Friday, 26 June 2015

The People Who Try To Fight You All The Time

Your people have two chiefs. PEACE CHIEF and WAR CHIEF. PEACE CHIEF makes decisions about where you will ride next and who you will trade with and whose allegiance you will seek and whose authority you will acknowledge. WAR CHIEF makes decisions about where you will hunt next and whose settlements you will raid and how many horses and cattle and slaves you will take. These decisions are made independently.

You depart from camp with two missions. One from PEACE CHIEF, one from WAR CHIEF. Sample missions:

  1. Our people are running low on carbohydrates. Bring this travois of buffalo hides to the great fair at Taos and exchange it for potatoes and corn.
  2. The commander of Fort Sutherland is offering ten strong horses for the return of her husband. Find out who owns her husband and convince him to leave.
  3. The missionaries at Viscaya are offering food and fine clothing to anyone that surrenders their weapons and swears fealty to the Father of Bells. Pretend to do this.
  4. Convince the fur merchants who camp along our northern border that we would make finer trading partners than our enemies, the Heavy Eyebrows.
  5. The Flower Eaters are preparing an attack on the settlers at San Mateo. Even though the Flower Eaters are our friends, our treaty with the Tejanos demands that we warn them.
  6. The governor of the Louisianos has drawn a number of lines on a piece of paper. She promises dire consequences if we do not obey the lines. Understand this.
  7. The Men-Going-East wish to join our nation. They have many fine guns but they are of the blood of our enemies. Find a way we can forgive them.
  8. One among us has murdered her father and fled to the high canyon. Decide upon her justice, then enforce it.
  1. Impose a tax on the fair-goers at Taos. Allow no-one to trade without paying us our tribute.
  2. Bring to me the red banner that the Tejanos have raised over Fort Sutherland. We will anoint ourselves with its ashes and gain its power.
  3. Steal the largest bell of the missionaries at Viscaya and bring it to me so I can turn it into a cook-pot.
  4. Steal the hide of a polar beast from the fur merchants who camp along our northern border. Make it into a cloak and dye it with the blood of the Heavy Eyebrows.
  5. Join the Flower Eaters in their attack on the settlers at San Mateo. Take more slaves than they do.
  6. The governor of the Louisianos has offended us with her presumption. Find something she values and burn it in front of her. She must see it burn or you have failed.
  7. Our enemies, the Men-Who-Are-Men, squabble among themselves. Take advantage of their division, but do not give them cause to unite against us.
  8. The Peaceful People have built a clay fortress on the rim of the high canyon. Leave not one house of it standing.
If you please either chief you will earn slaves, respect and horses. If you fail either chief you will lose respect. If you lose too much respect you will no longer be a warrior. This is death.

You are surrounded by enemies. Your enemies want your land. They send their power and might and wealth and citizens into your land. They think that this will give you their land. But you take those things and then they are your things. Your enemies are idiots. They do not understand you exist. They think they are the only people. You may not be geniuses but you understand that you are not the only people.

Your enemies had a name to insult you. You took it and made it your name. Your enemies had a weapon to kill you. You took it and made it your weapon. Your enemies had a plan to enslave you. You took it and made it your plan. As long as you can keep taking things you will be invincible.

All combat takes place on horseback. Not being on horseback is like being crippled or blind. Most of your enemies are not on horseback. Your enemies have a kind of soldier called a "dragoon" who rides to the battlefield then gets off their horse and fights on foot. When you first saw this you thought it was a trick and you were a little scared of it in case they were secretly incredibly powerful, but you soon realized that they were just very stupid. Then you stole their horses and rode away and left them stranded on the plains to starve to death. The enemies whom you are most scared of are the enemies who have best learnt to imitate you.

You are better at horses than anyone else in the world has ever been, ever. It is your only technology. Your environment is so simple that it is the only one you need. You have one terrain type and one food source. Your enemies have many technologies but none of them are relevant. For some reason they think this makes them better than you. They think that you are subjects of their empire. Their great-great-grandchildren will think this also. This is very funny to you.

You measure your wealth in horses, slaves, cattle, weapons. You own a lance, a bow, a shield. The lance is tipped with feathers, the bow is backed with sinew, the shield is two layers of fire-hardened hide with paper packed between them. You hold arrows in one hand and the bow in the other. You hang from the side of your horse and if it is killed you land on your feet. You ride in circles as you attack. Your bows are better than guns, you take your enemies as they reload. Your arrowheads are iron and bend as they hit bone. You respect the fashions of your enemies - you take their braided jackets, their medallions, their feathered bonnets. You stake them out and pile cinders on their bellies. You skin the soles of their feet and chase them home. You earn respect in this way.

You must touch enemies without killing them. You must touch their fortifications. You must touch the first man to die in battle. If you do not do these things you will be given a humiliating name.

You will not eat fish. You will not eat birds. You will drink the contents of the stomach of a horse.

