Thursday, April 30, 2015

Lucifer

Lucifer is at the bottom of every encounter table in Albion. He is in the streets and in the dungeons, in parlors and tombs and dreams. He is unfathomably evil and incalculably powerful, but not all that difficult to deal with. Lucifer is the architect of human sin and warden of every wicked soul to ever die; the idea of wanton destruction for its own pleasure lost its luster several epochs ago. Ultimately, Lucifer is bored; he is possibly the most bored being in existence. He responds well to the amusing and poorly to the tedious, and will grant a Wish to either if he thinks the results will be interesting enough. When encountered in the field, he will converse and observe, but not intervene; however, he will often agree to officiate or judge contests and wagers.


Lucifer has stats as a Baalroch/Balrog/Balor and can cast Wish at another's behest. In normal circumstances, he wears fine white clothes and possesses the wings of a bat. In a fight, he is as large as is convenient, though never bigger than a storm giant, and appears as an armored man bathed in excruciating actinic radiance.

His incarnation can be destroyed for a time, but killing him in truth, if it is even possible, requires a great deal more than a simple fight. A player whose character makes a deal with Lucifer can henceforth choose Cleric of Lucifer as the class of new characters, even if the original deal-making character died.

Clerics of Lucifer cannot cast reversed Cleric spells. They can Turn Undead as normal, allowing their patron to reclaim the fugitive souls of  the damned. Their only commandment is Don't Be Boring.

"The father of every misfortune"

This is the first of what I hope to be many reviews--many of the books I've purchased over the last few years are quite good, and warrant all the attention they get, and more. Today, I'll be reviewing Dreams of Ruin, a setting book describing the Forest of Woe, a cosmic/planar threat for high level campaigns. It's by Geoffrey C Grabowski, who seems to be making a jump to the OSR from Exalted. As a heads up, I did receive a review copy.

Dreams of Ruin is currently undergoing a kickstarter. It is going to be released on May 15 under a restrictive Creative Commons license, but will be available under more generous terms depending on how well the kickstarter goes.

The primary drive for this setting is the Forest of Woe, which is a self-propagating curse or a self-casting spell or an infectious metaphor induced to intrude upon reality. In practice, it is a monster-filled pseudo-forest that grows until it covers and destroys an entire world, hopping from one plane of existence to the next. It was created by something like a magical Manhattan Project that was also a sort of alt lit Masonic ritual. The beginning of the book has a full script of this ritual, so here's an excerpt:


This is Dreams of Ruin at its best. A great idea, cool implementation, something explicit and player-facing you can drop into a game (DoR suggests as a vision if someones casts Legend Lore, but they could also unearth it as a script or it could turn into a freaky reoccurring dream/motif/whatever.) All of the monsters are like this, too. Here's a bit about the trees that make up the Forest of Woe:

 

 Awesome! There's also
  • giant hand-spiders described as "the wind-up strangler-priests of the forest running on broadcast power"
  • a magically projected anti-pattern that prevents institutions from effectively dealing with the Forest
  • an entire section on magical social engineering
  • animate puppets that act out Grand Guignol murder sprees on each other
  • murderous sprites with various modes of behavior, controlled by the drugs the Forest provides them. 
All of which are either really cool, really usable, or both.

Unfortunately, Dreams of Ruin is not like this all the way through. The Forest of Woe is an act of primal malice, rolling down from antiquity with glacial inevitability, but Dreams of Ruin consistently presents it in a really fussy, actuarial manner. It spends many pages discussing ways to deal with the ever-expanding forest, but does so with charts like this:


Yes, it has a column for how much volume your Divine Ichor source is outputting. This is the key frustration of Dreams of Ruin--it has things like using fountains of god-gore to sanctify and destroy a cursed forest (COOL), but then requires the use of lots and lots of fussy math and book-keeping (NOT COOL).

