Monday, June 19, 2017

GLOG Class: Noise Wizard

I've gotten to play a few sessions with +Arnold K. from over at Goblin Punch recently and it has been great. My first character died so I am rolling up a new one, a Noise Wizard specifically. Arnold hadn't translated the class into his GLOG format yet, so I offered to do it for him! (Pretty much all of this post was written by Arnold, I just converted everything).

Noise Wizard

Restriction: Instrument Casting

Noise wizards can only cast spells if they have their instrument in hand and are making a lot of noise with it, and yes that means they can't really sneak effectively while casting. The instrument can be anything (1d6 instruments: 1) penny whistle 2) bongo drum 3) nyckelharpa 4) tambourine 5) hurdy gurdy 6) tuba), but once it is chosen you cannot cast spells with any other instrument.


Countersong: A noise wizard can attempt to fight noise with louder noise. In order to do so they must ready an action to make a lot of noise to drown out the incoming noise (for example: command spells, harpy's songs, advice that you'll never make as a musician). This requires a strength check if you are playing a percussion instrument, a dexterity check if playing a stringed instrument, and a constitution check if playing a wind instrument (this tests if they bang loud enough/ strum fast enough/ blow hard enough). 

Subtle Ear: Noise wizards also have a really good sense of hearing (for now). They are twice as likely to succeed at listening at a door.

Spell List:

  1. Sawtooth noise
  2. Accompaniment
  3. Stupid mouth
  4. Song of death/Song of life
  5. Gaping noise
  6. Brown noise
  7. Comprehend speech
  8. God ear
  9. Deafen
  10. Song of captivation
  11. Song of silence
  12. Rapturous noise

Legendary Spells:

14. Face melting solo


  1. Gain 1 trauma
  2. Take 1d6 damage
  3. Random mutation for 1d6 rounds, then make a save; permanent if you fail. 
  4. For the rest of the day you cannot hear anything that could also hear you.
  5. Deaf for 1d6 rounds
  6. You loose control, the music takes over, for 1d6 rounds you just make a lot of noise and everyone in the area must make a wisdom check to concentrate on what they are doing, other wise they must clap their hands over their ears and do nothing for the duration.


Noise wizards' dooms are a mix between finally making it big on the Plane of Music and going deaf, just like Beethoven did.
  1. You are invited to play a concert on the Plane of Music, a gate of sound opens and you are compelled to enter it and play, its your big chance! Your companions are stuck with your physical body which is feverishly playing your instrument until you return after 24 hours. Most noise wizards will have warned their companions of this eventuality. When you back to you are 0 HP from exhaustion and have a hat full of 3d6 silver. You can no longer hear laughter or screams.
  2. The Celestial Conductor has come for you, they saw you on the Plane of Music and simply must have you. They want you to join the Obsequious Orchestra and play for the Authority until judgement day (or at least until he leaves his tea party). You have to fight them to remain on this plane, but if you win you can never hear the words of a pious man again nor the whisper of a lover, and when judgement comes you wont hear the bells tolling and you'll miss out on paradise.
  3. You've gone completely deaf beyond magical means of healing. All of your spells now have 1-in-6 chance to fail, growing by 1 for each month of life after this. But you can still hear the music, it haunts you...
The best way to defeat your ultimate doom is to travel to Heaven and finish your fight with the Celestial Conductor and take their baton. Only this will return your hearing, and you'll have a baton with which to command the Obsequious Orchestra with.

Alternatively you go to Hell can find a Satan and challenge them to a music duel. Your instrument against their flaming fiddle. If you win the Satan will live in your head and hear for you, telling your brain everything they hear exactly as they hear it (probably).

Spell Descriptions:

R: 0
T: Self
D: [dice]*hour
There is an invisible orchestra following you everywhere you go.  They play constantly, loudly, and appropriately.  They play ominous music during ominous moments, sexy music during sex, etc.  Additionally, they will accompany you if you play your instrument, making your performance extra awesome and giving listeners a -1*[dice] penalty on any saving throws made to resist your magical music.

Brown Noise
R: 20'
T: All creatures
D: 0
All who hear this discordant arpeggio must save immediately or shit their pants.  This is accompanied by intestinal distress that prevents them from doing anything for the next [dice] turns except move.  Obviously, this only works on targets capable of shitting themselves.  Creatures who have heard the brown noise before get +4 on this save.

If at least 2 casting dice are invested this may optionally be projected as a 50' cone.

Comprehend speech
R: 0
T: Self
D: [dice]*hour
This allows you to comprehend any language you hear, and respond verbally.  No effect on written language.  This is not real understanding, just a temporary translator-thing.

R: 50'
T: 1 creature
D: permanent or [dice]*hour
If the target fails a save, it goes deaf.  This is a curse, not a physical affect.  If this spell is reversed, it has three uses.  First, it can be used to cure magical (cursed) deafness.  Secondly, it can be used to temporarily grant hearing to things that cannot normally hear (such as golems), which incidentally makes them susceptible to sound-based magic for 1 hour.  Thirdly, if it is used on a creature than can already hear, noises will loom large and inescapable in their minds, making them better able to enjoy music, as well as giving them a -1*[dice] penalty to save against sound-based magic for the duration.  No matter how this spell is used, unwilling targets get a save.

