Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Another Petty God: King Shroom - Cannibal Godspawn of Mushrooms, Devourer General of the Lizardwars, Patron of Shroomeaters

So here is another contribution for Gorgonmilk's Petty Gods Revival (now with Michael Moorcock and other famous people getting involved and ALL the contributions from the original project!). Constructive comments will be shown in the Redbeard Edit (here is an example). And now for the Petty God of Mushrooms:

Name: King Shroom
Symbol: Different from cult to cult, mushroom circles being very popular
Alignment: Lawful (Weird)
Movement: Special
Armor Class: 0
Hit Points (Hit Dice): 23 to 184 hp (23 HD, roll anew for every spawn)
Attacks: Special
Damage: Special
Save: M23
Morale: 12
Hoard Class: IV, VII, XXII
XP: 23.000

King Shroom, Cannibal Godspawn of Mushrooms, Devourer General of the Lizardwars and Patron of Shroomeaters is a lesser god of the mushroom kingdom and worshipped by those that seek enlightenment by digesting mushrooms with psychedelic properties. Wherever they grow (1 in 8 chance per region), there will be a cult worshipping him (1,2 in public, 3,4 accepted, but hidden 5,6 hunted by the law 7,8 hunted by a church 9,10 involved in sinister witchcraft; even and uneven numbers being respectively human or non-human communities). There is, of course, a strong and alien connection between fungi and magic, only known by those wizards adept in The Way of the Shroom.

No sober intelligence is able to grasp the cryptic reasoning for him appearing, the bizarre interacting with his surroundings or why the mushroom kingdom is at war with all lizards (yes, that includes dragons...). It is rare to encounter him by accident. Given the fact that fungi are nearly everywhere, some scholars concluded that Lord Shroom is very informed and very aware of what's happening in the World (75%), but his interpretation of this knowledge is very distorted at best. Everytime something mushroom-related is part of the game (ingame or at the table, mushrooms mentioned in a module, mushrooms on a pizza, the ranger doing a wilderness survival check, all counts, if it's not deliberate), there is a 1 in 8 chance that King Shroom will be interested enough to get involved. When encountered, he will react like this:

King Shroom Reaction Table (2d8):

2     Altering reality, blessing characters (psychic tranfer of language)
3-5   On a Mission (speaking in a high pitched voice)
6-8   Offering Knowledge (psychic transfer of images)
9-12  Offering an Experience (psychic transfer of feelings)
13-15 Needs something done (speaking in a dark, deep voice)
16    Stoned, blessing turns curse (talking gibberish for all but those
        under the influence of shrooms or his aura)

If a group of adventurers gets his attention, he will keep his distance for a while and observe. Signs of him being around are mushroom circles in the area, rumors of mushroom poisoning or even stoned cultists engaging the group with cryptic messages ("He is seeing you!"). His timing for appearing is always inconvenient, but the surroundings decide if encountering him will be a pleasant or an unpleasant "trip" (with no connection to his intentions, of course). So he will be seen as a humanoid mushroom of sorts, but how he manifests to the observer totally depends on the entire experience. How he communicates may be read from the result of the Reaction Table.

King Shroom has no legs, so he won't walk. But he is able to use Dimension Door at will within a fungus network and Teleport at will in between fungi networks (spawning in a mushroom circle every time). He casts spells like a level 23 magic user, with the spell effects always mirroring fungus behaviour. He emanates a psychedelic aura 30' around him (save vs. spells to avoid the effects of a Feeblemind spell, interaction with King Shroom remains possible under the influence of the aura and wears of after 1d4 turns). He will fight back if threatened, but only using his spells. Lizards he will attack on sight. Only magic weapons may harm him.

Destroying him will release his spores and he will respawn 1d6 days later. It is the way of the mushroom. Killing him is quite difficult, trapping him might be the best way to achieve that. His blessing is a random spell in the mind of the blessed, to use one time at will. His curse is a funguid infection that makes it impossible to process any other food but mushrooms, slimes and molds, transforming the host into a mushroom after (CON) months. King Shroom eats mushrooms for the various effects they might have and he is quite fond of fermented beverages. 

Giant crickets sing his song...

