Friday, October 28, 2016

First Map in Years

It's been a good couple of years since I've done any kind of D&D mapping on the computer. With the move into a bigger home, I am able to carve out my own little space for work on art, D&D, and writing. With that, here is my first map in three years. I present The Ruined Keep. The concept and layout was done with my random dungeon dice generator, then I simply embellished and drew it out.

A link to the full sized version is here. Looking for any and all critiques from viewers. I hope to get back into drawing again.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

My Favorite Monsters

These last two weeks have been pretty tough. We had the hurricane, then packing and the move. A lot of cleaning because of disgusting squatter, but they are finally gone now. Then food poisoning. Then car troubles. The ride never ends. But, the house is coming together, and though I am bedridden, I can at least blog about my favorite monsters.

Devilfish: I'm a sucker (hehe) for mollusks and devilfish are pretty cool. Their ink can make underwater fighting even more dangerous than it already is. And they have poisonous demon blood. What's not to like?

Aboleth: Aboleths Are a great mastermind monster with a cool look. Primordial fish body and tentacles with three weird eyes, plus I love their sort of angry, antideist bent. Makes perfect villains against your party cleric.

Grell: I seem to have a thing for creatures with tentacles. The grell was a creature I used in my first foray into DMing. It was a creepy looking creature, with some nasty barbs that make mince meat of your PCs. Even when playing PF or other games, I still like to use the grell in my games.

Lizardfolk: Going more humanoid, I've always liked lizardfolk. They feature prominently in my own homebrew setting, only I let them shoot blood from their eyes. Lizards are great, especially if you go with the more conspiracy theory bend of secret reptiloid masters lording over the populace. Though that seems more in the realm of serpentfolk.

Lamia: This is a more recent one that I used only a year ago, but the encounter was so memorable that I've grown to love the cursed beast. Have a pride of lamia stalking the PCs while they are out in the wilderness. It can really make players super paranoid. Plus I like cursed beasts.

Werewolves: Speaking of cursed beasts, I love werewolves. Werecreatures in general are all awesome, but werewolves are definitely my favorite. While I don't have them all evil, I do make sure that those afflicted by lycanthropy are cursed and as such, are absolutely dangerous and murderous like a rabid animal. Only by taking a ritual of killing and eating a virgin child under a full moon lets them control their change, but after that, they have succumbed to their predatory instincts and treat people like food.

Wyverns: I like big creatures that really make us embrace the game as a fantasy setting. Hydras and such are great, but nothing beats a good old fashioned dragon. Since most dragons are pretty far up in Challenge Ratings, I like using wyverns as a sort of low level, baby's first dragon kill. Mind you, they are still dangerous with their barbed tails and vicious demeanor. But they are fun to use, especially as potential mounts.

Also it caused a pretty hilarious argument over the pronunciation of the word wyvern. Gotta love nerd fights.

Anything Spider Related: Giant spiders rock my socks. The web weavers are great, but I like the more proactive wolf spider or tarantula. Ogre faced spiders make great ambush predators, and trap door spiders add an awesome mix of traps and monster fight. Imagine your players fighting a wolf spider with babies on the abdomen the size of small dogs. Now imagine them all swarming you as you fight their momma. Creepy

Ghouls: I have been dealing with ghouls since I was a kid. My dad would run us through dungeons and I remember one being somewhat Aztec themed that was infested with ghouls. Since then, they are pretty much in all of my games. I like them because they can fill in the vicious, fast undead role while simultaneously being a possible ally (or at least, parleyable ally) NPC. My ghouls are somewhere in the middle of 28 Days Later zombie and H.P. Lovecraft macabre civilized anthropophage.

Those are my favorite monsters to use. What are ones you guys like to use and how do you use them?

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Musings While in a Hurricane

I want to make a race of squat horned lizard people that live in the deserts and can shoot blood at enemies. It's so cool.

I think as far as my homebrew setting goes, I'm ready to detail the southern continent, which is based heavily on South America. I've always loved the wide amount of landscapes there, from rain forests and plains to mountains and salt flats. 

I want to use more creatures from American myths and folklore in my games, both Pre-Columbian and Post. There's some fun stuff there that can breath some life into a setting where kobolds are bog standard.

