Monday, July 28, 2014

Library of Uthgarion [Mini-Map Monday]

The past two weekends I ran the Dungeon Crawl Classics adventure Sailors on the Sea of Fate for my home group. In the adventure, the players can find a map stitched into the hem of a discared cloak. This map is left for the GM to define.

So I defined it.


The map is inked on old brown lambskin with notes from unknown explorers and leads to something called "The Library of Uthgarion." Sages and sorcerers might know that Uthgarion was a wizrad of some power in Days of Old. The Black Chapel is a well-known landmark in the nearby city of Ghul-Midyan.


Monday, July 14, 2014

Beneath The Forest Shrine [Mini-Map Monday]

Another Monday, another map! This one has all my favorite elements--a mixture of natural and constructed chambers, underground rivers, bridges, etc. Drawn freehand with illustration pens on board.

Click it to big it!

Friday, July 11, 2014

D&D 5th Edition, Backgrounds, and 0-Level Characters

No kobolds is gonna' eat mah family, a'yup...
I have a soft-spot for 0-level characters. I love the apprentice cheesemaker, the blacksmith's son, or dirt farmer who rises from nothing and forges their own heroic destiny. It's one of the elements that I liked about Beyond the Wall; it's one of the things I love about Dungeon Crawl Classics.

Now we have D&D Fifith Edition (I refuse to call it D&D five-point-oh), and look what we have here--these groovy little things called Backgrounds. Backgrounds tell you what your PC did before they took up the life and class of an adventurer. They give you a couple of skills, some small special ability, and a handful of useful equipment.

Why, I bet you could make an eager young 0-Level character with just background and race. Let's do this thing!

(This, of course, only uses what I've seen in the Basic Rules PDF. The Player's Handbook might (probably will) monkey-wrench this whole thing).

Follow the normal steps for character creation, as found inthe Basic Rules, with a few modifications.

1) Choose Race
You get your normal stat mods and special abilities for your race. No change here. High Elves can sling cantrips, Mountain Dwarves can use medium armor, etc.

2) Choose Class
You're like school on Sunday---no class. Ipso-facto, you gain no armor, weapon, or tool proficiencies. No saving throws or skills either.
Your level is 0.
You start with 4 Hit Points + CON Modifier.
But you have no Hit Dice, which means you can't use HD to heal during a short rest.
Your Proficiency Bonus is +1, but since you have no weapon proficiencies or saving throws, it will only effect the skills and tools you get from your Background.
No class starting equipment, obviously.

3) Determine Ability Scores
Using whatever method you normally use. Make adjustments for race, too.

4) Details
At some point, go ahead and come up with your name, physical description, and other character details. You can pick you alignment now, but since your PC is still figuring out what his or her destiny is, the DM should be pretty flexible about you changing it later.

5) Choose Background
The Basic Rules PDF lists five Backgrounds: acolyte, criminal, folk hero, sage, and soldier. I expect to see more with future books.  Choose whatever Background appeals to you and/or sets you up for your future class.

You get all the benefits of Background that you normally would: skills, tools, equipment, and feature. Most of the backgrounds don't give your PC any weapons. You'll want to fix that. Roll 1d4 on the chart for your Background below to see what murder-tools your PC starts with.

Random Weapons for 0-Level PCs by Background
Acolyte
1) Quarterstaff
2) Mace
3) Cudgel (club) and padded armor
4) Heavy iron censer on chain (flail)

Criminal
1) Sling and 20 stones
2) Dagger leather armor
3) Shortsword
4) Handaxe

Folk Hero
1) Spear and barrel-lid shield
2) Pitchfork (trident)
3) Shortbow and 20 arrows
4) Woodaxe (battleaxe)

Sage
1) Quarterstaff
2) Dagger
3) 12 Darts
4) Cudgel (club)

Soldier
1) Dagger and longbow and 20 arrows
2) Dagger and pike
3) Spear and shield
4) Shortsword and padded armor

5) Hitting First Level
I haven't seen the Experience rules for D&D 5th Ed yet, so let's assume you start at -50 (negative fifty) XP--enough for a party of 4 to kill about a dozen kobolds, four encounters or so.  We can refine that when we see the actual XP rules.

