Update Time

Yesterday City of Spiders, one of the first 50in50 adventures became a Silver best selling title on Drivethrurpg.com. That is no mean feat. We still get sales of those adventure hooks most weeks. It won’t be long until we get a raft of them going silver.

I am going all out to complete outstanding projects before the end of the year. Ladt week I was working on my Wild West game. That is now ready to go to kickstarter. That is new territory for me. I gave had to pause that for a few days as jump through the legal hoops.

As I cannot go any further with DS:WW right now my attention has turned to Navigator RPG.

Navigator RPG

Since Friday I have completed the Star Knight meditations and Mystic Gifts. These replace the Telempath’s psions in Spacemaster. I have also converted all the equipment over from White Star to Nav and started building the Nav version of Arms Law. Ladt night I finished the last of the melee weapons tables. Tomorrow I start the ranged weapons which include bows, guns and energy weapons.

When I am working on projects like this they often seem really simple before I start. They then go through a phase where for everything one part I complete I notice two more sections that I need to do.

I am in that phase now but I don’t think it will be long until I am crossing things off faster than I am adding them.

As of today you can create a character using any race, culture, profession learn and use psionics and beat each other up using hand to hand combat and ranged attacks, even grenades and make maneuvers.

No one will die because there are no critical tables.

There are no spaceship rules, no monster/aliens/robots. The only healing is through gifts and meditations. There is no natural healing yet.

There is no universe either.

I am sure there is a lot more that I haven’t thought of but the current list is not overwhelming.

I am mentioning all this as I think I am only a week or so away from sharing what I have so far.

I do need some help though. See right at the bottom of this post if you are feeling creative.

City of Forgotten Heroes

I started to detail the city last month in the fanzine. The first month I did the marshes around the city, the city walls and the gate house on the causeway. This month was the library, complete with ghost book, the orchard and a new location called the architect’s tower.

In the October issue will be the palace, the cistern and Octomancer.

I think I will have completed the entire RMu adventure path before the end of the year. I estimate the entire thing will take characters from creation to 12th/14th level.

I mention this because I am aware that sometimes I can seem really enthusiastic about something and then it disappears from view. I don’t just drop things, it is just that actually doing the hard bit of writing it all up isn’t very exciting and having a monthly publishing schedule means that nothing moves quickly.

Amusingly, I don’t know what the end of the adventure path is. I am not entirely sure how to get from the past bit I have written and the point where the characters save their world and defeat the BBEG.

I am sure it will come to me. I have 7 weeks to think of it and get the characters from where they are to where they need to be in time from the final climax in December.

I wonder if I will complete the adventure path before RMu is released? It is supposed to be in Nicholas’s editing queue now. How long will that take and the same goes for art commissioning and layout.

On September 22nd there are 100 days of 2019 left and we were promised RMu in 2019.

Help

What I could do with is a bit of help coming up with witty and graphic critical descriptions.

At the moment I have need of the following critical tables. Puncture, Slash, Krush, Fire, Unbalance and Impact. I would really appreciate some suggestions for the criticals. There are 120 entries on a critical table and I have six to do giving 720 lines to come up with.

All help will be greatly appreciated. Just comment below.

Rolemaster Deconstruction: Is it a Skill or an Ability?

As part of our Rolemaster deconstruction I’ve followed two processes: consolidating small “skills” into larger meta-skills and changed traditional skills into inherent abilities. (Perception and Body Development being the two foremost).

Obviously, one of Rolemasters differentials with D&D was shifting almost all abilities into trainable skills. The contrast was clear: D&D imparted abilities through racial mechanics, classes and levels and was on one end of a game  spectrum while RM’s skill focus sat at the other end. The problem (in my mind) of course is that under RM’s approach, EVERYTHING became a trainable skill. Skills became parsed further and further into niche secondary skills, skill bloat became rampant and a more complicated similar skill mechanic was necessary to manage the interrelationship between overlapping skills. Lost in all of the Rolemaster Companions, RMSS and RM bolt-on’s was questioning the very premise of “what is a skill?”

There were a few early exceptions: DB and RR’s. Those kept to their D&D roots and RM never allowed a trainable skill to offset poison, disease or the realms of magic. Adrenal Defense was a skill, but had lots of restrictions and has now been mostly nerfed  in RMU.