With Axioms #3 out, I'd love to run a kingdom building game, but the players are the forces of 'Chaos'. i.e. they are tribes of nomads, hunter-gatherers, and chiefdoms that are fighting back against the encroaching forces of a mighty empire. I'm thinking this will be in that southern continent from above, and the empire will be based on the Inca Empire. I'll probably make some tribe generator for players who want their backstory and clan more involved.

I like the naming conventions of various Amerindian groups, where they use a verb to describe the person or creature. I learned about this a decade ago when I read about Sitting Bull, and was reminded by noism of Monsters and Manuals. A later blog will be about a creature called "walks-like-man".

I need a list of names for NPCs.

I like Beyond the Wall. I know people generally don't like spending time on character creation, but for me, it's half the fun. And most OSR games don't really do it for me in that regard. Plus, I don't like rolling for stats (sorry DCC, I tried!). Beyond the Wall really makes character creation fun again, and it even makes rolling stats fun to me. Plus, I like having that bond between characters in games.

Druids don't really hate civilization per se, but see it as a symptom to what ultimately separates man from nature; unchecked ambition. Only man has that drive and determination to transcend surviving and thriving and instead command and exploit nature. Druids hate that.

I love rolling dice and all, but I'd like to use playing cards and dominoes in D&D. I could see doing a dungeon generator or NPC mapping with dominoes. And cards would be awesome for backstory generation. I was inspired in part by Scenic Dunnsmouth.

Here's a 1d30 table for when you roll a hurricane on your weather chart and need a category

1-10:   Category 1 (74-95 mph wind)
11-18: Category 2 (96-110 mph)
19-24: Category 3 (111-130 mph)
25-28: Category 4 (131-155 mph)
29-30: Category 5 (156+ mph)

Alright, the storm is close to landfall. Time to buckle down, get cozy, and drink some rum.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Exploring and the Untamed Wilderness

Wilderness exploration is very popular in OSR games. I absolutely love it. It allows for different, unrestricted adventures that you sometimes can't do in more urban adventures thanks to that pesky law enforcement and social customs. There is also a great feeling when you discover something hidden away that no one else has found. Exploration is great fun, but we can definitely improve on it. 

Yosemite Valley

A Populated Wilderness

I briefly touched upon this in my alignment blog post, but I think it bears repeating here. I'm not really a fan of always evil creatures. I think it limits options that players can take when encountering these creatures. I like the idea of players parleying with goblins and trolls, but many times, that option gets tossed aside in favor of razing and looting because they are evil. It's why I ditched the classical alignment and I ditched XP for only combat.

In addition, I think sometimes as GMs, we may focus more on dangers too much. Everything wants to kill, exploit, or betray the PCs and destroy what they've accomplished, so there's really no reason to stay attached to one area or trust NPCs. A lot of times it's because conflict brings adventure, and it adds to the gritty atmosphere of a dangerous world. But we often forget that even in dark times, there are still good people that wish to help out those in need. And when things are rough, you can see people come together and heroism shine through. I think that's why it's important to have allies and friendly NPCs to contrast the bleakness of the setting.

Zhangjiajie National Forest Park
How does this tie into exploration? Well, in the real world, the untamed wilderness wasn't as untamed as we like to think. In North America, for example, there was hamlets scattered across the wilds and signs of a human touch everywhere. When Lewis and Clark made their rounds to explore the newly acquired land, they encountered many of these bands of travelers and villagers that would help them in their quest. Across the pond, we can look at Germany during the Roman era on, which had several tribes and homesteads amidst the wide expanse of forest. So no matter where you go, there will eventually be a group of people you can encounter.

Cenote in Valladolid
So, what does this mean? Well, one negative to exploration games in the wilderness is the lack of NPCs that you can encounter. Generally, you find some cool landmarks, survive the elements, and kill some monsters. And if you find a sentient creature, it's generally an orc or goblin lair that gets razed and looted. So, having an encounter of a homestead or a small camp would open up the chance for the social scenarios that you would expect in a more urban campaign. Maybe you befriend a tribe of drow with gifts, or take a test of manhood with a clan of orc raiders. They can help guide you around the land, telling of rumors and landmarks in the area.

Mongolian Steppe
And speaking of landmarks, special areas of interest can be great encounters for players exploring the wilderness. Discovering a large cenote with hidden treasure in it, or an ancient monument with hidden power, or anything else can be a great break from the combat slog as long as it is interesting. A beautiful cliffside could house a magic item, or some treasure, or it could be a cool spot for a player wanting to make a castle. I like to look up landscapes of places on Earth to get some creative ideas of what the players can get to. Getting some focus on the awe inspiring parts of nature can be a great contrast to the constant threat of surviving Mother Nature.

