Saturday, December 5, 2015

People of the Serpent

Much pleased with the peace and good order of the city, the Caliph and his vizir made their way to a bridge, which led straight back to the palace, and had already crossed it, when they were stopped by an old and blind man, who begged for alms.

The Caliph gave him a piece of money, and was passing on, but the blind man seized his hand, and held him fast.

"Yusuf of the Granite Hands has betrayed you and seeks to supplant you upon the throne," the man whispered. "He has issued false orders to your commanders and sent them away from you, and even now rides to spit your head upon a pike. If you return to the palace you will surely be slain."

"How do you know this?" asked the vizir in full confusion, for neither he nor the Caliph had suspected any treachery from Yusuf.

"Alas! As Yusuf plotted with his lieutenant Arij, the two of them came upon my daughter, lying upon a rock. Seeing her there, Arij struck at her with his sword. Mortally wounded, my daughter sought me out before expiring, and now I have sought you out to assist me. For I would gain my vengeance upon Arij." 

As he spoke the blind man grew and grew, scales covering his body, until a giant serpent with milky eyes coiled in front of the Caliph and his vizir. And thus was the alliance between the Asbari Caliphate and the Takshakeen Naga sealed.

Iravan
From Zayplay Animation Studio
Naga


Requirements: Str 13, Wis 13
Prime Requisite: Str, Wis
HD: d6
Maximum Level: 8

Naga attack as fighters but save as clerics of the same level. They have infravision out to 60’.


They cast spells from the cleric spell list (or druid spell list, if you use druids in your game). However, replace the 2nd level Charm Person or Mammal with the 1st level Charm Person.


A naga may select two forms from the following:
  • Human (with subtle snake features like fangs, scales on the sides of the neck, etc.)
  • Snake
  • Hybrid (human head or upper half on snake body)


Transforming between one form and another takes one round, but also uses up the lowest level spell slot available to the PC.  


See Zak’s notes on hengeyokai animal forms (no spellcasting in animal form, half hitpoints in animal form, regular animals shun you, etc.), those apply to the naga’s snake form.


They are unable to use armor and instead have a base AC which improves slightly over time (see table below).


At 3rd level they can breathe normally in water.
At 5th level, their bite in snake or hybrid form causes paralysis for 1d4 turns (save vs poison at +3 negates).


Upon their death, a naga’s spirit is automatically reincarnated elsewhere in the world; a PC cannot be brought back through raise dead, resurrect, or reincarnate.


Level Progression
Ulupi
From Zayplay Animation Studio
Experience
Level
Hit Dice (1d6)
Armor Class
0
1
1
6
4500
2
2
6
9000
3
3
5
18750
4
4
4
37500
5
5
4
75000
6
6
4
150000
7
7
3
375000
8
8
3



Spellcasting


Class Level
1
2
3
4
1
1
0
0
0
2
2
0
0
0
3
2
1
0
0
4
3
2
0
0
5
3
2
1
0
6
3
3
2
0
7
4
3
2
1
8
4
3
3
2

Influenced by Dan Proctor's Sea Blood (Realms of Crawling Chaos), Chris's War-Bear, Zak's Hengeyokai (via Oriental Adventures), and Bruce Heard's Aranea

Friday, October 9, 2015

Teeth of the Hydra

Remember last post I said I had a personal announcement coming up?

Well, I figure I should note it here: I've officially joined the Hydra Cooperative as a partner. I'd been freelancing with the group earlier, and as such, helped edit the last release (Fever-Dreaming Marlinko). But now I'm an official partner rather than a merc. 

I'm glad to be working on fascinating projects with people who are not just insanely creative and talented, but also extremely good friends of mine, who I respect a hell of a lot.

Aside from editing work on the upcoming Misty Isles of the Eld, I've recently conducted two interviews over on the Hydra blog, with Hydra partners Trey Causey (who blogs at From The Sorcerer's Skull) and Anthony Picaro (Straits of Anian).

Keep your eyes peeled for our stuff, and check out our Tumblr if you're so inclined!


Monday, September 28, 2015

Mister Morden's Question

A few days ago, Trey wrote about his preferences in play for gaming, after being instigated by known rabblerousers and troublemakers Jack and Paul. This looks like a neat exercise, so I figured I'd jump in.

So what do I want out of games, tone- and presentation-wise?

"What do you want?"
I like my characters to fall into the "mercenary heroism" box - they're trying to strike it big and succeed personally, but they're also willing to lend a hand and help out those in need. The convenient thing here is that this sort of character can mesh decently with the standard Vancian scoundrel that seems to serve as the baseline for OSR play. (A sidebar to this is that I also want there to be factions and groups who aren't wholly corrupt and awful; I want there to be someone, even flawed someones, I can root for and support.)