Friday, March 22, 2013

Some Adventures of Philip Marlowe (for Free!!)

Philip Marlowe, P. I.

This is about the radio versions of some of Raymond Chandlers short stories, saved for your pleasure on the OTR.Network Library.

Found it a long time ago and thought I'd share. More than 31 hours (63 episodes) of noir-goodnes for the ears!

If I remember correctly, they even had the old ads (the first story went on air around 1947...) in there, too. Very entertaining. Have fun!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

D&D Aphorism of the Week

Blogging about D&D is the opportunity 
to give more players grief than you could handle in person.

(I wonder if a Joesky Tax is needed for a weekly feature like this...)

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

A Petty God: Feloren - Astrayed Patron of the Lost, The Idol of Misdirection

(Approved: my first submission for the revived Petty Gods Community Project)

Name: Feloren
Symbol: A broken compass rose without cardinal directions
Alignment: Determine with 1d6 for every encounter (1, 2 chaotic 3, 4 neutral 5, 6 lawful)
Movement: 120'
Armor Class: -4
Hit Points (Hit Dice): 200 hp (30 hd)
Attacks: With anything he might get his hands on
Damage: 3d6 and special
Save: M30
Morale: 12 (minus the result from the d6 for alignment)
Hoard Class: rare maps, information (see text), 1d3 random minor lost artifacts
XP: 25.000

Feloren, Astrayed Patron of the Lost and The Idol of Misdirection is, ironically, a lost god, only worshipped by a very small congregate of daoist cultists that describe him as The-One-That-Is-Lost-But-Everywhere and apply a twisted logic to explain how he exists because he doesn't (or the other way around). Just like the wrong path one takes still is a path nonetheless. Finding him is, paradoxically, taking a wrong turn. And being lost in a paradox, he is a lonely petty god indeed.

Even so, whenever someone is lost and a Random Encounter occurs, there is a 1 in 6 chance to encounter Feloren instead. He appears as a harmless old hobo, with a huge, wild beard and an adventurous assortment of clothes. He seems lost, too. Depending on his alignment and a Reaction roll, he will react as follows:

Feloren Reaction Table (1d12 + result of alignment roll):

2      Misleading (chaotic)
3-5    Counterproductive (chaotic)
6-8    Spurning (chaotic)
9-12   Aware (neutral)
12-14  Reluctant (lawful)
15-17  Helpless (lawful)
18     Disoriented (lawful)

His erratic behaviour is mostly due to the fact, that he has to keep more than one presence at any given time (the three alignments) in different locations. Only in his aware state, he is able to help the lost he meets (2 to 8 on the Reaction Table mean he is pretending). Giving him presents will alter the Reaction Table towards "Aware". Maps give him a gleeful joy (every wrong detail in a map, like "Here Be Dragons" for example, alters the Reaction Table result by 1), but really anything someone is willing to loose (memories, close relatives, etc.) might help to get him there.

Killing him is possible, but very difficult. The easiest way would be to somehow unite his three alignment embodiments and go for the kill afterwards. Killing only one aspect will change reality for those who get lost (if only a little bit) and reduce his possible reactions accordingly (see Reaction Table). Spells cast at him have a 3 in 6 chance of getting lost, with a 1 meaning the spell vanished out of the magic users spellbook, too. Physical attacks do harm him, but the attacker has to save vs. spells or he will be teleported 1d6 miles in a random direction.

Felaren knows with 90% probability the whereabouts of anyone and anything lost. He might share the information, too. He won't reveal himself as a god (he might not be aware of it...), but depending on how he is treated, he may bless or curse the people he meets anyway. A blessed person knows the next 1d6 times what the right direction is (that is, the DM hints the way). A cursed person, on the other hand, will unknowingly move 1d6 times in the wrong direction (characters saying they move in one directing, will be moved in the opposite direction by the DM).

EDIT 03/23/2013: The Petty God Community Project is still running very, very strong. There's still room for submissions, but not for long! Gorgonmilk is doing an awesome job so far and the OSR is very, very alive...

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Lazy Sunday Picture Post

It's always good to have some nice pictures at hand for inspiration. Up to the dotted line those below are from Build A Dungeon From Me. And I want to get a feel for the setting I'm working on. Well, there can never be enough pictures of floating islands...


