Thursday, June 7, 2018

The Most Useful Chart in B/X

 This is it.

This is the average GP (and XP) value of each treasure type in the Basic/Expert sets. It's something I use for stocking dungeons, with the modest conversion of a Silver Piece standard.

It's old school "game balance" summed up in five lines. You don't need to understand why it works (though it doesn't hurt). Just follow the rules.

Every time I think the old school D&D design space is full up, I find a new wrinkle. This parsimony of design is one of the things that drew me back to paper and pencil roleplaying, and it's something I look for in every new release, and in my own writing.

What works at the table?

Friday, June 1, 2018

On Chaos

This post will have very little in terms of gameable mechanics. I'm wary of posting too much that borders on "game themed prose fiction" but I intend to refer back to this stuff in later posts as I share my campaign cosmology.

From hereon out, I'll tag this kind of thing 'fluff'. This sort of thing never comes up directly in a game, but its a "headcanon" that informs the game. 

Chaos isn’t a party. It isn’t unbounded freedom (at least not for long).

It’s the ground state of creation. It’s a bonfire followed by a heap of ash. It’s the last photon in the universe decaying, then an infinity of darkness.

A forest seething with life and filled with predators and prey is order. An empty, crumbling parking lot is chaos.

(Zdzislaw Beksinski)

A town filled with looping side streets and poorly marked cul de sacs might feel "chaotic" in the colloquial sense (at least if you’re a stranger to the place). But a district of tightly gridded, identical apartment high rises with identical units filled with identical furniture is an environment where chaos reigns in the cosmic sense.

On the right: Chaos (Photo by Ursus Wherli)

Anyways, you see what I’m getting at.

Demons are chaos, forced by foolish mortals into a fleeting prison of flesh, because pure Chaos simply can't exist in our universe of ordered matter and energy.

Demons don’t hate life and order; that would require something akin to passion. It’s just that everything that exists (including themselves) causes them pain and misery—the kind that human nervous systems don’t have the hardware to comprehend.

They endure their own miserable existence only because they have no means to end it, and once they’ve been summoned, they seek any and all means to hasten the return of the universe to its normal state. During their tortured birth into the material realm, a horrific arrangement of organic forms, concepts, and nightmares-made-real cling to them like dust clinging to a bead of water.

To decide what that looks like and what it does, you could use Appendix D at the back of the 1e DMG. Or make it a Paradox Beast. I tend to just stick whatever traits I like on board. They haven't come up often for me to come up with a unique thing for them mechanically.

With regards to PC alignments...

Neutrality is just near term pragmatism.

Lawfulness describes, simply, a spectrum of preferences for order—even a tyrannical or capricious order—over chaos.

If you want some ideas on how a truly Chaotic NPC looks at the world, look no further than Thomas Ligotti.

When asked by an interviewer what would make him smile, Ligotti replies:

I think that if I could walk from one end of the world to the other and see nothing but annihilated landscapes, that would make me smile.” (source)

Warhammer Chaos Warrior (it's probably sacrilege but I don't know the illustrator! Let me know in the comments and I'll add a proper credit)
 These guys aren't Chaos. They're just gasoline and a match.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

The Tournament - an old school adventure site

On the horizon, the characters sight a picturesque castle of the old style; tall, elegant, and graceful, surrounded by a stout wall. It stands on a rocky hill overlooking the plain.

Should they draw closer, they encounter mounds of broken swords, shattered lances, rusting armor and helmets—some with the heads still inside. The sound of men shrieking and arms clashing echoes over the castle walls. Flocks of crows roam the plain.

Once they reach the outer wall, they find fresh corpses and more arms and armor heaped against the wall, as if it were tossed over like so much trash.

If the player characters linger a while, another body will be tossed from the castle wall. If they catch sight of the men on the wall, they will notice two manic looking warriors, wearing fine clothes covered in gore.

Should they investigate the main gate, they will find a heavy iron portcullis, closed and unmanned. Through the bars, they can see garishly colored tents and flags, laid out haphazardly. There appears to be two armored fighting men, locked in a duel to the death. Their slain horses lay in the middle of the field. The roar of a cheering crowd echoes through the gate house.

