Friday, June 26, 2015

What Ho, Frog Demons

Holing up in a converted New Hampshire barn has me fiercly procrasti-tasking around finishing the manuscript for Misty Isles of the Eld (all the while with Luka Rejec working like a machine to produce an inspired round of self-directed illustrations) and skipping ahead to the last and final stretch adventure coming out of the Slumbering Ursine Dunes project, What Ho, Frog Demons, a sandbox that pulls together a number of smaller adventure sites around the Dunes and Marlinko into a tidy little (and slottable in a home campaign) package.

The dreaded Frog Demon Temple (an intensely deadly and traperrific smallish dungeon with an extradimensional backdoor), the manor of the Beet God, and an outline of the backhills dungeon-infested town of Bad Rajetz will all have a turn after having been game to the hilt in my own campaign.

But here's a Wodehousian teaser of the set-up for the first scenario.

Jevo and I
Nasty business with the Lord-Surveyor, Jevo. What.”

If you say, Pan Vostvr.”

I mean look at the face of it, old chum. Man writes an apologia titled A Corelands Defense of The Absolute Necessity of Frog Demons. I mean that is just asking for it, isn't it? One doesn't just casually stroll into salon stating 'you know frog demons, there is a warty race worth putting on the show about' and not expect to get stuck in.”

Quite right, sir.”

Still disappearing outright on the first high official visit to the borderlands in 76 years, that's a rum show and in Marlinko of all places with a temple so near. A frog demon temple of all things. Perfectly dreadful. One must do something about that kind of msvavo [Pahr slang roughly meaning “outrage/tragedy/funny bit”]. Now, Jevo, I know you have a bit of a thing when it comes to my embossed half-plate but I must have it for this adventure, what.”

The one with the leering satyr face and protruding man-breasts, Pan Vostvr?”

You will come around to it, Jevo.”

I don't believe I will, sir.”


Ropucha Rigygtzenacht, Surveyor-Lord of Canton Departments Both Hilly and Forested, has announced that he will be conducting an official inspection and tour of both Marlinko and Ostrovo cantons. In the Cantons he is, of course,  more famously known as “The Garrulous Grease Toad,” a nickname attributed to him due to both his bulbous oily countenance and the famous, eccentric apologia he penned “Feuerundflammen: A Corelands Defense of The Absolute Necessity of Frog Demons.” Locals are shocked at the news, it has after all been almost 76 years since an Overking-appointed cantonal high official has actually set foot in the borderlands.  Beyond his official duties the grandee is said to be offering “sizable bounties for items of magic” including 5,000 gold suns for a “certain staff” (details available upon inquiry).  

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Fever-Dreaming Marlinko Free Map Download

Well Fever-Dreaming Marlinko, finally, finally wormed its way out of my own acid-dreams and hopefully into yours. Backers of the Slumbering Ursine Dunes will find copies sitting in their hot little inboxes and all others can find the 72-page city adventure supplement right here on Drive-Thru RPG.

To celebrate--and give you a taste and a tool at the table--we are making the ever-talented and delightfully-eccentric Luka Rejec's three isometric maps (city map and two dungeons) available as part of a free download map pack on DriveThru (look for it tomorrow when I am off my champagne bender).

Monday, June 8, 2015

Reavers of the Weird Microgame

North Texas RPG Con was naturally a ton of fun, productive even. I won't rub it in. Much.

The ancient and obscure boardgame I brought for our beer and pretzels evening, King of the Mountain, though interesting looking was chocked full of way too many quirky exception rules and I quickly vetoed my own idea after a read through. The half-giant Robert Parker had the bright idea of adapting my old By This Axe campaign idea, the Reavers of the Weird for a quick evening game and I shaved it down on the fly into what is now a microgame.

Jason Sholtis, Trey Causey, Andrea, Mike Davison set down to a crazed anarchic evening of stealing, conniving, villager humiliating and murdering. In other words it was great.

So here's a game for you.

Background and Set-Up
Countless centuries of gavelkind succession laws have cranked up the fractionalizing, autarkic, hair-splitting pettiness—so typical of life in places with a foot in the Weird--to a feverish pitch in the Translittoral Canton of Hoimatbuch. That chilly, windy easternmost bastion of the Overkingdom is further plagued by a strangely-virile nobility creating a maddening over-proliferation of hyphen-crazy micro-fiefdoms as each holding is divided equally among the male children of each line.

