Thursday, November 26, 2020

Blood Silver

To a mundane eye, silver gleams the same as any other precious metal. Its luster arouses a deep-seated yearning in our minds, an innately human drive to seek beauty—and covet it.

But to other beings, silver is something different. All metals have qualities beyond humans' base understanding, but by far the most formidable, and most feared, is silver. 

To some it scalds like hot iron, to others it enfeebles like a disease. To some it doesn't even bring pain, but instead has a sort of narcotizing effect. To these beings its touch brings forth indescribable sensations somewhere in the range between feverish nausea and maddening ecstasy. 


Ironically, silver possess an additional, unique quality that makes it sought after by the very beings affected by its hidden potencies: it can trap and contain living souls. 

It is, of course, one of the gravest mortal sins to capture souls and prevent them from passing on. But those who know the occult properties of silver and the esoteric means with which they can be employed often pay little heed to what is and isn't sinful. 

A soul is a useful thing, made all the more scarce by its ephemeral nature. Having reliable means to store and trade souls is invaluable to those who could make use of such a thing. It is so cherished, in fact, that many would be willing to suffer the ill effects of silver just for the sake of possessing a soul.



Any amount of silver that contains a soul is known as "blood silver." The smallest amount of silver that is capable of holding a soul is equivalent in size to a standard coin. 

There are several dark and esoteric methods of creating blood silver, the most common being the most straightforward. It goes as follows: place a coin in the victim's mouth and stab them through the heart with a ritual knife. As the victim breathes their dying breaths, their soul will be trapped in the coin.


Blood silver is indistinguishable to humans from normal silver. It can only be recognized through identifying magics. Demi-humans can recognize blood silver on sight, and demons, fey, intelligent undead, and certain planar outsiders can sense its presence even without even seeing it. 

***

Blood silver coins function kind of like the coins from John Wick, but for magic users and beings of chaos. Most demons/fey/etc. can only carry 1d4-1 blood silver coins per HD at one time, but more powerful entities often have large stores blood silver and use their thralls to handle it when the need arises. Chaos entities, who typically have no use for mundane currency, can be bribed and persuaded with blood silver according to their disposition just like common folk with normal currency.

For spell research purposes, one blood silver coin is equivalent to 100 GP. Depending on your alignment system, using blood silver this way is considered a chaotic or evil act.

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Doing Combat Maneuvers & Improving Fighters

This is how I do combat maneuvers and make fighters suck less in B/X (or whatever).

When you want to do any sort of combat maneuver, you and your enemy both roll 1d6 + your level/HD. Fighters have a WARRIOR’S INSTINCT which allows them to to add their attack bonus to the roll. If you roll higher than your opponent, you succeed in whatever you were trying to do (within reason, of course). 

Fighters can use ADVANCED TACTICS to attempt a combat maneuver while simultaneously making an attack. The success of either is independent of one another, so a Fighter can miss an attack but still do something like disarm their opponent and vice versa. They can do this a number of times per battle equal to their level. 

As a special bonus houserule-of-a-houserule (in that I haven’t tested this substantially enough to say if it enriches the original rule), if a Fighter misses their attack but succeeds on the maneuver, they can forego their maneuver and add the dice result (no modifiers) to the attack roll. This probably would get pretty broken at higher levels when a Fighter could just get a +d6 bonus on every attack so maybe this only works once a battle. SO FAR it has not been much of a problem, though. 

Examples of combat maneuvers:
Grapple: Grappled creatures can’t move, both you and the grappled creature get a +1 bonus to hit each other, and the grappled creature can’t target other creatures. The grappled creature can forego an attack to attempt another contested d6+HD roll.
Disarm: If you beat the contested roll by 1-3, the weapon simply falls to the ground. Beating the roll by 4 or more means you knock the weapon 10’ in a random direction. Creatures cannot pick up a weapon and attack on the same round.
Shove: Beating the roll by 1-3 means the creature is knocked 10' straight back, whereas beating the roll by 4 or more means that you can heave them left or right as well.
Knock Prone: Melee attacks against prone creatures get advantage but ranged attacks get disadvantage (like in 5e). Getting up counts as your movement for the round. 
Stagger: Knock the target off balance, giving them -2 AC until next round.
Intimidate: Force a morale check against a single opponent.
Called Shot: If you succeed on the roll, the next time you successfully attack the opponent you can target a specific area on their body.

***

Why do it this way and not like one of the many hundreds of other fighter fixes that have been proposed before?

This method is more interesting than piling on static bonuses, less situation-dependent than just giving fighters cleave (or an equivalent feat-like ability), and makes combat more interesting with minimal extra crunch. Early D&D is not a tactical game and shouldn’t be treated as such, but giving players more options reason allows for more dynamic combat without sacrificing speed and flow. 

Instead of making the numbers higher or letting Fighters do a specific thing in a specific situation, I want players to feel like they have effective options beyond just heaping on damage. Allowing more viable options for how players can interact with the enemy in a combat situation benefits the game overall. 

All combat maneuvers can be adjudicated by DM fiat, but when you prescribe discrete mechanics it serves as an impetus for players to actually try them out, because they become “part of the game.” 

And while letting Fighters execute combat maneuvers and normal attacks at the same time may seem like a hefty bonus, I found that when you just give players the option to bring a monster closer to death or do some other thing that might or might not make it easier to kill, players would choose to just do damage nine times out of 10. So instead of making the alternatives to attacking better, just let them do both at the same time. Simple as.




