Sunday, 11 October 2020

Thieves' Guild: Greaser

This is a Thief Guild following the format invented by Velexiraptor, as follows:

Level 1: Gain 2 abilities at rank 1
Level 2: Rank up an ability you have, then gain a new ability at rank 1
Level 3: Rank up 2 abilities you have
Level 4: Rank up 2 abilities you have, then gain all abilities you don't have yet at rank 1

Hit Die: d6 (if you use those)

If you use weapon proficiencies, you are proficient with greaser weapons - that is, practical urbanite stuff.

 Starting Equipment: Comb, Jumbo tub of thick grease, hand mirror, spring-loaded knife, stylish outfit, a narrative-and-setting-appropriate mode of transportation (horse, motorbike, T-Bird) that only performs properly for you.

Skills (2, d6): 1. Dance, 2. Smooth-talk, 3. Vehicle/driving/riding skill appropriate to your original mode of transportation, 4. Streetwise, 5. Gambler, 6. Bravado

1. Dance-Fighting

    ✧: You may dance-fight. You must not be encumbered or have anything else hampering your movement, and be able to hear some kind of appropriate and familiar music to quicken your soul. A group of people clicking fingers in unison works in a pinch, as does hallucinatory music. You get +2 to your AC and Attack against foes that cannot match your smooth moves.

    ✧: You may add your dex bonus to damage rolls (instead of strength) while dance-fighting. If you are hampered or the music stops while you are dance-fighting, you retain the benefits for two more rounds.

    ✧: You can lead a small group of people to dance-fight, though they are subject to the same restrictions and must be able to see and hear you. You can always hear your theme song if you concentrate.

2. Home Turf

    ✧: Declare a Home Turf no larger than a small town. You always know the fastest route through your Home Turf and can always find a place to lay low there.

    ✧: Once per week you can declare you Know A Guy from your Home Turf who could conceivably assist with the current situation. The GM rolls that person's Reaction when they are next encountered - they may require appeasement or refuse entirely.

    ✧: Gain a Reputation in your Home Turf as befits what is known of your actions. Everyone has heard of you (though you are not always recognised on sight). Discuss with your GM what this reputation is and what effects it will have. This reputation can be changed over time through great effort.

3. Percussive Maintenance

    ✧: Precisely strike an object that is entirely mechanical and entirely comprehensible to you, with a body part, after studying it for at least one round; this makes it immediately perform as you would like, within the realms of physical possibility. You can ignore one of these underlined clauses but if you do, you only succeed on 2-in-6. You may not retry unless you meet all clauses.

    ✧: You can now ignore two underlined clauses, but if you do your success rate is only 1-in-6. If you fail, you may retry once without having to meet all clauses.

    ✧: Ignoring one clause succeeds on 5-in-6. Ignoring two succeeds on 3-in-6.

4. Fast Hands

    ✧: You can draw and make use of the item in your very first inventory slot even if surprised.

    ✧: Gain an extra two quick draw slots. Get the ✧ benefit for your second inventory slot also.

    ✧: You can declare that an item in a quickdraw slot is already in your hand, once per hand per round, as long as you could have reached it.

5. Pompadour

    ✧: With 10 minutes of work and the correct tools, you may style your hair beyond the ken of mortal man. Hats/helmets/etc will ruin it. You may sunder your hairstyle to reduce damage from an incoming attack by 1d6, similar to a shield; you gain advantage on attack rolls against whatever ruined your hair until you hit them.

    ✧: When you sunder your hairstyle it reduces incoming damage by 1d6+2 points. You gain advantage on the attacker until you have hit them twice.

    ✧: When you sunder your hairstyle it reduces incoming damage by 1d6+4 points.You roll damage twice and take the higher result the next two times you hit the attacker.

6.  Magnetic Personality

    ✧: When Reactions are rolled you can adjust the result to be one point more favourable if you are prominently visible and groomed properly. (Not all creatures have variable Reactions.)

    ✧: While you are in a location where you are regarded well, you can draw a room of people to come to your aid if you succeed on a Charisma check. They are not much more willing to endanger themselves than usual. Misusing this ability may cause people to dislike you.

    ✧: All else being equal, anyone will take your side of the story.


Friday, 2 October 2020

Mental Inventory and Mindsets

I said that the spell mutator was next, I was wrong, I want to rewrite it first and I need to figure out the code to make a non-flat random table work right.

