Saturday, July 2, 2016

how much does that castle cost?

There is a fascinating project being undertaken in France where a group of archaeologists and engineers are building a medieval castle using only the tools and technology that would have been available to the builders of such a castle from the period. Even the workers are only allowed to wear period-appropriate clothing and eat at a local restaurant which opened to serve period-appropriate food. They started the project in 1997 and they're not sure when they'll be done, sometime in the 2020s. The castle employs 55 people who work year-round designing and building and maintaining the building and grounds. This castle is not that big and not grandiose by modern standards, but it is weirdly gratifying to see how progress has been made on the project year after year. There's also a wikipedia link that gives a decent summary of all of the available information.

Employing this to a tabletop game, depending on the game system, you could extrapolate the costs of building a castle from this information. Assuming silver as a standard unit of currency and occupying a healthy mix of professions into the construction of this castle, you can expect to spend about 20 silver every day or 600 silver every month. Over a 20-year period of time, that amounts to 144,000 silver pieces. If gold is your currency standard then you can increase that to 1.4 million silver. That's just to pay people to build the castle, that doesn't include building materials or tools or all of the hiccups that might occur along the way like labor disputes, foul weather, running out of materials, bandits, wandering monsters, war, or anything else that might delay or stop construction. The construction times listed in the 1st edition Dungeon Master's Guide are very forgiving.

Using magic could speed up the process or make some aspects of construction easier, but there are few low-level spells with utilitarian aspects. The 2nd edition of AD&D gave gold piece costs for a wizard to cast a spell, but this was a list devised to part PCs from their gold and nothing more as some spells on the list had no material components whatsoever. A PC spellcaster should be able to speed up the construction of their own castle, or be able to assist a non-spellcasting PC in exchange for money, services, or a free room in the finished keep. As a sample spell from 2nd edition that would be useful for constructing a castle, Wall of Stone is a 6th-level permanent spell that only requires a small block of granite as a material component.

You could buy the Castle Guide and plot out exactly how much stone, how much gold, and how many workers with a very good basis of management and flexibility using a gold standard, but most of the people I play with find that attention to detail boring. If that's the case for you as well, then...

Handwave it!

No castle is typical or average, each must be specially designed. The smallest of castles will take 15 years to build, larger castles might take upwards of 25 or even 50 years to build. Every year of uninterrupted construction costs 7200 silver pieces for labor, assuming stone is relatively easy to quarry and wood is readily available from a nearby forest or grove. An NPC wizard will need to be paid in order to help, but a PC wizard can be handwaved into assisting and dramatically reduce construction time. For each NPC wizard who assists with construction increase the cost by 50% and divide the construction time by their level (or combined levels); PC wizards simply divide the construction time by their level unless the players have negotiated a wage between their characters.

For example, Brienne's castle is huge and is likely going to take 35 years to build costing 252k silver. She has a 12th-level wizard assisting her so the total cost will end up being 378k silver but will only take 2.9 years. If another 10th-level wizard helps, the cost increases to 567k silver and will only take 1.6 years.

Further Reading
Castle by David Macaulay
Life in a Medieval Castle by Joseph Gies
Medieval Castle Layout

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Death Frost Dumb

I ran a session of Death Frost Doom last Sunday and the highest Intelligence score amongst any of the PCs was only a 5. Which meant that many parts of the module were indecipherable to the characters, since they couldn't read. They didn't find half of the stuff that they could have found, and what they did get access to still left one of them dead and one of them almost dead. It was still a creepy adventure for them.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Cruel Shoes

This is a really simple but dirty trick to play on somebody in a game of Apocalypse World. In the first session, you are usually asking the players to describe their characters and in part of this it is assumed that the player will describe what their character looks like. The playbooks give some hints as to how to describe one's appearance, but often players won't go beyond the basic summaries provided and it's the MC's job to help them flesh those bits out.
Your Driver has utility wear? How would you describe it? Is it like a jumpsuit or overalls or something more archaic or more advanced?
Eventually, everybody around the table will get used to your questions about their appearance. They'll be thinking more about the overall look their character has, and you can start asking "What kind of shoes are you wearing?" Somebody might say sandals, somebody might say nothing, somebody might say sneakers, but you're looking for somebody who says boots or steel-toed shoes. The more protective the player describes the shoes, the better.
In the very first fight this character is in and they miss a roll, simply declare "One of your boots rips, the stitching has ripped and the sole is loose from the leather around your toes." Now, every time that character misses a roll you can escalate the harm that is happening to their feet. The shoes get wet mud stuck inside, and between the character toes. Blood and oil and dirt of all kinds will spill into the hole, trapped between the toes and the fabric.
Now you can write this as a countdown clock, or have one prepared already:
3 o'clock: foot swells, skin wrinkled
6 o'clock: rash, foot itches badly
9 o'clock: painful swelling, hard to run
10 o'clock: can't run
11 o'clock: can't walk
Midnight: foot's a goner

It's a pretty simple escalation, and it also has a simple solution: buy new boots (if you can find them) or simply throw away the broken boots. In Apocalypse World, or any post-apocalyptic world, every possible thing can break and eventually cause serious problems if they're not taken care of. I like to use simple things to blindside players because they are often focusing on he crazy maniacs of the world and overlooking these things.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

fighting goons

This one time, during D&D, the players were trying to strategically retreat from the dungeon and they had to go through a series of rooms where gargoyles were guarding the passageway and preventing anything from moving through them. The gargoyles ambushed the characters and the lead fighter engaged them head-on. After about 3 rounds, I realized that the only way the gargoyles could hit the fighter was if they rolled a 20, which made the battle quite lopsided. Because we were playing 5th edition D&D, there were no specific rules for pulling unique tactics and the whole fight just turned into a slog. Featureless hallway, an enemy that refuses to retreat, players who insist on killing their adversaries however boring the process. A perfect cocktail for traipsing through a swamp of dice rolling. I figured out that it would take about 16 rounds, on average, for the fighter to work his way through the gargoyles and then just rolled 32d20 for the gargoyles to see if they would ever get a hit in. On average, they should score at least once, but they didn't roll a 20 at all and so I simply said "it takes you a few minutes, but eventually you defeat the gargoyles and continue onward."

