Thursday, February 27, 2014

the Junians

When the last Turning happened and humanity fled to the northern lands, the Junians weathered the turmoil the best and were the most successful group of humans that survived. They retained much of their old culture when they resettled in the north, and this has allowed them to thrive over the last 200 years. They are a difficult people to interact with given their mercurial natures, but they can always be counted on to put considerable value on earthly pleasures.

The Junians are the only people who still openly worship Sanglorious, the old god who is said to have created (and bred with) most of humanity, despite the fact that their own theology states he abandoned the physical realm for other interests. Junians hold several feast days in remembrance of Sanglorious, and an annual fighting competition is held in city arenas. It is said that Sanglorious honored (and slept with) the most skilled fighters amongst the first race of humans, and there are many legends and stories of skillful warriors dating all the way back to the first Turning.

Junians have thrived as merchants, artisans, and architects. They rebuilt cities along the northern coastline and created a barter system for interacting with their neighbors. The Junians have begun to expand and have satellite cities across the northern continent. As their influence expands, Masadhi and Nymenians have stopped being the only non-Junian visitors to their cities, and the north coast has become a warren of competing cultural differences and bickering city-states. The Junians accept this, as they are still (mostly) the ones in charge. However, the bureaucratic governments they built have grown too large too quickly, and all are beginning to strain and buckle against one another from their own successes and labyrinthine protocols.

The Junians value honor and integrity over all else, and will flatly refuse to deal with outsiders who have betrayed their safety and wealth. This curt refusal to interact with those who are known to detract from personal interests means they only see prosperous relationships grow, and others are left out of mutually beneficial dealings. This has, perhaps, helped the Junians but has prolonged the suffering of some Eldragoth tribes. Some city-states have grown more prosperous simply by being inviting and open to outsiders, the largest and most successful of which is Bellhaven. As Junians thrive, their population perfects skills as artisans and craftsmen. Schools have begun to open, and the Junians are currently the only human culture with a written language.

Monday, February 17, 2014

the Athomians

Athomian lives are rigidly dictated by social status, measured by both strength and artistic talent. Athomians are presumed to be descended from the Noblei, as their clans migrated north along with the Junians and the Eldragoths. Their society spread further north following the last Turning. Forced to compete with the Beastmen of the northern hills and plains, they have become fiercely barbaric and truly anarchic.

Athomians do not have a traditional family structure, nor do they perform weddings. When Athomians have children they form families that last only until the child, or children, are capable of taking care of themselves. However, they are not as divided as outsiders believe them to be, there is little to no rivalry between clans. Conflicts are always resolved by individual warriors, and clan members respect the outcome of the battle or contest.

Athomians are rarely encountered as single individuals. Outcasts from the Athomian clans are scarred or branded in some way so that other Athomians will know them and reject them as well. The most important thing to an Athomian is their place in the clan. To be cast out is to be dead in the eyes of their goddess, because of this many outcasts would rather commit suicide than try to integrate into other cultures.

Athomians value both skill with a weapon and artistic ability. The leader of a clan is often both the best fighter and the one who spends most of their time working a trade for the benefit or glory of the clan. Athomians have perfected the art of swordfighting, as well as swordmaking. Their intricate but sturdy weapons are highly prized and sought after. Disputes that are not settled by dueling are resolved by a comparison of talent by the two opponents, this usually entails both parties forging a sword and allowing other members of the clan to inspect them, but it can also involve skills as decorative as embroidery or as practical as woodworking.

An Athomian always keeps their personal equipment immaculately clean and weapons are kept perfectly maintained and oiled. Athomians prefer to wear vivid colors that many consider unpleasant, such as vibrant orange, bright green, and deep purple. They will also tattoo their entire bodies in these colors. Paradoxically, their grooming habits are awful and their focus on outward appearance means they are actually very dirty and unkempt, and many jokes have been made about how their awful color coordination cannot mask their awful body odor. Athomians do not prize bodily hygiene as much as their fashion sense or a perfectly balanced blade.

Every clan worships the same vicious and secretive goddess. Her name is never revealed to outsiders, and she grants power to a very select few. Sacrifices to her are common among all Athomian clans. The formal rituals and ceremonies performed in her esoteric name last for hours and sometimes climax in a brutal death, of a member of the clan if an outsider hasn't been acquired.

Friday, February 14, 2014

the Eldragoths

The Eldragoths represent a competitive culture that exalted fighting, but they have turned their savagery inward and suffered as a result. The Eldragoths are the poorest of the five major human cultures, and also the most savage. Their society spread to the far north following the last Turning, and rather than compete with Athomians and Beastmen for resources they fell into raiding and pillaging most of the settlements they encountered.

