Saturday, 18 November 2017

Hunters & Killers

A dungeon contains two main things, as I see it - monsters and treasure. One stops (easy) access to the other, and so you trick, maim and murder the monsters to get the treasure - especially when you're using gold-as-xp (as you should). Whilst this is obviously pretty simplistic, ignoring all subtlety and additional functionality, I'm looking more at the relationship between the players and the monsters here. Removing or negating them is a means to an end, which might mean you basically don't need to worry as much about who/what/why - although I still do this, as do most DMs worth their salt - their weaknesses and pressure-points are often entwined with their history, relationships etc, enriching the game-play.

Which is just a complicated way of saying you kill them because they're in the way.

I'm currently thinking about a game wherein you are (primarily) monster hunters, rather than slayers. This entirely changes how the players relate to the monsters - they are the driving purpose, they are the main event. Consequently, how we as DMs work with the monsters has to change to reflect this, thematically, in presentation and mechanically.

(It'll also change the XP calculations - though I'd still probably link it to "treasure", but the treasure being the reward money for claiming the bounty)

Thematics
There's a couple of schools of thought to be applied here - what does the monster mean, or represent*. Integrating monsters into the (super)natural fauna of the land gives them context, a place, relationships with the rest of the system but simultaneously runs the risk of making them a bear or wolf with magic powers, which is a bit shit. This links heavily into presentation, discussed in that section. However, you could argue that animals are not monsters, that animals are an expected element, a known quantity. Monsters are (in my view) essentially aberrations of the natural order.

Taking on this concept of the monster as an aberration, we can play with some pretty fun ideas - they represent a wrongness in the area, whether that be social or environmental - the spirit of your murdered brother, or woodland furies emerging to slaughter woodsmen. With this, you introduce the concept of having two immediate routes to solve the issue - hunt and kill the monster (treat the symptom) or attempting to solve the issue causing the aberration in the first place (cure what ails). This concept is used in The Witcher 3, which is a really good game you should try out - although you do sometimes end up fighting the beastie after solving the problem, albeit in some modified way, such as a weakened state, with greater foreknowledge, or with some form of specialized preparation informed by the root cause - put the spirit to rest with their original murder weapon, or prepare an oil with the weeds atop their unhallowed resting place.

Presentation
The monsters themselves must be presented according to their themes - the must fall into place with their respective systems, whether this is naturalistic "monsters" having nesting and food, or the aberrant monsters presented in such a manner to reflect their nature, and the ill they represent. Either approach can give the campaign a more "folky" feel, relying on the local population, their legends and rumours, a lot of spent in the rural areas rather than the cities and towns. 

Divorced from this, the monsters must be capable of being hunted. This can mean innate stealth, necessitating tracking, great speed or flight, requiring some manner of trapping them or attacking them at rest, or just being them so tough and terrifying that a cunning plan is needed to take them down.

Mechanics
The above points should generally somehow be reflected mechanically - with a lot of these, as with most OSR & OSR adjacent stuff, is in rulings and presentation rather than encoded into rules specifically.

A principal challenge with a hunted monster is ensuring the actual confrontation is interesting - I'm sure we've all experienced the players blitzing a single powerful opponent to death in a single round. HP Bloat is not enough to give this feeling of a genuinely dangerous monster worthy of hunting - elements such as speed and stealth, as with presentation, are key. Tapping into the folky nature of the game, having very specific weakness (which, of course, can be discovered by characters investigating sufficiently) are a both a classic element of such legends, as well significantly toughening up the monster itself.

Of course, an infestation of monsters, rather than a single, powerful creature, entirely side-steps this issue, but changes the entire relationship of the hunt - an extermination rather than a hunt. However, many of the other points above still apply, such as infestation-as-aberration, especially in the case that the infesting creature is otherwise normal in many respects.


*Not that I generally ascribe meaning to anything in my games in terms of real-world stuff, but more a sense of history or integration, or going the other way, a negation or lack of history/integration, and indeed, meaning.

Friday, 21 July 2017

Inverse Energy Empire - Vampire Barony, Beggar Kingdom

I was re-reading A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History and this is what happened.

Societies, being constructed primarily of energy and controls for energy flow, have a shadow form - The Inverse Energy Empire, vampire societies. Everything is stolen and pirated, hence the archaic and dated forms, all aping the host kingdom ~200 years prior. In the younger societies, these vampires are the barbarians, and can usher in the night of civilisation easiest, as are hosts weakened by plague and war - finishing off the host in this state ensures a swift, sharp end to the vampire mirror. An exhausted man succumbing to lingering illness.