This was the point where I felt that combat should be taking up less of the game, and XP should not be coming from combat at all.

I've run into this problem a few times in previous games as well. The players just get up to a certain level and low-level challenges become boring and tedious because the enemy simply cannot hurt the characters. There is always a way to make these fights interesting or challenging, but when you're running a module your available palette of colours is quite limited. For example, I could have replaced the gargoyles with something else, but the gargoyles were part of a faction and their existence was predetermined by certain story elements from the module I was running. Changing what the gargoyles were would have changed other elements from the module that I wasn't prepared for, and in the moment I found a different solution. In retrospect, I could have just moved the gargoyles to somewhere else in the dungeon that was more interesting, where the fighter wouldn't be able to box them in and their attacks could be more meaningful.

When faced with a truly one-sided battle with enemies who are not a serious threat I've tried to think of other ways I might dispense with drawn out fight scenes and try to sum up the challenge with a single roll, or a simpler solution. The word "goons" could really be defined by anything that the PCs encounter that they are also willing to kill: low-level bandits, gargoyles, orcs, kobolds, goblins, possessed children, city guards, tax collectors, etc.

Roll as normal vs the enemy's Armor Class
...if the PC hit then the goons are all killed and they never got a hit in
...if the PC misses by a margin of 5 points the goons got a hit in before they all got killed
...if the PC misses by a margin greater then 5 then the goons got a hit in and they aren't all killed

The goons hit one, some, or all of the PCs before they are defeated. Ask the player (or players) to decide one:
• some of the goons survived and ran away, but the characters are not inconvenienced by the fight
• none of the goons got away, but the characters have spent a lot of time here possibly wasting resources

Roll 1d20 and add your attack bonus. On 20+, choose 2. On 11-19, choose 1.
• you kill all of them
• you don't get hit
• you don't get slowed down by them
On a miss, you don't kill any of them, you get hit, and you are most definitely inconvenienced by them.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

bribery doesn't always work

Some rules allow you to attempt to bribe NPCs and one of the things I've always taken for granted with bribery is that it is not just a matter of how adroitly a character offers a bribe but also whether or not the NPC accepts the bribe. Trying to bribe a paladin to let your criminal character go loose when you're in the wilderness far from a civilized township might be difficult, but is still a lot easier there then bribing that same paladin when you're on a major street in the capital city of his Theological empire. Some people have principles, after all, and try to live by them even when they know they could break their own internal code.

In Andy Kaufman Revealed, Bob Zmuda tells a story of how a script doctor he worked for bribed the staff at a bakery to give him all of their clothes. Every employee, except for one, had stripped down to their underwear, and this script doctor kept offering more and more money for this older woman's clothes but she adamantly refused. He was offering her ten grand, and she kept shaking her head, tears streaming down her face, while her co-workers egged her on "Take the money Helen!" Some people have principle, and even if they want to take your bribe, they simply won't.

how much?
I dislike bribery in Apocalypse World because it's too easy. If you've got 1 Barter you simply offer to it an NPC for something and they do it, or they give you what you want. That's boring. Failure is always more interesting. Principles can take a back seat to greed, and with a system like Apocalypse World the barter involved is so loosely defined that it doesn't seem like it should always work. If the barter were clean water then maybe that would work all the time but if you've established in your game that barter is comprised of pristine dildos then offering one in exchange for everything makes little to no sense.

I've worked in a hotel as a night auditor for eight years now, and there's this thing that drunk people do where they're looking for food and I'm telling them what pizza places deliver to the hotel at 3 in the morning and they'll hand me the menu I've shown them and say "You order it for me." Imagine a drunk man, he's always white, pushing a menu at you and with an annoyed drawl bordering on belligerence commanding, not asking, you to "Order me a pizza." Fuck you drunky! Order it your goddamn self. I did this for a guest once, and it was such a convoluted game of getting information from the guest and the pizza employee, and relaying it to both of them back and forth that I will never do it ever again. Unless that drunky pays me first.

The size of the bribe is also important. Two gold might convince a guard to look the other way, but two copper is likely to make him clobber you upside the head before you have a chance to increase your offer. How much is a copper worth though? Because if it buys his food for the day, maybe its enough. Most people could probably be bought quite easily, these same people probably work jobs they don't really like in order to take money home to pay bills or buy things they want. Nobody ever really wants to be as a garbage collector, but garbage collectors can potentially make a lot of money and it unskilled labor. Garbage collectors in Long Island can make six figure salaries. I bet you're thinking about becoming a garbage collector now. Shit, I'd do it for less than that! But some people, you couldn't pay them a million dollars to pick up other peoples' trash.

the thin green line
There's a fine line between greed and principles. As a GM, you can ask yourself how much a particular NPC could be bought for, and ask yourself honestly: are they willing to accept the bribe offered? If you can't decide, that's what a roll is for. If the roll is purely one of character skill, apply it like a Charisma check. If the roll is a narrative choice, then success could give the PC a new NPC contact or open up a new story. But just throwing money at an NPC shouldn't get them to accept a bribe. Failure is a very real part of bribery that makes the whole exchange interesting.

I'm not a thief, but technically I have stolen from an employer by allowing a customer to steal. I worked at a shitty clothing store more than two decades ago and we kept tip jars next to our registers. Working for minimum wage was pretty bad and the tip jar usually paid for lunch, or sometimes a night out drinking. I had a couple come through my register and they were buying more than $100 worth of clothes and as the man pulled out his wallet, thumbing through his cash, I said "If you put a 20 in my tip jar I won't charge you for these two items" pointing at two things that were essentially half of what they were buying. They looked at one another, shrugged. There was a moment where he paused, like he was weighing his options. It occurred to me in that moment that he could just take the items and threaten to report me to my boss if I objected. Perhaps he was considering his own level of risk in simply taking the clothes without putting money into my tip jar. Then he put a 20 in my tip jar. A bribe. Or did I bribe them?