You are a nation of prophets and great liars. Your prophets stand above the clouds and challenge the Great Mystery to explain itself. Your prophets can vomit up cartridges and swallow them again. Your prophets can send hail and thunder against their enemies. Your prophets can raise the sick and heal the dead. Your prophets can make you immune to metal by painting you yellow. Your prophets' magic will fail if the wrong bird flies south on the wrong day or the wrong man says their names with the wrong intonation. The Great Mystery has a secret list of conditions which will cause your prophets to fail and your prophets will have great difficulty working out what they are. Your prophets and your liars are impossible to distinguish. Many liars bear the names of triumphant prophets and many prophets bear the names of contemptible liars.

A force has been marshalled against you. They keep track of your misdeeds and plot you a vengeance for each. They learn your skills, one by one. They fight from horseback. Their guns need no reloading. They know where you are. They have cannibal servants to track you. They are paladins of the atlas and they gain power for each square mile they conquer. You must keep them disrespected and ill-funded, you must anticipate their traps, you must undermine their economics. You are the demons of their faith and as your deeds become more fearsome your hunters become more practised, more determined. You cannot use their own techniques against them because they are already doing that to you. You can only attack their respect, you can only kill them by killing their myth. They are empowered to make new laws. They believe any strike against you will be justified. There are always more of them.

(So I've been reading books about the Comanches. Empire of the Summer Moon was racist and had too many sentence fragments, The Comanche Empire is less well known but much better. Not all of this stuff is Comanche and I don't vouch for the historical accuracy of any of it. The guy in the third picture is Pawnee and the Pawnees didn't even like the Comanches. Look at him though. What a legend.

The stuff about the prophets is all based on a guy called Isatai. The deal with Isatai is that he told people he could make them immune to bullets, they went and attacked some dudes with guns and got shot, the survivors rode back and were like, your name is not White Eagle any more, it is Isatai now, also Isatai means "coyote's vagina". And everyone called him that for the rest of his life. So if your players fuck up you should give them stupid new names and make them actually write the stupid new names on their character sheet and carry them around forever. The paladins of the atlas are the Texas Rangers, who it seems were invented to kill Comanches mostly.

Also the hypothesis of The Comanche Empire is that the Spanish attempt to subjugate North America was foiled when the Comanche got hold of horses and figured out how to use them and set about subjugating the Spanish right back. Like New Mexico and Texas were basically Comanche vassal states. Which is cool and good to know I think. And D&D with an American colonial theme is called Dugouts & Dragoons and it's too late and the decision's been made and there's no longer anything you can do about it.)
this is your campaign's ultimate villain. you should steal his feet

Friday, 19 June 2015

HARPYSHAFT!: The Dungeon Adventure

  1. I wanted to write a dungeon but I'm not sure how to draw a map that isn't fuck-ugly
  2. Nobody can decide if they want to fuck harpies or not and I think that's hilarious
would you fuck this harpy? why or why not?
You start at the bottom of a vertical shaft. Every room in this dungeon is a ledge or flat place somewhere along the walls of the shaft. If you can fly this isn't even a dungeon, you just go up and out. It is assumed that you cannot fly. If you can fly your DM is under instructions to take that away from you. Why would they even try to use it if... ugh whatever.

It is possible to start at the top of the vertical shaft and go down. It is maybe even possible to come into the vertical shaft via a cave in the side and have the choice of going up or down. It would be cool if there were three multiple, adjacent shafts that you could get back and forth between via caves. There aren't though.

The shaft used to be a tower. Now it is underground. This is because it is thousands of years old. The shaft is high in barren hills that used to be a city and now aren't. The city used to stand on a flat plain. The city used to not be colonized by harpies. The harpies used to not know how to grab human beings by their upper arms and fly off with them and drop them down a hole and break their legs and leave them there until the harpies get bored or hungry. Now they do.

(Sidebar: harpies cannot actually fly very far or high. This is because harpies are basically vultures and vultures are heavy as fuck. They would prefer to glide than flap and can't really effectively take off unless they have access to a thermal updraft. Thermal updrafts only form during the day so if a harpy is on the ground at night it's not going very far. The presence of thermals is often indicated by cumulus clouds, so the desert scavengers know that if they see a clump of cumulus clouds they should keep an eye out for harpies. All of this is the reason that the harpies need a shaft to drop people down and can't just use, you know, the sky. I'd like to thank a comment by Scrap Princess on Patrick Stuart's blog and also Animorphs for the knowing of this.)

You have been dropped down the shaft by a harpy. Or you have to rescue somebody who has been dropped down the shaft by a harpy. I am going to be describing this dungeon from the bottom up because that's better in all ways.

like this only square. square as a high school principal
The tower is square in cross-section, maybe twenty metres along each edge, maybe a hundred metres high. The walls are crumbling ancient stone. In places they are etched with ancient designs that mean nothing to anybody now and were probably just dumb scatological graffiti in the first place. They are also etched with dumb scatological graffiti that is in your language and perfectly comprehensible. Thanks, harpies.

