Saturday, December 10, 2016

Missing in Battersea: A Five-Node Mystery for Maze Rats

The kids have been settling into a steady diet of murderhoboism, so I wanted to get them investigating and interacting a bit more. I pulled a slightly undercooked adventure out of a collection of Five Room Dungeons, and reworked it as a Five Node Mystery.

The original adventure: The Nobleman's Daughter
Five Room Dungeon
Five Node Mysteries by the Alexandrian
The system: Maze Rats, 2nd Edition
Assisted by Adventuresmith for Android

I hadn't really paid much attention to Maze Rats as a game, until today. I was a little miffed that the 2nd Edition departed so much from its Into the Odd roots, and had bought the pdf just for the random tables. But it's a great little game, and I'll want to play it again. Perfect for a spontaneous Saturday afternoon.

Here's the resultant adventure:



In the seaside town of Battersea, the PCs have two different job offers: One from Lord Cazalet, whose daughter is missing, and one from the merchant Geraldo Luxurioso, whose ship has been stolen by pirates. A rival party is eavesdropping and will go to whichever job the PCs don’t choose.

The Rival Party
These guys will cause trouble whenever their investigations crosses paths with the PCs.

Jiles Relish. Filthy, grey hair. Snob, slacker. Wears a thick, old, smelly bearskin cloak.
HP: 4. Attack: +1. Armor: 7.
Hunting Bow, Etched Glaive (+1 dam). Pickaxe, pliers, beartrap.
Godwin Beetleman. Handsome, dark skinned. Gossip, sophist. Dressed in studded leather over goldenrod robes.
HP: 3. Attack +1. Armor: 8.
Spiked club, shield.
Ursula Calaver. Disfigured: 3 extra eyes arrayed on her forehead, one on the back of each hand. Suspicious, misanthropic, arrogant.
Dressed in bright red dress with a black cape.
HP: 5. Armor: 6.
Pet rat.
Spell: Blazing Nightmare: Turn pet rat into giant flaming rat (Health: 2d; successful attack may catch you on fire).
Elsbeth Erelong. Pierced, gaunt, refined, playful. Dressed in soft, grey, hooded cloak.
HP: 4. Armor: 6.
Knife, dart gun. Wire, acid.
Skill: Shadowjack.

Location 1: Castle Cazalet
Lady Calindy, the daughter of Lord Cazalet, has been kidnapped!
Clue 1: She went shopping at the Market, and hasn’t returned. This was a week ago.
Clue 2: In her room is a love letter from Peregrine, the son of Geraldo Luxurioso, a wealthy and well-respected merchant.
Clue 3: She was studying elementary magic at the Wizards Academy, and should be able to send a simple message back to her parents, unless something terrible has happened.
Clue 4: In her room: notes on the late hermit-wizard Porphyrius.

Location 2: Luxurioso’s Merchant Palace.
My ship, the Blue Monkey, has been stolen! Oh, also my son is missing.
Clue 1: Peregrine had a big atlas, creased to pages with maps of the Dragon Islands, and a letter of lease on a small, almost valueless island, Porphyrius’ Isle.
Clue 2: Peregrine failed his entrance to the Wizard’s Academy. He turned instead to sailing.
Clue 3: Peregrine works at his father’s stalls in the Market and was about to take over captaining one of his father’s merchant ships, The Blue Monkey.
Clue 4: A half-finished love poem to Lady Calindy. It is terrible.

Location 3: The Marketplace
Clue 1: The Blue Monkey was stolen! By pirates? No one has seen pirates in these parts since The King increased sea patrols, months ago.
Clue 2: Lady Calindy comes to the Market to buy very peculiar items—a bottle of widow’s tears, pickled newt’s eyes, firedrake toenail clippings—maybe spell ingredients? This time, she was buying special onyx ash and alabaster smoke (which are used for summoning).
Clue 3: She always spent a lot of time at the stalls of Geraldo Luxurioso, although she rarely bought from them.
Clue 4: Geraldo Luxurioso’s stalls are selling textiles from the Dragon Islands, which Peregrine brought back from his first merchant-voyage.
Clue 5: Geraldo often left the stall early and headed off towards the Wizard Academy—right about when the students would get out of classes in the early evening.

Location 4: The Wizard’s Academy
Conflict: Accidental Monster rampaging through Academy after summoning mishap.
Amberclaw. Armor 8. Health 3d. Lobster-shaped, made of translucent amber. At its center swirls what looks like blobs of black oil. The lobster’s mouth produces a froth of colorful bubbles. Each round, 1d10 bubbles float out and turn whatever they touch into amber. Save means only inanimate objects, like clothes, are turned. The amberclaw does not speak, but can understand tone of voice, and is susceptible to flattery.
Clue 1: Calindy was a powerful prodigy, who had quickly advanced to the highest level spell casting.
Clue 2: Summoning spells can easily go wrong, but you can undo them by subduing the monster and pouring iron salt over the summoning circle. Once it is used up on the amberclaw, an apprentice will be sent down to the Market to buy more.
Clue 3: Although Peregrine failed to enter the Academy, he was often seen lingering outside its doors, in the early evening.
Clue 4: Porphyrius was a master of summoning imps, and although he lived alone in the Dragon Isles, he was well cared for by dozens of imp servants.

