Thursday, June 30, 2016

The mythic city of Xanthandu

Far from the sweltering heat of the ocean coast,  deep in the mountains to the north is the capital city of this crumbling Empire, the mythic Xanthandu.  The coastal cities of Zann-thorr and Guam-yaiv, each once ruled by a Satrap,  now controlled by the French Governor General.   The cities are fed by sprawling fields of sorghum, millet, and calabash tilled by water buffalo.  The wine houses are fueled by ancient pomegranate orchards, caravans of opium, and groves of coconut trees.

Long lines of camels form caravans through the lawless deserts dotted with crumbling ancient ruins, on to the vast savanna where they then dodge the orange skinned locals who grow bolder in the collapse of the Satraps to the Colonial Regime.   An entire foreign legion marched through here to besiege the supposed city of Yoon-Suin,  though like the Conquistadors hundreds of years before there has been no news of their deeds to reach European ears.

Past Yoon-Suin and hidden in the mountains is Xanthandu.  A city only accessible by meandering passes guarded by fierce snow monsters.  Merchants from the city do all their business on the foothills, loading their yaks and taking secret routes through caves to find their way into the city proper.  Some say goods change caravans a dozen times before they reach the fabled city.

And somewhere in those mountains is an ancient temple said to be built by Egyptians, or perhaps even Atlanteans before them.  That temple contains the great emerald known as the Eye of Set,  and that is what a team of adventurers hope to find to secure their place with the Royal Explorers Society back in London.

The Year is 1848 and the location is specifically forbidden from being discussed in the game because its all orientalist bullshit. 

This is the map so far.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Going Soft: Adventurers running a business

So for many games (especially XP for GP games) you get the old problem.  Players run out of things to buy and start investing in things...that earn more money.   This they then invest into even more things  and/or level up through their merchant empire.

So the first step XP for GP games do is say "XP only comes for treasure recovered from dungeons or the like".   Personally I think it cuts out the opportunity to have a merchant expedition to far off lands as an adventure tool  (load up on cargo then fight pirates, and storms, and forage for food and water on cyclops infested islands to reach the far off port), but you can always make exceptions for such daring adventures (until you've charted a route and it becomes routine).

Even without XP though,  you still end up getting a tonne of money that ends up making more money.  The need to eat and buy supplies is a powerful motivator to adventure and take great risks.  If you'll starve without money, the temptation to try and steal the idol's ruby eyes despite the warning of a curse becomes much more important.  If you can try again next week and return to sleep on your featherbed in your castle...well... maybe you'll let someone else make the save or die check.

Both Al-Qadim and Lamentations of the Flame Princess address business ventures in a simpler way:  They make them mathematically suck and eventually lead to ruin.   That works functionally,  it keeps adventurers adventuring but it breaks as world building for me.  I mean,  saving up for retirement is a motivator for adventuring. Get that big haul so you can retire.   Invest in a business and live the high life.

Conan does not invest in mutual funds with a healthy rate of return.

Conan also shows the solution.   Make investment easy and logical.   Investing in a business venture should be likely to produce wealth, it is why people have businesses after all.  Its both the why and the how of the innkeeper keeping his inn afloat.  But go a step further from only getting XP for gold from adventuring:  Adventurers lose XP for gold earned through normal business ventures.  I'd still leave room for the daring adventure to first open a new trade route,  but not for regular routes (and even still that is a personal preference).

But when they start running businesses a warrior's mighty thews begin to weaken with their day to day living in civilization.  Jewel Thieves begin to dull their reflexes after a few weeks of safe transactional business where the worst danger you face is an employee skimming off the top.  Wizards stop pontificating on the mysteries of the universe and start focusing on accountancy and taxes.  They go soft.

I would suggest this as a form of retirement,  they don't lose levels but they do lose XP which makes it harder to hit the next level.  This means that retiring upon hitting max or name level makes sense (you have nothing to lose really since you are max level already).  But a 3rd level warrior investing in a mine?  The 3000 gold pieces he earned this year simply pushed him far from ever hitting 4th level.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Player Classes

So one thought I had had was about how although they GM is playing the RPG,  they are a different class of Player than PC's.   But what if each Player also had a unique player class to set their role in the party similar to roles in a sport?

