Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Knacks! There's Always a Chance!

I know I promised some tables for my Amnesia rules in the last post, but unfortunately, it takes me a bit longer to get some good inspiration for long tables. Instead, here's something else I've been thinking about.

Skill lists are a touchy subject in the OSR community I've found. Many people would rather player skill and ingenuity be used in games, and that skill lists discourage this. While I don't completely believe this, I have seen people excited to try to roll a skill, only to look at the modifier and sigh that it's not high enough. Not really intentional discouragement due to skill lists, but rather skill lists encouraging specialization rather than a jack-of-all-trades style to skills. I like skill lists and have always allowed player ingenuity to take the forefront. I would like to encourage anyone to try skills they may or may not have.

I feel Savage Worlds has figured a way around this with their skill system. Everyone rolls what is called the Wild Dice, a d6 that can give you a chance of success, even if you are terrible at a skill. It allows for you to be completely lucky at something, but still doesn't override skill specialization. Now, the Wild Dice is rolled for almost all rolls, and I am unsure if I want a full on luck system for all rolls, or just something for skills. Also it works better in Savage Worlds because they have the exploding dice concept. I've always liked my games to be a bit more survival and gritty, so I want just enough of a system to give a better chance of success without making the game too easy and making skill specialization worthless.

So I think I have something I like conceptually, but I'd have to playtest it with some people. I call them knacks. These would work well in any D&D game that has a skill list, like 3.5/Pathfinder, 5e, etc. If using this for 3.5/Pathfinder, just a note that I've removed the concept of Trained Only skills. Any skill can be used if you aren't trained. This may seem weird for Knowledge skills, but think of it as the PC hearing a random tip or trivia about that piece of information.

Adventures have inborn talents to do certain things they might not be trained in. At character creation, pick a category, Physical or Mental. This represents your knack. Physical skills are those tied to Strength and Dexterity, while Mental skills are tied to Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma. Whenever you roll a skill that falls under your knack, but you have no skill points in (or aren't proficient as is the case with 5e), then you can add your Knack Die. This is a d4 that you roll with the d20 and adds a bonus to your skill roll equal to the result on the d4.

If you ever put a skill point in a skill you have a knack in (3.5) or become proficient in a skill you have a knack in (5e), then you lose the d4.

Edition Differences

If the skill is a class skill, then you don't get the +3 knack bonus when you put a skill point in there. No double dipping here.

Optional Rule: At level 4,8,12, and 16, your Knack die steps up by one (d6, d8, d10, d12).

Instead of getting a knack die for all Mental skills, you have to pick four you aren't proficient in. This is because the Mental skills severely outnumber the Physical skills in 5e.

Edit: For 5e, instead of choosing between Physical and Mental Knacks, simply choose four skills you aren't proficient in as your knacks

If you are rolling an advantage or disadvantage, just roll the Knack die once and apply it to the relevant dice roll.

This system does make characters a little more competent at skills, which I don't mind personally. I think this helps to encourage players to try new skills while still rewarding skill specialization. I'd want to play test this some more, but my big worry is that it may encroach too much on the rogue. But if I made this more of a default house rule, I'd give the rogue the ability to have better knacks. I also wonder how useful this will be in higher levels of Pathfinder, with DCs in the 30s. Though at that point, you've got skill points and feats to spare for your character. That's why I made the optional rule above, but I'd love for more play testing opportunities.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Amnesia and Working it into a Game

So between playing Bloodborne, reading the newest Call of Cthulhu and Lamentations of the Flame Princess rules, and hearing about the newest Pathfinder adventure path, I've been really getting my mind in running more psychological games. That is, games that really dwell on madness, horror, and the occult. All things I love reading about and they can be awesome to game in with the right group and the right mindset. In particular, I read that Strange Aeons, the next Pathfinder adventure path, was going to start with the players locked in an asylum and suffering from amnesia. I think that's a pretty interesting way to get a group together that can work with the right player buy-in, but I wonder, how would I do that.

There are some ways I thought about doing it that has their pros and cons. The first is more from the GM. The players slowly are revealed their different, disparate backgrounds as the game continues, and learn more about their characters. This style of interaction is more exploratory and focused on discovery. With this method, the PCs are defined more by what they do in this adventure rather than who they are(or were), which I feel is a really interesting way to run a character. Also, players can really jump right in from the beginning and get to the game. Of course, the drawbacks are aplenty. With no backgrounds, there aren't really any bonds between players' characters, and then really isn't anything keeping them together after the asylum breakout. What's worse is that you might give them a background that's underwhelming, mediocre, or something that the player simply doesn't like. Granted, that's true for pretty much anything you do as a GM, but with giving players their background, you are building something a bit more personal to them. In a way, you are dictating who their character is/was and some may not like that.

