Monday, July 9, 2018

The Tomb of Abysthor - pt 1 - Overview & Wilderness

I was looking for modules to cram into the wilderness game, and wondering if they are even worth the bloody effort. 

Those old Necromancer Games adventures (and their Frog God Games updates for Pathfinder), like The Tomb of Abysthor? I talk a big game about using them. But the inferential distance is... vast, at points.


Can I tweak it just a little bit - enough that it would make sense to include, and be worth the effort?



***** WHAT DO? *****


MAPS / LAYOUT


The maps are one of this module's main strengths, the dungeon has plenty of twists and turns. Nothing to complain about here, if I had to I could just steal the maps and happily write my own dungeon.



GODS / BACKGROUND


Orcus can stay obviously. Thyr and Muir I am 50/50 on, probably replace them with something local to my game. Tsathoggua I will keep: although I have been beating the Mythos drum a lot around here, why look a gift horse in the mouth?



HUMANS vs HUMANOIDS


In the wilderness, there are no civilised humans, and NO ORCS. I will need to change the orcish priests of Orcus to another humanoid race. Have to be careful not to overshadow the 'Orcus-ness' with whatever racial traits they have going on or their place in the campaign. Think about this for next installment.



ALIGNMENT


I use simplified alignment (Law and Chaos). This changes all the magical traps that would be triggered by a Lawful Good-aligned PC walking past. Most of my players are going to pick Chaotic, so if the magic traps are triggered by 'the first lawful character who walks past' this opens up the stealth option, and I like it. It also means all the saints' and heroes' graves are tough places for the PCs to hide out in, and they won't be able to use the holy relics.


This brings up another problem though:



TRAPS IN GENERAL


How many glyphs of warding can one dungeon have? Did people really play like this back in the day? What a fucking grind


MOST of these will get subtracted, and the ones that remain will be made visible. And what is this shit about Disable Device DC 28, like your thief can just "oh yeah, I disabled that magic glyph. Don't ask me how." I hate that. It needs to be changed somehow.



TREASURE


A +1 buckler? Stroll on pal. 


Almost all of this will have to be revamped. I am giving out way fewer magic items in this game, and trying to make them more interesting. The single-use stuff like scrolls and potions can *mostly* stay, but all +x whatevers get deleted. SOME will be replaced by cool new stuff, and I'll try to tie them in to the setting, the dungeon or some aspect of the story. This is WAY more work, but there are plenty of random tables to help things along.


LEVELS / CHALLENGE


Epic 6 means everything has to get nerfed pretty hard. 


Dark Natasha, Balcoth, the higher priests of Orcus, Abysthor himself will all get their levels reduced. Without fussing OVERLY about balanced encounters, quite a few of the monsters will have to get swapped out or toned down. 10- or 12-HD demons need to be placed much more carefully in an E6 game, they are so much more powerful than any human can be. This will make life easier though, as lower levels means less stats!


There is a damn LICH in this dungeon. He can stay, but will be nerfed down to a lower level. An article on 'dangerous ways to get more levels in E6' will follow later: lichdom is obviously in there.



THE WILDERNESS


Nothing really exciting. What is it about 'the wilderness around the dungeon' that just drains the creativity of adventure writers? I haven't liked this part of any module I've ever read. 

We have:

-ruined and defaced shrines to Thyr and Muir
-a lake with some giant frogs
-a one-eyed troll
-a gnoll village
-some giant spiders
-an entrance to the underdark
-a black dragon with some orcs

-a wandering beholder (fuck!!)
-some sinkholes
-a random encounter table with all this stuff, plus stirges, acolytes of Orcus, ghouls, goblins, manticores, ettin, wyverns, etc

All pretty standard stuff, and easily replaced by the shit in your own game world.

This can all get scrapped, except the ruined temples to Thyr and Muir with all the secret treasure inside. They can come along whole cloth, I'll place them somewhere out in my campaign world and fill them with clues pointing towards the dungeon.


SUMMARY

It seems I have my work cut out for me. The maps, monsters, story hooks, villains and encounter tables are cool, but stats will need to be severely edited, traps and treasure almost totally redone.


