Thursday, October 30, 2014

the unofficial playbook moves

I've been working on a project that is consuming more time than I thought it would, creating an index of all of the moves from the "unofficial" player-written playbooks of Apocalypse World. I wanted it to look and feel just like the index of moves from the official refbook pdf, however I've been using scribus to create my pdfs and I have not found a way to embed text within a pdf so that it may be copy+pasted. I stayed in wordpad for the index, and many pdfs had formatting issues so I had to fix typos and in some cases rearrange sentences or just retype them, then I alphabetized all of the moves. While doing all of this I got to really analyze every playbook. Many of these playbooks focus on relationships with NPCs and quantify them similar to gear or as part of moves. There are lots of unique mechanics like Sentience for the Synthetic or Rage for the Behemoth, etc. I decided to include brief summaries of what these things are and included them at the end of the document.

A link to the "unofficial" moves document = https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B9cu0IVYfHtiX2ZzbHU0bzNIWEU/view

This project started initially because I wanted to create an index of ALL of the moves that I would be able to give to my players and say "here's the moves list" but I've ended the project with a completely different perspective. I think each of the really unique playbooks are internally consistent, but picking up a move from another playbook is not always relative to the character you are playing. Thus, I think when a player chooses to get a move from another playbook the new move should perhaps be rewritten slightly to address the theme of the core playbook and overall tone of the character being played. I'm also regarding stat substitution moves as generally boring now, but that's a subject for another day. Rewriting the moves on the fly is just an idea, but one I'm going to experiment with a little. For now I have made sure that my document linked above is universal for anybody downloading it. The suggestions and descriptions are written generically, and directed toward the players rather than the MC.

I hope you find it useful!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

the Crown of the world

There is a mountain range along the northern edge of the world that no one in living memory has crossed. The Crown blots out the sky to the north, and few have climbed through it's peaks to return and spin tales of what lies beyond. The Crown can be seen along the northern horizon like a tear across the land separating it from the sky. The only evidence that the living once crossed the Crown are the dams and aqueducts that still supply fresh water to thriving populations south of the mountains, marvelous and magical technology which no sage or scholar is able to explain. Each was designed, perhaps, by the same people. These people were short folk, though the Dwarves nor the Masadhi or even the Oukek have any stories to tell of their ancestors' toils to the north.

The memories of what lies beyond the Crown are all faded and gone, but the rumors and stories persist. A mountain made of gold, a cursed place where none may take from and return home alive. A crystal peak that glimmers in starlight and makes men weep though they know not why. Three-armed giants with obsidian skin, ripping apart any plants or animals they cross paths with. A four-eyed hellhound that breathes blue flame and hunts those who dare not pray to the dead gods that birthed it.

A few brave sailors have tried to circumnavigate the continent to find what lies to the north of the Crown, but they return exhausted with tales of treacherous waters inhabited by hostile marine life and harried by cruel mermen. Or they don't return at all. No ship has navigated the northern seas successfully, and even the Chiryo avoid the icy waters when they cross the ocean to trade with Bellhaven.

They say that even the wind hates the living north of the Crown.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Apocalypse World: enter Syn

A new playbook was added to our group, the Behemoth, and with it a new character, Syn.

Syn is a giant, winged lizard who can sense, and will devour, sinners. It is followed by three sombrero-wearing men who are known as Uno, Dos, and Tres; but also as the Three Maldicion.

When Syn arrives in Jericho it has lost the scent of some sinner it was following and decides to draw them out by encircling and then swooping down into the middle of town, to which most of the people in Jericho panic. Several of the Nuns wanted to attack it, and the governor of Jericho even coordinated some of her men to be in a position to attack it. Several of Governor Isle's men opened fire on the creature, but it did not attack back, instead it seemed to be trying to communicate and cooler heads prevailed in defusing the situation.

Mercy arrived back in town at the same time Sister Alleluia was fighting giant spider-snakes with Cletus. The spider-snake creatures gave Alleluia and Cletus a lot of trouble, knocking them to the ground and trying to constrict their bodies, but in the end Alleluia prevailed and killed all three of them while Cletus succumbed to some of their poison. She took Cletus back to his infirmary, where his injured assistant Henry did what he could for him

Mercy had been taming the already docile Syn and wrapped a great chain around Syn's neck, then convinced the giant lizard to fly above the clouds. For Mercy it was a spiritual experience.

Then Governor Isle confronted Big Momma Superior about how her gang thinks they run Jericho. In asserting her authority over Big Momma, Isle declared that the doors to town be reopened and the Frogs be shot on sight by any guards who saw them. A traveling caravan of gypsies entered Jericho and Syn dug a tunnel next to the town square for it to nest in. Underneath the tunnel was a mine, it appeared that Big Boss had sealed it shut when Big Momma Superior first attacked and now there were several dozen dead bodies underneath Jericho. Mercy set out to exhume the bodies and burn them in a funeral pyre, to which Big Momma objected but Mercy insisted that burning the bodies was the only way their souls would go to Heaven for she "had seen the light above the clouds!" and then Mercy revoked her membership in the Nuns.

After Big Momma traded back some of her first aid supplies to Henry, everybody noticed that their Frog prisoner Ribbit had disappeared. Sister Alleluia began preparing a trip to the east to finally take care of their encampment, but before she could leave Ribbit showed up just outside of town with a couple of former slavers from Jericho following him. When Alleluia approached them Ribbit got down on one knee and proclaimed "We follow you now." Alleluia considered the situation and declared to these men what she expected from them, or else she would kill them, and when she finished talking they replied in unison "Amen."



The Sorrow awoke in the mine underneath Jericho. She was confronted by the sight of Syn, not quite knowing what it was, and she could see Mercy exhuming bodies from the mine while Uno, Dos, and Tres discussed how they should minister to Syn's needs. Mercy caught The Sorrowsneaking around and briefly explained that she had taken care of The Sorrow while she was knocked out. Mercy also explained that she was no longer in the Nuns as she had been taken "as close to Heaven as she had ever been" by Syn, she explained that Big Boss had sealed the mine they were in, and now Mercy was exhuming the bodies and giving them a funeral and "a proper release to the light."

Meanwhile, Sister Alleluia was still walking toward the strip mall where the other Frogs were supposedly camped. On the way she saw a large creature hiding in bushes along the road, rather than investigate she scared the creature off but it didn't flee very far. Within sight of the strip mall, Sister Alleluia found a large white RV with it's engine running. While investigating Sister Alleluia was struck from behind by the creature from the bushes. They fought briefly but Alleluia was unhurt, and proceeded to search the RV. She decided to use the RV to ambush the Frogs behind the strip mall and proceeded to ram the vehicle through the building. On the other side she found them torturing somebody and she drove through their encampment, taking out several of them in the process. As Sister Alleluia stepped out from the RV she convinced the remaining Frogs to surrender, killing one of them. The man they were torturing was William Aitch, and he was very distressed that his RV was smashed to pieces. He asked for help getting his RV back onto the road, but the undercarriage was damaged and trying to drive it back through the remains of the strip mall caused it to get stuck. Sister Alleluia returned to Jericho with a few of her gang following behind, and the rest guarding William Aitch'es RV.

In Jericho, somebody had destroyed the fuel refinery, the main source of income for the town. Big Momma Superior found pieces of a grenade near the fuel pump and while investigating several Nuns approached her about damaged bikes, somebody had stolen wheels from one of their bikes and several other bikes had slashed tires and punctured fuel tanks while Sister Alleliua's bike was also stripped of all of it's ammo.

The Sorrow went to Cletus for some medical attention, and he attempted to use his connection to the psychic maelstrom to heal her. It worked, but in the process both of them had a momentary lapse of consciousness.

Syn began detecting envy in the town and decided to fly upwards to get a better look.

When Sister Alleluia returned to town she was informed about the vandalism to the bikes and immediately sought out the criminals responsible, finding evidence that the gypsies who had just arrived in town were doing it. She killed one in the process of interrogating them and discovered that Calico is the leader of all the gypsies traveling between towns, but Calico wants a permanent home in Jericho and sent some of his men to stir up shit and make it easier for him to take over. One of the dead gypsies was hung from the main gates and Syn proceeded to eat the body. While Alleluia continued to fight with the gypsies and tried to discover exactly where Calico was, Syn grabbed one of the gypsy minivans and carried it into the air, with people inside screaming. Once it was high above town, Syn let go of the minivan and it crashed into the ground just outside of the gates, killing all inside.

Governor Isle didn't approve of the way Sister Alleluia was handling the gypsies and the two faced off, with Alleluia seriously injuring Isle and killing several of her men. Big Momma tried to restrain Alleluia and somehow Isle escaped in the confusion. Sister Alleluia declared that they needed a new leader for the town and gave an ultimatum for Jericho, "Vote for me, or leave."

