Thursday, July 28, 2016

Making D&D/Pathfinder races weird/different without changing their mechanics...

If you liked my Changing Gamers assumptions about Pathfinder (Part II, Races), consider this post a "Part III, More Races". Although originally intended to Pathfinder, I believe it works well for any fantasy setting (especially D&D-ish ones). It's kind of a mad (and very weird) brainstorm, actually.

I) Elves are all immortal, but just in body (that's why they have such a beautiful and young appearance, they're made to be the ideal of youth and perfection). However, their mad creators never did pay much attention to the spirit (and in fact didn't wanted to… you see, not competition). So, at exactly every 111 years, an elf spirit is replaced. The Elf just awakes one day without remembering his/her past "life" (oh, he/she knows how to speak and has some basic knacks, but just that). Elven clerics believe their spirits go to the gods after suffering 111 years here in the Material Planes (some heretics believe that every Elf is actually a god, temporarily banished to the mortal world). Elven wizards (and cynics) believe that their spirits’ accumulated knowledge and strength are consumed by their deities in order to maintain the pantheon's power. The real problem for an Elf is when he discovers that in a past "life" he was a terrible tyrant and that most human and dwarven kingdoms want him dead.

II) Dwarves are actually the Worms of Ymir, the primordial giant/titan/deity/Great Old One from whose body the world was made. The Dwarves were the first mortal beings and - not having any plant or animal life around to eat - devoured Ymir's flesh. Those first Dwarves became like their "creator" (except in size), humanoid creatures capable of cunning, magic and with great skills for crafting things of beauty – and an even greater gift for fighting (particularly against giants). The problem with Dwarves is that they still must consume carrion from humanoid corpses in order to retain the mind and body faculties. They do this in secret (although ghouls know that and consider Dwarves their "brothers in arms"). A Dwarf who refuses to eat carrion slowly becomes a pale and faceless half-worm/half-humanoid thing that, with time, grows to become a voracious and terrible monster.

Did you remember that they looked like this?

III) Gnomes, as you know, are actually children from other humanoid races (mostly taken from humans and halflings) stolen by the Fey to serve as their pets and slaves. Those Gnomes that you see around in the Material Plane are the ones who escaped the Fey Realm/First World/Arborea/Arcadia/Red & Pleasant Land. Each Gnomes dreams and can occasionally see their Fetchs - the fake copies left behind with their original mortal families. As old and fugitive children, many Gnomes try to destroy their Fetchs and return to their families. This rarely ends well (a few more disillusioned/mature Gnomes just check from time to time to see - secretly - if their loved ones are doing fine). All Gnomes also deeply fear their old Fey Overlords, who can still show up to reclaim them (yes, I'm totally stolen from Changeling the Lost). 

IV) The first Halflings were actually normal animals that learned to speak and shapechange into their known humanoid forms. The learned the knack from their old master, the dreaded and mythical Hag Queen, ruler of the fallen race. Most Halflings, long ago, decided to leave their original homeland to flee from the Hag Queen. She used them as spies, to fetch human children for her to eat (or to raise as new hag, if females). (I know I promised "no mechanics", but if you liked this allow a Halfling to shapechange into one normal small animal, maybe through a Feat or after completing a Quest... or you can use this excellent take on Hengeyokai as a shapechange mechanic)

An awesome book with horrible art...

V) Orcs are known as the cauldron-born. They're the creation of dark sorcery, made from the corpses of the fallen, mixed with worms, mud and blood. That's why they're so savage, bloodthirsty and bestial. The ritual for making orcs always show up from time to time, usually in the hands of a dark lord, necromancer or mad wizard. Each new "recipe" for orc creates a different type of creature (all similar). Most free orcs want nothing more than destroying the ritual once and for all (or at least kill their masters). The fact that they're called 'Cauldron-Born' created some interesting folklore and jokes... if a food is particularly bad, you still can always hear someone taunting the cook by saying that "an orc will eventually climb up from that if you don't improve it").

VI) Half-elves are humans who sold their souls to the bound and buried Elf Kings. In exchange for a very long lifespan some humans sell their souls not to devils but to something far worse – the dread archfey of old, trapped beneath the hills and barrows. The new half-elf gains beauty, a little fey greatness (represented by their character class gifts) and a few good centuries to enjoy. In exchange they become the Knights of the Old Kings and must occasionally do their bidding.

...and vice-versa.