When you hit 0XP, you can choose your first class.  At this time you get all your class's new proficeincies, skills, saving throws, and other special abilities.
Your Proficiency Bonus increases to +2
Your get your first Hit Die.
You HP increases to Hit Dice maximum +CON Modifier
You do not suddenly, magically acquire your class' starting equipment or money, but the GM should make an effort to have roughly-equivalent gear and cash available to your PC in a timely manner.


And that's it! Let's take a look at what a 5th Edition 0-level PC might look like. As you can see, Jack Apple here isn't quite as fragile as a DCC starting PC, but he's still a a bit green around the edges compared to a full-fledged D&D hero. Jack looks like he has a bright future as a fighter or even a cleric!


Jack Apple
Human, 0-Level Folk Hero, Neutral Good
AC: 12
HP: 5
Hit Dice: 0
Proficiency Bonus: +1

STR: 16 (+3)
DEX: 11 (+0)
CON: 13 (+1)
INT: 9 (-1)
WIS: 15 (+2)
CHA: 14 (+1)

Skills: Animal Handling, Survival
Tool Proficiencies: Carpenter’s Tools, Vehicles (land)

Attacks: Spear (+3 to hit, 1d6+3 damage)

Equipment: Spear, barrel-lid shield, carpenter's tools, shovel, iron pot, common clothes, belt pouch, 10gp

Background Feature: Rustic Hospitality


Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Why I'm in Love with Dungeon Crawl Classics (a pseudo-review)


Dungeon Crawl Classics has been on my radar for some time now (mostly because my friend BradMcDevitt does a lot of art for it) but it's only recently that I actually gave it a fair look. I remember looking through the beta test document and being totally turned off by the extra-funny funny dice (d5, d24, etc) and the seemingly needless complications brought by the gigantic spell effect charts attached to each individual spell. It all seemed needlessly complex and weird for the sake of being weird, so I avoided the game and stuck with Labyrinth Lord.

Some time passed, and DCC continued to pop up in the blogs I read and in Google+ discussions. The things people were doing with DCC sounded wonderfully strange and interesting—plane-hopping, alien frog gods, mutant sorcerers, cybernetic satyrs, all sorts of crazy-awesome stuff. Still, the book (even the PDF) were too expensive for me to casually pick up--not when I already had five or six perfectly serviceable OSR games in my collection.

Then the price of the DCC PDF dropped to $5 for DriveThruRPG's GMs' Day Sale. I really couldn't pass that up. I dropped a five-spot, uploaded the thing to my fancy new Kindle, and read the thing. Then a week later I went and bought the hardcover.

Oh my god, I love Dungeon Crawl Classics.

This isn't a review of DCC; there are plenty of those out there. Let me just tell you what sold me on the game.

The book is beautiful. Goodman didn't skimp on art. The book is chock full of illustrations by a number of artists, including classic D&D artists Jim Holloway and Erol Otus. I especially love Petter Mullen's full-color two-page underdark illustration in the back cover of the book.

Joe Goodman's writing is a delight to read. He is so very obviously excited about his game, and he badly wants to share it with you. Every paragraph could easily start with the phrase “Oh man! And then you get to...” It's infectious and charming.

The Funnel looks damned fun. I've always had a soft spot for 0-level characters. I like the story of peasant nobodies working their way up to heroes. I also love the merry slaughterfest of dozens of nameless plebes. The Funnel gives you both.

Mighty Deeds of Arms make warriors bad-ass and non-boring. In my experience with most (certainly not all) D&D-type games, playing a fighter usually degrades into “I roll to hit. Now I roll for damage” with little embellishment. Just a series of blows after blows. With Deeds, a warrior can (try to) do something amazing and cool with every single attack. Sundering weapons, shattering armor, knocking a defender prone, carving a Z on a guard's chest—all that is covered by Mighty Deeds of Arms. I love this. It makes every attack interesting. In a game that lacks a lot of customization options, developing Signature Deeds seems like a great way to make every fighter distinctive.