Thursday, October 23, 2014

HX, Bonds & Alignment

First up, HX. Or History.
There's nothing inherently wrong with the HX system in Apocalypse World, but it's confusing. Even when players understand it, they can mess it up. Last week I was telling a player eye-to-eye "You write down either 0 or -2 based on what the other players say" and they still managed to mess that up because they were reading the playbook and switching up the instructions between what you write down and what you tell other players. I've played or MCed Apocalypse World nine times, with eight different groups of players, and every time calculating HX is confusing and stops everybody's momentum.

It would be easier if it were sped along and simpler. Either you tell other players what to write for their HX with you and they don't modify it, or everybody starts with the same numbers and it gets modified by yourself (secretly).

Secondly, alignment.

In Dungeon World, each class has a certain number of alignments that give them class-specific XP bonuses when they act upon that alignment. For example, if you're playing a Good Wizard then you get 1 XP whenever you "use magic to directly aid another." That's pretty open-ended. If I use a cantrip to light another character's torch then technically I've used magic to aid another, right? Some people might read that as you need to apply a more valuable level of magic to aid somebody, but that's not what the alignment says or how it reads. An Evil Wizard needs to "use magic to cause terror and fear" which is a pretty specific kind of use in comparison and maybe an easy way to do this might be to use a few cantrips to freak out some local villagers and maybe you'll get your XP to pop, but it seems like one of these can fit within your usual state of play easily and the other requires you to go out of your way to be a dick to NPCs.

"Well, yeah, he's evil."

Uh, no. Being evil doesn't mean you're a dick to random strangers for no good reason. Being evil means you serve none but yourself. Your actions must be immoral, wicked, or depraved, but not needless or without motivation. Withholding aid or information so that you can profit before somebody else or have an advantage over them, providing misleading information for the same reasons, insisting on receiving a higher share of the treasure or just taking more of it openly or secretly, going out of your way to hinder a potential rival in a demeaning or humiliating way, actively sabotaging somebody just to make them look bad or to embarrass them. These are evil acts. I don't even think my description here can suitably be called evil (maybe Vanilla Evil?) because truly reprehensible acts could also fall under evil, but I'm assuming most players don't want to play rapists, murderers, and pedophiles.

When I think back on the arguments I had around gaming tables during my teenage AD&D years the only thing that ever comes to mind are debates that surrounded role-playing alignment properly. "But I'm chaotic!" was a pretty common refrain I heard from people who did things that seemed out of character, and when I once attempted to play a lawful character my GM hounded me about how I wasn't living up to his expectations of the alignment.

Alignment has always been, in my opinion, a poor method for guiding a character's growth or goals.

So why not just have a goal? Your character should always have a long-term goal once they've developed, but short-term goals work too.

Third, bonds.

Bonds are a clever little way of pushing the players into having their characters explore relationships with the other players' characters. They're one sentence descriptive qualifiers for the relationship your character has with another character. At the end of every session you can resolve one Bond and receive 1 XP for it, as long as both you and the other player agree that the Bond is resolved. But they're also one-sided, and arbitrary.

If I write that my wizard "Thinks Grold the dwarf would make a good bodyguard" then I am motivated to either explore this idea or follow through with the idea if I want to resolve this bond, but the player of Grold might have "I would never work for Thorp the wizard" and I might never learn this through play. Eventually I might give up my plan of having Thorp try to hire Grold and resolve the bond because I just think he won't ever work for me. So I resolve that Bond and the player of Grond says "Oh really? I guess that would resolve my Bond too because if you stop offering employment I'll stop denying to work for you." We have a good chuckle about how our Bonds were set up, each mark 1 XP, and move on, writing new Bonds perhaps for each other again or perhaps for other PCs. Now here's the weird part, Grond can work for Thorp now and it would seemingly fly in the face of the previously written Bonds.

I don't know if that's why they were designed that way, that your characters' relationships would be allowed to change so drastically, but while playing characters I have found the system discordant and it pushes me to contrive relationships when I don't normally want to. Sometimes I really like the Bond I have too, and constantly shifting relationships means I am less likely to keep that one-sentence qualifier. There have been times when another player changes their character's Bond with my character and then my Bond feels irrelevant and then I feel forced to change it. The rules also state you can only resolve one Bond per session, and I know I've played in two sessions where it felt like more than one Bond resolved by the end.

Overall, I think it's an improvement over the confusing nature of Apocalypse World's HX system and I like the concept, but I don't like the execution of the idea or the restrictions placed upon resolution.

So why not improve HX by making it simpler to calculate? Then add Bonds that connect the two characters but won't resolve unless HX resets?

Goals
Each character has two Goals, it's implied that one should be short-term and the other long-term but that's not required. During the first session, nobody has to have a goal unless they want one, but by the end of the first session the character should have at least one goal. By the end of the third session, they should have a long-term goal.

Alternate HX+Bonds #1
Each character also has History with every other character. This starts at 0 but might be added to or subtracted from based on the other characters, there is no "others' turn" in this new system. For each History you also have a Bond which is written by the other player, with your approval, and when your History resets with them they re-write a new Bond for you, with your approval. You both work together to figure out how your characters are Bonded.

Let's take an Angel, Battlebabe, Brainer, Chopper, and Gunlugger, the first five playbooks and line them up as PCs. They all have 0 History with one another.
The Angel tells the Battlebabe "You helped me save a life, so add +2 History." and the Battlebabe says "Everybody gets +1 with me, so Angel, take +1 History." and then they determine their Bonds. The Angel says "I think I can rely on you to do the right thing." and writes that next to the +1. The Battlebabe says "I think you need to protect yourself and stay out of trouble." and writes that next to the +2. The Angel then goes around the table until his History box looks like this
Battlebabe +1, I can rely on her to do the right thing
Brainer -1, I won't let her near me
Choppper +1, We're friendly but not close enough
Gunlugger -2, I'm scared she'll turn on me

Alternate HX+Bonds #2
In this version there is no "your turn" for distributing numbers. Everybody starts at 0 and you secretly (or not-so-secretly) modify it on your own playbook.
This version means the Angel has 0 written for everybody, except those he personally modifies. Keeping the Bonds the same, this looks like this...
Battlebabe -1, I can rely on her to do the right thing
Brainer -1, I won't let her near me
Choppper -1, We're friendly but not close enough
Gunlugger -1, I'm scared she'll turn on me

Less interesting. HX+Bonds version #1 it is!

Addendum
At the end of a session you still go around the table and players declare which character knows theirs better, but if History ever resets then the Bond resets as well.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Apocalypse World: the Nuns of Anarchy

We didn't know what we were going to play. I opened the table up to discussing options and offered lots of them: I was prepped for another Apocalypse World game, I was also prepped to run Dungeon Crawl Classics or Lamentations of the Flame Princess, I had the character sheets ready for a Stars Without Number game, and I also offered other options of Shadowrun and Mage and 5eD&D, but in the end the players whittled down the options until it was Apocalypse World. One player had already written up a character, and the rest of the players just started to revolve around what he set up.

Big Momma Superior is the leader of the Nuns of Anarchy biker gang. A small group of women who've embraced Big Momma's interpretation of the old religion. Described as "we help the needy and the starving, we free the enslaved, and we only kill when necessary." The members of the gang who have earned Sister rank wield big heavy rulers, and those who are still earning their way in the gang use baseball bats and lead pipes, sometimes with crudely drawn inch markings along the cylinders.

Sister Alleluia, the former wife of Big Boss, a slaver who ran the walled shantytown of Jericho. Big Boss was a violent and vindictive man who tormented everyone around him, including his wife Marie. Marie killed her husband during Big Momma's rebellion against the town's slavers and when the people of Jericho were freed, Marie joined the Nuns and was immediately made a Sister. She later took the name Sister Alleluia.

Mercy was once a slave in Jericho and is now an Acolyte of the Nuns. She was born to pagan tribals from out west who raised horses and traded them with the local communities, until one day the slavers in Jericho wiped most of them out and enslaved the women and children. Mercy was freed from her bonds by Big Momma herself and she joined the Nuns soon after.

Cletus is the town medic, he runs an infirmary on the side of a hill sloping underneath the east wall of Jericho, and he can be found there most of the time. While he's not a member of the Nuns, he describes himself as an "angel" and claims to have been "called" to it. He travels with the Nuns when they visit neighboring communities, sometimes to offer aid to their neighbors and sometimes just to aid the Nuns.

the Sorrow is a former slave who also joined the Nuns after being freed by Big Momma. She carries around a very visible sadness and bleakness that makes some people uneasy or distrustful. She is also the most secretive, as very few know anything about her from before she arrived in Jericho. The Sorrow was forced to be a prostitute, and many of the women in Jericho who are former slaves are also former prostitutes.

All of these characters live in Jericho, but the neighboring communities are visited frequently by Big Momma Superior and the Nuns.