This is the part that I find most interesting. In Bob Zmuda's book, the woman can't be bribed into taking her clothes off, it doesn't matter how much money she's offered. When the drunk guys try to get me to order their pizza, I refuse citing my own personal liability for handling their credit card. If nobody were willing to be paid to pick up trash we would live in a very messy world. And if that man in the clothing store had simply taken the clothes what can of worms would have been opened? That last scenario could have played out in so many ways because we both essentially wanted something from the other person, free clothes versus 20 bucks. Have you noticed that the last scenario described is really the only one where the bribe worked?

Bribery is very close to begging, and begging doesn't always work, but we have systems for that too.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

I hate Rite Publishing

Every publisher on DriveThruRPG has an option where you can choose to follow them, which essentially just means you get blasted with advertisements from them about new products. I funded a few of dtRPG's charity driven bundles and I think doing that caused me to automatically follow any publisher who released product within the charity bundles, so I get a lot of email from publishers on dtRPG and I would estimate I delete about half of them without looking at them. But Rite Publishing always sends out these emails for inane products like 101 3rd-level spells and Monster Template: Headless Horseman... like, how the fuck is that a monster template? Isn't that just a ghost with no head? Why does somebody need to spend three dollars to read a 4-page pdf that probably is just summarized as "add a ghost template and then take away it's head"?
This publisher seems to be the acme of slapdash throwing shit together to make a quick buck. Some of the descriptions for these products seem as lazily written as the concepts themselves. I have a couple of their books, specifically 101 NPC Grudges and Wyrd of Questhaven, and if the names of those two books don't send a shiver down my collective readers' spines then you are reading the wrong gaming blog. 101 NPC Grudges does not even list potential grudges an NPC can have, and the number of NPC ideas it does give you is only 48, so right away with the title they're lying! The book is so sloppily put together that it's difficult to understand how anybody thought it would be a good idea to publish this trite piece of crap, and there were four people listed in the credits who all could have said "You know, I don't think this is that good of a product, maybe we should work on it a bit more" but instead it's a 17 page pdf, 5 pages of which are used for credits, ads, and the OGL so really its only 12 pages, listing 48 NPCs. The most detailed of whom seem to have very specific backgrounds and justifications for their existence within what is supposedly a generic RPG product (a city guard captain who is also a gargoyle, points for originality but this guy just screams I'M A GM WHO TROLLS MY PLAYERS WITH THINGS THEY DIDN'T EXPECT OR CAN'T ACCOUNT FOR).

This week I opened my email to see an ad from Rite Publishing for their new 10 Barbarian Magic Items pdf. A buck fifty for a list of items that you could probably write yourself since they list the items (without stats) in the product description, and I think I'm going to just show you the product description and write my own stats (spelling errors are not mine).

Adversity's Bulwark armor and shield special ability: Use your rage to overcome detrimental effects, so you can get on with the beat down you are giving.
Okay, a suit of armor that prevents an enemy's special attack or magic. When you successfully hit an opponent you can make another saving throw against any spell or magic affecting you that hasn't ended it's duration.

Felling Storm weapon special ability: If you hit an opponent while raging perform a bonus combat maneuver, because you want to do more than just exchange blows.
A warhammer that when you hit an opponent with it they must save vs spell or be knocked prone, if they're capable of being knocked prone.

Boots of the Wild Rust: Be the first to reach your opponents, charge through rough terrain, or even across vast chasms.
When you declare a charge as your first action in combat, your movement is increased by x4.

Bracers of Epic Deeds: Perform unique combat manevuers with great alacrity to astound friend and foe alike.
When you hit an opponent, all of your other opponents who see this must make a spell save of be dazed for 1 round.

Gauntlets of the Breaker: Hinder an opponents natural attacks, natural armor, and an opponents full plate, plus deal more damage to objects. Because sometimes its more fun to maim than to kill.
+3 AC vs attacks from natural weaponry, +3 to hit against enemies with natural armor or anyone wearing full plate mail, +3d6 damage when striking inanimate objects

Helm of the Nomad: Take a 10 or sometimes even a 20 on some of the barbarians most useful class skills, even in the most dire of circumstance it my just save your (or your allies) life.
You can always find 1 ration worth of food from hunting and can always build suitable shelter from the elements for 1 person with only 40 minutes of work, also you never get lost.

Ring of Spritual Spite: use your rage to protect you from magical damage, so you can show spellcasters the power of hate.
Every time you successfully hit, the amount of damage you deal out can be removed from the next magical attack that hits you - this resets with every successful hit.

Baldric of Restraint: Sacrifice your rage to heal your wounds, and live to hate another day.
A belt that heals you of 1d8 hit points whenever you take a completely defensive action during a fight, in other words declare that you are defending yourself and get 1d8 healing.

Mantle of Thorns: Do you like to grapple or are you tired of being grappled, swallowed or raked, then this garment is for you.
A cloak that makes you immune to being grappled. Simple.

“The Fell Hammer” Legacy Item: Let your magic item level up with you, and provide you with the ultimate tool of savagery!
Add your current level as a damage bonus to this weapon.

There. Save yourself a buck fifty and use those.
And if you're running 5th edition D&D just use "spend 1 use of Rage" instead of "hit an opponent" for any item that is described as "Use your rage"

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

the Criminal


STATS: choose one set
• Grace+2 Might+1 Moxie+1 Insight=0 Magic-2
• Grace+2 Might-1 Moxie+1 Insight+1 Magic-1
• Grace+2 Might=0 Moxie+1 Insight-2 Magic=0
• Grace+2 Might=0 Moxie=0 Insight+1 Magic-2

You start with 3 extra dialects, plus Thieves Cant.
You are illiterate.