Ideally each player would choose a single player class before they roll up a character (the GM taking the GM player class).  That would set their role in the game and possibly help it run more smoothly.

The Leader

The Leader should be a player who is always or almost always present.  They play a standard character, generated as normal with normal campaign limitations (such as being human in a human only campaign or one of the core classes etc).   They are not the boss of the game group in character (or don't need to be),  rather they play the character the game follows.  This is in the end their story.  While Thorin Oakenshield may be the leader of the band in The Hobbit,  the leader from a gameplay perspective doesn't follow either him or Gandalf, but follows Bilbo.   In practical game terms,  this means that regardless of what the party decides to do in any split decision,  the game follows The Leader and other characters can find a reason to tag along or be "off camera".

The Optimizer

Only a player who takes the Optimizer class can what is colloquially known as "Min-Max". While they still must follow basic tenants of the campaign (such as an all human or all rogue game) they can bend those requires.  They are also allowed options such as point buy where normally results would be rolled,  They alone can take specialty options from "Splat Books" and in all ways try to "break" mechanics without being called on it or house-ruled in a way to keep them from being overpowering characters.  The Optimizer and the Optimizer alone can "Rules Lawyer".

The Snowflake

Similar to the Optimizer but different,  the Snowflake can play whatever she wants.  If it is a human only campaign she can play an elf,  if all the standard species are allowed but its a western European setting she can be a half-aarakocra ninja from Australia.  Everyone else follows the basic setting.

The Zone Out

Everyone is expected to pay attention to whats going on, follows the events and make decisions based on the information.  Except the Zone Out.  When the deadly trap is sprung and the map is being drawn, forcing the Zone Out to look up and ask "So what exactly is going on", the Zone out can respond with such things like  "We'll I'd be behind the statue so the blast wouldn't hit me" or "I didn't go into the room, I am back in the hall" and get away with it.  Sure,  you are in the hallway,  or you never started climbing the cliff and are down with the horses.

The Trickster

Actions have consequences and pissing off NPC's can result in the entire party getting in serious campaign ending problems because you thought it would be funny to pants the crown prince.  The Trickster however prevents this problem,  as by some bizarre cosmic coincidence only they will suffer the ill effects of their shenanigans unless someone else gets involved (or egged them on).   So while they will still be eaten for trying to drop a deuce in the dragon's hoard while it slumbered, everyone else in the party will be able to sneak away unseen exactly as if no one had been dumb enough to bother the sleeping dragon.

The Drop In

How you get to and from adventure sites has great importance, as does who carries important gear such as quest important macguffins, the map, or the food and water.   Sometimes people are just eager to pop in to a campaign in progress.   Due to adventures happening off camera,  the Drop In can appear anywhere at the start of a game, and escape from anywhere at the end of a game.   The party is trapped in an extra planaar prison?  Somehow the Drop In also stumbles upon them.  Still in the extra-planaar prison at the end of the night?  The Drop In wanders off,   and when everyone else uses the once in a billion years method to escape and return to the normal world... well the Drop In will be able to find them in 2 weeks when he shows back up to play, none the worse for wear.

Furthermore,  he will never be important to any major events.  If he pulls the sword from the stone,  somehow he isn't king, someone else in the party gets credit.   If he is holding the only map, key, or other item,  someone else will find it wrapped up and left with them.  His inventory for important items is fluid.

The Planner

There will often be a desire to set grand schemes in motion that don't involve the adventure.  To set up a kingdom, business, mercenary company, or settlement.   Between games there will be "Downtime" activities involving accounting and book keeping and making NPC contacts and resolving events.    Only the Planner is allowed to make these schemes and plans that eat up the GM's time.    Note this doesn't involve planning an adventure (such as a heist or exploratory expedition into the wilderness)  this means "domain level" play generally, but also includes things like running an inn or setting up a trading post.

The Game Master

This one is self explanatory.

So once each player has a player class, the game should run smoother in a way that could only be surpassed without player classes by the players and GM communicating with each other like adults and then acting that way through the entire campaign.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Neoclassical Geek Revival: the dx instead of the d20

One of the changes that was formalized from table rule to be thrown in the book (Which is an odd thing in and off itself, but I frequently play around with new rules to see if they actually work and what the effects are)  is changing the d20 to the dX in most situations.

