Monday, December 16, 2013

Horses, Dogs, and Falcons

Inspired by Tower of the Archmage's post on dog breeds, and designed to run with my basic system for combat and overland movement. I wanted to set up a system for animal ownership that reflected the same ideas of simplified accuracy, and gave each animal breed a bit of personality.


A variety of domesticated animals are available to assist the intrepid adventurer, merchant, or soldier. Mainstays are equines, dogs, and falcons. Animal prices are expressed in silvers per HP – healthier and tougher animals, of course, being worth more. Most animals consume animal rations, which weigh 1 stone and cost 1 silver piece, but dogs and falcons can both eat human iron rations.
All animals gain a +2 morale bonus when their master is present. A new master must be designated by spending a full month with the animal. Additionally, animals have their own reaction rolls toward NPCs, and must pass a Morale check to avoid attacking or fleeing on a 2, or in order to attack on a 12. They gain XP as normal and level up with the noted effects. Leveling also doubles their value. Animals must pass a Morale check to do anything other than fight or move with their master, with a -1 penalty applied for each word after the first.
Animal base saves are all 16 by default, though their base Might save increases by 1 for every 10 hit points they have. They cannot normally improve their saves.
Most animals have marching speeds equal to humans, but begin Forced Marches on their second march, rather than their third. Horses have marching speeds of 24/18/8 miles per Watch. Animals can be pastured for a full Watch, which in favorable environments fills 1/3 of their upkeep needs.

Horses are usually sold at 4 years, and begin aging at 20 years, penalized every two years. Mules and donkeys begin aging at 30 years, penalized every three years. Failed saves reduce HP by 2, encumbrance by 1, and running/sprinting speed by 2’. Horses can jump 4’ obstacles with a Will save, -1 per 6” of extra height. Failure means a 50/50 chance of shying away (with the rider passing a STR check or falling off) or crashing into the obstacle, inflicting 1d10 damage on both horse and rider. 
Phlegmatic, thickset horses for plowing or milling.

Price (per HP): 20sp
HP: 5d6
Encumbrance: 8/16/32 stone
Attack: 1@1d8
Defense: 8, Large Size
Morale: 6
March Speed: 4/8/12
Run Speed: 60’
Special: -
Upkeep: 3 animal rations, 15 water rations
A basic light riding horse or warhorse.

Price (per HP): 20sp
HP: 5d6
Encumbrance: 7/13/26 stone
Attack: 1@1d8
Defense: 10, Large Size
Morale: 7
March Speed: 8/16/24
Run Speed: 70’
Special: -
Upkeep: 2 animal rations, 15 water rations
Comfortable, easy-to-control riding horses.

Price (per HP): 20sp
HP: 5d6
Encumbrance: 7/13/26 stone
Attack: 1@1d6
Defense: 8, Large Size
Morale: 4
March Speed: 7/13/26
Run Speed: 60’
Special: All mastering & training only takes 1 month
Upkeep: 2 animal rations, 15 water rations
Fast cavalry horses, the most common type in war.

Price (per HP): 30sp
HP: 5d6
Encumbrance: 8/16/32 stone
Attack: 1@1d10
Defense: 14, Large Size
Morale: 8
March Speed: 8/16/24
Run Speed: 70’
Special: -
Upkeep: 3 animal rations, 20 water rations
A small, quick desert horse, with low upkeep.

Price (per HP): 30sp
HP: 5d6
Encumbrance: 7/13/26 stone
Attack: 1@1d6
Defense: 14, Large Size
Morale: 8
March Speed: 8/16/32
Run Speed: 80’
Special: -
Upkeep: 2 animal rations, 12 water rations
Heavy, highly prized battle horses.

Price (per HP): 90sp
HP: 6d6
Encumbrance: 8/16/32 stone
Attack: 1@1d10, 1@1d6
Defense: 14, Large Size
Morale: 8
March Speed: 4/8/12
Run Speed: 70’
Special: -
Upkeep: 3 animal rations, 20 water rations
A mix between a horse and a donkey.

Price (per HP): 15sp
HP: 4d6
Encumbrance: 8/15/30 stone
Attack: 1@1d6
Defense: 10, Large Size
Morale: 7
March Speed: 4/8/12
Run Speed: 60’
Upkeep: 1 animal ration, 12 water rations
Light, clever pack animals.

Price (per HP): 10sp
HP: 4d6
Encumbrance: 4/8/16 stone
Attack: 1@1d6
Defense: D10
Morale: 5
March Speed: 4/8/12
Run Speed: 70’
Upkeep: ½ animal ration, 8 water rations


Birds are sold at 2 years, and begin aging at 10 years. Failed saves reduce HP and Attack Bonus by 1. Birds fly and soar instead of sprinting and running, respectively, and must fly before soaring. They all have encumbrance of 1. Leveled birds increase their defenses and attack bonus by 1, and their fly speed by 4’.

Price (per HP): 10sp
HP: 1d6
Attack: 1@1d6
Defense: D15, Ranged 18
Morale: 6
Fly Speed: 150’
Upkeep: 1 meat ration, 1 water ration
Special: +4 attack bonus while diving
Price (per HP): 10sp
HP: 1d4
Attack: 1@1d4
Defense: D15, Ranged 22
Morale: 6
Fly Speed: 150’
Upkeep: -
Special: Small size, +2 Will & Wile saves
Dogs Run and Sprint at 50’ rather than 40’, and have Swimming at 30’.  All have upkeep of 1 meat and 1 water ration, and encumbrance of 3 stone (though objects weigh triple for them). Dogs with 2d6 HP weigh 8 stone, and with 2d4 HP, 4 stone. Dogs are usually purchased at 2 years old, and must begin making Will saves against the effects of aging at 10 years, penalized each passing year. Failed saves reduce HP by 1, and running/sprinting speed by 2’.

Mastiffs, Rottweilers, Dobermans, German Shepards, & Bulldogs.
Big, strong, relatively intelligent.

Price (per HP): 4sp
HP: 2d6
Attack: 1@1d8, +1 bonus
Defense: 12
Morale: 7
Special: +1 encumbrance
Leveling: +1 HP, Might, AB, & Melee Defense

Collies, Shepards, even Corgis and Dalmatians. Smaller, faster, smarter. Independent.

Price (per HP): 3sp
HP: 2d4
Attack: 1@1d6
Defense: 12, Missile 13
Morale: 7
Special: Wile save vs. Surprise
Leveling: +1 HP, Run speed, Wile

Setters, pointers, retrievers, even early poodles. Loyal, energetic, but disciplined.

Price (per HP): 4sp
HP: 2d4
Attack: 1@1d6
Defense: 13
Morale: 7
Special: Swimming 60’
Leveling: +30’ Swimming, +1 HP, Morale

Hunting and tracking dog, for flushing out game. Best sense of smell.

Price (per HP): 4sp
HP: 2d6
Attack: 1@1d6
Defense: 12
Morale: 7
Special: Examination, per the skill
Leveling: +1 HP, AB, Examination

Includes Whippets and other racing/sight hunting dogs.

Price (per HP): 5sp
HP: 2d6
Attack: 1@1d6
Defense: 13
Morale: 7
Special: Run/Sprint 60’
Leveling: +1 HP, AB, & +2’ Run Speed

Small but stubborn. Vermin hunters.

