Saturday, September 30, 2017

Scouts for DCC RPG (a Thief variant)


I probably spend more time reading RPG books and customizing stuff than actually playing… it’s that much fun for me, I guess. What I like more is customizing standard classes, races and other character details for my table, usually based on their backgrounds and character concepts. For DCC RPG I’ve tinkered already with variant Dwarves, small but vicious dogs, a Sage class, a Warrior Princess variant class, my Berserker class from the last post, a small hack on the Alice/Fool class (from A Red and Pleasant Land), and a post about using your Bad Luck as a weapon.

The Scout

In my current DCC RPG table, one of the PCs that survived the Funnel was a Hunter. The character was almost a Ranger in concept, but both me and the player didn’t want the old two-weapons-D&D cliché. Actually, the player was satisfied in turning his 0-level Hunter in a normal Thief - the idea was to use the class’ Luck Dice to execute deadly ranged attacks (spending Luck on damage). But the player didn’t mind me tinkering with the traditional Thief’s skills, so I came up this Scout variant:
- the Scout attack as a Thief but uses the Warrior’s Crit progression.
- the Scout loses Backstab, Disguise Self, Forge Document, Hide in Shadows, Pick Pocket, Pick Lock, Read Languages and Cast Spell from Scroll.
- instead of Backstab, the Scout gains Ambush (same progression). Ambush works like Backstab, but it can only be used right before a combat encounter, while the Scout is sneaking upon his enemy. The Scout can suffer a -1 penalty to his Ambush check for each ally going with him; he also suffers a further penalty on his check based on the heaviest armor used by his allies (i.e. the highest armor check penalty in the party). If a Scout succeed at this Ambush check, he and every ally accompanying him gains the benefits of Backstab for their next attacks (i.e. bonus to attack roll and automatic crit).
- a Scout gains Hide in the Wilds (same progression as Hide in Shadows). Hide in the Wilds works as Hide in Shadow but only on natural terrains (forests, plains, caves etc.) and the Scout can try to hide allies using the modifiers from above (see Ambush). The Scout is a master of camouflage and can hide even in places most people would deem impossible (like on a plain). The idea here is that Scout’s skills are like Thief’s skills - you just don’t hide, but you hide perfectly in shadows, becoming almost invisible; you don’t climb a tree or mountain (anyone can do that), but sheer surfaces etc. Following that line, a Scout using Hide in the Wilds is like Aragorn’s hiding his party in the Lord of the Rings.
- a Scout gains Track (same progression as Find Trap). The DC for following an easy trail is 5 (anything on soft ground, life after a rain or snow). The basic DC is 10 for most tracks on normal terrains, like forest, plains, deserts mountains etc. If the scout is trying to find/follow tracks on hard terrains like deserts or streambeds (or when the followed party is trying to hide its tracks) the DC is 15. Really hard or almost impossible tracks (like trying to find tracks after a snow or heavy rain, or in bare rock) are DC 20. If the Scout beat the DC by 5 or more, the Judge is encouraged to provide additional details (Aragorn-style) like “it is a group of 6 orcs, bearing 2 prisoners and the orcs are bickering among themselves because they’re short on food”.
- a Scout gains Set trap (same progression as Disable Trap). Ok, here we are entering non-OSR mechanics, so please bear with me. The entire idea of the Set trap skill is that a Scout always checks and prepares any place where the party stays for longer than 1d4 hours (or where the party decides to set camp). As always, the Judge has the final word. If the prerequisites are met, during any combat in those places, a Scout can spend 1 Luck point to declare that he had set a trap just where an enemy or monster is. Let the Scout make a special attack roll using his Set trap skill bonus (this is a free action). If he hits, the target must succeed at a Refl save (DC equal to the Set trap result) or suffers 1d6 points of damage. The Scout can spend more Luck points before the target rolls his save (+1 Luck for a +1 to the trap’s DC or +2 Luck for +1d6 to the damage). Instead of dealing damage, the trap can have other effects (like entangling the target) - these special effects are adjudicated by the Judge and can increase the Luck cost.
- a Scout can use Sneak Silently to benefit his allies, like Ambush and Hide in the Wilds above.
- the Scout can use Climb sheer surfaces, Find trap and Disable trap like a Thief.