Characters entering over the wall or levering up the gate are unopposed.

The Tournament is an adventure location suitable for old school characters of any level, though it will probably present minimal challenge to characters over level 5. The elements are all pretty vanilla D&D. There's portable treasure worth 7000XP floating around the castle, and enough armor and weapons lying around to arm a fortress.

Bisley Staples
If you want to grab a map, you could do worse than this small fortress from Dyson Logos.

A curse has taken hold of the castle. Its lord, a bloodthirsty champion in his youth, insulted an Elven king, who cursed him with a tournament that never ends.

Fighters that enter the castle wearing arms and armor must save vs. magic, or be forced to join the tournament (as per the Geas spell). Characters of other classes are not affected.
Upon being Geased, even the most honorless scoundrel will feel a swell of martial pride, and the urgent desire to defend it, even at the cost of his life.

The spectators and officiates are all Elves (poorly) disguised as human courtiers. Watching humans slaughter one another is like the combination of a bloodsport and a LARP. They don’t particularly hate the humans that are fighting and dying for their amusement, this is just what they’re doing for a hobby lately.

How did they get here?
-The characters may stumble across The Tournament while hex crawling
-They hear of a bereaved noblewoman, who offers a reward for information about her missing husband’s fate
-They hear rumors of a castle that draws in warriors and knights by the dozen, who are never seen again.
-They see an elven messenger deliver notice of a grand tournament, with a fabulous prize
-They’re hired as tax collectors, sent by the local Baron to investigate why Lord Garen has paid no tribute

Take a deck of regular playing cards and draw 10. This will represent the warriors and men-at-arms inside the castle when the players arrive. Unless noted otherwise, all are affected by the curse.

Keep the cards handy for reference, and draw from them at random when you need to decide who’s about, who comes running to a commotion, and so on.

Each card represents:
King - a 4th level fighter
Queen - a 2rd level fighter
Jack - a knight errant (fighter level 1d6). Roll for a random magic item.
Ace - a 0 level squire, unaffected by the curse, trying to shake his master loose from the trance.
Joker - A ghoul disguised as a knight, enjoying the feast set out for it

Other cards are counted as the indicated number of 0 level fighters. They’re organized roughly into “teams” by suite. They behave a little like rowdy sports fans—they’ll scrap with each other, but they’ll unite if threatened by fans of the other team.

Each suite corresponds to a team that the warriors have created to organize the tournament. They fight for their individual glory, but the team is a convenience of the moment. They make camp at opposite ends of the tournament grounds, sharpening their blades and mending armor by night, fighting to the death by day.

Clubs: “The Wolf Brothers”
They wear no armor, and only enough clothing to satisfy modesty (they are still knights, after all). They paint themselves with ash and howl a weird battle cry night and day (characters who spend the night here will be unable to rest or prepare spells, as long as Wolf Brothers are still present).

Hearts: “The Order of Blood”
Red everything, torn and filthy. Pretensions of honor but actually deceitful. Seek to ambush and slay Knights of the Lily (below).

Spades: “The Gray Company”
Armor caked with mud and ash. Stoic warrior monks. When not competing in the Tournament, they compose bad poetry bemoaning the horrors of battle.

Diamonds: “Knights of the Lily”
Try to present themselves as clean, dignified champions. Doesn’t work out so well after weeks or months in the mud and blood of the Tournament. Offer mercy to defeated opponents.

Warriors under the sway of the curse all believe they're in the midst of an epic tournament, with the fate of kingdoms at stake. Each believes with manic fervor that he will be the one to win and take home the prize.

They pay little mind to player characters, being far too busy with preparations and battles to make small talk or explain what’s going on.

If pestered excessively, insulted, or attacked, they will fight with a morale of 7.

Nearby warriors of matching suite will join any fray in 1d4 rounds (draw a card or two from the set of 10 to see who shows up). Warriors of a different suite may take the opportunity to stage an ambush (perhaps inadvertently coming to the rescue of the PC's). Any fight that breaks out on the tournament grounds could turn into a bloodbath as different war bands join the fray.