One of the most egregious examples of this is research. Players can learn more about the Forest and how to fight it or use it by investing in research laboratories. An example project is researching spores--to do so, players must build a device to trap the spores in a Temporal Stasis bubble that still allows researcher to magically probe it. To construct this device, players must spend 2.5 million gold pieces and have access to the spells Arcane eye, chain lightning, continual light, dispel magic, ESP, floating disc, maze, limited wish, magic aura, prismatic sphere, secret chest, telekinesis, permanency, imprisonment, spiritwrath, and identify.

This is just way, way, way too much. Every single topic of the Forest, from the different kinds of creatures to the trees to the spores to its various magical effects, has its own set of required spells and a lengthy explanation of how the lab works. On top of that, players must choose if they are conducting Arcane, Divine, or Druidic research, each of which yields different discoveries. The discoveries themselves aren't that helpful---much of the time the DM has to decide how these revealed bits of knowledge are actually helpful, which is barely more useful than not putting them in the book at all. To compound all of this, the Forest itself has its own complex lifecycle of shedding monsters and spreading at various speeds, so the DM and players have to figure out how much research they can get done before the situation gets worse.

The methods of confronting the forest are equally complex--aside from the infinite holy water fountain table, there's charts on how many Geases clerics and magic-users of various levels can cast per day to create an authoritarian society immune from the stultifying effects of the Forest, and tables that enumerate the percent reduction of productivity when a society uses various means to inoculate itself agains the Forest's curse.

Everything is just this huge tangle of complicated timelines and rules and costs, not only constrained by the elaborate and interconnected schedules of research periods and Forest growth but occluded by huge amounts of information that isn't of obvious use to DM or player.

I'm also not a huge fan of the way magic is presented in this game. Grabowski took all of the magic rules as written in Labyrinth Lord at perfect face value and then extrapolated them until he reached a sort of Vancian industrial age. It's interesting, but requires a very deep knowledge of Dungeons and Dragons and doesn't really allow for many other conceptions of the supernatural. DoR includes suggestions on what to do if the game is taking place in a low magic setting, but in games with a more fairy tale or mystical flavor, much of DoR doesn't really work.

Dreams of Ruin is a book with a lot of good stuff that you can drop into your game. The ritual, the ecology of the Forest, and the basics of research are all things you can use as starting points for more usable mechanics, as well. However, it would be a real challenge to use Dreams of Ruin as written to run the Forest of Woe, and would likely require as much if not more preparation than if you decided to come up with rules of your own to support the books premise. At the end of the day, Dreams of Ruin is the rare kind of game book that is actually useful as inspiration.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Equipment List

There are a million million ways to distinguish weapons that deal the same amount of damage, especially in OD&D-likes, where just about everything deals d6. I like that simplicity, though, so I'm favoring weapon differentiation to be social--if you bring a barbarian's axe to a noble wedding, people are going to look at you funny, and if you're wearing a diamond-studded dragoon helm in the bad part of New Londinium, everyone's going to think they can eat you for breakfast.

Albion Specials
  • Goat, sacrificial; £30: If sacrificed and offered to a nearby supernatural creature, the petitioner can retry their reaction roll
  • Mummia, £10: allows the consumer to make a saving throw to overcome a single curse or disease.
  • Carbide Lamp, £10
  • Carbide canister, £5
  • Quietus, £150: the victim must make two saves; if they fail the first, they become infatuated with the first person they see. If they fail the second, they die instantly and painlessly.
  • Tintype camera,  £150
  • Tintype sheets (6), £10
Grimoires 
Albion is filled with knowledge. Most of it is wrong. Grimoires are books filled with riddles, aphorisms, parables, inscrutable diagrams, obscene marginalia, and a smattering of actual information. A character with such a book has an x-in-6 chance of being able to determine the correct answer to a question pertaining to the grimoire's subject. Each grimoire has a different chance-in-6, but it never exceeds 4. Characters with 15 or greater Intelligence have a +1 bonus to grimoire checks. The Referee makes grimoire rolls in secret, and on a failure, the research attempt yields deceiving, incomplete, or nonsensical results. Grimoires with broad subjects like Angelology or Botany can be easily purchased (£100 for a 1-in-6 grimoire, with an additional £20 for every additional +1-in-6 chance). More specific texts, such as biographies of greater fairies or monographs on particular dragons, can cost many hundreds or thousands of pounds sterling.