Next time Level 0: THE BURIAL HALLS and Level 1: THE UPPER CAVES!


*****

Now go HAIL ORCUS while listening to this:



Thursday, July 5, 2018

New Language rules / More borrowing (sorry)

First off, 'linguistics' is an absurd skill in Pathfinder. Spend a single skill point to speak a new language?? I think not. Secondly, languages in RAW D&D are boring and lame, and have always been so - but Pathfinder makes it even worse. Who wants to speak aklo? Zzzzzzzzzzz nobody I wanna play with.

I liked Gary's bit in the 1st edition DMG on alignment languages as limited tools that only cover relevant concepts or brief functional conversations. It made sense but still wasn't what I wanted. Then I remembered A MOST THOROUGHLY PERNICIOUS PAMPHLET. Those language rules were pretty close, but not quite what I wanted for my setting where the PCs explore a lost wilderness completely different from their home civilization.

So with all credit & apologies due to Mr. Torres, here is my try:


*****



Languages that are related to one your PC knows give you a bonus to understand them: roll your Linguistics with a +5 bonus, and you will always understand at least a word or two even if you bomb the roll terribly.


IMPERIAL COMMON - Speech codified in the Empire around 250 years ago, all the PCs know it. Nothing exciting.


Descended from OLD HIGH IMPERIAL - the ecclesiastical language spoken and written by all the lost faiths outlawed and replaced by the Imperial 137 gods. Many old ruins in the wilderness have writings in this language. There are also other human languages descended from Old High Imperial that might be encountered in the wilderness.




WILD ELVISH - Spoken by feral elves & half-elves, who are all stone- or iron-age tribesmen, second-class citizens of the Empire living on reserves or in the roughest wilderness.


Descended from TRUE ELVISH - Spoken by the entire Elven race before its fall and division into warring sub-races. Ancient ruins, lost knowledge, spellbooks and scrolls will have True Elvish writing. Other descendants of True Elvish are DROW and BOG ELVISH.




OREMOUTH - Spoken by dwarves, gnomes and certain lesser elemental spirits. Often these spirits are bound into constructs, so golems, gargoyles, and animated statues can speak, or at least understand it. The higher elemental beings (water, air and fire) don't have their own languages.




LIZARDFOLK - Spoken by these swamp-dwelling primitives, it doesn't have a written component.

GRIMSCRIBE - The secret language of wizards, it is written only and has no spoken dimension. Not the same as the magic words they write down their spells with, it's just for communication between wizards - not sorcerors, witches or anything else. Demons who deal with wizards all know it, and contracts are often written in Grimscribe.


Both are descended from DRACONIC - Lizardfolk who are literate read & write in Draconic characters, but rarely can speak it. It's almost unseen as dragons are quite rare, but occasionally a magic item, book or legendary weapon will have Draconic writing.





SKELETONGUE - spoken by thieves, rogues, criminals and young or lesser undead. All over the Empire criminals have been executed & buried without funeral rites. So many thieves & bandits rose from their graves, they brought their secret speech from this life to the next. 

Intelligent greater undead will speak whatever languages they did in life, depending on their origins.



WILD SPEECH - The high ritual pagan language of Neutral human tribes, before the Empire subjugated them and brought them 'up to date', outlawing their nature gods or incorporating them into the offical pantheon. Spoken by druids, rangers and some other humans who yearn for the old ways.


Related to the languages and dialects spoken by the wild tribes of the wastes. They don't have writing and their speech is much less sophisticated.

Both are descended from SKINCHANGER - the high language of all lycanthropes.



GOBBO - Spoken by goblins, hobgoblins and similar creatures the world over. They travel through the caves & dungeons under the earth and get absolutely everywhere, so PCs can start with this monster language if they want, and goblinoids in the wastes will speak almost exactly the same. There are dialects, but they amount to accents and regional slang.




HISSING - The language of the serpent-men of old. When they carved their mysterious monoliths and standing stones they used these hieroglyphics. Almost nobody knows it anymore, although nagas, yuan-ti, boa constructors and other beings speak dialects of it amongst themselves.


