Friday, October 26, 2012

Dead Run: An RPG Mashup Inspired by Jim Jarmusch's Dead Man

There are lots of rules for rule conversions. Can we make a whole new game from an existing set of rules and a rule for plot conversion?

1) Use the rules from any edition of Deadlands, or any other RPG you are familiar with that includes rules that would cover a 19th Century/Wild West era. Games with relatively high PC mortality rates are probably the better choice in a tie breaker.
2) Ignore any rules that have anything to do with magic or the supernatural when creating characters.
3) Think of a plot that would work for a Shadowrun adventure, ideally one where magic isn't completely central to the plot.  Look here for ideas if you want.
4) Perform Plot Conversion:

  • Any journey in a car, truck, or other ground vehicle of under 100 miles is made by horse over a distance that is 1/10th as far.
  • Any journey by plane or helicopter becomes a journey by train of 1/10th that distance.
  • Any international air travel becomes a boat trip that takes 10x as many days to sail as it would take hours to fly.
  • Any reference to Elves, Indians, or Metahumans becomes a reference to Native Americans, Chinese immigrants, freed slaves, etc.
  • Sprawl residents become frontiersmen, slaves, prostitutes, etc.
  • Any data, blueprints, plans, etc., become account books, ledgers, contracts, papers, etc.
  • MacGuffin's become a more efficient steam engine, repeating rifle blueprints, account and ledger books unveiling fraud, rare ore samples, priceless European art, etc.
  • Super-powerful megacorporations referenced in the plot become powerful local interests that 'own the town', can get away with anything, and employ their own hired guns. Alternately they can be aristocratic European families or East Coast banking and railroad interests.
  • All PCs and NPC still have guns on them at all times. People being shot in the street or a running gun battle in an office building probably draws a few curious onlookers and maybe a short article in the paper tomorrow, but little more.
  • Lone Star becomes local sheriffs, Texas Rangers, U.S. Marshalls, the Pinkerton Detective Agency, etc.
  • NPC Physical adepts and street samurai become martial artists, bareknuckle boxers, or gunslingers. NPC Deckers become accountants. NPC Riggers become engineers (train or mechanical). NPC mages, shamans, and intelligent magical creatures (like Dragons) become highly educated aristocrats from Europe or the East Coast.
  • Cyberware becomes conventional melee weapons like knives and axes for bodyware, or journals, libraries, and specialized assistants (translators, copyists, valets) for headware.
  • Communication by net or phone becomes letters, sometimes sent through messengers (who can be trusted not to read the letters because they are illiterate).
  • Street gangs become claim jumpers, horse rustlers, bank robbers, etc.
  • The default setting becomes a nameless county in a federal territory west of the Mississippi instead of Seattle. Travel between locations within the city becomes travel through the countryside between small towns or isolated farms.
  • DocWagon contracts become pre-paid funerals.
Anticipated Questions:
What is this?: The intent for this game is a fairly gritty and 'real-world' Wild West game with a lot of opportunity for intrigue, violence, and general murderhobo behavior. Good choice for a sandbox game, maybe. The isolation of the Wild West and the power that money and violence brought make this setting (or at least its cinematic representation) a nice giant moral void where PCs have a lot of agency.