If it's morning or evening a harpy will come down to see if you are worth eating yet about once every half hour. If it's close to noon half of the harpies will be out hunting, taking advantage of the thermals on the plains. If it's close to midnight half of the harpies will be asleep. In either case a harpy has a 50% chance of coming down every half hour. See how neatly the maths works out there? If you make too much noise during the morning or evening there is a 50% chance of this happening. If you make too much noise during the night or day there is a 25% chance, obviously. If a harpy sees that you are actively trying to escape it will go and get its flock and they will all come back and drop shit on you until you are not actively trying to escape any more. Individual harpies are all extremely greedy, weak-willed and easily amused and if you need a harpy not to alert its flock you could do worse than to play on these factors. After the second time they catch you trying to escape they'll probably start posting guards, which probably wouldn't even be that bad for you, since the guards are all extremely greedy, weak-willed and easily amused. There are maybe thirty harpies up there.

All the decomposition and harpy shit going on at the bottom of the shaft creates significant amounts of methane gas. The warmer it gets the more of there is. Between morning and evening there is enough of an updraft (a horrible, acrid updraft) in the shaft to enable a harpy to take off and fly from the bottom to the top without landing. Around noon a harpy could actually pick a human up and carry them to the top with reasonable ease. If a harpy comes down late at night they have to flutter-hop from platform to platform; they don't have enough lift to soar. This is a big part of the reason (besides cruelty) that the harpies even keep the shaft around - all the gas billowing out the top allows them to get into the air basically whenever.

It's possible to climb the sides of the shaft, but methane-related wooziness makes it impossible to do all in one go. Unless your character doesn't need to breathe for some reason. Then the DM has to think of some other reason. For every ten metres you climb vertically, unaided, you get -2 to all climb checks until you've rested on a flat surface for five minutes. If you fall there's a 25% chance you land in a pile of harpy shit for half damage. If you do there's a 50% chance you get harpy shit disease.


A. This is the floor. The floor is covered with bones, rotting flesh and harpy guano. The harpy guano lies in uneven mounds and is in places so thick that it will cushion a faller and leave them dazed but unbroken. This is what has happened to you. Or to the princeling you're rescuing. The princeling is extremely glad that you have come to rescue her (princeling is a gender-neutral term designating "one who is to be rescued"). Searching the bones will net you:
  1. Nothing
  2. Harpy shit disease
  3. Couple of fingernail-sized white tiles
  4. Couple of copper coins!
  5. Dented-to-shit knight's helmet, might fit a guy with a really fucked-up head
  6. Potion of feather fall, cork still in
  7. Crust of bread smeared w/ harpy shit as if it were blue cheese
  8. Tusk of baby elephant, scrimshawed w/ somebody's last words
Searching the shitpiles will get you the same thing but also a 50% chance of contracting harpy shit disease regardless of what else you get. If you are particularly greedy, weak-willed, or easily amused, this will eventually turn you into a harpy. If you have harpy shit disease twice you will turn into two harpies.

There is also a person here w/ two broken legs. She did not land on the harpy shit. She is a level one thief named Moggs from the second-nearest town who has been the victim of a cruel prank by a level two thief. She cannot climb or walk. She has harpy shit disease. If you do not rescue her from the pit she will emerge on her own at a later date as a harpy and try to fuck w/ you. She has a thirty-metre length of black silk rope concealed in the lining of her doublet (she is totally wearing a doublet) and four discs of tarnished silver in the sole of each boot. She knows someone in town who you would also like to know. She will not tell you about the rope until she is completely convinced that you are going to help her. It is special soundless thieves' rope and highly illegal in all civilized societies. It's worth more than the silver. She has already eaten all her food.

If you try to kill Moggs she will tell you that she is protected by an ancient revenant that seeks vengeance on all who would harm her. Then she will die. If you try to escape without Moggs she will do her best to alert the harpies. She is a dick but she is also doing exactly what you would do in her situation and she will remind the players of this constantly.

Every day you spend here you have a 10% of catching harpy shit disease. There's also a 7/16 of some new prey falling from the sky onto your head (see E. Also, hahahaha good luck figuring out how to roll for that). You probably don't have that much food. You could eat Moggs I suppose. If you do that you definitely get harpy shit disease.

what about... this harpy

This is the remnants of the second floor of the tower. It's about twenty metres off the ground (ancient civilizations like high ceilings). It's a jagged metre-wide clay ledge taking up the whole of the west side of the tower. It used to be a floor. A couple of wooden beams jut out from the clay and cross to the opposite side of the shaft. If you have a rope you can throw one over the beams and use the beams to get to the ledge. If you're a really good climber you could go up the west wall and get stuck under the ledge and then go around to the north wall and get up that way. Or just straight up the north wall I guess.