I enjoy a wide variety of tone in terms of what I play, but I strongly prefer running games with very high potential lethality. I try to leaven this a bit; I don't want to have a character meatgrinder situation, and I want to make sure players aren't feeling disheartened or frustrated with the game. There's something that's particularly compelling about the idea of the survival horror situation, with everyone desperately attempting to stay alive and the idea that nobody is safe, and I do gravitate towards that.

I crave weird unusual worlds with depth and internal coherence. I want games to feel like their settings are lived-in, that there are people present rather than Background NPCs.

I really love tense dungeon exploration. There's something special about creeping along at low level trying to make sure the next room, monster, trap, or whatever doesn't kill you - about frantically improvising something, anything, to jury-rig your way out of trouble. I'm perfectly happy with other environments, and do relish the chance to engage with NPCs in a city environment rather than the confines of the dungeon, but...man, sneaking along. It's great.

I like roleplay and funny voices and having that roleplay drive the action, rather than loading that all onto the result of a Cha check or equivalent. I don't want that for every single interaction ("Holy crap you're going to be haggling over another cloak?") but for the major significant ones, I want the focus to be on the players and their creativity rather than the PC's stats.

ANYHOW. Watch this space; major announcement (for me) coming shortly, plus hopefully some more content and gaming ideas.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The Powder Spoke

Halfway home they fought to see who should marry the woman. The powder spoke between them. Our man killed four, and took the woman home and married her. 

- "The Ogre and the Beautiful Woman," Amazigh Folk Tale 
"The Arms Dealer"
Charles Robertson

Ever since reading that line, I've been hankering to create some firearms rules for Legacy of the Bieth. It's certainly a bit achronistic from my stated time period of 11th-century Egypt and MENA...but this is all about a game where you've got magic and apocalypse and psychic warriors, so I'm pretty sure it can handle a few guns showing up. Besides, my primary inspiration for feel is Sergio Leone westerns, so firearms obviously fit in with those.

(FIRST DRAFT OF) FIREARM RULES

All firearms available in Legacy of the Bieth are matchlocks. That means that you've got a lit match slowly burning away as you go do your adventuring thing. It glows in the dark, can go out, etc.

Musket: 1d10 damage, two-handed, range as heavy crossbow. 80 gp.
Carbine: 1d8 damage, two-handed, range as light crossbow. 60 gp.
Pistol: 1d6+1 damage, range as light crossbow. 60 gp.

Firearms ignore standard armor and most monster ACs (fur, scales, etc); targets are considered AC 9 (plus any magic or Dex bonuses). Reloading takes d6+1 rounds.

All guns can be fitted with rifling at double the price, which adds a +1 to hit (and makes reloading take an additional round). Carbines and muskets can be fitted with snap matchlocks, which also add +1 to hit and an additional round of reloading for double the price (quadruple base price if fitted on a rifled gun).

I would be remiss if I didn't thank T. Wooley  and Kevin Crawford for some helpful discussion of firearms in an African context over at G+, which definitely influenced these rules.

* * *

I should mention that I helped edit Fever-Dreaming Marlinko, which is now available in print and PDF. If you want a "acid-fantasy" city supplement which skips tedious house-by-house descriptions of a city in favor of quick and readily gameable notes, random encounters, a Chaos Index, and a tiger-wrasslin' game, then you probably want to check our work out.

(TIGER WRASSLIN')

Monday, June 1, 2015

First-Level Failures

First-level D&D characters are fragile. At best they start out with d8+Con bonus for HP, and a general weapon does d6 points of damage. At worst, you're playing a mage (or B/X thief) with d4 on the hit die, and maybe even a Con penalty.

Adventurer, Erol Otus, B/X Basic Rules. 
Some games in the OSR family try to mitigate the fragility of 1st-level characters, either with boosted initial level, max HP at first level, or even HP kickers like Hackmaster. And some games (OK, just DCC) embrace the idea of having a bunch of schlubs enter the dungeon, and toss players a 4-pack of characters, with the expectation that some of these lunkheads are, by definition, going to die screaming.

But with most of the games as written, the rules mean that you're probably going to see a lot of low-level PC death. Some have remarked on the enhanced characterization that this gives the survivors, and there have been oodles of posts about why PC death-as-stakes (or just death) is interesting and intriguing.

I just saw an article on NPR discussing the intersection of (video) gaming and learning, where author Greg Toppo touches upon the utility of repeated failures in engagement and learning (bolds mine):

I guess I look at myself as a learner and see value not much in the ability to fail but what happens next. That is, you do something, you fail at it and you are able to try again with essentially no comment on it. A good game doesn't say, "That's the 34th time you're trying. You really sure about this?" Nothing transpires except your next chance. For me the most vivid experience of this is playing a motorcycle racing game once. I was so bad at it. I kept hitting the reset button again and again and again. And at one point I went back and looked how many times I'd restarted this level and it was something like 1,800 times! So it's not so much failure but the lack of comment around the failure and what you do afterwards.

This sounds remarkably like the experience that roguelikes and Dark Souls tap into: progress, but a lack of comment on failure and an encouragement to keep trying, generates significant engagement with the material.

