Friday, June 29, 2012

Simple Mental Powers

Some caveats:
  • Read this post from me to see where I'm coming from.  Today's post concerns inherited mental powers.
  • If you're looking for something more conservative in how it clarifies and reorganizes D&D's Psionics system check out Mr. Campbell's work here.
  • This is a portion of an unfinished system.  The other parts I'm working on are a tree-based power selection for learned mental powers and a flavorful but simple means to resolve mental combats.
  • I loathe bookkeeping and calculations and have sacrificed options and power potency to avoid it as much as possible.
  • This is a draft that I haven't tried in play yet.  Suggestions, as always, are welcome.
Okay, so here, in 4 steps and 2 pages, is a way to offer your players some new toys/tools.  It is much more likely that players will have powers than in the older systems (someone with one exceptional stat has a 1 in 3 chance), but I figure what's the point in having a cool subsystem if no one gets to use it (do you know how many times I rolled for psionics in 1e and failed?!).

I've tried to limit the powers so that even if a whole party gets them they won't be flinging dragons around and flying about like Glitterboys.

I wasn't sure whether the player-empowering choice of abilities or the fun of randomness was the best approach so I tried to have my cake and eat it too.  Players can sacrifice choice for additional power.  This also offers a way to mitigate really crappy power rank rolls.

I tried organizing the powers by how much of an affect they can make in play, and making those most powerful less common, but this order could be easily changed-- moving Hypnosis up, for example.

Of course, you could tinker with everything here-- like making the units of weight 100s of coins rather than stones-- I think the main innovation I'm trying, is to avoid power point tracking by using the more granular session, game day, hour divisions inspired by 4e's encounter powers.

The briefness of the power descriptions will require some thought from each DM, but I'm hoping this is just enough to make a system while stepping out of the way to let you decide how things run in your game.

Update: Whoops, I made a copy paste error, I originally intended the telekinesis power to allow for moving 1 stone per power rank, which is 1/10 the power listed in the first pdf I posted.  So, if you saw that someone with TK could move half-ton boulders and thought what is he talking about "I tried to limit powers," umm, that's why.

Of course you can make it whatever scale you want but I would suggest something that is easy to remember for your players.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

10 Toxins

An attempt at interesting Poison tools for PCs. No saves for the victims for these effects.  But to make them less potion-like and more poison-like:

Player administering the toxin has to guess the victim's current hit point total -3.
If the guess is actually HP-6 or lower, the toxin has no effect.
If the guess is exact, -1, or -2 above the actual HP total, the toxin is too strong and victim must save or die.

1. Amber or White honey.  Immiscible, heavy liquid that will sink beneath other liquids in a container.  Erases memory of the hour prior to drinking.

2. Devil's Breath.  Fine powder.  When inhaled by victim they become completely susceptible to suggestions for 1 hour. (see folkloric view of scopolamine).

3. Hush.  An intravenous toxin.  Causes loss of speech in victim for 1 hour.

4. Skulk, sometimes also known as Hush.  Coin-sized tablet will effervesce to produce 10 cubic feet of odorless, colorless gas.  Inhalation causes deafness for 1 hour.

5. The Drunkard in the Morning.  Small crystals that resemble salt.  Ingestion will do nothing until a loud noise-- like a gong or weapons clashing in combat- triggers the toxin, then the victim will sleep for 1 hour.

6. Still or Bone Butter.  Thick, bitter paste.  When ingested, the victim will for all intents and purposes be dead.  In 1 hour they will revive.

7. The Bickering Couple or Dark Twins.  Two clear contact toxins brushed onto objects.  Touching only one of the pair does nothing, touching both results in aggravated paranoia for 1 hour.

8. Seep or Red Aunt.  Usually placed on a blade, it will prevent wounds from fully closing.  A wound will seep blood for a week.  Causes no additional harm to the victim but makes secret attackers easier to track or identify later.

9. Iocaine.  As normal poison, but a person that manages to ingest the proper dosage for 5 sessions of play will become permanently immune to it.

