Thursday, November 28, 2013

Legion of Fantastic Heroes

Imagine a cosmos full of those floating islands I've posted about previously. Each island harbors a single fantasy race. They float or orbit relatively close to each other. Spelljammer type ships or chariots pulled by geese or whatever will allow the races to travel between them.

Alignments are out or at the very least not mandated according to race. An orc can be of good alignment (though it's better to be safe and hang him - old elven proverb.) Unlike the typical fantasy setting the races are not necessarily at each others throats but affiliated in a confederation of sorts out of need.

A demonic empire (or maybe a necromantic empire whatever anti-life/anti-freedom trope works for you) has attacked all the islands. Several islands were destroyed in the past. The remainder have begun talks to band together and defeat this evil force once and for all. A prosperous merchant and head of the largest trade guild who has already contributed arms and funds to the war effort has sent his agents to recruit the youngest, bravest and most able specimens of each race (with priority given to those with unusual abilities.) They will form a force to inspire the citizens of the confederation and prove they can all work together (well maybe not the goblins): the Legion of Fantastic Heroes.

One part Legion of Super Heroes, one part X-Men and a huge dollop of your favorite fantasy authors. Maybe they were inspired by the exploits of a godlike survivor of a destroyed island. Perhaps the merchant gets his idea when a psionic, a mage specializing in lightning spells and another with metalworking spells saves him from assassins.

Most of the worlds from the Legion of Super Heroes made little scientific sense but could be transformed into magical islands with a little work. Ditto for the fantastic places in the Marvel Universe Wakanda just screams for a steampunk and savage jungle adventure. In addition to being divided by races islands could be given over (mostly) to the different classes. Planet of Hats meets Island of Rangers!

Monday, November 25, 2013

Laying It On the Alignment

Alignments. I have yet to meet two gms who agree on what alignments mean in the grand scheme of things. For that matter I have yet to meet two players who agree on what the alignments mean.

Some people consider alignments the be all end all and you better play every move according to your alignment or else. Playing against your alignment leads to sanctions. You can be docked XP. You can be forced to change alignment in which case your old friends won't want to stick around you. Your god can yank your spells and special abilities (if you are a cleric or paladdin.)

I prefer a more fast and loose treatment. There are after all nine alignments (without getting into those fiddly tendencies.) I never liked the idea of there only being nine responses to a given moral dilemma. I had a player ask me once how a paladdin should react to a betrayal by her superior (a non-paladdin.) I replied it depended on the paladdin and in that moment my take on alignment was born!

Basically all my players pick an alignment. They then tell me their personal interpretation of that alignment. On rare occasions I've had to explain their chosen path of morality didn't match the alignment they chose and we'd figure out what other alignment fit more closely. For example one of my favorite pcs of all time was a cheerful sociopathic little halfling who predated Belkar Bitterleaf by several year. He chose neutral for his alignment and his interpretation of it was that his character returned the treatment he was given. he's drink and laugh with orcs if they were so inclined. He nail a paladdin to the wall if the paladdin did him dirt.

As long as the halfling was played that way consistently there wano problem. The player wasn't constrained by his alignment unnecessarily. I had the best seat in the house for a good show. You darned well knew in a party of LG/CG types I'd have an LG personage do something to upset that halfling every so often. Either that or he'd tell the party to come meet his new friends, a bunch of hobgoblins he spent the night drinking with.

In order to give players as much freedom as possible in describing their characters I opted for very loose alignment descriptions.

Good= You believe all sentient beings have a right to life and liberty (barring altercations of course.)

Evil= Some beings are strong, others are weak. The strong rule over the weak. That's just the way it is.

Law= Society's rules ... rule. Traditions, customs, courts and judges decide all.

Chaos= There is no law save individual honor. Laws stifle and restrict unnecessarily. No law code can anticipate every situation. So none are worthwhile.

A Neutral alignment indicates disinterest in either the Law/Chaos or the Good/Evil aspects or all of the above. Either the character sees all philosophies as having their place in the world or doesn't interact with them unless he must. 