Finally, because the Scout only use some of the Thief’s skills, I recommend that every Scout (no matter his Alignment) follows the Path of the Boss bonus progression (i.e. the Lawful Thief progression).

Sunday, September 10, 2017

The Berserker (DCC RPG Class)

Howdy folks!

A few years ago I did a Barbarian class for Swords & Wizardry Appreciation Day - you can check it here. The design behind that class is that a Barbarian could be something other than the traditional "lots of hit points + rage + wilderness warrior". I wanted something more open so I came up with the concept of the "Barbarian" as a class that could react rather than act, besides resisting stuff that would drop other heroes (which is not necessarily more hit points). From that S&W original idea and DCC RPG's lovely tendecy to use random tables I made this Berserker, a class for players who don't like do make plans and who appreciate discovering new abilities every round (if you play 13th Age, this is the same principle behind the Bard's and Fighter's Flexible Attacks).

In fact, others had the idea of a different Barbarian before. If you like to dig for desing ideas, here are some suggestions. I first remember seing a new take on the Barbarian at Kolja Raven Liquette's site Waking Land (for D&D 3rd, you can still check his Berserker class and Savage template here). Basically, Kolja proposed that the Barbarian class for D&D was just an example of a Savage Berseker. You could create Savage Fighters, Clerics or even Wizards. It's a great idea and a better design for a class system IMHO. Other influences are D101's awesome Crypts & Things and Tales From The Fallen Empire.

One last commentary: I like classes that play (mechanically) different at the table. So, if you just want to play a slightly different Warrior or Rogue, I always suggest "reskinning" some abilities or just swapping one or two abilities (I hope to post soon how my DCC RPG's Scout and "Dwarven Tarzan" are). Finally, it's important to mention that lately I've been playing lots of 13th Age and The One Ring, but unfortunately no DCC RPG, so this Berserker isn't playtested yet (and I'm afraid it's a bit overpowered).

Here's the Berserker.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

A review for Sharp Swords & Sinister Spells – Addendum

One the best aspects of the OSR movement is the DIY attitude. In the last years, this principle gave us not only excellent retroclones but also original games; some of those are of particular interest to me because they’re clearly “built” from pieces of other RPGs, but in a very interesting way. Examples are Aspects of Fantasy, Dungeons & Delvers - Black Book and, of course, Sharp Swords & Sinister Spells.

Sharp Swords & Sinister Spells (or SS&SS) came to my interest originally because the author is a fellow brazilian – and the one responsible for translating to portuguese DCC RPG (one of my all-time favorites RPGs). However, after reading SS&SS I became instantly a fan of this little gem. You can see my review here, but the elevator pitch (in my opinion) is that SS&SS is a variant of Black Hack that incorporates a lot of cool rules in order to create a light Sword & Sorcery game. Its classes take the best of others games that I appreciate and its spellcasting system seems to me almost like a lite version of the DCC RPG casting system.

OK, enough for introductions. What Sharp Swords & Sinister Spells Addendum is about? First, it is a B&W PDF with 90 pages (the original SS&SS is just 50 pages). Like the core, the Addendum is available as PWYW product at DriveThruRPG.

The Addendum opens with guidelines for using Vocations (the hero’s open concept, like “Barbarian from the Iron Horde”) almost like FATE’s Aspects. This is something that I already did, but it’s great to see the author defining it with more concrete (but simple) rules. For those that don’t like Aspects, there’s no problem: the rules just show you how to use Vocations in a positive or negative way (with Advantage/Disadvantage), also allowing the hero to recharge his Luck.