In some videogames, like Mario or the motorcycle racing game that Toppo mentions, the engagement and learning generates a familiarity with the map and the level progression ("OK, I have to hit jump HERE to make it past this pit, and then there's an invisible block THERE that lets me get up high..."). In roguelikes, there's more of a focus on learning how to play -- while obviously you learn about Mario's speed and jump capability and can gauge things better in the fixed-level games, the roguelikes keep hitting you with a fresh new environment each time.

Again with the Great Heap, guys?
You don't wanna check out some of
the other caves...?
What strikes me as interesting about D&D is that it offers a combination of the two - if an adventurer dies in the Slumbering Ursine Dunes (capitalism, ho!), their party is likely to still be in the region, and the adventurer's death provides information about the site and its inhabitants, AND affords the player more insight into what they can and cannot likely get away with. It's a return to a dynamic, rather than static, version of the environment. (Perhaps this is why Jeff was so tolerant of all of us bumbling around in the same parts of Wessex forever!)

The other component of Toppo's statement I found interesting is the idea that it's a lack of comment around the failure that fosters continued experimentation. This bit has been touched upon by other folks elsewhere (noting the difference in character generation times between earlier and later editions of D&D, serving as a strong disincentive for risky / exploratory play, since the tedium in generating a new character serves as an implicit 'comment').

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Blood Servitors - Dragonborn

From Abu Hamid's The Downfall of the First Caliphate:
...In that year the Bieth and their minions (Ar-Rahman curse them!) swarmed out of Qasr al-Malik and over the surrounding regions of the plains. The Bieth set to work binding a jinn of salt and flame to use against the walls of Jeradda, but as soon as the rite was finished and the jinn bound, a small group of soldiers broke through the lines. The sorceror (may he rot) binding the jinn was slain by an arrow and recieved his just punishment. The jinn then turned upon its binders and laid waste to the Bieth encampments, but both it and the soldiers were annihilated. 
It was then that the Bieth called upon the Dragon-Born. Two armies of these abominations duly arrived at Jeradda and the Bieth mustered all their forces for an assault on the city. They brought up two black obelisks and fought ferociously. The Dragon-Born wrought ruin upon the defenders, cutting them down by the hundreds and chanting prayers to their vile masters. May Ar-Rahman requite them for their terrible deeds! In the end the defenders lost heart, seeing no escape from certain death. The red-handed Dragon-Born broke through the walls and put the unhappy denizens to the sword...
Unsure on source; looks like DiTerlizzi?
Among the horrendous sorceror-king checklists of the Bieth was "conduct weird biomancy experiments," including the creation of a warrior race, fusing together the reptilian nature of their dragon steeds and the humanoid nature of their subjects. These creations were designed to be the equivalent of NCOs - guiding the slave races to fight in the cause of the Bieth. After creating these "dragon-born," the Bieth slapped control helmets on them and sent them out to enforce their reign of terror. 

Now, a few millennia after the disappearance of the Bieth, a few of their dragon-born servitors are starting to awaken from their stasis chambers, make their ways to towns and the like. A few are even taking up the religions of the people around them, filling the void in religious belief since their wicked god-kings abandoned them. 

Florian Stitz, for Pathfinder
DRAGONBORN

Stats: CON 13, CHA 15
Prime Requisite: Cha
XP: As paladin (AEC). HD: d6
Max Level: 9
Attack: As fighter
Saves: As paladin

Iron Hide: The dragonborn cannot gain any benefits from wearing armor. Instead, their scales harden and provide protection as they age. Natural AC 6 (plus any Dex or shield bonus) which improves to AC 5 at level 4, and AC 4 at level 8.

Dragon Breath: once per day, plus once more for each 4 hit dice (up to 3/day), may breathe fire, cold, lightning, acid, poison, or sonic blast in a 30' cone. It takes one hour to recover the energy to use this breath again. The blast deals 1d4 damage, increasing to 2d4 at 4th level and 3d4 at 8th level. Save for half damage.
Battlefield Healer: A dragonborn may give of its vitality to aid a comrade (or master, originally). A dragonborn may expend a use of its breath weapon to instead heal one individual. For every 2 HP that the dragonborn sacrificies, the individual can regain 1 HP.

Champion: The imposing presence of the dragonborn provides all allies within 10' +1 to hit. At level 4, this becomes +1 to hit and +1 to damage. At level 8, the dragonborn may, 1x/combat, give up its action to grant another action to someone else (cannot be used for spellcasting). 

Servant of the Bieth: The dragonborn may be targeted by any magic or magical effect that was designed to target the Bieth. It is at Disadvantage for all saves while in the Zone. The dragonborn may roll against Int or Wis (whichever's higher) on 4d6 to decipher Bieth script, and can potentially be recognized as an authority figure by other creations of the Bieth. 

Vat-Grown: The dragonborn is immune to non-magical disease.