Tuesday, November 10, 2020

D8 Tools of the Metal Waste Scavenger

The Metal Waste is a wasteland in a literal sense, where the inscrutable refuse of a time-lost culture (advanced far beyond our own) accumulated over untold centuries. The Waste was inevitably abandoned after the civilization fell, and has since been left to the whims of time. 


As the ages passed, strata gathered atop the refuse like paint on a canvas. The land is harsh and gray, barren due to the chemical slag it covers. The only evidence of the long-buried refuse are bits of metal and glass found among the pebbly ground, and a faint charge in the air that makes your hair stand on end. 


At least that is the common story. But anyone who’s been to the Metal Waste knows that the truth is much stranger. Crooked spires and pylons protrude from the earth, hinting at the larger mysteries buried below.


Inconceivable discoveries have been made by those brave enough to venture into the wasteland’s decaying heart: beneath the strata of gray, ashen earth lie labyrinths of maddening geometry; organized structures far bigger than any known today, built by methods long lost to mankind. And hidden in these structures are said to be strange and terrible things: legions of ancient men preserved in crystal coffins, fetal stars bound in adamantine cages, and treasures whose very nature lies at odds with our understanding of the world. Of course, that is what these scavengers claim. 


Most of what is found in the Metal Waste is trash. Dangerous trash, but the danger is manageable as long as you know how to deal with chemical burns and radiation poisoning. Even trash can have its value. There’s enough scrap metal buried down there for an eager scavenger to earn a king’s ransom, and even better are the baubles and curios, always broken beyond repair, that are given new life after being deconstructed and repurposed. 


These become the tools of the scavengers, which are used to delve even deeper into the wastes and discover even more decrepit wonders. 


Each tool can be used 1d6 times a day, after which they must recalibrated the next morning. If a character is skilled with machines, their Intelligence or tinkering bonus gets applied to the 1d6 roll.


  1. Extend-o-hand: A skeletal metal hand connected to a series of thin, interlocking strips of metal that fit on the back of the forearm like a bracer. The metal strips can unfold and extend up to 10’, and the fully articulated hand can be controlled by an intricate wire system controlled by the wearer’s fingers. This increases the reach of one of your hands by up to 10’, although you can’t use it to lift heavy things or effectively use a weapon. The hand can support the weight of a fully grown man and not much more, despite repeated attempts by tinkerers and artificers to modify the design.
  2. Spring boots: Actually clockwork components that strap over regular boots. Clicking the heels together primes the mechanism, launching you 10’ into the air 10 seconds later. Leaping with the launch sends you 20’, and a running jump launches you 30’. The boots are a lot of fun to use, although many ankles have been sprained and knees dislocated by foolish scavengers who got too carried away.
  3. Glide pack: A slim backpack that can deploy two membranous, wing-shaped parachutes. The parachutes negate the first 100’ of fall damage, and allow the wearer to move 5’ horizontally for every 10’ of falling. Despite the value it has for preventing tragic falls, relatively few scavengers bring them on their excursions because they can’t wear a normal backpack with it on. Given a decision between safety and the potential for bringing home more loot, the choice for most scavengers is clear.
  4. Light belt: A thick wire belt with two lights mounted on either side. Both lights together have the same illumination as a torch, and they leave your hands free. Both lights can be shuddered and adjusted to only shine forward like a hooded lantern. One usage lasts 30 minutes. Scavengers frequently decorate these by hanging small trophies and mementos found off of them.
  5. Multiform implement: A small handheld device, about the size of a deck of cards, made up of several rectangular sections. The sections can shift and unfold to reveal various tools and mechanisms, like a steampunk leatherman. Functions as thieves tools that grant a +15% (or +1 in a 1d6 system like LotFP) bonus to picking locks and disarming traps. It can also do everything a typical multitool or Swiss army knife can do. No two are exactly alike.
  6. Magnet grenade: A dark metal ball with two shiny bands crossing its surface. When triggered, it creates a pulse that draws all magnetic objects in a 30’ radius. Can only be used once a day, and has a 2-in-6 chance of irreparably breaking each time it is used. They are generally frowned upon in the Metal Waste as they can cause unintentional damage to the buried megastructures and occasionally lead to catastrophic collapses.
  7. Crowjack: A cross between a crowbar and a car jack. The wedge expands as the handle is cranked, allowing stuck doors to be opened and heavy loads to be lifted with ease. Has a 5-in-6 chance to open a stuck door, and generates no more noise than someone walking around in chainmail. On a 1, the door breaks and is unable to be closed again. Only recently invented, many older scavengers scoff at them and claim that they take some of the spirit out of exploring the ruins. 
  8. Grapple claw: A claw-like grappling hook connected to an arm-cannon by a length of thin chain. Works like a hook shot from Legend of Zelda. The claw can be shot up to 60’; if it latches to something heavier than you, it pulls you closer. Vice versa if it latches to something lighter than you. If it hits something fragile, the object will break it. The chain can also be set to raise or lowere slowly, so you can use it to climb and lower yourself safely. It can support the weight of a fully equipped full grown man. These are the most coveted tools in the scavengers arsenal, but also the hardest to get ahold of.

For pricing, any one tool would go for 2d4x100 SP (silver standard) except for the grapple claw, which is twice the price. That being said, scavengers rarely sell their tools and would rather trade for something useful or valuable.


For murderhobo purposes, treat scavengers as Thieves/Specialists with 1d6 HD and two random tools, plus a 50% chance of an additional tool for each HD above 1.