Face melting solo
R: 20'
T: Everything
D: Concentration
Does [sum] fire damage and on each subsequent turn the damage increases by +1d6 and repeats (this stacks). If more than 4 dice are invested this can instead be cast as a 50' cone.

Gaping noise
R: 20'
T: Everything
D: 0
All containers and portals are opened, as long as those things aren't locked or tightly secured (tied shut with rope counts as tightly secured).  This has no effect on things such as belts, but it does affect pockets, luggage, zippers, doors, windows, and portcullises.  This spell cannot open minds.  If 2 casting dice are invested it also opens locks (including things like shackles), and if 3 dice are invested it triggers all traps in the area.

God ear
R: 0
T: Self
D: [dice]*minute
Your sense of hearing expands to godlike proportions.  You can hear muffins being digested in your belly.  You can hear moss growing on the other side of a stone wall.  It's all very disorienting, which is why you're helpless for the duration.

Beginning with near things and then moving outwards, your DM will describe [dice]*d6 interesting sounds, such as a goblin's dice clattering in the next room, followed by the a derro's mad muttering in the room beyond that.  The effect is barely comprehensible to mortal ears, however, and it is always possible that a sound might be missed in the tumult (and also because sometimes your DM will forget that there is a waterwheel in room 36, so be cool).

Rapturous noise
R: 20'
T: All creatures
D: 0
Everyone who fails a save is overcome by ecstasy for [sum] rounds.  While suffering from orgasmic pleasure, creatures cannot take any directly harmful actions, such as attacking with a weapon or casting a disabling spell, nor can they speak anything that isn't complimentary or pleasant.  Affected creatures could still pull a lever or run for help, though, since that is not directly harmful.  Creatures who have heard the Rapturous Noise before get +4 to their save.  If at least 3 dice are invested its effects can optionally be projected as a 50' cone.

Sawtooth Noise
R: 20'
T: All creatures
D: 0
Everyone takes [dice]*1d8 slashing damage, save for half.  Creatures who have heard the Sawtooth Noise before get +4 to their save.  If this spell has at least 2 casting dice invested in it it can optionally be projected as a 50' cone.

Song of captivation
R: 50'
T: [sum] targeted creatures
D: Concentration
Creatures that you select will turn their undivided attention to you for 1 round.  If they fail a save, their attention will remain on you for as long as you play, and will not take any actions except to listen quietly.  They get +4 to this save if there is combat or clear hostility in the situation.  This spell does not make them any less alert, it just makes them look in your direction and pay attention to you.  Regardless, the spell is broken as soon as something obviously suspicious or important happens. They will not move from their spots.  If you at least 2 casting dice targets will follow you for as long as you continue playing while remaining in their midst (no running off ahead--you must stay surrounded).

Song of death/Song of life
R: 50'
T: [sum] targeted creatures
D: Concentration
When cast as Song of Death creatures that you select take [dice] damage per turn, no save.  Undead creatures are instead healed by this song.

When cast as Song of Life creatures that you select heal [dice] damage per turn.  However this spell cannot heal pre-existing wounds, so if you were at half HP when the song started, you will not heal above that.  Additionally, anyone listening to this song is protected against death magic and level drain, and gets +2*[dice] to save against such things.  If this spell targets undead creatures, they instead take [dice] damage per turn, no save.  If at least 2 casting dice are invested targets get an additional+2*[dice] to save against death effects and level drain.

Song of silence
R: 10'*[dice]
T: Everything
D: Concentration
You play anti-music, generating anti-sound.  This cancels out all sounds within range.

Stupid mouth
R: 50'
T: 1 creature
D: 1 minute*[dice]
If the target fails a save, it will be unable to speak except in the worst way possible.  Every phrase will be misspoken, every intent subverted.  They will insult the most important person in the room in an offhand way, speak the most embarrassing secrets (others' and their own), and generally be a colossal ass.  They always have the option of shutting up, however, and most people will indeed shut up as soon as they realize something is wrong with their mouth.  Spellcasters suffering from this spell will have a 50% chance of failing their spellcasting (the action fails, but they don't lose the spell—it's not a fumble).

If tat least 2 casting dice are invested the target will have no choice but to babble nonstop for the spell's duration, and an affected spellcaster will fail all of their spells.

The greatest and best song in the world
R: 50'
T: 1 creature
D: Concentration
No save. The caster and the target are locked in a duel, every round dealing [dice]*1d12 to the target and half damage to the caster each round. This damage is double when targeting demons.

One time use. If the caster survives they can continue to cast the spell, but only ever with a maximum of 2 casting dice invested, now called "Tribute to the greatest and best song in the world" and they will talk about that one time they cast it and how cool it was and how it really didn't sound much like this but you get the idea.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Random God Generator, or Who Dat God?