10. St Petruccio's Spit.  Usually placed on a blade, it prevents a victim from dying from a mortal wound delivered by that blade.  They will remain lucid and a feel no pain for 1 hour, then expire normally.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

3 Ways to Forsee III

The Future as Web (aka the Grand Destiny)
This view of the future isn't really a third model, but a complication of one of the other two.  It's just the idea that events have more than one cause and to change the future can be a complex undertaking.  Avoiding a negative future is more difficult than just assassinating one person.  Ensuring a good future equally involves chains of smaller events that have to happen or be avoided.

Trapped in History
I think his view of the future has become popularized, oddly enough, by seeing the future from the past.  In other words, time travel stories.  A character travels back in time and the problem becomes, not predicting the future, but how the choices that character makes interact with a future we already know.

In that sense Future as Web is most commonly related to a Future as Fate.  The events in the time traveler's future are inescapable because, well, that's our history.  But the Future as web isn't about that so much as a means used to prevent any change from happening.  Oh, you think you can stop WWII from happening just by killing Hitler?  Well, you actually killed a body double who was conspiring to replace Hitler.  Or, you miss your shot and make Hitler more paranoid and dedicated to his war aims.  If the Future as Web is used with the model of the future being fated, the layers of causes act as a buffer to any change to the future that's already known.

Alternate Histories = Future as Possible Paths
There are some examples of the opposite, though, basically any story where history as we know it is malleable.  This is frequently seen in time travel stories where something has been screwed up by the traveler and they need to make things right so the future happens as expected.  A familiar example is Marty McFly trying to get his parents to fall in love.  This is the Future as Possible Paths, because we see, even when Marty succeeds, he returns to a different present.  Again, Future as a Web is not in reference that he could change the future but the idea of the interconnectedness of all the causes that result in what will become the future.  It isn't as easy as just getting his parents in the same room, he has to deal with Biff, the principal, and the time crunch of scheduled events.

The Future that's Bigger than You
Because Future as Web is about something harder to change with many interconnected causes , it's usually about something bigger than any one person.  It is a kind of Grand Destiny.  Wars, the succession of Kings, great plagues, these are foretold.  To avoid destiny takes more than a single act.  The seer will still be affected by future events but this future isn't their personal fate (even with Marty, there's also the existence of his siblings hanging in the balance).  Future as a Web is less "how do I prevent the halfing from stealing my purse" and more "how do we ensure the Empress Dowager is dethroned?"

I think these Grand Destinies can come into play either as adventure hook prophecies that players hear, or when players desire to make a big change in the world and go to someone with sight of the future to give them guidance on how to achieve it.

Rather than a table here to generate particular Grand Destinies, I'll just say they should be things that happen in a sandbox but not require players to interact with them.  My post here looks at some possible examples and one way of handling them, escalating things over time if players don't get involved.  Contrary to my advice in the Future as a Possible Paths post, because these destinies are harder to avoid, I don't think they should be related so closely to things the PCs own or people they know.  That route leads to frustrating railroading.

Now, how you model predictions of these magnitudes depends on which of the two views of history you are using.

If Future is Fate, I think you can choose a destiny and several smaller trigger fortunes.  Then, use Zak's method of allowing players to say when a foretold event happens except that those smaller fortunes either a) have to happen in a particular order, or b) need to happen simultaneously.
Example:  The Empress Dowager will lose her throne when a feast is prepared but not eaten, a rope snaps as music plays, a crown rolls across a stone floor.

The PCs realize the heir apparent will be hung for the pleasure of the Empress and her court and wish to prevent it for their own reasons.  They interrupt the execution/banquet, manage to snap the noose, and roll the hereditary Great Crown they've recovered across the floor for all to see.

The courtiers and generals present are shocked and pivot to support the heir.
Here, the predictions become a kind of key to the prophecy; if players can arrange a situation where they all happen, then the prophecy comes true.