Thursday, November 5, 2020

Generate Everything and Die Trying



Part 1: Generate Everything

I have a vision, a dream if you will, of a campaign created fully and exclusively from rolling on random tables. And not just for the obvious stuff— I mean every detail, down to the finest grain of gameworld minutiae. 


I realize that this probably isn’t the most unique of dreams, as I’d put money on the fact that some “blogger” or “forum denizen” must have had a similar notion in the past but let me explain at you why my vision is superior in scale and scope.


The year is 2020. D&D was born into this world in the hoary past of the mid 1970s. After it’s conception, a community of enthusiasts sprung up and the popularity of the game spread. This was in part because of the agency players had to manipulate the game to their taste and create their own material. The internet was wrought upon this earth before then, but was made public in ‘93. As the popularity of the game increased, so too did the ubiquity of the web, and after the Open Game License dropped in the year 2000 entire communities of people from around the (mostly English speaking) world sprung up, dedicated to making and sharing material for D&D. By the mid 2000s there were a decent number of established D&D communities, and as the decade drew to a close brave pilgrims made their way to Blogspot. In the following decade, the OSR blogosphere popped off, G+ rose and tumbled Babylon-like, 5e came out and made D&D popular again, a bunch of other stuff happened (I mean, have you read the news?), and all the while more and more content was being written for the game. 


And what do we all know to be the essential lifeblood of homemade D&D material? What would remain if you distill the swirling nebula of D&D material into the barest, most essential unit? The random table. 


So there are near 50 years worth of random tables being written and dispersed since the hobby began, spanning veritable epochs of cultural drift. Never before has there been this many. 


When I say random tables, I mean as inclusive a definition as possible. Anything with multiple discrete results that you’re supposed to roll on. Doesn’t matter if it’s player-facing or DM-facing. If it’s a numbered list, it’s a table.


Tables for modules, for splats, for supplements. For hacks and spinoffs and homebrew. For posts, for jokes, for fun and for profit, for theorizing and figuring and showing off and shitposting and for actually being useful, or at least a little interesting. Tables for things you would use all the time. Tables you would only use once, ever. Tables for building up the basics of the game world, and tables for stuff to fill it. Tables for new rules that posit conflicting alternatives to the existing rules. Tables that wouldn’t make a lick of sense out of the context that they were created in. Tables scrawled on the backs of receipts and loose paper and lost forever. Grocery lists that are written out to kind of look like a random D&D table if you don’t look at it too hard. 


Tables are everywhere. Completely ubiquitous. You can find 50 different versions of the same kind of table if it’s on a topic that got a lot of traction. New tables, even new kinds of tables, are being created every month and have been for four decades and change. 


And I want to use them all. 


Or at least as many as I can. Let’s be realistic here.  


Here’s the point: This isn’t about using tables for all the campaign decisions that would typically be up to the DM. This is instead about using as many tables as you possibly can while maintaining at least some semblance of internal consistency. Which seems to me like a much bigger undertaking.


Here’s the real point: This is really about having an excuse to finally use all the cool, interesting tables and generators that never quite make it into your game. The things that make you think “that’s cool, maybe I’ll use it down the line,” but then inevitably you never do. There are simply too many good tables out there to use, unless you make some sort of inane concerted effort like what I am proposing.


Part 2: Die Trying


From the vast universe of D&D tables, I’m going to zoom in on a more localized area: the old-school DIY D&D community. It seems like there was an implicit joke among bloggers in the mid ‘10s to see who could come up with the most absurd random table that still had some semblance of utility. I don’t think there was actually a joke. It just seems that way. Because if you load up the blogspot of any big name blogger and check through their archive from, say, 2012-17, you’ll find tables for all kinds of bizarre stuff. All in good fun, but also with some actual utility too. Love it. 


Tables have two functions that everyone intuitively understands: the traditional function, to randomly determine an outcome from a list of possibilities, and the fun zany function, to juice for inspiration and add oddball elements to your game. The first function is largely the domain of tables you’d find in the style of the standard D&D encounter, treasure, and dungeon generation tables. The “classic” D&D table. The latter function is the domain of the independent creator, the blogger, the poster, etc. The Dungeon Dozen and the stuff the Elfmaids and Octopi blog put out are key examples of tables oriented toward the second function.


But being one to blatantly disregard guidelines (as I’m sure you, the reader, are too), it’s not hard for me to imagine the possibilities that could arise from using a table typically suited to one function for another function. That’s part of the fun of it. 


Even though tables present a list of options, their very nature you can only ever select one outcome at a time. That’s why we roll in the first place. But a table as a whole can still stand as a source of inspiration, most directly as a way to get you thinking “Man I want to use this table.” But there are countless other ways a table can inspire you.


In this way, what it means to actually “use” a table gets pretty fuzzy, definitionally speaking. If you find a list of d6 magic swords and give one to an NPC without rolling, did you actually use the table? Or were you just harvesting an entry on a list? 


I’m not here to bullshit you with sophistry, but the upshot is that in addition to the fact that there are essentially countless extant tables, there are also countless ways you can choose to implement a table into your game. I feel like this is the nut of a zen koan waiting to be made. 


Have a bunch of tables lying around but can’t find an excuse to use them? Take a bunch of them and then roll on this other table. 



  1. Roll once on d4+1 tables (or more). Use the results as the basis or theme of the next adventure.

  2. Use 2 or more tables next session. Invent whatever circumstances are required to justify their use, and alter any details as necessary.