Corrupted, twisted dated smoky mirror forms, a draining, a great void of energy attracting the societal output through the slow medium of history. As they change the host they change themselves in the future, a nonlinear feedback loop, the vampires plotting their future selves through past historical crimes and subtle manipulations, each a master of psychohistory.


Saturday, 17 June 2017

Rogue Trader 1987 Week 1 Wrap Up

So, I visited Warhammer World last week, and they have reprints of the first edition of 40k, one of my favourite books growing up. I couldn't help myself, but the purchase was made on the condition I actually make use of the book. This is that.

So, the set-up is rag-tag groups of mercenaries take on jobs as they see fit, building their bands with 150 points. Success means getting paid, which is more points to grow the band.

THE BANDS

The Frawgmn - 10 Slann with chainswords and hoverboards, which are disgustingly cheap.

Expurgatorum Eternus - I sold the setting as 'Mad Max but 40k' and this player went in on that. 4 weird, zany characters and 10 gretchins armed with nothing but slings, shields and frag grenades.

The Culture Club - In Cyberpunk Tuesday, one of the players rolled literally Boy George, who had a following known, naturally, as the Culture Club (made up entirely of cyber-psycho boostergangers). These guys follow suit, being led by our favourite member of the Culture Club, Langurious Rex. They've all got armour and big big guns.

Morgok - Rather than a gang, this player is one ork, with maximum values across the range and a huge arsenal. He believes he is the re-incarnation of both Mork and Gork.

The Gaslighters - Basically scotsmen with gas grenades and masks. Hilariously bad accents free!

FLAME FARMIN' FLURAG FIRE FARMER - One of my players always plays against type. Always. So he bought a BATTLE TRACTOR and gave it flamers.

The Rowdy Four - Four Beastmen champions and a halfling they follow, for obvious reasons.

WEEK 1 MISSIONS AND RUMOURS

EMPLOYER - Sir Rotheschilde von Gutchensmark
MISSION - Capture living specimens of the Crawler - Stun prods will be provided.
EXPECTED RESISTANCE - None
PAY - 5 per Specimen

(capture monsters - 5 points per creature captured - npc gang arrives in 1d6 turns(
(CRAWLERS, 10 of em)

EMPLOYER - East Side Farmers Union Bloc
MISSION - Liberate our stolen cattle from the West Region Agricropper Group
EXPECTED RESISTANCE - Minimal Guards
PAY - 45 points for Returning Cattle

(steal a cattle herd from generics - couple of guards + farmers w/ shotguns - 1 small dinosaur turns up in 2d4 turns)

RUMOUR:

"Big Larry sez there's a secret cache of weapons and shit in the mountains! I'll show ye where, if you get the next round..."

(RUMOUR - abandoned weapons cache in the mountains - cache has become nest for AMBULLS (2-3 of them - they can tunnel)

stuff in cache - 2 medipacks, cameleoline, rad-counter, rad suit, plasma pistol, 2 plasma grenades, heavy stubber, 10 points worth of random shit)


Stuff in brackets above is the hidden information the players didn't have access to.

Nearly everyone went for the rumour, with only The Rowdy Four and Flurag deciding to tackle the farm - except Flurag didn't. Instead, using his battle tractor, he killed the people waiting to collect the cattle, and took their stuff, including the reward. Since they didn't have heavy weapons, they were entirely unable to fight back.

The Rowdy Four, meanwhile, had a decent engagement against the farmers with their shotguns...until the dinosaurs turned up.


The dinosaurs ruined everything, nearly killing 2 of the beastmen before being distracted with delicious horseflesh. They did manage to wrangle the cattle, only to be severely fucked over by Flurag's take on the situation. Revenge will be had.

Despite everyone deciding the turn up for the rumour, Morgok and The Frawgmn were both equipped with hoverboards, turning up significantly earlier. This resulted in incredibly tense hover-board duels, chainswords bouncing off Morgok's stupidly thick hide, eventually resulting in Morgok stealing the Frawgmns Heavy Bolter, before flying off into the sunset.

Rules-wise this was an utter bastard, due to the continuous movement. The fiction occuring was incredibly cool however, so it worked out pretty nicely.

As Morgok fled, the other warbands began to roll up - causing the Frawgmn to dismount and enter the tunnel systems, running into...

Ambulls! The Frawgmn were utterly butchered, the entire group murdered whilst the warbands on the surface struck an accord. They decided to split the loot three ways, having heard the screaming and tearing coming from then tunnels.