As discussed in my various blogs, I’ve reverted some core skills into inherent abilities using stats or other approaches. Just a few examples:

  1. Body Development. I’ve mostly embraced Peter’s approach and set HP’s by race and constitution. However, we also add +1 HP/# of skill ranks in Endurance.
  2. Perception. I’ve moved the skill into a 12th stat. This measures the characters PHYSICAL perceptual abilities: eye sight, sense of smell, alertness, hearing etc. This also is easier to use with a racial modifier.
  3. Feats of Strength/Lifting. Purely based on strength.
  4. Maneuvering in Armor. It’s been discussed in previous blogs and now is being talked about at the Forums, but I just don’t see maneuvering in armor as primarily a trainable skill. Instead I see it as a “handicap” (like adding weight to a race horse). Plus, making MnA a trainable skill, armor becomes a video game like level ability: players progress up in armor type as the gain in levels. As I have argued before, thats akin to players proggressing up in weaponry: start with a dagger and eventually getting to a 2hand sword at 10th lvl.

There are arguments for aspects of a established skill as a being trainable. For me, it’s weighted the other way: if the argument is less than 50/50 for it being trainable I want to work it into an inherent or stat based ability. I know many people want to stick to the core of RM and it’s skill system; but think outside the box…what RM skill should really be an ability?

The Tribulations of the Orachu Tribe is our latest 50in50 offering.

In The Tribulations of the Orachu Tribe, the characters encounter a feared local tribe, coming across the tribe when the characters need something, or simply by chance. The characters will be taken by the tribe and will be required to prove their worthiness in a series of tests.

I don’t want to give anything away but there is an interesting Rolemaster-esque point here. In one of the tribulations there are sharpened stakes upon which the characters could fall.

In Brian’s version he gives the stakes an OB and an attack table, in this case +25OB and the Spear attack table. I have used this same threat in some of my adventures but I tend to use “(x number) of ‘A’ puncture criticals” rather than an OB. On the A puncture critical table there are plenty of chances of no extra damage or just a couple of hits but chances are at least one stake will do something regardless of what level the characters are. With Brian’s version a +25OB means that probably most characters won’t take any damage as their DB will cancel most of the OB and the GM would probably have to roll open ended to ‘hit’.

Furthermore there is only one fatal result (a natural 00) on the ‘A’ puncture critical column. No one really wants the hero to die to a fairly simple staked pit trap or in this case a balancing beam style challenge. Heroes should die heroically, at least most of the time. With my version I don’t need to pull any punches knowing that the challenge could harm, hinder and challenge the party, there are still nasty wounds that can happen on the A critical. That 00 result is a severed vein leading to a heart failure but with life keeping plus vein/artery repair (5th, 7th and 8th level respectively) the fatality can be avoided. Even if your party are not 8th level those spells are ‘overcastable’ at a push.

In contrast an open ended attack roll is five times more likely than a natural 00 on the critical and that opens the way to much more severe criticals than just an A.

So for future adventure hooks which method would you prefer for pits and traps? Fixed criticals or OBs for attacks? Do you care? We can use this to improve our adventure hooks for everyone. 

 

Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps)

So we have our gatehouse on the causeway with its undead guards. We have marshes patrolled by roving undead but where do all these undead come from?

I want a necromancer, but not just any necromancer.

Some where in this city there is going to be access to an underground lake and lurking in the depths of that lake is our Necromancer!

The bottom of a pool is not the usual place to find necromancers, well not BEFORE the party meet them anyway.

I rather like the way that RMU applies Archetypes to any creature to create a unique build. I want to do something similar to that here but using RM2/RMC stats.

You will also remember from the first post in this group that I want to make all of this scale-able to a wide range of character levels.

So our scary monster is going to be an off the shelf creature and then tweaked to make a suitable Super Creep.

I want to start with an Octopus(!). I then want to apply one or possibly two changes to it. The first of which is to give it a profession.

A professional octopus?

Just because Octopi don’t wear tee-shirts and buy coffee at Starbucks does not mean they are not intelligent. They are just differently intelligent. So this Octopus is a cleric and an evil cleric to boot!