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Leveling the Game

I have a love hate relationship with class levels. On the upside you can create a non-player character fast and eyeball encounters pretty easily. Point based characters can be customized more, no contest there. On the other hand I'm using a rules light system. Four stats, five skills and more customizing means more rules.

Microlite20 gives every character +1d6 per level, +1 to attack rolls and +1 to all skills. That's a little too streamlined for me. Why should mages advance in all attack rolls the same as fighters? It makes the fighter bonus to attacks and damage much less important (+1 at 5th, 10th etc.)

I'm tweaking leveling up as follows:
HP STR +1d6 per level.
Skills +4 skill points per level. Max of Level +3 skill points in any one skill.
Heroic Points + 1d6
Attack Bonuses for physical and magical combat are as follows:

Fighters, Monks 1/1 level (1/2/3/4/5/6/7/8/9/10 etc)
Paladdins, Rangers, Clerics 2/3 levels (1/1/2/2/2/3/3/3/4/4)
Rogues, Bards, Druids  1/2 levels (1/1/2/2/3/3/4/4/5)
Magi, Illusionists 1/3 levels (0/0/1/1/1/2/2/2/3/3)

Magical (includes thrown spells, and level bonus to Will checks)
Magi, Illusionists 1/1 level (1/2/3/4/5/6/7/8/9/10 etc)
Paladdins, Rangers, Clerics, Druids 2/3 levels (1/1/2/2/2/3/3/3/4/4)
Rogues, Bards,  1/2 levels (1/1/2/2/3/3/4/4/5)
Fighters, Monks 1/3 levels (0/0/1/1/1/2/2/2/3/3)

That's not too much extra work. It also gives me a framework for making saves. For example a mage might get +1/level to modify a save against magical charms. He'd only get a +1/3 levels to make a Will save to resist pain though (that burly fighter would get a +1/level though as he's been cut up many times and kept fighting.)

Segue Into a Good Cause

If I didn't mention it before I'm a teacher and hearing of a colleague in a rough   patch really makes me want to help out. The following was shared by Mark  Chance who I follow on Google +

I'm Mark Chance, owner and sole employee of <a
href="">Spes Magna Games</a>. For my day job, I teach
5th grade at <a href="">Aristoi Classical
Academy</a>, a small classical liberal arts charter public school in Katy,
Texas. Being a charter school in Texas, we do not receive the full funding
from the state that a traditional public school receives. (For example, we
receive no monies for facilities.) Consequently, my salary at Aristoi is
thousands of dollars a year lower than it would be in a traditional public
school. Now, mind you, I'm not complaining; I'm simply informing by way of
a preface.

One of my fellow teachers, who has fewer years experience than I, has hit
a difficult patch. Rick and his wife have three daughters, ranging from
elementary school to high school. They live in a rough neighborhood. His
house has been burgled more than once. One of his daughters has been a
victim of violence. Rick needs to get his family out of that neighborhood,
but moving, as I'm sure you all know, requires money.

I want to help my friend and co-worker, and I figured that Spes Magna
Games might be a good way to do this. For the entire month of November
until the end of 2013, 100% of my Spes Magna sales will be donated to Rick
to help him get his family to a safer neighborhood. <a
the link to my on-line catalog at DriveThruRPG</a>.

Thanks for your help!