  3. Roll on af table and build a monster out of the result. It’s HD is equal to its place on the table. Its intelligence is roughly proportional to the number of words of the result—more words means higher intelligence. One word (or less) means the creature is mindless, whereas a full sentence or two is equivalent to human intelligence. If the result is beneficial/creative/intriguing, the creature is Lawful. If the result is negative/lazy/boring, the creature is Chaotic. If you feel indifferent either way or if the result could fall in either category, the creature is neutral. (If you’re rolling on a random encounter table, just make up a new monster conceptually similar to the original result).

  4. Use a table for something other than its intended purpose next session. 

  5. The next time you need to roll on a table, roll on a random one from your collection. It's up to you to make sense of the result.

  6. Take two tables and swap around some of the results. Use them a few times next time you’re planning an adventure.

  7. Select one table at random. This table is now a book or artifact that several powerful NPCs are desperate to get their hands on. Why?

  8. Turn a table into a sort of meta statement about the nature of imaginative design and proudly show it off to your friends/players/family/coworkers/people on the street.

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Here's an old picking pockets table I appreciate

 


I came across these tables from a little while ago from the AD&D Forgotten Realms City System, and it intrigued me enough to hang on to it even though I can probably count the number of times I've used it on one hand. Supposedly, there was a longer version that had much more detail (I'm imagining a classic AD&D nested-tables-within-nested-tables type of thing), but this one seems like it would have much more value during a session. 

Tables like this one—lightweight, don't require much pre-planning, meant for the players to roll on during the game and not the GM outside of the session—are like candy for old school players. They're fun and enjoyable despite not offering much substance, but too many of them could bog your game down and potentially ruin your supper. Or not, I don't know, I just assume that you can have too many and eventually they'd slow your game down.

That being said, if your players are going to spend a significant amount of time in a city, I feel like tables like this can be as important if not more than any table or method you used to actually generate the actual city itself.

It's good to have all that foundational stuff for a city figured out, but when it comes to actually playing the game players are going to have more contact with the city through activities like pickpocketing than they would if you explain to them which district is which and why they should care. That's probably why tables for carousing and searching bodies and stuff were so popular in the OSR—it's stuff players actually like to do.

Which is why it's nice that there are so many tables like these out there on the internet, because when you have a bunch of them on hand it gives even more motivation for the players to interact with the environment, and gives you a perfect excuse to sneak in some exposition. It's like how I imagine some parents hide vegetables in their kids' meals so that they'll finally shut up about how gross cauliflower is. 

Speaking of sneaking in exposition, tables like these all but hand you an invitation to alter and bastardize them as you please.  The smudged pamphlet can be from an up-and-coming cult that's going to take over the city in a couple months if they PCs don't do anything about it, or the deck of playing cards can be marked with the symbol of the gang that runs an underground gambling ring. When I DM, I'm always looking for more diegetic ways to give my players leads and information. 

I see the value in making your own tables for these sorts of things, but there's something nice about using one someone else made. When you see someone else's table and get that raw mind-to-mind exposure, your imagination gets jumpstart on new ideas you wouldn't have had before. I see on the valuable table "99-00: small non-magical book" and I think about how small the odds are for that to be rolled and then I wonder what if books were contraband in the city. Or what if all the books were the property of someone important, like a mad wizard king, and he can secretly see and hear through his books if they ever leave his library. And now he's got a bead on you since you were unlucky enough to steal it from some other sucker. 

It gets the mind a-firing. 

Anyway, there has been a lot of controversy in the OSR over the past few years, so I decided to take a brave, noncontroversial stance and say that random tables are good.

Also, I tried to do some research to see if thieftraps were actually a real thing, but I couldn't find anything conclusive (after about a half-hour of googling). I like the idea, especially as an added risk to the pickpocketing PC, but in actual practice they seem like more trouble than their worth. I would feel sorry for the poor sap who absentmindedly reached into his pocket to grab something else, only to get his fingers caught in his own trap. How humiliating.

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

A room contents table salvaged from the Five Room Dungeon

If you DM a more recent edition of D&D and have looked around online for some advice on making dungeons, chances are you came across the Five Room Dungeon Method. There are a lot of places online that explain what this is, so I'm not going to elaborate it here. What you need to know is that the 5RDM is an outline for creating adventures (not just dungeons) that focuses on five key elements:

  1. Entrance and guardian
  2. Puzzle or role-play challenge
  3. Trick or setback
  4. Climax
  5. Reward or twist
All of these are pretty self-explanatory, especially to anyone that's played D&D for a while. This sort of adventure-making method works better for more linear, narrative-oriented play, but it's too prescriptive, it makes too many assumptions about player decisions, and it promotes fixed outcomes, so it doesn't fit the OSR sensibility. But I'll be damned if it isn't intuitive. 

Anyway, I was playing around with it the other day to see if I could squeeze out a one-shot and I ended up having a much better idea: using the Five Room Dungeon to generate dungeons. 

And yes I know it's already a "dungeon generator" but I mean in the classic "Dungeon Room Contents" sense. 

Instead of using this:


how about this:

1-2: Guardian 
3-4: Puzzle/RP challenge 
5-6: Trick/Setback 
7: Climax 
8: Reward 
9-12: Empty  

Add treasure as you see fit, or give a 2-in-6 chance of treasure for the first 3 entries a 1-in-6 chance for  empty rooms. 