Descended from ELD - the language of all intelligent aberrations like aboleths, Deep Ones, etc. Even more rare, you would have to learn it from one of their servants, and it's probably better you don't meet them.




*****

There will be no Celestial, Abyssal, Infernal or nonsense like that. Beings of extremely high or low spiritual vibration, described by mortals as 'angels' and 'demons' can either speak telepathically, automatically learn your language, or don't/can't communicate with squishy humankind in a way you'll understand. 

Also, thanks to my buddy 4th for a good back & forth on the topic and giving me that crucial bit about Skeletongue I was missing to get things going! He said it best:

"Warcraft, Tolkein, Games Workshop and DnD have just confused the whole orc situation honestly. Like orcs are fine and hobgoblins are fine but do you think it ever happens that an orcish marauder has a fight with a hobgoblin slaver and they both stop and just wonder how it all came to this?"



*****


While you're pondering these absurd new rules, jam this one next time you have a good GOBBO-BEATING in your game:



Friday, June 29, 2018

Starting Equipment & Doodads

So, continuing my quest to make every game more like Dark Souls. I was thinking about the 'starting gifts.' Some are great, some useless. I took the Master Key every time because it allows you to skip the shitty part of Blighttown and really makes life easier.


Since the PCs start with garbage Middenmurk-style weapons, maybe a table of 'inheritances' that could include decent gear would be cool: your grand-dad's old campaigning sword, piecemeal chunks of armour, stuff like that. Your fighter could start out with a pigskin jacket, rusty meat cleaver, and shiny platemail boots. Maybe he would rather sell them for rent money? Maybe other 1st level scrubs want to roll him for his old pop-pop's gear?

Of course I would need to create rules for piecemeal armour, which seems like wayyyyy too much fucking work. In the mean time, I dug out this chart I saved of d100 random items in your PC's pocket. I did some digging, and Hack & Slash had a link to another one on his big link compilation page. These are great, and I will begin using them IMMEDIATELY.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Weapon Lists II - Primitive

So I was brainstorming some other expanded equipment lists that might be around in Land's End. I am gonna use the classic Middenmurk peasant gear for starting humans and civilized folk, but some of the characters are from primitive tribes and they need some crap gear to start with. I have tried to hack down the pathfinder gear into a manageable form, while preserving a sense of mechanical variety between weapons.





So in Land's End, elves and half-elves are second-class citizens in the empire, and basically live in the crappy parts of the world in states of near barbarism. My brother's oracle character is from one such tribe, so he'll pick from the feral elf list. The lizardman comes from the swamps beyond Land's End, so it'll take a bit of fiddling to get him into the group, but his stone-age weapon list is very similar, except I doubt they have much flint or stone to dig up in the swamps. Instead they trade for obsidian with the tribes to the east, who live at the foot of a mountain range. Obviously the lizardfolk weapons are inspired by Mesoamerican designs, and as my research on that topic progresses their arsenal will grow.

*****

Note on weapon costs: I'm using silver pieces instead of gold or copper because it's a bit of a richer setting than Middenmurk, but gold is still an exciting find! Also, I'm not changing the starting equipment costs in the PFCRB, so the PCs will start out broke as HELL. And when the player is 'paying silver' for a stone axe, we can view this as an abstracted sense of their starting wealth and resources when they leave the house, not that they actually gave somebody a big sack of money for a crappy stone-age weapon... although, yknow, selling beads to the natives is a thing sometimes.

*****

FERAL ELF WEAPONS/ARMOUR

Simple Weapons
Hunting Spear - throwable 25ft, shoddy - 1d6, 10 sp
Sling - 50ft - 1d3, free
Branch Club - hefty - 1d4, free
Flint Knife - chips, light, short, crit 19-20 - 1d4, 15 sp
Bone Knife - shoddy, light, short, crit 19-20 - 1d4, 10 sp

Martial Weapons
Flint Axe - martial, chips, critx3 - 1d6, 40 sp
Stone Club - martial, unwieldy, shoddy, 2 handed - 1d8, 30 sp

Light Armour
Hide Shield - fragile - +1 AC, -1 check penalty, - 20 sp
Wool Armour - fragile - +1 AC, +8 max DEX bonus - 50 sp