A large octopus/squid has 30′ tentacles, is 6th level and has an +80OB which is a fair challenge for a low level party. If we give it the Necromancy (Base) and Calm Spirits (Closed Channeling) lists you have an interesting villain. A 6th level evil cleric given enough time a bit of overcasting or ritual can create type I and II undead and control them. So the villain at the heart of the city can create the undead that protects the city. It has had plenty of time to build its minions so that is all consistent.

So lets scale up our Super Creep.

Using the RAW for GIGANTISM (C&T pages 139 for the RMC version of the book) one increase in size for our octopus takes it from 6th level to 14th level. It also takes its #hits from 70 to 160. As an 14th level Evil Cleric we are now able to create (at a push) Type IV undead. Type IV include Ghosts and Spectres that are up to about 10th level monsters. The Octopus itself now had an OB of 100 and is doing Huge Grapple attacks.

Want something tougher?

Lets scale him up once more!

So with two levels of size increase we have an Octopus that is 16th level, 180#hits and OB of 120. Its criticals are reduced by 2 levels so ignores A&B crits.

I think this kind of end of level boss makes a wonderful Cthulhuesque  mastermind. You can be pretty sure that he party will never have met one before and to be honest I doubt if anyone would be expecting the giant octopus to be a spell caster! That should make the players have to reevaluate their tactics at some point if nothing else.

So what comes next?

I would like to introduce two things, first, something that the party need to bring back from the city, their primary quest. I like the idea of this being so big it needs a cart. I am thinking of some kind of throne that just happens to be sunk at the bottom of the pool.

I also want some interesting suggestions for some ‘set play’ encounters. Something challenging for the players to showcase the city of undead.

Any suggestions?

City of Forgotten Heroes

This is not one of our 50in50 adventures, no, rather this is a sort of crowd sourced adventure. So if it is crowd sourced then technically I am not saying that there will be this monster at this location, no, you will suggest that monster goes there and this one here and so on. The end result should be an adventure with monsters and villains for which I am entirely not to blame.

Or so the theory goes…

So, the inspiration for this was a quote I heard on the radio today. I wasn’t paying attention so I have no idea of the original context but I thought “That sounds like one of Brian’s adventures”. I googled that title and there is a piece of fan fiction of that name and this has absolutely nothing to do with that but I have linked to it just out of courtesy as Lady of the lake came up with the title before me.

My initial thought was for a originally coastal city or large town that over the years flood defences had crumbled or drainage ditches had become choked so that the surrounding land had returned to a wet march. The city itself is approached by a raised causeway. Part way along the causeway are the remains of a gatehouse. One tower has completely collapsed into the march, the arch over the causeway has also crumbled but one tower remains mostly whole.

I am thinking that the city is inhabited primarily by the incorporeal undead, so no zombies and skeletons but more shadows, wraiths and spectres. These marshes could be home to corpse candles and corpse lanterns. For a lower level party the marshes could be haunted by phantoms, being only 2nd level.

So this is a real gatehouse. If we wipe out one side due to collapse we have six remaining chambers over three levels if the party decide to approach our city along the causeway.

That is not a given of course. There are parties that will stubbornly insist on slogging though the marsh to avoid it, those that will fly over it or longdoor past it.

To address some of these I propose that the last vestige of the gate captain be a Spectre.

There are three levels of Spectre in Creature; Law Minor, Lesser and Major at 5th level, 10th and 15th respectively. These attack using Shockbolts, Lightning Bolts or more so they can control an area hundreds of feet across the road. Yet they are easily within the capabilities of even a low level party to take on.

The rest of the gatehouse guard can be Ghosts which start at just 3rd level (Minor Ghost).

So that is the first set piece encounter, can the party get past the gatehouse?

What about those pesky players that refuse point blank to go anywhere near the obvious adventure site of a gatehouse on a causeway?

I would happily let them trudge their way through the swamp. To make things interesting we can weave a bit of back story into this. Imagine this city was being defended for a reason. I can imagine a city under siege being protected by the heroes in the title when along comes an evil necromancer (That’s a stupid phrases isn’t it? How often we we have good necromancers saving the day?) and brings down the city from within. That explains the undead and why the city was left abandoned. Bound forever to defend the city are the ghostly remains of the heroes. Any party that want to try and approach the city via the marches can face random encounters with ghosts, phantoms and for those at a higher level Revenants and Shadows.