The Eldragoths are a divided people, clustered together into nomadic tribes that will hunt game in one area until the population withers, then forced to move on to more populous lands. Whole tribes frequently compete with other Eldragoth tribes for the best resources. A single Eldragoth, either an outcast or one who was dislodged from a role of command, will often fight as a mercenary for other races. The most important thing to an Eldragoth is food, and if fighting for gold or silver brings them food than that is what they do, even though they disdain the use of money as a sign of weakness.

Might makes right in their eyes, and the leader is always the strongest of the tribe. He or she may take whatever they like from the weaker members of the tribe, including life and property. All forms of disputes, as mundane as personal grudges or as inevitable as challenges to leadership, are settled by contests of physical strength - usually fights - and serious grievances involve bloody and prolonged fistfights that don't end until an opponent is bludgeoned to death.

Eldragoths always prefer to fight with their fists and they disdain large weaponry, an Eldragoth will never use a weapon to kill another Eldragoth, even in a tribal conflict. But outsiders should always be wary as Eldragoths have no disdain for picking up knives or bows to slay outsiders. An Eldragoth with a knife is a foe to be feared!

Anyone who is unable to fight or hunt is considered useless and will become an outcast. One who fights and loses is not considered dishonorable, but just of a lower station than one who wins. The children of these Eldragoth tribes learn how to fight at an early age, or they die. A few tribes will abandon their weaker children, these few usually become slaves to other tribes, or in worse cases become victims of the Beastmen.

No single tribe worships a god or pantheon of deities, but each seems to have their own form of religion revolving around the worship of nature spirits. These spirits often have elaborate names that are never pronounced the same way twice. The spirits across various tribes all have one thing in common, they respond to blood. The greater the sacrifice of blood, the greater the boon.

Eldragoths have spread out farther from the northern plains, and have not localized to one area for at least 140 years. Some tribes are spotted as far west as the Black Plateau. They hunt anything with meat on it, and it is an acknowledged fact that a few tribes have turned to cannibalism, willing to hunt other humans or dwarves when food is scarce. They don't ever seem to eat each other, just as they don't kill each other. An important facet of Eldragoth culture that must be remembered by anybody who wishes to hire one as a bodyguard or soldier.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

promoting kickstarters for a change

I usually only post about kickstarters when I'm complaining about their tardiness. I've grown really selective with what I invest my money into, and recently a few projects have come up that are really cool and I want to see them succeed.

LotFP Free RPG Day 2014
(left image is the cover for Doom Cave of the Crystal-Headed Children, art by Gennifer Bone; right image is the cover for World of the Lost by Rafael Chandler, art by Malcolm McClinton)
He's cutting it close to the wire to release for Free RPG Day this year, but I could see James Raggi doing a funding project like this every year now. I'm expecting the next project he throws up might be a "LotFP Free RPG Day 2015" project, and I would back that one too because I've only ever been disappointed by one of Raggi's projects (and it's one I never hear people talking about). This project is particularly interesting because it's set up to put some responsibility into the hands of the donor, you have to email James to tell him what rewards you want. One of the rewards is an adventure written by Rafael Chandler and the only way it will ever be published is through this campaign!

The Islands of Purple-Haunted Putrescence (an OSR module)
(art by Faustie)
A modest little kickstarter campaign from an accomplished self-publisher and a gamer in my neck of the woods. Seriously, he lives about 5 minutes away from me. He and I have the same haunts though we've never played a game together. I'd like to see him succeed both because he's a local and judging from his work we have similar tastes. I'm not sure where he comes up with his titles but I wish I had that same level of crazy creativity.

Darkest Dungeon
I think anybody who is an OSR gamer will want to take a look at this one even though it's a video game. I've been on their mailing list for a couple of months now and I knew this kickstarter campaign was coming. After one day of being live they're already very close to funding, because it's a video game I expect feature creep to potentially be an issue but this is one game that I would love to see hit some stretch goals.

And that's it. Go forth and spend some of your money to help make these projects happen and get cool games in return!

Friday, February 7, 2014

monster: the Quilid

the Quilid

This long furry, serpentine creature has thick, sharp spines all along it's segmented body. It has short legs ending in suction-cups along every part of it's body allowing it to crawl along walls and ceiling. It is constantly hungry and attacks by trying to devour the nearest, most magical target. It seems to crave a spellcaster's flesh!

