Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Dragon, A New Character Class

I'm in the process of pondering my own ideas of classes, races, and race-as-classes, and I came upon Grognardling's old posts about unconventional classes. One of those mentioned was, "Dragon."

Firstly, I have no attachment to (or even much knowledge about) extant D&D dragon rules and lore, so I'm ignoring basically all of it. The class, I believe, works better in settings without tons and tons of dragons running around, as D&D and Pathfinder imply by having, like, four different types of dragons with seven colors for each, all running around.

The central idea for this class is that you get extreme power at the cost of extreme specialization and little flexibility. They age with level, which is pretty quick for any animal - but it helps explain why there aren't tons of "dragon litters" running around all over the place and allows the dragon to advance within the same ballpark as the rest of the party. Obviously, this hasn't been playtested yet.

As far as the "Alien Mind" problem goes, I'm not really interested in adjudicating player behavior, beyond mechanics and NPC reactions. Even if I did put in non-mechanical behavior guidelines, that would still be a human guessing at alien psychology, and I don't think I'm any more capable of it than my players are.


Saving throws as Halfling. Experience Point progression as the S&W Monk.

Dragon level advancement is accompanied by growth in size, toughness, and abilities. When a dragon reaches the end of a size category, it cannot level up further until it builds a nest out of precious gems and metals worth its current experience point total in silver pieces. The dragon must sleep within for one week to become a whelp, one month to grow to juvenile size, and one year to become an adult.
Dragons are also, generally, supremely wise and strong creatures, and add 1d6 to each of their ability scores, though 18 remains the maximum.

Dragon Sizes

  • Nestling: Levels 1-5. Hit Dice: 1d6. Two claw attacks, each dealing 1d4 damage. AC: as leather. 
    • The nestling dragon is green, brown, or white, depending on its birth environment, and about the size of a large cat. It cannot yet fly, nor can it speak any language other than draconic. 
  • Whelp: Levels 6-10. Hit Dice: 1d12. Two claw attacks, each dealing 1d8 damage. AC: as chain.
    • The dragon whelp gains language abilities, and can hover or glide, but remains incapable of true flight. Whelps are about the size of a man.
  • Juvenile: Levels 11-15. Hit Dice: 1d20. Two claw attacks, dealing 1d10 damage, and one bite attack dealing 2d6 damage. AC: as plate.
    • Juvenile dragons are ten feet long and about six feet tall. They gain full combat flight capability, but treat every hour of extended flying as a forced march Juveniles, no longer small enough to hide effectively, generally develop bright colors, like red, blue, or bright bronze.
  • Mature: Levels 16+. Hit Dice: 1d20. Two claws dealing 1d12 damage and one bite dealing 3d6 damage, plus an extra 1d6 per five levels. AC: as plate, plus 2 per five levels. Adult dragons may fly freely. Older dragons begin to fade in color, with the oldest becoming dark indigo or jet-black.
Dragon Spellcasting
Dragons are innately magical creatures, though it takes time for their abilities to truly develop. They still require spellbooks to record and learn spells (though draconic runes usually suffice) but need not spend time memorizing spells. 
Nestlings can prepare 1 first-level spell per day, though they can never use Read Magic.
Whelps can cast Read Magic at will, an unlimited number of times each day. From 6th level on, they use the Elf's spell slot progression.

Dragon Breath
Dragons aren't born with the ability to breathe fire or lightning, instead developing more powerful breath weapons as they mature. A dragon's choice of breath weapon is final and cannot be changed. Most breath attacks are assumed to automatically hit since they affect huge areas, though they are technically projectile weapons and can be treated as such if necessary - such as during an epic dragon vs. dragon sky duel.

Nestlings and whelps have the choice of either acid spit, or paralyzation gas. 
Acid spit has a range of 10 feet per level, and deals 1d4 damage for a number of turns equal to the dragon's level, unless cleaned off. Acid spit hits only one thing, and must roll to hit like any other ranged weapon.
Paralyzation gas can be projected 2 feet per level, and forms a spherical cloud with a radius of 1 foot per level. 