If you make a harpy come down here to get you the harpy will perch on this ledge. It won't come down any further alone because it is a loathsome coward. It will stay up there and yell insults at you and probably try to shit on you because this is the only thing harpies know how to do. Then it will leave and go back and get its friends.

There is a small hole behind the ledge. In the hole is the skeleton of an ancient tomb robber who has not understood that this is not a tomb. He is holding a bronze pick. He was apparently trying to dig diagonally to the surface. This is not possible. It's dark in the hole, especially at night, and it would be possible to hide in there and ambush a harpy who was sitting on the ledge. The bronze pick would be worth some money to a collector of antiquities.

There is a snake in the ribcage of the skeleton. It is a docile, non-poisonous snake. If surprised it will bite you and deal no damage whatsoever. It has adopted the distinctive colouration of a well-known variety of poisonous snake. If the harpy finds it there is a 50% chance it will freak the fuck out and a 50% chance it will grab the snake and throw it at you. There is a network of rodent holes in the dirt that you will only find if you are looking for them. This is how the snake got there. Inside the rodent holes are a couple of fingernail-sized white tiles.

If Moggs doesn't think you're going to rescue her she will totally tell the harpy that you're planning on ambushing it.


This is the remnants of the third floor. It's twenty metres up from the second floor. It's a flat square chunk of clay suspended in the middle of the shaft by a couple of wooden beams that cross the shaft, just like the second-floor ones. The underside of the clay is decorated with a mosaic of frolicking dolphins from which most of the fingernail-sized white tiles have fallen out. If you put three of these white tiles back in the mosaic the Sea God of the tower people, long since reduced to the most pathetic of shadows, will recognize it as the last act of devotion it will ever receive and expend its dying breath to grant you the Blessing of Lost Thalassa. The smallest dolphin's mother-of-pearl eye will fall out into your hand. Anyone who holds it under their tongue for a full day gains an extra saving throw against disease, which they can keep for themselves or give to somebody else with a touch. The more times you use it the more deeply you understand the seas and the more tempted you become to declare yourself Thalassa Nova, the Oceanic Messiah. If you're looking to sell it there's a duke in the closest large city who has sunpox and would pay handsomely for anything like a cure.

There is a dead guy on top of the clay. He is wearing nothing but a leather codpiece. He came here to fuck a harpy. His mostly-skeletal hand is dangling over the side of the clay. It could easily be lassooed and used to pull the guy's whole corpse down. If you get too close to the corpse it will animate and attack. It is possessed by a furious spirit, angry that it never got to achieve its one wish in life - to fuck a harpy. Around its neck there is half a broken copper coin with a hole drilled in it on a bit of string. If you remove this coin the spirit's connection to the body will be broken. If you hurt the body badly enough, or if you simply wait long enough, the spirit's rage will be dispelled and it will temporarily calm down.

One of the harpies in the flock is wearing half a broken copper coin with a hole drilled in it on a bit of string around its (long, slender) neck. This coin is its priceless treasure and fits codpiece guy's half perfectly. It traded a smashed child's rattle to another harpy for it three weeks ago.

The other harpy is called Felch. It was the lover of undead codpiece guy. They met in the hills, hunting, both alone as the sun went down. They spoke for hours. They were afraid at first but as the days went by and the long summer drew to a close they knew they were ready. They arranged a secret rendezvous in a quiet dell that only codpiece guy knew. Or so he thought. Actually when he got there a couple of other harpies were stalking antelope in the rocks above and they spotted him and by the time Felch got there it was too late and it had to help kill him to save face because if it had shown even a second of hesitance the other harpies would have torn it apart. It couldn't bear to look at the coin so it traded it away for some worthless garbage. It is indistinguishable, except by smell, from all the other harpies.

If you can give Felch the opportunity to apologize to codpiece guy's spirit and explain that it was all a terrible mistake his spirit will finally be free. Felch will do anything to help you from that moment on. Also Moggs will find the story so adorable that she will stop being a dick for the rest of the adventure.

if you want to fuck this harpy it's not my place to judge

This is the remnants of a staircase connecting the third floor of the tower to the fourth and fifth floors. It starts halfway across the south wall, ten metres up from the third floor. It goes up at a 45-degree angle until it gets to the point on the east wall where the fourth floor would be. Then it keeps going up along the east wall until it gets to the point where the fifth floor would be. Then it stops. It's maybe half a metre wide, less in places. In places it is slippery with harpy shit.

If you walked out along the wooden beams that keep C. suspended in the air until you got to the east wall you'd be ten metres below the beginning of this staircase. From there it would be an easy climb up to it, assuming the revenant didn't get you and you didn't fall off the beams. You could then edge along the staircase until you got to its end, in the corner of the east and the north wall, eighty metres off the ground. Then you would be only twenty metres from the top of the shaft and you might be able to just climb out.