The second is more random based. I have the players write down on cards different events in a life that could or couldn't be theirs. Then, at the moment of revealing, you shuffle the deck and have that player draw, revealing something about their past. This has pros, as it is purely random and doesn't have the GM forcing a backstory onto the player. And with the random chance, everyone is surprised with the event. Some cons remain that the player may still really dislike the hand they've been dealt. It's always interesting how we are okay with randomly rolling for stats, but something as personal as character background is a no go. Also, now the GM has to try and fit that event change into the current game, which can be a bit hard if you don't know how to improvise. And the biggest problem I see is getting a set of cards for one person that may not really mesh together into a coherent backstory.

The third method is having a set of events, locations, people, and items introduced in each game. At some point, a player can attach themselves to one of those and describe what it means to their character and what background is revealed. This keeps the background creation with the player, allowing a more expressive style of interaction, rather than discovery. And the player will generally be happy with what they come up with. That player agency with the character you make is nice for them and still allows them to be creative, albeit in a different, more on the spot method. The problem can be if you aren't good at improvisation, or simply don't have the mental energy to make up something about your character that day. Also, it does seem to go against the idea of the players not knowing their backstory if they can still come up with it, but later. But, I think this idea might be good to revisit.

Ultimately, the points of disconnect seem to be a) who reveals the backstory, b) when is this revealed, and c) what is the goal of revelation. The who could be the GM, the player, or random chance. The when could be triggered by the GM, the player, random chance, or perhaps other players. The goal could be character discovery or player expression. Should there be a barrier to entry, like a "save to remember"? And finally, what is the in-game goal to discover your past? Would you try to right a wrong you did before losing your memory, or go back to your old life as it was, or even try and avoid who you were now that you know?

Wracking my brain while prepping at work, I think I have something I like. It's a bit of a combination between the second and third ideas. Because the only reward for this is player discovery or expression, there is really less of a concern of players rushing to unlock their backstory to 'win'.


When a player decides to make a character with amnesia, they essentially have no backstory. No name, no history, no nothing. The player can give them a name or have the GM or other players name them. Depending on how recent the amnesia is, they may not know their class abilities consciously, but will be able to do them reflexively. The GM should spend the first session or two giving chances for the PC to discover their abilities. So if they are a fighter, throw them into combat to showcase how they know how to fight. Or cast spells. Divine casters still feel an unusual attachment to their deity or philosophy that comes to them first, showcasing the real strength of their faith.

After the character creation, each player gets five chips. These chips are used to activate Mementos.

Mementos are mental keepsakes and memories that trigger a memory of the PC's past. They come in five categories:

  1. Living Being - This can be a creature that played a big part of your previous life, living or dead (or undead or construct), sapient, sentient, or not, etc. People, animals, the ghost of a forgotten loved one, your pet robot.
  2. Location - This is a building or area that meant something dear to you in your past life. Your ancestral home, the school you went to, an old battlefield you fought in, etc.
  3. Event - This is something that happens or happened that was important to you. A holiday celebration, or a date that is your birthday or anniversary, or something that has already happened, like The Great Elf Human War or The Dwarven Pogroms. 
  4. Item - This is an object that holds great meaning to you, or at least looks like it. A holy symbol of a god you once served, the ring of a partner to be, or an old toy from your childhood. Seeing swords could remind you of your service in the militia.
  5. Concept - An idea, knowledge, or sensations that help you remember what you knew or believed in. The smell of food your parents made for you, or seeing knowledge you once knew, or the feel of rain reminding you of an event that happened when it rained.
Whenever the GM mentions anything that falls into those categories, the players can throw a chip in to claim the memento and trigger a memory coming back to them. The player can either improvise what memory is attached to the memento, or they can roll on a table to see what they get and build from it. When the player gives up all five of their chips, their character remembers everything.

Knowledge, Skills, and Amnesia
If using a system that has skills like Knowledge, the character with amnesia doesn't have full access to them yet. They can be unlocked when a memento is claimed and background relating to that knowledge. If the player wants to use it before unlocking it, they can make a DC 10 Intelligence check to use the skill for that specific thing. Success means they can use it for that specific thing and can use it again for that for free. So, rolling Knowledge (Arcana) to see what you know about basilisks would require that Intelligence check first, then rolling the skill. Success on both mean you remember permanently what there is to know about basilisks.

Most other skills happen reflexively. Acrobatics can happen during combat or a situation that requires it. Perception is the same way. These don't require Intelligence checks. They just happen.