A juvenile dragon develops a true, extraordinarily powerful breath weapon. The dragon has the choice of spitting lightning, breathing fire, or breathing frost.
Lightning affects a straight line with a range of 200 feet, plus 20 feet per level, inflicting 2d6 damage to everything hit. The lightning gains 1d6 damage every fifth level.
Flame and frost breath hit a 30 degree cone to a distance of 30 feet, plus 10 feet per level. They inflict 2d6 damage to everything they hit, gain 1d6 every fifth level, and will do flamey and frosty things to whatever they hit, contingent on your system's rules for flamey and frosty things.

After each breath weapon use, the dragon must make a CON check. If failed, the dragon's breath glands are exhausted - it must make a new CON check each week, and cannot use the breath weapon again until the check is successful.

Dragon Abilities
Dragons can climb and swim freely, with no penalties. Dragon combat movement is effectively twice that of a human, though they are less capable of disposing of waste heat, and march at similar rates. Mature dragons are capable of extended, high-altitude flight and have an overland movement rate triple that of an unencumbered human.

Dragons lack opposable thumbs, and thus cannot effectively hold or use weapons, items, locks, etc. Dragons also cannot effectively use any sort of armor or clothing, due to their musculature. Suits of fitted dragon armor are possible, but they will be either extraordinarily restrictive, or wear out quickly. Smaller items may work, if they are custom-made. Since dragons are universally viewed as the capricious and terrifying destroyers of cities and eaters of maidens, there are very few smiths willing to work on equipment for them, or even a town guard that won't attack on sight. 

Dragons require 1 ration of food per level, per day, and 1 ration of water per two levels, per day.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Cantrip Cantons

Thinking about the previous post, I realized that such a conception of "potential magic" fits pretty well with a lot of setting assumptions we tend to have in common. Chris Kutalik demarcates between civilization, where boring things like the manufacture of 10' poles occur, and the Weird, the realm of adventure and possibility, where basically anything can happen.

So, imagine the previous post, but on a civilizational scale. In the beginning, everything is the weird, but civilization entails the organization and use of human abilities. Historically, these were only technical and social abilities, but in a setting where everyone has the potential to use magic, magic is included. Civilization is a network of Cantrip Towns, where a very large segment of the population works together to use their abilities to expel and control the unnatural creatures that pose such a great danger. This is an interpretation LotFP's implied setting - the conflict between Law and Chaos, where Chaos is a natural principle, and Law is an artificial principle, imposed by magical force. Religious rituals aren't just motions, they are spells, and every participant is a caster. Faith forms another means of restricting the offensive, individual use of magic - individuals aren't prevented from learning and casting spells by a powerful establishment, their abilities are instead used up in the perpetuation of order. A literate farmer, finding a scroll fallen out of the pack of a local lord, cannot use the potential within himself to secretly decipher and use the spell, because that potential is already being used.

Obviously, the idea of axiomatic conflict isn't new - it is, after all, the foundational assumption of the cleric class - but I think it's one solution to the potential magic problem.

Cantrip Town

At The 9 and 30 Kingdoms, there's an ongoing discussion of classless magic use, prompted by Talysman's proposal of a system where any character has the potential to cast a spell, provided they have access to spellbooks, scrolls and instruction.

Charles Angus pointed out that this might fundamentally change the nature of the setting, now that every barmaid can cast clean and any huntsman can throw down a goodberry.

Talysman's response was that the opportunity to learn magic doesn't necessarily have to be widely available, even if the potential is - magic can be hoarded, spellbook creation is expensive, and those who hold power are not likely to share it.

But, what if the fact that most people have access to cantrips and 1st-level spells didn't necessarily lead to them using them all the time?

Almost every setting posits the existence of powerful magical beasts, which could (and do) destroy towns and hamlets basically at will. Small villages are too far-flung for the local lord to provide the martial force necessary to defend them, and any ramshackle militia is going to get annihilated by the dragon or the necromantic cult.

Perhaps the villagers use their minor magical abilities to protect themselves, by building up wards and circles to protect themselves. Maintaining these is a daily ritual, and far more important than simply keeping a clean bar, or repairing a sprained ankle. Allowing villagers this sort of magical power has historical precedent, as well - in this conception of potential magic, throwing salt over your shoulder isn't just a superstition, it's an actual minor hex, which actually makes the house slightly safer against daemonic assault.