While designing the world we decided that the world had a Biblical apocalypse where most of humanity died or disappeared, but most people don't really know what happened. It's obscured by rumor and mystery. There are stories of beasts that rose out of the seas and giants living in the earth, and some people even claim to have seen one but the proof of these things is never confirmed. The sky, on the other hand, is visibly changed. The world is shrouded within a nearly perpetual darkness thanks to heavy clouds which cover the sky and produce lightning storms. Rain is common, but not always pleasant as it always falls with hail. The world is a cold place though it never seems to snow, nor does the temperature ever drop to a freezing point. The plants manage to weakly sprout despite the sun's concealment behind the clouds, but sunlight does peek out from behind the clouds sometimes, and that is usually a day for celebration and feasting.

In Jericho, the town is run by Governor Isle, a former slave, but she defers most of her decisions to a council comprised of six women, all are former slaves. There is a central well that people collect water from, and rainwater is also collected on the gutters of roofs. There is an fuel refinery in the center of town, but it hasn't pumped for some time. Outside of the walls the citizens tend crops that grow thin in the muddy hilltops.

The Seminary is a haven for the Nuns but is rarely visited. The place looks like a single sprawling building from the road and few people actually live there.

A man named Ivan runs the town of Perostroika. The center of their town has an old electrical station, and Ivan rations the electricity out to anybody who he deems worthy of having it. They rarely trade with their neighbors directly, Ivan prefers outsiders to visit the town and be beholden to his laws.

In Horse the Night Mother (maybe a title?) runs a theocratic village where they worship the night and believe bad things happen when the sun comes out from behind the clouds. They reject the old Bible and while Big Momma Superior has never had a direct confrontation with the Night Mother or any of the locals from Horse she knows that they won't offer hospitality to her or the Nuns.

Hunter's Palace is run by a tough woman named Heston, her laws are few but the penalties are strict. Criminals whom she exiles get hunted like animals, as there are so few good opportunities for sport in the wasteland.

Fresh Whiskey is the name of a bar and pool hall on the side of the road, there is no town nearby and no other buildings surround it or stand nearby. It is run by a burly man with thick scars across his face, everybody calls him Frank.

The town of Black Grass is not so much a town as it is a warning. The map might as well say 'here there be dragons' as nobody ever ventures that far south.

The Fort has been left undefined.

I looked at maps until I found some real world equivalent to the roads I had drawn in my initial sketch. I found a really good similarity between my rough map and the area around Huntsville, Alabama and redrew the roads of the map to reflect the major highways around that region.

I took absolutely no notes about what happened during the first play session. Here's what I remember:

A local from Jericho named Oberon was seen running through town with a mewling baby in his arms.
He was being tracked by three teenagers with greenish skin, he called them "the Frogs" and claimed they were trying to take the baby away.
Cletus tried to stop them but ended up getting stonewalled by the youths who were adamant that the old man had kidnapped the kid, though he believed they were lying.
Sister Alleluia interrogated the teens roughly and ended up shooting one in the head.
Big Momma Superior showed up shortly afterward and Sister Alleluia's machinegun accidentally discharged into Cletus.
The Frogs who were still alive, Ula and Ribbit, were told to leave town and never come back, while Oberon was calmed down in Cletus'es infirmary by Sister Mercy.
Eventually Oberon found a way to escape with the baby but was stopped by Cletus and again interrogated, but this time by the Sorrow who learned that the locals in Horse are committing human sacrifices.
The baby was wrested away from Oberon and given to Jenny Two-times who was both a mother and a nursemaid.
Grid the Watcher lives next to the infirmary, he watches from his home but never leaves.
Later that night by one of the Frogs had returned to town to ransack through Cletus'es infirmary, Cletus caught him but got beaten into unconsciousness. When he woke, Cletus used some painkillers on himself that would leave him out of action for the next day.

I have one NPC whose name I wrote down, Lecter, but I don't remember what I had them doing, if anything.

During our second session, Big Momma Superior instructed Sister Alleluia to protect the baby and she interpreted that as kill anybody who tries to take the baby away from Jenny Two-times.

Big Momma Superior was being hassled by some of the Nuns to drive down to Horse and take care of the Night Mother. She decided the best course of action was to go down and scout it out quietly, but Motown (one of the Nuns) kept giving resistance to her slow and peaceful resolve. Big Momma visited the infirmary and traded with Ruth for some first aid supplies, and gathered more than half of her gang to go scout around Horse.

Sister Alleluia stayed behind to protect the baby, and Cletus was still unconsciousness from the night before.

The gang didn't even make it halfway to Perostroika before they ran into trouble. A semi trailer had been tipped over and was blocking the road. It looked like an accident, as the metal of the trailer was ripped in some places and the seams were split along the edge of the roof. Something could be seen skittering around inside the trailer. Very carefully Sister Mercy approached the back of the trailer, pried it open and revealed a long coiling snake-like creature with spindly legs along the underside of it's body. It was wrapped around some sort of machinery in the trailer and as the warmth from it's nest escaped the back of the trailer it tensed and began to move around. Small white eggs could be seen all along the inside of the trailer, sitting along the floor and walls.
Big Momma Superior coordinated her gang to rip the roof of the trailer and expose the nest completely, but by then it had started to escape and grabbed Sister Mercy as it fled. Several of the Nuns chased after the creature and struck it with their bats and pipes and it released Mercy. In the trailer itself, The Sorrow was trying to get a better look at the machinery and jumped into the nest, then kicked out any of the young she found still lingering. Big Momma set about trying to determine the best way to take this machine, which nobody knew what it did, back to Jericho. She returned to Jericho by herself, leaving five Nuns at the trailer wreckage, and sending The Sorrow and Sister Mercy on to Horse with Sister Marilyn, Motown, and Twinkie

Back in Jericho, Sister Alleluia was picking up some bread for Jenny Two-times when she overheard the baker, Notch, talking with somebody about how the Frogs didn't even travel south when Big Momma threw them out of town. Sister Alleluia wanted to follow up on this lead but was delayed by Cletus who was checking in on the baby and explained that he had been beaten by one of the Frogs who had returned to steal from his infirmary.
Sister Alleluia wanted to know how the Frog had gotten in and upon approaching the infirmary they saw the door open and blood splashed across the floor. The same Frog had returned to the infirmary and was looting the place, during the break-in he had killed Ruth. Sister Alleluia quickly subdued the Frog and interrogated him, promising not to kill him if he told them where he was from, and he confirmed that they were from Horse but a group of them were camped out just east of town, though he didn't specify where. Cletus found Henry in the back, unconscious and hurt but alive.

Big Momma Superior arrived back in town and hearing that the Frogs were nearby decided to lock down the town and shut the gates, there was some debate whether they should chase after the Frogs that were camped outside of town or continue with trying to bring the machinery back to Jericho. Big Momma elected to focus on the machinery and gathered three more Nuns to assist in towing the trailer back, and even though Sister Alleluia wanted to go hunt down the Frogs by herself she followed Big Momma's commands.

The drizzle of rain that had been building up finally broke into a storm. Two days passed and the trailer had been towed to Jericho, Sister Alleluia decided to cook some of the snake-spider eggs and they turned translucent from the heat but tasted good nonetheless.

The next session will start by determining exactly how the scouting mission around Horse fared...

Monday, September 29, 2014

Tiamat!

These links are more for my own use. If I start GMing a fantasy campaign next week I might make Tiamat one of the big bads. However, you should totally use these links for great adventure fodder!

Zak Smith wrote up some awesome notes for the the Five Churches of Tiamat

Then Daniel Davis has written a bunch of great ways of making Hoard of the Dragon Queen interesting and fun

And finally, Courtney Campbell has been remixing and rewriting the chapters of the adventure to make it darker, deadlier, and delightfully fun to read!

Also, here's a review that eviscerates the adventure as written.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

playtesting to hit Armor Class 0

I've been toying with a few different ideas on how to resolve combat

Normally, you attack and you either hit or you miss. In a PbtA game when you attack you exchange damage, doing it well means you potentially hit harder and take less damage yourself, doing it poorly means you could take more damage or inflict none.

What if...? You attack, and one of three outcomes occurs: you hit and your opponent misses you, you and your opponent hit each other, you are hit by your opponent.

The traditional calculation in D&D is: Class attack bonus + ability modifier + 1d20 versus 20 - armor class
But if I'm changing the rules to be level-less and armor reduces damage rather than makes it harder to be hit, then...
Ability score + 1d20 versus 20 (too easy, probably good to experiment with at some point though)
Ability score + 1d20 versus 30 (not sure, experiment!)
Ability score + 2d6 versus 20 (hard difficulty, some rolls will just never be outright successes though)
Ability modifier + 3d6 versus 15 (moderate to hard, the curve is shallower and more predictable than a 2d6 which might lead to less fun)
Ability modifier + 1d20 versus 20 (very difficult, wilder results but potential for critical successes and failures!)