Okay, so we have a nice simple system for simulating economics in Ánemos. It's easy. We have a random Spirit Generator, also easy. Let's create a system for another piece of the Weird Mythic Fantasy pie, the Gods.

This is a series of tables meant to flesh out the god of an island that your party may be visiting that you didn't have time to write out. These generation categories go in order of importance, and they are designed to also answer questions about the populous that worships them. Another design goal is to produce super weird results that will kick your brain stems out of creative inertia (at least that's the goal).

Some cools ideas are here too.

More Important:


This is to distinguish the God from Spirits, their interests and scope of influence are simply very different. Think about it like the two tribes of Norse gods, the Vanir and the Aesir. The Vanir are more interested in the affairs of humans, the Aesir are manifestations of the forces of nature. Gods in Ánemos are concerned with human affairs: philosophy, drama, agriculture, writing, knowledge, etc. the Spirits on the other hand are the ID of the natural world.

(Borrowed some ideas from here)

Roll twice:

Taboos for the faithful:

Roll a few times on this, really as many as you need to make the religion sufficiently distinct. Some results may not make sense as written, for example: The Faithful...must or the home. Thats okay. Re-rolls are encouraged.

Manifests As:

Now to create some flavor for the god, something you can tell your PCs to make them go "They worship a whaaat?"

Now you have a basic body plan and size, lets give the god some sort of strange detail, ideally based upon their domain. This is the time to throw in that weird trait you have been thinking of but never seems to fit, its a god, it can do what ever it wants! Below are some examples I thought up.

This may be helpful if you roll "mineral" as body plan


Whats the point of having a god if you can't pray to them and they sometimes listen and do something crazy? Unfortunately (fortunately?) not all gods are created equal (might have something to do with the belief in them...). If the god can grant Moderate Boons, they can grant Minor Boons too of course. Try and stick with the domain of the god generated to give you some ideas. Think of this as a "power rating" of sorts, more powerful gods can grant greater boons.

Roll 2d6, drop the lowest.
(1-2) Minor Boon: Simple things, no heavy divine intervention here. Easing child birth (fertility domain), blessing the faithful with deep and restful sleep (sleep domain), wiping away painful memories (ignorance domain), giving a glimpse of the weather in the coming week (prophecy domain), etc.

(2-4) Moderate Boon: More significant intervention now, the faithful are truly lucky to be given one of these boons. Gifting a great week of feasts that strengthen and encourage the faithful (hedonism domain), favorable winds bring exotic traders (mercantilism domain), their long-eye spies an enemy form afar and warms the faithful (watchfulness domain), those that would wreak vengeance are given aid in the form of poisoned arrows (vengeance domain), etc.

(5-6) Major Boon: Fear ye all who oppose them, for their god is on their side... Direction on how to build a magical ship (travel domain), lending their strength to an army on the march (war domain), to hide their believers behind a bank of fog for a season to avoid their enemies (secrets domain), lending their deep intellect to aid in some great undertaking (science), etc.

Fanaticism rating:

Rolled randomly as a sliding scale, I want little islands of super fanatics and big islands of agnostics. This may indicate the "trajectory" the god and its believers are on, ie a "weak" god (one that can only grant minor boons) that has fanatic believers may in a few generations be able to start granting moderate boons as they wax in power.

This can also describe how strictly they follow the taboos of their religion.

Simply roll 1d10: 1 being casual/passive believers, 10 being fanatic believers.

Less Important:

Patron of this profession and this class:

The god you are generating should have people that tend to really like them. These are those people.
(The profession table I stole and altered from +Arnold K. from his GLOG system)

Roll once on each:

Favored Weapon:

I always liked how the gods in WotC's mythos always have a favored weapon, and that their clerics always have them. Its good flavor. This could also be used to deduce how this culture wages war.

Sacred Plant or Animal:

So you have a pretty good idea of what the god is all about, what are its two major symbols? These aren't critical, but I like the flavor of having a deity of being interested in a certain animal, so those animals just overrun the island because no one can touch them or something.

Here is a d100 animal table from here, reproduced with my fancy Excel color editing prowess and a d100 plant tables that I wrote (note on the plant table, it was really hard to choose a set of plants I felt were universally recognizable, throw anything out that doesn't fit in with your setting's ecology!).

Roll once on each.

Favors this trade good:

Roll on the trade table! As stated above, the gods' primary concern are civilized ones, so they tend to favor a specific good that their island produces. This generally gives respect to those that practice these trades as well.

Example God:

Alright, we have all the tools we need, lets walk through the steps and see what kind of god we get!
Domain: Peace, Justice
Taboos: The faithful must at dawn buy/sell feelings (anywhere).
Manifests as: Small, serpentine peacock
Boons: Minor
Fanaticism rating: Level 7 fanatics
Patron profession: Lumberjack
Patron class: Rogue
Favored weapon: Garrote
Sacred animal: Skunk
Sacred plant: Moss
Favored trade good: Alchemicals

This is the god Pagóni, Lady of the Serene Isle. Every morning her followers wake and weep or laugh or smile or frown or grimace or gawf or... into vials. They then take to the streets to barter and trade their emotions with one and other. Pagóni oversees this serenely, gentle floating on the morning sea breeze, her people once again safe from their own emotional burdens. All is ordered, everyone is calm and only feels what they paid for that morning. This is Pagóni's blessing, and her people love her for it.