Female player characters will draw the attention of any warrior they interact with. The warrior will beg for a token of her favor, and her blessing for the coming battle. If denied vigorously, he’ll go off to pout. In 1d4 turns, he’ll start a fight that may cascade into a bloodbath. If indulged, he will act as her escort, prepared to defend her to the death, until he takes her token into the next round of the tournament.

Should she grant a token to another knight, the two will immediately fight to the death. The survivor will attempt to act as "the lady's champion".

This whole mess is the elves’ fault.

There is a crowd of 20 spectators that spends the daylight hours watching the fights, making or taking bets on who will be slain in the next round. At night, they party in the castle like rockstars (which is why most of the valuables in the place are wrecked). At first glance, they appear to be normal nobles dressed up in a garish, almost ridiculous version of high class attire.

They mockingly mimic courtly manners and cheer enthusiastically at any fights that break out.

It takes only a few moments near one of them to notice their weirdly graceful features. Any character who has encountered elves before will recognize them for what they are.

Attacking an elf in sight of the tournament contestants will kick off mayhem—any nearby contestants will rally to defend the “noble lords and ladies”.

Elves fear any risk of a violent end to their long lives; they will flee danger if they can and fight only if they must, with no regard for the lives of their fellows. They will regroup in the castle to beg the King of the Elves to deal with the aggressors.

Each elf wears or carries 1d10x10gp in jewelry and treasure (mostly of human make, stolen from the castle).

There’s a small group of petty merchants digging through the refuse and gore of the tournament grounds. They’re scrounging up useable arms and weapons, and selling them back to the still living warriors.

They’re led by:
“Lord” Seth. Level 3 thief. Utterly pragmatic and amoral. Mockingly wears the real lord’s crown (worth 1000gp). Wants to see the tournament continue indefinitely to keep the gold flowing, and will kill to make sure of it.

The gang consists of five Normal Men with leather armor and assorted weapons (1d6 damage)
-Oribad: friendly and sardonic—loves the sight of nobility choking to death on their own blood
-Renner: timid and repentant—just here to scrounge up some money. Will help the players as long as it doesn’t put him at risk.
-Yannik: Ridiculously loyal to Lord Seth, will defend him to the death.
-Brennin: Working off a massive debt to Lord Seth
-Zeek: An annoying kid who loves knights and wants to be one. Hopes to steal some armor and a horse to begin his epic adventure.

They've gathered a horde of coins, gems, and valuables worth 2,000gp.

His Most Serene Majesty King Oberil of the Seven Pointed Crown
Level 6 Elf
Choose spells at random and roll for a random magic item in his possession.

Oberil can’t recall why he laid the curse, but hasn’t grown tired of the show yet (he won’t any time soon). While more brave in combat than his subjects, he isn't about to lose his life over this game; if reduced to half his hitpoint total, he will attempt to flee.

Oberil isn't the king of all elves, though he might tell the PC's otherwise if there's any chance of buying it.

Level 3 Fighter
A once dashing and ruthless swordsman, now entering late middle age. He’s dressed in a ragged, greasy tunic with a bloody stain on the left hip.

The curse prevents him from leaving his chambers at the top of the tower. He’s fed rarely, and has wasted away and gone half mad. King Oberil is frequently with him, goading him to enjoy the mayhem below.

Garen can’t remember what specifically he did to insult King Oberil, but he can remember some details of the encounter. He is raving and somewhat unhinged, but becomes lucid if spoken to with the deference due to a lord.

Every hour of daylight, a new round of the tournament is announced. 2d4 random participants hack each other to bits on the tournament ground. NPC's have a 50% chance of being slain in the course of battle. Cursed player characters are compelled by the Geas to volunteer eagerly.

Frequently, King Oberil calls for bizarre tournament scenarios. For example--
-half of the contestants will be clad in armor, while the other half go "skins"
-each knight will wear a lady's hat, and the winner will be the one who captures them all
-one contestant will be heavily armored and mounted on horseback with a helmet that obscures his vision, while the rest wear no armor and try to bring down him down using pointed sticks.