Limitations on Remembrance
The pacing should be left up to the GM and players, but generally you don't want to reveal more than one memory per two sessions per person, and generally keep it to one or two people per reveal. For something more long term, the players can only trigger a memory once per one or two levels. Alternatively, they can bank a portion of XP every session (say, 10%). When they reach a certain amount, they can cash in the XP to claim a memento (the XP would go back to them so they could level up). The amount needed to claim a memento would increase as more are unlocked. Look below for values

  • First Memento: 250 XP
  • Second Memento: 500 XP
  • Third Memento: 1000 XP
  • Fourth Memento: 2000 XP
  • Fifth Memento: 4000 XP
You can still keep the limitation on one reveal per level or two.

I think tomorrow I'll work up a little table for rolling.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Death and Taxes: The Cost of Death

I generally don't like doing opinion pieces, but this one is something I've thought about for awhile. And it's less of a "my opinion is right!" and more of a "here is me presenting a different perspective on an issue".

Death in RPGs is a bit of a touchy subject among players and game masters. Some people prefer more lethal games, where survival is key and death is final or severely limited. Opponents to this become unattached to their characters, since they are just going to die anyways. Other people prefer their characters to be big damn heroes, with raise dead being more available to keep their favorite characters in the story. Opponents to this say that this lowers the difficulty of the game and that feeling of persevering in the face of danger is lessened, since you'll always succeed eventually. There are, of course, all kinds of middle ground, but the key arguments are a) does death and lethality add or take away from the game and b) does resurrection add or take away from the game.

To understand this, we need to discuss the true cost of death. On first thought, many will look at the monetary cost that you'd see in Pathfinder and D&D 3X. Death is money plus the corpse and you are good to go. Many people don't like this because they feel it makes the game too forgiving and challenges less dangerous. Others see the world building issues of kings and villains that never die because of raise dead and resurrection. But this isn't what I consider the true cost of death.

Pictured: Someone learning the cost of death
In some retro clones and other RPGs, XP and levels are the cost of death. You lose XP or some type of advancement when you are raised back to life. Some people do not like this because it feels like punishing the player for some things out of their control, like bad dice rolls or GM mistakes. Other games, like 13th Age or ACKS, allow the players to raise the dead, but it is usually very rare, requires a quest, or there is always a catch or something bad that will happen. Opponents don't like this because of the punishing aspect and feel that if one wants to discourage raise dead like that, they should simply not have it as an option. I remember reading an article about this some time ago, but I forget where. But neither of these are really what I feel is the true cost of death in RPGs.

What is the true cost of death in RPGs?

When you really think about it, once a character dies, that player can no longer participate in the game. They have to sit out until their character is resurrected or they bring in a new character. Both have their downfalls. I personally like more lethal games, so resurrection does make it feel like a game has more forgiving consequences. And bringing in a new character can be difficult. You have to try and think of a way to explain a complete stranger coming into your group that's roughly the same level as you. Depending on the game and how far into it you are, writing up a new character can take some time. This is especially true of games in Pathfinder or other more crunch games.

Alternatively, you could play as a hireling or NPC ally now, but that's not really your character. That's just a character the GM made and I feel there is less of an attachment to that in some causes, unless that hireling has made a good impression on the party. Still, I'd prefer to play a character I make. Starting all the way back at level one can be very lame, since now you have to play catch up and hope your character doesn't get killed by the higher level dangers your team is facing. Whether you use the Challenge Rating system or just throw caution to the wind with balanced combats, eventually your players will be taking down bigger and bigger foes that will cream your new character. On the other hand, bringing in Bob 2.0 at the same level is a cop out, since they didn't earn those levels like the rest of the team did. And how many level 17 wizards are roaming the world to fill in some shoes, eh?

Unless it's Forgotten Realms I guess..
So now as a player, you basically have to not play the game while everyone around you scrambles to get you back to life, or get to an area where it would 'make sense' to bring in your character. Watching everyone play without participating is really the big cost to character death and it can be lame. We all have busy lives and try to meet up to escape that, play some games, drink some beer, and have some laughs while we pretend to be elves and dwarfs. So getting left out of that kind of sucks.

So what do we do? 

Removing death wouldn't work. Death and other consequences are great in the game as they add real depth to player choices and make them real. Real danger and consequences make decision making matter more. And there is always adventure to happen in failure.

Christ I love Berserk
Luckily there are a great deal of ways I feel we can work around this without removing death. Having the players play a company of people is a great way to have many party members on tap for players to play as. Simply have each player make multiple characters and you can have them fill in when your character dies. Now you have a character that you are invested in and can continue playing. This works best with less crunchy games, since it is easy to build characters, but I'd give it a try in anything. And since they've been adventuring with you, they will at least be a higher level than one, so you aren't too far behind your teammates.