Her temple is high on the Isle's mountain in a damp cave covered in moss with the music of water dully echoing on the soft walls. The woodsmen of  the Isle pray to her to be anointed with the musk of the sacred albino skunks, and their axe and saw strokes are sure and measured.

But all is not always well in the Serene Isle, and when enemies come to the Calm Folk, the footpads take to the night and strangle them gently in the dark, their callousness and hate and emotional flux is not welcome on the Serene Isle...


Saturday, June 3, 2017

Throwing Meat on Bones: Designing Settlements

In my Ánemos game most of the party is from the same place, Nános. The founding principle of this campaign was to try out some of the ideas about romantic fantasy and long term adventures with months of domestic time that +Joseph Manola writes about at his excellent blog. A hugely important part of this is the players home, and in this campaign that's the Grandsire's Enclave (the analog for the home village in a vanilla RPG).

I have been working on some options for the party to make decisions about how to invest in their home while they are out adventuring (because they were kind of exiled for kind of inviting a practitioner of a Sun Cult to Nános and kind of murder the Grandsire with mirrors), so when they finally return home they will have a lot of cool options. I read a post a few weeks(months?) about building up your village and it was good... but of course when I started this post I couldn't find it so I wrote my own rules. Here is that original post form the superb +Mateo Diaz Torres over at gloomtrain.

There have been other hacks like this, and this is loosely modeled on those (specifically Pathfinder's Settlement mechanics introduced for the Kingmaker Adventure Path), but also on some spreadsheets I made for my Vindjord game a few years ago that were similarly intended, but the system was never used. Taking a cue from some of these hacks I am giving the Enclave stats like a character :
  • Military: Used when raising an army, or when doing auto-resolution of conflicts when the PCs are away or when withstanding an attack
  • Agriculture: Used to figure out the population cap of the Settlement
  • Culture: Used to see if the settlement is able to help a PC to research something, or used to see if the settlement and the party get any morale bonuses for that month
  • Trade: Used to figure out the monthly income as well as famous-ness of settlement
All of the buildings provide modifiers to these stats and some unlock abilities like ship building or increasing the max value of an item available for sale in the settlement. Many of the buildings might require a special artisan to run them, so if the party finds a talented smith in their travels they could invite them to set up shop in their Enclave.

So here is a table with some options that the PCs can invest in (assume that each building or improvement takes a month to build):

The filled in slots are what has been built at the start of play, consider doing the same with your own.

I have instituted a cyclical time constraint on the players, with roughly half the year being unsuitable for sea travel, and therefore adventuring (that's what you get with a world of islands and a monsoon season). The thought is they will return home for the Season of Storms and play house for a few months (of course through descriptive montage) and build up the Enclave, then go adventure again once the weather clears. My group is currently half way through their first Season of the Sun, so they haven't interacted with any of this yet.

I'll keep you all posted with what my group thinks!

The Math

So here is what I have cooked up, with examples from the Enclave (examples will make some more sense if you read this post about Automata)

  • All Settlment Stats start at 4. This base score increases as the population grows (every exponential increase), the minimum number of inhabitants for a settlement is only like 30-40.
    • The Enclave started at 36 (6^2), and the base score will increase to 6 once they hit 216 (6^3).
  • Stat bonuses use the standard 5e spread, so a score of 10 means a +0 bonus, and a score of 6 means a -2 bonus.
  • For a monthly settlement income roll 1d20+Trade Modifier, this determines how good trade was this month. Apply the adjusted rate to the basic rate (money/population) and add it to the coffers.
    • The rate  I am using is 10 money/Circle (units of 6 Automata)
    • I am not letting my PCs use the Enclave's income for themselves, they must reinvest in the community, until they have a glorious military coup. 
  • The total population possible (as opposed to the realized population, you should keep track of how many peasants die) should be calculated as r* Agriculture score. 
    • So the rate for the Enclave is the constant 5.166 (I back calculated this rate for my game based off of how many people I said live in the settlement from the first session). Meaning that at their current Agriculture score of 6 there can be a total of 5.166*6=31 Circles supported (with rounding of course).
  • At the beginning of each month roll a morale check for the settlement, 1d20+Culture bonus. The result determines if they are in good spirits and gives them a bonus to all other rolls for that month. Its hard to get anything done when there hasn't been a good feat lately or a new book at the library.
  • Culture bonuses are also used to see if any traveling artists/ musicians/ scientists/ alchemists/ etc stop by for a while and applied to PC research checks at home.
  • Military rolls are opposed 1d20+Military bonus checks, the magnitude of winning/losing determines how big the victory/defeat was. Should be super back of the envelope calculation to determine the invading force's bonus, and only used when the PCs are away.
That's all of the hard and fast math I have figured out so far, but it seems like its enough to run with it. I like that the town income is separate from the PC's but they can spring some of their own cash if they really want to build a better smithy so they can finally buy better weapons. I have also given the PCs a map of the island to draw on as they build it up so they have some more concrete idea of where the ranch will go, and just where to put the garden.