In the King's box at the tournament ground, there is a jewel studded trophy worth 4,000gp. Attempting to steal it will draw warriors eager to punish this "unsportsmanlike conduct" (draw two cards to see who shows up).

The easiest way to end the curse for good is to discover the nature of the original insult that provoked the curse, and remind the Elven King of it. Now that time has healed his wounded pride, he looks back on it with a laugh, and ends the curse, departing with his entourage.

Other possibilities include:
-casting Dispel Magic or Remove Curse on the lord (which will invite creative retribution at some future date from the King of the Elves, for ruining his game).
-a single warrior is left alive, and awarded the prize
-Killing the King of the Elves (which will make the elves the sworn enemies of all PCs involved)
-find something more entertaining for the elves to do

Of course, player characters are also free to flee the place immediately, or geek the Armsmongers to steal their racket.

The day the cursed Tournament began, Lord Garen stumbled upon a doppelgänger rifling through his things after infiltrating the castle.

Believing the creature had been sent to kill him and take his place on the throne, Garen slew it handily, and wiped his sword on his tunic.

Oberil was offended not by the death of his pet doppelganger, but by the staining of the fine tunic. He’d sent the doppelgänger to steal it as part of a party costume (Elves really enjoy cosplaying as humans, and creating the perfect costume is of the utmost importance for remaining popular with the fey court).

Look, immortality really is that boring. Hellboy 2 (2008)

If the curse is ended, the warriors left alive will wander off towards home in a daze, remembering their ordeal as a particularly vivid nightmare (possibly after massacring any elves that fail to flee if they learn of the curse). The survivors of the Lord’s retinue (20% of the warriors still alive) assume control of the castle, and do what they can to help the lord if he’s still alive.

This is one of those things that was outlined in some old campaign material and never saw action at the table. I decided to flesh it out with some ideas I used in my 200 word RPG entry. It was sort of inspired by those castle encounters in the Expert set and OD&D where knights are just waiting around to come out and joust the PCs or kick their ass.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

New OSR class: The Swordslave

You didn’t choose it. It chose you.

You found it enveloped in the old growth of an ancient tree. Or your father took it out of a plain wood chest and gave it to you the day you left home. Or maybe that’s just what you told them after you stripped it off some wandering vagrant after you killed him over a few mouthfuls of wine.

Regardless, whatever your life was before is over. You belong to this sword as much as it belongs to you.

Art by Yuri Shwedoff
Swordslaves are vagabond warriors who possess a mystic blade with a mind of its own.

Class Abilities
Saving throws and attack progression as Fighter
Level progression as Magic User

Mystic Sword
The Swordslave  possesses a mystic weapon, from which all their special powers originate. The character can decide on the particular aesthetics of their mystic weapon, but it’s obviously a thing of otherworldly magic.

Regardless of its form, it does damage equivalent to a longsword (1d8), and may be used one handed. The weapon casts light like a candle (5' radius).

If the player has no preference, it appears as a glowing white longsword made of frosted glass. It may provoke fear, awe, or avarice. Ancient creatures with long memories may know more about its history than the character does.

At level one, the sword functions as a silver weapon.

Ancient Lore
The sword is ancient and wise. As long as it's in the character's possession, they may cast Commune once (and only once) per character level.

Magic Eater
At level three, the sword has deemed the bearer worthy of learning its innermost secret. It can devour a magic weapon to steal one ability from that weapon. It can carry three abilities at a time (a numerical weapon bonus counts as a single ability).

This process is conducted through a six hour trance that must take place in solitude.

Devoured weapon bonuses do not stack; if the Mystic Sword is +1, and it devours the +3 bonus from another weapon, the Mystic Sword becomes a +3 weapon.

The devoured magic weapon is utterly drained of power, and becomes as brittle and worthless as unfired clay.

Prisoner of Fate
The Mystic Sword is jealous. Any time you use another weapon in a fight, the sword withholds its special abilities for one day (it acts as a normal weapon of its type). If it is abandoned or lost for more than a week, it takes 1d4 months before the weapon forgives the character and works normally again.