Expurgatorum Eternus was split by a ravine from the others, and ran quickly into an ambull, which killed the entire command group bar Doc Hairy, leading to the rebranding of the group into Doc Hairy and the boys. Whilst this was going on, Morgok returned, swooping into the tunnels atop his hoverboard. Running into and Ambull, and utterly destroying it with a multi-melta. Not finding the hidden cache quickly enough, he decided to leave again, letting the other 3 bands split the loot. Eventually, after cooking a few more ambulls, the found the hidden cache and returned to Helsreach.

ROGUE TRADER IS REALLY FUN FOR THIS SMALL SCALE STUFF EVEN IF THE RULES ARE A TAD CLUNKY I RECOMMEND PLAYING IT HIGHLY

Thursday, 25 May 2017

Acid Death Fantasy - Thousand Sultans Generator

The petty sultans and emirs are many, ruling in luxury across the broken lands, precious water cupped in mailed palm. It is a hobby among them to compete with their titles.

1d10
Title








of/the
Honorific






and… (roll again)
1
Emir
thousand stars
2
Malik
Supreme Wisdom
3
Sultan
Rider on the Wind
4
Haleim
Crusher of Serpents
5
Sharif
Jewelled Eminence
6
Ensi
Chosen by a Legion of Divines
7
Patesi
Sage of Sages
8
Lugal
Boundless (Mercy, Strength, Riches, Wisdom)
9
En
of [titles]
10
Lord
Gift to all Peoples

Though war does sometimes erupt across the wastes, they prefer to compete in other ways, an endless cycle of fashions and fads.

d20
Current Fad
1
Beasts - the most exotic, dangerous or mundane.
2
Slaves - the most beautiful, athletic or educated.
3
Poems - the most ground-breaking or traditional.
4
Palaces - the most humble or spectacular.
5
Feasts - the most sumptuous or daring.
6
Drugs - the hardest or the most cultured.
7
Esteemed Guests - the most noble, educated or barbaric.
8
Bound Demons - the most, the most hideous or otherworldly.
9
Personal Champions - the least likely or most proficient.
10
Ugliest Wretches - quantity or quality?
11
Arcane Lore - the most hidden or powerful.
12
Largest Harem - most mixed or heterogeneous.
13
Finest Garments - the most beautifully useless or practical.
14
Most Pious - to a known or unknown deity.
15
Sponsor of adventurers - the most widely spending or focused.
16
Most beloved or despised.
17
Finest Personal Guards - obvious or subtle.
18
Deadliest Dungeon - fair or totally unfair.
19
Most illustrious genealogy.
20
Most non-materialistic.

Of course, each sultanate has its own problems.

d10
Troubles afoot
1
Slave Uprising.
2
Rouge Wizard(s) attempting usurpation.
3
Mercenaries, unpaid, running rampant.
4
Infestation of monsters has taken hold.
5
Plague.
6
Disturbed ruins causing havoc.
7
A huge lack of money on all levels.
8
War with a neighbour.
9
A prophecy of doom approaches the promised date.
10
Migrant population causing issues with locals.

Saturday, 20 May 2017

Ruined Cities Are Really Hard

Or, dealing with hyper-dense 'dungeons'.

A lot of my stuff revolves around dead cities, ruined cities, cities where something went wrong. This is me putting some thoughts about such environments being really hard to play whilst satisfying some of the stuff I like to do.

See the city. It is dead, filled with buildings bereft of their original purpose, re-imagined as lairs, traps and storehouses for treasure. Compare this to the traditional dungeon - each room has specified exits and entrances, whereas the city offers a practical infinity of entrances, exits, and approaches. This, in addition to the sheer sizes, is a problem to be solved. Two main approaches spring to mind.

Abstraction.
Movement through and the contents of the majority of structures are abstracted, often through the use of procedural generation (this house has *dice dice* nothing) - those structures which do contain items of interest are 'zoomed' into, breaking away from the strategic (travel-based) and moving into the tactical, individual level movement, most obviously combat. This is intuitive, and means the game isn't a slog of this house is empty, after the players describe surrounding yet another ruined manor. However, such zooming immediately informs players that something interesting is about to happen, whether this been combat, traps or a secret to be discovered, meaning they will deploy in a manner to take maximal advantage of the environment. (More on environment usage later.)