You are the holder of one of these tiny sub-divided micro-states, your neighbor is a similar such asshole. You both want to kill and take each other's stuff, but are limited to the rules of low-intensity warfare that the Overking imposes.

Each player as part of his squalid little holding receives a livestock corral, a village filled with tax-paying chumps, a blood-apricot orchard, a swollen (yet strangely beautiful) prize pig and a charming (almost), rustically-decorated, black-timbered manor house. Ridding your opponent of his or her assets being the object of the campaign.

Each player receives eight footmen, four archers and three mounted. The actual figures can be (and should be if you want to bring the full gonzo) just about anything. In fact the game is abstracted enough that just about any playing pieces can be used with each manor locale either having a terrain representation or even just a notecard.

The Campaign Turn
Each turn (roughly a fortnight) the player can elect to mount 0-1 offensive actions (see below) and as many defensive actions as he cares. All actions are considered to occur simultaneously. The campaign ends after six turns and victory points are computed.

The players have five minutes at the beginning of each turn to wheel and deal among themselves. Reserves can be combined for joint defense. Attacks are never jointly conducted but players can gang up to conduct multiple individual attacks in a turn.

Players write down their offensive and defensive actions for the turn and reveal them at the beginning of the turn--or pass them to the umpire if you have one. Raids are resolved clockwise from the lowest initiative rolling player each round.
The dreaded Cantonal Lummox. Special rule coming soon.

Offensive Actions
Each turn can assign a leader or general and accompanying units to conduct a raid (each force must have a leader). He picks one of the options from below.
Steal Livestock
Humiliate Villagers
Burn Blood-Apricot Orchards

Defensive Actions
Each turn the player also assigns his non-raiding units (again each must have two or more to various locales.
Assign Guards to Livestock
Assign Guards to Village
Assign Guards to Orchard
Assign Reserve (assign figures to serve as a reserve for pursuits and defense)
Buy Reinforcements (usable on the fourth term to buy five new Footmen, see Victory Point penalty)

Combat occurs when a raid is caught (see Raid Resolution). All raids end with either the death of one side or the retreat of the attacker. The attacker may retreat at the beginning of each round but is forced to suffer a free attack from any archers or mounted left among the defenders.

Combat goes in rounds and is simultaneous. Archers get a free attack in the turn before melee starts. Each round the players roll to hit and pass the dice with hits to their opponent for saves. The defender chooses which figures to allot saves to.

To Hit on a d6
Archers 5,6
Footmen 5,6
Mounted 4,5,6

To Save
Archers 6
Footmen 5,6
Mounted 4,5,6

Raid Resolution
Raider rolls d6 when on a raid to see what resistance she faces.

-1 Raiding Force has 1-4 figures
-1 Raiding Force all mounted
0- Get Away Scot Free (Roll on Plunder)
1 Escape with No Plunder (No Effect)
2-3 Fight Locale Guard Only (Victorious Raider Rolls for Plunder)
4 Fight Locale Guard and 30% of Reserve (Victorious Raider Rolls for Plunder)
5 Fight Locale Guard and 60% of Reserve (Victorious Raider Rolls for Plunder)
6+ Fight Locale Guard and 100% of Reserve
Victorious raider roll a d6 on the follow charts.
-1 Raiding Force has 2-4 figures
+1 Raiding Force has 11 and over figures

Livestock Raid
1- Nothing stolen
2-3 1d6 animals stolen
4 2d6 animals stolen
5 3d6 animals stolen
6+ 3d6 animals stolen plus Prize Pig or Fine Horse

Village Humiliation
1- Local folk laugh and ask “is that all you got?”
2 Village idiot forced to wear Eld helmet
3 Blacksmith tarred and feathered
4 Village headman (notable) cuckolded
5 Local temple Sun Lord priest (notable) beard shaved
6+ Relative of Boyar (notable) speckled with dung

Orchard Burning
1-3 Fire doesn't catch
4-5 Orchard burned
6+ Fire spreads to other orchard. Two orchards burned.