If the Future is Possible Paths, it becomes trickier (for the DM at least).  Because prophecies are just one possibility, players can just work against them to make them not happen.  There isn't the sense of "stickiness" or difficulty in working against destiny.  Here's an idea for a way to allow players to do what they want and still give that sense of the complexity of changing what is destined:

Usually players will be trying to prevent foretold events, because otherwise they could just stand back and let them happen.  For a particular event of great importance that players want to stop, come up with 4 smaller events or preconditions that will affect its likelihood.  Let these be discoverable by players-- wise npcs advise them, they find them in books, they see them in dreams.  When it comes time to see if players can prevent the destined event roll 1d6, 6 = yes.  Modify the roll by +1 for each of the smaller events that PCs managed to make happen.  I think I would make this transparent to players, to give them a sense that they are up against that die roll and destiny itself.  But allow players to come up with additional factors that would result in modifiers.
Example:  Prophecies say the Empress Dowager will rule for a 1000 years.

PCs learn that getting her generals against her will make a difference (+1), they learn that the Great Crown that true Imperials wear has been missing (+1).  They learn the heir apparent is secretly held captive in a tower (+1).  Coming up is an important political/religious ritual where the Imperial power is reaffirmed (+1).

They speak with the generals, even performing some tasks for them to win them over. They rescue the heir apparent and recover the crown. They plan to present him to the court on the ritual day. But, worried this won't be enough to shake the 1000 year reign, they decide to search for evidence of the unlawful way the Empress Dowager seized the throne and present it to all as a magical projection (+1).

That is enough, the heir apparent takes the throne. The prophecy has been avoided.
To liven it up, agents of the parties desiring the prophesied outcomes could actively work against the PCs-- the cultists wishing the World Plague to occur, the rebels desiring the Elf-Dwarf War.  If this works as I envision it, any time Players chafe at a grand prophecy could result in a whole mini-campaign of them trying to overturn it.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

My Origin Story

Zak asked on G+ for folks to share their degrees/areas of interest.  In thinking about it, I doubt mine would tell you much about me.  Well, maybe as a person, what I was most curious to learn-- but not so much as a D&D blogger, why I'm so interested in simplifying and systematizing. So here's the real scoop.

I come from Okies.  On both sides.  Folks that learned to keep everything because if it isn't valuable now it might be later.  My father's parents had a wrecking yard.  I grew up playing on piles of radiators and broken batteries.  My aunt stored old clothes in broken down cars.  I got to see what ruined in the weather, what lasted-- the plastic bits and glass and brass.

In a world like that I guess you either give yourself up to chaos or your start trying to process it all.  You learn to categorize.  You learn to sift.  Someone sees a pile of trash, you see the radiators as scrap brass and the batteries as scrap lead.  Someone sees a garage full of junk, you learn to save the knick-kacks from occupied Japan as well as the family letters and photos: the ephemeral.

So when I see 1e's Psionics, I see a pile, yes, but there's some cool stuff in there-- I found a set of Russian text books in a junked car once, a lighter from the Berlin Olympics in an old shed-- and I want to pull that pile apart and organize it.

When I see all the moving parts a DM needs to be able to handle-- the potions, the rings, the spells-- I want to isolate them, one-by-one, and master each category.  I recognize that things can exist in multiple categories at once, and that sometimes all you get from digging around is something smelly on your hands and a tear in your Levis.  But you have to try.

Sometimes I see other folks talking about their games and it seems like they are sitting in lawn chairs propped up on big piles of stuff.  A roll of stiff garden hose under one foot, a shoe box of tattered romances under another.  They're smiling and having fun.  It stresses me out and puzzles me.  I want to say "Hold on, we can make this easier on everyone.  Get up from your chair and I'll sort through this for you."

And as you become familiar with the categories of things you also become a lover of the hard to find.  Someone says they have a way to model fatigue without tracking points, someone offers a way to make travelling through the abstract wilderness come alive, you say "Could you put that aside for me?  I'm driving right over with my checkbook."