The characters, assumably, will be moving and acting in a far less cautious manner during standard travel. (This could, of course, be considered in the abstraction, moving far slower in the strategic view.)  This effect ruins the opportunity for players to be surprised - although, a solution for this would be utilizing more active opponents, who attempt to engage from surprise, forcing the players into positions less advantageous as they are the defenders, adapting to the situation as dictated by the ambushers. Such an addition rewards players defining themselves scouting and planning for such situations, dictating a marching order taking advantage of the nuances of the specific buildings and streets in the encounter area.

This, however, runs into another issue within abstracting the dense urban environment. Using generic floor-plans and streets leads to strings of encounters effectively occurring within the same environment, a street lacking in interesting nuance, with the same layout of buildings offering the same opportunities. Generating an interesting and unique street and/or floorplan(s) however, is going to take time - the opposite of what a surprise engagement offers. Building a large library of interesting nuances yet somewhat universal layouts would negate this somewhat - but then the difference between the abstraction and a complete mapping shrink, reaching the point where complete mapping might make more sense. The balance between a nuanced and interesting engagement locale with the speed of the generation is very hard to strike.

Complete Mapping
Completely mapping a dense, decaying urban environment is a gargantuan amount of work, which immediately makes this option less appealing. Even ignoring this significant limitation, we run into the fact such a huge amount of information is really hard to use at the table. Each structure would require some form of representation, informing (or inspiring) the GM as to the external and internal structure of the building. This could be achieved through some form of short-hand tags or keywords, the combination of these phrases rapidly building a mental image to be imparted to the players. Such a system would require a degree of training in the GM, even just to simply learn this skill. The advantage of such complete mapping is the ability to instantly determine the form and nuance of the locale an engagement is occurring within - the GM will know through a system of tags there is a barricade which offers either side an advantage, without the need for a potentially cumbersome or slow generation system. The key to achieving a working Complete Mapping is a really effective manner of splitting information into table-usable chunks, with both player-facing and GM-facing maps and information available.

Both are hard and leave me wanting somewhat. Whadda you guys do?

Friday, 19 May 2017

Acid Death Fantasy - Weird Desert Backgrounds for Troika!

ACID DEATH FANTASY

For use with Troika! - Luke Gearing

"The slate was not wiped clean - it was shattered into countless jagged pieces, splintering a new world with the debris of the old."

What happened is long forgotten. Remains of it, barely understood by the most learned scholars, are rife throughout the lands, but most are too busy surviving to ponder these relics, else maintaining their strangleholds on water and power, power and water.
The greatest living city of the desert is Shalar, that breeding ground of pleasure and nightmare. All people, all faiths, all goods have a stake in Shalar, ruled by the Many Crowned King/Queen and her terrible guard, a thousand strong. The wealth of Shalar is untouched, uncontested, and many covet the throne.
Spinning outwards of Shalar are the Thousand Sultanates, a great miscellany of egotism, pride and petty squabbles. There is much wealth, for the titles of these many pretenders are not entirely false. They compete endlessly in their petty games, although all are inevitably forgotten as the hubris of the ruler eventually causes a fall. The oldest, and most stable are the closest to Shalar, whilst the peripheral Emirs and Maliks barely stake a hold for more than a generation.
Beyond this anarchic sprawl are the Wastes, riddled with all manner of nomads and tribes, and beasts beneath the sands, all bowing in respect to the worms which roam freely between the dunes. The Alqai, four armed workers of metal, emerge from the Duneholds to sell exquisitely worked goods, or else to continue the age-old war on the Dune Riders, their slender boats neatly slicing the sand.
The Southern Wastes are the homes of the Slow Tribes, brutal reptilian peoples leaving artful piles of butchered limbs whenever they find a settlement of desperate people seeking some modicum of respite from the heat.
To the East, the Plastic Sea, a miraculous sea made entirely of liquid plastic. Upon contact with living skin, it sets solid, leading to the coast being filled with the Coated Men, duelling each other in elegant, fatal contest, having made the choice to die young and glorious, coated in flexible plastic armour.
The verdant jungles of the North would offer respite from the desert, if not for the patriarchal Azure Apes. Whilst the stable nests will happily accept visitors, the zones between are haunted by failed alpha-males, who gladly prey upon travellers to build their strength for a challenge against an aging nest-master. Not even these desperate beasts dare try themselves against the shining, metallic ruins scattered about the jungle.
To the West is the graveyard of the Old Gods, their steel skeletons looming over a great and terrible Rubble. Once a city of the chosen peoples of these gods, their undoing was terrible, their grey stone, unknown to us, marred with their burnt shadows still.

(Backgrounds after jump)