-- Mark L. Chance |

I've bought and read 'That's a Goblin!?' by Mark. He does good stuff. The supplement is $3.00. In 21 pages you get two dozen new mutations/variations on your typical goblin ranging from the deadly (fangs/bite attack) to the surprising (wall crawlers) to the gross (beer gut and rasp tongue no more need be said.) The supplement also has a section on fey goblins who can have all sort of magical powers and seem more suited for midlevel adventurers. Imagine a murder of crows suddenly morphing into savage goblins at twilight. There are also some more down to earth subspecies to play with like arboreal or littoral goblins for a change of pace. Finally the supplement provides background and npcs for a small hamlet, Reyr's Well, that is suffering from mysterious attacks that only your party can stop. It's a good starter adventure with some sleuthing, fighting and an original foe. Check it out on the link above. I intend on using some of the ideas in my own campaign.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Fantasy Firearms

One of the innovations in my fantasy campaign will be gunpowder weapons. I'm doing chiefly this to show the players that sometime has passed since their old campaign. That and I had a lot of fun running them through a dungeon with mechanical monsters that was so much fun it must have been illegal somewhere. Those monsters screamed Steampunk to me and demands I address it.

Gunpowder will be not quite magical. It's made with mundane means but tends to blow itself and the maker up. Muskets and pistols will be the weapons of garrisons and armies. Bows the weapons of adventurers. Learning to load a firearm is fairly simple compared to the years of training required to really master the bow. The saying went if you wanted a good archer begin training his grandfather. Gunpowder weapons are fairly easy to produce and a musket unit is much easier to raise than a longbow unit.

In game terms a pistol does 1d8 damage and musket 1d10. Both are exploding dice. If you roll maximum damage (i.e. 8 or 10 respectively) you roll and again and possibly again and again. On the down side a pistol has an effective range of 20 feet and a musket an effective range of 50 feet. Attack is -4 for every doubling of range. A character takes 4 rounds to load a pistol and 6 rounds to load a musket (meaning you better hit, meaning you better wait till that gob is at short range ...) A fouled weapon or damp powder or faulty flints are all options to keep pc's alive. Some powder does not travel well. Only the dwarves make kerneled powder regularly. Other races consider their powder the best and it is in high demand everywhere.

Adventurers prefer the bow. Quiet, a higher rate of fire than a musket and appreciable damage at longer ranges. Still many archers were put out of jobs due to gunpowder and have turned to various enterprises to make a living (ever wonder where all those adventurers come from?) firearms have an effective range at present measured in tends of feet. The best way to use a pistol is to poke your target in the head with it. Knights are still in business. A cavalry charge is still a fearsome thing. Getting a shot in requires you to stand your ground. If you miss you get run down. Most shooters flinch.

Some people are already moving away from heavy armor (rogues!) and taking up lighter DEX dependent weapons (and packing some heat in the form of a pistol or two.)

Dwarves make excellent firearms and stable gunpowder. Orcs make standard weapons and are a real pain to adventurers now. Elves usually refuse to have any truck with guns. Gnomes relish gunpowder weapons and have all manner of repeater weapon they're developing (so far only misfires repeat reliably.) Gnolls, like the elves, will usually not use gunpowder weapons even when they are supplied. They find the stench repulsive.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Races and Classes Pt. 2

The D&D game so far has the usual plain vanilla races: humans, elves, dwarfs, and hobbits. In my previous campaign I tried to stay away from orcs as easy adversaries. So I'm rulling that there are no sizable populations of them on the island (Old elf joke: Once there were two orcs ... now look. It's funnier in elvish.) Instead I'm going with gnolls. Lupinoids can be friendly types (doglike) or dangerous foes (think wolves, coyotes.) In fact I'm going with several types of gnolls (why should humans be the only ones available in more than one color.)

Yeah, I know they're supposed to be hyena headed humanoids but it's my world.)

Hyaenoid (hostile to humanoids and tough as hell)
Gnoll: HD 2d8+2 (11 hp), AC 15, Battleaxe +3 (1d8+2) or shortbow +1(1d6) +3 Physical +1 other skills.

Gnoll: HD 2d8 (9 hp), AC 15, Spear +2 (1d8) or shortbow +2 (1d6) +3 Physical, +2 Communication, +1 other skills. Wolfoids are more likely to use pack tactics (some shooting arrows others closing with spears.) They favor hit and run and surrounding their opponents. Wolfoids are very loyal to pack members and will never leave a live one behind. They are more likely to avoid humans unless their territory is violated or occasionally ally with them against a common threat.