So reading blogs becomes like cruising garage sales; you see the same baby clothes, the same old particle board furniture and you wonder why you're getting sun burned for this.  Then you'll see an old nail puller for a dollar or a Moon Knight comic peeking from a basket of coloring books and it gets you excited all over again and you want to tell someone and you want to hurry to the next pile to dig through.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Toy Poisons

I wrote a while back that for poisons to interest me they would need to be cool tools for players rather than just doing varying amounts of damage or having varying chances of lethality.  The Dee flick's use of a triggered poison got me interested in actually trying to come up with some.

So, what would make poisons interesting to you as a player?

Here are some initial ideas from me:
  • sneaky administering-- so gases, contact poisons that can be slathered on chairs, and liquids of various densities
  • precise control-- some interesting triggers, like light, heat, loud noises, as well as antidotes for most everything
  • variety of effects-- make someone mute, blind, appear dead-- so, yeah, more toxins than poisons
I'm realizing now that there seem to be two main ways they might come into play 1) secretly to help you in heists or negotiating with factions, and 2) as straight up combat enhancers on blades and arrows.

Anyway, back to you.  You're in my game wandering around the bazaar, what kind of toxin do you want available?

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Detective Dee

I've been off camping with friends.  Now I'm sitting in the heat itching from sunburn and mosquito bites but I got to watch a movie I thought was pretty cool:  Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame.  Some D&Dable elements it has:
  • Facial transfigurations facilitated by pins stuck in pressure points
  • A poison activated in an interesting way
  • A pretty unique mace
  • An underground Bazaar/City made up of the remnants of an ancient city
And that's all spiced up with insane, wire-work fights, ninja assassinations, and deadly traps.  If you have a couple hours to kill, I'd recommend it.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Rules that Make You Go Huh?!

Timrod recently posted about the arbitrary way invisibility disappears when you attack something.  I'd forgotten about that one.  I think it would be interesting to list other wuh? rules from older editions of D&D.

Don't worry about association or whether it's possible to come up with some explanation, just think back to when you were a fresh-faced youngster coming into the game and you read a rule and thought, "that's weird."

And nothing newer than 2e, we beat on the newer editions enough already.

I'll start off with the way psionic powers would often have class restrictions-- like cell adjustment.  Wait, I have this awesome mental ability to heal myself but it's more powerful if I'm a mage than a thief?!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

3 Ways to Forsee II

Future as Possible Paths
This kind of foretelling is the opposite of inescapable fates.  The future is an infinite number of paths stretching forward from Now.  Any time someone peers in to a crystal ball or has a precognitive vision they see the most likely future.   It will happen if everything remains unchanged, but there is plenty of time between now and then for things to change.

This might be a more modern view of the future-- a future of variables and probabilities. Future as an equation where the inputs are fuzzy and prone to change.

These kinds of visions of the future can be specific and visual, like dreams or scenes in the mind.  They could just as easily be vague like Future as Fate predictions, something like "misfortune will strike your friends" with the understanding that the misfortune could be avoided.  But, because Future as Fate can only give these vague kinds of predictions, why not be distinct and present visions of future possibilities as rich visuals.

This kind of foretelling is much more useful to players because it is about gathering information to help make choices.  Why find out a friend is going to die if you can't change it?  This vision of the future is more active and empowered.  Players find out about the future like scouting a foreign country.

A Mechanic
There won't be a single, elegant solution like Zak's for this kind of future because there are so many variables, but I think we can at least come up with some guidelines

Which Part of the Future to Show
Because the possibilities are open it becomes hard to decide what part of the future to even show.  How far ahead should be shown?  And what about physical distance from the seer's current location?

One thing to keep in mind is that if a future path depends upon decisions, each decision you assume for the players makes a particular path less and less likely.  It might be a good rule of thumb to either show the future as the outcome of one particular choice or show the future up until the next big decision point.  The first will help players decide if that is in fact the choice they want to make.  The second will prime them for the upcoming big choice, and hopefully build dramatic tension.
In general, though, a week ahead would seem quite far, a month probably the limit for things revolving around the PCs (See the next way to foresee for grander destinies).  As for physical distance, again a week's travel would seem far. But this still doesn't lay out what choices a vision of the future would show.

