Tuesday, February 12, 2019

re-introducing the Damned

The apocalypse came and went, now its leftover terrors lie across the land like a plague of fear. The weak cower in their hovels, content to eke out a meager life, praying that demons in the guise of men will pass them over. For those demons have no fears, they refuse to kneel, they want your crowns. And how will you threaten them from atop your thrones? How can you reason with a fiend when all it knows is hunger?


Johnstone Metzger once granted me permission to convert his Heralds of Hell playbooks into a legal-size format, and he granted me permission again to revise those same playbooks to the second edition rules for Apocalypse World.

After a delay of my own devising, I can finally reveal this, the fourth of five, the Damned, with all new artwork provided by Marie Ann Mallah!

LINKS
letter size
legal size

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Dark Souls is easy

I decided to pick up Dark Souls again. "I own it," I thought, "I should probably try playing it again." But I kept putting it off, some other game was always ready to be played. Recently, somebody told me that Dark Souls was easy, and when I asked him to explain he said "The secret to winning Dark Souls is knowing where to dodge, not when."

I remember struggling to beat the first boss, the Asylum Demon, and getting killed repeatedly, losing souls, frustratedly running through the same monsters trying to get to a boss fight I felt was barely winnable. Then I popped the disc into my Playstation, made a new character, coasted through every corridor with barely a scratch and defeated the Asylum Demon on my second attempt. Suddenly, armed with this newfound wisdom, I was charging through Dark Souls like a superhero dropped into a room full of mooks.

I still make mistakes, I still get killed a lot, and I still don't really understand what all the numbers and words mean on my "character sheet"
clicken to embiggen
but I'm no longer finding the game tedious or boring. It's a genuine joy to play!

I still haven't gotten very far, I think. The Chosen Undead is tasked with ringing the two Bells of Awakening during the first act, and I've only rung one. But yesterday, I defeated the Gaping Dragon on my second encounter with it, and I wasn't even using the best weapon I had against him.

not my video!
this guy has better equipment than me

Sunday, February 3, 2019

OSRenstein: how I'm rewriting the spells of D&D

I'm not sure what day I started writing on, but I've got about 15 pages of rules written with 9 more pages drafted out with little details and bullet points of what I want to write. I've been sending my gaming friends copies of the pdf as I update it and I promised them that I would have the 1st-level wizard spells done with the next version.

This is how I'm writing the spells, I'll use the Shield spell as an example.

The first thing I do is write down the important details of each version of the spell as it has appeared throughout the various versions of the official D&D rules (except 4th edition because fuck that edition):
basic - affects caster, lasts 20 minutes
magical barrier between the caster and his or her enemies.
It moves with the spell caster.
gives AC 2 vs missiles and AC 4 vs other attacks

1e - lasts 5 rds/level
invisible barrier before the front of the caster
negates magic missile attacks
gives AC 2 vs hand hurled missiles (axes, darts, javelins, spears, etc.)
gives AC 3 vs small device-propelled missiles (arrows, bolts, bullets, manticore spikes, slingstones, etc.)
gives AC 4 against all other forms of attack
also adds +1 to the magic-user’s saving throw vs. attacks which are frontal
all benefits of the spell accrue only to attacks originating from the front

2e - lasts 5 rds/level
invisible barrier in front of the wizard
negates magic missile attacks
gives AC 2 against hand-hurled missiles (darts, javelins, spears, etc.),
gives AC 3 against smalldevice-propelled missiles (arrows, bolts,bullets, manticore spikes, slingstones, etc.)
gives AC 4 against all other form of attack
also adds a +1bonus to wizards saving throws against attacks that are frontal
benefits apply only if the attacks originate from in front of the wizard

3e - lasts 1 minute/level
creates an invisible, tower shield mobile disk of force that hovers in front of caster
negates magic missile attacks
gives +4 shield bonus to AC. applies against incorporeal touch attacks, since it is a force effect.
shield has no armor check penalty or arcane spell failure chance
unlike a normal tower shield, you can’t use the shield spell for cover

5e - lasts 1 round
invisible barrier of magical force appears and protects you
Until the start of your next turn, you have a +5 to AC, including against the triggering attack
you take no damage from magic missiles
This tells us a lot about the Shield spell, and it also shows us how D&D has changed over the years. Imagine that!