Perhaps much host of commonly described vampiric weaknesses - garlic, inability to enter a house uninvited - are not natural conditions of vampirism, but universally applied orisons that anybody knows to cast. This could also account for cultural differentiation in monster weaknesses - the Chinese vampire actually is the same vampire, but faces a culturally distinct set of hexes and charms.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Magic Item: Coach of Holding

I fully admit that I have no real sense of scale when it comes to providing my players with magic items. I do know that I want them to seem, where possible, unique and strange, and that a good way to keep items balanced is to give them limited uses, or to make their size completely impractical. This one uses the latter:

The Coach of Holding
The coach is a fairly new legendary artifact, with fresh paint and bronze fixings that show just a hint of wear and tear. From the outside, it appears to be a gaudily painted stagecoach, with tall wheels and enough apparent room for six people. Its strangest outward feature is that it has no windows and only one small door in the rear, three foot square.

Upon entering the coach, one finds nothing but a random scattering of some of, but not all of, whatever the coach contains. The coach's magic only works when the door is closed and all light sources are extinguished.

When lamps are re-lit, those inside find themselves in a pitch-black, seemingly infinite tin-floored plane. Everything ever placed inside is scattered around in every direction, some father away than others. Nobody has ever found the walls or ceiling in this place, though many have tried, and it is said some of them still wander in the coach's directionless otherspace. Sometimes enterprising nobles have funded expeditions deep into the coach's interior, ransacking whatever is found there. It is not known for certain that all of these groups have returned.

The coach can be moved when people are in it, though there is no mundane way of telling. Despite the fact that nobody within the coach has ever felt it move - even when, on one occasion, an angry and terrified mob flipped it completely after an accused witch took shelter inside - there is some evidence that the external forces it experiences change the distribution of objects within. After long and bumpy journeys, or transportation by sea, items stored inside have been found strewn about, but months or years in stationary storage will leave everything stacked as neatly as it was before. 

Except for, perhaps, a few small baubles, or a sack of grain, which disappear without a trace.

Game Terms
The coach is eight feet long, five feet tall (nearly nine, with wheels), top-heavy and prone to tipping. It always requires to draft horses to pull. It detects strongly of magic - anyone detecting magic within two miles will sense the coach, like a distant flame. There is no known limit to its internal size or capacity - anyone searching for an item inside the coach will take 1d6 turns per day of travel the cart has been used for. If the cart hasn't moved at all (even a minor earthquake, or a group of people shaking it counts as a "day of travel") the item is right where it was left, and it takes only 1 turn.

Searching the cart tends to turn up a lot of ancient detritus. Every time someone enters the cart, roll 1d20, adding the number of turns spent, and subtracting 20. The total is the number of random items found, each 1d20 (exploding on a 20) years old. Write your own random item list, or use this 1d100 table.

As for the coach's other mysteries? Those are yet to be discovered...


Finally, a post with labels that are precisely descriptive!

Last night, the gang returned to the junglified Caves of Chaos. They'd cleared out the goblin lair over the last two sessions, and were on the hunt for more gold. Everyone's still level 1, because of a TPK early on and a small platoon of mercenaries I gave them as a quest reward, which suck up XP even at half shares.

Entering the ogre cave, they attempt nonverbal communication, but nobody speaks Adrastian jungle ogre. So Benesek, the faithful mercenary, rolls a 74 on his death chart - losing his face and most of his jaw. Now he's Benesek the Ugly, who heroically took the ogre's 1 attack before the mob brought it down.

They search the cave for 20 minutes, after I accidentally say "There isn't anything you've found yet," instead of "There doesn't seem to be anything there" and discover the secret door. They take the staircase up to the hobgoblin caves, and kick down the door at the top, finding a large room and surprising the 13 hobgoblins there.

They kill one, win initiative, and kill another one. There's six goblins in melee combat with the mercenaries' front line. 5 hits, roll for damage.

Four sixes and a five.