Location 5: Porphyrius’ Cottage, The Dragon Islands
On a rocky, largely barren little isle about 5 miles from the main island. The only safe place to dock is a cove. Tucked into the cove is the Blue Monkey (and possible a second boat—belonging to the rival party). The only way out of the cove is a stone tunnel. Tunnel leads to barred door. An imp will demand to see an invitation. It is illiterate, impatient, and obstinate.

Past door are spiral stairs that go up cliff. The rival party may ambush, here.

At the top of the cliffs the PCs will find a little stone cottage. Here Peregrine and Lady Calindy have chosen to live in quiet exile, tended by imp servants.

If pressed to go home, Lady Calindy will attempt to summon an enforcer, but it will go wrong, and bring up too-dangerous a demon.

Demon Hruff the Thrasher. Three goat heads, six arms, 12’ tall. Breathes out blue flame (no damage, just spooky). Speak in strange syllables. Shadow shields float around it.
HP: 5d. Attack: +2. Armor: 9. Wields a flail or fire, a flail of ice, and a flail of shadow.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Playable Languages

Languages are a lot of fun for world-building, but fun-stoppers during play.

Sure, it would be great to haggle with the fungus apes, but dang, no one thought to take the Middle Plains Dialect of Sporetongue.

I’ve seen scenarios that were intentionally built around a group without a shared language that worked (Why are these mysterious mere-creatures beckoning us? Should we trust them?), but never one where checking the available languages on your character sheet and coming up short made the game better.

But you know what is fun? Trying to speak with weird limitations on what you can say.

Especially after a beer or two.

Besides, in a fantasy milieu, where weird species languages exist cheek-by-jowl, there's going to be all kinds of linguistic crossing. You don't need to be fluent in the language of the Balloon-Herders, you just need to share enough loan words with them to muddle through.



So: when you encounter a language for the first time during play, and the GM decrees that there is a chance you know it, roll against the relevant attribute (Intelligence, or Education, or what-have-you).

The degree to which you succeed or fail determines how well you can communicate. Rather than chart this out to specific die results, I’ll just provide a ladder for GM’s to apply as they see fit.

Degrees of Failure
• Critical Failure: Cannot communicate.
• 1 Adjective per communique.
• 2 Verbs.
• 3 Nouns.
• 1 Adjective + 1 Noun + 1 Verb.

Degrees of Success
• You can communicate freely, but don't know the language—you just established a pidgin-rapport with this individual.
• You speak this language. Record it on your sheet.
• You can read and write in this language.
• Critical Success: You are eloquent in this language.

OPTIONAL: Degree of Failure still determines how many words you can speak, but the type of word is determined by the cultural bias of the language. Elvish = Adjectives only. Gnomes = Nouns. Goblins = Verbs.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Rabeleis is my Dungeon Master

Over on the Unseen Servant, I'm running a new game:

We're using Chris McDowall's Into the Odd for Patrice 'Kabuki Kaiser' Crespy's Castle Gargantua.

It's early, yet, but so far it's been a lot of fun. The procedural generation of Castle Gargantua keeps everything low-prep, and Into the Odd is extremely good for play-by-post.



For flavor-enhancement, I'm keeping a copy of The Life of Gargantua and Pantagruel close at hand. This is a collection of late Renaissance novels by Fran├žois Rabelais. It's bawdy, violent, scatological, profane, and unrelentingly dismissive of every pretension that society has to offer, then or now. Right in line with the mindset of your average dungeon party.

So far, the party has conversed with a door that recited "Antidotal Jokes," viciously dispatched the first living thing they encountered, and poked their heads through a couple doors.

If you're curious about how any of these elements play out, feel free to pop over and check out our campaign forum. If you think you'd like to join, get in touch and I'll let you know when a good time to hop in rolls around.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Kickstarter: Operation Unfathomable

There is one week left in the Operation Unfathomable kickstarter!


Having had a chance to review a draft pdf that was provided to backers, let me say this: Operation Unfathomable lets you crawl into the random tables of Jason Sholtis' The Dungeon Dozen and live there. If you're familiar with The Dungeon Dozen, you surely don't need any more of a recommendation than that.

If you're not, the short pitch is that it's the sort of saturated gonzo science fantasy craziness that only makes sense in the context of D&D or prog-rock album covers. It is sumptuously weird and fun and very, very playable.

A longer pitch can be found in my review of The Dungeon Dozen book.

The longest pitch is going and reading the contents of the blog, which is probably the single most entertaining gaming resource on the net.


The one sour note is that the backing levels on the kickstarter aren't all that great. Some kickstarters have that sweet spot between feeling generous in your support and satisfied in your purchase. Others feel like a car lot where, just when you think you've arrived at the price, the salesman says "And do you want wheels on that? Any interest in seats?"