Price (per HP): 3sp
HP: 2d4
Attack: 1@1d6
Defense: 12, Missile 13, Light Armor
Morale: 7
Leveling: +1 HP, Melee Defense, Attack Bonus

Luxury, toy dogs for rich people.

Price (per HP): 5gp
HP: 1d4
Attack: 1@1
Defense: 12
Morale: 7
Special: Very fancy, weigh 1 stone
Leveling: +1 HP & triple value

Monday, December 2, 2013

Augmenting Age

Character age is at once an actually pretty important attribute and also one that gets pretty half-assed. Who doesn't usually glance at the field and pick a random number between twenty and thirty? 

Obviously, nobody thinks about the choice because the choice isn't made to matter very much, except in the extreme long-term of avoiding the aging penalties you receive at 50. For this reason, there's no mechanical sense in choosing any age other than the minimum the GM lets you get away with. But I don't think it's worth figuring out some sort of life events table that scales with your age and you have to make an excel spreadsheet just to calculate.

So, money. How about one extra copper at character generation for each of your first twenty years? And, one silver piece for each year after, till you're 50, then you get 1 GP per year. Age becomes a little bit of a Faustian bargain - more immediate power right now, during character generation, in return for bringing dementia and incontinence just a little bit closer. 

Is it balanced? Using my 1:10:40 GP:SP:CP standard, a 55 year old character would effectively get 85+3d6x10 silvers at character generation. Probably not enough to balance out the chance of losing five points of attributes. But maybe enough to merit some thought about it.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Calibrating This Shit

As Charles Taylor says, realism in the game provides a vital frame of reference for the player to be able to predict the effects of their actions, and, more importantly, put the unrealistic elements in their proper context. I'd rather have a few rules, tightly webbed and absolutely realistic, than a whole lot of quasi-fantastical and independent systems.
Finally, I have an hour and a half commute every morning, so I have little else to do but sit on the bus and consider the internal consistency of my system. So I calibrate shit.


Let's start with walking. In a combat round of six seconds, the average character can take four actions. Walking 5 feet is one action. Walking is, of course, something every player will be familiar with, so it had better work the way we expect it to.

So, you'll walk 20' in six seconds, or 200' per minute. This gets you to 5,280', a full mile, in 26.4 minutes - or about 2.3 miles per hour. This is a tad on the slow end - average human walking speed is 3 mph - but it comports with marching speed, which is a bit over 2 miles per hour over varied terrain. It's a nice, leisurely stroll - or an aware, steady advance. Realistic.

My marching speeds for unencumbered/encumbered/overencumbered people are currently 4/2/1 miles per hour, respectively - putting combat walking in the "encumbered" category. To be fair, 2 miles per hour versus 2.3 miles per hour adds up to a loss of about two and a half miles over the course of a day - but cross-country marching isn't a completely continuous slog. Internally consistent.

Running and Sprinting

Time to take it up a notch. The average human can run at 5-8 miles per hour, and sprint at around twelve to fourteen. Originally, I had running take 1d4 actions for 25' of movement, but that put "running" speed at a measly 4.5 miles per hour. I'll have to balance running speeds (1d4 actions), sprinting speeds (2d4 take lowest), and top speed (which is when every roll comes up 1).

Before we begin, I'd like to mention the rationale for a roll-to-sprint system: The uncertainty it introduces really allows me to run chases and pursuits using the combat system, pretty much unchanged, and I think it does a good job of reflecting the importance of reflexes, momentum, balance, and footing in short-distance running.

The average "run" will use up 2.5 actions, which allows for 16 runs per minute. At 40' per run, we get 640' run per minute, netting you a mile in eight minutes, fifteen seconds. This gets you 7.27 miles per hour - close to the upper average! Ideally I'd want it a bit closer to the 6 MPH mark, but it's not really a big deal.

The average of 2d4, take lowest, is 1.875 (about a 25% action cost reduction). That's 21 and 1/3 "sprints" per minute, or a 33% speed increase, for 9.7 MPH. Admittedly, this isn't a huge leap ahead of running speed, but you'll be getting top speed 80% of the time, rather than 25% of the time, which is a big advantage over short distances - exactly the balance I'd want to have.

Top speed means that you get four moves of 40', or 160' a round, 1600' per minute. That's a 3.3 minute mile! You're running at 18 miles an hour, mate. Of course, to run even a third of a mile at top speed, you'll need to roll 1 on 1d4 at least 40 times. The percentage chance of that happening on a normal run has twenty-five zeroes in it. Even while sprinting, with an 80% chance of reaching top speed each sprint, you only have a 0.0001% of getting any significant distance out of it. Which, of course, is how it should be.

The Fast Runner

You get bonus actions based on your Dexterity modifier in my system, which means a maximum of 7 actions per Round, or 75% faster movement. I'm not so concerned about the effects that a negative DEX modifier will have - crippled characters are going to be crippled, after all - but obviously we don't want a few extra points of DEX turning your character into some kind of freakish superhuman.

Which, luckily, it doesn't seem to. Walking speed, with 7 actions, is 4.03 MPH. Running speed is 12.7 MPH. Sprinting is 16.7 MPH. Pretty much all of this is in line with what I'd expect. Walking speed does tend to imply a significantly faster marching speed, but remember that long-distance marching is more an issue of endurance than speed,

Finally, the Fast Runner's top speed clocks at 31.5 MPH - faster than Usain Bolt, though not by much. This is actually a lot less realistic - modern sprinters have access to technology and training techniques that allow them to greatly increase fast-twitch muscle mass, and can thus attain significantly faster speeds than any pre-industrial sprinter. Of course, I'd rather err on the side of letting lucky player characters outstrip Usain Bolt for a few rounds, so I'll accept this quirk of the system.


I account for fatigue and exhaustion by folding it into an encumbrance-by-stone system. Both fatigue and exhaustion are treated as a "phantom" stone of carried weight, which you can only rid yourself of by resting for a Turn or sleeping for two hours, respectively. Regular encumbrance is at 5 stones, with the max at 10 stones.

Walking (and even running) have no associated endurance or fatigue penalties, since I want each to be as simple and straightforward as possible. Over long distances, each fits easily into normal march rules, and long-distance running is easily accounted for as forced marching, which I handle by allowing the players to move into a faster march speed level than their encumbrance would normally allow, by quadrupling the rate of exhaustion.

I require sprinters to pass a STR check every sprint, or else lose any defensive bonuses and get reduced to AC6. Fumbling is possible (1 in 20 chance normally, goes up to 4 in 20 when overencumbered), which in my system usually just adds a stone of fatigue. The character can expect 21.33 sprints per minute, and 6 minutes, 11.25 seconds per mile, gaining 1.07 stones of fatigue each minute.

However, by the end of the third minute, she'll have 3 stones of fatigue and will move from "unencumbered" to "encumbered," fumbling 2 out of 10 times. (From here on out I'm going to let my precision slide a bit.) During the fourth minute of sprinting, she'll gain two stones of fatigue, making her "overencumbered" for the fifth minute. At the end of the fifth minute, she'll have gained four more stones of fatigue (fumbling 4 in 20 times!) putting her at 9 stones. This means that, fifteen seconds into the final stretch, she'll need to roll Might saves every Round to even continue sprinting - otherwise she'll be forced to the ground, resting for at least an hour and a half in order to return to zero fatigue, never having even reached the mile mark.