Thursday, March 14, 2013

Character Death vs. (Emotional) Reasons to be Cautious

This is, loosely, connected to noisms' discussion on Monsters and Manuals about how the length of character creation is related to the players being cautious or not (here) and Billy's answer to that over at Billy Goes to Mordor (here). Both talk about arguments a player might have to fight a characters death after the fact. Both make valid points, I think. Players will have immersive and external reasons, as Billy puts it, to be cautious. And how extensive character creation is, might be a factor, too.

But, this being about a game, both disregard one perspective: playing the game proper and under optimal circumstances, the death of a character is never a coincidence (with flexible systems taking a less optimal treatment of the game into account by giving safety nets to compensate failure to a certain degree). So this is not about the reasons a player might have, but how the game is related to those reasons. First of all:

Being cautious does not mean one will survive

I have two long-time players, let's call them Mr. K and Mr. L, both of them are similar in one aspect: they are survivors. They are just not to kill the way I DM the game. I have a high body count in my games and it is lethal, but they manage getting out of harms way on a regular basis. Their threat assessment is impeccable (and the dice like them, but that is another story...).

The difference is, where Mr. K is a little hot headed and reckless most of the time, Mr. L is level headed and cautious. Whatever character any of them might play, both of them know what they are able to get away with. Being reckless or being cautious have nothing to do with it. They know the game (not necessarily the rules), they know what to do. And they do it the way they see fit. It works either way.

Being cautious or not is not inevitably connected to survival. The reasons why they don't wanna die aren't either. But the way a player handles the system is relevant.

So PCs die anyway, it happens, but...

If you have those players, that seem to survive every challenge you throw at them (without cheating), while others perish, it tells you (at least) three things: 1) there is a way to play this game and survive, 2) those that died, did make a mistake and the game punished it.

Not the DM, the game punished it.


Digression: how to know, it was not the DMs fault

This is about the safety net D&D provides (and it applies to most other rpgs). Early D&D didn't care that much for that, but with time it became obvious that not every DM is able to wing the game like Gygax & Co. and I think it was a natural development. It's also about what a DM can do to keep his hands clean. Let's see:

  • A full hit die at first level.
  • Negative hit points are allowed (a wide variation of rules about dying...).
  • Hit point kicker (more of an odd bird, but Hackmaster allows +20 hp for (nearly) every character at first level; weapons do make more damage, though).
  • Allowing saves vs. dying.
  • Various damage resolution systems, like every weapon does 1d6 damage, etc..
  • Fate points or something down that road (again Hackmaster, there you could sacrifice 90% of your honor to survive, I do something similar with Luck).
  • Creative off-hand rulings to allow avoiding death occasionally (let's call this the "What-if..." rule).
  • The sandbox approach is a good way to free a DM from how a setting reacts to player interaction.
  • Rolling the dice, open or not, was always one of the easiest ways to keep a DM safe from accusations (this includes giving the dice the chance to answer most questions in the game).
  • Rules for critical hits, the wild card most variations offer (even if the odds are against them, luck might be on their side and I saw this happening far to often...).
  • Rules for resurrecting characters.
  • Knowing helps avoiding, threat assessment is a viable player option and really helps surviving the game (this is a player's duty, not a DM's, but some DMs warn players and "help" with the threat assessment).

This should cover most of it. A DM should (and will) use some or all of this rules depending on how sure he is of his own judgement, how aware he is off the complex machinery that is the system and how experienced his players are (or how flexible when it comes to dying...). Nonetheless, even only playing it with the sandbox approach, leaves the DM (most of the time, really) out of the equation if a character is facing death. It's all the systems responce and the system is never "unfair", it's impartial.


Back to he initial insights, concluding with point 3) sure, they don't wanna die, but caving in to their objections leaves only one impression: the DM is taking responsibility. And he shouldn't. Dying in D&D is one of the few things that help a player learn about the game. It has an impact. It is hard on them, because they invested in a character. But it is also a chance to get better at it.