Mount Cook, NZ
Beyond meeting mortals and landmarks, there is also magic and spirits that the players can encounter. Spirits of nature can be a bane or boon to the player, depending how they act. Elder animals that have lived for decades and become spirit creatures can provide great scenarios for adventurers. Faeries, elementals, talking animals that have long been extinct, dinosaurs... it's a magic world, so go crazy with it! It's why I have my Wild Primeval mechanic in my hex games for. Inject some crazy into the world and see how the players like it.

The Matterhorn
Basically, there's more to exploring than just a hex map with a wandering monster table. Don't get me wrong, killing monsters is always fun, and as a player, I love overcoming tough challenges out in the world of D&D. But I think as GMs, we can get creative and think about more than what can we can throw to kill our players. Sometimes a cool adventure is as simple as discovering what's in the next hex. Also, enjoy some more pictures of landscapes and landmarks.
The Painted Desert
Great Blue Hole, Belize
Old Man of the Mountain, 2003

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Inheriting Stats

Resting from the house renovations, packing for the move, and hurricane preparations. Was pondering about a lineage kingdom builder game, where the players can give birth to heirs and eventually play as them. So I came up with a simple mechanic to pass on your stats to you next of kin.

Source (DeviantArt)

Everybody Loves Punnet Squares

This builds off of a punnet square like from high school biology. Take both parents and identify their highest and lowest stat. The highest stat is called the peak and the lowest stat is called the weak. Next, place these stats on the square as listed below. 

Now, whenever a child is born, roll a d4 to see which stats they inherit. After that, just roll for the other stats normally. And you are essentially done! You could also use this as a dice drop method easily if that's what you prefer. It's all up to you. I personally have the stat limit as 18 and I wouldn't let magic item's stat boost apply for this. I feel that would be a tad broken.


If both parents have the same stat as their peak and you get a result of PP, then you simply roll a d12.

1-4    Take the average (round up)
5-8    Take Parent 1's peak
9-12  Take Parent 2's peak

If the first parent has a peak stat that is a weak stat for the second parent and you get a result that would give you both, roll a d12. 

1-4    Take the average (round up)
5-8    Take the peak stat
9-12  Take the weak stat

Example: Quinn and Rose both want children. Quinn has Dex (18) as his peak stat, while for Rose, Dex (6) is her weak stat. They have one child named Darius. The square is set up below:

The players roll a 2, getting Dex for peak and weak. Now the player must roll a d12 to see what they get. If the player rolls a 1-4, then they take the average for their Dex stat. In this case, that value is 12. If they roll a 5-8, then Darius would take his dad's value for Dex, 18. If they rolled a 9-12, then Darius would take his mother's value for Dex, 6. Finally, Darius would roll normally for his other stats.

And that's it. Some basic hereditary trait rules. I'll probably throw in some rules for inbreeding later down the road, if players pursue that. I plan on using this for a kingdom building game where having an heir and playing as one is not only desirable, but a mechanical benefit.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Different Take on Alignment

Truth be told, alignment has never been something I liked. People arguing over what is good and what is evil, wars between law and chaos, detect spells, always evil races. Nothing about alignment really appeals to me. I don't think that people are wrong for liking alignment. It's just not my jam. I feel the alignment axis constricts stories a bit too much. I like the idea of clerics of a good god doing evil in their name, but you can't really do that with alignment the way it is. Not to mention the philosophical questions. If evil is a palpable thing, then is killing evil creature wrong? Should a paladin fall from killing a drow that has done nothing because they are always evil? It's kind of a headache. Also I really just can't get into Law vs Chaos. It doesn't really inspire me like it does others. And let's not get started on chaotic stupid evil PCs.

In addition, I like the idea of the darker, evil gods being facets of everyday life. It's something you saw with polytheistic religions. People prayed to dark gods to spare them, or perhaps the evil god had dominion over something that we use every day. Tezcatlipoca is a great example of this. He was a destroyer and a fairly evil god, but people still built temples to honor (or fear him). Tezca also had dominion over magic and was the patron deity of nobility. So instead of having clerics of Quetzalcoatl routing out cults of Tezcatlipoca, you'd instead have luxurious grand temples dedicated to the Smoking Mirror. I really like that idea of an 'evil' god (certainly not a nice god) having a large sway over civilization without damning worshipers to Hell.