Add up after six turns. The highest score wins.
+1 VP for each pig in possession
+5 VP for each Prize Pig
-2 VP for each village commoner of yours humiliated
-3 VP for each village notable of yours humiliated
-5 VP for taking reinforcements
-5 VP for each orchard burned

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Fever Dreaming Marlinko Going to Bed, North Texas

The last stretch of Fever-Dreaming Marlinko has been..well...a stretch. My natural impatience starts showing in this last part of the cycle, but another round of layout and proofing (disrupted by the fact that nearly all of the Hydra Collective is packing up and heading to North Texas for the week) is something readers will appreciate--so it's looking like we will go to press somewhere around June 12-13 (or later, such are things in our hobby).

(If you are going to North Texas RPG Con, track me down and say howdy, I am friendly-ish and likely to be running a pick-up Marlinko session or wargame.)

Inevitably I hate most everything I write with a reflexive hatred as soon as it clears my keyboard. It takes months, some times years for my own stuff to become rehabilitated in my own eyes. 

But I feel pretty good about Marlinko. Ironically I think this stretch adventure, which was supposed to be a relatively disposable 20-page Kickstarter supplement to Slumbering Ursine Dunes, is not only a thing in its own right but is stronger than the thing it supplements (and longer even).

Pulling in Luka Rejec to do maps at the 11th hour turned out to be better than I imagined. All three of his maps went beyond even what I imagined. I mean just check out this beauty, the backcover map. I'm also way happy with both Jeremy Duncan and Jason Sholtis's art in the final product.
click on me.

But one of the reasons why I am genuinely excited beyond the required “fake it to, make it” enthusiasm small DIY publishers are supposed to project is that you will find several urban adventure mini-systems stuffed into Marlinko that I am pleased as punch about:
  • A Chaos Index with escalating events/triggers scattered throughout the city. Meeting an NPC when things are stable might be a wholly different experience than when it's escalated into high weirdness later (and things in the city go from being a bit eccentric to hallucinatory as play progresses)
  • And because one cannot have enough whirly bits in a sandbox, I threw in a whole news generator with full news brief like the campaign news I have been writing for years for the eponymous Hill Cantons campaign.
  • A tiger-wresting mini-game,
  • A weird nickname generator,
  • A section on running scams, hoaxes and grifting activity in a city that loves the Mountebank (the player class is in there too).
  • A (often very funny) carousing system tied into the quirky city quarter (contrada) by Robert Parker,
  • A“fair play/pay” guild system for hirelings (solidarity!) also by Robert/ 

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

AD&D's Apocalypse and Domain Game Index

Mad Max Fury Road is predictably jamming my nerd circle frequency on Google Plus. Naturally thoughts run to things post-fall-like and discussions around post-apocalyptic gaming are breaking out here and there. An interesting thread on Big Purple has resurrected an old school line of exploration: the apocalypse of D&D's implied setting.

That thread dovetails nicely with my blog indexing push, so let's run a circle back to two series of interlocked Talmudic ruminations that started with the post-apocalypse of AD&D's original flagship setting Greyhawk and led to analysis of the implied domain-level play in first edition.

If you read one post out of this list, I would suggest “What Rough Men Tell Us About AD&D's Implied World,” one of my personal favorite posts (and I usually hate with a passion the things I write). If you read a second check out the “Howling Emptiness of the World of Greyhawk” or the last post “AD&D's Apocalypse and Hereafter.” Do make sure to read the comments, they are half or more of what makes the threads interesting and the posts bounce dialectically from them.

Post-Apocalyptic Greyhawk

Some seriously nerdy number crunching around the population density of the Greyhawk gazzeteer revealed a very interesting fact: that world is much crazy empty compared to medieval Europe. Rumination on that wildness and its implications launches the series. “...Even the wildest places of Europe at the time are orders of magnitude more settled and prosperous than Veluna. Those wide light green clearings on the Darlene map turn out not to be dull vast tracts of farmland peopled by plump, happy yeoman, but barely held little bastions.”

Analysis and historical comparisons supporting the previous post.

Emptiness comparisons between the Wilderlands and Greyhawk and the two apocalypses of each setting.