Light armor 
-1[+1] AC, costs £15
  • Girdle (fairy)
  • Goetic scrawls* (noble)
  • Woad* (Britonnic)
  • leather cuirass (vagabond)
  • Greatcoat (New Londoner)
*require the wearer to be mostly naked. Can be permanently tattooed for £150.

Medium Armor
-2[+2], costs £30
  • Filigree Armor (fairy)
  • Bone china cuirass (noble)
  • Enamel breastplate (New Londoner)
  • Hides (Britonnic)
  • Roman lamellar (vagabond)
Heavy Armor
-3[+3], costs £50
  • Gilt half-plate (fairy)
  • Ivory half-plate (noble)
  • Carapace half-plate (New Londoner)
  • Coin armor (Britonnic)
  • Lorica plumata (vagabond)
Supplemental Armor
-1[+1], costs £20
  • Shield (fairy)
  • Mask (noble)
  • Helm (New Londoner)
  • Torc (Britonnic)
Light Weapons
d6-1 damage, easily concealed or disguised, costs £5
  • Misericorde(fairy)
  • Press-on claws (noble)
  • Brass knuckles (New Londoner)
  • Athame (Britonnic)
  • Pugio (vagabond) 
Medium Weapons
d6 damage, one handed, costs £10
  • Thistle club (fairy)
  • Rapier (noble)
  • Pistol (ranged) noble
  • Saber (New Londoner)
  • Gladius (vagabond)
Large Weapons
d6+1 damage, two handed, costs £10
  • Sewing needle (fairy)
  • Longbow (ranged) (fairy)
  • Rifle (ranged) (New Londoner)
  • Axe (Britonnic)

Friday, April 17, 2015

In the Lambent Gardens

The God of the Earth pointcrawl turned into something else and it's super fun to write so here's some NPCs and monsters and stuff in it.


The Gardens of Lambence
There is a garden where the flowers bloom forever, where nothing ever grows or dies, where everything waits in the quiet light of an eternal blue hour. These Gardens of Lambence are a cursed place, raised up from the wilderness by two beings of ancient and wicked power: the Evening Prince, who is both sorcerer and vampire, and the Countess of Broken-heart, who counts herself among the lords and ladies of Faerie. They have grown to hate each other in their immortality, but neither can raise a hand against the other; by the laws of the fairies and the laws of the dead, the Gardens belong equally to both. 
Encounter Table
  1. d6 Evening Consorts, +2 to Reaction rolls
  2. Heart-break Courtiers, +2 to Reaction rolls 
  3. Chambliss, make a Reaction roll every encounter 
  4. The Evening Prince will arrive at this location next Turn; d6 anxious Consorts arrive and beg the players to leave or hide (unless the players have already caused trouble in the Gardens, in which case they try to kill the party as neatly and quickly as possible)
  5. The Countess of Broken-heart will arrive at the location next Turn; d6 anxious Courtiers arrive
    and beg the players to leave or hide (unless the players have already caused trouble in the Gardens, in which case they try to kill the party as neatly and quickly as possible)
  6. Roll twice
The Countess of Broken-heart
HD 9 Speed human
Armor as
leather Attack none 
Morale 8 Alignment Chaotic

Wolves proclaim her arrival and foxes bear her train: the Countess of Broken-heart, her dress the purple of beaten flesh, her high crown fashioned from black horn. A single red scar mars the pallor of her face, and all who knew or asked whence it came are now ashes.