Friday, September 19, 2014

Deep Carbon Observatory, by Patrick Stuart

It is rare that I hold high expectations for something and then it lives up to those expectations. It can feel pretty gratifying! I had been hearing about how intriguing this module was before it was available in print, and Patrick Stuart is one of my favorite game bloggers, which means I was a little biased with the eager anticipation of reading this adventure. I was expecting Deep Carbon Observatory (DCO) to be awesome, and I was not let down.

There is very little in the way of set-up for this adventure. A single paragraph sets the stage for what the PCs know, and clever GMs who read the entire adventure ahead of time can find easy ways of hooking the PCs into the sequence of events that follows. The adventure is divided into eight chapters, five of which can be thought of as descriptions for inhabitants and encounters within a specific region. The adventure starts with a flood that destroys most of the countryside, and if the players are keen on following the damage to the source of the flood waters they will be led to a broken dam. Beyond the dam is a long abandoned but preserved valley where the dungeon holding the observatory of the title can eventually be found. Complicating matters is a thoroughly evil adventuring party that is competing with the PCs, though neither of them knows about the other ahead of time.

I'm not going to explain any other further details than that because I've perhaps revealed too much of it already. It's a pretty straightforward premise, but brutal in it's execution. This adventure deserves to be spoken about in hushed tones and discrete symbols. The only thing I didn't like about the adventure is that the words on the overland maps were a little hard to read and there's no sense of scale described anywhere on the maps or in the text. There are alternate maps available for the observatory, but I found the maps included in the original pdf useful and compelling (though the numbers here were also a little hard to read). Scrap Princess did an excellent job with the artwork throughout the book, giving the adventure a gritty and disturbing atmosphere. I would love to see her illustrate more modules.

Deep Carbon Observatory is available from DriveThruRPG in both print and pdf!

Saturday, September 13, 2014

my favorite gaming blogs

I keep seeing these "Top Ten OSR Blogs" or "Top Gaming Blogs" lists and 1) I haven't seen Zak Smith show up on a single one yet, and 2) they also seem to be the same lists with one to three variable entries. Everybody lists Tenkar's Tavern and everybody always seems to mention The Dungeon Dozen which is quaint but I wouldn't really call it one of the top ten.

This is not my personal top ten, this is just a couple of blogs that I really like that I think are under appreciated.

Wrathofzombie's Blog : Not only does Mike Evans have his own campaign setting (Hubris) that he runs with Dungeon Crawl Classics, but he's consistently posting new ideas accompanied with tons of pictures that show off his inspirations as well as express the flavor and tone of what his idea is trying to get across. It's like soaking in awesome!

Gorgonmilk : Greg doesn't post enough, and it fuckin' kills me because that's how awesome his blog is. He's always showcasing other peoples' OSR works that you might not have seen or even heard of and occasionally he'll post entirely musical entries, but whenever he shows off whatever he's currently working on the blog is just golden!

From The Sorcerer's Skull : Trey Causey is a published RPG author so you may have already heard of him. I started following his blog because of his deeply intriguing Strange Stars setting, but his fantasy setting ideas and comic reviews are just as compelling and interesting to read.

False Machine : I saved the best for last!
If you haven't heard of Patrick Stuart and his False Machine then I feel bad for you. Everything he writes is amazing and awesome and reveals that his brain has many gears and levers that buzz and whirl with unquestionable weirdness.


There are tons of great blogs out there and I can't write about all of them. But just a few more that stand out to me and deserve mention are Aiee! Run From Kelvin's Brainsplurge!, Telecanter's receding Rules, Dyson's Dodecahedron, Monsters and Manuals, Goblin Punch, Last Gasp Grimoire, People them with Monsters, Giblet Blizzard, and Dreams in the Lich House

Happy Reading!

Friday, September 12, 2014

imaginary money

Written at the end of almost every playbook in Apocalypse World is a short description of barter that describes what the playbook could expect to charge for their services or receive in return for things they might want or need. There's a description in the rulebook which flat out states that barter is not a game mechanic but then follows up with an example list of goods and services which could be purchased with 1 barter. The one sentence that seems to appear identically in every description of barter, in both playbooks and rulebook, is "1-barter will cover a month’s living expenses, if your tastes aren’t too grand."

Barter is money, but it's not. It's things you have but don't need that you could trade.

In the Fallout video games trade works very similarly, except objects are given a value in bottle caps, the "money" of the setting, and the relative value of objects adjusts based on your character's Charisma or skill in Bartering. But let's say you ignored all of that fiddley nonsense of adjusting cost and introduced bottle caps into Apocalypse World. Would very much change? Characters would likely track their bottle caps, but then you might start feeling the need for tracking the size and weight of all of these caps. Much like AD&D forced you to track the weight of coins.

Trying to equate barter to a system like AD&D (or any of the OSR games where money equates to experience points) where there are different denominations of precious metals makes me really wonder what the value of a gold coin should be. I'm always looking for a simpler system, but barter is almost too simple, it leaves too many questions for players and leads to plenty of disagreements about what barter actually is when you're confronted with other people's ideas of how trade should work in the absence of money.

1-barter will cover a month’s living expenses, if your tastes aren’t too grand.

What are expenses then? Rent and food? Let's assume yes and say that a cheap real-world equivalent would be $200 a month for rent and $40 for food, so 1-barter might equate to $250 in cash. This means that spending 1-barter leaves you living in squalor and eating the apocalypse world equivalent of ramen noodles and metallic tasting water. Pay more and you can likely live in your own place (2-barter a month) and eat steak (4-barter a month). But who do you pay rent to? Where do you get the steak from? Good questions. Let's switch up the dynamics a bit and apply the idea of barter to a fantasy setting. Let's start here:

1 gold coin will cover a month's living expenses, if your tastes aren't too grand.


Living in flophouses and eating gruel, stale bread, and sour ale. Pay more for a small private room in an out of the way inn (2-gold a month) and to eat mutton, fresh fruit, and dark lager (4-gold a month). Now, with this standard, how much do these things cost per day? Assuming roughly 30 days in a month, and dividing gold and silver into the traditional 1-to-10 ratio, the room would cost about a silver per day and the food would cost a little bit more (a silver and three coppers) every day. Pretty simple. A player could handwave that they're living poorly at 1 gold per month, or living at a slightly better but still below average level at 6 gold per month. Or if they really want to they could get into the minutia of what they're actually spending their money on and the GM would have a standard for figuring out the cost of goods.

This standard could also be useful for determining what taxes are. Assume the population is paying about 3 or 4 silver a month per person, unless the local lord has raised taxes higher. A garrison with 48 people (citizens and soldiers) probably brings in about 19 gold per month but a village of 300 brings in about 120 gold per month, on average. If the standard of living is poorly then this is a huge cost for either population, but if they live in better conditions then the local lord probably has leeway to push taxes up. What is a village worth? When an invading army is threatening to burn the fields and steal the cattle, it could represent a loss of 700 to 2100 gold to account for recovery. How much gold is the lord willing to spend to get rid of the invaders? If he can give them 1000 gold to leave for a year, then why would he waste 4000 gold to mobilize an army?

1 gold coin (or 1-barter) will allow you to get by and survive in squalor for one month.
5 gold coins (or 5-barter) will allow you to live comfortably for one month.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Eagles' End

We started playing the Dark Age playtest and after a session of character creation the game already feels like the sort of campaign I wanted to run with Kosranon. Low magic, low tech, bandits everywhere, mysterious monsters.
And no elves!

We started by creating the village and stronghold where the characters live, Eagles' End.

Sitting on a hill at the end of a fjord, the village is surrounded by a wooden palisade with small towers for archers constructed along strategic points along the wall. Armed with spears and bows, the people of Eagles' End defend a library where scholars and scribes study the writings left behind by the Empire of Eagles as well as collect stories and legends of the Old Gods that were worshiped before the Empire took control of the region. The countryside is plagued by bandit clans who think of themselves as the last true Imperials trying to survive amongst lawless savages, and neighboring villages grow jealous of Eagles' End inflating treasury.


click the map to make it bigger


There are three kinships of people living in Eagles' End...

the Aetosians
Driven by a desire to gather and collect knowledge left behind by the Empire of Eagles, and consolidate it with the lore of the Old Ways that survived the Empire's reign, most Aetosians revere book keeping and historical record. The Aetosians living in Eagles' End wish to found a school and are the stewards of a library, and they keep the old Eagle shrine maintained. Most of them are cynical scholars, getting greedy as they collect more treasure and artifacts. They look fat and stocky, with pale skin and curly brown hair. They often wear gaudy, bright clothing. They obsess over the traditions and customs passed down from the Empire of Eagles, a few practice sorcery, as they hold any knowledge that can be acquired sacred.

the Ferdigen
They have the longest and strongest ancestral ties to the land which they call a sacred bond between the land and the people. They were once subjugated and enslaved by the Empire of Eagles, but now they speak of themselves as a people reborn. They look athletic and muscular, with straight blonde hair and tan or tawny skin. They are a simple people, but the loud coloring of clothing that the Empire wore, and that the Aetosians wear, has begun to creep into their fashion sense. They are master archers, craftsmanship, and practice single combat extensively. A loyal people, the Ferdigen consider themselves benevolent protectors of the Aetosians who search for the lost heritage and traditions of the Ferdigen people, and Ferdigen loyalty has led to many of them beginning to emulate their scholarly wards. The celebrations where they venerate the uprising of the Old Gods sometimes last for days.

the Munii
Once part of a vast and far-reaching empire of their own, the Munii were displaced by the rise of the Empire of Eagles and fallen into decline and ruin, scattered to many regions as disparate families of rogue pagans. They look tall and fair-skinned, with muddy-red hair that they keep loosely cut or tie back with simple ribbons, and typically wear simple clothes without ornamentation or unnecessary coloring. Near Eagles' End is one large family that settled along the river and built a small village where their descendants now fish and hunt and only trade with those who prove themselves worthy. A few Munii have spread into Eagles' End proper and prosper as messengers and prophets of the Old Gods. They are ever vigilant against monsters and trolls, their ruthlessness is matched by their great beauty, their sorcery and enchantments as well as their marvelous feasts are envied. They hold the brutal cycle of nature sacred by worshiping spirit animals, especially predatory beasts such as wolves and bears.