***

Here's how the table works: instead of using each entry as the 5RDM intends, think about what they represent. Guardians prevent players from continuing until they are surpassed. Tricks and setbacks tax resources and punish carelessness. Climaxes and rewards are the reasons that the players/PCs care about the dungeon. 

When you read the B/X room contents table, what you get is exactly what it says on the tin. A monster means there's a monster there. A trap is a trap. A Special is... well, you get the idea. Conversely, the 5RDM room content table proposes the purpose of each room. 

A Guardian represents some challenge that, when surpassed, opens up new parts of the dungeon. Guardians could be monsters guarding a room, but they could also be a magic door that requires a special ritual to open, a portcullis and a conspicuously trapped lever, or a flooded passage that's too deep to wade through. 

Puzzles and role play challenges encompass obstacles that aren't explicitly hostile to the characters. They can be puzzles in the traditional sense, non-hostile NPC or monster encounters, challenges that force hard decisions on the players, and obstacles that involve aspects of the characters' identities (alignment, faction affiliation, class, etc.). 

Tricks and setbacks are rather self-explanatory: traps, resource-depleting hazards (torch-extinguishing wind, spooky noises that force a morale check for hirelings), difficult terrain, etc. These rooms are where players' caution and preparedness is tested and where inattention and negligence is punished.

Climaxes in the 5RDM sense are the least fit to be in old-school dungeons, so instead consider them as rooms that contain important things related to the world outside the dungeon. Or, simply consider them as major locations of the dungeon itself. A climax room is where the dragon sleeps atop its immense hoard, or where the mystic sage the players want to consult resides, or where the fountain that can cure the duke's disease is found. Climax rooms can also be focal points of the dungeon, with dynamic elements that can be interacted with by the players. Maybe this room is the control center that can monitor other rooms of the dungeon and activate all the traps on the floor, or maybe it's the central chamber where an ancient demon imprisoned in a giant iron cage (which is perhaps why the dungeon was built up around it)... 

Rewards: you can probably guess. Aside from treasure there are some other things this entry means: Information is the most valuable resource in the game, and players love having good relationships with NPCS.

***

Why choose this room content table over another one? It invites you to design the dungeon conceptually while you're constructing it. And not "conceptually" in regard to the dungeons theme or origin, but "conceptually" from a game design perspective. Instead of having each result on contents table be its own discrete thing that you're meant to find a justification for later, the 5RDM contents table more easily works out the "flow" of the dungeon as your generating it. 

Because each entry of the 5RDM contents table is broad while still being meaningfully distinct from one another, you can easily connect the contents of different rooms together intuitively. If a guardian and a trick/setback room are right next to each other, the guardian can be an orc monitoring a corridor while the setback can be two more preparing an ambush. Or, it could be a locked door that leads to a room filled with poison gas. Classic generators don't offer this sort of flexibility.

What about this contents table might be worse than other ones? Well the biggest thing is it that needs you to make more decisions, so it's more work to use this table than the B/X or AD&D tables. And since you're relying more on your own ideas, your dungeons might get stale with repeated use. 

With all that being said, think about giving the 5RDM contents table a spin if you're tired of the old generators and want to try something new. Have fun with it. 

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Psiioniics II: The Diiscussiion


Click the image for a PDF version of the rules

Here are a couple paragraphs of elaboration on the PSIONICS rules from the last post.

This might be a contentious opinion but I think psionics are cool and good, actually. The only issue is that they can't seem to be implemented right. Every "official" psionics system I've played with is a total drag and all the homemade attempts to remedy them never really land with me. Yet, much like classic D&D, the concept is strong enough that people just keep coming back to it. Some alternative rules are pretty good, like the ones in Carcosa, but they all suffer the same problem of just being just another per-day magic-adjacent ability with an ostensibly sci-fi flavor.

I think psionics should be fun and intuitive, because this is a GAME after all, but they should also be incredibly risky and dangerous and bizarre. The way some people feel that magic should be all occult and twisted and potentially disfiguring to those who practice it—I feel the same way about psionics. While the classic TSR-era psionic rules are no doubt inspired by the cold, academic mind powers dreamed up by writers like John Campbell and James Blish, I'm more interested in the violent, messy psionics from the likes of Akira, Scanners, and Ubik. Psionics are high risk and high reward. If you push them too hard, they will push back. But the only way to grow your power is to push yourself right up against the limit.

This system was designed to have a built-in control to prevent players from using their powers excessively, but still allowing for them to actually feel like they possess meaningful abilities. One thing D&D could use more of are attrition mechanics that aren't determined by the number of [spell slots/torches/rations/etc.] a PC has left but instead by the player's knowledge that the more benefits they extract leads to a higher risk that something bad happens to their character. It's like a second psychological mind game players with psionic PCs play on top of the one they're already playing with the rest of the group.

The rules themselves are pretty easy to suit your tastes. If you want them to show up even less frequently than rolling a d100 below your lowest out of INT, WIS, and CHA than you can just do it the way AD&D does it. If you want less flash, you can remove the additional environmental effects from psychic breaks and maybe tone down the two power roll abilities. I definitely had a specific genre flavor in mind when making the powers, but if that's not your thing then the system allows for modification.

The unique dice mechanic is something I'm pretty happy with. It doesn't seem to be too much extra book keeping for the players, and it serves to really emphasize the idea that psionics are weird and different, unlike all the other weird and different things featured in the game. I've already discussed my love for unique resolution mechanics, so just know that this one fits the bill. I would imagine that the power dice mechanic could be refitted for something else pretty easily, but I haven't tried it with anything else yet. Maybe one day I'll make a magic system to rival the GLOG magic dice. (I'm coming for your throne, Arnold).

