Thursday, October 23, 2014

Another list of HMS Apollyon Magic Items - Necromantic Boons



Horrors from the UMENTIONABLEs Collection

A lich, but not the Unmentionable
The Scavengers in the last game of HMS Apollyon broke the only real law aboard the vessel and did a big favor for the 'kindly' old lich known as "The Unmentionable".  In return Mr. Unmentionable has taken a break from his process of stitching various cadaverous limbs onto animated shark corpses to allow them to rummage through a crate of magical items and take one each as a reward.  It's likely that Unmentionable doesn't know or much care about the value of these items, he's that kind of obsessed academic, or maybe he's started to see the party as a valuable set of catspaws?

1. Meathook Flail
A length of corroded steel chain, interwoven with dried cracked sinews, the very rust of its surface marking them with jagged glyphs of power.  The 6’ long chain is both effectively unbreakable without magical aid, and topped with a ghastly array of age pocked hooks.  Beside looking intimidating this flail is a magical weapon with two necromantic powers.  First, any living creature slain by the flail will be raised as a zombie in D4 turns to wander the area it was created in and attack any but the flail’s wielder.  These (base: 2HD, ATK Bonus 0, -2 to Initiative, AC 13) creatures are beyond communication except for the occasional moan of affection for their creator or anger at anyone else.  They won’t follow commands or move from the immediate sight of their death and will decay into uselessness after several sessions of play. The flail’s more terrible power is the ability, once per session to animate into a writhing, clawing hydra of metal and rust, attacking any the wielder commands it to for 1d6 rounds.  The spirit animating the flail will require only 1 HD of damage to drive off (temporarily it can be summoned anew next session)  but is immune to normal weapons and attacks with an ATK bonus of +4 and an AC of 15.   

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

HMS Apollyon Exploration Rules and My take on the Overloaded Encounter Die



The Overloaded Encounter Die (and several other rules below) is an idea stolen directly from Brendan at Necropraxis, and one that I first enjoyed in his “Finchbox” game – a vaguely ancient Chinese sandbox populated with Matt Finch modules.  I have since adopted the die in my own Apollyon game, and it may be the single best element of that game, because it makes exploration tense/interesting, encourages player activity and allows disorganized GMs like myself to ‘keep track’ of several variables without complex GM facing subsystems.  It may be worth noting that this idea seems to have its origins in Torchbearer, which simply puts everything on a brutally efficient timer, so that player resources rapidly diminish.  


Weights and Measures for Scavengers Aboard the HMS Apollyon

As a system or a ‘hack’ of 1970’s era D&D The HMS APOLLYON aims for relatively flat power curves (for both characters and monsters) and a focus on survival exploration and treasure hunting rather than combat and heroics.  At the same time it’s the goal of the setting to focus on atmosphere and character development through play rather than mechanics, and so I have tried to use simple abstract mechanics rather than complex simulations for as many elements as possible.  

In exploration two, perhaps counter intuitive, subsystems work to increase the tension of delving into new areas, and atmosphere and simplify record keeping for both player and GM.  The first of these is an encumbrance system that may seem strict, or possibly ridiculous at first, but has in play proven to be helpful at giving explorer’s meaningful choices about what they choose to take with them into the hull, without requiring the sort of calculations by coin weight that classic D&D encumbrance either rapidly fall to the side or turn the game into an exercise in spreadsheet use.

The Second Element is the use of an “overloaded encounter” die for random encounters, where every exploration turn (traditionally 10 minutes of character time) results in something happening.  Each pip on the traditional D6 random encounter check (rolled every turn) has a result, and while one of those results is a random encounter, the other five represent either environmental events or a depletion of party resources.  Combined with an encumbrance system that makes resource management an actual element of gameplay and makes Strength a useful statistic for all sorts of adventurers.  

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Everyone Hates Halflings



A Most Reviled People
A companion piece to "Demons of the North" and "Dwarves are Horrible" discussing the oddities and inhuman awfulness that I like to give to demihumans when I run Anomolous Subsurface Environment. Vanilla Halflings aren't perhaps as bad as Dwarves in thier boring almost featureless description, which universally (except for Darksun's jungle dwelling cannibals) seems a pallid and half-hearted copy of the Shire's Hobbits.  In a lot of games lately halflings seem to be the first demihuman race to get replaced - with anthropomorphic animal people usually, or with goblins - this isn't a bad thing, but it certainly shows a certain exhaustion or disdain within the tabletop hobby for halflings.  ASE keeps halflings fairly close to the vanilla D&D norm, but like dwarves and elves it adds the twist that halflings are the result of ancient goblin genetic muckery (goblins being the debased descendents of 'grey' aliens).  I expand on this idea and have recast ASE's Halflings as an oppressed but internal (they have no culture or homeland to return to) minority within Denethix.