Probably the best guidance on what to show is to remember that players will want to use it to inform them.  So the PCs' present situation is a good starting point: 

The Players Have No Plans
If the players are in a safe place and have no particular plans it might seem odd that someone would be looking into the future.  But there are things besides the PCs themselves that grant visions.  A place might grant visions to those that sleep there.  Fevers, drug use, or magic items all might grant a glimpse of things to come.

If players have no particular plans, this kind of DM granted vision can essentially act as an adventure hook.  These may not be about choices so much because you won't be sure that players even want to get involved.  The choice is, in effect, this thing is going to happen do you want to stop it, or maybe take advantage of it?  But a vision that involves strangers or strange places will amount to the same thing as hearing a rumor.  To be more magical and interesting these visions should probably provide a glimpse of something happening to the PCs, their friends, or their belongings. Here is the simplest chart I can imagine to help you with this:

Example: Someone hated by the PCs is ravaging a familiar object out of greed.

You see the orc One-Eye who killed little Bobby the link boy last session.  He's in a 10'x10' room sweating as he stoops over something, hammering.  You see it now, it is the Great Crown you've been searching for.  He's hammering on it to get out the rubies and the beautiful piece of art is mangled before your eyes.
The Party is Heading on a Journey
For wilderness travel you can roll encounters and weather for a week ahead of time and relate that to players.  This will let them make decisions about what to bring and how to prepare for this particular journey.  Likely decision points might include which of several routes to use, or, after a dangerous encounter-- whether the party should even continue.

The Party is Heading into a Dungeon
A dungeon zooms things in considerably and it becomes difficult again to decide what part of the future to show. But there are a few focuses that players might be interested in knowing about.  You could either decide which of the following is most important for this dungeon, or roll randomly to determine which of these to show them:

1) A Terrible threat. Choose the most dangerous foe the dungeon holds in store for this particular party.  Show them fighting it and, if defeat is likely, show them getting slaughtered in vivid detail.  This is one of the few times you might impress on players the lethality of the game and the real possibility of death without them suffering the consequences. A party might take this as an opportunity to plan carefully to take on this foe, but they also might feel empowered to just run at the first sight of it, if they've already seen themselves getting slaughtered by it.

2) Many Challenges.  A Rocky-like montage of difficulties, especially terrain-based is another option.  Show the PCs using ropes, iron spikes, burning oil, string to navigate mazes.  This would basically serve as an overview to help players prepare.  In some ways it would function as the Pre-Mapped Dungeon, but the players don't necessarily know where the images they see are located within the dungeon.  It is also a way to show them many smaller scale challenges instead of a single large one.

3) Treachery.  A Preview of desertions and double-crossings from factions in the dungeon and/or hirelings.

4) A Dilemma or Big Choice.  There might be one particularly important choice in the dungeon, for example, releasing a bound demon or not, or starting up magical machinery.  The vision could show the choice being made in one way.

A Player Wants to Know the Outcome of a Particular Choice
While the archetype of those that can see the future is often about getting visions you can't control, I think it will be more interesting to everyone if the visions are useful to players.  For that reason, I don't see anything wrong in just asking the players involved "What are you interested in seeing?"  They might answer any of the things we've mentioned above ("I want to see what happens if we take the shortcut in the woods," or "I want to see who will betray me in the caverns.") or they may ask about turning the handle one the big, creepy door to the left.  This can essentially defang traps, but if your traps are set up more as obstacles anyway, knowing what happens won't necessarily tell the party how to get through the door safely.  Also, spells, magic items, and precognitive abilities will most likely have limitations on frequency of use that will prevent layers from avoiding all uncertainty.

The next way to foresee is really a subset of both these first models.  But the Future as a Web is different enough that I think it warrants a separate look.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Paper Festival Hats

A little intermission while I think more about precognition mechanics.  Because I know you all love hats:

The Festival of Trades is infrequent but joyful.  All the citizens of a town line up in front of the cathedral and accept paper hats from the priests.  These hats are colorful and meant to crudely represent different vocations.  There is the hood of the rogue, the fighter's helm, the pointy magician's hat, and the Biretta of the priests themselves. 