***Note: this really intended for lower level characters investing in their home town, it's not really intended to scale to a metropolis or domain level simulation. You absolutely should not do this with every place they visit, it's a waste of valuable DM planning time***

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Plying the Seas for (Some) Adventure and (Mostly) Profit

"Hey kid, wanna buy some sheep?"
So I have a player in one of my Ánemos games that worships Oros, god of trade and mercantilism. Literally ever time they are in a port or meeting a random guy on the ocean he trys to make a business deal, its great. I didn't really have a good way to handle this at first, so I wrote up a random goods table, assigned each good a value per ton and a rarity and have been using it ever since. And since I wrote it I guess I could share it here, I even mentioned it in a post from months ago!

I use these by rolling on the d100 table when the party encounters a merchant ship (most of these are either common galleys (150 tons of cargo space) or trading cogs (300 tons of cargo space)) (ship stats here) to figure out what goods they have aboard. If you want to really systematize this you could roll a d100% to determine how full the trader's cargo hold is and roll on the goods table and the quantity per rarity table to fill up their hold to their current level, but I have found that that level of detail is often not super important.

I have found this table to be pretty useful for determining the primary industries of islands or even the domains that Gods and Spirits are interested in. So that's cool.

Random Good Table:
Livestock Head to Ton Conversion Rates
Quantity Per Rarity Rates
I also wrote a little calculator using Excel's random number generator to simulate a variable price when selling goods in market. The math is pretty simple, and it seems to work well:
Selling Price= Common Price*(1+x)
Where: x=(random value between -25% and +25%)/y
Where: y=1(if very rare), 2(if rare), 3(if uncommon), 4(if common) 
[I especially like that the rarity controls how big the price variation is. Common goods are only ever -6.25% to +6.25% above or below the common market price, they are more stable good because they are common. Rarer goods can have bigger swings in price, like in real life! Economics simulation tirade over]

Or you can just say fuck it, Connor you wrote a god damned math for D&D what the fuck, give me the math in a little calculator for fucks sake. Okay.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Some Thoughts On: Story Telling, the Novel and the Epic, Oral Traditions, and their Roles in TTRPGs

A Brief History of the Novel and Storytelling

Novels are a relatively modern form of storytelling. Since the inception of language stories had been told orally, then suddenly the story became fixed in written word by an author with a very small audience who was assumed to be reading it individually or listening to it being read. This presupposed audiences that could read, means of producing copies of a text, and the cultural onus to create them. The novel appears in a few different places and times: in 17th century Europe with the publishing of Don Quixote, in 11th century Japan with the writing of The Tale of Genji, and even some Greek and Roman prose narratives being called precursors to novels.

Don Quixote, by Scott Gustafson

This contrasts with the oral traditions that is inherently mutable from Teller to Listener, and between tellings from the same Teller. It was this tradition that gave us the Poetic and Prose Eddas, to the Iliad and the Odyssey, and the Ramayana and the Mahabharata (though each of these works are of course know through the written incarnations, not an intact oral history). Works of similar tone or content or form where also composed as a piece of written narrative poetry, a good example is Dante's Divine Comedy (perhaps the first great trilogy). Many of these classic epics come in the form of verse, with the Prose Edda being the glaring exception.

Illustrations to The Elder Edda by Boris Zaborikhin

I listen to a podcast, Myths and Legends, and the host Jason Weiser made an interesting point in a recent episode about Paul Bunyan. He retells myths and legends (duh), but in his retelling he edits for clarity and elaborates as he sees fit. He asserts, rightly so I think, that this is very much a part of the traditions that these stories were forged in. The epics listed above would be very strange to the audience they were originally told to, sometimes written hundreds of years after they where being told and often with heavily editorializing by the transcriber to make them a cohesive narrative (for example the Iliad) or to sanitize and Christianize them ( for example the Poetic Edda and the Prose Edda). These are bizarre static stories of a time and place far removed at the time of writing, not composed works like a novel.

Aren't we as roleplayers participating in a modern oral tradition through roleplaying? Right now I am running a two groups in the same setting with no over lap in players, and in the retelling of the aspects there is drift/editorial adjustment between the groups as the encounter similar situations/locations/challenges. These are exactly the kind of adjustments that a story teller would make to improve each retelling and to tailor it to their audiences.

Roleplaying Games as Story Telling

When describing D&D to people I usually fall back onto the analogy of a novel. The players are the main characters in the story, the DM/GM/Referee is everyone and everything else. "You get to play Frodo and the Fellowship of the Ring!" I tell them.  Yes there are dice. Yes, some people use a board and little figurines. But those things aren't the point (not necessarily, there are beautiful and deep sub-hobbies around the crafting and enjoyment of gaming artifacts; just look at all of the gaming table or dice tower designs on the web, miniature painting, or novelty chocolate dice). The point is to get together with your friends and collaboratively tell a story.