“Are Halflings even a people?  More a plague, like poverty or the weeping cysts  - another blight of these cursed times, roiling across the land and lingering to choke the life out of anywhere it has taken root, much like the cloud so sick rock gas that used to boil from the Lanthanide Wastes” – Ray 4375 Beta, field researcher 3rd form – Temple of Science
 
A pair of Classic Jeff Dee Halfling
Halflings have it bad, and most, both halfling and other think they deserve it. 

Sunday, October 12, 2014

A Set of Regional Maps

I've been taking it easy with creating game content this week, but I did draw up these maps for Sorcerer's Skull.  I don't know what his plans are for them exactly, but it was nice to draw a sea monster.

First one is hand done with minimal treatment, the one below has been messed with via some filters.


Also I'm kinda trying to figure out what the next project should be.  I've got a couple of plans, but not sure what I want to do.  First, finish Tomb of the Rocketmen, and put it out as a bare-bones PDF (it's similar in scope to Dread Machine) and then maybe put it together in with rewrites of the other ASE Denethix Marches projects (perhaps including a redone Obelisk and Red Demon).  Second, finish up another ASE adventure that I wrote 80% of and dropped - the Old Brewery as the basis of a few ASE urban adventures (Old Brewery, The Grunky Escapade and Tower Adventure I wrote up with a zombie version of He-Man's Two-Bad.  Lastly abandon these old projects and jump full bore into A big Fallen Empire project - I'll call it "The Verdant Vaults" and it's an experiment in building a dungeon that changes (specifically becomes more alive and overgrown) as the players explore it.  It starts a desolate space almost empty of encounters, but the longer it's explored the more it wakes up, and grows.  I like the idea of the project, but I'm not sure if it's viable.  Any of these three would likely end up on RPGnow - despite my dislike for charging for hobby products, I think I need a bit more exposure on these things, and that seems to be that way.  Plus I might be able to hire someone else to do art that way, and I rather hate drawing.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

The Pretender's Dread Machine - Adventure PDF



The Dread Machine

The project I’ve previously hinted at in finally finished.  A classic module length adventure that relates to, but is in no way a direct sequel my previously written Prison of the Hated Pretender.  Designed to be used in any fantasy setting, it is not intended to be especially strange or outside the norms for most traditional fantasy adventure games.


I’ve written the adventure  using the Labyrinth Lord system, but it should be easy enough to adapt to anything similar. 

DREAD MACHINE PDF  

Sunday, September 28, 2014

M3 Twilight Calling - Review



THE MASTER GAME
I have been thinking about high level games, how bizarre and impossible they seem now, when I mostly want to play and run games where tragically human, limited and fragile characters face off against the mythic underworld or cunning and merciless over-world factions dependent less on the dice then on player wit.  Yet, high level play was a staple of my pre-teen D&D adventures, characters of 20th and 30th level fighting hordes of lichs riding red dragons, polymorph spells on every magic user's tongue, and a plus five holy avenger in every fighter’s fist.

TSR recognized this style of play, and produced product for it, specifically the ”black box” Master Set (levels 25 -35) of D&D in 1985, followed by the Immortal set in 1986 for characters that have ascended to demigod status.  These are still strange rulesets, especially the Immortal Set, which while a good idea, appears to have completely changed the rules of D&D and is complex and strange. The Master Set though struggles with the hard questions of terribly powerful characters and appears to fall back on the answer of limiting casting ability, but which I otherwise remember as having sound advice.  This anti-magic bent isn't a surprise, as I suppose the another method is to simply allow everyone/everything in the game to cast as a 35th level magic-user, making a game similar to the board game Nuclear War, where fights end as spheres of annihilation and disintegration rays leap from either side, pass in the air, and end the campaign.  I doubt there’s much need for high level play advice in the OSR circles I frequent (though Simon at … and the sky full of dust has just finished Session 127 of his Against the Giant’sCampaign and it looks like things are getting Spelljammer). Still the Master set poses interesting questions, and the Immortal Set is tempting -  I find myself drawn to see how these old TSR sets tried to handle the difficulties of high level games.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Orcs are a Disease, a look at the Little Brown Book Orc.



ANCIENT ORCS

Disney's  to Blame/Thank for the Pig Nosed Orc
I was reading through the Little Brown Books, yesterday, specifically  from the 6th edition of the Dungeons and Dragons “White Box”, which still has the 1974 copyright (but came out later) and the strange combination of absurd detail, messy layout and bizarre inexplicable rules that mark it as an idiosyncratic hobby project, rather than something designed for a sophisticated market.  Specifically I was flipping through “Volume 2 of Three Booklets” (see idiosyncratic) – Monsters & Treasure, and came across the paragraphs about orcs.
It’s worth noting that many of the monster entries in Monsters & Treasure are minimal, i.e the 30 word entry for “cavemen”, the “Orcs” entry is not and takes up almost a full page (the longest entry is for “Dragons” and takes up almost two and a half pages).  Going with the idea that monster manuals are de-facto setting books, and that what inhabits a setting defines it, orcs seem clearly to matter in the world of the LBB’s, and are certainly one of the most iconic monsters of table-top fantasy games.  They’re also famously badly defined, even if popular culture currently understands them as some sort of WOW derived noble savage version of the Warhammer universe “Greenskin” (a fine bit of fantasy worldbuilding there both in Warhammer and Warhammer 40K)

Yet, what does Monsters & Treasure imply about setting with its specific Orcs, having been written at a time when really the only model for the creatures was J.R.R Tolkiens anti-elves, or perhaps (no not really) Blake’s Promethean spirit of creativity.  The LBB describes Orcs as follows:

HMS Apollyon Maps & Other Things

Some doodling that's gone on in the past few days.  First I got some nice new pens, a very good deal on 24 grey (though several of them tend towards sepia) first rate art markers and need to try them out.