There is a cave in the west wall, across from the staircase and above it. The cave is lined with twigs, straw, feathers, bones and harpy shit. There is a morbidly obese harpy living in the cave. It is wearing a crown woven from brambles. It can only fly out of the cave in the hours around noon, when the sun is at its highest. Otherwise it will tumble out and fall to its death.

The other harpies have told this harpy that it is the Queen of the Harpies. They have told it that it is the ultimate authority over a grand continent-spanning harpy empire. They bring it food and pretend to relay its wishes to its millions of obedient slaves. The food is not that good. The Queen of the Harpies does not suspect a thing.

If the Queen of the Harpies sees you trying to climb out of the shaft, it will shout "Halt! Who goes there!". It has a one-track mind and is deathly afraid of conspirators. If you do not identify yourself to its satisfaction, it will scream. Its scream is painfully high-pitched and brings all the harpies scurrying, no matter what time it is. It also makes your ears bleed for 2d6 damage. If you are within a metre of the Queen it stuns you. If you are not expecting it you must make a Will save not to clap your hands to your ears and, if you fail the Will save, a Reflex save not to fall off the side of the shaft. From the Queen's cave it can only see the upper half of the staircase.

Two wooden beams jut out from the wall below her cave. Each ends in splinters and is about a metre long. Either would take the weight of a rope. If you walked out along the wooden beams that support C. until you got to the west wall you would be directly beneath them. If you climb over the lip of the Queen's cave it will scream. If you introduce a harmless but poisonous-looking snake into the Queen's cave it will scream. If the Queen screams once and there's nothing there, only half of the harpies will come scurrying the next time. If she screams twice and there's nothing there, only one harpy will come scurrying. It will be the harpy with the broken copper coin around its neck. The Queen is friends with the coin harpy and knows where the coin harpy got the coin from. The coin harpy kind of feels bad about the elaborate prank they're playing on the Queen, but not bad enough to stop doing it.

The Queen's cave is actually a tunnel that leads out the side of the hill, past the harpy nest at the top of the shaft. Moggs knows about this. It's how she got in. She was told by a level two thief that the tunnel led to a secret treasure complex of the ancient wizard people kings. She came on the Queen from behind and then the Queen screamed and stunned her and hop-dragged her to the edge of the shaft and threw her in. This is why the Queen is now deathly afraid of conspirators. You are unlikely to be able to identify yourself to the Queen's satisfaction but one good way to do it would be to proclaim yourself her loyal servants and toss her the head of an assassin, which she will eat.

The cave also has a couple of fingernail-sized white tiles mixed in with all the straw.


This is the area around the top of the shaft. It's a clearing in the scrub atop an barren hill in between a couple of larger, more barren hills. There are bones scattered all around the clearing. There are big conical piles of mysteriously sticky straw that the harpies have gathered together for obscure harpy reasons. These are spectacularly flammable, almost like gunpowder, and will explode at the slightest spark, sending bone-shrapnel in all directions and scaring the shit out of the harpies. Do not stand too close to them.

If it's morning or evening there are thirty-odd harpies scattered about the clearing, scratching at the ground, perching on the branches of a huge acacia tree, gossiping, picking fights and getting the last little bits of brain out of children's skulls. If it's around noon there are ten to fifteen harpies doing the same thing. If it's around midnight there are fifteen to twenty harpies sleeping in rows along the branches of a huge acacia tree and the remainder doing the same thing on the ground. Harpies only sleep four or five hours a day, but when they do it's extremely hard to wake them up.

If the harpies spot you trying to get out of the shaft they will make every effort to throw you back in. Or just kill you.

Around sunset each day a harpy hunting party will return with one of the following:
  1. Nothing
  2. Stray dog, still w/ collar
  3. Scale-armoured caravan guard
  4. Skinny, overly-confident wizard
  5. Plump, terrified merchant
  6. Horse
  7. Couple of small antelope
  8. Elephant calf
They will toy with their prey for an hour or two before getting bored. Then 50% chance of tearing it apart in a feeding frenzy, 50% chance of throwing it into the pit for later. So each sunset the PCs remain in the shaft there's a, I guess 7/16 chance of something from this list plopping from the sky onto their heads. If you poke your head up over the side of the shaft you can probably observe their behaviour without being seen, they're not all that observant themselves. They will definitely notice if you just straight up make a break for it though.

If the huge acacia tree catches fire the harpies will abandon this site and never come back ever again. The Queen of the Harpies will starve to death.
i'm just saying they range widely in fuckability

Saturday, 13 June 2015


The following trials must be completed for a purpose. You can't just be doing this because you're a fan of the 'bulked gainz'. Furthermore, the boon you gain last only as long as your faith in the ritual. If the shaman tells you that this will give you the power to defeat the goblin king, and then the goblin king kicks the shit out of you, you lose all power granted by the trial.

This is a way to gain power without gaining levels. This is a way to get a gaming abstraction without employing a different gaming abstraction. Maybe that's kind of dumb.