Also, you can have the dead player continue to affect the situation. Perhaps they can play as the monsters now with the GM, taking on a bit more of an adversarial role against their former comrades. I actually genuinely like this route because it not only keeps them in the game, but adds an interesting adversarial twist to the session. Alternatively, you can have the player act as a ghost of their PC, still capable of limited actions and helping until the players can raise them (or until they send them off to the afterlife with a proper burial and get a new character in). I think that would be interesting, as it takes the quest for resurrection but still keeps that player involved and playing. There could also be a Dark Souls take on the game, where when die, you come back but more corrupted or Hollow, until you finally lose yourself and attack your allies. Add in some Bloodborne monster transformations and you have a cool boss fight on your hands with your dying PC verses the others trying to bring them peace in death. With swords, of course.

by Elena Bespalova
One can also have a little afterlife adventure, where the player or players that died have to adventure back into the land of the living. The other players can play as otherworldly allies that want to see them make it back, or play as tricksters wanting to claim their soul, or play as psychopomps trying to get them to be judged. There are all kinds of weird, metaphysical adventuring you could have here, from a classic game against the Grim Reaper to a cool, Day of the Dead themed party with La Catrina to a legitimate journey akin to What Dreams May Come. This would be great for one or two dead players, or an entire TPK'd party. While it does lessen the penalty of death somewhat, it increases the impact of death that will last with the players and creates an amazing adventure that will be remembered for sessions to come.

Adventure in the Afterlife!
There are still many options I haven't even thought up of yet that one could use, and each one could fit our varied play styles. I like more lethal, survival games, but I also like a heavy dose of supernatural and occult themes, so the adventuring in the afterlife would be great for me. Whatever the choice, as long as we keep our players engaged and playing and ultimately having fun, then I think we are doing a good job as GMs.

And I'm really wanting to run something akin to Ghostwalk from 3.5 now. I think I'll definitely revisit this topic with some further ideas that are more fleshed out.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Underwater Adventures Part II

So I was brainstorming with some of the good folks on the OSR Google+ community about adventures underwater. A lot of it was how things we take for granted here in the surface world would be different. And it was about what kind of cultures we'd see underwater. Combined with some more brainstorming with my buddy Donald and the guys on OSR, here's what we've all come up with.

Metal Weapons

One of the biggest things I feel would affect cultures is the lack of traditional metal working. Without fire, you can't really do it the traditional method. And then there's the rust. So there were some ideas we all had on how to deal with this. Tod Casasent had a cool idea that metal could be devoured or somehow implanted into some of the natural life and harvested by the underwater denizens. So here are some of his ideas, expanded on.

Silver Marlin

The silver marlin is a special predatory fish, fast as it is dangerous. Like a swordfish, it has a sharp, harpoon-like 'nose' it uses to hunt its prey. The reason it's called the silver marlin is because of the metal it absorbs from special coral reefs it lives in. The metal creates hard deposits in the fish that makes its bones hard as iron. Many of the underwater civilizations hunt these creatures to claim their bones, but only the best hunters can take on these creatures. Silver marlins are incredibly fast and difficult to catch. This could be a rite of passage for warriors, to claim their fish in an almost Hemmingway-esque battle between man and marlin. These would also be popular among nobles that might pay for older, slower marlins that they can easily hunt down and claim as trophies to show off with other nobles.


These are giant clams that, like the silver marlin, has iron deposits in its shell. These minerals are absorbed from the ocean floor through filter feeding, only instead of making pearls, it adds the minerals to their shell. This makes it a walking fortress and virtually without any predators, so long as its shell is closed. Still, a canny hunter can wait for the clam to open its shell for feeding to impale it in its soft, fleshy center. Cleaning out the clam is easy and unhinging the bivalve's shells makes for a natural buckler that is durable and surprisingly light weight. I feel with underwater adventures, heavy shield wouldn't really be usable, but a light weight buckler would be useful. And since most of these species wouldn't have hammers or other bludgeoning weapons, that'd make sense.

Oreal Reefs

Coral reefs where the polyps absorb and leave behind iron rich exoskeletons to form these beautiful, metallic homes for animals. These are really hard to carve and most people use these less for weapons and armor and more as natural fortifications. Many canny generals cultivate these coral reefs to make study homes against war. I wonder though, what would artillery be like underwater? Floating ballistas driven by whales? Dragging a ballista on the ocean floor sounds really difficult with the push back from the water. Would we have floating walls, enclosing a whole city? Cities built into underwater mountains? Perhaps these coral reefs become massive and in turn are underwater cities for the deep denizens. A lot of these questions do less with limiting underwater races and option and instead help to carve out a different and alien civilization for those underwater.