Gnoll: HD 2d6 (7 hp), AC 16, Shortsword +3 (1d6) or shortbow +1 (1d6) +3 Subterfuge, +1 other skills. Coyoteans are shorter than humans and tend towards skinny builds. They favor light weapons they can use to advantage with their high dexterity. They often use two light weapons at once (shortsword and dagger.) Coyoteans are primarily raiders and thieves and excel at ambushes (think furry kobolds.) They frequently rob humanoids nearby but rarely engage in pitched battles.

Player character Wolfoids get +3 STR, -1 Mind. 

Player character Coyoteans get +3 DEX, -1 Mind.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Races and Classes Pt. 1

I am fond of classes and levels in rpgs. On the plus side it's way easier to keep track of experience and do improvements to your character all at once than keep track of every niggling skill point and such.

There is some concern that characters are placed in a strait jacket by their classes and not allowed to be individualized. I decided to alleviate some of this in Microlite20 when I run it. Instead of your primary class skill having an initial +3 and all skills increasing 1 per level characters start with 8 skill levels and may add up to 3 + their level to any one skill. So if you want a swashbuckler type fighter put some skill levels into subterfuge (good for feints and dirty tricks of all kinds) and communication (because hey smart ass remarks while waving swords around is required.)

Characters will also use the optional fourth stat: Charisma (CHA) because I like social combat (and will probably write up something about it in a future post.)

Besides the plain vanilla classes of Fighter, Mage, Rogue and Cleric I'm going to include Monks (which I liked since reading about the Bloodguard in The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant.) I'm also including an archer type. Stats are as follows:

The Archer

Wear light or medium armor. They have a +2 bonus to physical and add +2 to attack and damage rolls with ranged attacks. This increases +1 at 5th level and every five levels on. They are +1AC vs all missile fire. They may take a double shot at -2 to each attack. 

Monks are as written on page 62 of The Microlite20 RPG Collection vol. 1.

I also gave a little more pizzaz to fighters. As written a 1-4 level fighter only gets +1 to hit over other classes (this increases to +2 at 5th level, +3 at 10th etc.) which doesn't seem enough. So in addition the fighter can attack Level/3 opponents each round of half their level or less and receive the Cleave ability. When a fighter kills a foe in melee he may attack another adjacent foe. Killing people quickly you see is a power all its own.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Life on a Floating Island

This campaign is set on a floating island (at least initially.) I'm using Spelljammer-esque physiques since anything resembling real science leads to a lot of asphyxiated humans and demi-humans and the Undead laughing their heads off.

The island was part of a larger world called Aarde. It is roughly crescent shaped. I haven't decided if the mother world exists still or there are only islands floating in the mist.

There is no gravity as we understand it. Rather elements seeks their natural level. Levels from top to bottom are fire, air, water and earth. If you take these substances they will naturally fall into layers. As a result of this atmospheres are sharply defined. Flying more than a few thousand feet above the ground you encounter vacuum. The good news is you carry a small bubble of air with you.

The Island is fairly sunny and warm. As one approaches the edge the temperature drops till you encounter a rim of snowfields, frost and glaciers. That's essential to keeping the waters of the small sea mostly contained. As it is the sea and many rivers bleed off the edges. Beyond the Island they freeze and circle about or fall back in and add the ice flows that eventually move to warmer regions and melt.

The humans call their land The Wise Frost realizing it keeps their lands from drying out.

I'm not sure if the Island broke off the edge of Aarde or had a more central location. The original position depends on how much of Aarde I decide is intact.

The disaster happened at least two centuries before. That's enough time for the creatures of the Island to evolve or mutate (it's a magical world after all.) Unlike our world Aarde evolution follows Lamarckism. Attributes an organism acquires are passed to its offspring. Organisms living near the edge quickly develop the characteristics of arctic animals with odd D&D twists: ice dragons ice elves, ice worms etc.