What is...:
  • Deadlands is a supernatural Wild West game; I picked it for the rule set because the names and range of options available for character creation (and task resolution) are already rooted in the 19th Century American West. There are stats and rules for revolvers, riding horses, etc. If you squint and ignore the supernatural stuff (essentially make all PCs and NPCs mundanes), you get a theme-appropriate rule set for building cowboys, bounty hunters, gunslingers, saloon girls, whiskey priests, etc.
  • Shadowrun is a supernatural cyberpunk game set in the (semi-)near future. A product of the go-go 1980's, it's setting is very concerned with the out-of-control growth of corporations and the eventual Japanese conquest of the commercial world (recent versions may have revised this to make it a little less dated, but I haven't really paid close attention since version 2 of the rules). Players typically take on the role of 'shadowrunners', deniable corporate assets who take on missions like swiping data from a rival, protecting executives from assassination attempts, assassinating rival executives, tracking down defectors, sabotage, debt collection, etc., for organized crime figures or powerful multi-national corporations. The world of the future is a sort of libertarian dystopia where everyone goes around discreetly armed and armored, corporations can make their own laws, and commercial disagreements occasionally erupt into running gun battles in the streets.
  • Dead Man is a 1995 film written and directed by Jim Jarmusch and starring Johnny Depp. It's been described as a 'surrealist Western'. It went over Roger Ebert's head. Go watch it and see if you're smarter than he is.
What other works convey the appropriate tone?: True Grit comes to mind- the new one with the Dude, not the old one with the Duke. Maybe the old one is fine too, I haven't seen it. O Brother Where Art Thou? could work if you're interested in more humor and less killing people and taking their stuff. Most Spaghetti Westerns and their imitators will also work in a pinch if they keep the fantastic elements to a minimum (i.e., if you're thinking of Wild Wild West  or Brisco County Junior you would probably be better off playing straight up Deadlands).

Why?: I watch a lot of movies late at night.

The numbers for converting a journey from one type of travel to another are off: That isn't a question. I made the numbers up in my head. Do some Googleing and calculate better ones, or just treat them as conceptual guidelines.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

WFRP: Chaos Gifts of Slaanesh

Some Chaos Gifts for followers of Slaanesh that I put together before the Tome of Corruption was released.

          Stained Glass Beauty:  Your personal charisma is such that the weak-willed find it difficult to contemplate harming you.  In melee combat, opponents must make a successful WP test to attack you, unless you have attacked them first.

            Animal Magnetism:  Regardless of your appearance, you have a powerful affect on others.  You gain a +20% bonus to Charm tests made against members of the opposite sex, and a +20% bonus to Intimidate tests made against members of your own gender.

            Tactile Sensitivity:  Slaanesh heightens the effect of your every sensation.  You suffer a 10% penalty to Initiative rolls and Perception tests, because the constant flow of sensation is somewhat distracting.  On the other hand, you gain a 10% bonus to Sleight of Hand, Pick Lock, and Agility-based Trade skills.

            Chemical Sensitivity:  You are an extremely cheap date, and have a wonderful time at parties.  Every alcoholic drink that you consume counts as two of the same type when determining drunkenness, and you take a 10% penalty to Willpower rolls to resist becoming addicted to drugs like Mandrake Root.  You gain a 10% bonus to Prepare Poison tests and any attempt to detect poison in your food or drink.

            Union of Pleasure and Pain:  The character becomes unable to distinguish serious pain from the most enthralling rapture.  For the 2 rounds immediately following an injury of any type, the character receives a +2% bonus to all tests for every Wound lost.  These bonuses do not stack; only the highest bonus available applies.  This bonus applies to self-inflicted wounds as well.

Add these to the random gift table in the Tome of Corruption or add them to your Champion as needed.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Myth & Magic: Q&D Trader Class

I'm considering doing some Dark Sun conversions for Myth & Magic. While poking through some of the old 2nd edition Dark Sun stuff, I was struck by the trader class.

Traders are pretty much like Bards, except that they have slightly more practical skills- they learn to buy and sell, appraise and bribe, etc., rather than just learning how to play the lute.

So here's how we make a rough (really rough!) Dark Sun Trader from a Myth & Magic Bard:

Weapons, attributes, armor, and other core features are all fine as they are. When in doubt, assume that the Trader works just like the Bard in terms of progression, HP, etc., until proven otherwise.

Bardic Knowledge: 'Trader Lore'. This ability makes perfect sense for the Trader, since they would be travelling around and hearing rumors, sharing stories with sources, joining caravans, etc.

Bardic Performance: Swap Performance for Diplomacy. Bardic Charm becomes Fast Talk and reflects the Trader talking his way out of sticky situations. You might even allow the Trader to offer bribes to receptive audiences to improve his chances of success. Counter Song becomes Bid Calling, and now relies on the Mercantilism proficiency instead of Performance. Traders, through long years barking orders and working auctions, have learned how to disrupt audible spellcasting through carefully timed and well-projected shouts and hollering (ever heard a live stock auctioneer in the South?). Inspire Allies becomes I Give the Orders- Traders generally are in the habit of coordinating the movements of drovers, porters, and other lackies and are able to effectively coordinate the movements of their allies in combat, or at least irritate the enemy with their constant hollering and complaining.