Medium Armour
Wooden Shield - medium, clunky, fragile - +2 AC, -2 check penalty - 50 sp
Aurochs Hide Armour - medium, furry - +3 AC, +4 max DEX bonus, -3 check penalty - 110 sp 


LIZARDFOLK WEAPONS/ARMOUR

Simple Weapons
Bone Knife - shoddy, light, short, crit 19-20 - 1d4, 10 sp
Branch Club - hefty - 1d4, free
Hunting Javelin - throwable 25ft, shoddy - 1d6, 8 sp
Atl-Atl - launch javelins 45ft - 15 sp
Blowgun - 1d2, 10 sp
   -darts are 10/5 sp

Martial Weapons
War Club - 2 handed, unwieldy - 1d10, 15 sp
War Spear - 2 handed, long, heavy, chips - 1d8, 30 sp
Obsidian-bladed "Sword" - chips, crit 19-20 - 1d8, 90 sp
Snaketooth Saw - chips, crit 18-20, armour-piercing - 1d8, ***

Light Armour
Palm-leaf Fiber Cuirass - fragile - +1 AC, +6 max DEX bonus - 40 sp

Medium Armour
Toad-skin Suit - slippery, FROGGY - +3 AC, +3 max DEX bonus, -3 check penalty - 110 sp

Heavy Armour
Crabshell Plate - slippery, awkward, fragile - +5 AC, +0 max DEX bonus, -6 check penalty - 1500 sp
Tortoiseshell Shield - clunky - +1 AC, -2 check penalty - 55 sp

*** - snaketooth saws are badges of merit, not for sale to foreigners or 1st level lizardfolk PCs. Maybe through story events a PC could be awarded one.


WHAT THE TRAITS MEAN

Here are the relevant original traits for Middenmurk peasant weapons, which I'll adapt for Pathfinder like so:

shoddy: breaks on a roll of 1
hefty: -4 to initiative unless wielder has a STR of 13 or more
unwieldy: -4 to initiative always
short: -4 to initiative unless the combatants are grappling in which case +4
long: +4 to initiative unless the combatants are grappling in which case cannot strike
armour-piercing: +1 to hit against medium and heavy armour

To this I have added:


chips: on a roll of 1 OR maximum damage, weapon loses a bit of its edge and has -1 to damage. This can add up until the weapon can do no damage, then it breaks.

Armour Traits:

fragile: any time the enemy hits you with a 20, the armour gets -1 to AC. If this would lead to no bonus, the armour is wrecked.
clunky: this shield is hard to move around quickly - only blocks attacks from 1 enemy per round
slippery: you and your enemies both get -4 to grapple while you have this on
awkward: this stuff is hard to put on & take off without help - 2x speed of plate mail
furry: gets hot as hell in this armour, if in a warm climate you become exhausted 2x faster
FROGGY: bullywugs, toadmen and others hate you on sight for wearing this. You smell bad, making it easy to track you by scent.

*****

ALSO: I discovered www.paperspencils.com and love how this guy tries to beat the hell out of Pathfinder. He did the work so I don't have to!!! Along with -C's classic skill analysis, I am flogging the shit out of the skills and feats lists to simplify my damned life. I'll make it to a 'lo-annoyance PF' system soon enough!!!

*****

Now it's time to SUFFER!!!!!


Sunday, June 17, 2018

DC:SS - Fair Warning

I was thinking about Dungeon Crawl: Stone Soup again.

I am getting tendonitis or something in my right arm, so to retain my ability to play guitar as best as possible I don't really use a mouse anymore. I can type if I'm careful but I have to take breaks all the time. So computer games are right out the window (just when I was getting into Morrowind!), can't really do artwork for my band's albums on the computer, I hardly even look at Facebook (thank god!!), stuff like that.

But I remember a clever mechanic DC:SS (and I assume other roguelikes) had to offset the gross difficulty and no-save-games hardcore-mode lethality, and I think it would be a great thing to port over into D&D, especially in a wilderness hexcrawl or any kind of sandbox game where the PCs will be encountering the unknown and the weird, monsters that nobody has seen before, stuff like that.