Without further ado: Mental Inventory. Jellied Rat uses Mental Inventory.

Just as you have a physical slotted inventory, you can have a mental slotted inventory. You have a number of slots: 7 + Wis Mod.

Mental slots can hold:
    - Your persistent sense of self
    - Homes for memorised spells
    - Permanently fused "passive" spells
    - Mindsets
    - Mental stowaways: mnemonomorphs, parasites/parasitoids, spies, etc.
    - Mental Baggage (Trauma)
    -     Trauma may be gained by experiencing or seeing a friend sustain terrible injury.
    -     Trauma may not manifest immediately. Maybe a day later?
    - Negative status effects: Fear, Hunger, Stress are big ones.
        Drunkenness doesn't go in there. That's separate.
        Hangovers do.
        Bards might give you Earworms.

Skills do not go inside separate mental slots.
The act of gaining a skill is hard work but they don't really take up space - the existence of a skill is encoded within the intersection of the Animal Soul (instinct, which is retrainable) and the Purple Soul (memory).

In addition to your normal Mental Inventory slots, you have 5 Suppressed slots. If you would exceed your mental inventory, Souls, Mindsets, and Fused Spells (the things are are most deeply linked to who you truly ARE) can be relocated to Suppressed slots - they're not really gone but they're also not usable. Spells and negative effects cannot be willingly moved to suppressed slots in this manner; spell homes are simply lost and the spell falls out. If you lose a spell home, you can usually recreate it more easily than you did the first time, but the spell might be pissed at you.

Things suppressed in this manner can be restored to their rightful place once space exists for them again and a proper rest is taken (a meal and a rest in a safe place).


== Souls ==
Starting with Arnold's stuff, he envisions that a person is a *gestalt* of multiple distinct souls. Three lower souls and four upper souls. All can be modified. All can be removed and moved around.
Upper souls depart the body quickly after death and are USUALLY eventually drawn to the River of Souls and then sorted into some kind of afterlife.
Lower souls - earthly souls - stick around for varying amounts of time (Mineral much longer than the others) and then evetually are reincarnated.
If the upper souls are prevented from going where they should, they will reincarnate too.
Be aware that they are still wilful and may deliberately evade capture.
An "escaped" soul will eventually grow - all things strive - so it no longer lacks the other parts.
= Lower =
Mineral: Raw material interactions. Can remember a few basic facts.
Vegetable: Knits together fleshy form. Makes zombies go.
    Lack: cellular functions cease. Immunity to poison. Death in 1d6 hours.
Animal: The desires of the flesh.
    Lack: Dwarves don't have this.
= Upper =
Purple: Memory
Red: Personality
    Lack: No style or individuality. Dwarves don't have this.
White: Goals
Blue: Spirit
    Lack: No casting, no religion. +4 to Save vs Magic.

If you're paying attention, you'll realise that you could have 3 wisdom and have to store 4 souls. In practice this means that you will either have no Personality or no Goals.

However, barring extereme circumstances, those first four slots are going to be filled up with your YOU.

== Mindsets ==
Players can adopt or discard a mindset if they can supply a good enough reason to do so, such as some critical and life-changing event that they recently went through. Anything traumatic or stressful, or a pyrrhic victory, or an interaction with a cherished acquaintance. Replacing a mindset in the middle of a desperate battle is fine. Replacing a mindset multiple times in one turn is less fine.

You can put a mindset into more than one slot for a greater effect. Combine Desperate and Seeker of Destruction! I'm sure nothing bad will happen.