BUT. This is a great project, and you'll want to have it. I recommend the $25 pdf level.


Saturday, October 29, 2016

The Black Hack: Strange Powers

Here is a spell/powers list for David Black's The Black Hack, combining the level-less spell casting from Wonders & Wickedness and my own Boring Spells.



This list was developed for my Planetary Romance Hack, and therefore is missing some fantasy staples, like, say, anything to do with the undead. I bet you can figure something out, though.

What’s Missing: Powers per Level. I assume it will be based on Usage Dice, but I haven’t settled on the exact progression. There are several schemes for Spell Casting Usage Dice out there, and I’d suggest starting with one of those, and adjusting to taste.

Please let me know what you think and what improvements or adaptations could be made!

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Linneman's Alternate Magic

Jonathan Linneman, over on the Monstrous Matters blog, posted a really intriguing idea for a simplified magic system.

He proposes a sister mechanic to Hit Dice: Magic Dice. If you want to level up in spell casting instead of fighting, you get a Magic Die instead of a Hit Die. When casting a spell, roll a pool of 6-sided dice equal to your MD.

MD pool ≥ Spell Level x 5.

Success: Spell is cast. Remove one die from MD pool (minimum of 1).

Failure: Spell is not cast. Add one die to MD pool.

This looks great. I love the idea of taking the bookkeeping out of spell casting. I love mechanics that make failure functional. And this looks elegant. But will it actually work?

I went over to anydice and looked at the numbers. I ran the Spell Levels up to 6 and the MD Pools up to 12, because my brain defaults to B/X magic.

Spell Level
Target

MD Pool
Minimum Roll
Maximum Roll
1
5

1
1
6
2
10

2
2
12
3
15

3
3
18
4
20

4
4
24
5
25

5
5
30
6
30

6
6
36



7
7
42



8
8
48



9
9
54



10
10
60



11
11
66



12
12
72


MD Pool
Percent chance of succeeding per Spell Level
1
2
3
4
5
6
1
33





2
83
17




3
98
62
9



4
99
90
44
5


5
100
98
78
30
3

6
100
99
93
63
21
2
7
100
99+
99
86
50
14
8
100
99+
99+
96
76
38
9
100
99+
99+
99
91
65
10
100
100
99+
99+
97
84
11
100
100
99+
99+
99+
94
12
100
100
99+
99+
99+
98

Alright, so problems begin to creep up pretty early on. If you're replacing Vancian memorization with a chance of failure, you need a pretty good chance of failure. But Spell Level x 5 simply isn't steep enough a curve. Magicians quickly become unstoppable firehoses of magic.

But if you change the Target numbers like so:

Spell Level
Target




1
5




2
15



3
25




4
35




5
45




6
55










You get a success rate that is much more in keeping with the Old School progression:

MD Pool
Percent chance of succeeding per Spell Level
1
2
3
4
5
6
1
33





2
83





3
98
9




4
99+
44




5
100
78
3



6
100
94
21
<1


7
100
99
50
1


8
100
99+
76
9
<1

9
100
99+
91
28
<1

10
100
99+
97
53
4
<1
11
100
99+
99+
76
15
<1
12
100
99+
99+
90
34
2

You can fine tune the Target numbers to more closely follow the Oe/BX progression (something along the lines of 5, 12, 16, 20...), but I was drawn to the idea of a numerical sequence that could be easily memorized.

This mostly looks good to me. A 1MD wizard is going to miss a lot, but will be pretty decent with 1st Level spells once they advance to 2MD. 

A 3MD wizard is going to be a dab hand at 1st Level, but will need to fail at least once to have a decent shot at a 2nd Level spell.

It's not perfect, by any means. You'd have to be level 15 before you could reliably cast a sixth Level spell. Maybe drop the Target for 6th Level spells to 50? Breaks the pattern, but gives a 12th-Level caster a 1-in-10 chance of succeeding.

Also, the dynamics of adding and dropping dice based on failure and success probably has all sorts of implications that need to be play-tested. F'rinstance, what do you do when a player purposely fires off higher level spells in order to bank enough failures and build up their MD pool?

Possible solutions include limiting the number of dice you can carry forward, limit the duration, or instill a calamity/corruption risk to casting above your level.

Howsabout this? Succeed or fail, if your roll results in any 1s, you must roll below:

1d8 + # of 1s
Calamity
1-4
No effect.
5
Inconvenient side-effect. GM picks something about the spell effect to go wrong.
6
Addled. Lose 1d4 INT or WIS. for 1d6 Turns.
7
Exhausted. Lose 1d4 STR, DEX, or CON for 1d6 Hours.
8
Spell Forgotten. Will need to be relearned.
9
Temporary mutation. Lose 1d8 CHA for 1d6 Days. GM makes up your crazy new appearance.
10
Permanent mutation. Roll on some chart or another.
11+
Extra-planar intrusion. You summoned something troublesome.

There's a lot to work out, here, and I present this information in the hopes of continuing the conversation. This could be quite a pretty little system.