Destroying the Mystic Sword is possible, but never easy. It cannot be broken or melted by mundane means (which also makes it a handy tool for barring a door or holding open a crashing portcullis!).

It’s up to the GM exactly what will destroy the sword. Dragon fire would be a good fit. The fire of a particular dragon is probably too limited. A Swordslave whose sword is destroyed becomes a fighter of one level lower. Their strength is permanently reduced by 4.

Once (and only once) the sword will cast Raise Dead to resurrect its bearer at the moment of death. The Swordslave must willingly submit to a Geas to receive this favor. The assigned task is always difficult and dangerous, and trying to get out of the bargain always results in tragic, horrible, lingering death. The Geas is typically long term, difficult, and extravagant. Examples might include:
  • Found a new kingdom in the wilderness based on peace with the local humanoid
  • Recover a legendary holy relic and return it to its home
  • Eradicate the royal line of a great kingdom, down to the very last child
Name Level
At 10th level, the sword slave attracts a loyal cadre of warriors. 1d6 fighters (level 1d3) will offer their service in exchange for basic upkeep, and the opportunity to pursue great deeds. They will serve with great loyalty as long as the character continues living as a wandering adventurer and keeps no permanent home.

A stolen mystic sword acts as a normal weapon of its type as long as the original bearer is alive. If the original bearer is dead, it can bond with a new person, who will become a swordslave of whatever level their total XP dictates.

Other Notes
I wrote this partly just because that picture of the kid with the glowing sword got my wheels turning. It's not playtested whatsoever. I'm afraid some of the special abilities could veer into being cheesy plot armor, but their use is so limited that I think the B/X Elf is still more powerful.

I also had in mind an old friend from my early days of DMing. He always wanted to play a dude with an ancient magical weapon, and I would always say “nah just go adventure for one”. I thought our rinky dink Forgotten Realms game was way too serious to just hand out magic swords at first level!

He wanted to do Chosen Hero type stuff, which can bungle up the team play aspect of the game, but he was a good player and I regret not meeting him part way to scratch that itch. I like to think he’d have enjoyed playing this class.

It could also be a handy thing if you want to throw a bone to a player who wants to change to a warrior class without starting from scratch.

Seems like you’d want only one of these guys per group (or maybe even per campaign). It starts to feel silly when a guy with an Ancient Mystical Blade shows up every few weeks. Then again, they could be an order of medieval Jedi knights or something too.

If that’s the case, they’ll probably want their sword back after your dude gets geeked by some Normal Man with a crossbow.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Review of Esoteric Enterprises

Esoteric Enterprises Player Book
By Dying Stylishly Games/Emmy Allen
88 page PDF at Drivethru RPG

The game delivers well on the author’s pitch for a modern day dungeon crawler. It could also serve as a comprehensive sourcebook for adding elements of body horror, mad science, and the occult to other OSR games. It’s close enough to use old school TSR content with only minor conversions.

It’s a gritty contemporary fantasy adventure RPG with overtones of Cronenberg and Brian Yuzna films. Definitely some Clive Barker flavors in there too. You play a gang of occultists and criminals seeking forbidden knowledge and loot—mainly in a supernatural underworld that (intentionally) mirrors the feel of an old school (mega?)dungeon. You get XP for fencing loot and doing dangerous underworld jobs.

With hard work and cleverness, this could be you! (From Beyond, 1986)

The gem of this book is the setting. Like the author’s previous game, Wolf Packs and Winter Snow, it’s a complete game that gave me that “I want to play this tonight” feeling.

It includes many pages of easy to use mechanics and tables for medical experiments, occult mishaps, monster powers that could be bolted onto creatures or items, narcotics, insanity, torture, and so on. All ripe for use in any OSR setting.

Very little of that material is necessary to get started, but if a PC says “Hey, since the Yakuza blew my arm off, can I graft this monster’s poison stinger onto the stump?” you’ll be ready.

Overall, the rules emphasize ease of use at the table over high resolution simulation.

The “spook” class is a standout. Build your own creepy monster that grows in power with each level, just like Gary wanted. In the great and hallowed tradition of old school gaming, you can also just roll on a table to see what powers your vampire (or whatever) has.