What is the dX?  Its a way to randomly generate a number between 1 and 20.

You are probably asking yourself isn't that a d20?  I mean a good portion of you are patiently awaiting an explanation in reality,  but I will add a flourish of my  genius instead.  No! it is different,  a d20 is only one option.

First, what problem is this solving:   The weird unpredictability of making checks for activities that most people do every day.  Even the strongest man seems to fail at lifting a sack of grain 5% of the time while a 95lb weakling will wrench open the portcullis 5% of the time.

So how does this work?

A character has states for the purposes of rolling a dX to generate a result between 1 and 20.
Calm:  They get an automatic result of 10
On Edge: They roll 3d6
Reckless: They roll 1d20

All characters start calm,  but can choose to step down one or more levels towards reckless before any roll of the dX.   Once they go down a step, they can't go back up until they sleep in a safe area away from danger.

Characters can be forced to shift down levels as they take damages and the like,  but the general idea is that characters are very predictable and able to bypass subpar problems until they need to break a sweat, then things get more random.

This also servers to ratchet up the tension as the problems get harder to solve,  each skill or piece of gear or marginally higher attribute becomes important as characters try to avoid needing to roll for as long as possible.

Some characters (or players more accurately) immediately decide to go straight to the hyper random d20, and that works too.

The main advantage of this from player enjoyment is to be able to move past minor annoyances easily in the beginning of the session without using a lot of time.  If you have a barbarian with a sledgehammer,  you don't need to roll for the stuck doors, they just open (loudly).

Monday, June 6, 2016

Neoclassical Geek Revival: Lycanthropy and the dangers of Wharwilfs

Back to monsters and content.   So,  how would a Lycanthrope work in NGR?

Well, that really depends on what a werewolf means to you.   Is it a curse from the devil and/or the gods?  Is it a witch's enchantment for a slight?  A magical experiment gone wrong? A species of being from some ancient and noble zzzzzzzzzzzzzz...

Option 1:  Its a curse from the gods

This is pretty simple actually,  when wondering how any powers or abilities function: A god did it.

It is a curse,  while the default curse miracle is a -1 universal penalty to all rolls,  it does specifically mention you can throw in other curses.

In this case the individual is cursed to turn into a bloodthirsty great wolf upon the full moon that hunts for the flesh of mankind, preferring those with the strongest emotional connection to the cursed individual,  This wolf, beyond the physical prowess of a massive wolf,   can only be slain with silver to the heart.   This doesn't mean repeatedly hacking it with a silver hatchet.  It has to be the heart.

Mechanically this follows rules for ignoring partial damage, similar to vampires with wooden stakes.  If you don't do enough damage to kill the wolf in a single hit, you didn't hit the heart and it ignores all the damage.   While alive, the wolf heals an amount of damage each round equal to the faith of the curse (more later on that). Note that no matter how much damage the werewolf (in either form) takes, it will heal without silver to the heart.  Even if burned to a fine ash which someone then does lines of off a broken mirror in a bus stop restroom.  The wolf will crawl out of the negatives eventually and reform in some abandoned forest clearing. The werewolf is also immune to diseases (but not poisons, though they cannot kill it).  Anyone bitten by the wolf who does not die before the next full moon will become a werewolf, The  curse will have spread  (at one point of faith less).

What is this business about faith?  well, the way to break a curse in NGR is to have the one who cursed you lift the curse, or to have someone bless you with a more powerful bless than the curse.  So assuming the first werewolf is a curse from the gods, assume a "faith" for that curse of 30,  really beyond the power of any mortal priest to bless.  The first werewolf would be a powerful named creature that needs to be destroyed.   But chain down a few generations and the werewolves adventurers meet in a wood outside of a crossroads inn might be something that can be cured by a blessing from the local bishop.

There would of course be other protections.  Wolfsbane might do something, and of course a priest in a state of grace  (similar to a paladin in old D&D) is permanently blessed so could not contract lycanthropy of this type (or would be cured of it if they already had it upon entering a state of grace).