By default, your guild is composed of disparate entrepreneurs that can be found in half a dozen locations scattered around a city or the countryside, and they're not fucking friendly at all.
Then, choose 2:
• your guild is widespread. can call upon them in any town or city you travel to.
• your guild is well-armed. ...when using Rumble, on a hit you can trade your current weapon for a new one.
• your guild is well-armored. ...when using Rumble, on a hit you can get your armor repaired or replaced for free.
• your guild is greedy. ...when using Guildwork, mark 1 xp when choosing to pay money for their help.
• your guild acts like fucking nobility. ...when using Guildwork, mark 1 xp when choosing to perform a favor.
• your guild recruits regularly. ...when using Guildwork, mark 1 xp when choosing to deal with an upstart.

And choose 1:
• your guild is shiftless and lazy. +poor
• your guild's loose-knit, with members coming and going as they choose. +desertion
• your guild works in the service of somebody more powerful. +obligation
• your guild thrives in the gutters. +disease

MOVES you start with Guildwork, Rumble, and Sticky Fingers
Guildwork: when you turn to your guild for help or assistance, roll+Grace.
On 10+, you get what you want without a fuss.
On 7-9, choose 1:
• you have to pay for their help (the Oracle will set the price)
• you can't call upon the guild again until you perform a favor for them
• somebody challenges your membership, you won't get help until you deal with this upstart
On a miss, your guild demands your obedience and if you don't give it, you're out of the guild.

Sticky Fingers: when you are close to somebody and brush against or past them, roll+Grace. On a hit, choose 1:
• you lift something from off their person
• you place an object into one of their pockets
• you swap an item off of them and replace it with another similar item (take +1forward)
On 10+, nobody notices you doing this. On a 7-9, the Oracle chooses 1, but doesn't need to tell you what they choose:
• somebody (not your target) notices your odd movement
• your target will feel something is off and search their pockets
• the object you took is not what you thought it was
On a miss, you're caught red-handed.

Rumble: when you can recruit members of your guild to fight for you, roll+Moxie. On a hit you can recruit 15 guild members to back you up in a single fight (Damage:2 Armor:0 gang small), you don't control them but you can lead them in the fight and they will back you up and protect you within reason. If more than half of them die, they flee. On a 10+, choose 2. On a 7-9, choose 1:
• they show up in greater numbers (Medium instead of Small)
• they show up with decent weapons (+1 Damage)
• they show up in armor (+1 Armor)
• they fight to the death, instead of fleeing
On a miss, you can still recruit them to fight with no options, but your guild also demands obedience as if you failed a Guildwork roll. You might not be calling the shots when the fight happens.

Be Prepared: when you plan a robbery or burglary with a crew, roll+Insight. On a hit, you get Marks which can be used during the heist. These Marks allow you to roll extra dice and add the results to your roll for a move during the heist. The Marks can be used after seeing the result of a roll. On a 10+, mark 2. On 7-9, mark 1.
On a miss, you gain no benefit and the Oracle makes a move after your next 10+ roll, during the heist, or immediately after the heist, their choice.

Doubleback: when you are being chased or need to hide, roll+Grace. On a 10+, you get away clean, quickly, and quietly. On a 7-9, you get away but choose 1:
• you left a trail that can be followed
• you need to spend time to get away
• you hurt somebody in order to conceal which way you went
On a miss, they know exactly where you are and they're closing in.

Education in Earnest: you can attempt to read script, even translate ancient or dead languages, by spending time, roll+Grace. On a hit, you understand the basic message of the script. On a 10+, you translate it quickly and the Oracle will give you good detail. On a miss, you have wasted time with these scribbles and the Oracle may bring consequences with it.

Lost & Found: when you call out to the shadows for help, roll+Magic. On a hit, the shadows come to life according to your desire. On a 10+, pick 2. On a 7–9, pick 1:
• the shadows hide you from sight until you move into bright light or attack another creature
• the shadows quiet your footfalls and movement until you leave the area or attack another creature
• the shadows hold you up so you will not fall, even from the tiniest ledge, and will slow your descent so that you will take no Damage even if you do fall
On a miss, the Oracle can choose one option for an NPC in the area.

Mysterious Figure: you can attempt to Convince or Manipulate an NPC without them even knowing who you are.

The Fagin: when you use Rumble you get +1 option, even on a missed roll.

When another player helps you get away (or similarly protects you) from the authorities, you get +1 Bond with them.
When you steal something worth 1 Gold or more and give it to your Guild without taking a cut, mark 1 xp.

EQUIPMENT: you get
• 1 Gold
• Armor:1
• 1 serviceable weapon
• 1 dagger (Damage:1 AP melee/thrown)

• scimitar (Damage:2 hand valuable messy)
• short sword (Damage:2 hand)
• crossbow (Damage:2 AP ranged reload)
• dagger (Damage:1 AP melee/thrown)
• hand crossbow (Damage:1 AP ranged)
• whip (Damage:1 reach grapple)

Tell everyone to mark you at -1 Bond.
Whatever numbers they tell you, add 2
Additionally, you may ask "Which one of you cheated me out of money?" subtract 2 from whoever says they did.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

the Merchant


STATS: choose one set
• Grace=0 Might+1 Moxie+2 Insight+1 Magic-2
• Grace-1 Might+1 Moxie+2 Insight+1 Magic-1
• Grace+1 Might=0 Moxie+2 Insight+1 Magic-2
• Grace+1 Might-1 Moxie+2 Insight=0 Magic=0

You start with 4 dialects.
You are literate.

A Vardo is a kind of wagon, a mobile home that also functions as a shop. At start, your Vardo is pulled by two mules.
What kinds of things are in your Vardo? (pick 2 or 3)
• weapons, armor & shields
• jewelry
• artwork & mementos
• intoxicants, delicacies & poisons
• books & maps
• plant & animal specimens
• castoffs & knick knacks
• something else?
Your Vardo begins play with Size+2 (min. -2, max. +4)
If your Vardo is Size=0 or smaller, take -1ongoing.