Amongst the leaders and influential voices of Eagles' End are...

Lothric, the Ferdigen head of the Shrat household, is the Keep-Liege and rules Eagles' End. He tries to seem discerning and fair to his subjects, but he has always been more skilled in fighting than in law or judgment. He has personally established trade with many of his neighbors, though his overbearing physique and skill in combat are more likely responsible for the favors he has earned than diplomacy or skilled negotiations.

Ozan Renjara, the Outranger, was trained by the Ferdigen people to be a capable warrior though he was born as an Aetosian. His family was slaughtered by the Rapuns and has been adopted into, and earned a place of honor in, the Shrat household. He sometimes acts as Lothric's eyes and ears and is empowered by the Keep-Liege to forge trade with neighboring communities. He sometimes acts as a guide for travelers and exiles as his status affords him welcome in many places.

Leon Sofia, an Aetosian and Lothric's Court Wizard, spends his time maintaining the library and fostering expeditions in search of scrolls and parchment left behind by the Empire of Eagles. So far he has ignored the rising popularity of a return to the Old Ways amongst the people of Eagle's End but a schism of influence has already started to foment within his own household.

Hypatia Sofia, an Aetosian and self-proclaimed Dragon-Herald. She wants to return to the Old Ways and believes the dragons are benevolent and will return if more people embrace and worship the Old Gods. She also favors gathering knowledge left behind by the Empire and learning from it, though she still believes the slumbering dragons despise anything related to the Empire and will destroy those remnants when they awaken.

Hurit of the Arania household, a Munii and Wicker-Wise, the healer and midwife of Eagles' End, she is a master chemist and wears elaborately embroidered clothing and many rings and earrings as a sign of her status within the stronghold. She requires that supplicants kiss her hand to show proper respect before she will address their problems or assist them when she is fortune-telling, which many Ferdigen come to her for.

Togquos of the Arania household, a Munii and War-Champion. She recently gave birth to a daughter and the father was a Ferdigen who fought beside Togquos, Jesse of Pyreth, after the battle they spent much of their private time together. Togquos is well-known everywhere she goes and she is known by the Munii as "the Eagle-Killer." She dresses fancy, has many piercings, and carries a magical dagger which causes wound that no man has ever recovered from.

Aranck is a Troll-Killer and was adopted into the Arania household, her people and home are known only to her. As a child Aranck was rumored to be a troll born into the body of a child, and as she grew into adulthood she began traveling as a mercenary. She was determined to prove that she wasn't trollborn and became a hunter and killer of trolls but was still exiled by her aunt, who was also the chieftain of her tribe.

Other people who neighbor or live near Eagles' End are...

the Rapuns
A small nomadic band who worship the god, Stone, a being who lives in natural rock and is composed of stone. They are the closest neighbors to Eagles' End and typically fish and herd sheep upriver, but also trade with the Munii village to the north. They look tall and stocky with bronze skin, stoop shouldered and keep their wiry hair and beards short. They have an insular disposition and are typically untrustworthy of others. They are responsible for many of the circles of standing stones that can be found inland, and manage to travel through many areas where they know the land is rich.

the Spider clan
An outlaw band of descendants of former scholars and craftsmen who took up the sword, they hold the Empire of Eagles up as a paragon of civilization and consider the villages and townships in the area to be savage and filthy. They look much like Aetosians, as they were once members of the shrine stewards in Eagles' End, they are pale skinned and wear bright clothing, but have spare and willowy bodies topped with curly blonde hair. They tattoo their arms and legs, often with web patterns and depictions of spiders, and ornament their weaponry and fur clothing with amber stones. They have become skilled fighters and are known to make daring and fearless raids on weakened or vulnerable people. They have sworn blood vengeance upon the Ferdigen and the Aetosians over minor disagreements that nobody remembers. They venerate a mysterious spider god whose legends were told within the Empire of Eagles, but whose stories were never committed to parchment.

the Matosians
They worship the Witch-King, which is a person but also a title worn by their current king, Malik. The last Witch-King died at Malik's hands last summer, and since then trade with Eagles' End has ceased. Matosians look fair-skinned with muddy red hair and wear simple, dark clothing. They have been ruthless to their enemies in the past and crucify their criminals rather than exile them. Malik is also known to dislike any who do not worship the Witch-King before other deities. Matosians view the Empire of Eagles as a decadent and corpulent society that deserved to die, and they consider any who recite knowledge of the Empire as being corrupted by it. They love spicy food and bitter alcohol.

the Aetar
The last descendants of a military order from within the Imperial Legionnaires. The Aetar look pale and dark-haired, and wear bright yellow and white clothing or armor. They are fanatically devoted to Imperial law, which they pass down as an oral tradition. The Aetar hold everything about the Empire of Eagles sacred and would likely become allies with Aetosians if the Aetosians weren't trying to study the Old Gods and collect knowledge about the Old Ways before the Empire destroyed most of it. They have dwindled in numbers as they refuse to recruit Munii or Ferdigen or anybody else into their ranks. When they attack a community they do not take prisoners and attempt to slaughter anyone they find.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Gaz and the Drake, a patron for DCC RPG

I started writing Gaz and the Drake for our gaming group, but then our group stopped playing Dungeon Crawl Classics and I lost my inspiration for completing the description of this patron. Two years later, I'm clearing out a lot of my digital accounts and I see this draft document on my blog so now I'm finishing it up. Even if I'm not playing DCC at the moment, I think it would be pretty cool to have a custom patron for my players to choose, or maybe I'll write another one so that I have a range of options outside of the core rulebook.

Without further preamble, here are Patron Spells: Gaz and the Drake

Level 1: Iron Fist

Range:
Self, Duration: Varies, Casting time: 1 round, Save: None
General: Gaz and the Drake understand that their followers are not, strictly speaking, fighters and so they impart this spell early to give devoted wizards an opportunity to utilize the arcane arts to exercise some martial skill. The caster must spellburn at least 1 point when casting this spell.
Manifestation = Roll 1d4: (1) the caster's hands twist into wooden fists incapable of grabbing objects or casting other spells (the caster takes 1 point of damage); (2) the caster's hands glow with a golden light, making him an easily discernible target in the dark; (3) the caster's hands become like stone, hard and impervious to most damage but still able to manipulate objects and cast other spells; (4) the caster's hands take on the look and feel of iron but may still be manipulated like normal digits (this version of the spell will cause +1 damage to elves).
1 = Lost, failure, and patron taint.
2-11 = Lost and failure.
12-13 = The wizard's hands become hard like weapons! For a number of rounds equal to (1d3 + caster level) unarmed attacks inflict lethal damage of 1d3 + caster level + Strength.
14-17 = The wizard's hands become hard like weapons! For a number of rounds equal to (1d4 + caster level) unarmed attacks inflict lethal damage of 1d4 + caster level + Strength.
18-19 = The wizard's hands become magical weapons! For a number of rounds equal to (1d6 + caster level) unarmed attacks are at +1 to hit and inflict lethal damage of 1d6 + caster level + Strength.
20-23 = The wizard's hands become magical weapons! For a number of rounds equal to (1d8 + caster level) unarmed attacks are at +3 to hit and inflict lethal damage of 2d4 + caster level + Strength.
24-27 = The wizard's hands become magical weapons! For a number of turns equal to caster level unarmed attacks are at +4 to hit and inflict lethal damage of 3d4 + caster level + Strength.
28-29 = The wizard's hands become magical weapons that can punch through wood or plaster! For a number of turns equal to caster level unarmed attacks are at +5 to hit and inflict lethal damage of 3d6 + caster level + Strength.
30-31 = The wizard's hands become magical weapons so strong that he can punch through stone or metal! For a number of hours equal to caster level unarmed attacks are at +7 to hit and inflict lethal damage of 3d8 + caster level + Strength.
32+ = The wizard's body glows with a golden hue and a low hum originates from the air around him! Until the next sunrise unarmed attacks the caster makes are lethal, can punch through any material, are +9 to hit, and inflict 5d8 + caster level + Strength damage. Whenever a creature is struck by the caster it must make a DC 20 Fortitude save or flee in terror and pain.