In conclusion (or: Beware The Purple Worms)

During the time I DMed 3e, one of the guys, let's call him Mr. G, played a paladin. They were down in Rappan Athukk, level 3. Lethality was very high (yet Mr. K and Mr. L still prevailed...), but Mr. G stood his ground with (I believe) his second character in the game. They encountered a purple worm and one of the other characters was swallowed. The rest soon realised, fleeing was the best option (the worm being busy with chewing and all). Mr. G, on the other hand, decided to leave no one behind and stayed back to fight the monster. He was a paladin, after all. Well, he didn't make it. Mr. G reacted very emotional to that. He felt punished for playing his character "right", decided the game was not for him and left for good. I could only agree with his decision.

Emotional reasons for player decisions (immersive or external) are not connected to surviving or dying. At least, they shouldn't be. Because as soon, as a player believes this to be relevant in the game, he will argue his characters death as unjust. And as soon as a DM takes responsibility for the life or death of characters, he might tend to cave in to that argument. But it's the wrong cause to the effect.

Not that an emotional connection between player and character is a bad thing (in the contrary, I believe it to be crucial), but as far as the game is concerned, it is just another tool to produce tension. And sure, a DM should care. But if happens what tends to happen and a character dies, he should also point out that that's the way it is. Helping players to accept that, helps the gaming experience in the long run.

Or to put it another way, investing in a character while being fully aware of the fact that he is "mortal", makes the struggle so much more intensive and gives a character life. That's what you play the game for. Death is only the end of this particular story. But an end it is.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Amoral vs. Evil Characters

(Maybe this is stating the obvious, but it comes up every once in a while with players, so I thought it's worth a post...)

Amoral characters I get. It's part of the game, part of it's history and kind of a natural development as soon as you start throwing dice. But I'm really annoyed by players who want to play Evil Characters (TM) because they think it's cool. Just like it's totally indifferent if you play the good guys or the bad guys in World of Warcraft. Where the hell did that come from? Goths? Movies? The satanic panic and the sudden need to be not explicit? Is evil now just a selection of sinister clothes and make-up? 

Well, it's obviously connected with the general lack of understanding the term Monster nowadays (which is directly derived from how THE GAME is played). And that's actually sad.

So this is about the necessity of evil in a game

For most people the Monster tag is enough to kill and loot. They don't need to know what ill deeds the monster actually might have done, they just assume it's justified enough to actually slaughter someone. I know, I know, some bones might be in the flavour text or whatever. My favourite has to be the proverbial Aura of Evil. "Don't look any further, son! Your GOD tells you here dwells evil! So fight the good fight and KILL THEM ALL!!" That's why the oh-so-popular Evil as Alignment was a stupid idea to begin with and helped degenerating our perception of the idea behind the word "evil" to something you can side with, to something socially acceptable or even desired.

Amoral or Evil, what's the difference?

You might google EVIL and find that it is mostly argued in a context of morality and/or perspective, with the individual mostly disconnected from the deed. But that's not argued in a narrative context. There is some truth in the notion that playing in a fictive world gives you more freedom of action. And that's what this is about. Amoral behaviour is, in game terms, within that freedom - doing evil is not. The Game being fiction changes the scope of what is acceptable, but it doesn't negate it.

Let me illustrate with another example:

Knowing this is happening in a tv show makes it far more funny than it would be in reality. Although it is disscusible what is funny or how cruel jokes are allowed to be, the fact that nobody is harmed by telling a joke is what I was aimig for. Amorality is allowed to be funny that way, but seeing, say, a staged rape on TV could never be seen in a positive light with most people. To find and define that line is one of the things a mature DM might want to do (and if it's just to be aware of it).

Let monsters be MONSTERS

As a DM, one should never forget to integrate the consequences of evil deeds into a setting. That's no easy task, it needs tact and it involves themes and ideas most people don't like to think about. But, for me at least,  it's one of the responsibilities of being a DM. And it's one of the greatest narrative tools a DM might muster. If you want your players to take position against something or feel horror and tension, lead them out of their comfort zone, show them the "dark side" (and if it's only a glimpse...). It gives a world depth and variety.

So I try not just to go with the label evil and describe the results of the deeds instead, make it part of the story. And if a player wants to go down that road, I'm prepared to narrate him the consequences of his deeds...