As long as your Vardo is Size 1 or higher, you can spend time on the side of a road, in a bustling market, or between sessions (if there is appropriate downtime) to sell wares from your Vardo, spend time and roll+Size. On a hit, you earn 1 Gold by reducing the Size of your Vardo by -1, you may do this down to Size=0. On a 10+, you earn 1 extra Gold, even if you don't reduce your Vardo's Size at all. On a miss, you only earn 1 Gold and your Vardo is reduced to Size=0 or gets -2 Size, whichever is worse.

As long as your Vardo is Size 1 or higher, you can go into your Vardo and look for something useful (according to the things in your Vardo). Describe what you are looking for and roll+Size. On a 10+, you find it and your Vardo’s Size holds where it is. On a 7-9, you find it and your Vardo gets -1 to Size. On a miss, you spend time looking for the item but it isn't there, and the Oracle can make a move if she chooses to.

When you stockpile wares for your Vardo from a maker or distributor of goods, spend 1 Gold and roll+Moxie.
On a 10+, it's a good deal and increase your Vardo's Size by +3.
On a 7-9, it'll keep you going, increase your Vardo's Size by +2.
On a miss, increase your Vardo's size by +1, but the Oracle also makes a move.

MOVES you start with all of the moves associated with your Vardo, then choose two more

Acquisitive Eye: when you see, hear about, or otherwise come to know of a thing you want, roll+Insight. On a hit, ask the Oracle questions. On a 10+, ask 3. On a 7-9, ask 2:
• How can I make this mine?
• Who will stand in my way?
• Who will try to take it from me?
• What is this truly worth?
On a miss, ask 1 but your face and body language betray your interest in the thing to anyone who's paying attention.

Bammed Booze: name somebody who might have just finished or just be about to eat, drink, or handle something that has had your attention and roll+Might. On 10+, you've poisoned them, and they suffer 4 Damage AP (soon or within the next day, your call). On a 7-9, it's 2 Damage instead. On a miss, you've poisoned somebody else by accident, maybe several somebodies, the Oracle says who, and they suffer 3 Damage AP right now.

Confidence Game: when you attempt to impersonate somebody of importance (whom you are not!) through sheer guile or bluster, roll+Moxie. On a 10+, your deception works, for now, but the Oracle may test you again later or if your assumed persona begins to slip. On a 7-9, they suspect you're a phony, choose 1:
• They maintain the upper hand if your disguise collapses.
• They are wary and alert for any misstep.
On a miss, they see through you and the Oracle makes as hard a move as appropriate.

Friends In Low Places: whenever you enter a bustling marketplace, you may choose to roll+Moxie.
On a hit, people here have heard of and recognize you, and you say what they've heard; the Oracle will have them respond accordingly.
On a 10+, choose 1.
• somebody here owes you money
• the marketplace is ripe, you can restock your Vardo here
• someone brings you rumors of trade and plunder
On a miss, they've heard of you, but the Oracle will decide what they've heard.

Greed: when you're defending your Vardo from thievery or destruction, you have Armor:2. If you're already wearing armor, use that instead.

Honor Among Thieves: when you're surrounded by bandits or worse, if they can understand what you say then you can Manipulate them using your friendship as leverage.

The Best Investment: when you make a Vardo move, you can choose to skip the roll and take a miss result. Each time you do this make a Mark. These Marks can be spent to add +1forward to later Vardo move rolls. There is no limit to the number of Marks you can accrue.

Words Are Weapons: when you Intimidate, you may roll+Moxie instead of roll+Might.

When another player wants something and you get it into their hands for free, you get +1 Bond with them.
When you swindle an NPC out of money or property, mark 1 xp.

EQUIPMENT: you get
• 1 Gold
• a Vardo
• 2 weapons

• flail (Damage:3 reach area)
• short sword (Damage:2 melee)
• longbow (Damage:3 ranged)
• crossbow (Damage:2 AP ranged reload)
• spear (Damage:3 reach)
• darts (Damage:1 thrown endless)
• dagger (Damage:1 AP melee/thrown)
• hand crossbow (Damage:1 AP ranged)
• whip (Damage:1 reach grapple)

Tell everyone to mark you at +1 Bond
Whatever numbers they tell, add 1 to it
Additionally, you may ask "Which of you has worked for me?" add +1 to whoever says they did.

Friday, April 15, 2016

the Mercenary

STATS: choose one set
• Grace+1 Might+2 Moxie-1 Insight+1 Magic-1
• Grace+1 Might+2 Moxie+1 Insight=0 Magic-2
• Grace+1 Might+2 Moxie=0 Insight+1 Magic-2
• Grace+2 Might+2 Moxie-1 Insight=0 Magic-2

You start with 3 dialects.
You are illiterate.

MOVES you start with Favorite Weapon and then choose two more
Favorite Weapon: When you have your Named Weapon in your possession you cannot be disarmed or have your weapon taken away, unless you are knocked unconscious or you give it away freely. No magic or illusions will separate you from your Favorite Weapon.

Bloodthirsty: when you inflict violence and roll 12+, you can declare your opponent defeated and at your mercy, maimed, or dead.

Defend to the End: in battle, when another character suffers damage, roll+Might.
On a 10+, you protect them from damage by taking it yourself and reduce it by -1.
On a 7–9, choose 1:
• you reduce the Damage they take by -1.
• you protect them from damage by taking it all yourself.
• you protect both yourself and them from the damage, but your armor is destroyed by it.
On a miss, the Oracle will declare that you both suffer the Damage or something equally bad.

Desperate Cry: when you pray in the heat of battle, roll+Magic. If you've suffered 1 to 3 Damage then take +1 to the roll, if you've suffered 4 or more Damage then take +2. On a hit, the Oracle must answer questions about what or whom you're fighting. On a 7-9, one question. On a 10+, all three:
• how can I survive this encounter?
• what do they want?
• what is their weakness?
On a miss, nothing gained, and the Oracle doesn't make a move either.

Fearful Presence: when you try to Convince or Manipulate an NPC, you may roll+Might instead of roll+Moxie.