This is an elevation map of the HMS Apollyon, my nautical mega dungeon.  Each square is about 350 feet, so the whole think is approximately 3 miles long.  Decks are broken into hundred foot sections, though there is plenty of space taken up by architectural elements and ship systems between those decks so it's not an exact thing.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Why I Use the Classic Saving Throw System



SAVE vs. NOVELTY

Blackleaf didn't get a Saving Throw, and we know
how that ended
Saving Throws are an iconic element of table top  roleplaying games, that likely has its roots in the First Edition of Dungeons and Dragons, those Little Brown Books (well before that really) .  Saving Throws are still a part of Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition, but frankly I think they’ve lost something.  Don’t get me wrong, I like 5th edition a lot, and have enjoyed the flexibility of the character generation, the careful balancing of armor class (a real problem area if one is trying to limit power creep) and how despite its heroic elements 5e has maintained much of the feeling of character peril one might get from Basic/Expert style D&D.

Yet 5e does something strange with Saving Throws, something I think is a holdover from newer editions of D&D, in that it links them to character statistics.  This is a huge departure from the LBB’s and the editions that followed them.  In early editions saving throws are static based on level (with a bonus for a high Wisdom in some editions).  I like this system; I also like the eclectic names of the classic saving throws “Death Ray or Poison, All Wands Including Polymorph and Paralization, Stone, Dragon Breath and Staves & Spells”.  I like the way Saving Throws are managed in the LBB’s (and similar systems) because they are related to class and level, without consideration for ability scores.  Likewise the variety of saving throws are bizarre, but clearly they all relate to terrible, likely deadly effects and seem so specific that they encourage adventure designers and GMs to expand their use into other areas/against other dangers.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Fallen Empire - Reviving the D&D Language System



LANUAGE AND POWER

The immolation of the Imperial Archives by disgruntled boxing
devotees in the 7th Century of the Successor Empire helped
limit learning to those with access to private libraries
One of the class abilities that both magic-users and nobles (dual classed F/MU with skills in scholarship and ancient knowledge) have is the ability to speak one or more esoteric languages.  In early editions of D&D language skills were handed out to characters with a decent Intelligence in huge bundles, and even more common amongst demi-humans.  These language skills had value as reaction rolls and morale rolls with intelligent monsters often allowed an opportunity for parley or surrender, providing a very fun roleplaying-rich way of avoiding combat encounters and entering into the ‘faction game’ amongst dungeon dwellers.  Just thinking about the set-up of the feuding humanoids in B2 – Keep on the Borderlands should offer an example of how useful speaking orc, goblin and kobald might be in an old Gygax adventure.  I have no desire to track the uses and relationships between fifty fantasy languages, however and while I greatly enjoy a tense parley as both a player and GM, for Fallen Empire I want to emphasize a largely human world and primarily use ‘common’ as a language available to all players.

Rather than create languages that are specific to races or types of monsters I have decided to create a set of languages that is useful in dealing with certain classes of society or broad groups of monsters.  A scholar need not worry if they speak hobgoblin or goblin, but should be able to talk to denizens of the underdark (yes there is an underdark in Fallen Empire – Deep Carbon Observatory made that certain) if they know the Underdark’s version of common – “Crawl”.  Another expected advantage with a smaller number of languages is that inscriptions and mysterious texts can be accessible (assuming you have a scholar in your party) while still being strange and mysterious.  I intend to have two tables of languages - Esoteric Languages and Living Languages, with the first only available in very limited numbers to Magic-Users and more easily to noble scholars, and the second open to anyone based on intelligence (likely only one or two extra per PC to keep the numbers down).

In addition I have made the parley game slightly more amusing for me by constructing language meta-games with mild mechanical effects.  Speaking Crawl works better if you talk like a cartoon cave man, and trying to overawe bureaucratic robbers or get information out of reluctant functionaries (really the most common kind of bandit in Fallen Empire) will work better if you can speak in Imperial Law and use a really long word or two. 

Below is another letter from the wandering and addled noble Imperial Noble "Pepinot Vex, Hereditary Peinkernes Extraordinary" regarding his continued efforts to reach his beloved cousin's country estate.  Apologies in advance for the bad fiction - it's just one of those weeks.  Feel free to skip to the table of Esoteric Languages at the bottom of the post.