Magic is dangerous and weird and awesome. Wizards don't casually cast spells. Wizards channel the barely-controlled forces of primal chaos through their fragile bodies and souls. Spells are unpredictable and dangerous, but powerful. The risk of corruption and mutation is ever-present. It takes guts to play a wizard. When I (hopefully) run DCC, whoever plays a wizard is gonna get a high-five from me.

The system is familiar but different. Despite the vast number of random charts, DCC is relatively math-free and looks like it would run pretty smooth, especially for those of us who don't like a lot of fiddly rules. It's technically based on D&D 3.x, but it's heavily tweaked. When I eventually pitch DCC to my home group, I'm going to need to tell explain to them that while it's based on D&D, it plays different, especially in chargen. A 3rd-edition D&D character is a machine that you build, choosing bits and bobs to add and make it work better. A DCC character is a flower you grow, starting with a small seed and then nurturing it guiding it in play into something greater. Which leads me to...

Quest for everything! Hey player, do you wish your character could do something that it can't right now? Go quest for that thing! Sure, you're a cheesemaker-turned-cleric, but you really want to learn acrobatics. Well lucky for you, there's a circus is town. I bet they could teach you some tricks over the next few months. I'm sure those vaguely-sinister clowns won't cause any trouble. Wish your human could see in the dark? I bet there's a demon somewhere that would give you elf-eyes in exchange for just one small favor. Want to be as strong as Hercules? Why not go find Hercules and ask him for tips personally?

There's so much more that I love about DCC, but these are the things that stand out. Other than a single session on Google+ a year or so ago (well before I owned the book, and I didn't really understand what the heck was going on), I haven't had a chance to play DCC, much less run it. After I wrap my Dresden Files FATE game, I am probably going to pitch this to my home group. I hope I can convince the 3.x/Pathfinder veterans to give it a try.

Monday, July 7, 2014

My Tiny, Petty Quibble with Fifth Edition

I honestly like what I've seen of Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition. Depending how much the Player's Handbook changes things, it's shaping up to my favorite version of “official” D&D.

I like that it tossed out a lot of what I felt was unnecessary dross and bloat of the last 2 ½ editions. I like the simplicity of the new system. I like the lack of math. I love the simple elegance of Advantage/Disadvantage.

I like the binary “you have it or you don't” nature of the very short list of skills.

I love that D&D 5th Ed pretty much adopted the magic system from Adventurer Conqueror King.

I love, love, love Backgrounds. They remind me of Kits from 2nd Edition and goshdarnit I liked Kits!

I even like using Hit Dice to heal and recovering all your HP after a good night's rest. It means no one is “forced” to play the healer (says the guy that actually likes playing clerics).

But...

After games like Lamentations of the Flame Princess and Carcosa and Dungeon Crawl Classics, D&D 5th Ed, as presented so far, looks so... darn... boring.

After alien, demon-bound elves, dangerously mutative sorcery, 1st level Summoning spells that can shatter the universe with a bad roll, and so many robots, D&D 5th Ed comes across as so safe and dull. High Elves safely slinging magic missiles at goblins and Mountain Dwarves swinging warhammers at orcs. Ho hum...
Gentlemen, madam, we meet again.
Now, I understand that D&D is presented as a vanilla, mostly-setting-free system, but so was LotFP and DCC. I know we've only seen the Basic PDF and a couple of adventures, but I really doubt that the upcoming core books are going to tweak up the weird. Maybe I'm wrong. I hope I'm wrong.

Can't I just “strange-up” and "danger-up" a potential D&D 5th Ed game on my own? Well, yeah, of course I can, and it would be really fun to do, too.

But for now, while I really like the new version of D&D, it doesn't just doesn't get excited.

I mean, I'm still 80% likely to order the core books, but...

The Islands of Purple-Haunted Putrescence--A Review

When I call +Venger SatanisThe Islands of Purple-Haunted Putrescence sleazy and trashy, please realize that I don't mean that as a bad thing. TIoPHP (which I shall pronounce "tee-OH-fip") is what you'd get if Troma made a Carcosa movie and aired it on USA Up All Night
Man, the 90s were a long time ago...
It's a psychotropic hexcrawl across a trio of islands full of trashy sex monsters, sleazy sorcerers, and alien robots.