Rogue Skills: Replace Decipher Script and Perception with Mercantilism and Appraise.

Arcane Spell: Here we get into deeper water, as arcane magic is quite rare in the original Dark Sun setting. For my purposes (since psionics get on my nerves) rather than try and put together a complete psionics system for my campaign, I'm just going to alter the background of the setting to be more open to magic (though it is still quite mysterious), going for more of a Barsoom/psuedo-Vancian feel. In that setting, it seems not unreasonable that Traders would come across the odd tome of arcane lore and try their hand at a few labor saving (or profit improving) spells. Good spell choices here (I fell a random table coming on) would help make the Trader feel a little more distinct from the Bard- probably a more restricted selection of early spells, for instance.

Armored Caster, Activate Arcane Scrolls, & Activate Magic: Since we split the Solomonic baby regarding arcane spells, there's no need to change these abilities around now. Bardic Influence is also fine as-is.

Renown: Seems fine. There are some charts in the Dark Sun books if you want more interesting followers. These followers will be the Trader's agents, acting on his behalf as body guards, buyers, clerks, etc.

Legend: Again, fine as is. When the Trader dies, his heirs become filthy rich members of the permanent oligarchy and he gets his face on a bank note and a university named after him, instead of some crappy song.

At the upper levels, the Mercantile activities rules from Adventurer, Conqueror, King System will be your friend.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Huzzah for new Goblin Concept Art

Round two of the Goblinoid concept art for D&DNext is out today, and I have to say that I am pretty excited about it (both the cartoon and the actual sketch). I was a bit disappointed by the first round of sketches, particularly the Goblin sketch which looked too gorilla-y and orc-like for my taste. While there are always going to be nits to pick (sweet, delicious nits!), I would be perfectly happy is this became the 'canon' goblin style for D&DNext. In face, I snagged both images to add to my huge folder of goblin images that I keep on my computer for... whatever. Yes, I do have such a thing, and no, I don't know what it is for. I just like having it.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Myth & Magic: Random Starting Bard Spells

Bards get 1d4 spells at random two, either selected or random. Here's random:

1d20 RollSpell
2Change Self
3Comprehend Languages
4Detect Magic
5Dancing Lights
9Manipulate Flames
12Arcane Cantrip
13Audible Illusion
14Phantasmal Image
15Read Magic
17Charm Person
20Color Spray

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Animal Friends for Everyone

World building idea blatantly stolen from The Hobbit:

Every in-game race has an ancient alliance with a particular race of wild animals- a species of bird, for instance. Members of this race can automatically communicate with that species or type of animal. Animals of that type are not necessarily the companion or servant of that particular race, they just are cordial with one another and will help each other out if the opportunity presents itself and it isn't too inconvenient. Animals of that type will generally not attack members of their 'ally' race unless the animal is sick or starving to death. Animals of the appropriate type can be negotiated with to provide favors, but they are generally the type of favors that are covered by something the animal would already be likely to do.

Example pairings:
Elves - Robins, jays, swans and other similar birds
Gnomes - Burrowing mammals- moles, badgers, groundhogs, marmots, chipmunks
Dwarfs - Eagles; possibly bears
Goblins - Wolves and wargs
Orcs - Carrion crows
Humans - Non-wolf dogs and wild horses; hawks
Halflings - Mice and sparrows

Example Interactions: An elf could ask a blue jay to carry a message to another elf who lives within 1 days flight, or to pass the message on to another blue jay who can pass it on to whoever. A bird is going to be flying around all the damn time anyway, and doesn't need any incentive to pick one place over another. A wolf (who probably spends all day scouting his territory anyway) would tell a goblin when someone new has entered or left the territory he patrols, and what rumors he has heard through night-time howling from other packs. Violent animals might be willing to go along with their allied races in combat, but their goal is slaughter and feeding, not clearly defined strategic objectives. Carrion crows enjoy telling orcs things that will rile them up and get them out killing people because hey, free buffet. More complicated favors (things that involve doing something the animal would not normally do, like carry a rider or a message, fight someone, fly in bad weather would require convincing the same way you would need to convince or bribe a friendly stranger to do something. Particularly animals may become friends with an individual rather than just pleasantly disposed towards a particular race. Hunting or killing a member of your allied animal species gives you a bad reputation and makes it more likely your future requests will be refused.