One final note: In any other psionic system, psionics don't show up nearly as frequently as they ought to. It makes sense that psionics should be rare, but when there's less than, say, a five percent chance for a new PC to be a psion then in practice the rules barely even matter to me. Inevitably, in accordance with the laws of karmic irony, a PC with psionics won't be rolled until at least four months into play, and then they'll die a handful of sessions later after having barely used their powers. It's just the way these things go.

Monday, September 14, 2020

Rules for PSIONICS




ARE YOU A PSION?

After determining ability scores at character creation, roll a d100. If you get below the highest score out of your Wisdom, Intelligence, and Charisma, you are a PSION. Roll randomly for a power. If you would rather have fewer psions in your game, roll below the average of the three scores, or below the lowest of the three. 


HOW TO USE PSIONICS

Every psion has a POWER DICE, determined by their level.

Level 1-3: d4

Level 4-6: d6

Level 7+: d8

To use a PSIONIC POWER, roll your POWER DICE and write down the result somewhere on your character sheet. For an enhanced effect (as specified in the ability's description), make two POWER ROLLS and record both results. The power then manifests. 





PSIONIC POWERS

  1. Clairvoyance: Your psychic power manifests as a supernatural second sight, allowing you to see through walls, view the contents of containers, and detect fine details. Two power rolls can be made to sense aspects of the world beyond mundane understanding such as the abilities of a creature and the features of a magic item.
  2. Clairaudience: You can achieve full sonic perception. Using this ability gives you perfect echolocation, effectively granting omnidirectional awareness as long as you can hear. Alternatively, you can choose to tune your hearing to a specific target, like a whispered conversation in a crowded room or the footfalls of a mouse in a rainstorm. Two power rolls can be made to “hear” the latent psychic energy that exists in all organic material—functioning as a one-way Speak With... spell directed at a specific object. Clairaudience lasts 1 turn.
  3. Pyrokinesis: Your psychic energy can excite particles to combustion. This can be used to ignite flammable objects and create flames that can damage targets. Attacks with Pyrokinesis have a range of 60’, use the ranged attack bonus, and deal damage equal to twice the result of your power roll. Two rolls can be made to combust a target and cause the damage automatically, although there is a 1-in-6 chance that you ignite as well and take an equal amount of damage. 
  4. ESP: You can detect the presence of minds and read the surface thoughts and emotions of a target. Two power rolls can be made to perceive another location within 60’, such as an adjacent room or the interior of a closed box. 
  5. Telekinesis: Your mind can push, pull, lift, or hold with a force of  up to 20 pounds. An additional power roll can be made for finer work, although line of sight is required (so no squeezing hearts or slicing brains). Additionally, the max weight capacity of your Telekinesis increases by 60 pounds for every additional power roll you make. If you need a quick and dirty way to calculate attacks with Telekinesis, assume attacks use the ranged attack modifier and deal damage equal to the power roll(s).
  6. Psychometry: You can touch an object to “read” its history. You understand its purpose and function, as well as the circumstances surrounding its creation and any notable events it took part in. Two power rolls can be made to glean more details, or focus in on one specific event in the object’s history and see the event through its perspective. 
  7. Telepathy: Psychic communication. Brief one-way messages can be sent to people you share a language with without a power roll at a range of up to 1 mile as long as you have at least one psionics number written on your character sheet. A power roll can be made to establish a telepathic link with other people, allowing for two-way communication between a number of minds equal to your level with a range of up to 10 miles, which lasts for one hour. Other psions and particularly brilliant individuals can attempt a save vs. magic to resist telepathic communication. Two power rolls can be made to thoroughly read a target’s mind or search their memory. The target can save vs. magic to resist, but they receive a -1 penalty for every one HD you have more than them.
  8. Precognition: You can see up to one minute into the future, allowing you to “retcon” decisions and actions you made in that time. If two power rolls are made, select a number between one and twenty—for the next day, you can replace the outcome of any d20 roll with that number. At level 4 you can write down two numbers, and at level 7 you can write down three. Each number can only be used once. The two power roll ability can only be made once a day. 
  9. PSI Blast: You can use your psychic power to assault an enemy’s mind. Deals an amount of damage equal to your power roll. If two power rolls are made, deal an amount of damage equal to the higher of the two dice and add an additional effect to the PSI Blast: 1) target is dazed the next round and cannot attack 2) target gets knocked to the ground 3) target gets a -1 penalty to attack and damage rolls for one round 4) target is frozen in place, unable to move for one round round 5) target is temporarily maddened and spends their next round attacking the nearest creature (attacking themselves if no one is in range) 6) target is forced to make a morale check at a -2 penalty. Other psions and particularly brilliant individuals are allowed a save vs. magic to negate the damage. If the damage is negated this way by a psion, the power roll result is not recorded. Instead, the opposing creature can spend their round to attempt a free PSI Blast against the original psion, using the original result of the power dice +1 to calculate damage. The original target is then allowed a save, and if passed they can repeat the process on their turn using the original power roll result +2, and so on. If either psion gets interrupted, the damage is split between the two of them and each gets a save vs. magic to negate it.
  10. Psychic Barrier: Through supernatural focus you can create a mental barrier to shield your psyche. Using this ability automatically negates any effect that can charm, cause fear or otherwise afflict your mind. This ability can also be used to cancel any other psionic effect, such as ESP and PSI Blast. Furthermore, due to the mental control this power allows you to exert, it can be used to reduce incoming damage from a single target by an amount equal to the result of the power roll. Two power rolls can be made to momentarily project a barrier of force around you—all matter not worn or carried is repelled from the barrier, negating any damage from physical attacks. This ability has no duration, instead it should be treated as a reaction to attacks or effects. 
  11. Hypnosis: After at least one minute of interacting with a creature you share a language with, you can make a verbal suggestion which the target will be inclined to obey. The suggestion cannot be something that would obviously put the target’s life at risk or directly endanger their friends and allies. An additional power roll can be made to induce a sensory or emotional effect, such that the target would feel they are covered in insects, incredibly warm, remarkably angry, etc. This effect lasts for a number of minutes equal to the sum of the two power rolls. Alternatively, an additional power roll can be made to put intelligent creatures to sleep, functioning the same as the Sleep spell affecting a number of HD equal to the sum of your power rolls. You and the target(s) must be able to see each other. Creatures that are hostile to you, along with other psions or people with remarkable intelligence, can resist hypnosis by succeeding on a save vs. magic.
  12. Physical Augmentation: You can use your psionic power to consciously control and enhance your bodily processes. On the round that you use this ability, you can move twice as fast and can gain as a bonus the result of your power roll to your AC as well as any attack rolls and Strength, Dexterity, and Constitution tests you make. Alternatively, you can heal a number of HP equal to the result of your power roll or receive a bonus to any save against poison, drugs, and the like. If two power rolls are made, you enter a trance-like state where the effects of Physical Augmentation last for two turns. At the end of the two turns, you must succeed on a Constitution test (without the benefit of the bonus) or else become fatigued until you get a full night’s rest—all ability tests and attack rolls are made at a -1 penalty, and you move as though you are one level more encumbered. 