Friday, July 22, 2016

About monsters as madness or diseases

OK. This isn't, I believe, original. I've been pondering it for a while. It all started with a Hobbit (Middle-Earth) campaign draft, where one of the main enemies was a barbarian king that – due to his greed – was slowly becoming a dragon (he was called the Burning Man, the King of Embers or something like that). I created that because I didn't want Middle-Earth dragons to hatch from eggs and stuff like that (the idea that Smaug was once a 'cute' wyrmling wasn’t right). Besides, in this regard, I love the Hobbit cinematic trilogy’s take that Erebor’s fall was provoked by the Dwarven King's greed and eventual madness, the Dragon itself just being a consequence. I really like this thematic/symbolic approach to monsters. Dragons used as signs of madness, vices and devastation. It fits nicely.

Let’s try that with something smaller: Bugbears!

Goblins on steroids = boring.

I don't like Bugbears. OK, I like their niche (the creepy stalker monster), but I believe other creatures do that a lot better (like Lord Dunsany's Gnoles, which are a lot scarier). Bugbears were always oddballs for me and their name sounds too ridiculous for me to take them seriously…

C’mon! Bugbears are dumb!

At least one brazilian setting ditched the word ‘bugbear’ and just called them "Giant Goblins". Anyway, I'm only keeping Bugbears in my games if I can make scarier and weird (kind like Paizo did with their goblins at the begining). In fact, I still want connection between goblins and Bugbears.

What if Bugbears are actually the main consequence of "goblin rabies"? If you're bitten by a goblin, wounded in its lair, eat its food (Ugh!) etc., you can be infected by goblin rabies.

The main symptom are Bugbears: yeah, you start to feel the presence of big scary goblin monsters, whose noises in night won’t let you sleep. After one or two nights you start to actually see a Bugbear stalking you bed, room or camp. But because we’re dealing with a weird disease, the Bugbear will actually attack you and wound you for good! (the funny thing is that ‘bugbear’ can be interpreted as ‘obsessive fear/loathing’ and one of the word’s origins is the famous bogeyman)

Now, a bad side effect of goblin rabies is that only the diseased can see the Bugbears (if you want to go more ‘fairy tales’, allow madmen and children to also see the creature). To make things worse, more Bugbears will usually show up after the first or second night.

If the victim is unlucky enough to be wounded and killed by the bugbear, then his body usually explodes in a gore fashion (it's a fey disease, we can get as bloodier and weirder as we like!).

I wish Bugbears looked like THIS!

So, to "help" his friend, the other adventurers can either remove the disease or allow themselves to be infected by it (if you go through the ‘madmen can see them’, maybe getting affected by things like a confuse spell, or getting drunk, can help other PCs to see the bugbear… 
Thinking about booze, now imagine it if Bugbears are provoked by drinking goblin wine... Now imagine a sneaky goblin switching a tavern's stock with fey wine. It would be a bloody night!)

We can say that a typical goblin rabies starts with 1 Bugbear showing up for 1d4+1 rounds. If he's killed the disease will run its natural course and be healed in a few days, after the infected heals the disease damage (if you keep track of this stuff) (and yes, the Bugbears can scape during combat... he knows how many rounds “of existence” he has so can decide do escape to show up another night). If the Bugbears isn't defeated he'll attack again and there's chance of there being more Bugbears!

It’s easy to steal the concept and estipulate that vanity brings hags, greed attract red dragons (or generate them, or the greedier monarch in a dragon slowly etc.).

Now, another day I’ll talk about hobgoblins! (or uruk-hai, as I like to think of them)

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Little Encounters - The Daemonic Tricks of Ssisssuraaaaggg (DCC RPG's Portal Under The Stars)

I’m running a new table of DCC RPG – this time a physical one, with “real” players (Google Hangout really helped me to keep in touch with my players, but nothing beats actually running a game to a physically present group; it’s an entire different dynamic). So, I started with a Funnel through ‘The Portal Under the Stars’, as usual, and got the survivors through ‘Sailors in the Starless Seas’.

I learned a lot from my older DCC RPG group (via Hangout) and it was really interesting to run the same dungeons a second time (I never did that before). An example: the first group that got into The Portal Under the Stars never managed to finish the dungeon. They’re totally scared by the mortality rate of 0-level game and as soon as they figure it out that they had “enough” to go up to 1st level, their left the place. The new group was different. They took a heavy toll but they’re adamant about going to the end. The consequences were hilarious and coincidentally totally fortuitous – they won (literally) by greed. While half the party faced the terracotta army of the barbarian Wizard King, the other half was digging the pool for gems at the upper level. Those who played/read the adventure probably already figure it out what happened next.