Someone with 18 CON (which puts base encumbrance to 8 stone) would be able to do it - she could sprint for four minutes before becoming encumbered, and would only gain her eighth stone in the sixth minute - finishing the mile on time. with enough wind for two more minutes of continuous sprinting.

I don't know that this is absolutely realistic, but there's definitely a reason why sprint races cap off at 400 meters! Anyway, a good long-distance sprint in this system would be a half-mile in about three minutes, which would require a half hour of resting to get back to tip-top shape. That sounds good enough for me.

Running a Marathon

Marathons are 26 miles, and the world records are all a few minutes under two hours - which comports with the Fast Runner's running speed of 12.7 MPH. Of course, these are extraordinary cases - marathons are better handled with marching speeds.

Most competent marathon runners aim to run a four-hour marathon, and 2% of them breach three hours. Unencumbered marching speed is 4 MPH, which is a six-and-a-half hour marathon - clearly, we have to kick it up a notch. A 6 MPH forced march - at 1 stone of exhaustion per hour - gets you across the finish line in 4 hours, 20 minutes, and an 8 MPH double-time (1 stone per turn) will be 3 hours, 15 minutes, at 7 stones. Good enough - it provides enough of a baseline to estimate exhaustion and times if someone wants to actually race in a marathon, it's easy to remember (+2 MPH when forced-marching), and it's consistent, with 6 MPH being just under running speed and 8 MPH just over.

You can fumble in combat! Surprise surprise! You'll be rolling 10 attacks per minute, with a 1 in 20 chance of fumbling - giving you a stone of fatigue every two minutes. At six minutes, on average, you'll cross into "encumbered" territory, averaging one new stone per minute. At eight minutes, you'll be "overencumbered" and gain, on average, a stone of fatigue every 30 seconds. You'll start to collapse from exhaustion after 10 minutes, 30 seconds of continuous fighting - 105 rounds. Not having done fencing or medieval reenactment (only paintball), I couldn't tell you exactly how accurate it is, but it's on a similar scale to sprinting, and is easy to remember, and easily accommodates the effects of excess weight on your combat endurance. The idea that, after six minutes of continuous fighting, you're really starting to push your limits makes intuitive sense to me.

Sneaking is the skill used to move without drawing attention to yourself, and I record it in feet per minute - this being how fast you can move before making a ruckus. As a Level 1 Trickster, you get 20' per minute, going up by 20' each time you level up and decide to improve Sneaking.
20' per minute is two feet per round, or four inches per Action - the slowest flat crawl. (Although, since it's notated as a per-minute speed, it also accounts for quick dashes between cover). By Level 10, however, said Trickster can Sneak at 200' per minute, which means their normal walking is completely silent. And at level 20, she'll Sneak at 400' per minute, or about 4.6 MPH - a brisk jog!

Since you can double-time with a DEX check, you can effectively attempt to Sneak at normal speed by level 5, while a 20th-level Trickster can basically Sprint silently, with up to 800' per minute/9.2 MPH Sneaking, which is obviously pretty fantastical. This meshes perfectly with my intended level scaling, where 10th level is intended to comport with the best that heroes could have accomplished in the real world, and all the levels beyond that representing states of increasing mystical perfection. Since double-timing a skill like this adds 1d4 guaranteed stones of fatigue, it remains a poor substitute for normal sprinting when simply looking at speed.

Base swim speed is 30' per minute, or 3' per round, increasing in those same increments. This starts you at about 0.3 MPH, whereas the fastest swimmers can reach 5-6 MPH - which, of course, comports exactly with the swim skill in my system. A 10th level Trickster fully trained in Swimming moves at 3 MPH in the water, and at 20th level she'll reach 6 MPH.

Sprinting, of course, doubles these speeds - a 10th level swimmer can sprint at similar speeds to Michael Phelps, while the 20th level will actually be a bit faster in the water than she is on land.

I'm the least familiar with climbing techniques, so I'll use some speed climbing records as a reference point. The 2007 record (since broken) on El Capitan, a 2900 foot climb, took about 165 minutes - about 17 feet per minute on average, though the climbers were reported to do most of the climb at 20 feet per minute. Half Dome, at 2,000 feet, has been done in 82 minutes - nearly 25 feet per minute. However, the tree climbing world record is about 50' in 13.65 seconds, or a bit over 250' per minute, and the Climb skill is intended to cover both of those bases.

Of course, tree climbs are clearly sprints, moving at double time, while thousand-foot plus climbs include numerous rest breaks. We can bridge much of the gap by working backwards from my system's "skill sprint" mechanic - cutting a 250' per minute sprint in half to get a "normalized" climb speed of 125' per minute. As for the rock climbing records, we can probably assign CON scores of 18 to the climbers, which gives them the ability to simply 'take' 4 stone of fatigue before things start getting dangerous. Climbing adds 1 stone per minute, and resting removes 1 every 10 minutes. So for every 4 minutes of continuous climbing, you'd need 40 minutes of continuous resting to return to zero.

Let's apply this to the El Capitan climb. 4 minutes 'on,' then 40 off, is 44 minutes. The second stretch puts us at 88 minutes total, 8 minutes active climbing. Third, 12 minutes climbing and 132 total. A half-stretch, 14 minutes climbing and 154 total, and a quarter stretch gives us 165 total minutes, with 15 minutes of continuous climbing, at 193' per minute. As this is a world record climb, we can assume a fair amount of sprinting, as well as simply accepting extra weight, and modern climbing technology to boot. I'll call it a normal climbing speed of 100' per minute, at Level 10 - or 10' per minute, at level 1.

The "catching" mechanic (you get a chance to catch yourself while falling every 10' up to your Climbing skill distance) is definitely less realistic, as even an experienced professional climber would not be able to simply "catch a ledge" after a 50 foot fall, but it does keep things interesting and allow for additional granularity when failing to climb something.

Since I use an action-point system, I realize I have a level of granularity below most people's systems. However, most of this translates well, I think - see this summary of my per-Round movement speeds:
Walking: 20'
Running: 64' (or just simplify to 60')
Sprinting: 85'
Top Speed: 160'
Climbing: 1' per level
Sneaking: 2' per level
Swimming: 3' per level

Friday, November 15, 2013

Addictions of the Flame Princess

I really like LotFP's presentation of diseases, as it provides a simple statblock that easily differentiates between diseases, but makes it easy to handle them on the fly. Since drugs tend to be extraordinarily popular among my players (for some reason they are considerably less excited by diseases) I decided to try to apply the same approach for drugs. (EDIT: I just remembered that I got the threefold addiction model from Telecanter's Receding Rules. That blog's awesome.) I universalized the rules for dependency and withdrawal, which admittedly makes some drugs considerably more dangerous than their real-life models, but that's why you Just Say No.

The saves are specific to my homebrew - Might maps to Fortitude, or to Poison, while Will maps to Paralyzation.