I want to strip the spell of its complexity, much like 5th edition has, but I want to retain a long duration, similar to the Basic version. Notice also how the Basic version of the spell gives a much bigger AC bonus than all the other versions of the spell. I like that most versions of the spell completely negate Magic Missile attacks.
Shield (abjuration)
Creates a magical barrier in front of the wizard that negates all missile attacks and provides +4 Armor against anything attacking the wizard from in front.
Casting: 1st level, 1 MP.
Looking at every version, that's the Shield spell as I want it to be played in my rules. This is what I've written before I've considered any of the specific modifications my custom rules might apply to it yet. I'm already using Magic Points instead of a Vancian system, and that's baked into the Casting descriptor.

I've included the ability to cast a spell as a reaction in my rules, and I think Shield fits perfectly as a spell that a wizard may want to cast in the heat of the moment. The only real decision I have to make is whether I want this to be a spell that the wizard casts and then it just exists for the duration of the spell, or if I want to change it into a spell that must be concentrated on to maintain.

I'm going to choose the latter, but I also want wizards to have the option to cast it as a spell they don't need to concentrate on, something with a long duration. My Magic Point system already gives me the perfect way to make this a potentially powerful spell at higher levels simply by adding a scalable duration.

Adding all of this means the final version of the spell looks like this:
Shield (abjuration)
Creates a magical barrier in front of the wizard that negates all missile attacks and provides +4 Armor against anything attacking the wizard from in front. Can be cast as a free action, but the wizard must concentrate to keep the spell active.
Casting: 1st level, 1 MP. Each level added to the MP cost allows Shield to last for 10 minutes without being concentrated upon.
I might need to fix the wording of "Each level added to the MP cost" but for now it works, and this is only the fourth spell I've worked on so far.

The list of 1st-level spells I'm working on is
Alarm (abjuration)
Cantrip (all)
Charm Person (enchantment)

Chill Touch (necromancy)
Find Familiar (ritual)
Floating Disc (invocation)
Grease (summoning)
Hold Portal (transmutation)
Light (transmutation)
Magic Missile (invocation)
Phantasm (illusion)
Read Languages (divination)
Read Magic (divination)
Shield (abjuration)
Sleep (enchantment)
Spook (necromancy)
Steed (summoning)
Ventriloquism (illusion)

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

I'm writing a rulebook

My players and I want to go back to playing D&D, and I had the idea of trying to convert Stars Without Number's skill system into something I could use for a fantasy setting. My recent forays in dissecting how magic could work in a non-Vancian way got me thinking about Kevin Crawford's two different systems for psionics in Stars Without Number. Now, I also like ideas that are presented in the Black Hack and Dungeon Crawl Classics and I grew up playing 2nd edition ... I have all of these ideas rattling around in my head, and in the past I have photocopied pages from different rulebooks to use for my weird Frankensteined rule sets, but this time I'm putting together a pdf that I can send my players and say "This is the rulebook!"

I have an urge to make it generically fantasy and release it for free publicly, calling it OSRenstein! But right now I'm working on it as a private rulebook for my own table, nobody else's eyes on it, and I'm working in a lot of setting-specific rules, like including the oukek as a playable race.

Things I've included so far:
28 skills
races get their own background choices, which includes some skills, starting gear, and silver
classes are customized with kits, which give a special ability and some skills
warriors get a Feat die - which is the same thing as DCC's mighty deed die
arcane magic uses a point system
Luck stat

My shopping list of things to include:
Ability checks are saving throws
Reaction rolls + morale
random encounters
Ascending AC
Learning spells = Intelligence check
usage dice?
kits with implied social standing are restricted by backgrounds
system shock = Constitution checks = save vs death

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

the problem with Clerics

I’ve talked about this before but I started thinking about it again in relation to my recent thoughts about Vancian magic.