***Thats at least what I tell people. I have seen mummers of contention about this explanation, though only second hand, that we can't play out stories, its only a story if we tell people about it after! I've never seen a convincing argument for this, so if you have some counter points I'd love to see see them.***

It seems to me that pretty damn near EVERY TTRPG game I have played or that I can think of the essential elements of the story. So I'll use some classic examples of D&D modules and other games to demonstrate:
  • Characters: Duh, we literally call them that most of the time. Whether they are Player Characters or Non-Player Characters, they are still characters. No example needed really, characters are ubiquitous
  • Setting: The place where the events of the game happen. People produce setting documents for their players to orient them to how weird their version of fantasy medieval Europe is. This can be exhaustive (I'm looking at you Greyhawk) or sparse (I'm looking at you Keep on the Borderlands). 
  • Plot: This is the arc of the narrative, with the beginning (Adventuring around the small hamlet of Hommlet) the middle (Delving into the Temple of Elemental Evil) and end (Visiting the Elemental Nodes to get the key to defeating Zuggtmoy). There is progression and escalating tensions
  • Conflict: The reason the characters are involved at all, the tension to be resolved (Delving into the Tomb of Horrors to destroy the demi-lich Acererak) (to stop the horde of Hobgoblins bearing the Red Hand of Doom). 
  • Resolution: Through playing resolution is achieved, even if that results in character death or unexpected outcomes, at least the game went somewhere.

To the Matter at Hand

So my question is this: do the stories generated through table top role playing games really most closely resemble novels? Can we play out other forms of narrative, like an epic poem? I've seen some very good arguments that the OSR school of thought encourages a more picaresque style of narrative with roguish motivations, so other genres and scales of narrative interest are obviously viable.

I suppose what I want to get at is this: can we explore wider genres with broader scopes of ambition than the novel? Can we play the heroes and gods of Myth and not just characters of Mythic Fantasy? Can we use these games as a vehicle for a modern oral tradition? Is D&D and its many children the system we want? Or is a more narrative focused system like Hillfolk or Skulduggery (both of which are well described here) better suited?

I don't know, but I sure think we should try. Let us set our sites on the horizons and venture into realms that we haven't been to yet. Let is push the limits. Let us engage in an ancient tradition and tell our own epics. D&D may not be the vehicle, though this does seem the realm of epic level play (something I have never seen done well). Let us look for an alternative because old stories deserve to be told, not just read and new stories deserve to be explored, not just dreamed.

Saturn by Peter Paul Rubens; don't you want to play in a game where you can eat your divine spawn to keep them from over throwing you?
Source, lets play more games with the Morrigan as a character!
Source, or Morgoth!

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The Bard Colleges

This is the second of my follow up posts to this project, today's class is the Bard. The goal of this project is to create a "minigame" of sorts for each sub-class for D&D 5e that allows the character to grow in ways not directly tied to their level progression and that makes each sub-class feel unique and interesting.

College of Lore:

Original Idea: "Your mind is a well from which you can draw history and knowledge from the depths of the past. Your long study has given you an unrivaled grasp of Lore. For every lost secret that you unearth your knowledge deepens."

So the idea with this sub class is to be an searcher for Secrets, the better the Secret the more revelatory the discovery. Perhaps this is a more story/adventure based advancement than the other sub-classes, but I think its a fun way to make an investigative and lore driven bard. These are the kind of characters that want to delve deep into ruins of ancient civilizations so they can learn more about their plumbing. Not all Secrets are arcane and world shattering...

So as the Lore Searcher finds secrets they act like subtle Wish spells. The Bard discovers something in the dungeon they are delving in and the player gets to decide what exactly they discovered! I want the onus of this to fall on the player, not the DM, so its up to the player to declare when they are discovering a Secret, the DM just lets them know when they have delved and studied enough to merit a new Secret discovery. Below is an example, but this should be super fungible.

DM, ConBon: CWilly, as you are lowered down the shaft you start making out some inscriptions in the stone, you flickering lantern dimly illuminating them...

Player, CWilly: I holler up to the Barbarian, "STOP!!! This could be what I've been looking for! These look to be diagrams to the Ancient Yuan-Ti super weapons..."

ConBon: No they aren't dude, its just like a shaft leading down to the next level... Why would they put super weapon plans here?

CWilly: Okay, okay. Then they are graffiti from the Yuan-Ti's slaves, it says the name of their God-Ruler and that he was afraid of fire.

ConBon: Alright, that sounds good, but it'll be a while till you get another Secret, okay? The name of the God-Ruler was Issak the Cruel, and he was deathly afraid of fire...

In the example above the DM lets the player  have a say in defining the final boss of the Dungeon, giving him a weakness to fire. There is some negotiation involved, as there should be.

Not a wizard! A bard!

College of Valor:

Original Idea: "You thrill in the heat of battle, pounding a martial beat as you urge your allies on. You have taken to the sword as a duck to a pond. Keep track of every bardic inspiration die that is the difference between life and death for an ally or foe."