Field Medicine: when you treat the wounded, roll+Insight. On a hit, you stabilize them. On a 7-9, they choose 1:
• they fight you from the pain, take 1 Damage and adjust Bonds accordingly.
• their course of recovery will be slow. All natural healing takes 1 extra day of recovery.
• they owe you for your time, attention, and spent trappings. Tell them to add a +debt to you.
On a miss, they're not stabilized and they take 1 Damage AP right now.

For Hire: when you put the word out that you're looking for work, the Oracle might tell you to spend time, but either way roll+Insight.
On a 10+, you get as many job offers that the Oracle can think of, but she can choose one for each job offered. On a 7-9, you get one job offer and you choose two, the Oracle will tailor the job description based on your choices:
• it's dangerous
• it doesn't pay a lot
• it'll take a long time
On a miss, you get one job offer and all three.

I Wasn't Always Like This: take a move from another playbook. (During initial character creation, choose it from a playbook that isn’t otherwise in play.)

Merciless: when you deal damage, inflict +1 Damage.

When another player fights to preserve your life without promises of payment, you get +1 Bond with them.
When you satiate your lust for carnal knowledge, mark 1 xp.

EQUIPMENT: you get
• 1 named weapon
• a piece of armor worth Armor:2
• 2 Gold

NAMED WEAPON: give a name to your weapon, then choose options
Base (choose 1):
• staff (Damage:1 hand +reach)
• haft (Damage:1 hand)
• handle (Damage:1 hand)
Options (choose 2):
• blade (+1damage)
• chain (+area)
• heavy blade* (+2damage +messy)
• large (+messy +reach)
• long blade* (+2damage)
• ornate (+valuable)
• spiked (+1armor +messy)
* counts as 2 choices

Tell everyone to mark you at +1 Bond
Whatever numbers they tell, add 1 and write it next to the character’s name.
Additionally, ask yourself which of the other players' characters you trust the most, set your Bond to them at +3.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

the Black Hack

It was a fast read, and I like a lot of the streamlining. You can tell the author loves D&D but doesn't like getting bogged down with minutia and fiddly rules. It's still basically a D&D game, but it's a lean, fast beast. Even leveling up is simple and quick. When I finished reading the spell lists it made me want to run Dwimmermount again.

For less than $5 you can get the Black Hack and two supplements with a "procedurally generated" village and extra classes.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

the Alchemist

this is just a preview

STATS: choose one set
Grace+1 Might=0 Moxie+1 Insight+2 Magic-2
Grace+1 Might+1 Moxie=0 Insight+2 Magic-2
Grace-1 Might+1 Moxie=0 Insight+2 Magic=0
Grace+2 Might=0 Moxie-1 Insight+2 Magic-2

You start with 2 extra dialects.
You are literate.

MOVES you start with Make Do and then choose one more
Make do: when you don't have access to your Alchemy Bag or its all out of stock you can still make a Healing potion, you need to spend 2 Gold for supplies in a town or spend time foraging in the wilderness. Roll+Insight on the Alchemy Bag move.

Arcane Alchemy: when you spend time with a magical object and your Alchemy Bag, the Oracle will tell you what the magical object does.

Barber surgeon: when you attempt to save the life of a critically wounded person (4+ Damage), roll+Insight. You can spend Stock from your Alchemy Bag to assist the roll 1-for-1, as much Stock as you want. On a hit, you prevent their current injuries from worsening by stabilizing them, and choose 2 (on a 10+) or 1 (on a 7-9):
• the pain, incense, and salves make them babble the truth. Ask them what secret they spill and increase your Bond with them by +1 (for NPCs, you simply learn a secret).
• their body is eager to be healed. Heal them of 1 Damage.
• their damage is not as bad as you first believed. Heal them of 1 Damage.
• their course of recovery teaches you something about your own skills. You get 1 xp.
• they owe you for your time, attention, and spent trappings, and you’re going to hold them to it. Tell them to add a +debt to you.
On a miss, they're not stabilized and they take 1 Damage AP right now.

Developed Immunity: you cannot be poisoned, and can detect the presence of a poison by smelling or tasting it.

Expert opinion: when you try to detect magic, you can roll+Insight instead of roll+Magic.

In the Nick of Time: whenever someone you have a Bond with is in trouble (your call), you may decrease your Bond with them by -1 (to a minimum of 0) to have you already be there, with the proper tools and knowledge, with or without any clear explanation why.

Of All Trades: you never have to make Unskilled rolls if you don't want to

Opening Doors: whenever someone you have a Bond with dies, you get +1 Magic (max +3).

Your Alchemy Bag has all kinds of crap in it: scissors, rags, tape, needles, clamps, gloves, oils, wipes, alcohol, herbs, salves, leeches, maggots, phials, tonics, potions, splints, bandages, razors, pliers, charms, crystals, poultices, narcotics, incense, salts, powders, ointments, hooks, horsehair, screws, brazier, mortar & pestle, flint & steel, several dozen alembics, flasks, dishes, retorts, measuring devices, a scale, and braces. It is big enough to fill your saddlebags and satchel. When you use it, spend its stock; you can spend 0–3 of its stock per use. You can resupply it for 1 Gold per 2-stock if your circumstances let you trade for medical supplies. It begins play holding 6-stock.
Only characters with an Insight of +2 or higher can use an Alchemy Bag, otherwise they are rolling Unskilled.
To use it you need to spend time near an open flame (either from a fireplace or campfire): roll+stock spent and choose an elixir to brew.

On a hit, you will brew the elixir, but the Oracle will choose 1 (on a 10+) or 2 (on a 7–9):
• while mixing chemicals the fumes threaten to overwhelm you; you’re acting perilously
• during the later stages your mixture compresses; spend 1-stock more.
• the potion needs to settle for 24 hours before it can be of any use
• the potion needs constant attention (stirring or cooking) for 36 hours or else it spoils
• the potion is not as potent as it could be; add weak
• the potion requires one more special ingredient before it's complete; almost always an organ from an animal, but could also be something more prosaic
On a miss, the potion does not cohere and both your time and stock are wasted.