Drugs are basically poisons with enough positive effects that some people want to ingest them. Like poisons, drugs take 2d6 rounds, modified by CON, to take effect. Drugs have two effects: Dose and Overdose. Dose effects are cumulative – but each time you take an extra Dose, you have to throw a Might save or suffer an Overdose. Dose effects last for the listed Duration, but Overdose effects are permanent. Recovery is how long you must abstain from the drug in order to try and quit it – at the end of each recovery period, you may reduce your addiction level by passing a Will save.
Additionally, each time you take a drug, you must pass a Might save or start becoming addicted to the drug, The first failure makes you Habituated, forcing you to take that drug once a week or suffer withdrawal. The second failure is Addiction, and you have to take the drug once a day. The third failure is Dependency, where withdrawal kicks in an hour after the drug wears off - though on the plus side, you can’t get any worse.
During withdrawal, you require double the normal amount of food and water, and must sleep 12 hours per night. If Addicted or Dependent, you also wake up each morning with a random ability score reduced – by -1 if Addicted, by half if Dependent. Also, since drugs are BAD, no drug-related Might saves can increase your Might score.

Duration: 1 hour
Dose: +½ CHA & CON, -½  DEX
Overdose: Lose memory, -1 WIS & CON
Recovery: 2 months
Duration: 2 hours
Dose: +½ WIS, -½ Wile
Overdose: -1 INT, -1 CHA
Recovery: 1 month
OPIUM (15)
Duration: 2 hours
Dose: +1d6 HP, 1 stone exhaustion
Overdose: Suffocation
Recovery: 2 months
Duration: 6 hours
Dose: Hallucinations, +1 INT
Overdose: -1 Might & Will
Recovery: 1 week
SOMA (7)
Duration: 1 day
Dose: +1 DEX, - ½ CHA
Overdose: double water needs
Recovery: 2 weeks
KHAT (2)
Duration: 2 hours
Dose: +1 CHA, constipation
Overdose: -1 CON, diminished sex drive
Recovery: 1 week

Other drugs may be discovered in the game world or can be modeled as combinations of the above – for example, Bhang (15) is soma and pipeweed, Mezcal (30) is alcohol and peyote, and Absinthe (10) is alcohol and pipeweed.

The parenthetical to the right of each drug’s name is its cost in coins. Spending each type of coin obtains different quality drugs – ‘vanilla,’ average quality versions are priced in silvers, and high-purity drugs must be bought with gold, while spending coppers will net you ‘street-grade’ versions. High-purity versions apply a +2 bonus to save vs. overdose, but a -2 penalty when saving vs. addiction. Street-grade drugs aren’t always what they’re claimed to be – roll on the following table.

Street Drugs (1d6)
Snake oil – it’s worthless!
What did they put in this thing? Might save vs. immediate overdose!
Recycled – drug works fine, but its infected with a random disease (ignore if alcoholic)
Something similar – acts as normal, but doesn’t count as a dose for addiction or withdrawal
Not quite right – hung over with -1 to a random ability score
The real deal! No ill effects.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Veil, a Cubic Dystopia

Once upon a time, there were many deities.

All were equal, though some, of course, were more equal than others. As with any power structure, the weak soon aligned with the strong, or with each other, creating alliances and pantheons in competition for the souls and riches of the world below. They warred.


Eventually, when the sky was filled with fire and smoke, the land smashed and broken, and the seas choked with holy power, the war met its end. Few mortal creatures survived, and those that did were irrevocably scarred with the terror and pain of generations of divine battle. It was plain to see that the world was in its death throes, and such constant hostilities might soon cause even gods to perish. Without an end to the war, there would be nothing but blood, and dust, and Void.

So the gods convened. A truce was formed, and the task of rebuilding the world begun. The gods called into existence a great Veil, one that no sight nor sense could pierce. The Veil concealed all knowledge of each god's ultimate whereabouts in the new world, hiding from them nothing except their own ultimate place in the world's foundation. With the Veil in place, there could be no hierarchy, no intrigue, no sabotage - every god, save the insane ones, would naturally desire a world where none among them would risk annihilation, or deprivation, or injustice.

So, in the final phases of the world's construction, they decided to merge. There would be but one God, they said, intrinsic to the structure of this new existence, and there would be no rivalries, no contention, nothing but an eternal Peace. And as the dissenters felt their powers drawn inexorably into this thing, this singularity of energy, they broke the agreement.

There was a pop, and a tear, and the Veil tore, and the new earth wrapped itself around the old, and all the old idols crumbled with the shock of rebirth. Dissenters, malformed and shrunken, fled to deep and hidden places. A new Humanity rose up and began slaughtering all the creatures from Before. And there God stood, and saw it was good, and said, "Ashes to ashes, dust to dust."

The new Deity could be called the Primarch, they decided. He - she - it - had dominion over all the beasts of the land and air, the strange creatures of river and sea, and the weather, and the rocks, and everything between and beyond. It could be prayed to, but would not respond except in whispers, or subtle signs. And it wished nothing more than the killing of those "traitors," hidden everywhere in Veil. These demons, it said, were weak and atrophied, wanting nothing more than the plunging of the world into brutal Chaos, or to enslave it a grip of iron, or imprison it in soulless Order.

It was nothing if not vague.

As the Faith spread, adopting nonhumans and barbarians under its wing, it changed, then flexed, then split entirely. Now there are three Faiths, each with their own great city, and client kingdoms, and millions of worshippers.

The Western Faith believes that the forces of evil will bide their time, gathering strength and plotting a single, crippling blow against all holy order in a coming Armageddon. In the fires of the Last War and among the tsunamis of gore will be born an Anti-God, an avatar of nihilism, and the cosmos will return to the hell that was Before. So followers of this Faith hone their blades, building tall fortresses of stone and faith, stockpiling food and gold, all to serve as bulwarks against the Reckoning.

The Eastern Faith instead wishes to fight fire with fire, and use the tools of the Enemy against it. Their great Prophet, Aloysius the Tall, was even an accomplished diabolist, who habitually summed great Terrors only to bind and destroy them, so as to always be practiced at the art. Eastern priests are well-known evangelists, everywhere using the power of negotiation and commerce to bring new lands into the fold. Many Eastern holy sites are built atop known ruins of the old order.

The Southern Faith is composed of the Primarch's Chosen, every one of them, in the flesh. People of other faiths are, of course, welcome to their doubts, and welcome also to live and work in southern lands. Of course, they are obviously unqualified to hold office, or lead armies, or cross any borders or travel long distances.  Southerners believe that their souls, Chosen as they are, can never leave the world - usually, they are recycled as newborns in families of loyal Chosen, but sometimes they appear far afield, in foreign lands known not to the men of Faith.

There are, of course, a few things all three Faiths agree upon:
That there is but one true God.
That It has a Plan.
That It hates the traitor Demons.
That those Demons have many tricks and many disguises.
And They could well appear to be Prophets of the Faith.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Gravity, and Disaster Gameplay

Gravity is, in the words of Zak S, good and shit. It's an amazing disaster movie, that squeezes everything out of its setting. The dangers are so confoundingly simple, (the principles of momentum, and the clockwork orbits of the debris field, for example) and so much more dangerous because of it. Alfonso Cuaron's signature long takes (probably eased by the fact that 90% of the film is insanely photorealistic CGI) draw you directly into the action. The subtext is also hauntingly profound - the characters are utterly powerless, despite commanding what is arguably mankind's most powerful tools, and the images of disintegrating space hardware, and a drifting, derelict Space Shuttle were especially evocative. And it was excellent to see a female lead who really succeeds on her own terms. Also, everything from here on out will be SPOILERS if you haven't seen the film.