The Deep Dark

Beneath the waves, where light fears to tread is the Abyssal Zone, a place of darkness, cold, and fear. The creatures that live down here are things from a horror novel, many of them deadly and vicious, forged by the shivering dark and crushing pressure. But down here, there are spots of immense heat. Geothermal vents and lava flowing and mixing with the water. Using the lava and pressure, these deep creatures have forged a durable steel that surpasses those of the upper dwellers. Lead by jealousy of their surface cousins, these deep dwellers take up arms with their powerful weapons and leviathan war beasts to raid the upperfolk at night for slaves and resources, before descending back down to avoid the light. I definitely want to write more about these guys in another, later post.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Underwater Adventures

A while ago, a buddy and I were bouncing ideas about a game taking place underwater. I was recently reminded by this in a post for the OSR Google+ community. This was something that's been explored before in Cerulean Seas, but otherwise 

it's not really in a lot of role playing games. That's a real shame, because the ocean has some really cool stuff for all adventurers, whether they be land lubbers or ocean bound. However, there are a lot of differences on how things would work underwater, both in game and conceptually.

3D Everything

This is probably THE biggest effect on the game, especially if you use a battle map. In a normal surface game, 3D movement and area of effect abilities only come into effect with flying/levitating foes. It's there briefly so the game doesn't really get into exact rules for dealing with them extensively. What's worse is that in an underwater campaign, you'll have people below you as well as above you. For flying foes, I generally have a dice next to the flying miniature that denotes how high it is, but when you have to deal with characters that could be below you, this can get dicey (so sorry for that).

One suggestion I'd make is having two colors of dice to track this and use one character's or set piece's position as the base axis. So, when you set up the board for a fight, you have the boss as the base axis, and his allies and the players will be at positions relative to him. The drawback would be that you'd need a lot of dice for larger set pieces, especially the d10s if the area is big enough. Still I think for a battle mat encounter, this is probably the best way to handle it.

Of course, adventuring underwater isn't just like the land in complete 3D. There are a lot of other issues to contend with if the GM and players want to get into it. Area effect spells are simple enough. Each spell has the same vertical diameter as its horizontal diameter. I've make them cylindrical for simplicity sake, as measuring a 3D sphere is hard. In addition to movement is buoyancy. While many would look over this, I think this could add some interesting options in and outside of combat. I think for buoyancy, I'd make it something similar to, but a little simpler than Cerulean Seas' version.


All races have a rating of buoyancy, probably between -3 and 3. A positive rating means that you naturally float, while a negative rating means you naturally sink. Most land dwelling creatures have a positive value. Those with a lot of fat have higher values while those with a lot of muscle have low values, and those with no fat have values in the negatives. If a character doesn't move, they float or sink a number of squares equal to their buoyancy (1 square = 5 feet). 

This is considered free movement. However, they can only float straight up or straight down. Guiding your floating or sinking is essentially moving and adds your buoyancy rating to your movement when moving up or down. For land lubbers requires a Swimming check. Creatures that live underwater simply move up to their movement speed. So if your movement is standard 30 ft and you have a buoyancy rating of 3, then you can move a total of 45 feet, 15 feet of it going up. If you are going down, you have to fight buoyancy by making a Swimming check, land lubber or not. Failure means that you subtract your buoyancy rating from your movement speed. So in the example above, you'd only go 15 feet going down. This means that everyone pretty much moves faster going in the direction of your buoyancy and slower against it. Not too complicated, especially if you simplify the movement into squares or hexes. If you are going up and down in a single movement, I'd adjudicate the down first. If you are going double your movement or more downward, you only need to make one check. This is all reverse for those with negative buoyancy values of course. 

For an added level of usefulness, buoyancy also affects knock back differently depending on the direction and buoyancy. Those prone to floating will get knocked back more if slammed upward, and those prone to sinking are resistant to knock backs if done downward.

Of course, there should be ways to change buoyancy, with air bladders, magic, or a pile of rocks. And being encumbered will lower your buoyancy rating per load. Light load has no affect, medium is a -1, heavy is a -2, and over is -4. For Savage Worlds, I'd have it as a -1 for the first load limit, -2 for the second- and -4 for the third. More than that would continue to double the penalty, since underwater you can have more stuff on you.


Then there are currents. Underwater rivers and eddies that can act as obstacles, terrain, and assistants in here. These can really make tactical fighting underwater interesting. Each current has a rating called Flow. This number adds movement squares to your movement if you go with the flow, or subtracts it when going against the flow. Buoyancy ratings can help or hinder, especially if the flow is going up or down vertically. The Flow only affects the movement as a whole, so even if you do double movement or more, it still only adds the Flow rating once. If you are going against the Flow and its rating is higher than your movement, you have to succeed on a Swimming check to not get swept away by it. A raise on your check (for D&D, +5 above the DC for swimming in rough water) lets you swim up to half of your speed plus or minus buoyancy, depending on vertical direction. A second raise lets you move your full movement. So someone that naturally sinks will have a very hard time swimming against the flow of a current going downward.