A full exploration of the post-apoc dimensions of Greyhawk and encounter tables in the DMG.

Domain-Level Play in AD&D

A second branching thought train starts here. The first edition hardbacks support a wide and robust (but horribly organized) range of domain-level play guidelines and rules with implications for game play that are more interesting at points than recent attempts to implement “domain games.”

What the DMG actually lays out for domain play and how that differs from later attempts.

Another one of my personal favorites despite the long awkward header. The weird gonzo beauty of what happens when you use the DMG encounter tables for demense recruitment (as suggested by the book).

In which I try to figure what the hell is going on with all the name-level characters and large bands of "human monsters" the Monster Manual prescribes and the implications of that.

Taking the previous thought and comparing to the near-apocalypse/collapse of 14th century France. Many of the previous thought trains come to together and reach climax.

Some further postscript analysis about NPC, hirelings and production of goods by the book.  

Thursday, April 30, 2015

HC Psionics: The Psychonaut Class

Oh psionics, you scamp. Sigh.

For galactic aeons I have wanted to develop the weirdo psychic powers of the Eld  in the actual existing Hill Cantons campaign. Invariably I always seem to bang my head against the brick wall that is D&D psionics. An interesting and helpful discussion on Google Plus turned up all kinds of svelte, homebrewed systems by Ramanan S, Roger GS, Courtney Campbell and others (seriously quite well-done and free projects, check them out).

But I kept getting into that cafeteria mentality of wanting a little of this jello salad, some of this mystery meat and a big heap of this pecan pie.

One thing that really shook out for me was that I was more interested in a psionics-based class that was less rooted in a spiritual/inner/monky kind of focus—not a great fit for space elf sadists—and one more like the bad-good psychic horror-thrillers of the 80s such as Scanners and Firestarter and the goofy exuberance of post-apoc science fantasy novels like Hiero's Journey.

I also didn't want a whole new subsystem or mechanical layer to run the damn thing but liked the approach taken by others to treat the powers mostly like spells and retaining the traditional save-vs-XX system (Alex Schroeder alluded to this in the discussion and it stuck).

Anywho this is what was left over when I sat down at the table, a goofy little PC class heavily-inspired by Mutant Future that I am throwing out there for feedback. The version below is very much a work-in-progress. What actually will appear in the Misty Isles of the Eld will feature expanded/gussed up descriptive text and the deformations and powers will be revised and expanded (you will note the current lack of 4th level powers).
Requirements: INT 11, WIS 14
Hit Dice: 1d6
Maximum Level: 8
The class is predicated along the lines that psionics and similar mental powers are attributable to mutations from the fallout effects of “magical” radiation. Since the Eld make heavy use of such magitech, the Eld and a select elite of Eldman slaves have organized a corp of Psychonauts who willfully expose themselves to mutagenic doses and spend their careers attempting to master the correct mental disciplines to rein in the mutations. Blah, blah, blah.

The Psychonaut saves and fights as cleric. The character can only use leather armor but is allowed to fight with any weapon.

Each level the Psychonaut gains powers similar to spells. However powers are not mutable/memorizable like spells, once chosen they remain in stock in perpetuity. Most powers have variable numbers of times that they can be used in a day or week.

The exposure to the mutagens necessary for the original transformation into a Psychonaut leaves lasting effects. Indeed as the Psychonaut unlocks and masters unused portions of the brain when gaining new power levels, so does he often lose control over the deforming aspects of that transformation. As such a Psychonaut will gain a defective mutation when attaining levels 3, 5, and 7.

Level Progression Chart
Hit Dice (1d6)
Defective Mutation
Defective Mutation
Roll d6
1 Almost passable. Physical deformation under the clothes line such as a third nipple, stubby tail, etc.
2-3 Minor visible physical deformation (-1 CHA). Eld Psychonauts treat result as no effect.
4 Major visible physical deformation (-2 CHA). Eld Psychonauts treat result as no effect.
5-6 Mental deformation (see chart below). An Eld or Eldman Psychonaut unable to mask such a deformation will be summarily executed.