I am sure we could produce a scaling table of random encounters for parties of varying levels. If anyone tries to rest in the swamps then we can toss in an encounter with a Mara.

So what about in the city?

I don’t want to detail that in this post. Have a think about it between now and next Tuesday. I will put forward some ideas. I have an awesome idea for a BBEG at the end of it all but we also need a good reason for the party to need to journey to the city in the first place.

So your mission should you choose to accept it is this:

  • Can you add to or embellish what I have suggested so far?
  • Why do the party need to enter a city of the undead?
  • Do we need more set piece encounters for the opening chapter?

Revenge is inevitable. The blowback of a murder hobo party.

 

Today I wanted to talk about unintended consequences of game play and connect two previous blog posts about “Newman Groups” and “Murder Hobos“.

Let’s be honest, PC’s in Rolemaster and other RPG’s kill a lot of people and creatures! Even if you focus on role-playing and noncombat situations, most game mechanics support adversarial and violent action. In our last session alone, the group killed (or incapacitated, maimed or left for dead) over 20 creatures–and that wasn’t a particular violent session. Not all of their opponents were purely evil or non-sentient; in fact, most were sentient humanoids or thinking creatures–they just happened to oppose the players or obstructed their goals. These opponents may have had family, friends or compatriots that would feel anger or loss, and probably want some sort of justice or revenge on the PC’s.

Now multiply that ten-fold or more. By the time a player is 20th level, they’ve probably killed THOUSANDS of people, creatures, monsters and animals.  In reality, the adventuring party is constantly creating new groups of enemies that might want to hunt them down.

I’m not making a moral point; Rolemaster is predicated on a detailed combat system with sometimes brutal or gruesome criticals. Killing is normal and common. But should there be consequences for years of endless murder and mayhem?

 

Rolemaster Deconstruction: Familiars. How should they work?

 

Familiars are not only a staple of fantasy fiction but a core visual ingredient of Rolemaster book covers–specifically the ongoing series of Angus McBride covers from earlier RM books that featured a cast of PC’s with several small animal Familiars.

Familiars had a more sinister aspect in early fiction; most often a demonic imp, crow or other dark-aspected animal tied to an evil antagonist. Early D&D applied this concept to any M-U, and broadened it to a simple servitor or animalistic henchmen of a spell-caster.

First, let’s differentiate between “animal control” spells and “familiars”. Animal control spells are featured in the Animist, Beast Master, Druid and similar professional lists in Spell Law and Companions. These are spells that summon/call, control/master and sometimes allow the caster to sense through a controlled animal. These are all powerful affects, in in some ways SUPERIOR to the limitations and penalties associated with Familiars. So how does Rolemaster deal with Familiars? Fairly easily, in fact, so easy that it behooves a caster to immediately have one.

So why would a caster have a Familiar?

Familiars have a symbiotic connection to the caster where animal control is just a magical charm or affect on a creature. So what is the symbiotic relationship? What benefit does it provide besides cinematics? How does it work, mechanically via the rules?

The basic premise is that there is a REAL benefit to the caster, but at the cost of INVESTITURE. In other words, if the relationship is severed there is a real, physical or psychosomatic cost to the caster. Otherwise isn’t it just easier and less risk to control creatures when needed?

So what is the benefit, or possible benefits, of a familiar that differentiate it from other animal control spells? Here are a few ideas:

  1. Communication. The Familiar bond should allow for free two way communication between the caster and creature. This may not be actual “language” but at least a strong empathic bond.
  2. Awareness. The caster and familiar should have some base awareness in terms of location/distance of each other at all times.
  3. Shared Awareness. With concentration the caster might be allowed to project sensory ability and awareness through their Familiar.
  4. Control. The caster, with concentration, should be able to have some control over their familiar or, at least, give simple instructions for a Familiar to execute.
  5. Shared abilities. A caster might gain some extra-abilities through the Familiar relationship. Perhaps better vision, languages, strength, sensory etc. On the flip side, a Familiar could gain some intellectual ability bestowed by the Familiar bond.