Too much of D&D has been lifted from a monotheistic (Christian) cultural template. Clerics who worship a pantheon of deities might dedicate themselves to one deity, but they would still be worshiping and actin on behalf of the entire pantheon. Real-world pantheonistic deities had temples (or shrines) that served specific purposes, so shouldn’t their temples also serve societal functions? Calling on one deity would be like using a particular sphere of magic, but you'd have access to all of the pantheons' granted abilities. Highly specialized pantheonistic clerics fit within the 3rd edition rule structure, but it makes more sense that most clerics wouldn't be highly specialized.

Singular deities, or monotheistic religions, would be rogue and suspect. At the very least, weaker.

Another idea: Where are the commandments?
Clerics of a pantheon would have rules they need to follow. This is usually where alignment comes in, but I often find alignment to be nebulous, intangible, and easily argued into submission. I've always felt that clerics need a philosophy to live by if they don't have commandments, guidelines for their behavior that are separate from alignment. But what about a deity that says, explicitly, "Thou shalt not kill, under no circumstances?" That cleric would be a pacifist, and the society they came from wouldn't have capital punishment. Let's take it a step further and have a deity that commands "Thou shalt not kill humans, under no circumstances?" That cleric would have no problem killing dwarves and elves and orcs and so on, but the culture they were raised in is most assuredly racist.

Here's what I think:
All clerics should be able to bless and consecrate and heal, and able to purify food and drink. A single cleric would make a community prosperous. Clerics should either be incredibly rare people, or else all of society would revolve around them being the most important citizens - when the gods are REAL then you basically would live in a theocracy! Each community might not have a very powerful cleric, but visiting bishops would tour towns and cities where worshipers reside and they would visit to heal limbs, cure diseases, and ensure the prosperity of their followers. Being a cleric in such a world would be like civil service.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

kickstarter krazy

For the last two years I've been kickstarting board games with the rational that they're coming with a ton of miniatures and if the game is bad then it's still worth it. Except I funded too many of them, plus I went Frogdog on the latest Kingdom Death and that helped to kill my wallet once and for all. I spent a decent grand kickstarting board games and game books just in 2018, and that's not something I'm proud of. I don't have time to play anything anymore either. I started this year with the idea that I was no longer going to help fund anything on kickstarter, and yet I've already broken that resolution by funding Silent Titans, Into the Wyrd and Wild, and now Cha'alt.

Cha'alt is the latest supplement by Venger Satanis, a native to my part of the country - his house is only 10 minutes away from mine - and it looks just as crazy and over the top as anything else he's written. He's had sixteen previous kickstarter projects and they all hit their goals, and were all delivered on time (I think the old school map was delayed but only due to a printing error). Cha'alt still has two weeks left and hasn't hit its funding goal yet, but I think this is the first time I've seen one of his projects with such a high goal set. It's also the first time he's tried to make a hardcover print run.

And now, I can't fund anything else for the rest of the year... unless Jacob Hurst creates a campaign to fund his next swordfish island book, but then that's it!

Sunday, January 13, 2019

escape from Vancian magic

here is a continuation of my ramblings about Vancian magic

What do I dislike about Vancian magic?
Memorization.
What do my players dislike about Vancian magic?
Memorization.

Solution: get rid of memorization.

What do I like about magic?
When a wizard, in DCC, rolls a 20 and gets an uber-result or a bonus effect.
What do my players like about magic?
When the spell does what they want it to do.

Solution: make the spells simple affairs that have the potential to make uber-results.

The idea I have now is to give wizards Magic Points that they use to cast spells.
Earning Magic Points by leveling up (this is a rough draft):
Level 1 = +1mp
Level 2 = +1mp
Level 3 = +1mp
Level 4 = +2mp
Level 5 = +2mp
Level 6 = +3mp
Level 7 = +3mp
Level 8 = +4mp
Level 9 = +4mp
Level 10 = +5mp

Wizards add their best bonus between Intelligence and Constitution to their Magic Point total at each level. A Magic-User with +1 to int and +2 to con gets +2 Magic Points (total of 3mp at 1st level, 6mp at 2nd level, 9mp at 3rd level, 13mp at 4th level, etc.) That might be too fiddly, but it's my starting point.