Next topic is Multiclass. Here SS&SS takes my favorite approach: instead of pre-build kits, it provides simple rules for mixing and matching all Archetypes (Warrior, Specialist and Magic User). Actually, it goes further and lets you built different heroes, like nonhumans. I loved it. My only worry is the balance factor. Multiclass heroes usually requires more XP (game sessions) to advance. I’m not sure that’s the best approach and I’m tempted use in my tables something involving a few “free” Negative Die/Setbacks/Complications per session (or maybe something making Luck harder to recharge, I’m still not sure).

The next topics are a few guidelines for Languages and rules for Zero-level PCs (this last one clearly inspired by DCC RPG). Also inspired by DCC are the Learning New Abilities section, which show us how heroes may gain specific new abilities (like fighting techniques, mystic powers, etc.) and even list a few examples. It’s my favorite approach to PC development and I’m glad to see another RPG embracing it.

Next we get the Blood rule. This basically matches a PC’s Physique ability score as his hit points, which is nice because the game (like many D&D-derived RPGs) is very lethal at lower levels.

The SS&SS Addendum also provides a Sanity & Madness section. I missed more concrete rules here. I believe Madness could be faithful recreated in SS&SS by giving the poor hero a “Madness Vocation”.

Resources & Treasures gives you abstract rules for money and rewards and is another awesome example of the versatility of the Usage Die (I hope to write a review of Dungeons & Delvers - Black Book, which is a game that really shows you how far you can push the Usage Die). Of course, Resources & Treasures is followed by a now classic “Where did my gold go?” table, in perfect Sword & Sorcery fashion (although I missed a gamble aspect to table, like Jeff Rients’ carousing rules).

Next topic is Quick Equipment. It may seem silly, but ready-to-use equipment kits are in my opinion one of the most important rules for any game. Most of my tables hate to buy equipment and when you’re introducing the game to new players (or just want to get direct into action), things like skill/feat/equipment lists are true let downs.

Drunken Luck is our next academic topic, and it’s an awesome variant rule for heroes that bet in their liquor to keep kickass-ing (which reminded me of the equally great rule from the D&D 5E playtest).

Adventuring Companions is a rule to form bonds between the PCs.

Journeys and Travels is a good cut-scene rule, for when you the party must get to the next spot, but the referee also wants to keep verisimilitude – so the PCs make a Luck check to avoid hazards.

After travel hazards we get rules for ‘Strange Effects of Ancient Spellbooks’, 20 new spells, True Names and True Sorcery. This last one is where you get those earth-shattering spells and dooms usually employed by the Evil Wizard of many S&S sources. Here are the guidelines for spells that target armies and affect entire fortifications. While the SS&SS Addendum does provides concrete rules for using True Spells (including the caster sacrificing ability score points permanently), I prefer the old Swords & Wizardry approach, where you basically threat high-level (or epic) spells as unique magic items.

Still talking about the arcane, we get a lite but very flavorful rule for Arcane Corruption, where the more spells a Magic User knows the more inhuman he gets. The next wizardly topics are Rare Ingredients and Drugs & Other Preparations (yes, lotus dust is here).

All those variants and additional rules don’t encumbrance the game and rarely occupy more than a page or two. In fact, it’s amazing how broad the SS&SS Addendum is, because we just reached the middle of the PDF.

Next part is a Monster Generator. This is the supplement’s biggest section and is mostly covered by system-neutral tables with basic ideas and descriptions for monster (aberrations, animals, beings from the future, undeads etc), although at the end we get a list of 100 special abilities (with rules), besides suggestions for monsters’ Weaknesses and a rule for Mooks.

After the monsters we get an excellent rule for creating Rumors, in which the entire table participates. This is a brilliant way of engaging the players, besides helping the referee. I’m extremely tempted to use it in all my tables right now.

SS&SS Addendum isn’t done with us yet. So we get tables and rules for Forgotten Artifacts, Random Life Events, “What Has Changed Since We Left?” (a table used when the PCs return to a town or outpost they’ve visited before) and an Adventure Title Generator.

The SS&SS Addendum is a perfect example of a supplement that highlights its’ Core Book without changing the game’s strong points. There’s so much stuff you can use here that I can’t recommend it high enough – be it for SS&SS, Black Hack or other similar fantasy games.