Lamarckism has some interesting implications for role play. If your character is a fighter and survives combat after combat he will evolve attributes to help him in future combats. In other words leveling up becomes not just a matter of experience but evolution. You increase in HP because your body is evolving to need them. This explains why adventuring types level up while running around out in the wolds as opposed to practicing their swordplay and spellcraft in schools. Evolution baby!

It also means you pass on some of this to your children. Great fighters tends to sire great fighters or at least kids with that potential. Ditto for spell throwers. Paladdins are rare because they (usually) take vows of chastity. On the rare occasion they do have kids, think Sir Galahad.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Over Planning

One of the worst sins I commit as a gm is over planning. One of my players once said that he felt like I always had a plan for what was over the next hill no matter which way they went as a party.

I blushed a little then had a group of gnolls with polearms attack the party. In truth a lot of planning went into my last fantasy world. I mapped things out in minute detail. I made up a tree for language evolution and relationships. I came up with several major pantheons and worked out what the gods were doing when their people went to war with each other.* With all that stuff worked out it was very easy to fill in the cracks fast.

Happily I don't have that free time anymore and sadly don't have the energy. So while I like to have an overview I'm not figuring out every store on Merchants' Row or what orcs have for supper (smaller orcs.) I'm also realizing more and more what I stat up and give my attention to should be things that involve the players. It makes it easier for them to sit through the inevitable hosings I'm so infamous for.

Anyway my current crews likes are my first priority, in particular my newbie (I know she loves Minecraft and robotics, a dungeon that is an abandoned mine filled with clockwork automata seems in order.) Her parents are harder. I know they're huge fans of Sleepy Hollow and Once Upon a Time. Having a headless yet charming prince doesn't work. I'll think of something eventually. The first session is going to revolve around the reveal that this world is their old campaign world that underwent a horrific change. That sort of fits in with OUaT. I can add the conspiracy to keep things getting worse for a Sleepy Hollow vibe (though this is sort of like the End Days happened already and the good guys lost.)

I also have to remember that one of my players is in middle school and doesn't need to know her daddy played a boozing, wenching sociopathic Hobbit cardshark and her momma played an elven grifter with sticky fingers and a libertarian view of law to say the least. They can break that to her when she's 18.

*It turned out the gods natural form was a bunch of cute li'l tweens who were playing an rpg while hell was breaking loose. My players ran into them while on a hop between dimensions. They were surprised but not shocked.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Heel Turn Into Fantasy

I've been world building for a while and obviously concentrated on SF. All that is about to abruptly change as I'm getting the opportunity to actually run a game. Two of my old gaming group want me to introduce my Goddaughter (man I'm old) to fantasy RPGs. Since the parents had very fond memories of the AD&D 2nd Ed. game I ran many, many years ago I opted for one of the d20 engines and decided on Microlite20.

Microlite20 where have o been all my life? It's simple to learn and run and it distills the essence of D&D into 8 frigging pages! You can prep a new monster in minutes and it's easy to convert the tons of D&D stuff I bought back in the day to it. So on to world building.

The campaign starts on a floating island. If I'm going to do fantasy I'll go all out.

The Island was part of a larger and disk shaped world called Aarde. This was the world my crew ran in those many years ago. Something very bad happened to Aarde/the Island. The learned on the Island believe Aarde experienced an apocalypse and was torn apart or at least suffered grievous damage.

Unknown to all at the start the isolation of their island from the main world is slowly depleting its life force. Undead are increasing in number and animals and humanoids are mutating in odd ways. People living near the edges of the Island sometimes suffer from a form of insanity (sometimes permanent) called Edge Fever. Also outside the Island in the impenetrable fog pirates and monsters sometimes live and conduct raids.

Much of this misery is part of the plan of a lich who intends to reduce every person n the Island to Undead and then move the Island back to Aarde to /conquer the world./ Longterm goals include defeating the lich and its minions and finding a way to get the Island back to whatever remains of Aarde.

Anyway, that's the campaign in broad strokes. Next races and classes.