Some people might be offended by stuff in TIoPHP, especially regarding how women are treated on the Islands. For me, though, the “offensive” stuff went all the way around the corner until it came right back around to “ridiculous” (and ridiculous is cool). Getting offended by TIoPHP would like getting mad at Hell Comes to Frog Town or pissed off by GWAR.
This guy would fit right in on the Islands.
So let's look at this thing. The book and PDF are decently laid out with a couple of white-space quirks that will probably only annoy layout wonks like me. VS had a contest on his blog that got a number of people (myself included) to contribute art to the project. It means that TioPHP has a lot of art in a wide a variety of styles. I like this, as it displays several different interpretations of the Islands' weirdness. Dyson Logos provides several nifty dungeon maps, ready for the GM's to populate with their fever-dreams nightmares.

Lookit that art.... LOOK AT IT!!!
The first part of the book contains a number of optional rules for use in this module and elsewhere. There are charts for unstable magical effects and some damn nifty charts for magical swords. There's also a new take on the monk class that includes the power to explode enemies' brains. My favorite part of this section is the "Flashbacks."

Flashbacks remind me a lot of “bonds” in Dungeon World, which heavily influenced the “histories” section I wrote for Hobomancer Companion. With “flashbacks” each PC rolls a random, short vignette from their past. The GM reads it, then asks “What did you do?”

For instance...

8) Your sister Venissa just gave birth to a baby boy. The first to visit her after the delivery, you notice the infant has a third eye – on the back of his left calf. Venissa hasn’t noticed yet. This is a superstitious and godfearing city. Such strange deformities have ruined greater families than yours.

The player's answer gives them a cool bit of history and a peek into their personality. I really dig this sort of thing.

The next section covers the history of the Islands and the discusses the Purple Putrescence itself—an alien, violet-hued quasi-god that hovers over the island and occasionally accosts, abducts, or mutates the inhabitants. There are many different faction on the Islands, and each one gets a nicely detailed overview of their membership, goals, resources, and desires. The book also provides a sizable list of adventure hooks and other reasons for a band of adventurers to come to these blighted islands.

The biggest and best part of the book is the hex descriptions. This is where things get really crazy. Almost every hex on the map of the three Islands has one or two bizarre occupants, weird phenomenon, or uncanny locale. The PCs might run into meth-addled mutant bikers, time-displaced porn stars, killer robots, alien explorers, undead dinosaurs, or despicable worm cultists. Most of these threats have powerful magic and deadly weaponry that can totally ruin the PCs' day if they aren't crafty. It's Carcosa by way of Monstervision, and it's a damn fun read.
I imagine this is a pretty tame tally for a TIoPHP session
One of my favorite entries is the Shiny Demon, a Tenacious-D inspired encounter with a strangely affable demon who challenges the PCs to a music contest and rewards their victory with a pleasant feast and some sage advice. My other favorite is Pale Lips, White Eyes, a creepy encounter with a group of strange pilgrims wandering in a circle, muttering about "the Star Child.". If the PCs talk to them, only one of the humanoids will answer, but his mouth will make nothing but slug-sounds. An hour later, a baby will teleport from space into humanoids' midst. The pale humanoids will take the baby through a secret hatch, into the Island's underworld, and give the child to a demon. End of story. It's weird, and strange, and unexplianed, and I love it. 

While most hexes get large write-ups of their environments and inhabitants, a few have nothing more than few words. Simply “crashed spaceship” or “there is a wrecked pirate ship below the water” and that's it. This is my single biggest criticism of TIoPHP. There aren't many hexes like this, but surely there could be a little more in depth and description to these places.  At least give me a goopy monster or something. After reading about the Flames of Dahkaar or the Amazing Larry, it's disappointing to come to a hex whose sole entry is “Water.”

Overall, I enjoyed The Islands of Purple Haunted Putrescence, and I'm glad I gave it my money. I don't know if I'll ever use the hex-crawl setting as a whole, but I can certainly see grabbing various factions and hex descriptions to toss into several different games. Now that I think about it, mashing up TIoPHP with Planet Motherfucker might be a damn fun experiment.