You've chosen a path of empowerment, a martial archetype for a musical/performance based class. There is a rich tradition of these kind of characters across cultures: the skald (warriors and storytellers), the samurai (meant to be masters of martial and sensitive arts), the knight (the chivliric ideal has knights that write poetry), etc.

The original idea was a little boring I think, and I have been playing a loosely Redwall based game recently, we sing a lot of songs, shout a lot of battle cries, and describe feasts often; its all been really fun. So the Bard under the tutelage of the College of Valor seeks out greater and greater conflicts to participate in so that they can write sagas about their exploits. Think of it like you get to play Homer writing the Odessy while its happening!

The Bard gets to write a new bad-ass song for each new scale of conflict they are embroiled in. A computational way to represent this would be CR (Challenge Rating), the metric that describes how much XP should be awarded for a combat encounter. There is all sorts of arcane maths behind this computation, so the leg work is done for us, we just get assign rewards for writing poems.

Of course to use these the player actually has to tell a story/sing a song/recite a poem! For example the Heroic Ode should be written for each party member you want to use it on, "Oh Scar-Faced Johnny, Slayer of Naga Queens and Terror of the Eastern Wastes, you story cannot end here...!", therefore each party member has to have done something Ode worthy for this to work. The format doesn't have to be these forms of course, this isn't some stupid creative writing class, let the player have some fun with it.

CRSaga Unlocked
0-4 (Amateur hour bub)Campfire Story
5-8 (Wow! You sound like some kind of hero!)Folk Song
9-12 (Hear anew the voice! O hear and listen!)Heroic Ode
13-16 (And so Hercules slayed the hydra...)Legendary Story
17-20 (Tell me, O Muse, of the man of many devices...)Epic Poem

Campfire Story: You can tell a Campfire Story of one of your Party's exploits while taking a long or short rest, this allows your allies to re-roll all 1's on their HD rolls when regaining health.

Folk Song: When you sing your Folk Song in public you get advantage on preform checks when trying to make money in down time

Heroic Ode: When an ally is making death saving throws you can take a full round action to recite their Heroic Ode to instantly stabilize them at 0 HP as long as you are within 30ft of them.

Legendary Story: During combat you can make begin to tell your Story, for every round that you recite your allies get +1 on attack/damage/saving throws (each party member chooses which one they want for the duration) for every round that you continuously tell the story, as a concentration spell up to 1 minute (can use Battle Magic while doing this), usable 1/week

Epic Poem: This is effectively a ritual spell (takes 10 minutes to cast) that can be used to cast any spell on any class's spell list lower than 6th level, and the epic poem must some how relate to the spell being cast. For example a Create Undead spell could go like this:
Facing to the northern clime,
Thrice he traced the Runic rhyme;
Thrice pronounced, in accents dread,
The thrilling verse that wakes the dead,
Till from out the hollow ground
Slowly breathed a sullen sound.

This is usable 1/week.

Cult: You have accumulated enough of a cultural impact that you now have a whole cult devoted to the contemplation of of your art and the mysteries contained within. When ever you come into a settlement that is a town or larger roll to see how big your following is here, using your Preform skill. Depending on the success of the role, your Cult could be very developed in a way to aid you. At the least you get a fan club most places you go.


I think the Secrets mechanic is especially interesting, giving the PC a way to color and change the world in creative ways. It gives some of the DM's agency to the player, which is fun. I haven't thought of a good way to standardize it, though I am not too worried.

I'm not totally satisfied with how tied to level advancement the Sagas mechanic is, but I think it makes some sense. That they have to recite their work makes it fun, hopefully. Perhaps encourages players to do some riskier things than they normally might, all because it would make a great story. And that is awesome.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Thoughts on Megafauna

Megafauna are large animals. Examples include loins and tigers and bears (oh my), and for the most part in the modern day they are pretty severely limited to the African continent. There are still megafauna found elsewhere in the world, just simply not the levels that the fossil record indicates we should could seeing (for example most deer count as megafauna, kangaroos count, bison count, cows count,  cassowary count, etc). Megafauna are not only cool things to hunt and see on safari, but they also do some very import ecological work. There is super interesting ecological restoration work going on trying to reintroduce megafauna to areas they have gone extinct in to restore some semblance of a healthy (according to a historic standard) ecosystem.

There is an interestingly high levels of representation of dinosaurs in D&D. The AD&D Monstrous Manual has 28 entries, the 3.5 edition Monster Manual has 5 entries (but many many more in the next 4 Monster Manuals), 4th edition has none (weird...), and 5th edition has 6 entries. All of them that have dinosaurs have the Tyrannosaurus Rex and the Triceratops listed, which doesn't surprised me as they seem to be the most commonly recognized dinosaurs out there.