Initiative: +3
Attack: +6
Bite (2d8+poison, save or stunned for 1 round)
Armor Class: 14 (ascending)
HD 6d6 (hp 24)
MV 80' (wall-crawling)
Save Fort +2 Ref -1 Will -1
Morale: nil
Special: attackers must Reflex save or get poked with spines taking 2d4-1 damage
Tactics: always attacks person with most magical items, failing that attacks spellcasters, wizards before clerics

monster: the Orsect

the Orsect

Alien insectile humanoids, they are sometimes found in nests where they number in the hundreds. They are larger than the average human at full maturity, but their torso is fragile and spindly. Their muscles are thin and lithe. Orsects have underdeveloped retractable wings that lie under a carapace, they can glide short distances and even hover momentarily, but the wings are too frail to support their size for long. Orsects can crawl along walls and ceilings, and their faces have large venomous fangs reminiscent of a spider's cephalothorax. Their chitinous skin often has stocks of black or brown hair sticking out between the plates.

Initiative: +1
Attack: +1
Claw x2 (1d6+1) or Bite (1d6; save vs poison/Fort, 1d6 damage over next 2 rounds)
Armor Class: 13 (ascending)
Hit Dice: 1d8 (hp 4)
Move: 30' (wall-crawling) / 60' (flight, once per four rounds)
Saves: Fort +0 Ref +2 Will -1
Morale: 8
Tactics: attacks smallest/weakest PC first

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Bargaining, or The Partial Success

My favorite part of the Apocalypse World rules is the partial success. The feature of the partial success is most illustrative with the "acting under fire" move. "Acting under fire" is trying to do something that requires unusual discipline or concentration or with reserves of willpower or under threat of violence or something like that. AW hacks have reinterpreted this move as "Defy Danger" "Act Under Pressure" "Strive Against Peril" etc. When you "act under fire" and you get the partial success, it specifically states that the MC (the GM) might offer you a worse outcome, an ugly choice or a hard bargain. The rulebook implies that the MC should pick one and offer it as the result, but during play this usually comes down to more than one option offered to the player who then chooses which result occurs.

Worse Outcome. Ugly Choice. Hard Bargain. It sounds like three things, but it's actually four. Let me give you a few examples to illustrate this:

We're going to follow Cyril for a bit. He's a bit of an untalented goon with no real skills to speak of, but he's got a knack for being in the right place at the right time and he's got a tongue that's as sharp as a cleaver. One big thing he has going for himself is that he's a Hocus, so he's got his own personal cult of about 15 devotees who worship him, hang on his every word, and follow him around like lost puppy dogs.

A biker gang is moving through the town where Cyril preaches to his flock and before they leave town they've decided to have a little fun. The gang's leader is trying to lasso Cyril with an old plastic rope that looks hand woven. When Cyril tries to escape he's acting under fire and rolls a 9. The MC can offer...
  • a worse outcome: Cyril will take 4 harm as he runs into another biker and gets knocked down to the ground, unconscious, but he will get left alone afterward as the gang laughs their asses off in the assumption that he got accidentally killed.
  • an ugly choice: Cyril will dive through a window, taking 2 harm, and escape through the back of the building losing sight of the gang and his followers, or get away down an alleyway but drop something important/valuable, like the wrought iron staff that he uses to focus his followers' attention during his sermons.
  • a hard bargain: Cyril will get away, but his loyal followers will definitely not avoid the gang's attention.
Cyril takes the hard bargain and gets away, his followers are not so lucky. The MC gauges from the gang's size (small) and harm (3) that Cyril will lose 4 of his followers to the gang, 2 of them are killed and 2 of them are kidnapped.

The gang makes camp in a grassy ravine near town and Cyril, upon learning that 2 of his flock have been kidnapped, decides to sneak into their camp to liberate them. The closest thing to a sneak move in Apocalypse World is acting under fire so that's what Cyril is doing, and he rolls a 9 again. The MC offers...
  • a worse outcome: Cyril is caught and captured, but not harmed, by the gang.
  • an ugly choice: Cyril was followed by some of his enthusiastic cultists and they get caught but the distraction will allow him to sneak in undetected, or Cyril is spotted by the camp lookout and gets shot, taking 3 harm, but his enthusiastic followers make it into the camp from his distraction.
  • a hard bargain: Cyril sneaks in, but his kidnapped followers have been tortured and killed and there's nothing he can do for them now.