Level 2: Poisonous Gaze
Range: 30', Duration: Instantaneous, Casting time: 1 action, Save: Will vs. spell check
General: This spell gives the wizard a gaze attack that can be used to lock eyes with a living creature and poison their blood. The spell will have no effect on golems, elementals, oozes, or other such creatures that do not have eyes or blood per se.
Manifestation = Roll 1d8: (1) the caster's eyes glow green and a smoky green-tinted mist pours out from their eyelids; (2) a beam of soft white light pulses between the caster's eyes and the target of the spell; (3) a crackling sound emanates from behind the caster; (4) the sclera in the wizard's eyes turn black for the next hour; (5) the wizard emits a foul smell, similar to bleach or vinegar; (6) the wizard's eyes become ringed with pustules and sores, these heal after a good night's rest; (7) the wizard's eyes and mouth become ringed with a glittery substance that disappears at the next sunrise; (8) the caster's face becomes dry and wrinkled for the next turn.
1 = Lost, failure, and patron taint.
2-11 = Lost and failure.
12-13 = Failure, but spell is not lost.
14-15 = The caster locks eyes with a target within range, which must make a Will save or suffer 1d8 + caster level HP damage.
16-19 = The caster locks eyes with a target within range, which must make a Will save or temporarily lose 1d3 Stamina; recovered at one point per day.
20-21 = The caster locks eyes with a target within range, which must make a Will save or temporarily lose 1d4 Stamina (or Dexterity, caster's choice); recovered at one point per day.
22-25 = The caster locks eyes with a target within range, which must make a Will save or temporarily lose 1d5 Stamina (or Dexterity or Intelligence, caster's choice); recovered at one point per day.
26-29 = The caster locks eyes with a target within range, which must make a Will save or temporarily lose 1d6 Stamina (or Dexterity, Intelligence or Strength, caster's choice); recovered at one point per day.
30-31 = The caster locks eyes with a target within range, which must make a Will save or be struck blind for 2d4 rounds.
32-33 = The caster locks eyes with a target within range, which must make a Will save or be paralyzed for 2d6 rounds.
34+ = The caster locks eyes with a target within range, which must make a Will save or be paralyzed for 2d6 rounds and lose 1d6 Agility, Stamina and Intelligence; recovered at one point per day.

Level 3: Spectral Soldier
Range: 20', Duration: varies, Casting time: 1 turn, Save: None
General = The caster summons a ghostly warrior that fights alongside her and protects her from any who might harm her.
Manifestation = Roll 1d4: (1) the wizard breathes out smoke from her mouth which coalesces into the warrior; (2) a skeleton crawls out of the ground during the casting and the apparition forms around the bones (the bones crumble into nothingness at the end of the spell); (3) a heavy fog rolls in and the soldier steps out from it, the fog fades by the end of casting ; (4) the soldier is a dark misty thing that animates out of the wizard's own shadow
1 = Lost, failure, and patron taint.
2-11 = Lost and failure.
12-15 = Failure, but spell is not lost.
16-17 = The caster summons a spectral warrior who serves for up to 1 turn or until dismissed or killed, it will not stray farther than 20' away from the caster and if it is forced past that boundary it disappears. It never speaks or communicates in any way, and always attacks anything that is attacking the wizard or that the wizard attacks. If the spectral soldier is fighting another humanoid fighter it will attempt to disarm them or cripple them, and if it is fighting a monster or other non-humanoid creature it will attempt to push them back with it's attacks, keeping them away from the caster. Consider the warrior to be 1st level and have ability scores of 10. It has AC 16, 1d4+1d8 hp, and a deed die of 1d3 for purposes of attack bonus and damage. It's attacks are considered to be magical.
18-21 = As above, but it lasts for 1d3 turns and is considered to be 2nd level with ability scores of 12. It has AC 16, 12 hp, and a deed die of 1d4 for purposes of attack bonus and damage. It's attacks are considered to be magical.
22-23 = As above, but it lasts for 1d4 turns and is considered to be 3rd level with ability scores of 13. It has AC 16, 20 hp, and a deed die of 1d5 for purposes of attack bonus and damage. It's attacks are considered to be magical.
24-26 = As above, but it lasts for 1 hour and is considered to be 4th level with ability scores of 14. It has AC 17, 30 hp, and a deed die of 1d6 for purposes of attack bonus and damage. It's attacks are considered to be magical.
27-31 = As above, but it lasts for 1d4 hours and is considered to be 5th level with ability scores of 15. It has AC 18, 40 hp, and a deed die of 1d7 for purposes of attack bonus and damage. It's attacks are considered to be magical.
32-33 = As above, but it lasts for 1d6 hours and is considered to be 6th level with ability scores of 16. It has AC 19, 50 hp, and a deed die of 1d8 for purposes of attack bonus and damage. It's attacks are considered to be magical.
34-35 = As above, but it lasts for 1d8 turns and is considered to be 7th level with ability scores of 17. It has AC 20, 60 hp, and a deed die of 1d10 for purposes of attack bonus and damage. It's attacks are considered to be magical.
36+ = As above, but it lasts for 24 hours and is considered to be 9th level with ability scores of 18. It has AC 24, 80 hp, and a deed die of 1d12 for purposes of attack bonus and damage. It's attacks are considered to be magical.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

perception rumination

Something I've been thinking about a lot lately is how the GM can fail to give information to the players which can lead to the players taking actions they might not have otherwise taken. The characters' perception of events is only as good as the GM's ability to narrate the scene. This should be one of those obvious statements that begins every and any chapter of GMing advice, but it's surprising how many people just don't make the mental leap of how much the collective concept of what is happening in the game rests on one person's shoulders.

There are several games that use perception as a risk-taking procedure, and supply a rule that gives players a mechanic with which to gain an advantage or simply to be warned of impending danger. 3rd edition D&D invented the much abused Spot check, World of Darkness has a derived Perception skill check, Apocalypse World has the Read A Situation move, and many times I've seen a GM who in the absence of a rule for it simply has a PC make a saving throw or a luck check or similar oddity. Using these checks as ways of doling out information is where the inspiration for Trail of Cthulhu came from.

It's a two-way street though, it's important for players to ask questions and prod for more information. Generally, I've noticed that if players just take the scene as described it's because they think their GM gave them all the information they needed. As a player, I am always asking for more details "Is the ceiling a dome or is it flat? How far does the curve in the wall go, all the way to the ceiling? Does it look like there might be a crack or crease where the wall meets the floor?"

Character perception requires player communication.

I used to think that being able to separate what your character knows from what you, as a player, know is a sign of good role-playing, but as I get older I find that I don't like the adventure to take too long. If there is something there and I've asked the right question I just want to hear a "Yes" so we can get on with the game without fiddling with dice or wasting time. But then, what is the right question?

If a room is trapped, how do detect it if the GM assumes you will just roll dice to discover it? Different games handle discovering traps and pitfalls in different ways. In old school D&D you better have a Thief to search for traps, otherwise you're hosed. In 3rd edition and in Dungeon World anybody could potentially search for traps, some are just better at it than others since in both games it almost entirely relies on your Wisdom bonus. In Dungeon World the existence of a trap might be determined by the dice roll to detect it.

In this same vein, if an NPC is lying to your character how do you detect it? Depending on the GM they might make this obvious, no roll required, but there are mechanics in games for having this kind of interaction with a skilled bluffer. Deadlands made a huge (but broken) mini-game out of the Bluffin' and Scrutinize skills. In some versions of D&D this might just be a saving throw but it could easily be a Sense Motive roll. In Apocalypse World the Read A Person move becomes a catchall for this kind of interaction, which I have noticed most players don't even actually use unless they think violence is imminent.

Sometimes pulling out dice to determine the answer to a question can answer the question for the player, and since the act of rolling might give the players information their characters shouldn't be privy to then how do you imbue that dice roll with failure and success?

Careful scrutiny still requires the possibility of failure.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

the dark twist

Apocalypse World: 10th session
click for previous session

During his preparation for the big (fake) fight the Swampys were going to put on for William H. Esquire Esq., he tracked down and confronted Onyx and convinced him to leave the Slavers and join up with his gang.

Morticia had been hearing rumors that anybody who hurts the Fishers ends up dead, and since she killed Gams she wanted to investigate these rumors. Tracking down Lamprey and Philo she found out that they were scared of her and didn't really believe the rumors themselves, but they were definitely hiding something from her. While leaving the Arcade Morticia noticed a big truck pulling into town that gave a wide berth from the Slavers. She had heard that some of the Slavers wanted William H. Esquire Esq. dead and decided to follow these newcomers.