See? They are classics! (Source)

While having the stats for your favorite dinosaur is great if you want to run a anachronistic primal game what I would like to argue for is a more geologically recent cast of beasts. Ones that our lizard brains  (no pun intended...) remember hunting or hiding from. There is an uncanny familiarity of the megafauna of the last geological epoch, because humans actually co-existed (and hunted and ate and ran from and...) with all of these animals, unlike dinosaurs. There is of course the classic wooly mammoth, or the saber toothed tiger, or the giant ground sloth. But there is a huge diversity of other fauna to tap into and explore.

Cave paintings found in the Lascaux Caves of France depicting megafauna from ~17,000 years ago 

There was an attempt, at least to my eyes, to introduce the concept of megafauna into D&D terms with the advent of "dire" animals. Don't get me wrong, I love dire animals in D&D, but I think that just taking a currently living animal and making it bigger just doesn't take that much imagination. For example I suspect the whole trend was started by the real life dire wolf, a larger and more muscled close relative of the wolf (Canis lupus). But even this prehistoric example is way cooler! They are like giant crosses between hyenas and wolves, not just big wolves that have spikes growing out of them... or something.

Dire wolf, Canis dirus

WHY DOES IT HAVE SPIKES??? (to be fair it would be cool if we explored Dire Animals as having messed up metabolisms that leave calcium deposits all over the body that look like armor plates/spikes/tusks/etc and other weird metabolic relics, but no, we just get spiky wolves)

So for your gaming pleasure here is an (seriously incomplete) list of Pleistocene megafauna and some recommended stat blocks to borrow (most of them don't need their own), as well as some interpretations of their ecology for making them more interesting:

Arctodus simus, Short Faced Bear
Stats as: 8HD Polar Bear, 5eMM pg 334 (60ft movement, no swim speed)
Ecology and Quirks: With its long legs and sharp teeth the Short Faced Bear is a fast and brutal carnivore, they run down large herbivores and frightening off smaller predators (this is the original interpretation of their fossils, more modern studies conclude they are opportunistic omnivores, but that's boring).  Unlike their small cousins Short Faced Bears are very poor climbers and can often be foiled by climbing a tree.

Castoroides ohioensis, Giant Beaver
Stats as: Giant Boar, 5eMM pg 323 (20ft walking speed, 50ft swim speed no charge, tusk is bite attack, gets tail slap: +5 to hit 10ftx5ft area, 3d6+3 bludgeoning and knocks foes prone (Str/Dex Save DC14))
Ecology and Quirks: Stupid and huge compared to their smaller relatives, the Giant Beaver is an excellent swimmer and grazes the rivers banks and wetlands like bison graze the prairie. Their migratory patterns are erratic and they will descend upon settlements in droves in the winter months eating away at wooden buildings and crops alike. Their pelts are highly prized.

Aiolornis incredibilis, Giant Condor
Stats as: Giant Eagle. 5eMM pg 324 (on a successful talon attack the foe is grappled, DC 14 Str/Dex to break free, half fly speed while grappling, can grapple medium and smaller)
Ecology and Quirks: A lord of carrion birds, the Giant Condor is the largest flying bird known. With a massive beak and weighing more than 60lbs they could easily fight off most other scavengers and smaller predators.  Their favorite tactic is to swoop down and carry away foes, then drop them from a great height.

Aepyornis maximus, Elephant Bird
Stats as: Allosaurus, 5eMM pg 79 (60ft move speed, no pounce, gets an claw attack against any creature in its path if it runs in a straight line for more than 40ft)
Ecology and Quirks: The largest bird to ever live, the Elephant Bird is tall, fast, and has a wicked beak. Its favorite tactic is to do a series of charges at any foes and closing in to finish them with its beak when they are weak. Its eggs are highly prized, one could feed a whole adventuring party for a day or two. If they think their nests are being threatened they will flee straight to them, ignoring all dangers... and pit traps.

Megaloceros giganteus, Irish Elk
Stats as: Giant Elk, 5eMM pg325
Ecology and Quirks: The male Irish Elk are the only ones that will fight you. The females are huge, sure, but the males are over sexed, their huge antlers are for two things: impressing the cows, and fucking up anyone that gets in their way. There is of course an easy way to deal with them, simply rush into the nearest thicket of willow and the low and dense branches will keep them from following.

Paraceratherium transouralicum, The Near Horn Beast
Stats as: Elephant, 5eMM pg322 (12HD)
Ecology and Quirks: A lumbering hulk, the Near Horn Beast wanders the world is search of the ultimate: the next yummy leaf. No tree too tall, no shrub too low, no grass too bitter, and no predator big enough. The Near Horn Beast wanders on. They could perhaps be tamed, taught to be ridden, but the amount of forage an individual would need it a serious logistic challenge. Due to their massive size their legs are fragile, and even a small jump and stumble might fracture their bones.

(Also check out the Siberian Unicorn!)

As I note above, many of these don't need their own stat block, but that doesn't mean they should just be interchangeable big beasties! This is why included some notes on their ecology and quirks, make them falvorful and interesting damn it. You might consider thinking about them this way.

Oh familiar old friend,
embraced in the dark of night,
fighting tooth and claw
Primordial enemy,
Now just dust and memory.
There is no treachery 
Only blood thundering in the dark.