It's a simple mechanic - you can 'examine' monsters to get a bunch of information about them. The part I'm concerned with is 'it looks harmless' or 'it looks extremely dangerous'. Now in ToME (one of the best roguelikes ever, I LOVE that game), they get a little more flowery with it, like "a lump rises in your throat as you contemplate your doom"... We don't have to get that crazy.

And I'm not concerned with the other stuff like "it's resistant to poison" or "it's intelligent." My PCs will still have to figure that shit out and take notes like everyone else.

But when you're playing in a game with no orcs, the goblins are six different colours, and there are Moss Hogs and Star Grools and Sublunary Men and Randomly Esoterically Generated Creatures and fuck-all knows what else... This could be a great way to clue your players in. Think about the lich's fear aura, and stretch it all the way down in a continuum to that 1/3 CR giant rat.

Tell the players if they feel scared of it or not. How confident are they that they could take this thing? Add it in to the weird monster description. Spice it up a bit! Your players can't make decisions without having useful information to act upon. This also sets up another great Gygaxian screw-job: get your players used to being told roughly how tough a monster is, then throw one in that is really weak but terrifying, or (even worse) a wienery-looking little monster who is absurdly dangerous.


*****

A digression: it's total insanity that fighters don't have the ability to size up their opponents anyway - or at least I've never heard anyone mention it. Some real people who have never killed anyone can estimate the difficulty of fighting an opponent in hand-to-hand in the modern day. Imagine how good even a 1st level fighter should be at this, having snuffed out many sentient lives at the point of a sword? Maybe we reflect this by giving some class-based details from time to time. Tell the fighter "yeah, he doesn't seem that strong, you can take him." Or the wizard gets "his eldritch aura is so strong it blinds you!" Of course this could be modified by level and other factors (skill checks, if you have those).

*****

This is part of assuming the characters are good at their jobs, and I don't want to get into a huge conversation about it, because some characters are lame scrubs and that's a whole game you can play too, if you want.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Unlikely Allies, or Hail Sithis!

Had a fun-filled trip to Toronto last weekend; my head still feels like it's in a vise. I guess even I need to sleep sometimes. Took me a while to pare this down to a decent idea:

*****

Some of my roommates are playing Skyrim right now, so I tried it out. I haven't played an Elder Scrolls game since Daggerfall (in 2002 that game was already ancient history. Dear God!!). I remember having fun back then joining the fighter and mage guilds, crawling through dungeons, and contending with the god awful FPS sword fighting controls.

So I made a mean-looking orc with no plan beyond using heavy armour and big weapons, joining the Champions, just being a good-guy fighter clanking about which seemed to be what the game was hoping for.

It didn't work out that way. First it was the lycanthropy, but soon enough I was waging war for Malacath, backstabbing for Molag Bal and committing human sacrifice for Boethiah. I joined the Dark Brotherhood and slew beggar and emperor alike for hard cash. Now I prowl the countryside for friendly innocents whose souls can feed my Ebony Blade (it's basically Stormbringer, and gets more powerful when it kills allies & friends). Turns out, the bad dudes of Skyrim have the best quests and the hottest gear!

BEND THE KNEE, MORTAL.

*****

Everybody knows Elric, he is the classic good guy taking quests from an evil patron, and it works beautifully. Sticking to the simple law/chaos alignment axis of Moorcock and leaving questions of good and evil up to the hero's own conscience (you guys remember having one of those?) lets this work so well, and is why I always love simple L/N/C alignment in my home games.

Because alignment is ridiculous - your belief system/personality/morality is also a set of super-physical laws that bind what you can do and how magic works on you, etc? Let's see a game with the protection from secular humanist spell. Actually I would play that, but it's not the point. When some of my gamer pals and I get drunk, alignment becomes the subject of argument so often it's a running joke.

The best solution I have is to differentiate between the 'moral compass' portion and the 'cosmic allegiance/supernatural laws' portion. Alignment covers your cosmic affiliation in my game, and will change your religious options, magic items, some spells, and certain social interactions. In this way it's more like a 'cosmic vibration' than anything else.