The rules for combat with modern firearms are as good as anything in the OSR sphere. As a shooting hobbyist who’s usually disappointed by action RPGs set in modern times, I’m satisfied, with only minor quibbles.

alright, now I got that out of my system

If I get the chance to run this, I might prune back some of the options to make a more focused horror setting—mixing gnostic wizards, mad scientists, computer hackers, bigfoot, vampires, and Lovecraftian gods all at once might be too much like mixing pizza and ice cream for me. Kinda cool to have it all in an 88 page book though.

There’s two pages towards the back of the book to flesh out character backgrounds, and help players find the class combo that suits their idea. This is one of those things I didn’t know I wanted, and shows off some of the flexibility of the system.

A e s t h e t i c s
The art is all photographs from stock image libraries, or public domain sources. That said, it suits the tone of the game, and the overall presentation is above average for a single author product.

The layout is professional, with only minor slips, such as the first letter of a white heading text sliding off of a graphic and merging with the white background.

The one exception is the table of contents. There’s major text flow problems that make it hard to read. Luckily there’s a good index and you can search a pdf, but I’d hope for a fix before a print edition is made available.

Many of the pages that I would like to print out for reference are solid black backgrounds with white text, which is a bit annoying. Perhaps this is a countermeasure against bootlegging, in advance of a print on demand offering.

While I normally consider internal linking or PDF bookmarks a luxury, their lack is felt a little more because of these issues.

Lastly, the character class section suffers somewhat for having rules intermixed with descriptive prose. I’d prefer a tight bullet point list for easy reference, separate from the background description.

Nitty Gritty Rules Stuff
There’s a serviceable intro inside for someone to pick this up as their first roleplaying game, if they’re even a little familiar with the format. I’m sure most readers will be familiar with multiple games of this type, but I don’t think it’s right to call an RPG “complete” without this section.

If you’re familiar with old school rules like early D&D or Lamentations of the Flame Princess, the basic system will look pretty familiar. Classes, levels, multiple saving throw categories, and so on.

The major departures in the core mechanics are the flesh/grit system that replaces hit points, and a simple skill system.

Character creation is quick and easy, though some classes have more options that I fear could result in some players getting “build paralysis” at the table.

I’m usually not a fan of a general skill system, but this one is alright. It does the heavy lifting for a number of character classes that would otherwise require their own subsystem.

There are only 11 skills, narrowly suited to the setting. The Criminal is the “skill guy” who gets to build a broad portfolio of skills as he levels up. The doctor gets the medicine skill (as well as an automatic healing ability when in something approximating a clinic). The explorer gets the stealth and athletics skill. You succeed if you roll under your skill rank on a d6.

One gripe I have is that ability bonuses are applied to skills. This makes (randomly rolled) high attribute scores much more important than they are in the average OSR ruleset. Lucky players who want to minmax could begin the game with multiple skills maxed out. It doesn't bother me so much that that's "overpowered", but that it could muddle the line between classes a bit.

Players choose from one of 8 character classes. The Mercenary, the Occultist, and the Criminal map pretty closely to the Fighter, Magic User, and Thief you’ll find in most OSR games. A lot of the spells will be familiar.

Taking a cue from Lamentations of the Flame Princess, the Mercenary is the only one whose attack roll improves with levels.

the Bodyguard class is a “tank” in the way that the old school fighter is not. Along with the explorer, it has the best saves in the game, and a lot of Grit to soak damage.

The Doctor feels like kind of a healbot (which you’ll need, because with the flesh/grit system, flesh damage can cause lingering, debilitating injuries). However, they also get a subsystem for doing freaky body horror experiments. Be careful, or you’ll wind up turning your friend into a mutant who can only survive with a steady feed supply of cerebrospinal fluid.

Fun! (From Beyond, 1986)

The Mystic and the Occultist draw from the same spell list, but whereas the Occultist memorizes and casts spells in the familiar (“Vancian”) fashion, the Mystic rolls a charm skill to curry the favor of a supernatural patron. So while the Mystic can potentially cast the small handful of spells they know many times, they also risk frequent mishaps and complications.