+1 STR
You must first purify. Wash away your unworthiness in the yellow pools to the west of here. Once cleansed, ascend the peak and find your soulstone. Your soulstone will be just as tall as your first teacher. Its colour is the colour of your heart's blood. You will know it when you see it.

Once you have found your stone you must destroy it with nothing but your fists and your will. Once this is done your spirit will be released and you will gain the strength of stone.


+1 DEX
This trial is of simple magic, but it is deadly all the same. Go into the swamp and find its queen, the black adder Sesumeth. You must take from her a fang. The larger the fang the more powerful the magic.

If you gather a fang, and keep your life, go to your sacred pool and mix Sesumeth's venom with gloamroot and janga berries. Boil this tinture and breathe of the fumes. Your visions will grant you the speed of the snake.


At the lowest point of this valley is a cave. You remember it from when you were a child, as it is the one place you were told to never go. You must go there now. In the cave there is a hole, and in the hole is a void. Make peace with the void.

Climb down the hole and stay there, in the darkness and the silence. You may leave at any time. You may go mad. If neither of these things happen, you will find the wisdom of nothingness.

So, Your PC Wants To Be Mighty

In running these, you've obviously got to make a PC do a whole bunch of checks; fort for snake venom fumes, str to break a boulder, etc, but I'd also be inclined to throw some kind of puzzle in there. Something distinct and personal, like interpreting visions or solving a riddle where the answer is 'my own death'. These are potential permanent stat boosts, so they have to feel kind special.

On that note, the obvious rule is to say that a PC can only perform a ritual like this once. Fuck that though. If someone wants to ascend to godhood by punching every rock in the world that is totally fine in my book, I'd just amp the challenge up every time. First time you wrestle a snake trying to not get bitten. Next time you swim into a pool of snakes and eat the biggest one while hundreds of others poison you horribly. As a poorly thought out aside, I really like the idea that the checks you make don't really correlate to the boost you get. I don't know why I like that idea though, so that's all you get.

Basically, I really want my players to be able to see the paths taken by the evil, fucked up people they fight, and have to consciously decide what they'll sacrifice for a +1 bonus.

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

VIKINGS: Actually Play Report feat. Actual Play

Brother, the Other Dunk, was in my city a few days ago, so we spent time talking hot noise about the procedural generation of narrative and, obviously, played some DnD. It seemed like a good opportunity to test out my new Adventure Point system, so we each grabbed a friend, I drew a shit map, and we all went wild.

This is a photo I took of us going wild.

I feel like the system did a good ground-level of work simply because character gen took about four seconds. One person came up with their character in a 10 minute conversation the night before, one did all their character gen in the car on the way in, and one came up with theirs in the time it took to listen to the first two describe theirs. This was really, really nice to have work. The characters they built seemed really well rounded just by having a set of slightly comedic powers based around a central theme in a way I've never quite seen click in a game system before.

Part of the reason the generation was so quick is that I didn't really fuck with stats. My big thoughtspiel on the stat system of VIKINGS is yet to be dropped like a cursed sword, so I decided to run this game completely without stats of any kind. It was alright in the sense that things went a little faster. People were imaging the fighter-style character as tougher than the seahag without a solid basis for that assumption, so that worked, but it turns out that rpg's definitely demand that your players have health totals if you want to keep the final battle - or any battle, really - properly nail-biting.

But enough of me going 'Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm' onto a page. Fun things that happened:

Actual Play??

The session starts with the PC's on a boat, crossing the great inland sea around and on which most of the world's vikings live. They're a disparate bunch: a ghost-sniffing fighter with a sea-urchin flail; a shriveled seahag with a pet crow and an obsession with toads; a shapechanger that quickly establishes that the only form she knows is 'big angry crab'.

After the mild railroading of a prologue in which the party spots a cursed white whalefish on the horizon and promptly has their ship trashed by it, they wash up on a deserted island and have three days to make a new boat and hunt down the injured whalefish before the curse takes them all.

They did a bunch of stuff:
  • They break into a run-down wizard's tower, ransacked a dozen times over. They get past his booby-trap/practical jokes and steal the only things that haven't already been stolen; a scroll of summon treacle and some hand-drawn pornography.
  • The wizard's bedroom is entered, his NeverStain sheets pilfered from beneath his rotting bones. They won't be particularly 'viking' sails, but one has to make do.
  • An old ent, the last tree on the island, is tracked down. I gear up for a fight and then the party asks him if he's ever considered being a mast. Apparently that sounds like fun.
  • The northern beach is explored. A whale corpse lies swarming with crabs. One shape-shift and a bit of scroll-reading later and the beach is now littered with dead crabs, drowned in a sexy treacle orgy. The shapeshifter is pregnant.
  • An old shipwreck is reached. The figurehead has been deliberately torn off, but the armory is in reasonable stead. The party walks (and scuttles) away with a dozen harpoons and some choice bits of the giant squid they found.
  • The boneyard in the center of the island offers up an old, rusted anchor. It also offers ghoooooooosts! But news of the wizard's death appeases the spirits, and the boneyard is now a fine source of decking materials.
  • Not wanting to leave the island before ticking off every box, the party wanders down to the small fresh-water lagoon on this surprisingly spacious island. They horribly poisoned the juvenile lake drake that lives there, and before it can even get an attack in the seahag summons a rain of frogs into a hole cut in its side. It dies the death of an awful pinata. The figurehead at the bottom of its lake is swiftly stolen.
Happily skimming over the time it actually takes to construct a working longboat, the players soon find themselves crewing a ship forged from the bones of a hundred dead mean, armored with the shells of a thousand dead crabs. Drake wings sweep back from a twice-stolen figurehead. The mast itself is alive, a venerable ent draped with, uh, stars-and-moons bedsheets.