It also occurs to me that the Alignment languages from the early versions of D&D could be used for this purpose- your ally species speaks the alignment language of your race- Chaotic Good for Elves, Lawful Good for Dwarves, Neutral for Humans, Neutral Good for Halflings, Neutral Evil for Goblins, Chaotic Evil for Orcs, Lawful Evil for hobgoblins, etc.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Taint as an Alternate Paladin Mechanic

Paladins are one of those classes that provoke a disproportionate amount of debate and/or hate. One of the big problems with Paladins is the use of alignment (a mechanic with a long history of pointless argument and other sturm and drang) to balance the extra goodies that Paladins get as a 'holy warrior' class. The need to maintain Lawful Good alignment and use only Good allies and henchmen can become a pain for the whole party; the Paladin player's choice of character ends up limiting what his fellow players can do and what concepts will work within the game. It might be great for high-immersion groups who are primarily interested in telling a good story, but as a game mechanism it's a source of tension and bother without an accompanying upside. If alignment is ignored (as 4e did, and as some DMs irritated by the whole thing certainly did in pre-4e), Paladins end up being rather flavorless- they're just a super-Fighter with magic powers.

The all-or-nothing nature of 'loosing' Paladinhood is also a particularly blunt instrument- either you're in the favor of your God, or you're not. There is no mechanic that reflects 'skating on thin ice' or a gradual descent into naughtyness- you're either one of the Divine Elect or you're a nobody. So here's an alternative:

Taint Points: Paladins start with a Taint score of zero. For every unlawful act they personally commit ('unlawful' in this case meaning out of alignment with the goals and values of the deity they serve), they gain one Taint point.

Taint Points in Play: Whenever a Paladin invokes a class ability, spell, or spell-like ability, roll 1d20. If the result is less than the current Taint score of the Paladin, the attempt to use the ability fails and that ability can not be used again that day until the Paladin has slept and prayed (i.e., the next time he has the opportunity to prepare spells for the day). This applies to casting spells, lay on hands, auras, turning undead, immunities, and other supernatural and spell-like effects, but not to base attack bonus/THAC0, level/attribute determined saving throws, weapon and armor use, etc.

Getting Rid of Taint Points: To get rid of Taint points, the Paladin must complete some action to bring himself back into the favor of his deity. This can include:

  • An Atonement spell cast by a cleric at least two levels higher than the Paladin. The cleric will likely require the Paladin to complete some task (possible a Quest/Geas) to earn the spell, but not one as complex as the quest option described below. The cleric may also require a donation to his or her temple.
  • Tithing 5% of the Paladin's current wealth to an appropriate temple. The donation can be cash or equivalent magic items/treasure. The donation must be for the use of the temple- the player/character can not, for example, donate treasure to a temple that is part of their own fortress or castle or donate to a temple that they are in control of. If you ordinarily give XP for class-appropriate treasure spending, the character receives no XP for this donation.
  • Undertaking a major quest for the appropriate deity or temple, for which the character receives no XP and donates all recovered treasure to the temple, might be worth wiping a Taint score back to zero.
  • Laboring under a vow for an appropriate amount of time. A god of war might want you to refuse using missile weapons for five combats. A god that protects the poor might want you to give generously to anyone who asks for money or other help for a month. Any god might accept fighting without magical weapons or armor for an appropriate number of combats or using crude and simple weapons (possibly ones that you are not proficient in) like daggers and clubs.

Monday, October 08, 2012

Semi-Random Starting Spells for Myth & Magic

Random character creation is good because it's fast and unpredictable. Picking spells for new wizards is bad because it's slow and you tend to only pick spells you already know how to use and can anticipate using. Totally random spell selection is a pain in the ass because you may end up with too many spells that do the same things (if you already know Magic Missile, as a level 1 Wizard are Shocking Grasp, Burning Hands and Shoot You In the Face really that useful?). Thus the following:

Starting Spell Selection: Wizards in Myth & Magic start the game knowing a number of spells equal to 1/2 their Intelligence, rounded down. In practice this means that you always start knowing between 5 and 10 spells.

