Stuffed Crocodile

Mazes, Martians, Mead

[Discworld] …And A Thousand Elephants!

Well, more or less at least.
Remember all the posts I had, oh, years ago, regarding modding some variant of D&D for a Discworld game? Huh, looking over them there were A LOT. I even statted out Death.

The reason being, I have had GURPS Discworld since the 90s and never felt any inclination to play a game with it. Somehow it always felt like, you know, the writers of that book had kind of missed the point. Not that I knew the point better. My idea for a Discworld RPG was one which emulated the sword and sorcery high fantasy parody of the early books, maybe with some stuff from the later ones. For some reason the world that was described in Mort, and Guards Guards seemed to be so big and interesting as a fantasy setting. Much more interesting than the Forgotten Realms for sure. And so I was on and off working on a D&D variant set on the Discworld.

Well, I just finished that one yesterday. Or at least I finished a very first draft. It’s about 60 pages long, and should technically work. No, I haven’t tried it out yet. But at one point, maybe even this coming weekend, my players might experience the joy of eating Dibbler’s products, well, second hand.In fact, now that I am finally finished with the draft I will have to think about some scenario to throw at them. Hmm.But anyway, here a short description:I used my Harnic game system as the base, the one I was talking about lately. Which means it is Labyrinth Lord at it’s core, with an extended LotFP skill system. I replaced the old Saving Throws with the D20 categories (Fortitude, Reflex, and Will). I changed negative AC into positive.I used spells taken from Gorgonmilk’s Vancian Magic Supplement (because at least in early books magic seems to be very Vancian on the Discworld), supplemented with a few spells from the books, the GURPS Discworld book, and the Discworld MUD. Not all of the latter ones really work, but some of the names are great.I created a troll and a zombie class (which I might publish here soon), the latter mostly because my players asked for it and really, there are a lot of zombie protagonists in the books. I use the LotFP Specialist, but remade him into a Guildsman. I nerfed the cleric but decided to give some additional powers to get over the lack of flavor this class normally has.I am using a Death and Dismemberment table. Mostly as a Wound table actually, where some of the wounds are instantly fatal (except for zombies). I already noticed that my players will have to get used to it, especially because there won’t be much healing magic (the cleric being nerfed somewhat). Oh, and there are ideas like the Shields Shall Be Splintered! rule that actually will help a bit there.Ok, lets see how this will actually play.

Review: Sharyn McCrumb – Bimbos of the Death Sun

Bimbos of the Death Sun (Jay Omega, #1)Bimbos of the Death Sun by Sharyn McCrumb
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I don’t know any other mystery novel that uses a D&D game as a parlor scene.
This one does.
Unfortunately the parlor scene sucks. It actually does manage to capture the atmosphere of a badly run exhibition game quite nicely. At the the end of the game players and audience are frustrated, and the bored reader is glad that this waste of time is over. It’s just as well the exposed murderer commits suicide, because this mess would haver never held up in court.
In fact the whole mystery part of the book seems like an afterthought, a mere excuse to be able to sell it as some, any genre at least. After all it’s a book about SF fandom, but it hardly is science fiction in itself. So after half the book the asshole victim is killed, nobody really is bothered so much by that, and the only reason the main character finds who killed him is because he is marginally more computer savvy than the police.
But that’s not the reason why this book is readable. It is readable because it’s set on a small science fiction con in the late 80s, written by someone who knew what she was writing about.
There’s trekkies trying to organize a Star Trek wedding, roleplayers having meltdowns over their characters, postal gamers using the con for political scheming in a made up world, cosplayers (before cosplay was called cosplay), etc.
The guest stars are Appin Dungannon, an ass of an author who hates his main character and his fans (guess who ends up dead?), and the main character, a local engineering professor called Jay Omega. Jay is, to his chagrin, the author of a hard science fiction novel that somehow contracted the title “Bimbos of the Death Sun” and a near-pornographic cover during editing. Jay and his fellow professor and girlfriend Marion spend most of the novel being bemused by what is happening. Jay is new to fandom, Marion is an old SF fan who’s seen it all.
The fascinating thing about this book is how it manages to capture SF fandom so well, without resorting to the usual trite clichés. Sure, there are some spots that seem mean-spirited, but even these read like someone wrote from experience.
Altogether: readable, but don’t expect an actual mystery.

View all my reviews

[Circumflex] Social Status as a new ability

I think I am overdoing this whole thing a bit. The whole project was supposed to be a clone of basic D&D with Harnic furnishings. And I am still working on it.