These hats are distributed randomly with the sole restriction that someone may not receive a hat of their actual profession.  The hats are magical and grant the abilities of an apprentice of that trade for as long as they last.  Being paper, this is usually but a few days.  A hat traded with another will lose its power immediately.

Some say that, rarely, the priests will pass out fanciful hats that represent no trade-- an elf hat, a foreign hat-- but I have never seen one.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

3 Ways to Forsee

Like a lot of fantasy elements, how to implement foretelling the future in an rpg is complicated by the fact that there are multiple conflicting archetypes at play.  Let's try to tease those apart and work towards some simple but distinct mechanics.

In this case the origin of the competing archetypes is pretty easy to see.  Because we can't know the future any attempt to predict things will fall into two categories: becoming vague enough to make sure the prediction fits what actually happens or presenting predictions as possibilities which give you an out when things go completely differently.  We humans have actually established two different metaphors of time and the future that correspond to these tactics.

Future as Fate
One way of understanding the future is as an inescapable fate.  The fortune teller reads the cards, the seer the entrails, and no matter what you do the fate will happen.  In fact, your struggling against it will often ironically bring your fate about.

To reach this level of certitude, though, requires turning the dial down on specificity.  One way to do this is to be cryptic about actors.  You never make a prediction about someone-- King John, Tom, your sister Kate--  but about friends, shepherds, or important men.   These can be interpreted whichever direction you need: literal, symbolic, or even as a riddle for someone named Shepherd.  Another way to be less specific is to tap into universals that are likely to happen because they happen to all humans.  Romance, misfortune, sickness-- it happens all around us everyday.  Newspaper-horoscope-vague: "your efforts will be noticed," "a friendship is tested," etc.

If you give humans these two features in a prediction 1) common life occurrences happening to 2) no specific "who," it turns out our natural pattern matching software does a great job of making those predictions fit life.

A Mechanic
So how do we utilize this in-game?  Turns out Mr. Zak Smith has offered a way to do it in Vornheim.   A random fortune is rolled for on a chart.  These fortunes are all vague but intriguing.  Then players decide when to apply the fortune in play.  the DM can also decide to apply the fortune.  So it is presumably in the best interest for players to get the fortunes out of the way before the DM does because it will go easier on them.
Example: "A crown will roll across a stone floor."

The players find themselves in a 10'x10' room with an orc guarding a crown.  The player remembers the fortune, invokes it, and the DM decides the surprised orc drops the crown.  It rolls toward the party, who snatch it up and retreat without needing to engage in combat.

Now, if the player hadn't invoked the fortune then-- let's say the party gets the crown the old fashioned way, by killing the orc -- the fortune is still free for the DM to invoke.  The party is leaving the dungeon, running along a chasm pursued by trolls and the DM invokes the fortune.  The crown slips free from the character holding it and roll toward the chasm as the trolls close . . .
I think giving players the task of making predictions fit is brilliant for a lot of reasons.  It gives them agency, it keeps them engaged and paying attention looking for opportunities, and it gets them involved creatively.  And, like I mentioned above, this kind of pattern matching is something we humans are pretty good at, even new players should be familiar with horoscopes.

Some Concerns
I do have a few concerns with it as a mechanic, though, primarily that it sets the DM up to be an adversary.  I'm happy to make connections as DM, to tie coincidences together, but I'm uncomfortable with a mechanic that requires the tension of me being on the look out to apply the worst possible meaning of a fortune to players.

Another concern is that I've got enough stuff to remember without having to constantly be thinking about when to apply various players' fortunes.

Last and least, it uses a chart that is consumed in play-- I know most people prefer these, and that you can really have a list of fabulous results this way-- but I'm more interested in giving DMs a tool to create their own charts.  Especially because then you can also bring players in to the creative act at the table if you want to.

Addressing Concerns
Zak largely avoids my first concern, that of pitting DM vs.player, by making most of the fortunes in his table more complex than simple binaries, not clearly advantageous or disadvantageous.  So not, "a good friend dies" and it's between you and the DM to decide which of your friends is meant. In this way the fortunes become toys that invite both player and DM to get involved in the creative act.