Most of these benefits mirror other animal control spells. But those are temporary spell effects; a Familiar is permanent.

My belief is that GM’s are reluctant or adverse to Familiars. Why? Familiars are really NPC’s for the benefit of the PC’s. That really complicates the narrative.  GM’s not only have to manage normal NPC’s but a constant stream of Familiars that can upend the storyline unless the GM takes the Familiars into consideration!!! At that point, who is the audience? Additionaly, Familiars can change the challenge/reaction of normal adventures–familiars act as scouts or agents with heightened senses that can off-set the normal challenge-balance. At the least, Familiars can be the “canary in the coal mine” and alert the group of traps or other imminent obstacles.

Some additional thoughts:

  • Familiars are GM agents. You can better control the narrative through them.
  • They should be of animal intelligence. They may act with pro-forma intelligence via their caster, but their base ability should be simple animal intelligence.
  • Size. Should they be of smaller size? Should a caster have a bull as a familiar? Probably not. I would restrain the spell limits using the size rules to Small or less.
  • The penalty for losing a familiar should be EXTREME, or at least cautionary. The tie that binds should snap back accordingly and in proportion. This could be loss of temp CO. or even a permanent CO pt, a general activity penalty and even worse.

Again, this goes back to risk/reward. No GM wants to manage intelligent Familiars that run the unknown gauntlet, trip the traps and distract the monsters. At that point, who is playing? Familiars should be carefully hoarded resources–a cool benefit that needs to be defended! Are familiars a great resource in you game?

Of course, if easy and beneficial, every player will have a Familiar. But if the risks and rewards are balanced, would it be different? Maybe the whole concept should be reduced to a simplified, professional agnostic “Animal Bond” mechanic and spell list. That eliminates the whole D&D Magic-User familiar trope and become a generic but specific rule-set that could be used by a variety of PC’s or classes: Magician, Animist, Druid, Beast Master, Barbarian etc. What are your thoughts?

 

 

 

Culture of Spiders

We have released a few adventure hooks that could easily be expanded into full adventure modules with a bit of effort. One of the prime candidates is The City of Spiders.

As this hook introduced a whole city for the characters to explore along with factions to interact with it is easy to imaging creating several adventures within this one location.

So there seem to be two types of threat in this adventure. People from the various factions and spiders, large and small.

What I would like to do is gather some ideas of what ‘monsters’ you think complement the classic giant spider? I do not want to end up with a D&D menagerie in every room but I worry that a mono culture could get a bit same old same old fairly quickly.

So my four initial ideas are Drider style half human-half spiders possibly related to the inner circles of the church, Gemsting (giant scorpions) living in the surrounding landscape and giant wasps, the original ecological reason why the giant spiders both evolved and why they are tolerated in the city. Finally, there could be golem or or automata in spider form.

So can any of you come up with really good monsters that could naturally sit in a city dedicated to spiders?

To Tweak or Not to Tweak

…that is the question.
Is it better to have tweaked and lost
than never to have tweaked at all?

There is a thread on the the ICE forums about undead and sunlight. (http://www.ironcrown.com/ICEforums/index.php?topic=18536.0)

This is exactly the sort of question that I think screams “Setting over Rules”. The very question of how undead are created, how they ‘live’ and how they die are all entwined with the magical system in which they are created. Some people see Necromancy as a wizardly thing, others a dark priestly thing. I can certainly see the argument for a hybrid Channeling/Essence (Chessence?) Necromancer.

I like Skeletons. When I think of Skeletons I think of Jason and the Argonauts where the wizard throws down the bone fragments and the Skeletons emerge from the ground.

In my vision, Mordrig’s idea of sunlight effects on the undead has no place. These are more Essency than Channelly Skeletons.

In all those 1970s and 80s Zombie movies, night of the living dead types of films, sunlight had no place to play.

On the other hand, I ran a zombie apocalypse adventure for my players recently and in that session the undead came out at night and retreated before sunrise. I used the dusk until dawn mechanism simply because I was sending impossible odds against the players and the objective, although they didn’t realise it was to survive until dawn. It was never going to be possible to fight their way out unless they had solved the clues and left before sunset, and with my group that was extremely unlikely to happen!