The entire front line goes down. The PC's - a ranger and his warhound, a cleric, and a wizard, now have to pull swords and jump in. More mercenaries are incapacitated. One loses an arm - roll for % of arm cut off, starting from wrist? 0-0. A hobgoblin prepares to stab the dog, and the ranger opts to take the blow. I inform him that the goblin does 1d6 damage, he has 5 HP, and the dog has 7, but he does it anyway.

Max damage. Rolled a 95. Now his gray matter is really getting that chance to commune with nature. Not quite dead, but 50-100% memory loss. (By the way, the roll for additional memory loss? 0-2. Only 52%.) He starts rolling up a new character.

The party kills all but the last two hobgoblins, does triage, feeds two healing potions to the ranger, and then scrams.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

First Level as Survival Horror

Some tangential thoughts prompted by a discussion at The 9 and 30 Kingdoms:

What I value most in a class system and rule-set are the principles of definition through play, and the ability to play with understanding as little of the complete system as possible. Though I'm currently using LotFP's class system with few modifications (save the magic system), I'm working on a three-class system with "specialist classes" that are sort of like prestige classes, but available after 3rd level and with no other requirements. Basic classes would be reduced to the three archetypes - fighter, mage, thief.

As it is, each class knows some of the elements of each of the other classes - thieves and mages know how combat works and can use some weapons and armor. Mages and fighters have a limited ability to find and disarm traps. Everyone's a little bit of a jack-of-all trades, enough to give a bit of leeway in adverse circumstances.

What if, instead, the only "combat system" available to a mage was, "The orc stabs you in the guts and you die?" Obviously, this would absolutely require the dungeon to be structured such that every problem lent itself to all three conflict-resolution systems, or at the very least, complete avoidance. The "obviously present" trap becomes paramount. And it would also require the GM to be open to players creatively forcing problems into their niche ("All I can do is attack? Well, I attack the trap mechanism!"). But if Amnesia: The Dark Descent could get away without letting the character attack the monsters, at all, ever, why can't a dungeoncrawl?

So far, I've been assuming only one player. A party composed of characters like this wouldn't be immune to the survival-horroresque problems faced by the single character - as each individual is still only capable of one type of action, and vulnerable to all the others. Teamwork becomes an absolute necessity. And, most of all, creative play becomes the only possible way to survive.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Dice pool contingency

Wizard Level 6
Duration: Instantaneous
Range: 0
Contingency allows the Wizard to cast a second, companion spell upon herself, which only takes effect once a series of conditions are completed. Any number of Contingency spells may be cast, but the casting force must be higher than the number of pre-existing Contingencies, otherwise all prior Contingencies are lost, replaced by the newest one.

The LotFP Contingency spell allows only one active at a time, with the any new casting always replacing the old one. Using a dice-pool system with the above version allows a wizard to cast as many as she wants - but each attempt is more difficult, and runs the risk of undoing all previous work. Like gambling.

Wizard Level 1
Duration: 1d4 Turns
Range: 30'
2d8 Hit Dice worth of creatures are magically lulled to sleep for the spell's duration. The spell can only affect creatures of a level or Hit Dice total equal to or lower than the casting force. A successful casting will always affect at least one such creature.

Modifying Sleep in this way allows it to scale with the number of dice put into the spell, and organically scales the difficulty according to creature size. Sleep and Contingency are good example of an alternate use of casting force in spells - rather than a straight bonus to the effect, as with the Cure spells, and most others (casting force can easily be applied as a damage bonus or saving throw modifier), I've used the number to achieve different effects - Sleeping larger creatures, or creating extra Contingencies.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Dice pool casting: healing spells

Hack & Slash just posted a fun new take on the 2d6-to-cast style magic that I've been using in my campaign. It reminds me of Warhammer's magic pool casting, and represents a caster's available power in a very tactile way.

It also lends itself to things like this:

Cure Minor Wounds
Cleric Level 1
Range: Touch
Duration: Instant
Heals 1 HP of damage sustained per target creature's level/HD, and 1 additional HP of damage per point of casting force.

Cure Major Wounds
Cleric Level 5
Range: Touch
Duration: Instant
Heals 1 HP of damage sustained per target creature's level/HD, multiplied by the casting force.