Cyril takes the ugly choice this time and tells the MC that his enthusiastic followers get caught. The MC declares them dead, but Cyril is in the camp and his other followers who were kidnapped are there, and relatively unharmed.

The MC declares that the whole gang's encampment is now on high alert, it's going to be pretty tough sneaking out of here so Cyril is going to need to do something tricky to get his kidnapped followers to safety. Cyril is now keenly aware that 4 of his people got killed today and he might get 2 more killed, he's resolved not to let anybody else from his cult die. Cyril frees his followers and instructs them to get out of the camp and back home while he creates a distraction. Cyril runs out of hiding straight for the gang leader with his staff, and declares he wants to use the focusing power of the staff to heel the leader of the gang to Cyril's will. The MC decides that this isn't a manipulation and it doesn't fall under Cyril's normal use of his Hocus powers, she declares that this is another use of acting under fire but Cyril is being inventive and taking a huge risk, she lets him roll his best stat this time, but he still rolls a 9. The MC offers...
  • a worse outcome: Cyril is shot, point-blank, by the gang's leader. 5-harm. His followers will get away clean.
  • an ugly choice: He creates enough of a distraction that his followers get away, but they've been seen fleeing and he's captured, or he has the full attention of the gang leader but his followers won't leave without him and all eyes in the camp are on Cyril right now.
  • a hard bargain: Cyril has the gang's leader under his command, but that doesn't sway the rest of the gang at all.

Regardless of where you're sitting at the table, this is my favorite mechanic. As a player it gives you a brief moment of control, like rolling with a punch or flipping between two choices in a Choose Your Own Adventure novel. As an MC, it offers a challenging moment of looking at ugly/hard/worse options and offering them up as a meal. It is really hard to pull off well as a MC, since a partial success is still fundamentally a success, but I believe that mastering this on-the-spot thinking is what can make or break GMing properly.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Apocalypse World of Darkness (brainstorming)

Apocalypse World, from now on AW. World of Darkness, from now on WoD
AW has playbooks, WoD has splats; I'm ambivalent about both but recognize the value for players to have easy choices
AW has 5 stats and a plethora of moves, WoD has 9 attributes and 21 skills; I like a simple system, so let's keep WoD's attributes but get rid of the skills
AW has countdown clocks, WoD has dots and points; I like dots and points
AW rolls 2d6, WoD rolls pools of d10s; I like pools of dice, but let's use d6s because this isn't WoD, this is AWoD
AW has complications and partial successes, WoD has exceptional successes and dramatic failures; I like complications and varying levels of success

Trying to fuse the Apocalypse World moves dynamic with the standard World of Darkness stat blocks: Everything is kept the same, roll dice pools and only count the highest number on any rolled dice.
Any result of '5' or higher can be used as a success for the roll.
All dice rolling at 4 or less means the GM can make a hard move, or mark a hard move for use later.
A dice that comes up a '6' allows you to roll another dice.

I'm not sure how the math would work out. Combat and damage would have to be tweaked slightly anyway. For now, let's see how it works.

From the WoD core rulebook: Perception
Dice Pool:
Wits + Composure
Roll Results
Dramatic Failure:
Your character notices something strange or out of place, but it’s not what has actually occurred, or he makes a dangerous assumption about the event. A picture hanging at an odd angle indicates that someone has moved it, but your character assumes that a door has been slammed, shifting the piece of art.
Failure: Your character notices nothing amiss or out of place.
Success: Your character recognizes that something has happened.
Exceptional Success: Your character not only recognizes when something unusual or quick happens nearby, he sees it all happen and gets a good look. Or he notices a variety of things that are amiss in his surroundings, just by entering the room.

My interpretation: Perception when you roll Wits+Composure, spend successes to ask questions.
• what does this mean?
• what happened here recently?
• what is about to happen?
• what here is not what it appears to be?
• what here is useful or valuable to me?
• what is this?
• where’s my best escape route / way in / way past?
• which enemy is most vulnerable to me?
• which enemy is the biggest threat?
• who’s in control here?
• is __ telling the truth?
• what does __ intend to do?
• what does __ wish I’d do?
• what’s __ really feeling?

I think that works but I'm not sure how partial successes would work out, because that's my favorite thing about AW. I'd be curious to figure out how combat would work, but that would require more work and I have to shelve this idea for now. I want to get back to working on... a few other things. I've got two D&D scenarios I'm writing, two maps I'm drawing, a new playbook for AW, rules for Fantasy Heartfucker or whatever I'm going to call it. I've got too many projects that I keep working on a little bit at a time, I need to focus on one and finish it sometime soon.