The Countess of Broken-heart has spent the long years of her feud with the Prince devising tortures of such complexity and cruelty that they give pause to even Lucifer, her dearest friend and weekly chess-partner. Her rage is so great because she already possesses the instrument of the Prince’s destruction, but cannot use it. Years ago, the Prince vitrified the angel Suriel when it attacked him in his own Gardens. The Countess can free Suriel to complete its murderous mission without violating any of the rules of hospitality, but she shall not so long as the Prince holds her lover hostage.
  • Glamor: The Countess can alter the seem­ing of a creature of object nearby. Glamors perfectly fool all the senses, but cannot effect true change. Glamor-swords hurt and seem to wound, but never quite manage to kill; glamor-horses gallop across the landscape, but their rid­ers find that they never get anywhere. Anyone who interacts with a glamor is entitled to a saving throw to see through the illusion.
  • Polymorph: Once a day, the Countess can transform an object or creature with fewer HD than herself into any non-magical animal. The victim may make a saving throw to resist the transformation, but if they fail, they turn into a creature with their knowledge and personality until the effect is dispelled.
  • Fairy-magic: The Countess is a fairy and has all the corresponding powers and weaknesses. As a noble, she can cast spells as a 9th level magician; she knows 5 Psychomancy and 4 Elementalism spells.
The Evening Prince
HD 9 Speed human
Armor as
chain Attack rapier 
Morale 9 Alignment Chaotic

He speaks very softly and smells of the lilies woven into his coat, but his shadow drags behind him as heavy and luxuriant as a cape of sable. The Evening Prince was a magician of prodigious talent when his heart yet beat, and now even the gentlest of his speech makes the air shiver with what he might do.

The Evening Prince wants to kill the Countess. He hates her down to the cold marrow of his bones, hates that she lives in the Gardens as if they were hers. He knows she hates him too, so he turned her favorite consort into a nightingale and locked her away in his chambers inside a golden cage. The Countess cannot harm him so long as he has her lover, for fear of losing her forever.
  • Vitrify: Once a day, the Prince can conjure a giant spar of smoked quartz around a creature with fewer HD than himself. The victim may make a saving throw to avoid imprisonment; should it fail, it is trapped indefinitely, fully conscious but immune to aging, hunger, thirst, or the need to breathe. 
  • Vampire: The Prince is a vampire, and has all the corresponding powers and weaknesses. He can transform into a nightingale, and will hide among the flocks that live in the Gardens if severely wounded. 
  • Magician: The Prince cast spells as a 9th level magician; for W&W casters, he knows five Necromancy and four Translocation spells. 
Evening Consorts
The Prince’s white-haired vampire servants, who loll about the Gardens in black evening suits when they aren’t tending to the Prince or maintaining grounds. Though they all adore the Prince—he Charmed them into doing so—they have no interest in his feud with the Countess, and would much rather spend their immortality playing tennis and taking long baths. They cannot refuse a direct order from their master, but have no compunction keeping secrets from him or willfully misinterpreting his instructions to maintain the Gardens’ status quo or protect peaceful outsiders.

HD 3 Speed human
Armor as
chain Attack giant scissors (as sword) OR trowel (as dagger)
Morale 8 Alignment Chaotic
  • Vampire: Evening Consorts are vampires and have all the corresponding powers and weaknesses. All of them can turn into nightingales, and will hide among the flocks that live in the Gardens if they fail a Morale check.
Broken-heart Courtiers
The Countess’ black-haired, white-cloaked fairy servants, who meander through the Gardens when they aren’t attending the Countess or working as house-staff. Though they are sworn vassals of the Countess, they have no desire to see her grudge to its bloody conclusion—drinking cordial and holding dances are far more appealing. The Courtiers must obey all of the Countess’ commands, but will happily keep secrets or follow the letter, rather than the spirit, of her orders when it suits them.

HD 3 Speed human
Armor as
leather Attack giant needle (as spear) OR ribbon (as whip)
Morale 8 Alignment Chaotic
  • Fairy: Broken-heart Courtiers are fairies and have all the corresponding powers and weaknesses. They can cast Shroud/Invisibility on themselves at will. 
Location: Tennis Court
Appearance
A tennis court with a ten foot high spar of smoked quartz jutting from where the umpire chair should be. Close examination yields a murky figure trapped in inside, and anyone listening closely can hear a muffled, endless scream of rage. Two Consorts and two Courtiers are playing a friendly game of doubles, despite the fact that they are on guard duty.