Spector spent time installing two of the gun turrets on the tops of the destroyed warehouses, and Snail met with her afterward to offer her a relic of the golden age past in exchange for the plant growing on the spine of her assistant and lover, Cullen. She accepted, without discovering how Snail knew about the plant.

Ever since his very public foursome, Boy Esquire had been followed by two girls, Chase and Amex, who began working as whores for him. They were infected with the dark twist and so he was trying to find a way to cure them. Nothing was working, so he went searching for Snail but was blocked by the Garden, and when Snail finally appeared Boy Esquire was coerced into letting Snail dance with him before the big fight.

One of the newcomers, a woman named Susan, found William H. Esquire Esq. and asked to speak with him in private, but Morticia interrupted and intimated that she thought these people were here to kill him. Preparing for the worst William H. Esquire Esq. met with Susan and discovered that she was the mysterious owner of the Stax. Susan didn't like Slaver towns and was pleased to find that William H. Esquire Esq. didn't support them but tolerated them. She also wanted permission from him to get justice over the death of Gams and Braille, and William H. Esquire Esq. explained that disputes are resolved in the Pit, but anything that happened outside of town was also fair as long as it didn't come back into town. Susan thanked him and left, and William H. Esquire Esq. relayed a message to Morticia about who Susan was.

The pre-show dance went off without a hitch, though many people were visibly concerned with Chase and Amex's health. Snail's interpretive dancing was also remarked upon widely.

Gnarly led his gang into the Pit and put on a very good show for William H. Esquire Esq.. They decisively announced that cannibalism is not allowed in Arcade Esquire and at the end of the show the Swampys joined William H. Esquire Esq.'s gang.

After the show Onyx brought Boy Esquire a fancy pistol as a gift. Weaving through the crowd Morticia tried to confront Susan in town, but noticed that they were both surrounded by Susan's guards and Susan refused to talk with Morticia unless they met outside of town. Slightly panicked, Morticia found William H. Esquire Esq. and asked him to accompany her outside and he agreed. They met Susan by her truck, her gang packed into the back seats and ready to leave Arcade Esquire. Susan explained that Gams was an asshole and probably deserved to die, but he was still her employee, and the Stax was hers before Morticia took over in Braille's absence. She demanded to either receive 2-barter every month or Morticia could buy the Stax from her for 5-barter. William H. Esquire Esq. thought this sounded fair and Morticia agreed to pay 2-barter now but insisted she would want to buy the Stax in the future.

Susan confirmed with William H. Esquire Esq. that he wouldn't care about anything that happens outside of town and he said "Yes, as long as the town doesn't get blamed for whatever you do." and at that Susan strolled over to the Slavers encampment and slaughtered them all single-handedly. Both William H. Esquire Esq. and Morticia made a hasty retreat before the shooting started.

THE NEXT DAY
Marlowe's pregnancy was moving further along, he left town to find a safer place where he might be able to give birth.

Spector successfully removed the plant from Cullen's spine and, per their arrangement, she gave the plant to Snail who then took it to his family, Orchid and the Garden.

William H. Esquire Esq. tried to commune with the Tree but received visions of enslavement. He decided that the Tree needed to be freed, and since he viewed Snail as a representative for the Garden went to him to discuss the Tree's enslavement.

Morticia spent her time trying to cure members of her crew who had contracted the dark twist, but the only healer in town, Rags, was also infected. Going to his goat farm, Morticia saw that all of Rags' livestock was infected as well.

William H. Esquire Esq. and Spector spent some time trying to convince Snail to move the Garden out of town, but he claimed he couldn't control them. Snail auguried over the Tree and opened a very large portal that spread across the town of Arcade Esquire, William H. Esquire Esq. and Boy Esquire appeared to be completely untouched by it. In that moment Snail was able to pull on the bonds between the Garden and the Tree and instead of cementing the Garden's control over the Tree he betrayed them. The Tree became Snail's new family, the conflict between the two entities balanced evenly, and as Snail closed the portal into the maelstrom Morticia was enveloped by it and disappeared.

At that moment an earthquake shook the town. Large tree roots disgorged the earth, and corpses beneath the soil were uncovered and vomited out.

to be continued

MC Note: the game might go on hiatus for awhile since we're about to start playtesting Apocalypse World: Dark Age

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

gaming should be fun

I used to play Arkham Horror every week. I have every expansion and I have followed the annual tournament reports, the forums, and the fan sites. I downloaded a program to make my own characters for Arkham Horror based on the members of my gaming group. That should be enough to explain how much I loved this game and how much my group played it.
Despite all of the expansions I own and all of the different ways we tried playing the game one of the guys in our group always played Ashcan Pete.

We played the game so regularly that I was starting to get annoyed that he always played the same character and never tried anything different. So one time we started setting up the game I surreptitiously slipped Ashcan Pete underneath the box. When he couldn't find the character sheet somebody challenged him to try playing something different and he looked crestfallen, like his favorite toy had been taken away. I echoed the challenge and revealed I had hid the character, hoping he would pick something different.

He said "I understand. You don't want me to have fun. I'll play something different."
At that, I felt bad. I handed Ashcan Pete to him and I never brought it up ever again because I never got annoyed by him playing the same character ever again. Even if I thought it was droll or uncreative or predictable, this was his fun, and why should I be critical of that? I shouldn't. Coming down on the way a person plays a game is a dick move.

I've been playing this character in Apocalypse World named Tully. Tully is a grotesque of indeterminate gender. Tully has this weird black slime that grows out of his skin, his eyes are lidless and milky green as if something is growing beneath the surface of the sclera, and he's scrawny and hunched like a corpse come to life. The "tarman" zombie from Return of the Living Dead is literally what I based Tully's appearance off of.
In all likelihood, Tully's gender morphs to be compatible to whoever is near him/her, but in truth I think of him as something entirely different, similar to Pie'oh'Pah from Clive Barker's Imajica. I call him "he" because I named him after Louis Tully, and also in my backstory for him he was declared a "he" by his parents despite their not knowing what he was. He accepts this because it is also easier for others to accept.

He's my favorite character that I've ever made. I've written him up in two different games. I will likely end up playing him again in other games if I'm given the opportunity.

I'm not sure exactly how long I've been playing Tully this time (three sessions? four?) but I know that I have firmly established that Tully does not fight. He is not aggressive or mean or divisive in any way. Yet Tully's hard has been highlighted in nearly every session I have played him. The first time it happened I said nothing, but made a note right under his hard stat on my character sheet "TULLY DOESN'T FIGHT" in all caps and yet, his hard still gets highlighted.

"Yeah I'm a pacifist, you wanna fight 'bout it?!"

Recently Tully was confronted by the presence of some nasty supernatural shit and in that moment Tully decided "This thing is not human, this thing is bad, this thing I will fight." But even in that scene where Tully decided to fight, there was literally nothing I could do. The creature that appeared was made of shadow and ephemeral so I didn't even get to roll dice. Let's forget for a second that making an enemy you can't fight is an obnoxious thing to do on the GM's part and focus instead on the fact that everything I've established about Tully is set in stone, I am not going to change Tully's relationship to violence. Tully doesn't fight, but his hard has been highlighted three times now.

The first time it happened it was irritating. The second time it happened was frustrating. Now it just feels antagonistic. I have a lot of fun playing Tully, but I also have a lot of fun expanding the character and giving him a wider range of options. That I should be distracted from this because somebody wants to see my pacifist get aggressive is annoying. The process of gaining experience and moving my character forward in a game where the characters are defined by the phrase "you are what you do" has become more alienating and challenging than actually playing the game. I am at the point where I've stopped moving Tully forward in a way that I want and I am considering taking moves just to be able to play the character the way I want to play him.

Tully is the third character I have made for this game, and the third pacifist.

The first character was Errol, a driver, who just didn't like conflict. I barely figured out exactly who Errol was when he got into an argument with the gunlugger in the group about how to intimidate people, Errol started a fight to prove a point (because his hard was marked) and a few missed rolls later Errol got killed. I didn't mind too much, but I did mind when I got called an asshole for following my highlighted stats.

The second character was Glitch, a 19 year old girl missing her left arm, also a brainer (with -2 hard). She's not very good with people, but she was also tortured physically growing up. I never established how she lost the arm. It was really easy to figure out who she was, but when her hard got marked I spoke up and pointed out that one-armed teenagers are not exactly fighters. I was, and have been ever since, essentially told to shut up.

The whole process of highlighting stats works in theory. You want to pick the stuff a character is good at, but you also want to see what else they will do. Getting a player to try out different approaches is not inherently a bad thing. Mark cool and hard for the Hocus and maybe he will get a little confrontational. Mark hot and sharp for the Gunlugger and maybe she'll try manipulating someone instead of just going in, guns blazing. It's okay to try things out, push the characters into new directions, and that definitely works really well sometimes. But when a character's philosophy is established firmly as one of peace - and Tully will never hurt other human beings under any circumstances, ever - marking a stat that would force me to change that philosophy and actively seek conflict in order to advance is just rude and unfriendly, if not downright hostile.