Spells also cost an equal amount to cast so a Level 1 spell costs 1 Magic Point to cast. There is no roll and no memorization, if the Magic-User knows the spell then they cast it. Magic Points recover completely after resting/sleeping for 8 hours. Magic Points can probably be recovered through meditation, magic items, or just having reduced costs for specific conditions. Some sort of crystal or plant, maybe both, can help a wizard recover MP faster. Some things, like monsters or cursed items, would drain MP!

Spellburn: if a wizard "burns" their Constitution they can create an uber-effect with a spell. Burned Con points recover at 1 per week, magical healing doesn't increase the amount healed or reduce the time needed to heal. Maybe a purple lotus flower could recover burnt Con.

Map spell progression to leveling, a 3rd-level wizard can cast 3rd-level spells, but do they know the spell?!

Specialists get reduced casting costs or can create bonus effects easier with their specialized school.


Coda
This all assumes a 10-level character progression.
Having written this all out and looking at it side by side, I'm leaning toward comparing the different versions of the same spells across multiple systems (AD&D, Labyrinth Lord, LotFP, DCC, plus anything else I own) and seeing if I can distill the spell down to a simple action with little need for adjudicating effects.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

non-Vancian

I've been thinking a lot about how magic works in D&D and how it could be simpler. My players tend to be casual and don't read the rulebooks backward and forwards. Only one person I play with owns a Player's Handbook, and the rest of them are at the table for the ride I'm giving them. As a result, none of them have ever played a wizard or cleric.
"Too busy."
"Seems like a lot of work."
"Complex."
Just what I've heard from them. Meanwhile, I read blog after blog of OSR enthusiasts inventing rules for streamlining combat or generating random encounters, but nothing for just giving players a simplified wizard character with little to no work on their part.

Enter Stars Without Number. The original rules have a very streamlined and elegantly simple way for psychic characters to progress through their power. The revised edition expands on this system, adding common abilities attached to the psychic's skill level with the area of psychic discipline.

This last week I've been thinking about how you could apply this simple elegance to wizards, and there are a lot of pitfalls. How do you give them the ability to detect magic and identify magic items? How do you give them the same arc of power present in earlier versions of D&D? How do you allow them to specialize in one type of magic? I stopped trying to solve all of the problems and decided to just make my own wizards. I've never liked the Vancian system of magic, and I always felt the 2nd edition AD&D method of specializing in a school was hobbled with bad bonuses. I like the idea though so I want there to be two types of Magic-Users: specialists and wizards. Specialists would be characters who receive less power overall but get automatic bonuses from their school/affinity and Wizards would receive greater powers but would not be able to specialize in any way. So far, this is what I've come up with:

Assuming a 10-level character progression...
Magic is divided up into affinities, or paths, and a magic-user studies an affinity in order to cast spells from it.

Magic-Users have Magic Points equal to their Constitution score plus their Intelligence modifier.
1st-level Spells cost 9 Magic Points to cast at 1st-level. At each successive level, they cost 1 less Magic Point to cast. All spell levels act like this, thus a 2nd-level Magic-User casts 2nd-level spells with 9 Magic Points and 1st-level spells with 8 Magic Points. Specialists always reduce the cost to cast their spells by 1 Magic Point. Sleeping for 8 hours restores all Magic Points.

All Magic-Users can Detect Magic. They need to concentrate to see magical auras, which means moving slowly and taking no other actions. When a Magic-User touches an object, they instantly know whether it is magical or not, regardless of whether they're concentrating or not.

An example of an Affinity might be:

Necromancy
Level 1 = Speak with Corpse (spirit of dead body speaks to necromancer)
Level 2 = Scare (frightens opponent into fleeing/cowering)
Level 3 = Drain Life (touch creature and drain 1d4hp to gain 1mp per caster level each round)
Level 4 = Contagion (produces/spreads disease)
Level 5 = Enervation (fatigues living creatures)
Level 6 = Create Undead (raises corpses as zombie soldiers, or assembles bones into skeletal servants)
Level 7 = Magic Jar (necromancer's spirit is able to live on past the destruction of their body)
Level 8 = Clone (makes a perfect copy of one creature)
Level 9 = Death Spell (instantly slays one creature)

I'm not sure if this really works, I'm going to keep thinking about this though.