If you did introduce a rule that directly sunlight harms or kills the undead then that piece of information becomes vitally important. There is a good time to go undead hunting and a very bad time. Earth Law suddenly becomes a  really useful spell list if you can cracks call the ceiling and bring sunlight  down into crypts and dungeons.

So Creatures and Treasures has some rules on the effects of sunlight. Vampires are the only ones with explicit damage from sunlight. My own Vampires and Vampire Spawn, converted over from the D&D 5e SRD both have the flaw of…

Sunlight Hypersensitivity. The vampire takes a A Fire critical
when it starts its round in sunlight. While in sunlight, it has -25 on
attack rolls and skill checks.

So this puts the 5e vampire firmly in the Bram Stoker/Hollywood camp. This is also where the C&T vampires lay.

The question is are there many forms of undead in your world with different creation methods, natures and ultimately game mechanics or just one unified mechanic that means all undead should behave in a coherent and consistent way.

I like the plurality of different mechanics. I like the idea of lost souls becoming ghosts or will ‘o’ wisps, mages sacrificing their mortal souls to achieve lichdom and necromancers reanimating corpses. Some have bodies, some don’t, some are purely magical and no more spiritual than a golem or animated suit of armour. Others are the willing a show of power by a dark god. I do not see a need for one mechanic or one unified Undead Lore.

Just as a bit of a straw poll, how do other GMs see the whole spectrum of undead? Is there a need for a common set of rules to bind them or is the entire concept of Class I-VI undead doing them a disservice?

 

For discussion. The ubiquity of “armored up, all the time” in your game setting.

Recently during a game session, we had a bit of a dispute over what weapons and armor a player might have had on them while in a city. Even in a lengthy campaign, many of my RPG experiences have defaulted to the idea that players have just 1 “kit”–basically the clothes, armor, weapons and gear that are listed on their equipment sheet. As “murder hobos” they don’t have a home, wardrobe or a lot of possessions beyond gear and wealth. Therefore, the players are always in their adventure gear; fully kitted out, armed and armored.

But that’s just silly in many situations. Certainly major cities have laws and rules about armed citizenry. Some may only allow nobles to carry blades; others may require “peace knots” on weapons, or others may require registration or membership in a guild or militia to permit being armed in public.

Those are regulatory issues, but there should also be cultural norms as well. Clanking around in plate or chain armor and wearing a full helm should seem rude or unacceptable in major urban areas. Visitations to courts, merchants houses or administrative facilities will probably require dis-arming. Certainly higher end taverns, inns and restaurants are not going to allow customers that are fully armed or armored.

Finally, it’s just not hygienic to wear the same clothes, underclothes, padding, armor, helms and adventuring clothes all the time! The players will stink, boots will be worn out from travel, clothes torn, armor will dent or bend and a host of wear & tear that’s normal in everyday life. If you’ve ever done any lengthy hiking or outdoor adventuring you know how fast gear can wear out.

In my game, players default to “civilian kit”. They have a appropriate wardrobe for normal, everyday life, often based on their cultural and racial background. We also rate it in a variety of ways (poor, functional, merchant, noble, luxurious or just rank it from 1-10). The quality of the garb will dictate how they interact with various societal classes. As the players have grown in power and reputation, they find themselves interacting with high levels of society. So while they might be murder hobos, they can’t dress like one! Typically they will be armed–but only a staff, or short blade so the heavy fighters feel at a real disadvantage.

Since their civvies are the defaults, that means they have to tell me when they are getting into their combat/adventure kit. Even when travelling, I don’t assume players will continually wear heavy armor, have a shield strapped onto their armor and have a weapon drawn. Of course players want to have all of that when they are ambushed or a sudden encounter unfolds!

This is more of a concern in campaigns–if you are running one-off adventures, dungeon crawls, or just independent adventures most of this won’t matter. The players “gear up” and run the gauntlet. However, if you are running a session or game that doesn’t focus on wilderness/tomb/ruins, and are more urban, what do you do? Do you have an “open carry” “armored up” style game?

Thoughts?