SHOCKS AND BREAKS
There is no hard limit to the amount of times you can use your abilities. That being said, excessive use can and will cause setbacks. If you make a power roll and get the same result as one you have already written down, or make two power rolls and get doubles, then cross the repeated number out with a slash and suffer a SHOCK, detailed in the table below. The ability still manifests. If you make a power roll and get a number you have already crossed out, cross the number out again to form an X. You then suffer a shock and fail to manifest the ability. If you continue to roll and get a number that has been crossed out with an X, the power fails to manifest and you suffer a PSYCHIC BREAK.

ACQUIRING MORE PSIONIC POWERS

When you have every number of your power dice written on your character sheet without any X'd out, you gain a new random psionic power. This can only happen once per level. You also gain a random psionic power after surviving a psionic break. More powers can potentially be acquired if you receive training from a master psion. The parameters of training are left up to the DM.


MELLOWING OUT

During downtime between adventures, you can spend a full day to mellow out, which lets you erase one number from your sheet. You can’t spend the day doing anything other than basic activities like going for a walk, meditating, nursing your migraine, etc. You can also speed up this process by partying, doing drugs, donating to the needy, or whatever other frivolous waste of money would suit your character. Spend a number of SP (assuming a silver standard) equal to 10 times your level and roll your power dice. Erase an amount of numbers equal to your result. 



LIST OF PSYCHIC SHOCKS

  1. The release of psionic power creates a storm in your brain, giving you a minor seizure. You fall to the ground and are effectively incapacitated for 3 rounds. 
  2. Blood vessels burst in your head, making blood pour out of your nose (and perhaps eyes, ears, etc.). Take 1d6 damage. If you were to die from this damage, you instead pass out and wake up an hour later with 1 HP.
  3. The mental effort leaves you with a splitting headache. Every attack roll and ability test you make for the rest of the day suffers a -1 penalty. 
  4. The voices in your head are getting louder... for the next hour, any activity that requires careful focus and attention to detail (searching for a trap, listening at a door) automatically fails. 
  5. Your higher-order thinking slips away, leaving you in a state of heightened suggestibility. You must follow the commands of anyone that succeeds on a charisma test, as long as the command isn’t directly harmful to you or your friends and allies. This lasts for 1 hour, after which you only have a vague, hazy memory of what occurred during that time.
  6. The release of psychic power causes parts of your brain to stop functioning properly. You lose one random sense for one turn: 1. Sight 2. Hearing 3. Touch 4. Smell 5. Taste 6. Roll twice
  7. Your subconscious mind creates a temporary mental block as a response to built up psychic trauma. You are unable to use psionics for the rest of the day.
  8. You overexert your mind and your psionic powers run wild. Write down another number as if you had made another power roll and channel an additional random psionic power. If all the numbers of your power dice are already written down, cross one out and suffer an additional setback.



THE PSYCHIC BREAKDOWN

Psychic breaks are incredibly traumatic, life-altering events, but they have the potential to give way to new insights and abilities. When you suffer a psionic break, roll a d100.


1-60: Roll 1d4 and subtract the result between your Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma scores. A tremor shakes the immediate area.

61-70: As above, and lose one known language. Every sentient creature within a 100’ proximity must save vs. magic or take 1d6 damage.

71-80: As above, and lose half the experience you have gained since leveling up. You seep unstable psychic energy, causing every mechanical or magical device within 100’ to go haywire.

81-95: As above, and you gain 1d4 mutations. You release waves of sheer psionic power in a 10 mile radius. Carts and wagons begin to levitate, roofs are blown off of houses, weather systems are disrupted, animals go insane, babies are born already knowing how to speak. 