To be fair, right now I am mostly trying to figure out the details for spells and invocations. I converted the spells from the HarnMaster rules, even though in some cases I had to really put them through the wringer to make them fit. Some of them basically are completely different spells, aside from their names. And well, I mostly was converting them for the names anyway. Still, it is kind of a bitch figuring out all those small details like range or duration.

It doesn’t help that sometimes I get other ideas that I then put in. Last week I decided to use the whole idea of starting money as social status in the game. So I now have a new ability.

It makes more sense to me, because the whole society in the setting is stratified and sees things like that as important, but I now have to integrate this ability in the rest of the rules. And already I encountered a problem with one of my players. I tried to bounce the idea of him, and he was generally for it, but then expected SOC to be a variable quantity. Which also makes sense, but not if I treat it as a D&D-like ability. SOC in the case of my rules needs to be static and show the heritage of the character instead of his current social status.

In other words, SOC is the social class the character starts with, and it modifies how much money he/she receives at the beginning and… well, yes, then what?

There should be effects that are based on this quality. It might modify reaction rolls in certain situations. An Earl is more likely to be favorable to a character if that character is of noble birth. As will an innkeeper.

And even if a low born character raises through the social strata, he/she still might be stuck with the disadvantage of a low birth.

“Yeah sure Sir Ered is the champion of Olokand, but he was born a commoner! We don’t associate with commoners!”

But well, that is one effect.

Some other ideas:

  • Social Standing determines the caller/leader of the group (from Planet Algol)
  • social standing gives access to better weaponry (specifically knightly weapons can only be purchased by people of sufficient standing)
  • SOC might also allow for bonuses on other social interactions, it might give bonuses on training rolls (because people might want a noble client), and on carousing rolls.

Speaking of that… I might have to create my own Harnic carousing table. Oh, and speaking of tables, I have to create a “random extremity” table which I already referenced on my “Death and Dismemberment table”.

Sometimes it feels I started with a 30 piece puzzle, only to find at piece 100 that the puzzle has grown and not even halfway done.

David Robertson: Brick by Brick

Brick by Brick: How LEGO Rewrote the Rules of Innovation and Conquered the Global Toy IndustryBrick by Brick: How LEGO Rewrote the Rules of Innovation and Conquered the Global Toy Industry by David Robertson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In the mid-2000s Lego was the bestselling toy manufacturer in the world.
It also was on the verge of bankruptcy.
This was a surprise to everyone, most of all Lego’s management.
It took the work of a group of talented analysts to convince them that while some of their recent business decisions were quite successful to say the least (Star Wars, Harry Potter, and Bionicle), altogether the company was losing money on developing and even selling their products.

In the ’90s, when action figures and computers became all the rage in the toy industry, a few bad numbers had convinced Lego’s management to take a new direction. Old people with insitutional knowlege were let go, new people with the best, but often unrelated, qualifications were brought in. Multiple new development units had been created that were not providing any benefit to the company. New toys were created that did not really fit with the Lego brand.
Some created that were successes, like the buildable actionfigure line Bionicle, or the robotics supplement Mindstorms, but others fizzled out unloved and unlamented. A media tie with a TV series and action figures that could not interface with the usual Lego bricks was a non-starter. Classic Duplo bricks were replaced with non-brick toys. And sets started to become filled with specialized parts unusable for other models, but costing enormous amounts of money to produce.
In the end the company arrived at a point where many sets cost more to manufacture than they retailed for, while management was unaware of any issues, not talking to each other.

Spoiler: it helped that they went back to their roots and started creating high-quality, well-designed brick toys again.
Who’d have a-thunk?

This book is about the history of Lego and how they first became famous and successful, but it mostly is about the business decisions that lead to their near-collapse, and what the company did to turn itself around. This means this book has a lot of interesting parts about the company itself and the philosophy that drives it. It also has some long and astute observations about business decisions that are analyzed in how they can affect a company, and how they actually worked out for the company in question.

Unfortunately this is also where the book loses its impact. Maybe it is the fact that I am not an economist, but some of the analysis seems long-winded, overly-laudatory, and oddly contradictory in places. Some of the elements seem to come out of the blue with no explanation (e.g the first time we hear about the success of Bionicle is in the chapter about Bionicle). Sometimes economic jargon is used with no explanation whatsoever. This doesn’t make the book unreadable, but it lost my interest about 3/4s in, when nothing really seemed to happen anymore, and I had to force myself to go on reading. I think the main problem is that while the topic of the book could be framed as an interesting story, after about the half-way point the author just seems to fill it with descriptions of how all those new and awesome product lines were developed.
Definitely interesting in parts, but drags.