So of course we want to figure out how to put this stuff in the game.

Obviously not directly (though I do sometimes run Eclipse Phase) but thematically. Disasters, and the struggle to survive them, crops up a ton in fiction, and can be just as exciting (or more, in Gravity's case) than combat. Arguably, some forms of combat (like battling a titan) have more in common with surviving a disaster than swinging a sword. Of more immediate interest, to me, is the possibility of inflicting monsoons and tsunamis on hapless river travelers in Qelong.

So what do we do?

Surviving a disaster, as opposed to just weathering it, is a complex process dependent on both physical and intellectual skills, as well as the more esoteric quality of grit. Disasters are differentiated from simply difficult conditions by the fact that they represent an existential threat to the character, rather than simply some difficulty or penalty. In this way, they are like combat - if nothing is done, the ork will kill you, just like that oncoming avalanche will.

Luckily, ability scores already suggest a system for handling disaster. Wisdom and Intelligence speak to a character's ability to accurately perceive a situation, and plan or improvise from there, respectively. Strength and Dexterity speak to a character's capacity for manipulating objects. Constitution represents the physical endurance needed to withstand trauma. I have always interpreted Charisma to be much more about self-control and emotional intentionality than physical beauty, and under this interpretation is easily read as a character's mental endurance.

The basic mechanic would be "endurance" style checks, which isn't my idea, but rather something I picked up from somewhere I can't remember along the blogosphere. The idea is, each round that your character faces a hazard, you roll 1d6. You do that the next round, too, if you're still facing the hazard, adding it to the total of all the previous rounds, and so on and so forth. So if I have STR 10, and I'm holding up a portcullis from closing, I can do that for as long as my total is under 10 - and if I roll a 1, a 6, and a 4, I drop it at the end of the third round.

Much hay can also be made of the amount you end up exceeding your ability score by (though, not every roll requires this). The third roll in that example put the total 1 higher than my STR score - so that could mean, either 1 HP of damage as the portcullis slams down on me, or perhaps 1 round of being stunned for the same reason. Reset the counter whenever this happens.

The "endurance" mechanic is really well suited to disaster gameplay because it emphasizes the idea that a disaster is about managing hazards, rather than avoiding them - your characters WILL take damage or lose other things, and it's just a question of how much they lose.

So, using a Gravity example, Dr. Stone has to roll a d6 every round she's clambering outside of a space station, and once the total exceeds her STR score, she has to rest for a number of rounds equal to the difference. Every time she navigates between orbital points, she rolls a d6 - once that total exceeds her INT, she's spent too much time calculating, or she's moved too slowly, and now the debris field hits. Running out of oxygen? Dr. Stone can stave off panic as long as her endurance total is below her CHA. Once she's out of luck there, she starts a new endurance track, this time rolling against CON - and once she exceeds it, she passes out for a number of rounds equal to the difference.

For a more D&D-style example, we can use a party sailing along the Qelong river during a storm. The steersman will navigate into a rock or other minor obstacle each time he fails an endurance roll against WIS - and the difference counts as damage to the ship. The fighter can keep bailing water until she fails an endurance roll vs STR, and then must rest out the difference. The thief can lash down loose cargo until she runs out of DEX - and each failure means something else has been swept into the waters.. And each time a deckhand goes overboard, everyone adds to their CHA counter - failure means you're paralyzed by grief or despair. The system is pretty versatile - maybe you're channeling magic to close an alien demon gate, which requires rolls against WIS - and each time you fail, something breaks free and the rest of the party has to go deal with it.

Basically, the party survives for as long as they can manage the little losses that are bound to happen. Plan poorly, and these small failures add up and eventually the party is left without the tools and strength to face down the next challenge - plan well, and emerge scarred but unbowed.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Resource Management and Aakom Poisoning

The most complicated part of Qelong - as many have pointed out - is the system for handling aakom poisoning. The system handles poisoning in 1-2 point increments, but the symptomatic doses will be in the dozens, and differ for each character. This means that, until characters start reaching symptomatic thresholds, there will be be a lot of slow, detailed record-keeping, without tangible effects.

The point of this design choice is, of course, to evoke a feeling of Qelong's hostility - a slow corruption of the characters' bodies that might take a while to build up, but nevertheless inexorably forces them out of the province. Aakom will affect the player characters in basically the same way that it has affected the setting - nothing apparent at first, but with catastrophic effects and no way to easily recover. It forces the players to really integrate themselves into their environment, and experience the war and devastation as inmates, and not tourists. It turns Qelong into a negadungeon. For these reasons, it's taken me a while to figure out the best way to simplify the aakom poisoning rules, because their complexity is so important to their purpose in the module.

Part of the solution is in slightly realigning the module's structure. Qelong assumes a seasoned party, having had some adventures under its belt, traveling across the world and arriving here. The players will have established their own baseline, and they are strong and tough enough to weather the River's hardships for a week or two and come out unscathed. Of course, aakom should have started making things go awry by that point, and then the module sinks in its teeth. But even then, a way out is consistently within reach - just a plundered stupa, or a cardamom caravan, or a midnight raid on Sajra Amvoel away.

I'm going to run Qelong for a first-level party, and that means a lot of those assumptions won't be true. There's much less gear, magic, and hit points for the players to fall back on, making it commensurately more difficult for them to pull off a big treasure load to pay for a ticket home, or for a well-executed plan to actually allow them to capture the lich-garuda and fly to safety. There isn't technically even a home to return to, or at least a "home" that the players have tangibly experienced. Qelong's primary objective becomes survival, not escape and profit. And in a survival story, the main antagonist is resource management.

In the module, aakom poisoning is inflicted in these five ways: breathing air, eating food, drinking water, and taking damage. The last one is even more granular - there are four different ways of taking damage that lead to varying levels of aakom poisoning. Fighting the Naga faction is the most dangerous - every wound they inflict causes an equal amount of aakom contamination.

Most of these are easily conceived of as effects on resource management. Breathing air makes time spent in Qelong its own resource. Consuming food and water do this as well, though there are some ways to mitigate this. The damage effects are an additional cost to the existing resource trade-offs that occur in combat. Since a 1st-level party can be expected to be spending a lot of time in Qelong already, and mundane damage and disease are inherently more significant costs to the characters, I'd change the poisoning conditions to this:

  • 1 point per water ration consumed (as normal) and 3 in 6 chance per food ration consumed, ignored for mountaintop springs or alpine plants
  • Points equal to damage from Naga faction
  • Snake poison adds 1d4 aakom for three rounds, rather than inflicting 1d4 HP damage
Now, time (measured by meals consumed) is a trade-off. The party can either move freely, at the cost of  aakom from the natural environment, or it can stay put in a mountain hex, avoiding aakom accumulation but not taking any actions. Since I'm running the four factions as active and dynamic groups, "staying put" can incur significant costs on Qelong's power situation. Survival in Qelong is thus about balancing food needs, water needs, and aakom contamination, with encounters and combat positioned as the opportunity cost of engaging in exploration or treasure-hunting.

