and slower, that is).

The Prime Material wisp carries no treasure, but the Astral form generally contains weird minerals, syrupy biles, and symbiotic organs. Make up a crazy table and let your players dig themselves in.