Monday, September 1, 2014

a grave on the side of the road

This scene requires that a PC has a lover or spouse, or even better a child. The party is traveling along a dirt road, or a path that is not popularly used, and they see a simple gravestone cut from common rock. If they have passed this way before then they have never seen the gravestone before, it is new to the path despite the fact that it looks worn and weather beaten and old. There is no date but the name carved into the stone is the name of a child to one of the PCs (or a lover or spouse).

If the grave is ignored and they return to town, the child (or lover/spouse) is still alive and doesn't speak of any ill happenings. The grave remains there on repeated journeys along the path.

If the grave is dug up, a wooden coffin so old that it falls apart when trying to pull it up out of the earth lies beneath the stone. Inside the coffin is the very old corpse (at least a hundred years old) of the child, identified either by some distinguishing feature or a piece of jewelry or armor. There is no reliable way to discover how they died.

If the corpse is raised, the spell works exactly as it is described in the rules except the living child collapses dead at the moment the corpse is revived with no memories beyond being alive one moment and then suddenly teleported to wherever the corpse has been raised. Similar kinds of spells placed upon the corpse have similar effects.

If the living person is killed in some way, the corpse takes on visible injuries related to how they died despite the fact that those injuries weren't present before.

The truth is, the corpse IS the living person's body, but perhaps from another time or from another reality. For the purposes of the reality the PCs are in, the corpse and the living person are one and the same and any form of magic or divination will respond accordingly.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

post-apocalyptic fiction freeform



Ula mesmerizes the crowd with her juggling, but draws Chrysler near to him, he needs to meet her. She manages to get Chrysler alone after and hypnotizes him, now he will act as her eyes and ears.



When Chrysler saunters into town the next day, he corrals his soldiers along the fences and announces that he's the new mayor, anybody who wants to challenge him can face him now, in front of his men. Nobody does, but Cream takes careful eye of the proceedings.



Cream and Louvre take their time sneaking into Chrysler's camp, but Louvre is forced to make a hard maneuver against Chrysler's enforcers and all hell breaks loose. Cream spends most of his time ducking behind cover while bullets fly between Louvre and Chrysler's men. When the dust settles, Cream and Chrysler are alone, face to face.



Having lost everything in the fight, including his prized car, Chrysler lashes out wildly and recklessly, but Cream is ready and catches him off guard. Cream huddles back down to his tavern, the Cellar, believing the town of Jambalaya to be safe for now, but Ula's attention is focused onto Cream now...

Saturday, August 30, 2014

diseases from Hell

When you enter the lower planes you risk infection of the mind. Surrounded by the infernal machinations of a twisted landscape, the human psyche can fracture under the strain of confronting an irredeemably evil universe designed to defile mortal souls and eradicate all traces of hope. Psychological disorders contracted within the lower planes are not always apparent or immediate.

Humans who enter the lower planes are subject to a unique mental illness. Torphrenia.

In some areas of the lower planes simply breathing the air is dangerous. Characters who come into contact with this should save versus breath weapon to avoid contracting the illness. After infection, symptoms don't appear until the character returns to their home plane. The next day they wake up, they will have a sever headache (-1 maximum hit points). Every day that passes the headache gets worse (cumulative -1 maximum hit points). When the character kills somebody (a humanoid) then the pain abates slightly (remove one -1 penalty) and if the humanoid is killed in a particularly painful or gruesome way then the pain almost disappears completely (remove five -1 penalties) but never quite goes away (never drops below -1 maximum hit points). This is not a disease in the usual sense, so typical methods of curing the illness won't work, but attempts to remove a curse or even successful exorcisms will cure the victim.

Humans who physically touch the skin of devils are likely to contract a virulent skin disease. Cubiasis.

At the moment of contact roll 1d20 and add intelligence (add +5 if the character is Lawful), if the total is 24 or greater than the character contracts the disease. Anybody infected with cubiasis can potentially spread the disease through skin on skin contact. Once infected the only way to prevent or cure the disease is either with priestly magic or reducing the character's intelligence to 0 (the latter method make the disease flake off and disappear after one week). The disease is not obvious for three days, symptoms appear on the third day when the infected develops a strange square pattern of reddish lines on their skin. These squares grow out from under the skin like cubes and turn dark red by the fifth day of infection. These red cube-like growths are always tightly packed together and grow it in small patches, slowly overtaking the body. Once the character's skin is completely covered by the growths (after 9+1d6 days, about two weeks) they are overcome by the disease and will look for a quiet, cool place to rest. If they are allowed to rest or sleep, the character dies. Within another day the small cubes will explode into spores and the disease becomes airborne. It is possible to be infected and show no symptoms, evil characters who get infected never show symptoms and are merely contagious.

treasure by value

I got around to (finally) finishing this treasure generator that I had been working on since March. It was inspired by a page over at Telecanter's Receding Rules where he suggests a generic treasure table for getting a quick idea and throwing it into a dungeon. I took the idea of the values and made a generator that creates a series of items where the inherent value matches the material and condition of the item.

These words will take you to Telecanter's original post on the treasure table.

These words will take you to the Treasure By Value generator I wrote.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Dude, where's my garage?

Apocalypse World: 9th session
click for previous session

Spector returned to town and her crew, Cullen and Whitehead, learned about how their gang got slaughtered by the Swampys. Whitehead was really pissed but he kept his cool, and he even managed to make contact with the last surviving Baller, Gray, and she joined Spector's garage crew.

William H. Esquire Esq. returned to town, and saw some Slavers pouring cement and building what they called a "pit stop" across the road from Arcade, which William H. Esquire Esq. now christened as Arcade Esquire. The Slavers met him and his gang with hostility but rather than start a fight he backed off and returned to town. Many of the people in Arcade Esquire were startled at his return and started talking about fighting the Slavers.

Boy Esquire stayed behind and tried to work his way into the Slavers' gang, but got bored before their leader Onyx would make time for him.

Dremmer, a twister, was preaching of the glories of the Dark Twist in the marketplace and flinging the dark slime oozing from his pores onto anybody who came near him. William H. Esquire Esq. tried to approach him and got hit in the face with some of the black slime, then Marlowe shot at Dremmer wounding him, Dremmer ran and before Marlowe could kill him William H. Esquire Esq.'s gang arrested Marlowe and threw him into a cell. In the cell, Marlowe found a poster listing the Rights and Articles of the Free People of the Shop.

Snail wiped the slime off of William H. Esquire Esq.'s face then took it the Household and Orchid instructed Snail to infect people with the slime before he would hand over a cure.

Spector finished the portable tunnel and gave it to William H. Esquire Esq., who asked her to set up the guns they scavenged from Montana around the perimeter of Arcade Esquire, but half of them turned out to be missing from the armory.

William H. Esquire Esq. confronted the Swampys about their cannibalism in his absence and negotiated for them to have a "fake" fight between the diehard cannibals in their group and the ones who wanted to reform to William H. Esquire Esq.'s way of ... eating. Their leader, Gnarly, agreed to the idea. Afterward William H. Esquire Esq. released Marlowe with the understanding that he can't just attack people.

Boy Esquire tried to help Snail get some new clothes, but Snail was insistent that he was going to keep wearing the dress. They both went to Rags'es goat trough to clean themselves off, and Snail managed to infect a few people with the Dark Twist along the way, but Boy Esquire seemed to be immune.

Morticia found Gams smashing up her bar in the Stax. Gams looked tough and had a mouth filled with razor-sharp teeth, but Morticia met him with violence regardless. Though she was deeply injured Morticia prevailed and got bandaged up by Rags.

Snail confronted Orchid and demanded to be let back into the House but Orchid explained to Snail that they were one and the same, Orchid was just a shell that the House spoke through, and Orchid further explained that the House no longer wanted him to be a part of it. Instead, he should consider himself part of the Garden: the growing group of children and teenagers that reverentially followed Orchid.

Marlowe caught up with Dremmer and forced him to promise that he would leave town, but in the course of the conversation he learned that Dremmer had been infected with the Dark Twist by people in Hanford and they were holding Dremmer's wife and three daughters as hostages in exchange for him coming to Arcade Esquire and infecting the populace. Marlowe enlisted Snail's aid and they cured Dremmer of the Dark Twist.

Spector's garage was inexplicably in a new location very close to the Tree and the fighting arena. Spector was trying to deduce how her garage got moved across town while she was inside of it with her crew, some people seemed to think it hadn't moved at all, but others agreed that it was in a suddenly new position in town. Snail was convinced the Tree had somehow done it. When Boy Esquire was asked about what he knew of the Tree he tried to leverage his knowledge for sex with Spector and through the course of negotiations a small orgy happened between Boy Esquire, Spector, her assistant Cullen, and Morticia