Monday, May 30, 2011

Grueling Expeditions

Currently in Piecemeal, when a party travels across the wilderness it takes its toll on them. When the party reaches their destination they are ramshackle and at sub-par effectiveness, often requiring several weeks to recuperate from a similar amount of time in the wilds. But no matter how grueling the terrain they will not (barring exceedingly poor luck) wind up dead just from travel. Damage from travel is primarily thematic. They are grizzled, unwashed, with sprained ankles and the flu. They don't lose a foot to frostbite then fall down a crevasse to their death.

I am unsure if this is good or not, as foreboding terrain can be an adventure element in and off itself. The best sources of XP for Piecemeal are travelling and exploring new locations after all.

To fit with the overall mechanic structure I am considering a two roll system, the first to see if they fail their health check and lose a body point (As normal), the second a die roll to see how many body points they lose.

The problem I see with this is it doesn't really create a 2-axis system that I can think of. You won't have an environment that is "pleasant and idyllic" (say +5 to health check) but also on a major failure deals 1d20 body points in damage, nor an inhospitable hellhole with a -20 penalty to health checks that only deal 1 body point in damage.

The idea I am mulling around to that would be that the penalty only applies if one moves about in the area. If one sets up camp and is more or less stationary then perhaps that would be a solid chance to heal, without the check having a hideous penalty. Still, it seems off.

The next thought was some sort of "knock on effect" based on terrain. You will have some sort of "unfortunate episode" each week of travel.

Once per week roll a d6:

1.) Make a strength check or suffer the environment die of damage
2.) Make an agility check or suffer the environment die of damage
3.) Make a health check or suffer the environment die of damage
4.) Make an awareness check or suffer the environment die of damage
5.) Make a luck check or suffer the environment die of damage
6.) Discard a random item or suffer the environment die of damage

This would also cause regular damage, not a straight body point loss. Thus a player might fail their health check by 10 and lose a body point, then roll a d6. A 2; the environment is a swamp that deals a d4 damage. The situation is quickly rationalized by player and/or GM (whoever thinks quicker with a plausible and rational event) as the character is walking along a raised sandbar and steps on a slick patch of mystery goo, if the character fails their agility check they bash their head for a d4 damage.

I like this because it would give more of a "flavour" and "story" to wilderness travel, but dislike it for the same reason. If the players lead expeditions frequently the same old crap comes up again and again. It just slows things down.

So back I loop, perhaps the first option is the best option? ie, not only does taking the pass through the badlands give -5 to your health check, it also deals a full d4 body points in damage. Taking the river path gives -0 and only 1 point of damage, even if it takes three times as long.

If travel becomes so dangerous, such an arduous part of the adventure, then there should be one class who is better at it. Right now the rogue strikes me as the best fit for two reasons.

1.) Being a shady character means you'll have to move around a lot, even in a city it may mean sleeping on the odd park bench/dirty alley. If your rogue doesn't have this kind of background, don't make this one of your power selections.

2.) The rogue has a spare power. No one is really using "vigilance", it really seems less useful than the other options available.

The power should probably be something along the lines of "roughing it" or "guide" or "frontiersman". The ideal mechanic being a reduction in body points lost due to wilderness travel. Currently I am thinking 1 less lost per milestone, thus an epic hero of legend would take 4 less per failed check. I am also considering upping this to 1 cumulative per milestone, that an epic hero would take 10 less. The caveat being that this only functions while the character is at peak health.

The idea is still just forming in my brain. Right now my weekly game has wrapped up for a weeks of downtime and boardgames. The party reached an appropriate stopping point after a major event, and this allows them time to plan what they want to do next and fill me in on their grand schemes.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

NPC for Free:

In my weekly game I spit out many memorable, and many less than memorable, characters. Some of these are generic enough that you can plunk them into many campaigns. Below is such a character.

On the outskirts of a small fishing village, lies a small sod-roofed cottage. A clay chimney lazily puffs out small amounts of smoke through the roof as a withered old lady draws open the curtains in the lone window, a luxurious pane of glass in this small hovel.