The rest of the aakom rules stay the same, though with significantly less granularity due to a 1st-level party's lower HP totals.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Ley Magic

Why do wizards lair in isolated valleys or remote mountains? Why do they build homes so far from the industrial towns where bookbinders, tanners, inkmakers and the other skilled artisans upon which they depend can be found? Why don't the royal courts keep hordes of low-level magicians running around at all times, armies of them ready to jump up at their call? And why are the lairs of wizards so impenetrable, filled with arcane traps and strange mazes, yet a military fortress restricted to the age-old use of portcullises and blind corners? Why, moreover, do the orcs not come pouring over the hilltops, forcing timid village-people to undertake the works of industry of which they are incapable? Why are we not ruled by dragons, or subjugated by cloud giants, greater than us in both strength of body and strength of mind?

In a phrase, it is because of ley lines.

Magic, like water and light, is not intrinsic to every part of the world. It flows, in great ethereal rivers, pooling in some places and running dry in others. Like flame, it can burst up suddenly in new places, and like sandstone, great weights of it can compress and push unmovingly into the soil. And, like water and light, it changes the nature of the land that it permeates. Long ago, when life was new, mana had its own subtle pull on the forms that it took. Some men grew to be larger and hungrier. Some dogs learned how to swim through magic the way other dogs learned how to swim through the seas. Most learned nothing, for they lived in areas where mana flowed too fast to take root, or was too scarce. A rarer few gorged themselves on it, and drank some of the wells dry.

Now, these magical creatures require ley energies in the same way they require air and food. A satyr could no more live in town than a hawk could roost beneath the oceans. As mundane humans began to learn the arts of society and technology, they also learned that neither art was much use against a frog that could breathe fire, or a wolf whose teeth pierced the very soul. Like the satyr and the hawk, humanity found its niche.

Of course, every artist has dreams, and seeks constantly to improve upon her works. It was only a matter of time before humanity learned to drink magic for itself, or systematically bind it and then burn it off in massive rituals. The former have come to be called, variously, mystics, wizards, mages, warlocks, witches, and druids. The latter, of course, is 'worship,' and it allowed humanity to clear out new, safe regions where it could build farms and cities, unmolested by arcane beasts.


The mystic may bind one mana die (a d6) to herself per level. Spells are without level, and may be cast by throwing any number of available mana die and scoring higher than a 5. The "level" of the spell is determined by the number if dice thrown, and the spell takes two actions to prepare per die thrown, plus one more action to release. (In other systems, consider each die to take half a round to prepare, so a sixth level spell requires three rounds to cast.)

Each die that comes up equal to or lower than the number of dice thrown is lost. Each duplicated roll causes one point of lethal damage, as the expulsion of mystical energy stresses and damages the mystic's body. (So, a double would cause 2HP damage, triples 3HP, two doubles 4HP, etc.) None of these conditions affect the actual casting of the spell.

Additionally, any casting rolls of 15 or higher lubricate the flow of energy, allowing the mystic to instantly prepare another spell at any power level. Rolls of 30 or more actually attract energy to the spell's location, replenishing one spent mana die. Every multiple of 30 after that replenishes an additional mana die.

Limits to Spellcasting

Replenishing lost mana dice requires sleeping within a strong ley line or ley circle. A full eight hours of sleep replenishes 1d6 lost mana dice (apply WIS modifier). Stronger wells may replenish 1d8 or 1d10, while weaker ones might only return 1d4. These places are uncommon and likely to be guarded by jealous mages, or homes to dangerous magical creatures - the specifics, of course, will greatly determine the availability and power of magic in your campaign. Rarer, weaker, and more dangerous ley circles will restrict the mystic's power, and more common or stronger ones will commensurately increase it. 

A mystic can retain 1 spell per point of intelligence she has. Moreover, the retention of a spell necessitates the presence of some form of mana reserve - the mystic must have one mana dice per retained spell, or lose 1 HP per day, per excess spell. 

Learning a new spell - even one previously known - is an expensive and time-consuming process, requiring access ley energy the expenditure of 2d10x100 GP and 4d6 consecutive weeks of research and practice. If interrupted, the procedure must be started from scratch. Before rolling, a mystic can choose to rush the process, or work with more rudimentary materials - one can halve the total of one roll, at the cost of doubling the other. 

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Vornlong, The Complete City Kit

Qampong - the player character's embark point in Qelong is one of the smaller entries in the book (and rightly so, considering what the interior of the river valley contains). Swollen by refugees and foreign opportunists, it's now a misshapen port city at the mouth of a dying land. Because Qelong is intended for levels 4-7, and I'm using it as a campaign kickoff, I've decided I'm going to flesh Qampong out a bit, enough to provide fleeting interest for the rookie party. Part of the strength of Qelong as written, though, is that the concision of its entry for Qampong really prevents players from getting bogged down in the city - it forces you out, and into the interior.

So, nothing too detailed. The impression I get of Qampong is that it's dangerous and ungovernable - the book frequently mentions the anonymous 'warlords' endemic to the River Valley, but perhaps none rules here. Perhaps the influx of refugees and war profiteers has rendered the city ungovernable. Somewhat like Vornheim, except due to anarchy, rather than sprawl.

Most of Qampong - which has doubled in size as refugees have flooded in - is now rotting slum. Mapping is fruitless, as the alleys are constantly reshaped by fires, collapses, and new arrivals. The population is poor, famished, angry, and mostly male. There are 12 informal slum gangs, named for the signs of the Zodiac, though this is the only constant among their fluctuating membership and territory.   Any slum-dwelling contact the players make has a 1 in 20 chance of simply disappearing each week.

There are only two districts worth mentioning - the Seaside, which is where the merchants' Factory is and where the boats are kept, and the Hilltop, which once held the wealthiest households, and whose ruined husks now shelter the most bloodthirsty and powerful gang (roll a d12). Behind the hill is an aboveground cemetery. Both districts are actually kept relatively clear of typhus and plague, and are the only stable places where "establishments" of any sort can be found.

Every hour the players spend in the slums has a 1 in 6 chance of an encounter. And it takes at least an hour to get anywhere in the slums (including out of the city.) 1d20.