OK, back to what matters. There’s a very cool S&S/Appendix N encounter with a snake demon at ‘The Portal Under the Stars’ and I really wanted to make it more unique/unexpected. So, here’s my take at ‘Ssisssuraaaaggg, The Immortal Demon-Snake!”.

I wanted a demon to be something different (and very traumatic) for the party, so I devised the idea that Ssisssuraaaaggg would implant different telepathic suggestions on each adventurer. I elaborated a table. Write the 6 messages on post cards and distribute it among your players (because this is a Funnel, each player controls 2-4 character, so pick the character with the lowest Luck Points to determine who gets the message).

A fifthly lie, the first poor bastard that kneel suffers a free attack from Ssisssuraaaaggg.
2. Know, o mortal, that I was invested with stewardship of this demesne. Only those that pay the Bloody Tithe due to Me in the space-time continuum may retain their four-dimensional structure”.
This player may inflict 1 point of damage to himself (in the form a bloodletting) to gain sanctuary against Ssisssuraaaaggg. However, if he attacks the snake demon, the effect is broken.
3. I warn thee that one of yours so called allies is in fact an extraplanar entity bent on extracting the eldritch secrets of this place. There It lies revealed, destroy the demon!”
The PC sees another PC shining with an evil red aura. The decision to attack or not the “demon” is entirely up to the PC that got the telepathic message. This can be a fun source of backstabbing, but I’m aware that not all groups enjoy it. In this case, you can do this: if the “demon” PC is killed,  Ssisssuraaaaggg was actually speaking the truth. The killed PC’s body turns to a corrupted demonic carcass and Ssisssuraaaaggg is freed from her Curse, becoming Sis’urech, the Elf (a 1st-level elf rolled normally, but with a free ‘16’ that can be placed in any stat). It is recommended that the killed PC gains Sis’urech, the Elf as prizing (for dying).
4. JOIN ME! Together we shall rule this dungeon!”
OK, if a PC is fool enough to accept this offer, he instantly suffers a Great Corruption (from the Wizard’s table).
5. The horn! The horn! They must not suspect my one weak spot!”
Another lie. If a PC grabs Ssisssuraaaaggg (possible suffering an attack) and succeed at a Strength check (DC 12), he must also succeed at a Will save (DC 12) or become dominated by the demon. If you’re feeling magnanimously you can allow the PC that survive this encounter, to use the horn as focus for a invoke patron (Azi Dahaka was my choice) and a good excuse for becoming a wizard after the Funnel. 
6. Oh no, adventurer… again”.
The luck fellow of the party. Grant this brave “hero” +1d3 bonus Luck Points. However, if he finishes the encounter with any bonus Luck Points remaining, reduce his remaining Luck Points by 1d6. He was granted a bless by the Gods of Mayhem! and they’d be offended if the pitiful mortal didn’t use their benediction.

The effects are intentionally contradictory (it’s a chaotic spirit after all).

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Anti-Clerics for DCC RPG (Edited: Second draft)

I started a new group of DCC RPG with a (not Hangout) group. Until now all my DCC games where through Hangout (which is excellent, but I’m literally Old School and nothing beats a real table with face-to-face roleplay experience/dynamics). This group started because two member of my local group finally start reading DCC RPG and found the True Enlightenment ;-)

The fact that Brazil is getting its first Portuguese translation of DCC RPG is also helping a lot.

OK, to the post! I find the Cleric class as written perfect… if you’re a Law Cleric. I can’t say why but I believe a Chaos Cleric (even a Neutral one) should work differently. Coincidentally, the party’s (Lawful) Cleric just feel in the Wheel of Souls, during their first run of Sailors in the Starless Sea. He defeated the Chaos Champion (a.k.a. as the Minoutaur) but emerged from the Wheel corrupted by Chaos. Now, I’m tempted to try my homemade Chaos Priest. I’m calling him Anti-Cleric, both as a homage to OD&D and to make it clear that this isn’t the Cleric Class from the core book.

This is just my first draft, still requiring playtest. Any feedback is really welcomed!

The Anti-Cleric

Hit Points, Attack, Crit Die/Table, Saves, Spells: as the Cleric.

Choosing a god: only chaotic ones (of course).

Weapon training: I’m thinking on axe (any), swords (any), dagger, dart, flail, spear and trident. Anti-Clerics may wear any armor and their spell checks are not hindered by its use, but the armor must be made of metal (spiked only), human skin or bones. Anything sufficiently “METAL!” will do.