Should any character be able to detect magic, this building will radiate it. If the players approach its rickety wooden door they will have to move through a wild and impromptu herb garden and step over a dead mouse on the doorway. The old woman who answers the door will answer in long rambling, senile manner that seems to go nowhere.

Should the players convince the old lady to allow them in they will see the inside of the hovel. The floor is all sand and the walls are littered with shelves, covered with jars and boxes full of unusual spices, dead animals and knick knacks. The ceiling is covered with hanging boughs of dried herbs. The old lady sleeps on a pile of hay on the floor near the hearth, next to a pair of silk pillows. Several wooden bowls are littered about the floor with fish bones, dried milk and the like.

Should the players be angry, forceful or mean to the old woman she will turn dark and vulgar with these "harlots, *@$%#! eating $^#@!ing #^&@!ers!". Her mind sharp as a tack...before quickly reverting.

She also has a black cat that she lovingly cares for known as "Mr Whiskers". She will be thrilled if players are nice to Mr Whiskers, offer him milk, fresh fish, clean his litter box or fluff his pillows. Mr Whiskers does not like to be pet (usually). Should any player attempt to use violence on the old woman or Mr. Whiskers, Mr. Whiskers will cast a variety of offensive spells to assault them, and berate them with the loud booming voice of James Earl Jones.

Mr. Whiskers is a feline necromancer, and quite a powerful one, with a human familiar. Note Mr. Whiskers is a necromancer in that he can command and control the spirits of the dead, rather than the "raise the dead legions" style that has become the norm. If properly bribed then Mr. Whiskers will aid the players in any investigations they may have by raising spirits at the local graveyard and interrogating them, or even exorcising spirits from those possessed by them. In rare great services Mr. Whiskers may share one of his many hidden relics from the region.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Evil versus Cartoon Evil

Occasionally in a game, there will be a jarring break from the standard cartoon evil villains, or misguided tragic villains to someone who is evil, unredeemable and just wrong.

This has to be something that is carefully managed to have a stark contrast to cartoon evil. Cartoonish evil is full of skulls, and blood and gore. It is a realm of cackling megalomania mixed with pointless shock. I recently added some true darkness to the game in the following manner.

The party broke into an enemy camp and discovered a secret grimoire of the armies leader. Asking what was in it, I responded "Terrible Dark Magic you may not be able to stomach, I haven't written what they actually are beyond the Spell Templates". I went on to inform them that if they did want to use them they would as a group decide the specifics of the templates. As a quick recap on templates, there may be a spell template like "Bolt" and then specific versions of the spell that can be found like "Lightning Bolt" or "Acid Blast" or "Malakath's spectral serpent strike". So I explained the templates are "Spell Storage", "Channeling" and "Know Alignment".

Spell Storage is a template for putting spells into an item for later use. Brewing potions is a version of the template, so is dwarven runes, so would putting a spell into a candle or an ointment etc. Channeling is to replenish your mana from the environment, such as regaining mana from the mountaintop or recharging on the sunrise. Know Alignment is a template for various mind reading spells like mind meld, or a spell where you enter a sleepers dreams.

So they start going with "Evil Spells", describing events "Melting Faces" etc etc. So I set them straight, these are EVIL SPELLS.

So I quickly threw together an evil version of "Spell Storage". In this case the spell allowed the caster to put a spell into a child they conceive. It must be their child, and the child must love them for full effect. And while a potion must be drank, or a candle lit this spell required killing the child. There is no way in which this spell can be used by someone who is not unrepentant evil. A spell like "melt face" can be used by a good person against an evil person. No one could ever use a spell like this and not be evil.

Now due to its limitations and evilness it was a very powerful version of the template, incredibly potent. But in no uncertain terms the good thing to do is burn the grimoire and even learning the spells is really an evil act.

But I told them if they want to have the spells I won't stop them, but I am making them develop the spells. So I am asking the players to make up the details to go into the templates.

I would like to see if any of my readers have any ideas to start off for these evil spells, not mechanics, just themes. A mind reading spell and energy restoring spell that cannot be used by a good person.

Feel free to email if you feel sheepish of even having particularly evil ideas. I'll let you know what the players come up with.

Thursday, May 5, 2011