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Random Encounter Status (a pdf)

Alright, blogger, you want to make it difficult to upload pdfs. Well, here is me trying anyway. I'll set up a download section pretty soon.

And for now I'll try and give anyone interested the png of yesterdays post into a free pdf. It is here.

Also of importance (or how I'll handle this in the future...)

After some research, I decided to go with scribd for the pdf storage. Seems simple enough (Edit 1: Changed it to dropbox...). I also checked into Creative Commons and decided to go with it for stuff I put some actual work into. So relevant pdfs will have The Sign:

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Random Encounter Status (A Response)

There was a pretty inspiring discussion over at Dreams in the Lich House about what Random Encounters are up to. Lots and lots of good ideas. I was thinking about die-drop-charts a lot lately, but never found a satisfying solution (other than the ones already around, obviously). Then I read Porky's comment and had a revelation (thanks!).

So Porky wrote:
"One simple approach to improvisation is to make the encounter roll on a sheet of paper and interpret the result. Just the same encounter roll, not an extra one yet.
If a die lands close to the centre, the encounter is on a home or at least claimed territory. The halo region around the centre suggests a patrol or an invasion, based on the map and who's territory it might actually be. Landing near a long edge suggests a trek, near a short edge a search. A corner indicates isolation. The upper half suggests higher reasons like doing penance or self-discovery, the lower baser reasons like scheming or simply natural functions. Even if you're not rolling more than one die, you can combine them.
For example, a die falling on a longer edge, but slightly closer to a lower corner could suggest the group encountered is roving far away from home for a new food source. Maybe they're hungry, preoccupied, grumpy, demoralised. If they're wild, they might crave the party, if civilised resort to wiles or beg for help, all of which can help in interpreting the reaction roll. It also sets up a cascade of branching possibilities, maybe right across the region."
And I was like:
Or something down that line. So as soon as my schedule allowed it, I tried and made a drop chart to see what a Random Encounter might be doing when they cross paths with the characters. Result:
Random Encounter Status (drop-chart)

That's just a .png for now (I wonder what the best way is to make a .pdf online available... Any suggestions?). 

How to use it

As soon as a Random Encounter occurs, roll 1d20 (+HD, modified as implicated)) on this drop-chart. The result of the d20 shows how aware the encounter is of the group, the position indicates what he's up to (or what they are up to, etc.). Interpretation is according to what encounter it is (civilised, wild, undead, etc.) and where it's happening. The further away the die drops from the center, the more imminent is the need to interact with the group (if he's aware of them...).


Let's say the encounter is a group of bandits (6 bandits with 3 HD, a leader with 4 HD) in a forest. The die lands on the grey frame in the upper left corner, showing a 5. The group is lead through the forest by a scout (let's say level 3), has beasts of burden and a watchdog.

The bandits are content, moving towards their homebase after a succesfull mission regarding the security of their camp. They're aware of the group (5+11+2+3+5-5-5 = 16*  vs. 15 (forest)) and will engage (them being bandits and in a good mood, I'd go with the a Reaction Table and see what happens).

Upper right corner, in the grey frame, would mean, the bandits are out for treasure and the characters are the next target. More to the center could mean they are in the process of robbing someone else, very close to HB could mean they are torturing a captive right now, to get information about a treasure. Etc..

If the group in this example would have travelled cautious or without beasts of burden, the bandits would have been busy with whatever they were doing, without noticing the group, giving them the chance to ignore or intercept the encounter.

Last words

Of course I'd offer to make this available as a free pdf. Alas, as mentioned above, I'd have to check my options first. And see how the feedback is.

I wonder if somebody did something like that already. So if you know of somebody, I'd be very interested in the results!

*As a little side note, I'd say one of those bandits is aware of the group (one more as the difficulty). With a result of 18 it would have been 3, etc..

Sunday, March 3, 2013

So now the Lich in your Dungeon got a hobby... (Part 1)

Immortals have too much time on their hands

But not only immortals. Every intelligent-but-lonely monster/NPC in a dungeon should have huge amounts of free time at their disposal, be it dragon, (evil) wizard, vampire (well, vampires are also immortal, but they had to make the list), beholders, you name it. To have a hobby* is only natural. What follows is a list of recreational habits of those beloved monsters (and potential adventure seeds).