You can brew simple concoctions to speed the recovery of someone whose Damage has stabilized: don’t roll but spend 1-stock. They spend their Damage in days miserable and immobile, but heal completely by the end.

Alchemy Bags can cost anywhere between 2 to 10 Gold to build from scratch.

acid: used to burn through an object, if thrown onto an enemy can cause 3 Damage
antitoxin: counters effects of poison
clairaudience: drinker can hear sound from another distant location (ingested, duration)
clairvoyance: drinker can see into another distant place (ingested, duration)
ESP: drinker can hear the thoughts of those they look at (ingested, duration)
fire resistance: drinker does not take Damage from heat or flame (touch, duration)
glue: when applied to two objects will hold them fast until a solvent is applied
healing: will stabilize Damage and heal 1 Damage or heals 2 Damage (ingested, instant)
invisibility: makes user invisible to sight (ingested/touch, duration)
love: falls in love with the next person they see or hear, your choice (ingested, permanent)
luck: next roll+Grace hits at 10+ (ingested, duration)
persuasiveness: next roll+Moxie hits at 10+ (ingested, duration)
poison, paralytic: target becomes insensate and immobile (one dose, applied, instant)
poison, sleep: causes target to fall asleep (one dose, applied, instant)
poison, toxic: causes 3 Damage to target (one dose, applied/ingested, instant)
smoke oil: produces a large cloud of smoke that lingers if there is now wind, attempts to Sneak in the area of the smoke become Adept
sweet water: when added to another liquid, purifies it and turns it into water, adding this to potions ruins them (touch, instant)
water breathing: drinker can breathe water as if it were air (ingested, duration)

+instant: takes effect immediately
+permanent: makes a permenent change to the drinker
+duration: Oracle moves trigger expiration, player gets a warning before the effect is about to expire
+weak: potion could expire at any time, or has a lesser effect (e.g. healing potion only heals 1 Damage, love potion gets duration, luck potion hits at 7-9, etc.)
+applied: as in, applied to a weapon
+ingested: must be consumed to be of use
+touch: effect is triggered upon contact

When another PC asks for a potion and you give it to them for free, you get +1 Bond with them.
When you successfully make a potion and then sell it to an NPC, you get 1 Experience.

EQUIPMENT: you get
• Alchemy Bag
• a horse
• 1 practical weapon
• 1 Gold
• fashion suitable to your role, including at your option a piece worth 1 Armor (you detail)


• hammer (Damage:2 hand)
• handaxe (Damage:2 hand messy)
• mace (Damage:3 hand)
• quarterstaff (Damage:2 hand reach)
• sap (Damage:2 hand ko )

Tell everyone to mark you at a Bond of 0.
Whatever numbers they tell, give it -1 because you try not to get too attached.
Additionally, you may ask "Which of you is a close friend and has seen everything that I've seen?" add +2 to whoever says they are (instead of -1).

Friday, March 25, 2016

faeries, elementals, and golems

Golems are animated pieces of matter, propelled by a spirit that is controlled by a wizard who created the golem.
Elementals are spirits attuned to a particular element who take the form of that element when they are summoned.
Faeries are corporeal spirits who are attuned to the land, the air, or the forest.
But what if they were all the same type of creature?

So, elemental planes don't exist, and neither do faeries or the fey court, but somebody could certainly create a golem and they would need to enslave a spirit in order for that golem to animate.

spirits of wind and air

The spirits are everywhere. They are literally made of air, and formed from each exhaled breath of the sleeping god, whose name has been forgotten and whose tomb has never been located. Each spirit is born of a god's dream, and so each spirit is different, but all share the same qualities. They are naturally invisible, formless, virtually immortal, and can travel great distances very quickly.

These spirits hover around people who show great magical prowess. They are still connected with the sleeping god, and they believe they are spies for him, so they send him messages about what is happening in the world and who is doing what, and his dreams catch these messages which causes him to exhale more spirits.

The spirits of wind and air are small, but usually travel together in large packs. They can work together to draw air out of the lungs of anyone they see as an obstacle. They are fearless, for the most part, but if someone does manage to inflict harm upon them they immediately turn tail and flee, while remembering to inform their sleeping god of the one who was able to hurt them.

spirits of form
These spirits are just like the ones made of air, but they choose to possess the living or take form out of inanimate matter. The most common spirits of this nature are the Dirt Pugs, small dogs that appear to be made of rock and mud. Some of the more complex and knowledgeable spirits can take on elaborate forms, and lay intricate plans. If the form they take is destroyed then the spirit still exists, though possibly weaker and will take some time assembling a new body. If a possessing spirit loses its host to death, then it can simply move to a new host.

spirit, enslaved
A skilled magical practitioner can summon one of these spirits and forcibly house it within an object. When a magician creates a golem or similar construct using one of these spirits as its animus, these spirits become slaves to the will of the magician. They serve their magicians fearlessly, but fight relentlessly to free themselves of their prisons.

Monday, March 7, 2016

backstory: The town of Waker Field is run by a blind child prophetess named Matilda, or rather, by the cult that worships her.

action: Quarantine was being chased by three gang members, the Foxgloves, and one Foxglove blindfired at the player from around a corner, the Quarantine rolled an 8 on Act Under Fire. I offered him three options:

• blindfire hits you, but you can pop a shot off at the guy’s hand too

• blindfire doesn’t hit you, but you’re still exposed

• blindfire doesn’t hit you, but it hits an innocent bystander instead

He chose the third option, and in my notes I wrote “who is the bystander?”

consequence: The innocent bystander was Matilda’s father. Now the Quarantine can’t figure out why the cult hates him and considers him a public menace, the drug dealer he works for is suddenly fighting off the Foxglove gang as well as being pressured by the cult to give up the Quarantine.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

How to Not Die

This is, word for word, an email I sent to one of my players after several sessions ended in Total Party Kills. A couple of their characters were very close to dying during this particular adventure and all of it could have been prevented with the advice below.