Ancient Star Trek/D&D crossover

Have I mentioned that I love the Wilderlands of High Fantasy? Especially when they are odd and weird and full of errors? From Tegel Manor:

Room M7: Voluptous maiden is wereworf...

 

Does the fact that the module came out in 1977 preclude a literal interpretation of this entry?

Also, what the hell is that maiden doing with that huge forked tongue? Where did that even come from? How big is it that a were…being needs aid slicing it?

Glorious Free Stuff

 

The last few days I somehow ended up delving into the free and pay what you want sections on rpgnow and drivethrurpg (what exactly is the difference between those two actually?). And there were some treasures to be found.

newsies-and-bootblacks-roleplaying-gameNewsies and Bootblacks

In which players play children having adventures in a world not unlike ours at the end of the 19th/beginning of the 20th century.

230 pages, rather simple mechanics, and free. Link

 

 

 

 

 

quillQuill: a letter-writing roleplaying game for a single player

This one takes the whole play-by-mail idea to the top. You aren’t even supposed to have another player, you are just supposed to write letters and see how well you do with them.

Created by Trollish Delver, 16 pages, multiple supplements, can be had for free (well, Pay What You Want) on drivethrurpg

 

 

 

190792Romance of the Perilous Land

And another one from Trollish Delver. This one is basically a stripped down OSR system, with the Britain as the setting of choice. Magic is rare, as are monsters. If you were looking for a low-fantasy/chivalric RPG…

52 pages, for free on drivethrurpg

 

 

 

 

 

crusader-statesCrusader States – Hex Grid Map

Exactly what it says on the tin. A map of the crusader states circa 1135AD. And some additional color plates with the coats of arms of the states in question.

4 pages, but detailed map. Pay What You Want on drivethrurpg.

 

 

 

 

 

convictsConvicts & Cthulhu

Roleplaying cthulhoid horror in the Australian penal colonies of the 18th century. As if dealing with cthulhoid monstrosities is not bad enough, you gotta deal with Australian wildlife as well…

98 gorgeous pages by Cthulhu Reborn, either as Pay What You Want, or as a softcover book, drivethrurpg.

Bonus: a fillable pdf character sheet for the setting, for CoC 7th ed.

ダンジョン飯 (Dungeon Meshi) -or- Delicious in Dungeon

dungeon_meshi_coverダンジョン飯 (Dungeon Meshi) is one of these cute little gimmick manga that are just a joy to read, but whose ideas might be a bit too far out for everyone involved

Our heroes are a group of typical D&D-style adventurers who make a living descending into a giant dungeon that someone found a while back. This dungeon is so big that it contains whole cities and forests, all underground, and it attracted a veritable support infrastructure for all adventuring purposes just outside of it (including a resurrection service).

While our protagonists are already pretty experienced and far along  they run into a red dragon who promptly eats Farin, one of their spellcasters, just after she managed to teleport the rest of the group to safety.

The group (headed by Farin’s brother Laios) decides to head downwards again, to rescue and revive Farin before she is digested by the dragon. In this venture they hit one of the typical snags of adventure life: they have neither food nor resources after the failed run in with the dragon, and they don’t have time to gather more if they want to be in time. So Laios concocts a rather harebrained scheme: they will eat their way downwards. There are monsters in the dungeon after all, and a lot of them are edible. Or at least they should be.

Soon enough they are joined by Senshi, a dwarfish warrior chef with great knowledge of the dungeon and its inhabitants, and they start making headway through all the delicacies of the dungeon.

On their way down to the dragon the heroes meet multiple typical dungeon monsters, and somehow they find their ways to make them into rather delicious looking meals. The manga even provides us with recipes for these dishes, although it might be kind of hard to find basilisk or living armor in our world.

But here’s an interesting idea that I would love to see in a game: cooking the monster.

I don’t think this ever got done properly, but I bet someone somewhere created some classes for dungeon cooks. What if the player characters would venture down into the dungeon specifically to find some rare delicacy that otherwise could not be found anywhere else? Or what if we focus a roleplaying game not only on the survival aspect of it all, but also on how exactly one would make those things they kill or purchase in the dungeon edible. This of course would demand not only that the DM would know what the hell he/she is talking about, but also that the players know how to cook to be able to make sense of the scenario.

[Circûmflex] HP dynamics

Sometimes it is quite interesting what comes out when I just change something small, and then think it through again.

I added one version of the Death and Dismemberment table to the game as an alternative to the original rules. Neither “Death at 0hp” nor “At Death’s Door” really seemed to work for me.