It will *not* prescribe which actions your character is allowed to take. Soooo you can be a Lawful piece of garbage (check out most LotFP material for lots of these guys), a Chaotic good guy like Elric, or anything in between. If you don't care about the gods or unearthly forces, or don't want to participate you can be neutral.

So Skyrim had me thinking: what about PCs who say 'fuck it' and sign up for an evil cult to get fabulous cash & prizes?

*****

In Dark Souls (my personal fave of course), you can battle your way through a crypt rammed with skeletons, wherein a coffin can be climbed into, taking you to their boss - Gravelord Nito - who promptly offers to sign you up for his covenant and give you a magic sword so you can fight other players online in his name! This doesn't give you any protection against his skeletons though, because everything in the game is trying to kill you. This feels weird, but makes sense in the game's milieu.

Sign me up!!!

I've spent a fair bit of time outlining the deranged cultists that hunger to crack the PCs' skulls open and feast on their very brains. I suppose what makes this idea cool in Dark Souls is what makes it difficult at the table though. A friendly (albeit hideous) face in the middle of the dungeon who is part of a normally dangerous faction, but is nonhostile. Usually, my players would expect to chop their way through a horde of foul monsters to encounter a boss, oversized beast or evil mastermind of some kind.

To get there only to find a job offer is a bit of mental whiplash. Let's brainstorm:


WAYS TO SIGN UP WITH THE FORCES OF CHAOS

Divine Concealment:

Maybe the god you think you worship is actually... something far worse. Could be the god you started with, or one you just stumbled across, and like an idiot started hanging out at their lost and forgotten altar.

Desperation:

Remember in Saga of the Swamp Thing when Arcane appeared to Matt Cable as a fly and saved him from that car accident by possessing him? (Holy crap, I just remembered how great Swamp Thing was). This is great if your PCs get in over their heads, as mine do quite often. Instead of a TPK or some other catastrophe, they get stuck with a new patron who wants some harsh tasks accomplished!

Information:

This is another perennial favourite around my place, as the dudes relentlessly interrogate everybody until they can't say any more. Just let it be known that you have information they want - all they have to do is sign on the dotted line. Intel on their enemies, maps of the area, advice on the future, this is basically what Contact Other Plane is for.

Greed:

Especially with XP-for-treasure, my newfangled ultra-expensive jackass equipment lists and magic items being exceptionally rare, signing up with Arioch might be the only way to get the swag you need.

Compulsion:

Being Dominated to do the Elder God's task might be cool in limited doses or over the short term, but who plays D&D to get bossed around? Make sure there is a way out, and/or prepare for your PCs to try and whack the entity that just Geased them, unless they get paid real well.

Supplies/Healing/Equipment:

Setting up the sinister cult as a dungeon or wilderness trading post forces the PCs to at least make nice if they want healing, rest and a place to resupply. This is basically how Dark Souls does it, since all the covenants give some kind of cool swag, a store to shop at or something else. Maybe that deadly new Chaos-tinted weapon you swing around is doing something to your... chakras... though?

Plot-related purpose:

This ties in with Information and others. Maybe there is a dungeon entrance in some forgotten corner of the cult's HQ (I mean, they could just fight through...). Maybe if we rise through the ranks, they'll give us a key that unlocks that damned door we cant get past! (This is straight from Dark Souls, where you need to rank up with the Chaos Servant covenant and a certain door to save Solaire in the end).

Hearing voices:

In Skyrim it happens the same most every time, you just walk up to an impressive-looking statue and hear the Daedra's voice in your head. I find this pretty heavy-handed, not to mention it doesn't really fit for Azathoth to do shit like that. Maybe for more small-time spirits or godlings.

Curses:

Using the great forbidden tome rules from Realms of Crawling Chaos, you might get more than you bargained for when you dig into that sweet new spellbook. Spontaneous alignment change being the least of it!

Mutation:

Remember that huge mutation table a few posts back? PCs who accumulate more of those will find their alignment inexorably turning towards Chaos.


*****

I'll add more as I think of them, but this post has gone on long enough. In the meantime, remember to DIE!!!!