96-100: Immediate death. If you are level 7 or higher there is a 1-in-6 chance you erupt in a massive, terrible explosion, obliterating everything in a 10 mile radius.


After suffering a psychic break, you fall unconscious for 1d6 days and gain one random psionic power upon awakening. 


Saturday, September 5, 2020

Who I Am

I've had this blog for about four months now, so I figure it's time I introduce myself. My name is George, I've been playing and thinking about D&D for a long ass time, and I wanted to make a blog to post about it. 

If you're at all familiar with the Old School Renaissance/Revival, it should go without saying that this blog follows in the footsteps of many OSR creators before it. A lot has changed in the past decade or so since the OSR first became a thing, and I think it's safe to say it is reaching the autumn of its lifespan as a niche internet-based subculture. Many great bloggers and creators will certainly continue posting and making things into the indefinite future, but every movement has a point where it somehow simultaneously fades into obscurity and becomes co-opted by the mainstream.  

This is something I will consider with a sense of easygoing detachedness. While I would like to ride the zeitgeist and be a part of an up-and-coming "scene," I simply like old school D&D and its derivatives too much to write about any other type of game. Alas, I have relegated myself to post from this dying world. 

That being said, I don't know if I would characterize what I post or how I play my games as strictly "OSR." Maybe DIY D&D would be a better term. But I guess when you get down to this granular of a level the labels don't really matter. 

So what's the point of this blog? I want to write, and actually follow through on ideas instead of having them exist loosely in my thoughts and on various notes. I spend enough time thinking about D&D I feel like I ought to have something to show for it beyond just what my players see from session to session. I want to share ideas with other people and hopefully do my part enrich the noosphere. 

At some point I'm probably going to post about other stuff, but for now I want to get the ball rolling with D&D stuff. 

Friday, August 28, 2020

CAN A CAMPAIGN BE "ABOUT" SOMETHING?

THE ANSWER MAY SHOCK YOU!

In the Last Future, all the gods are dead. Many of them died in great cosmic wars, some were turned to stone by the Antimatter Basilisk, and others simply fell into obscurity and descended from godhood. The very last to die were subsumed by Ultima Zero.  

There are a couple reasons why I wanted the setting to be this way, but the "point" is because I want my friends to feel like this world is different from the various fantasy genre (high, weird, grimdark, etc.) settings we've played before. They assume that a fantasy world will have fantasy gods, so it should tell them something when there aren't any.

Most of the decisions that went into making the Last Future were things that I sort of just settled on and came up with justifications for later on. I feel like this is probably the case for 90% of every game setting ever. 

I feel like D&D and it's counterparts can generate a lot of different and interesting stories, but I don't think they are well equipped to convey certain standard narrative elements—specifically, themes. You can have a plot, sure, and it's really easy to convey a tone, but to try and make a campaign "mean" a specific thing? Good luck. It can be tempting to do this, because I feel like deep down anyone seriously invested in RPGs understands, or at least wishes, that they're capable of more than just the sum of their parts. But the way old school D&D is played makes it uniquely bad at establishing a cohesive theme. 

Without having all your players sign on to your vision, actually having a theme isn't feasible. Themes are generally conveyed in stories by the outcomes and repercussions of plot events. In games, where "plot events" are determined by dice and it is up to the players to decide how to deal with them, you'll undoubtably need to resort to the loathed practice of railroading to get your point across. Is this what storygames are about?

It's been said many times before that D&D campaigns are closer to picaresques than standard adventure stories. While I agree with this, I feel it can be misleading. D&D campaigns are similar to picaresques, but they aren't picaresques through and through. A campaign is a cohesive thread of events that develops as the players interact with the game world. A story emerges, but not necessarily a capital-N Narrative like the kind you read in books.

I know this isn't groundbreaking stuff—anyone who has DMed a couple sessions could probably understands this already. But here's a SHOCKING REVERSAL that will lead to a THOUGHT-PROVOKING CONCLUSION:

Maybe you can't make a game emulate the trappings of a narrative, but perhaps through tuning the campaign elements—the settlements, the NPCs, the encounters, the faction drama, etc.—toward something resembling a theme may arise. 

One probably wouldn't want to tune their campaign too explicitly, because that would get really tired and same-y after a while. Instead, they should just use the "theme" as an idea to orient the worldbuilding.

One thing I want to capture in the Last Future campaign is the same sense of absurdist nihilism present in Vance's Dying Earth series. Of all the qualities those stories have to be enamored with, I was particularly taken with the ever-present sense of weird pseudo-nihilism that suffuses just about every page of every book. The sun is about to go out and everyone knows it. But that doesn't stop people from caring about things, it just meant that their cares are absurd and often frivolous. There's that guy Cugel met on the beach who was looking for the necklace his ancestor had lost ages ago—why the hell was he doing that? The sun could go out at any minute! And yet he pressed on. And you're reading it, and you're wondering if Jack Vance was a fan of Kafka, because he must have been. That's a great scene, and you can lift it perfectly into your own campaign. 

I want a setting to convey that feeling. I want the players to come across figures that are weird and narcissistic both as a result of and in light of the fact that the universe will soon be swallowed by a massive black hole and there's nothing anyone can really do about it. I have no way of controlling how the players react to this, but I can control what they react to. In coming up with the various structures of the campaign world, I have attempted to use this idea as a guiding light. I would love to be able to speak with more authority on this subject, but I'm only now putting it in practice. I will nevertheless report back with further meditations as the campaign progresses.