My players naturally gravitate to At Death’s Door. Most of them have played Baldur’s Gate before. They would feel cheated if I told them they died at 0hp. But I think it is cumbersome.

Of course then I replaced it with a whole table and a roll instead of a simple bleeding out rule. Go me.

But adding this table gives an interesting dynamic to the game.

So lets have a look at it. With the rules as I currently have them:

  • hp indicate how much fight a character has in him/her; a character is fine as long as he has positive hp, damage at this point does not cause wounds.
  • if a character falls to 0 hp or below a roll on the Death and Dismemberment table is in order. The character then suffers the consequences according to the table. This can be instant death. Or a very serious injury/lost limb. [I still need to rewrite the table for my own game]
  • A character can use his/her shield to soak up all damage from one combat turn at the cost of the shield (the Shields shall be splintered! rule)
  • A character can use his/her helmet or sturdy hat to turn a fatal blow into an injury instead, at the cost of the headgear and being taken out of the fight by unconsciousness (the Helmets shall be shattered! rule)

There was another idea I found, in that one could use the damage dealt under 0 as a modifier for the roll on the table. Meaning that a good roll from an opponent might make a fatality much more likely.

Here’s the thing though: this idea basically turns hp into stamina; and it provides some interesting player agency (sure you can soak that hit with your shield, but the next one might be worse…). Death on the other hand, only comes when either a roll says so, or when abilities are so degraded that life becomes impossible.

Still working on this one.

[Circûmflex] Gods, and what happened to Alignments in my homebrew system

I always found Alignments in RPGs to be a stupid idea. At one point I went through my houserules and deleted all mentions of evil or good out of them. At least the lawful-neutral-chaotic axis was a bit nicer to handle. But I never really liked them. On the other hand it always seemed such a big part of specifically D&D that you couldn’t just let it go to waste. Or at least I told myself that.

Circûmflex of course is supposed to hew closely to old school rules, but I also want to use it as a chance to create a system that I personally would want to play with. It helps that the setting is too complex to be easily mapped onto the classic alignment system.

Funnily enough, this is because the whole setting has its roots in what most likely was an early D&D campaign. In 2003 N. Robin Crossby republished Lost Gods: The Libram of the Nushenic Pantheon. This is a fascinating little book, with an introduction by the author about its contents. It turns out that the pantheon described in there was the one used in the author’s private role-playing campaign. The original libram was published in 1978 as a handout for the players of this campaign. The lessons of this campaign were later used to construct Harn, and one of the things that were transferred were the characters of some, but not all of the gods described in this booklet. Originally there were 18 of these gods, 6 each in good, neutral, and evil pantheons. When Harn was created these were changed. Some of the gods were simply dropped (the ninja god Shii), others had their aspects melded with each other (Harnic Halea is a mixture of Halea, the goddess of self-interest, and Hedoni, the goddess of pleasure). Some elements were used in other ways: people familiar with Harn might recognize the name of Tave-K’vier, the God of Cruelty and Depravity, as curiously similar to the name of an important cleric of Ilvir [1].

When everything was said and done the original HarnWorld featured material on a eminently gameable pantheon of 10 gods, with curiously divergent areas of influence.

Technically the goddess Peoni is the goddess with the largest mainstream appeal. She is the goddess of fertility, homes, healing, and most other civilized stuff that is important but not really immediately relevant to player characters. And so it appears that even in places where some of the “evil” religions hold sway, most don’t actually want to mess with the Peonians too much. After all, one might need some food for troops, or bodies to raise.

Both Larani and Agrik are just different philosophies on how to deal with Peoni and her followers. Larani wants to protect the meek, Agrik wants to rule them. Both religions get on like a house on fire with each other, meaning lots of dead and ruins.

One of the interesting things here is that there is yet another war god in the pantheon, Sarajin. Srajin was the war god of the neutral pantheon in the Nushenic Libram, and was basically transferred like that to Harn. His philosophical position is that fighting is glorious. Unsurprising then that he is the main god of the Northmen.

(Oh, did I say another? There also is the largely undefined Kelenos/Kelana who is revered in some parts of the south. So far he was not really fleshed out, and it might be that he is just Sarajin with another name, but who knows? I might have to stat some invocations for him though)

Many of the other gods are specific to certain classes: Halea is the goddess of merchants and hedonists.

Siem is the god of dreams and the elder people (the god of the elves AND dwarves).