Currents also include things like whirlpools, which can trap you in them if you can't beat their Flow rating. You must pass a Swimming check to not get trapped or to escape. Failure means you are stuck and disoriented. In D&D, this could be dazed, while in Savage Worlds, this is simply shaken. Eddies are small whirlpools while maelstroms are massive whirlpools.


This is where things get a little weird and I'll have to consolidate other sources. I like Pathfinder's rules for it, so I think that's a good idea. 1d6 damage per 100 feet below the surface, DC 15 Fortitude saves, +1 per previous check every minute for those not acclimated to the water. Same with Savage Worlds, but make that a Vigor check. However, if we are running a campaign of ocean dwellers, things will be a little different. Oceans have five different zones, so creatures of one zone are pretty used to the pressures  of its zone and the zones above them. So for ocean dwellers, they take no damage until they get to a zone below the layers they are used to. These zones get really deep, so 1d6 per 100 feet starts to get really nasty when going to the deeper zones. So denizens of the deep have an advantage because they can survive in all of the zones above them.

Of course, there are dangers to surfacing too quickly. There's the Bends which makes it hurt when you ascend too quickly. if you swim more than 100 feet per minute, you take 1d4 Con damage per each additional 100 feet. For Savage Worlds, I'd say 2d6 damage per additional 100 feet is plenty.


The deeper you go, the darker it gets. This is pretty simple I think and you use dimmer and dimmer light settings when in deeper zones, like the Twilight Zone and the Midnight Zone. This will use D&D/SW standard rules for dim and darkness.

Surface Weapons and Spells

Piercing weapons would be fine underwater. Thrown weapons don't really work unless they are hydrodynamic, like a trident or harpoon. Bladed weapons get a -2 to attack unless they are made to work underwater. Bludgeoning weapons take a -2 and can't really be made to work underwater. Ranged weapons have half their range underwater. Spells are really up to the GM and their world consistency. Does a fireball work because Magic! or not because fire? Lightning spells dissipate? Ice and sonic spells get more powerful? That's something more in the realm of the GM adjudication.

This covers everything I could realistically think of to deal with underwater adventuring. For a simpler game, a GM could ignore these and run as is, and much of this wouldn't be a problem if you aren't using a game mat. However, I think these rules can add a different and fun layer of complexity that can really enhance the underwater experience and make it feel different, memorable, and fun.

Monday, March 7, 2016

The Wild Primeval Mechanics

Earlier I talked about a part of my setting called the Wild Primeval. It's one part Feywild, one part Wonderland, and one part Princess Mononoke. It's not an alternate dimension of magic, spirits, and fairies, but a true part of the world that covered the world in ancient times but has now been assarted by man to make room for civilization. Below are the rules I use, though translated to using D&D rules. I use these but for Savage Worlds. Hope you enjoy!

The Wild Primeval

Hexes that spawn on the map, having a 1% chance per day. This is Increased by several factors, some caused by the PCs.

Spells cast in the previous day: +2% per spell
Existing Wild Zone: 2% per Wild Zone Hex
Existing Wild Realm: 5% per Wild Realm Hex
Existing Ascended Wild Zone: 10% per Ascended Wild Zone

The percentage from spells cast are added the following day, then reset. These are all cumulative and go to a maximum of 75%.

When they spawn, check your 10 x 10 hex map and roll 2d10 to choose the random spawn coordinates. If you have a different sized hex map, you can choose different dice that would fit, or pick a 10 x 10 area on it. If it spawns on top of a settlement that is a town or larger, re-roll. The Wild Primeval tends to avoid civilization when first spawning.

Once spawned, every day you roll 1d6 to see if the origin Wild Zone continues to anchor itself into our reality or fades away. Rolling 4+ succeeds, raises (every 3 over the success DC for non-Savage Worlds players) count as additional successes, dice explodes. Three success means the origin Wild Zone is now permanent. Three failures means it dissipates.

Once it has become permanent, the origin Wild Zone starts spawning more Wild Zones in adjacent hexes. Every day, roll 1d6 to see which adjacent hex becomes a Wild Zone. Do this until the origin Wild Zone is surrounded by the secondary Wild Zones.

Once surrounded, the origin Wild Zone becomes an Ascended Wild Demesne and the surrounding six hexes the Wild Realm. Every week, roll 2d4 to see how much it expands. The numbers rolled are how many hexes are spawned. Each expansion must be adjacent to two existing Wild Zone hexes.. These can spawn over settlements that are towns or bigger. Wild Zone hexes that no longer border normal hexes become Wild Realms.

An Ascended Wild Demesne can erupt into something greater called an Unbound Wild Demesne. More on that later.

Multiple origin Wild Zones can spawn and it’s not unusual for a Wild Realm to have two or more Ascended Wild Demesne. When spawned, you can connect the realms with the spawning Wild Zones to form a larger Wild Realm.