Roll 1d10 to determine hobby:
  1. playing music: 1d8 for instrument (1 organ 2 piano 3 violin 4 zither 5 harp 6 bagpipe 7 contrabass 8 something very exotic (mouth organ**, sax, etc.); dungeon will have a room with the perfect accoustics, protected like a treasure; immortal creatures will compose own pieces (working on a masterpiece).
  2. patron of the fine arts: will have 1d10 artists they influence, foster and protect, they not only have a lot of correspondance at their lair, but also first editions, rare paintings and 1d6 artists captive, to keep them for themselves; immortals will have a significant influence on the cultural output of a region (they also controll 2d10 publishers, theater owners, etc.).
  3. correspondance chess: plays regularly with another powerfull and intelligent being, who would be pissed to loose his chess mate because of some group of adventurers; immortals will have 2d6 chess buddies and/or will ave very complex new rules for the game..
  4. sculpting: 1d6 for material (1 wood 2 stone 3 ivory 4 skin 5 flesh 6 glass); will have all the necessary tools and 1d4 unfinished works lying around; dungeon will have a room exhibiting them and protected like a treasure (3d8 sculptures worth 1d20 x 100 each); immortal monsters will collect, too and their projects tend to be bigger/more ambitious.
  5. painting: will have all the necessary tools and 1d8 unfinished works lying around; dungeon will have a room exhibiting the rest and protected like a treasure (3d8 paintings worth 1d6 x 100 each); immortal monsters will collect, too and their projects tend to be bigger/more ambitious, immortal monsters might have (1 in d6) a unique and brilliant technique (worth 1d100 x 100 gp per painting with the right buyer).
  6. people watching: will have 2d4 scying devices and keeps taps of favourites on a daily basis; will take action, if something threatens the flow of the show; will have journals with detailed informations and analysis about the subjects; immortals will even try and controll/influence what's happening, like staging a play, etc..
  7. architecture: this one really put some thought and effort into the environment he's living in; occupying ruined and old structures, the changes will be obvious and "modern" to an explorer (and potentialy more dangerous, traps will work 5 in 6 times, security is tough); if they build their own lair, it's perfectly build to the inhabitants needs and a work in progress (with areas closed as "under construction" and hired workers, constantly supervised by the creature); immortal creatures have a tendency to build mega structures; the dungeon is the price here, valuable (un)real estate for the adventurers to sell (or to live in, if you think about it).
  8. :pit fights: traps near the lair of this creature will rather capture victims than killing them; the creature will have access to an arena; parts of the dungeon will be modified to hold a variety of captives and the personal to to take care of them; will have correspondance with slavers and every other group of people willing to capture and sell anything capable of fighting back; immortals will have very elaborate pit fight scenarios, with fights going on for days or even weeks.
  9. human politics: killing this creature might topple kingdoms or lead cities into anarchy, will have a lot of correspondance with and incriminating evidence against those of higher social status; see 1d100 for number of controlled officials (1-10 local town, small community 11-20 two towns or one bigger town 21-30 small province 31-50 province with 1 significant city 51-70 a shire 71-80 a duchy/megacity 81-90 grand duchy/small kingdom 91-100 kingdom; hd as bonus on d100; immortal creatures also get their age divided by 100 as a bonus).
  10. hunting: dungeon will have protected areas exhibiting a wide variety of trophies; the longer the lifespan of a creature with this hobby, the more elaborate the hunting techniques, up to actively searching for dangerous creatures or famous adventurers and planning hunts for weeks or even months (will have plans and contacts in his lair).
This list could be much more extensive, but I decided to make the first ten public now and will post another one as soon as I've finished them. I had 20 in mind at first, but the list of hobbies one could use for this is really bigger than that (courting, collecting, horticulture, brewing, you name it). Maybe 1d30? We'll see. 

* Wikipedia has a very interesting list of hobbies here. Strangely enough, sand castle building made the list, roleplaying games didn't. Very strange what counts as a hobby nowadays...
** Beholders love those...