History
The quartz contains Suriel, Third Sphere Angel of the Moon. Some years ago, it decided the Prince was infringing on its domain, and made the mistake of interrupting one of his tennis games in an attempt to confront him. Its prison rests on the old court even now, daubed with specious red sigils that siphon Suriel’s power and maintain the Gardens’ endless dusk Should anyone efface these symbols, the natural cycle of night and day will return. Should anyone break open Suriel's prison as well (0 AC, 100 HP), the angel will burst forth in a blast of scorching light and start rampaging across the Gardens in search of the Prince.

Suriel, Angel of the Third Sphere and Governor of the Moon
HD 7 Speed human (fly)
Armor as plate Attack longsword, angelic weapon 
Morale 11 Alignment Lawful
  • Armor Gematria: Suriel is immune to damage that is a multiple of or contains the number 3. 
  • Angelic Weapon: An ivory hierogram, embedded in Suriel's palm. On a successful hit, it causes spears of lightning to plummet from the heavens onto the target, dealing d12 damage. If taken from the angel, it can be used 5 times before breaking. 
  • Domain: Suriel can cause localized eclipses. They only affect a small area (a village or a city block, for example) and are unnoticeable to anyone outside the afflicted locale. If the angel so wishes, it can center the eclipse on a particular person or item, so that they are trapped in a false and endless night. Suriel can also exert some control over gravity. It can double or halve gravitational forces at half shortbow range around itself

Sunday, April 5, 2015

how they hunger

Most D&Dish barbarians don't do it for me. Insane, screaming rage shouldn't really be a question of resource management. So here's an mystic order of heathens going into ecstatic rampages instead.

Beast Knight
a class for old school rpgs
by Tiptoe distributed under Creative Commons
(also maenads, berserkers, werewolves, bassarids)

HP: as dwarf
Saving throws: as dwarf
Experience: as elf
Attack bonus: as thief

Once every few centuries, the sleeping nature gods of Albion awaken and convene a Wild Hunt, running down all they come across. Those they overtake have a choice: join the Hunt and be consigned to an eternity of slumber and slaughter with Albion's elder deities, or perish. The Beast Knights are an order of warriors founded by a Britonnic hero who escaped the Hunt after joining--a feat performed neither before nor since, not by angels or demons or the greatest of fairies.

The Beast Knights venerate wild animals: the grace of predators, the desperation of prey, nature red in tooth and claw etc etc. They'll talk about it at great lengths if you let them. In any case, Beast Knights, upon initiation, take a spirit of the deepest forest into their minds and bodies. Its supernatural strength, rather than strict training, allows them to fight as effectively as any warrior. Beast Knights traditionally wear hoods or masks depicting the face of an animal, such as a wolf, bear, hart, or crow. Some believe these become a part of the knight's body when they fight.
by Lulsa Uribe distributed under Creative Commons
Beast Knights improve their skills as half as fast as a specialist/thief. In LotFP, they start with 2 skill points and gain 1 more every level.

When a beast knight spends a Turn calling up their spirit, they enter a frenzy. Knights in this state:
  • attack as a fighter. If fighters are entitled to special maneuvers, beast knights cannot use them.
  • must run on all fours, and their speed becomes 1.5 times that of a human
  • deal d8 with unarmed attacks (bite and claw)
  • must make a melee attack every round. If there are no enemies left, they move onto allies or bystanders, though they can still choose who to attack.
  • cannot use any skill or perform any task that requires anything more than base animal cunning
To come to their senses, a beast knight must roll equal to or under 1+half level on a d6. This takes a full Turn, and if they take damage during that time, they automatically fail. Every time a non-frenzied beast knight takes damage when their current HP is 50% or less than maximum, they must make an identical check to stop themselves from going into a frenzy.

The wild spirits that possess Beast Knights hate all the works of mankind; if a knight dons metal armor, their spirit will not allow them to frenzy until the next full moon.

Knights can use their Languages skill to determine if they can speak animal languages (Serpent; Bird; Swine; Mew, the language of cats; etc).