But I wonder if the very act of making them less dangerous for the DM to enact makes them less interesting toys for the players to want to play with.  In other words, as a player would you pay someone to tell you "a crown rolls across a floor"?

There's not much I can think to do about the concern of requiring the DM to remember these.  Either limit the number of unresolved fortunes possible in play or make them solely the player's responsibility and provide some other method of tension so the player will want to resolve them.

Lastly, any vague generative tool could be adapted to make you more fortunes including Tarot, Lotería cards, Hanafuda decks, dominoes or regular playing cards. Here is the simplest chart I can think of, knowing full well it won't give the flavor of Zak's fortunes, but might require more collaborative creativity from Players and DM.  Roll 2 differently colored d6:
I think my next step for a more detailed fortune creator would actually list universals that would apply to rpgs, like "will fumble," "will fail when least expected (fail save)."

More about a Fated Future
Let me recap a little based on what I've learned from Zak's solution and my thinking about Future as Fate in play: 
  • Inescapable negative fates are really just curses, so there is no reason for players to seek them out in play.  Why should I ever talk to a fortune teller if it always leads to a hireling dying?  Why cast future predicting spells if it means you'll have to face more dangers?
  • So some predictions must be really good, to make players even interested it getting involved.
  • But predictions can't all be good, or they just becomes a fate point system where the player changes occurrences in the game to their advantage.
  • There must be some kind of tension to get these fortunes resolved--to say they have happened-- or pretty soon you'll have hundreds of fortunes hanging around.
  • One source of tension (besides an adversarial DM) could be a limit on fortunes: one fortune must be resolved before any further aspects of the future can be seen.  The fortune teller keeps rambling on and on about the rolling crown.
  • Again, this would mean some predictions must be really good, or the first negative fortune would mean players would just leave things on hold, never invoking that fortune, and not messing with fortunes again at all.
  • Fortunes should probably be owned by specific players, that way there is some interesting tension as they decide which friends and hirelings to apply negative fates to.
  • Perhaps you could give players a small XP reward for resolving fortunes.
  • If the knowledge of future events is coming from dreams there could be negative repercussions from lack of restful sleep until they are resolved.
These inescapable fates can be colorful for things gypsies scream at adventurers, recurring dreams, or drug induced visions but, in the end, because the future holds both good and bad for us, Future as Fate will always have the problem of whether players will want to get involved at all.  I think we need to look to the other views of the future for something more attractive to players.

This post got longer than I thought it would be.  I'll give you Future as Possible Paths next time.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Sagoth Orcs?

Where did pig-nosed orcs come from?

I imagine the answer to this is on a forum somewhere but I can't think of anything less inviting than an rpg internet forum.  I don't think anything to do with Tolkien's orcs would suggest a pig nose.  I suppose it could be just a beastly addition to make them less human and easier to kill without guilt.  I suppose it could have been added to try and make them distinct from the gajillion other humanoids.  Or maybe it was just the whim of a particular artist.
Well, The other day I watched the movie At the Earth's Core which is an adaptation of Burroughs' first Pellucidar book.  In that book the soldier race that serve the evil Mahar are the ape-like Sagoths.  But in the movie they don't look like gorillas, they look like humanoids with pig-noses.  I wonder if this movie might have been where pig-nosed orcs came from.  The Sagoths in the movie act very orc-like: are war-like, brutal, speak a different language, and act on the initiative of a more powerful evil. Coming out in 1976 it pre-dates the Monster Manual and might have been early enough to influence some of the artistic depictions.  I'm curious what other possible origins have been given for pig-nosed orcs.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Lotería Cards

Years ago dungeonmum had a blog post about Italian lottery cards.  I can't find it now because her blog is in hibernation.  But I commented at the time about Mexican style bingo cards that seemed similar.  According to the all-knowing Wikipedia, the Mexican Lotería cards actually developed from those Italian ones.