Here, "casting force" is the total casting roll, minus 10. Instead of 9-11 counting as "cast at start of round, retain spell," it is 9-10, and every point above 10 counts as an additional point of "casting force." So, Cure Major Wounds cast on a Level 2 character, rolling a 12, heals 2 x 2 = 4 points of damage. Level 4, rolling a 16 (using multiple dice, no doubt) is 6 x 4 = 24 points healed.

I'm scaling healing by recipient level so that a minor wound remains a minor wound across all levels, rather than starting out, functionally, as "cure moderate wounds" and ending as "cure infinitesimal wounds." With the Hack & Slash take on dice pool casting, Minor Wounds becomes a low-risk, low-healing spell that can be mildly powered up by rolling additional dice without much chance of losing dice, while Cure Major Wounds functions as a potent healing burst, that scales up quickly but burns most of your dice. In lieu of any rules for wild magic effects, I'm ruling that each duplicate die roll inflicts 1 point subdual damage on the caster, which makes the decision to power-up a spell with extra dice even riskier.

More thoughts this weekend.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Party battle stances

I've been running LotFP, where some classes get expanded access to battle stances like Press (sacrifice AC for a hit bonus) and Defensive (vice versa). Nobody has been really using these (even though it's printed right on the character sheet), but everyone's been pretty involved in figuring out combat tactics, which is heartening considering most of us are newcomers to RPGs. The problem is, nobody's attempting to use the mechanics for combat tactics.

It came to a head (for me) in the last session, when the fighters and rangers (who could use stances) were in the rear with ranged weapons, since they'd taken a lot of licks and the cleric and specialist were in the front line, with mercenaries. The players wanted to try a fighting retreat against a large goblin horde charging out of the Caves of Chaos but nobody had the abilities to really do it.

I think next session I'll change the battle stances so they're accessible to the entire party - but only work if everyone agrees on the same thing. This would reflect the advantage of coordinated tactics, and make each class a bit more flexible in combat, and hopefully reward teamwork.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Drama and die size

For the past few sessions, I've been using the Good Hits and Bad Misses table, from Delta's D&D Hotspot for everyone's critical hits, and running handling death as no fighting at 0HP, bleeding out each round until -10HP, when you die.

I've noticed that the act of scrambling for percentile dice and looking up the result tends to add some drama to each critical or fumble - which is usually incommensurate with the fact that about 60% of the results are simply x2 or x3 damage. Which has made criticals and fumbles fairly anticlimactic.

On the other hand, death and incapacitation has been fairly low-key - the goblins and bats the PCs have been fighting never take more than a few rounds to kill, and it hasn't been difficult for someone in the rear of the party running back and stabilizing wounded individuals. Especially since I keep forgetting to keep track of people bleeding-out. I'm going to try to reverse these situations by using d20 tables for criticals and fumbles, and then using the Arduin Grimoire critical hit table as a 0HP "death and dismemberment" results table.

You roll a d20 on the appropriate table for crits and fumbles. "Special" results can be healed as a light wound, forgoing HP healing. When you hit 0HP, roll on the d100 table and apply the results. I reorganized the table so that, generally, worse effects are higher up on the list, allowing damage in excess of 0HP to be added to the roll. To my mind, this removes the need for an instant death threshold - the more overkill, the fewer merciful options available and the more likely it is you'll get Irrevocable Death. The tables are here.

Depending on the effect, I'll require a save vs. Paralyzation to retain consciousness, and since all the effects are actual injuries, I can leave healing/stabilization up to player decisions and creativity, in addition to my fading knowledge of First Aid merit badge.

Hopefully this retains the uncertainty and drama of crits/fumbles in combat that Delta discusses and makes hitting 0HP dramatic and terrifying.

Sunday, July 7, 2013


I'm Jack, and I sorta just got into the OSR scene, after a long and circuitous route starting with Warhammer 40k and forum-based RPs, and ending with an Eclipse Phase game I ran this spring.

Since I'm a perfectionist, I went ahead and read dozens of posts on most of the major OSR blogs in order to figure out every aspect of the game beforehand, and so I'll mostly be using this space to chronicle my attempts to implement these ideas in my sandbox game and the gang of neophytes I play with every week.