Also can't say I'm a fan of Always Evil races. I feel it restricts your options when encountering monsters, since most players see Always Evil and keep their options to kill and loot. And you can't really blame them. In D&D, evil and chaos are palpable things. If something is always evil and known to be always evil (like drow, orcs, etc), then there is probably the best thing you can do. Sure you kill a bunch of orcs and goblins, but think of the potential human lives you save by doing it. I like the idea of players deciding to negotiate with orcs, parleying with dragons, and redeeming demons. Keeping that option open is pretty nice and can be refreshing when players make new, monstrous allies.

Still, there is value to having tags that describe your character. Ones that can help as a sort of rubric to see what your character's personality and reactions to situations would be like. But flexible enough where you aren't beholden to them and can simply change them as your character grows. So I've through out classic alignment and I use Motives, Nature, and Methods, or MNM. It's good if you just want some quick and sweet descriptor about your character and don't have the time or inclination to make a backstory.

Sorry, wrong one
Motives are tied to who benefits from your actions. Natures are you natural tendencies. Methods are how you carry out your desires and achieve your goals. You come up with your character's personality, and then pick which three tags from each category best fit them. The seven tags are listed below:

  • Altruistic (Motive): Altruistic people tend to think about other people, doing things to help them out regardless of the outcome for themselves. Some are self sacrificing, while others on the more extreme end believe the good of the many outweigh the good of the few.
  • Conforming (Nature): Those that conform tend to go with the flow, rarely deviating from the norm. They are more comfortable with sticking to the status quo, since to them, that's what has worked.
  • Mercenary (Motive): Mercenary people think about themselves, perhaps extending that to a small group of people. Many may just want to live a good life, avoiding other people's conflicts, while the more extreme may only care about others that have some value to them.
  • Pragmatic (Motive, Nature, & Method): Pragmatism is based on logic and efficiency. Morals may or may not weigh in on how to achieve a goal. Pragmatists are comfortable using most means necessary to achieve their goals without getting into extremes.
  • Principled (Method): The principled are bound to a code, personal or not. Bound by honor or ego, the principled tend to stick to this code when achieving their goals. It's a big deal if a principled character breaks their code.
  • Ruthless (Method): Those that are ruthless have no qualms with overkill, and will do whatever it takes to survive and win. Lie, cheat, steal, kill... few things are taboo to them.
  • Unorthodox (Nature): Unorthodox people tend to go against the grain. Tradition can be stifling and only through innovation can they accomplish their goals.
So I can make a character that is Altruistic, Conforming, and Principled. Or Mercenary, Pragmatic, and Ruthless. Or any crazy combination of these. Altruistic, Unorthodox, Ruthless sounds pretty fun.

Note that good and evil are purposefully unattached to these tags. That is because people of any moral compass can actually have similar motives, natures, and methods. A good person can be Ruthless and Mercenary, and evil acts can be done by an Altruistic and Principled person. It's up to the player to fill in the specifics. Like alignment, this is meant to be a spectrum. Unlike alignment, there are absolutely no mechanics that are tied to your motives and methods. There is no detect altruism or protection from ruthlessness. You won't fall because you decided to become mercenary or pragmatic. There is detect fiend and summon celestial, so those spells that do those things are still very useful without giving away a bad guy NPC.

As for divine casters, I have faith play the most important part in casting. The cleric must have absolute faith in their god and the tenants of their deity. Note deity instead of church. I like the idea of heresies of the same religion fighting each other. Schisms are great adventure fodder. Now with faith, I do intend to have a Stress/Fear style of rolls for situations. And if a cleric fails their fear roll, then their faith wavers and bad things happen. More on that another time.

These tags can change, especially when the chips are down. In film and literature, there are plenty of examples of characters who, when the going got tough, they defied their normal motives and methods. Han Solo, normally mercenary, comes in to save Luke during the Death Star trench run. Whereas Frodo, normally altruistic, dons the ring at the very end. Remember that you dictate your motives, natures, and methods, not the other way around. 

I've used this for a couple of games in the last year and a half and it really works well. It's helped to have players shape how their characters work in the game world without having to worry about falling or such. I definitely want to expand on this more at some point, but I think right now, it's fine the way it is.

I had also considered a Passion axis with Zealous, Moderate, and Apathetic, but I think that is unnecessarily complicated. Plus, MNM has a better ring to it.