All Wizards start play knowing Read Magic and Detect Magic. Use the guidelines and tables below to determine the rest of the spells in your spellbook.

5 Spells: Roll one time each on the Offense, Control, and Utility tables.
6 Spells: Roll once each on the Offense and Control tables, and twice on the Utility table.
7 Spells: Roll one time each on the Offense, Control, and Defense tables. Roll twice on the Utility table.
8 Spells: Roll once on the Offense and Defense tables, and twice on the Control and Utility tables.
9 Spells: Roll once on the Defense table. Roll twice on the Control, Utility, and Offense tables.
10 Spells: Roll once on the Defense table. Roll twice on Control and Offense tables. Roll three times on the Utility table. Enjoy being a Gnome.

Table 1: Offense Spells
1d10 RollSpell
1-2Burning Hands
3-4Chill Touch
5-6Gull’s Stone Storm
7-8Magic Missile
9-10Shocking Grasp

Table 2: Control Spells
1d8 RollSpell
1Charm Person
2Color Spray
Table 3: Defense Spells
1d4 RollSpell
1Arcane Armor
2Protection from Evil
3Thermoc’s Reflective Disc
4Thermoc’s Shield
Table 4: Utility Spells
1d20 RollSpell
2Change Self
3Comprehend Languages
4Dancing Lights
5Detect Undead
7Feather Fall
8Floating Disc
9Hold Portal
12Manipulate Flames
15Minor Cantrip
16Audible Illusion
17Phantasmal Image
18Spider Climb
19Unseen Servant

Friday, October 05, 2012

Google Trends: The Retroclones

It crossed my mind tonight that there is scant information out there about how big of a piece of the RPG market OSR-style gaming represents. We hear the occasional odds and ends in relation to Kickstarter print volumes vs. the economics of the big game publishers like Paizo and WotC, but beyond a vague idea that the OSR market is 'small', there isn't much information available. Despite its small size, the OSR community makes a lot of noise online. So I started plugging things into Google trends to see what I got.

Several surprising things:

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Support the Myth & Magic GM's Guide Kickstarter!

I posted recently about how much I'm loving New Haven Games' Myth & Magic, so I feel obligated to do my part in spreading the word about the Myth & Magic Gamemaster's Guide Kickstarter that launched last week. I'm already in as a supporter- they reached their funding goal in the first 25 hours and are now cruising towards hitting their $15k stretch goal, which will add stats for an extra 50 monsters to the Guide's bestiary. At $20k, a hard copy GM's screen unlocks for purchase.

Myth & Magic is a really nice system for anyone who enjoyed 2e play or likes the feel of 3e, but dislikes the accompanying complexity. As the post above describes, it puts together a lot of the things that I'd hoped would end up as part of D&DNext with a more retro feel that can easily be made to work for both dungeoncrawls and more narrative adventures. New Haven Games put together a great product for their Player's Guide kickstarter, so I fully expect to be similarly impressed by the art and organization of the new GM's guide.

Building a Random Dungeon with Central Casting

At some point in the past, I ended up with a copy of a Task Force Games product called Central Casting: Dungeons, a random dungeon construction module from the early 90's. Despite having had it in among my RPG gear for many years, I had never really used it in the way that it was intended- to generate a complete random dungeon- but had instead just browsed through it, maybe occasionally using a floor plan for a room to fit into an existing game. It always appeared needlessly complex- rolling for corridor lengths, rolling for random rooms, rolling for room sizes and treasure and encounters- and likely to produce nonsense results that, even for the RPG world, seemed implausible in a real structure.

Still, having recently gotten back more into dungeon crawl-style gaming, I decided to pull it out and give it a whirl. The results: it's just as much of a pain as I imagined. It creates results that are just as ridiculous as I imagined. I gave up on using it after an hour or so. And I still came out thinking it's a great product.