Anyway, I finally got a set of these puppies. They appeal to me in the same way the Rider-Waite tarot does, simple archetypal images boiled down to the essence of a thing, but also attractive and slightly mysterious.  Lotería cards also have little rhyming riddles associated with each which reminds me of runes and rune poems. 

The Lotería cards have become so iconic that, like tarot cards, there are different interpretations of the cards by different artists, including Dia del los Muertos versions and a Star Wars version.

One unfortunate thing about the set I have is that it is a lesser quality version.  Apparently the set I've seen in collages and art boxes, was the Don Clemente set.  The cheaper set doesn't really compare. Here is a comparison, the best version first:
Sorry for the crappy color on the second set, but the color isn't the problem.  Check out Atlas' hair, the parrot's cool stand gets dumbed down, and look at the perspective on the tiles under the drunk.  I might splurge and try to buy the better version.

I think this deck would be perfect for a system of fortune telling or dreams in a D&D game.  Because it is a bingo game, the cards with random assortments of the images could be used some way as well.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Ze Bulette Spotted in the Wild

Ze Bulette drove down from Eugene for a visit.  He wasn't able to stay long but we were able to check out a cave, where we were told not to feed the Troglodytes hands:
  and re-commune with one of the largest living organisms on earth:
I talked his ear off about psionics, fortune telling, and starting sandboxes before he fled for his own sanity.

Friday, June 1, 2012

The Fattest Game

In reference to this.  Some thoughts:
  • I think it is a space game.  Set in the far future.  Only fantasy can give you as much freedom ( not period pieces [like westerns], or strict genre pieces [like Toon]) but it risks throwing out all the tropes and archetypes we share in our culture.  Assuming we want a ton of options without a cryptic, hyper-personal setting to learn, space is the place.
  • System for biological enhancements for players
  • System for technological implants and replacements for players
  • Genetic engineering
  • Cloning
  • Martial Arts
  • Robots and AI
  • Uploading personalities into computers
  • Downloading skills and memories
  • Software Hacking
  • Ship outfitting and combat
  • Weapons - lasers, rail guns, flame throwers, radiation weapons, explosives
  • Interesting, biologically feasible aliens species.  In other words no bipedal, you are the embodiment of a human quality, Klingons.  But like starfish-things that replicate through limb loss and pass their memories on to offspring.
  • Three layers of space civilization 1) the slow colony ships, some just now reaching planets 2) the near-light speed ships that put passengers in hibernation and 3) the FTL gate culture that found or built gates.  Players starting as any one of these cultures would have interesting artifacts to explore and it's easy to grasp-- these people left before us but were much slower etc.
  • Light on the historical details. "Who knows how it got this way . . . what do we do now."
  • Every planet can have a different flavor, from gritty horror bug hunt to cyberpunk social machinations.
  • Time travel
Looking at this, nothing that isn't obvious.  The trick is to make subsystems that are manageable and distinct.  So you want biological enhancements that will be interesting and different than technological implants. Maybe the trickiest part is coming up with aliens that aren't cheesy and simplistic.  Traveller might be able to do a lot of the above, but wolf-people!?

Maybe another tricky aspect is tone.  I think you can travel far with the bland, banality of evil that corporations and governments give us.  Dark, gritty, and quirky have to be explained with more setting details.  Science isn't spooky or weird, it's what people are using it for that bugs us.

The thing that gets my juices going is thinking about how just two or three good aliens could expand the possibilities enormously.   If you think about how they would have completely differently designed robots -- why would a starfish-thing make a bipedal robot?-- different weapons, different enhancements, different spaceships-- Sorry, dude you can't fit in the helm.  Hell, give one of the species mental powers based on quantum entanglements.  I'd be leery of too much magic-like stuff, everything should be explainable even if in psuedo-science-ese. No angels or demons-- either they are alien species or we're playing D&D and just didn't realize it.

In trying to think of some other fat possibility I can only come up with something fantastic that has tons of ways to affect the world: runecasting, psionics, wizards, sorcery-- but that's basically D&D with some house rules tacked on.