1. Desolate alley. Person lies apparently injured in street. Actually in league with the 1d6 cannibals waiting in the shadows.
2-3. Desolate alley. 2d4 dholes gnaw on something in a doorway.
4. Desolate alley. Person lies injured in street (d6 - 1-3 member of random gang 4-5 foreigner 6 - adventurer, level d4). Good chance of recovering unassisted, but will remember the players and how they treated her.
5. Crowd, minding its own business. Except for the pickpocket (Thief 1d4). Party will notice any theft, it's just a matter of before or after. Roll 1d20 for possible gang affiliation, results higher than 12 indicate no affiliation.
6. 2d6 members of a random gang (Fighter 1) stumble around drunk and looking for a fight.
7-8. Seasonal weather - intense heat doubles the effective weight of worn armor, or driving rain halves visibility and modifies balance and missile fire by -4.
9. Monsoon. If rolled on the first or last day of any month, it also carries fish or frogs. Chance of doing 1HP damage on hit, and slums will go crazy trying to gather the fallen food.
10-11. Street fight or drunken brawl between (roll 1d6 twice) - 1-2 members of random gang 3 foreign guardsmen 4 cannibals 5 strange beast 6 unarmed, helpless refugees. 
12-13. Abandoned shack (roll on table)
14. Lunatic standing on rooftop harangues small crowd about the evilness of dwarves and one other random rumor.
15. Aakom-cursed woman holding aakom-cursed baby. Tries to press baby into the arms of most charismatic adventurer.
16. Foreign guardsmen conducting deals with members of a random gang. Roll reaction with 2d4. 
17. Members of two random gangs conducting deals with each other. Roll each reaction with 2d4. 
18. Elephant experiencing musth. Morale 12. Everyone else flees. Owned by most powerful gang.
19. Guardsmen searching for waylaid shipment of cardamom or pepper. Will suspect or press-gang anyone well armed.
20. Shifty foreign merchant offers to sell the party "a great treasure" for only 200 sp. Wants 100 sp just to let them see it.
It is (1d6):
  1-A boarded-up shack (roll on table). The merchant slips away at first opportunity.
  2-A cannon with 8 granite cannonballs. No carriage, no powder.
  3-A jar of Hagen's fake anti-aakom tincture
  4-A jar of Hagen's real anti-aakom tincture
  5-A hidden group of 2d6 cannibals. The merchant slips away after they attack.
  6-A dozen jars of cardamom or pepper. False bottoms conceal aakom-laced livers soaked in wine.

What's in that boarded-up shack? (Roll a d8)
1. A pair of aakom zombie hands.
2. A pair of aakom zombie hands, and 2d100 sp buried in the floor.
3. A massive pile of shit. No joke. There are some holes in the ceiling people use to relieve themselves. 50% chance of typhus infection.
4. Nothing but a single word scratched into one wall: "Leave"
5. A pile of bones. An araq demands you bring them to the cemetary. 
6. A child's skull with the top sawn off. Filled with dozens of teeth. Eight gold coins placed in a circle around it. If anything is disturbed, a qmoc praj will emerge from this spot in three days and hunt down the desecrator.
7. A solid gold pendant in the shape of the lotus. Renders the wearer invisible to undead, but any monk will attack on sight.
8. The shack is bedecked in the worship livery of the Naga Qelong. The family of 1d4 cultists have become hungry nagakin in the weeks since they were trapped here.
EDIT: Two things I forgot to add.
For the most part, the "What's in that dead guy's pockets?" table is not going to apply here, since most people have very little in their pockets and even less in their bellies. The exceptions:
  • Gang members have daggers and 1d20 copper pieces each. Every fourth or fifth has a mace or sword.
  • Foreign guardsmen are the mercenaries defending the Factory and escorting most merchants through the city. They have leather armor, a dagger, a sword, and a light crossbow. 20 are stationed at the Factory at all times. They carry no coin, as there is nothing for them to buy.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

The Sajavedran Calendar

Click to embiggen. 
I'm preparing to run a Qelong campaign - if you don't know, it's a horrific Southeast Asia setting being poisoned by a misfired magic bomb - and so I'm putting the ol' tools to work.

Here is my Qelong calendar. I based the months off of the Khmer lunar calendar, with Qelong-style syllable replacements. There are ten months for the reasons explained in this post - but in short, it's easier to not have to remember different numbers of days for different months. The yellow is, of course, the dry season, and the green is wet - changing around what would be November and April. Meqasay is the "new year."

Basically, use it to keep track of major events, past and future. At least three of the four factions in Qelong are actively attempting to increase their power, and while you can certainly have that be a foggy, unresolved background, having them dynamically clash and maneuver is, I think, much more interesting. With the calendar, you can simply jot down future clashes and some notes on them, for the party to interfere with (or ignore.)

As for the year itself, the Khmer calendar marks years with zodiac signs in the way the Chinese calendar does, but also respects a multi-year cycle, where each animal also advances in number - resetting every 60 years.

For Qelong, I decided to modify the cycle so that each decade is marked by a single zodiac sign, creating a 120-year cycle. However, changing to the next sign is usually accompanied by some sort of portent, determining the mood of the next few years, and the lack of portents can sometimes extend the "decade" well past its normal expiration date. Therefore, the dying land of Sajavedra is still in the Years of the Dog - with no end in sight.

To reflect this, add two rumors to the rumor table - they can be included normally, or you can use them in lieu of the first two duplicate rolls.

The Mage War began in the Years of the Rooster, and it will end in the Years of the Pig. After that, we'll face the long Years of the Rat...
The sign of the zodiac usually changes every ten years. But we've seen twelve Years of the Dog, and I hear there will be many more...

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Descriptive Skills

Skills in action?
To my mind, the regular kind of numeral skills are needlessly dissociated and kind of confusing. Usually, they need some sort of second-order transformation in order to be useful - so, "Climb 5" becomes "Can climb 30 feet in under a minute 75% of the time" or else "Can climb any wall any distance 83% of the time."

Instead, I'd like to notate skill levels in ways that are inherently meaningful. Here, I'm drawing from Alexis' writing about thief skills that don't suck, and Charles Angus' writing about descriptive damage.

Movement Skills

The movement skills have a base time frame of one minute - your "score" is the number of feet you can move per minute. The first minute is always successful, but every minute after that requires you to check against the linked ability score. All movement skills divide their speeds by the DR of any worn armor. (So, no penalty for leather, half speed for chain, quarter speed for plate.) You can "sprint" with any of these, moving at double speed but taking 1d4 extra stones of fatigue each time.

Climb (STR) - Climbing skill advances in intervals of ten feet. Each successful check, after the first, adds an extra stone's weight in fatigue. Failure means falling, but you can make Might checks (-1 penalty per failure, cumulative) to try to catch yourself every ten feet, until you've fallen farther than your Climbing skill.
So, if you have Climb 30', you can climb 30' free, 90' with two checks, and you get three chances to stop yourself if you fall. Falling damage is 1d10 per 10 feet, to a max of 10d10.

Swim (CON) - Swimming skill advances in intervals of thirty feet. Each successful check, after the first, adds an extra stone's weight in fatigue (and remember that waterlogged fabric can double or triple in weight). Failure means you begin to drown - roll Will checks every minute. Once you fail, you lose 1d4 INT, WIS, and CHA per minute until rescue or death. Diving uses the same mechanics, but the diving interval is 1/3 of your swimming interval, and you have to get back up!

Stalking (DEX) - Hiding, I think, is better implemented as direct player interaction with the environment and any NPCs searching for people.  Stalking is the active element - how far you can move between "hides" without drawing attention to yourself. It's judged more as a defense against being heard, or noticed out of the corner of the NPC's eye - there's no such thing as "stalking" someone by walking directly towards them in their field of vision. Stalking is like being a Weeping Angel - you can only move when they can't see you.