The spook is a build-your-own-monster class. The GM can allow players to choose from a variety of powers to fit a unique theme, or roll on a table for various known creatures (vampires, underground mutants, faeries, ghosts, etc). The framework is flexible enough to cover anything from Hannibal Lecter to a ghost.

The Explorer seems like the odd man out. The class is themed as an urban explorer and infiltrator, driven by curiosity to seek out the supernatural underworld. He gets good Athletics and Stealth skills, but the Criminal class can potentially match him at first level. The Criminal also requires less XP to level up.

The explorer does less damage in combat than anyone (even the occultist), though he gets bonuses to Armor Class. His saves are good, but otherwise I’m not sure he’s got a lot going for him.

I would be tempted to give him some special ability at navigating in the sewers and mazes of the underworld.

I admit I haven’t play tested the game, but it looks like firefights are a very nasty business. It’s not quite at the “rocket tag” level of lethality, but a couple mooks with rifles have a decent chance of leaving multiple first level PCs limping off or in a bloody heap in the first round of a fight.

Because of the flesh/grit thing, it’s pretty unlikely for characters to die instantly from mundane weapons, unless they stumble into focused fire from multiple enemies. So survivability at low levels is probably somewhat better than a B/X character.

I really hate games that turn what should be an adrenaline filled firefight into an accounting minigame. I also hate rules that treat modern firearms as the equivalent of a noisy crossbow, and ignore the substantial advantages of repeating arms. This game successfully avoids either extreme. There’s no mechanical difference between an AK47 and an AR15 (which is a positive in a light, abstract system) but automatic weapons have real impact on tactics thanks to the Covering Fire rule.

There’s another nice rule for automatic weapons. They run empty the second time you roll an attack roll of 1 or 2 with your current magazine. That strikes me as a really handy, simple way to avoid getting bogged down in tracking ammunition down to the individual bullet, and keep up the intense tempo of a gunfight. (If it ever strains credulity, you might call it a “failure to feed” and allow the player to “reload” by reseating the magazine).

My hope is that it would do a good job of capturing that action movie feeling, where the characters are squeezing off a bunch of rounds, missing, and then reloading on the fly, rather than plunking off one round per attack like charges from a wand of magic missile.

If you need ideas on how to narrate a gunfight, just watch Way of the Gun (2000) three or four times

The only time it might get a little funny is if you’re using a revolver or a double barrel shotgun.

You for sure die at -9 flesh, and all sorts of messy, unpleasant things happen before that, including permanent injuries and lengthy recovery times. Looks like there’ll be plenty of times where the PCs have to decide whether to drag a bleeding, incapacitated ally out, or leave them to be cannibalized by morlocks. Neat!

Leave her! (The Brood, 1979)
Depending on your luck when rolling hit points, it seems like level 4 or 5 is when most characters are only seriously threatened by NPCs with levels (who can get multiple attacks with firearms under some circumstances) and supernatural threats.

The GM would be wise to print off the “horrible injuries” section for quick reference; it’s probably gonna come up, and while straightforward, it’s not something you’ll be able to keep in your head.

This is the player’s book, but the only thing stopping you from running this game immediately is the lack of a bestiary, and detailed rules for treasure and magic items. Crack open an old school monster manual or DMG and you’re on your way.

Hopefully the upcoming GM book will include some conversion rules, or a robust bestiary.

The nearest comparison in the OSR-sphere is Silent Legions by Sine Nomine, which is more of a straightforward Call of Cthulhu port. Esoteric Enterprises leans towards pulp action-adventure and dungeon crawling, with a focus on playing lowlifes, cultists, and soldiers of fortune rather than weedy investigators.

Come to think of it, the PCs in Esoteric Enterprises would make great villains for a Silent Legions campaign.

EE is the better product, thanks to a fresher creative vision, and more interesting character classes. It’s also suitable for long term campaign play, whereas Silent Legions is more about the ultimately futile battle against dark, incomprehensible forces. You could probably do a dark survival horror thing with EE by restricting PC class options, but it also does it’s own weird “modern dungeon crawl” thing.