They set out after the whalefish, tracking a trail of black blood and dead fish over the waves. After a dramatic encounter with some of the whalefish's intestinal parasites (tapeworm hydra is an idea I'm using again) they track down the great white beast itself.

Sighting the whalefish on the horizon they steady themselves for a fight. A white fin cuts the waves, and the ship lurches as the whalefish rams them. Stingray-like pilot fish slam into the deck, start thrashing at the crew. The shapeshifter transforms and engages in dramatic sea-creature battle. The other PC's sprint to the prow and start peppering the whalefish with parasite-poisoned harpoons as it beats itself against the longboat. A few rounds of bludgeoning later, the whalefish shudders and throws a spray of quills toward the sailors. A dramatic set of natural 20s hits the gametable and one of the stingrays is nailed to the deck by a redirected quill, the other quickly flattened by the mast/ent.

Just as the crew starts to get stuck into the whalefish, it shudders again. Four fat tongues burst from its mouth and land on the deck. Halfway between a slug and a praying mantis, the tongues begin their attempts to invade the shapeshifter's crabby mouth. Despite the best effort of the crew (and a friendly whale ghost!) two tongues are still alive when one reduces the friendcrab to 0hp and slips into her face.

Two rounds later the seahag's pet crow dies a hero, flying a vial of parasite poison into the fray and getting swallowed by the face-hugging tongue. As the shapeshifter, now unconscious, slips back to human proportions, the seahag pours her only health potion down her friends throat. The shapeshifter's eyes flicker open and she lunges forward, splitting the last tongue in twain as it cuts down the seahag.

The whalefish, badly bloodied, attempts to flee. Harpoons and a well-thrown net drag it back to the ship. The injured crew leaps onto the body. Three fish spears rise and fall in tandem. The beast is slain. The day is won.

So yeah, five hours of fun. Good job everyone.

Saturday, 6 June 2015

Sleepy Wizards

Wizards (in 3.5) are at their most powerful immediately after they wake up. Technically they have to spend an hour each morning studying their spellbook, but I have never played a game where this has been important and neither have you. (Who wants to do an hour of compulsory rereading each morning, anyway? Wizards, I guess.)

There are of course much more interesting ways you can annoy your wizards but this one is good because days often map pretty well to sessions. However, unless your wizard is super conservative with their spells she always runs out and ends up having nothing to do for the rest of the session. So it's not good, and actually bad.

(Maybe if your game is high level enough this stops being a problem but I'm pretty sure I've never gotten to the point where wizards start being OP in anything, ever, even Neverwinter Nights. The whole high-level you-all-own-castles-and-fight-Demogorgon thing is just a meaningless abstraction to me. Like finding Mew under the truck when you were eleven. Cool to think about but what, in practice, would even be the point? The parallels between epic levels and legendary Pokemon are pretty close actually.)

I've been reading through Patrick Stuart's blog from the beginning (to fill in time between grading student papers, of which I have many) and he provides a pretty neat rule to solve this problem. Basically if you want to cast a spell that you don't have prepared you can still do it, you just have to roll on the Terrible Magical Calamity table. This is obviously a Good Rule. (I think he got it from someone else who got it from someone else, etc etc., whatever.) I am going to change it a little though.

Here's your spell list or whatever. People like choosing spells! There are more in the Pathfinder SRD but honestly you don't want to give them too many. How it works is: for each sleep cycle you get you can prepare one spell. Sleep cycles are about ninety minutes. This means if you sleep for nine hours you can prepare six spells. You can cast each spell you've prepared a number of times equal to half your level (rounded up) minus its level. This obviously means that you can't prepare Level 3 Spells until you're level seven, or you can but there'd be no point.

You can also cast any other spell on the list at any point. However! If you haven't prepared a spell, or if you have but you've run out of castings, you have to roll on the Terrible Magical Calamity Table. The Terrible Magical Calamity table looks a little bit like this.