So: intervals of twenty feet. Stalking accrues no penalties for extended time - but the first check isn't automatically successful, and you can't "sprint." Failure doesn't immediately mean detection - rather, it means you've snapped a twig, knocked down a glass, stepped on a weak floorboard, etc. The results are, of course, dependent on the situation. Snapping a twig 100' away from a sentry might not necessarily draw any attention, but doing the same thing from 10' away will certainly get you caught. Wile saves are used to duck into cover if a guard suddenly turns around, or for simple distractions (the old rock throw, etc.)

Non-Movement Skills

The other skills are given a direct time frame, which is the time needed for automatic success. You can try to complete at half-time, rolling against the linked ability score. Each additional halving applies a -5 penalty.

Tinkering (INT) - Tinkering starts at 6 turns, and reduces by 1 turn each "skill level," until it takes 1 turn. Then it reduces by 1 minute, then by the round, etc. Therefore, three Spies of levels 6, 8, and 17, will automatically pick a lock in 1 turn, 7 minutes, and 8 rounds, respectively. If you fail the INT roll when rushing, you jam the lock.
For trapped locks, detecting and disarming the trap is its own separate task and they'll automatically activate if you don't try to find it first, but you get a Wile save to dodge its activation, in addition to the Might save to resist its poison. Failing a rushed trap detection activates the trap.

Tracking (WIS) - Tracking starts at 6 turns, reducing by the turn, then by the minute, then by the round. This is the time it takes to get a pretty good look at a patch of ground - say, 20' square, or 400' in a line (like, along a fence.). You have to re-check the track every four hours, or if it's disrupted by something like a stream, or a fallen tree, or mud. Tracks remain for about a week, by default, but again that's modified by the specifics of the situation. For things half the size of a man, you have to re-check twice as often, half that is twice as often again, etc. For things larger, the time multiplies in the opposite direction - tracking a bear means you re-check every eight hours, twice that is sixteen hours. If you rush it, and you fail, well, obviously you didn't find any traps.

Procurement (CHA) - Procurement is the process of locating things. Things like henchman recruits, uncommon items, or even information - such as rumors and gossip. Procurement doesn't include the purchase itself - though information can sometimes be had for free, or for just a few too many coppers for mead - it only covers the process of finding it. And, of course, it doesn't allow you to find things that aren't there.

Procurement starts at 56 hours - or one whole week, assuming 8 hours of work per day, and a population of about 1,000-3,000 people. Decrease the time proportionally for smaller towns, but for larger cities, the work only covers a single neighborhood. This decreases by four hours per "skill level." If you rush it, and fail, you create a bit of bad blood in town - by stepping on some toes, ignoring some customs, or going to the "wrong people." Obviously, town politics are pretty situational, but "three strikes" is probably a pretty good rule of thumb.

To determine what specialized/rare items are available, you can't go wrong with the vendor saving throw - applying, say, a -2 for items with triple-digit costs, -4 for items with quadruple-digits, and assuming anything more expensive is not going to be hanging out in some pawnshop. A successful Procurement tells you everything that's there and what it costs.

For hirelings, assuming a town of 1,000, you'll find 1d4 capable mercenaries (or other professionals) are found, and 4d6 base laborers. -1 mercenary and -4 laborers each time you halve the town size. So, a village of 250 people has 1d4-2 mercenaries and 4d6-8 laborers. Yes, there can be zero hirelings.
Rumors and secrets have to be Procured by subject, if you want anything more specific than the gossip spouted by every drunkard. Obviously, not all secrets are so easily found - since Procurement involves nothing more than asking around, crawling the pubs, and being generally alert, it will never discover information guarded with any amount of competence. The best you can get in these cases are tips to where the information might be found.

Yes, exactly, a plot hook.


A lot of other skills don't make it in - for the most part, because I think those can best be resolved with simple ability checks and some planning. Sleight of Hand counts for this (and has the added bonus of preventing people from looking at their sheet, seeing "Pickpocketing" and going $$__$$). Hunting is basically Tracking that leads to an encounter (or, like modern duck hunting, sitting on your ass until an encounter finds you).

I moved Tinkering from DEX to INT in order to support different "styles" of thievery, and because picking a lock is to my mind much more about thinking about the manner in which the lock is constructed, and how to circumvent its elements, than simply sticking your pick in the right spot.

Friday, September 6, 2013


Yes, yes, I haven't been providing a whole lot of context on overall structure. It's my blog. Like I mentioned last time, you can take a Specialization every third level. They're not like classes - you can take a different one each time, etc. There will ultimately be seven, not including change class/alignment, which requires no further explanation.

Anyway, I'm taking a page out of Numenera here:

"Crafting" is a specialization available to Lawful or Neutral characters. Each time you specialize in Crafting, you can put a word into each of the following blanks:

"I can use my [tool] to make [material] into [object]."

Everything else, of course, is dependent on what we know about the real world. This is a mundane, not a magical skill (though if you wish to insert spells, you are free to, so long as you can cast them). Therefore, combinations that obviously don't work, such as "I use my fork to make air into battleships" means nothing more than your character specializes in waving around cutlery and shouting like a madman. Lesser failures are, of course, still failures - you need wood and feathers to make arrows.

The effects are the logical results of attempting to make the object using the named tool and material, which of course means that complex objects will need extra descriptors, and you can build on them with additional specializations. So, you might start with, "I can use my adze to make wood into canoes," then later expand it to "I can use my adze and sewing kit to make wood and hides into (better) canoes." Or you can use additional specializations to learn how to make multiple objects. 

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Class System

The above, from Wikipedia, is my class and multiclassing system. It comes from Talysman's post on the three-role class system, which recognizes that there are three basic archetypes inherent in the early game, which also comport with archetypes present in fiction - the fighter, the wizard, the trickster. The fighter approaches problems directly, with force or toughness, the wizard, using magic, and the trickster, indirectly, but without magic - applying her own cleverness and skill.

Therefore, I have:
The Warrior: Receives training in two different weapons per level, and reduces Death and Dismemberment Table rolls by one, per level.
The Mystic: Receives one extra spell die per level, and can craft magic items using a system I have yet to satisfactorily determine.
The Spy: Receives training in climbing or swimming, per level. Receives training in stealth, per level. Begins with literacy in native language, and can use the Lore system to gain knowledge of additional languages or scripts, or otherwise rumors and gossip.

Each of these is one of the "primary" colors - say the Warrior is red, the Mystic is blue, and the Spy is green. Overlap represents a "dual-class" - which I'm constructing to be a fully-fledged class, since that is much clearer and easier to conceptualize than a hyphenated Franken-class. So: between the Warrior and the Mystic is the Warlock, who gains weapon training at the cost of crafting ability. Between the Warrior and the Spy is the Assassin, who retains the weapon use, stealth, and terrain abilities of both classes. And between the Mystic and Spy is the Trickster, which is a stealthy spellcaster.

Obviously, there's no reason to mix between any of the derived classes - there's absolutely no reason to be 1/4 this and 1/3 that, or to pursue any of the more esoteric shades of green. There is, of course, the central mix of all primary colors - the polymath, who is stealthy, gains some weapon abilities, and is a spellcaster.

Incomplete, as usual. But I think I'm going to do away with separated hit die progressions, attack-bonus tables, and definitely with weapon and armor restrictions. That way, each class is as concise as possible, and imposes much less upon your character's stats and abilities.