Alignment: Guess...

Caster level: an Anti-Cleric has a natural caster level of 0. They need Power to increase their caster level above 0 (see below on Magic).
Unless otherwise decided by the Judge, the Anti-Cleric's maximum caster level is equal to his character level + 3 (artifacts or unusual blessings are good ways to increase it, besides traditional stuff like daemonic heritage, lichdom etc.).
Rising you caster level above your character level brings certain risks (see below).

I f*cking loved this movie!

Magic: to cast a spell an Anti-Cleric needs Power. This can mean a relic or a unholy place, although most of the time it means a Sacrifice (more on this soon) or Drain Life (idem).
Power works like an Anti-Cleric’s magic points. It supplements his spellcasting, increasing his caster level above 0. Without Power, the Anti-Cleric just rolls a d20 + his Personality modifier.
Power naturally depletes at the rate of 1 point/hour. Carrying too much Power can be dangerous (see below).

Sacrifice: an Anti-Cleric can sacrifice an intelligent victim (willing or not) to get Power. The victim must be healthy (usually above half their full hit points), bound or otherwise helpless and must be ritually killed in the Name of the Anti-Cleric's Patron God.
This usually takes a maximum of 1 minute of mumbo-jumbo before the death strike. The Anti-Cleric gains a number of Power points equal to the victim's total hit points (stronger creatures may require 1 minute of ritual per HD, at the Judge’s discretion).

Command Chaos: this works like the traditional ability of Evil priests in D&D. Instead of turning unholy creatures, Anti-Clerics can try to enslave undead, demons, dragons and "chaotic" monsters (Judge's call). This is resolved as a normal Turn Unholy check (but remember that an Anti-Cleric may need to spend Power), just ignore the Holy Smite column and any reference to damage.
If the Anti-Cleric gets a "Turn" result (like a T1) he can control the target creature for a number of turns equal to Turning Unholy check, minus the total HD of controlled creatures, to a minimum of 1 turn. The duration of the command is kept secret from the Anti-Cleric player (this is, after all, CHAOS!).

Drain Life: this is the Anti-Cleric's main source of Power. The Anti-Cleric roll a d20 + his Personality modifier against a target at 30 feet. The result is the DC for a Will save to resist the hit point drain. The damage is calculated using the ‘Opposed Column’ of the Lay on Hands ability, from the Cleric class. Half the drained hit points are converted directly to Power points. A target can't be drained below 1 hit point (that requires a Sacrifice).
Drain Life is a difficult skill and using it makes the Anti-Cleric goes last in the round. If attacked, the Anti-Cleric is forced to make a Will save (DC equal to 10 + damage) or lose his action. That's why Anti-Cleric love servants and bodyguards.

Lay on Hands: Anti-Cleric always heal others using the Opposed Column of the Lay on Hands ability.

The dangers following the Chaos Powers (besides burning in a pyre erected by Law Clerics and Paladins): Chaotic gods don't follow the normal Disapproval rules. Instead, each time an Anti-Cleric suffers Disapproval do this instead – roll a 1d10 for every point on the spell check (for a natural 1 on the spellcasting check roll 1d10, but if the Anti-Cleric rolled a natural 4 and that counted as Disapproval, he would roll 4d10). Check the final result against the Wizard's corruption tables (1-10 is a minor, 11-20 is major and 21+ is greater). This roll is reduced by the Anti-Cleric's Luck modifier (and he can also burn Power to reduce the roll, but he must spend ALL available Power at once).

Using Power to cast a spell above your normal character lever is dangerous and increases your Disapproval level by the same amount, for that roll. For example: a 2nd-level Anti-Cleric with Disapproval 3 that casted as spell increasing his caster level to 4 would suffer Disapproval on any natural roll of 7 or lower).

Likewise, nothing can stop an Anti-Cleric from sacrificing an entire village and filling himself with lots of Power. However, for every 20 Power, his Disapproval level is considered +1 higher. Besides, if a Anti-Cleric carries more than 20 Power, he's considered an unholy creature for the purpose of Turn Unholy (of Law Clerics) and always register as a magical/extraplanar/demonic creature (he's just carrying too much fell power).

The good part is that Chaos Powers don't care about sinful use of their magic and won't inflict Disapproval for that.

Edited (Version 1):
- Power now depletes more slowly and isn't completely erased after a long rest/sleep/knock out.
- Drain Life deal damage as usual, but now only 1/2 is converted to Power.
- Carrying too much Power inscreases the chance of gaining Corruption (i.e. Mutations).