Rules in the Wild Zone

In all Wild Zones, the laws of reality are warped. Magic is more random. All casters gain the Wild Magic backlash. Every time a spell is cast, there is a 10% chance they set off a Wild Magic event. Roll a d6 and see the results are below. Each result is simple and the GM or player can embellish as they see fit. The results are purposefully split between beneficial, neutral, and negative.
  1. The spell doesn't work, but still uses up a slot. You take 1d4 damage per spell level.
  2. A different spell on your list is cast, GM's choice.
  3. The spell's cosmetics changes. Fireball becomes purple and grease smells like lavender.
  4. Something cosmetic changes either you or the target(s). Hair color, smell, clothes, gender, whatever you or the GM decides. It lasts for 1d6 hours.
  5. The spell casts for free, without using a slot.
  6. The spell heals you or your target for 1d4 per spell level.
In addition, casting a spell adds to the chance of an Arcane Tempest forming. Arcane Tempests are terrifying storms that ravage the countryside with magical energies and fundamentally warp the area. The GM checks once a day for an Arcane Tempest to spawn in the PC’s hex. The percentages are listed below.

% of Tempest in a Wild Zone: 2%
% of Tempest in a Wild Realm: 5%
% of Tempest in an Ascended Wild Demesne: 10%
% of Tempest in an Unbound Wild Demesne: 20%
Spell Caster in the Hex: +2% per Spell Caster Level per Character
Spell Cast: + 5% per Spell Cast

Arcane Tempests unleash harsh winds and rain onto the countryside. The precipitation is always strange, ranging from unusual to the climate (snow in the desert, sandstorm in the jungle) to the downright weird (raining frogs or blood). These cause the usual penalties to sight and ranged attacks. In addition, eldritch energies surge through the area like lightning. These bolts of arcane lightning do 2d6 magic damage to anyone struck. Casters also lose a random spell when struck. Eldritch lightning has a 1 in 12 chance of striking a random character per 1 hour in the Arcane Tempest. Arcane Tempests disappear after 1d6 hours. When an Arcane Tempest is done, it changes the landscape drastically. Change one or more of the magical vistas in a hex when the storm is done. I usually change an amount equal to the hours the storm lasted.

The terrain in the Wild Zone becomes more treacherous. Forests become overgrown, deserts become hotter. Movement through all terrains are halved. Terrain in a Wild Realm and Wild Demesne become very chaotic. Floating islands, talking trees, rivers flowing into the sky, and fields of fire are all common vistas in these areas. These areas become great landmarks and potential adventures for the players and can be randomly rolled or placed appropriately. Each Wild Realm has one or two of these vistas. An Ascended Wild Demesne has three to four, and an Unbound Wild Demesne has five and up. I plan on making a list of these in a future post, but feel free to go crazy with this.

Monsters are more common in Wild Zones, and many are much more dangerous. Some monsters are spawned from the Wild Zones and will attack intruders to protect their home. The origin Wild Zone is the nexus of the all other Wild Zones. Within it is a strange glowing bulb called the Golden Blossom. It is what anchors the Wild Zones in our world. It has roots that extends out to all the other zones, making it easy to track.

Unbound Wild Demesne

Sometimes enemies or the PCs want to see the Ascended Wild Demesne grow even stronger. To do this, they can sacrifice creatures to the Golden Blossom to truly make it powerful. The blossom takes a lot of sacrifices to erupt. Below is a table that shows how many sapient mortals are needed to sacrifice to unchain the Golden Blossom.

Level of Sacrificed Creature    Number Needed
1-4                                                 625
5-8                                                 125
9-12                                               25
13-16                                             5
17-20                                             1

When it has taken enough victims, it becomes an Unbound Wild Demesne. The surrounding six hexes become Ascended Wild Demesne. The Golden Blossom also uproots itself and becomes a colossal spirit plant monster I call the Primeval Guardian. It acts as a guardian of the Wild Primeval and will continue spreading the influence across multiple hexes and destroying any signs of civilization. Whoever created it doesn't control it and many times, the Primeval Guardian will try and kill its master. There is a way to control it, but I haven't figured that out yeah. I will definitely make some stats for this colossal monstrosity.

Destroying a Wild Zone

When you destroy the Golden Blossom, you destroy the origin Wild Zone and all hexes it spawned. Other Wild Zones cannot exist without the original one and disappear immediately.

Sometimes a large realm of Wild Zones and Wild Realms will have multiple origin Wild Zones. If one origin Wild Zone is destroyed, then the six surrounding hexes are also destroyed. In addition, 2d4 hexes disappear at the start of the next day, GM’s choice. After this, if there are any hexes that aren’t somehow connected to an origin Wild Zone, they too disappear.