You could also have Lycanthropy replace the standard curse for priests of certain dark forest gods (I'd wager at a higher piety cost than the standard curse).

Option 2:  Its witchery most foul!

This one is somewhat straightforward.   A polymorph spell (into a wolf)  made permanent with a trigger spell that specifies "under the light of a full moon", two to toggle,  and maybe a regeneration spell that heals damage from non-silver and non-magical weapons mixed in with the initial casting.  You can bundle these and maybe a few others into a concoction of spells a witch may have that would lead to a bad day for who ever trampled her newly planted marigolds.  The solution would require a sage to figure out what spells are impacting you and someone with the ability to dispell magic to begin removing the spells in the right order (which may require getting the witches spell book).

Option 3: A magical experiment gone wrong

 In this case a werewolf is a mutant creature,  immune to mundane weapons (other than silver) and is a disease that turns its host into a shambling wolfman full of murderous rage.  This creature would have mutated to have rippling muscles and superior reflexes (20 strength and agility) and vicious slashing claws and a devastating bite.   When it bites and deals damage, it spreads lycanthropy as a magical enchantment. The victim takes 1d6 points of mutation a round until they transform permanently into a werewolf.   The window between to bite to transformation is the only time a cure can be applied (by dispelling the lycanthropy).    The act of biting does count as "Casting" the spell,  so if there is a ward specifically crafted against lycanthropy worn by the victim it may break the spread of the contagion (count the natural magic as having an occult score of 20).  The spell also breaks when the werewolf dies (it reverts).  The werewolf can only be harmed by silver and magical weapons.

A werewolf count be dissected (if kept alive) to learn the polymorph spell that turns someone into a werewolf  (when the wizard bites them)  and an armouring spell that is easy to cast and makes the caster immune to non-silver and non-magical damage,  while also taking stress each round as they are driven into a mad rage.   A dispel cast upon a living werewolf to void their immunity to silver would be easier to kill (and also could in theory be brought back to their normal mind with magical healing of stress).

Option 4: The one I find boring but I am sure someone not me could make interesting.

Just treat it in many ways like an elf with a natural shapeshifting spell that is vulnerable to silver instead of iron.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Neoclassical Geek Revival: The Fool Class

Despite a detour to talk about specific monsters and creatures,  I will get back to discussing some of the changes to NGR in the current edition.  The biggest change is the Fool class.

Previously in NGR there were 5 classes:   Warrior, Wizard, Rogue Priest, and Bard.  One of the attributes for characters was the Luck stat, which determined how many luck points per level you received (equivalent to a character's hit die in D&D).   Changing character class really meant getting to level 10 to get 1 more "pie piece" to gain more class abilities.

One of the goals of NGR was to have no dump stats and no way to accidentally build a useless character.   That happened,  but it did become apparent that while there was no dump stat,  Luck had become the most important stat.   Having a high luck stat was better than having a high stat in any other attribute.   Having a low luck score was worse than having a low score in any other attribute.

So that had to change.

There were 5 classes, which mean random class generation was harder to do.  So that had to change.

What class are non-adventurers?

Multi-classing was a pain, while I am not a fan of it,  a way to do it may as well be enabled.

So this brought into the play the Fool class.   This represents people who are either inherently lucky or people who shouldn't be on an adventure in the first place who seem to have a special place in the hearts of the fates and/or trickster deities.

Mechanically it means that rather than being the product of an attribute score (like strength or health),   your luck die and luck score are products of your class.   The more class pie pieces you put into fool the higher your luck die (similar to a Hit Die).  With 6 classes you could now roll a d6 to build your character.  If you had a concept of a character who wasn't really an adventurer (like a halfling suddenly given a magic ring)  you could just set them to be a fool (potentially of a took).

It also allowed multi-classing.  If wanted to be more deeply trained in adventuring arts you could find a teacher and trade in a class piece in fool with a class piece in whatever class you want to be better at.  If you have no more fool pieces to give (assuming you don't want to use elite training as a trait)  then you are really too established to learn more.  At a certain point you can't teach an old dog new tricks.

Given the importance of class pie pieces (and the smaller number) this seems to have fixed Luck being the Super Stat.