Save-K’Nor (how are you supposed to pronounce that?!) is the god of wisdom and riddles. (basically the god of wizards)

Ilvir is the god of wild, sorcerous beasts. (a bit of a wild card, but basically the god druids would go for on Harn)

Morgath is the god of death and undeath (god of bad guys and undead)

Naveh is the god of murder (the god for assassins and thieves)

Now, this pantheon is of course kind of weird. It only resembles a proper pantheon with a lot of squinting, and by taking into account extra material about minor gods and demons published in various places, but it certainly gives an interesting dynamic to the world. For one,  it is not even a pantheon so much, as it is ten interlocking pantheons with their own hierarchies and churches.

Over time more has been written about this particular oddly misshapen bunch of gods, enough actually to see it as a functional unit even. The original Gods of Harn supplement already did a lot of work for that, giving a broad overview of both the mythologies and the churches of the gods. But the best way to understand it was the Summa Venariva supplement, a history textbook for a fictional world, in which the development of the religions involved are traced in a way to make the whole thing understandable.

But what does all of this have to do with alignments?

Well, in the broadest sense the religions of Harn are moral compasses that tell their adherents the why and how of their morals. Being godless is possible (Gargun in general are godless for example), but others pay at least lip-service to what their gods tell them. Now this does not mean that players have to follow these ideas, but they should let their decisions be informed by them.

When an adherent of Peoni kills a person he/she should know that this is wrong. When an Agrikan does it he/she should know that his deity likes that. When a Navehan does it he/she should know that the deity demands it.

Players can go against this of course, but they will have to resolve with their own ideas why they don’t fit into their own idea of “normal”.

This gets around the usual problem with Evil alignments in RPGs: nearly no real person will ever see themselves as evil. But they will do stupid shit if they believe their deity demands it. And some will try to do good, even if their deity demands really stupid stuff.

 

[1] Crossby in his notes does not seem to be aware where the name of this entity was used again

[Circûmflex] Going Berserk

olav_trygvasons_saga_-_uvaeret_hjoerungavaag_-_g-_muntheWell. At first berserkers were just a fighter variant in the draft.

I decided to cut down the classes to the four core classes, but I wanted some variety. After all clerics in Venarive have 10 or more choices that should play differently, wizards have at least 6 convocations, and the specialist… well, that class is basically built to be modified. Yes, I made the thief into the specialist. I think it fits better in a setting that actually takes care to note how many clothiers are in a city.

And of course the fighter is kind of boring otherwise. Oh, sure, a fighter can be basically every fighting hero ever, but it might help to point out what can be done with them.

So varieties it is. There is a more tribal Barbarian Warrior (if you know Harn you might know that this might be necessary), there is a Gladiator (because Agrikans dig their spectacles), and I was thinking about making knights and rangers into further sub-varieties. And then there is the berserker.

It really needs to be there.

Harn, like many fantasy worlds, has fjords. And fjords, for some reason I do not quite understand, contract vikings with alarming regularity.

Of course it is better explained than in other places, after all CGI published Ivinia, their version of fantasy Scandinavia soon after the first edition of HarnWorld, although it is quite odd that all the place names in Kethira seem to made up from fantasy languages, but Ivinian names show Germanic elements…

But anyway. Low fantasy middle age style game. I so totally need berserkers.

After getting some inspiration from various places I came up with this:

Berserker: can enter berserker rage at will during combat. If dealt damage in combat and not in berserker rage, must save against spell or enter rage.

Well, ok, this was longer originally.

But that comes from my realisation that berserker rage might be useful for other effects as well. Some of the invocations for different gods I am converting from Harnmaster cause berserker rage. So right now it is under the heading “Adventuring”.

Berserker Rage: Berserkers can enter this state at will. Some potions, spells and invocations can also cause people to enter this state.
While in this state the berserker has +2 to hit and damage with melee weapons or unarmed, but also -2 to AC. The berserker ignores all non-fatal injuries until after rage subsides or the injury turns fatal, whatever comes first. Berserker rage only ends when no further attack is possible within 1 combat round, or if Save vs. Spell is successful. Afterwards, the character is exhausted, taking a -2 penalty to all actions until rested for at least 1 hour, in addition to the effect of all wounds.

That is… a bit more complicated as a rule than what I was going for. On the other hand this is one of those situations that might come up.

Still, I hope that it will actually be a nice effect in game. It should give this choice for players: yes, you can enter that super state that makes you better at fighting, but people also can hurt you better, and you can’t necessarily stop fighting when you want to.

Note that the rules does not specify what attack is not supposed to be possible, just that none need to be possible.

The injury that is mentioned in the rules is a variation on the Death and Dismemberment chart that was popular a while ago. But I should get to that at a later point.