The richness of detail in EE is also more evocative and specific. It strikes me as the work of an author who runs games frequently, playtests her work successively, and has created a toolbox of useful stuff for making a vivid interactive gameworld, rather than simply adapting old school D&D to a different set of tropes.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

200 word RPG contest

My entry for the 200 word RPG contest went up sometime today.

I was surprised how good many of them are—it’s like having an open box of oreos (just one more!).

Some are… not as clever as they might think (one sets players in the role of RPG writers for a 200 word RPG contest).

Some are more like rudimentary board games played with pen and paper.

There’s a lot of ultra light storygames, where you have a lo-res mechanic for trading narrative tokens, based around a loose theme. The mechanics are there to tell you who gets the talking stick.

So after reading a few I sat down to write with a couple ideas in mind.
-I’d include useful setting material (not just “you’re on a spaceship”)
-the mechanic would use playing cards (a die roll is a random number generator—a hand of cards offers some strategy).
-some meaningful character differentiation

I was turning ideas over in my head, when the dog thing came to mind (it’s a game where the PC’s are a pack of feral dogs, in what’s implied to be some kind of war zone).

It’s something a little different from the usual genre stuff, but also accessible to pretty much anybody. You know what dogs are like. You can imagine what they can do about as well as you can imagine what a normal person can do—so you can draw on all that to decide what the players can do, what they need to make a check for, and what’s just impossible. Each dog has a niche, so that everybody can do something different.

The basic mechanic is play cards to do stuff >>> get food to draw cards. Manage resources wisely or game over.

Since playing cards were already in the game, I wanted to use them to rough out some kind of environment. Nobody’s investing prep time for a 200 word RPG.

Using them to depict a city grid was obvious, and the combination of suits, face cards, and numbers gives plenty of material for procedural generation.

I started out thinking about cute dogs having adventures around their neighborhood, befriending humans, having little scraps with other dogs, and so on.

like this

Then things took a wrong turn somewhere. So there’s also mechanical support for eating human flesh. Oh well.


Monday, May 21, 2018

Demons of the Outer Dark

Outside the Aether is just black, empty void. Not even air to breathe.

By Agostino Arrivabene

No. That’s wrong. It only seems that way because of your primitive instruments. You know, the ones rolling around inside your skull.

Out there is primordial chaos. The monsters that the gods cast out before time began. Call the tiniest whisp of that stuff into the material plane, and it congeals into a corporeal form known as a demon. Being forced to take on a material body appeals to it about as much as being pressed through a red hot sieve appeals to you. It reacts to your summons accordingly. That’s just one reason why you’d be wise to keep the thing contained with strong magic.

Ades Pantocrater - Agostino Arrivabene

Magic circles and the like are often effective just because they’re a complex, orderly geometric pattern. Any kind of organized structure might be sufficient to send the demon’s physical form into a crash state. Or maybe not.

Killing the physical vessel doesn’t free them, though it might disperse weak entities enough that they can’t reassemble their physical form.

They must be banished with tools mortals cannot create themselves (certain rituals and items handed down by transcendent entities, cleric spells). The disintegrate spell also annihilates demons permanently, creating a small amount of Black Aether*.

It's hard to say whether demons exist as discrete entities outside the material universe, or if their individual nature manifests only when drawn into our world. It's possible that the ritual and the sacrifice itself is what shapes raw chaos-stuff into a physical form.

While their powers can be terrifying to behold, they are summoned and tormented most often for knowledge. Their realm exists outside and throughout the material universe. It's likely they know more than the gods themselves.
While a demon may take on numerous forms, and manifest subtly different powers with each summoning, it's one pleasure on the material plane is to degrade order into disorder. Set loose from its bonds, it endeavors to turn families into broken individuals, orchards into ashen waste, and kingdoms into chaotic orgies of death and destruction followed by silence.

It has no name, but you can be certain it will always remember you. It's fondest wish is to return the favor of its summoning, and bring you home as a souvenir.

*(I don’t know what that does yet, but it will probably be something like a metaphysical version of this. Highly reactive in unpredictable ways, with precipitates that might have a variety of effects on the material world).