Mental Deformations
Roll d6
1 Psychobabble. There is a 25 percent chance on each occasion that the character opens his mouth to speak that he will inexplicably begin shouting in a manic, incoherent manner much as though he was speaking in tongues. This condition will persist for 1d6 turns. Strangely religious zealots and oral health specialists will understand the character just fine.
2 Mumbler. The character is unable to speak in anything beyond a quiet mumble. Creatures of INT 13 and higher can understand the character if within five feet of the Psychonaut, all others will not be able to make out what is being said.
3 Compulsive Contrarian. The character compulsively disagrees with any direct suggestion, assertion and even basic statement of fact verbally presented to him.
4 Imposter Syndrome. The character actively believes that he is a fraud and not really the ranking Psychonaut everyone else believes him to be. As such he must roll 4d6 against his WIS to use any power. A second attempt can be made a turn later and the self-esteem issues related to that power will only fade with a new day.
5 Phobia. The character develops a single, persistent and deeply-irrational phobia as per the GM's discretion.
6 Second Brain. The character develops a second brain that hinders his thought processes. This brain has 1d3 first level powers and a mental deformation of its own, which should be kept secret from the player until an opportunity to discover them comes about during play. This second brain may have an entirely different personality and motives than the character, and may even try to foil the character’s actions at inconvenient times at the GM's discretion. Once per month the second brain.

Power Level Chart

1 0 0 0
2 0 0 0
2 1 0 0
2 2 0 0
3 2 1 0
3 2 2 0
4 3 2 1
4 3 3 2

Power Level 1
Zaxxyn's Accelerant of Aptitude
Once per day the Psychonaut is capable of concentrating his mental energy to such a degree that one of his abilities is doubled (up to a maximum of 18) for 1d12 consecutive rounds. Usable once per day.

Dxxmilx's Duellistic Deduction
During combat the character can attune herself to the minute body language of others to the extent that she can often tell what they are going to do before they do it. This gives her a +1 to hit in combat, and +3 hp damage per damage die rolled in a successful attack. Can be used in two discrete encounters during a day.

Affected Apportation
The Psychonaut can teleport any object 10 pounds or less in sight range to a known location within a 500 feet. Usable once per day.

Surface Skim
The Psychonaut can read the emotional state and barest of surface thoughts of a visible sentient creature for 1d6 turns. Raw emotions, preparations for violence, and hints of deceit will be reveled--though their precise nature will be unknown. For example, the Psychonaut will know that the subject is lying but will be unable to tell the exact nature of the lie. Usable twice per day.

Power Level 2
The Psychonaut releases powerful antiorgasmic energy in a 20-foot radius from herself. All opponents inside that radiance must save versus spells or suffer -2 to hit and saving throws for 1d6 turns due to the intensely uncomfortable and unsatisfying effects and will be unable to enjoy amorous activities for 1d6 days after the attack. Usable once a day.

Cerebral Boreworm
A single bolt of mental energy infallibly strikes a single visible target up to 60 feet away causing saw-like serrations to appear on its forehead for 2d6 hit points of damage. Usable twice per day.

Sleep Egg
The character can will herself into a one-hour coma that heals all of her hit points and cures minor afflictions. While in the coma state a glowing white egg-shaped energy field protects the sleeper from all non-magical attack. This power may only be used three times a week.

Flx's Flammifer Firkin
Same as Pyrotechnics. Usable twice per day.

Pohlxx's Psychometric Dowser
Same as Locate Object. Usable twice per day.

Power Level 3
Ninx's Biting Troll
A spoken phrase delivered with such psychic backing force that it cuts to the quick. A target failing a saving throw will be unable to move or act for 1d6 rounds. If used against the target successfully a second time the target's brain will become fried, the subject will be in a rocking, babbling catatonic state for 1d6 days. Usable twice per day.

Burlix's Brainsploder
The Psychonaut can target up to 1d12 living creatures in a 30-foot radius in a single burst of violent psychic energy. The creatures must be three hit dice and under or be higher-hit dice sentient creatures with WIS 7 or less. Any eligible creature so attacked and failing their saving throw versus magic will have their head instantly explode in a slow motion fashion raining pink mist and bits of gore. Usable once per day.

Necrocognitive Recall

Same as Speak with Dead. Usable twice per day.