20: Spell works fine. A bit better than usual, even. (+1 to healing or damage or w/e).
19 - 17: Spell works fine. Life continues as normal.
16 - 14: Spell a bit shit. (-2 to healing or damage or w/e)
13-11: Spell a bit shit. Also, minor magical calamity (you start bleeding worms from your ears, your boyfriend is a ghost now, etc.)
10-8: Spell completely fails to work. Also, minor magical calamity.
7-5: Spell does exactly the opposite of what you wanted it to do, unless that would be good. Also, minor magical calamity.
4-2: Spell does exactly the opposite of what you wanted it to do. Also, two minor magical calamities.
1: Terrible magical calamity (the moon eats the sun and shits burning gold, etc). Spell works fine though

Maybe not exactly like that but you get the picture. You get -1 to your roll for every unprepared spell you have tried to cast since the last time you got at least one sleep cycle. You get -1 to your roll for each level the spell is above half your level (rounded up). So feel free to cast meteor swarm at level three, that sounds really funny. Maaaaaaaaybe you could add your INT bonus to this roll if you were, you know, a lame nerd.

You'll need a minor magical calamity table, obviously. Surely there's a billion of those. Here's one now:
  1. You start bleeding worms from your ears. The worms can talk. They have little spiked helmets. They hate the worms from your other ear. You must broker a peace between them or they will make your skull into a WW1 battlefield complete with trenches and mustard gas
  2. Your boyfriend (or best friend, or whoever's important in your life) is a ghost now. Only you can see them. Everyone else has forgotten they exist. They all think that you have gone crazy and that your brain is filled with false memories. 20% chance they are right
  3. Everything that is a specific shade of purple ceases to exist. The shade is one that has particular meaning to you, e.g. it was the colour of the flowers on your father's favourite apron or the first ooze you ever killed. Objects just a few shades off are unaffected
  4. Gravity is now reversed, but only for your blood. It would be a good idea to stand on your head. If you are cut you will fountain blood into the sky and it will look cool
  5. The closest urban area to you (including ones you happen to be standing in) now has a different system of government. If it was a monarchy it's now a democracy, if it was a democracy it's run by monks. It's about as nice a place to live as it was before. Only you and your friends notice anything different
  6. The next time you go to sleep a purple tiger will emerge from the nearest mirror. It will be about the size of the nearest mirror. It thinks it is the only living creature who knows how to do magic properly and to safeguard the security of magic it must kill everything else that tries to do it. It's the same shade of purple as in #3
  7. Game jumps ahead to d6 hours from now. Players have clearly done stuff during missing time but have no idea what it is. Everyone makes a Wisdom check to not have made at least one terrible mistake. Ideally, at bottom of dungeon holding sacred orb w/ legions of vengeful troglodytes between them and exit, but up to DM
  8. Climate cools by fraction of degree. Global, permanent. Harvests become poorer, winters come earlier, less evaporation means less rain means rivers become drier, probably. Long-term political ramifications
  9. New type of goblin invented. Will emerge from swamps en masse in 1d4 weeks to begin waylaying travellers, stealing babies, terrorizing populace, other normal goblin shit. Also have motivation specific to new type of goblin e.g. break all ceilings, build golems out of dung and nailclippings. If you die they all die. They know this
  10. Spell you tried to cast no longer exists. Only the insane and insomnomancers (see below) can ever cast it ever again. It is now twice as powerful and has unpredictable extra effects
One of these also happens if a wizard is woken up while she is halfway through a sleep cycle. Don't wake up wizards. Again, you could give them a save, if you were lame. You will note that this system provides a powerful incentive for wizards to use potent sleeping drugs to remain in a state of Ultimate Slumber for five, ten days at a time. This is very much by design.

They don't go into any kind of mysterious dream world where they have to track down spells through the spirit world and catch them in their teeth! I want to stress that. Mysterious dream worlds are lame.

Also some wizards will say "fuck it" and purposefully stay awake as long as possible. They are called "insomnomancers" and they are terrifying, probably. They gain more weird, perverse powers with every day they manage to stay awake, although I can't think of what those might be right now. They accumulate a few minor magic calamities that they learn to live with. They also acquire some of the following symptoms of sleep deprivation, copied directly from Wikipedia:
  1. Aching muscles
  2. Confusion
  3. Memory lapses
  4. Depression
  5. False memory
  6. Hallucinations
  7. Hand tremors
  8. Headaches
  9. Malaise (a feeling of general discomfort or unease)
  10. Stye (horrible eye pimples)
  11. Periorbital puffiness (bags under the eyes)
  12. Irritability
  13. Nystagmus (rapid, rhythmic, involuntary eye movement, also a great wizard name)
  14. Obesity
  15. Seizures
  16. Temper tantrums
  17. Yawning
  18. Mania
  19. Attention deficiency
  20. Psychosis
Which is the best description of an evil chaos wizard I have ever read. A big fat bastard with malignant warts on his eyelids who throws tantrums like a baby. The warts probably talk in tinny little baby voices. Roll a bunch of d20s or just use all of them.