You're searching an ancient wizard's tower on the fringes of the desert, far from civilization and unable to recruit additional help. This tower has harpies and lizardmen and a manticore and possibly other even more dangerous encounters waiting to be discovered, enemies so dangerous that a group of inexperienced adventurers like yourself will likely all die attempting to explore the place. What can you possibly do to avoid dying horribly?

Be knowledgeable.
Always talk with the locals. Sometimes the local bartender knows a tale or two about previous explorers of that dangerous tower. If the bartender doesn't know then maybe the farmers on the edge of town know somebody who got close to the place. Maybe there's a hermit camping at the oasis just half a day away from the tower. Always find the people living nearby and ask them what they know. If they don't know anything then maybe it's written down. Check with a sage and see if they have a scroll or a book that describes the tower. Visit a cartographer and ask to see a map of the region, maybe there's a clue written onto the map he shows you, or maybe he knows a thing or two himself. Even if what you learn isn't entirely accurate, knowing an obviously false rumor can still improve your chances of survival.

Be quiet.
Walk to the edge of town, find a nice secluded spot, sit down on the grass and close your eyes. Yes, I'm telling YOU to do this, not your character. Depending on how you interpreted "edge of town" you can either hear cars whizzing past or you can hear the faint echo of motors traveling along asphalt. Even if you're sitting at home, simply close your eyes and listen, you might be astonished at what you can hear within the ambient noise of your neighborhood. Sound travels, and the faster you move the farther the sound reaches. Now back to your character. Whenever you think there might be wild animals, dangerous locals, or monsters nearby then you should focus on being silent. Rampaging through that wizard's tower, smashing cupboards and flipping over tables with no regard for who or what might hear you can lead to you getting yourself killed, and anybody else who decided to follow you too. All creatures are attracted to sound and very often they will search out noises made by careless adventurers like yourself. On the flip side, you should be trying to listen for the sounds of nearby monsters whenever you can. This allows you to take careless enemies by surprise or even allows you to avoid a monster you'd rather not face altogether.

Be cautious.
Exploring that wizard's tower slowly will allow you to explore it cautiously. Search everything, there might be secret doors along the walls, those chests may have false bottoms, and there might be a monster lurking on the ceiling of that room you're about to enter. Utilizing these secrets can also help you secure the treasures of this wizard's tower, if you find a closet that can only be opened by pressing two different tiles on the opposing wall then securing your valuables in that closet allows you to safeguard them for a later return. If you must make camp while you're exploring, do so from a distance. A secure vantage point that allows you to scout the tower from a distance before you even enter is best. Spend a day there and then you can learn if there's regular traffic, perhaps those lizardmen only come out at night, maybe they never venture farther than the first floor of the tower, and maybe they use a signal to let their brethren know they're coming back from a hunt. Spying on the enemy falls back onto the first rule and helps you to be better prepared. If you can hide a secure camp near your target that means you also have a good place to retreat to if the need arises.

Be safe.
Follow these rules, in the order presented, and you will greatly enhance your chances of survival. And if you don't think you can defeat a particular creature, then run away. Come back with friends, return with an army if you have to, but make sure you survive first. The treasure can wait if you can't carry it all in one trip.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

playing Destiny

I've been playing a lot of Destiny the last three weeks. If you're not interested in first-person shooters or MMO-like video games, you can stop reading this now.

My wife had a 40th level Warlock up to 290 Light, and my Titan was still lagging behind at 18th level. She was always complaining that she couldn't do any of the high-level raid content because rando players would always bail or flake out in the middle of a game. I decided to sit down and start playing through the story missions, trying really hard to max out my Titan's level. I hit 40th within a few days but my Light level was still below 200, hovering around 150, so I started investigating what I needed to do to raise it and the most obvious solution was to start playing the multiplayer content. That's where all of the best gear was!

But I hate multiplayer games, mainly because I am really bad at them. I don't have the time or energy to devote myself into playing matches against other obviously more skilled players. I always lose multiplayer matches. So I looked for alternatives.

Destiny has factions that you can improve your standing with by fulfilling daily bounties and completing inexhaustible patrol missions for. I joined a faction - the Future War Cult - and started raising my reputation. In only one week I had a high enough reputation rank with FWC to buy the best gear they offered, but I was still missing Legendary Marks to buy them with.

How do you get Legendary Marks? You guessed it: multiplayer.

Every day there's a different multiplayer event that grants varying amounts of Marks, and I would join a team and do the best I could and if we won I would get some Marks. It was going to be slow, but this is an MMO-like game so I accepted that. An hour or two a day dedicated to playing multiplayer matches seemed okay with me. I would skip any free-for-all deathmatches because I suck, so that slowed me down a little.

Until last weekend.

Last weekend the game had a Valentine's Day themed event called Crimson Doubles. 2-man teams fighting against one another. My wife and I played these together and we lost a lot. We would start the matches psyched and with a lot of energy then suddenly burn out and lose the long game. Crimson Doubles required that your team win 5 rounds, a match could last as many as 9 rounds. We would tend to win 2 or 3 and then the other team would come back and shut us down. Occasionally we would win, but it was always drawn out, and when we would lose 4-5 it was so damn frustrating. I almost broke my controller once throwing it to the floor.

I decided to stop caring about winning and just tried to complete my bounties related to the event. But then something happened, we started winning. By the third day of the event we were dominating the Doubles matches. We had learned the layout of the arenas, we were communicating effectively, and we were shutting down the other teams consistently. We won our last four matches solidly and our last two matches were complete shutouts, we won 5-0.

Then at the beginning of this week one of the multiplayer events that gave out Legendary Marks as a reward was a free-for-all deathmatch, and I decided to play it. In the final ranking I came in 2nd place, and only because of a floppy melee assault that didn't connect against the 1st place winner. I was literally one punch away from 1st place. If I had been a little closer, or if I had turned left instead of right, I would have come in 1st.

For the rest of this week I've been tracking my scoring and I'm always one of the top three players, regardless of whether the match contains 6 or 12 people. I've only ranked 1st once (see below), but I'm always consistently 2nd or 3rd. And now my Light is up to 282.

I'm better at this game than I thought I was.