The Players and the Wild Primeval

Whenever the players destroy or let a Wild Zone bloom, it affects the spawn rate in the area. Doing certain actions can also stymie the birth of these areas. In general, Civilization is anathema to the Wild Primeval, and taming the lands will make it harder for them to spawn. If there are four or more Wild Zones still in an area, the slider can’t go above 0.

5 -- All Wild Zones gain a -4 to all of their anchoring rolls
4 -- Roll the % to Spawn dice three times and take the lowest
3 -- All Wild Zones gain a -2 to all of their anchoring rolls
2 -- Roll the % to Spawn dice twice and take the lowest
1 -- All Wild Zones gain a -1 to all of their anchoring rolls
0 -- Spawns normally
1 -- All Wild Zones only need two successful anchoring rolls
2 --Spawns one extra Wild Zone on a success
3 -- All Wild Zones only need one successful anchoring roll
4 -- Spawns two extra Wild Zones on a success
5 -- Spawns three extra Wild Zones on a success and all Wild Zones anchor after one day

Building a Domain: +1
Building an Urban Settlement: +2
Destroying a Wild Zone: +1
Destroying an Ascended Wild Demesne: +2
Destroying an Unbound Wild Demesne: +4
Wiping out a horde of monsters/an alpha monster: +1
A Domain gets destroyed: -1
An Urban Settlement gets destroyed: -2
A Domain/Urban Settlement gets claimed by a Wild Hex: -2
A Wild Zone anchors: -1
A Wild Zone ascends into a Wild Demesne: -2
An Ascended Wild Demesne becomes Unbound: -4

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Ethereal Things Lurk in the Cities

Last post I talked about spirits of nature. But really, there are all kinds of spirits out there. Nature doesn't have a monopoly of anthropomorphic entities, and spiritualism is important to city folk as well as those that live in the wilds.

In towns and cities, the concept of deities have taken more of a hold in the daily lives of the common man. These are beings more powerful than many of the local gods and nature spirits. Still, the benefits of invoking and respecting more personal spirits is apparent, especially since spirits seem to answer requests more directly and frequently. The concept of guardian spirits and totem beings also extend to those in the cities. Many people have totems, genii, or house gods that they pray to in order to keep their home and their family safe. House spirits, such as kikimoras, brownies, and lares, act as guardians for households. As long as they are respected and brought offerings, these house guardians give good fortune and protection to families poor and rich.

Cities have more people in them and that means more opportunities to have souls of the dead haunting different buildings and alleyways. Haunted houses and streets make excellent encounters and colorful history for any town. Ancestor spirits are probably more common in cities, especially in cultures that still practice ancestor worship. I've always loved ghosts and ghost stories and I like putting them in my games when I can. Ghosts are a cool type of undead because they are ones you can talk to and even bargain with. They can also give some great background history for an area your players are exploring and can warn you about different parts of the dungeon they haunt. And there is always their main quest of finding peace that the players can help with.

Then you have the messengers of the gods and devils themselves. Demons, angels, genies, and anything between. I prefer them to have more spiritual bodies, possessing unsuspecting vessels to do their deeds. I think in my games, 'outsiders' have a body but can only form it if a) they are summoned directly or b) they spend some time (weeks?) forming it with magic. If they are on a mission with a time limit, it makes them more willing to possess people. And exorcisms are always cool.

There are also spirits of concepts that you'd only see with sapient creatures. Spirits of freedom and liberty, of law and justice, of despotism and oppression, of wealth and commerce. It's unsure whether these spirits have always existed or if they are creations of the mortal civilizations, but they exist. 
The one spirit I want to talk about is the spirit of the city. Every city has a personality feed by its people and its culture. Proud and warlike, haughty and decadent, scholarly and rational... the spirit of the city is the collection of the emotions, cultures, and attitudes of her citizens. It's not a spirit you can talk to (at least, not easily), but when the moment is right, she can be called upon for advice and even help. Beyond the city is the spirit of a time period. The zeitgeist. Formed by mortals and their actions and attitudes of a time period, the zeitgeist transcends most spiritual concepts. It is alive yet not sentient. It's almost like a virus and memetically infects those around it. You can see the effects of the zeitgeist with large political movement and war, The relationship between the zeitgeist and the citizens is an unusual one. It's curious whether the spirit is forcing people to do this, or if it is dependent on people feeding it with actions.

One major difference between the spirits of nature and the spirits of the city is that in nature, the spirits don't usually seek out reverence or people to help. They tend to be happy in the wilds and only help if an offering is made. City spirits though crave mortal worship and human interaction. Whether through altruistic reasons or more mercenary motives, city spirits want to help mortals, though not without a price. It's very much a favor economy. You give them an offering and they help your household. Many believe that through worship, they'll become more powerful and become gods.

Of course, gods and worship is a post for another time.