`Prideful` If you fail a check relating to your pride, once-per-session you get a do-over with advantage.
`Angry` Reroll failed initiative check if you immediately charge
`Goblinism` Compulsory for goblins. This is what makes a goblin a goblin.
`Confidence` +2 to do the first thing you suggest, instead of dallying/planning
`Cowardly` +2 Defense while avoiding danger
`Cruel` When you use unnecessary force on a vulnerable enemy, you can force a Morale check. Results may vary.
`Inquisitive` 1/session, you find something hidden
`Desperate` +1 to everything while at 0 HP
`Oathbound` +1 to everything opposing your oath
`Magnetic Personality` +3 retainers (normally 2 or 6 + Cha mod)
`Greedy` Can accurately compare the relative worth of things
`Stoic` You can ignore minor mental penalties (up to -2) and never complain about them
`Stalwart` You can ignore minor physical penalties (up to -2) and never complain about them
`Happy` NPCs don't automatically treat you as an "adventurer"
`Inspiring` Followers are on their best behaviour (if there is any chance you'll hear of what they do)
`Helpful` 1/session, after a friend has rolled a d20, allow them to reroll it and take the higher result
`Iron Stomach` +4 to save against anything you ate
`Innocent` Anything will hesitate to kill you, at least for a moment
`Joker` An in-character quip that the DM deems sufficiently witty heals 1HP, up to 3/session
`Knowledgeable` 1/session learn a new rumour if in town. If not, DM's choice of something potentially useful.
`Mysterious` Conceal your backstory. When you reveal it, exchange this Mindset for a different one.
`Observant` INT check to ask detailed questions after you've left a scene (flashback style)
`Paranoid` GM will suggest lots of ways that things could go wrong.
`Grandiose` Enemies that fail a morale check and would flee/rout (not retreat) instead grovel
`Immaculate` +1 damage at full HP
`Zealous` Your voice counts as a holy symbol
`Seeker of Destruction` Do +1 damage always, have +1 Death Die always
`Brave` +2 vs fear
`Hasty` +1 to Move
`Steadfast` +2 to save when holding breath or for feats of endurance
`Lithe` +2 to AC when unarmored
`Alcohol Dependence` Alcoholic drinks heals you for 1 hp.  You still get drunk, though.
`Pew pew` +1 to hit with ranged attacks, but -1 to hit with melee attacks.
`Beatstick` +1 to hit with melee attacks, but -1 to hit with ranged attacks.
`Hatred of X` +1 to hit against a certain type of creature (if you start with this, determine randomly)
`Sir Robin` Can disengage from combat without penalty, attacks of opportunity, or whatever
`Superstitious` +2 to save against curses
`Leadership` Associates must use your save against emotional effects
`Suave` If you make an effort to present yourself well, you get a +2 to positive social interactions
`Expressive` You have a gift for art - visual, music, dance, whatever. This is more about bold artistic vision and baring your soul rather than actual technical skill.
`Low Standards` Things that would be soul-crushing for most people are just a Regular Tuesday for you.
Pious: ?
Inconspicuous: ?
Showboat: ?
Ugly: ?
Competitive: ?
Servile: ?
Thinky: ?
Faithful: ?
`Contemplative` Increases the power of cleric miracles. Somehow. Others who share your faith and who are also being contemplative may assist.

= Quasi-Mindsets =
`Crammed X` You are treated as knowing a particular skill (at a small penalty) but you must Save every night or lose this. Requires a teacher and quite possibly some special ability to obtain (that either you or they have)

Saturday, 26 September 2020

Spell Generator for GLOG

 

 I want spells to be interesting. I want encountering them to be truly memorable. I want them to have personality. I want them to be alien. I want a practical and interesting social combat structure, or minigame, to represent the sheer amount of work it takes to catch one. I came up with a procedure for this, but I found that it was so unwieldy that I immediately realised that I needed a computer to do it for me. 

Prep procedure:

1. Get a copy of this grid in whatever format is most convenient for you. You want to be able to scribble on it. That (unmarked) grid is player-facing information for anyone that knows anything about spells.

2. Click this button. [This sentence will become a link to my next post which will be a spell mutation generator]


3. Eyeball the results. Modify as you like. Maybe reroll it if you don't like it. If it tells you to look at a particular wizard school, open up this page, find that wizard, and - assuming that a school has got 12 spells with the rarest ones at the highest numbers - take the LOWER of the two numbers in parentheses and look at THAT spell.

 4. Decide on the intelligence level of the spell. If you decide that this spell is as smart as a normal person (which I think should be rare), you can break away from this process immediately and play out any negotiations with them as you would any NPC. Do you want to see the fighter get into an argument with a talking rope while the wizard tries to break it up? I do.

 5. Mark the the Needs you rolled on the table, and the point value of each one. See how these Wants are grouped into three base categories? Decide now on the personality and the appearance - these should flow naturally out of what spell it is and those Needs. Making a guess at what a spell might do from its appearance and behaviour is a part of this game.

A spell might look like anything; it might look like an animal, vegetable, mineral, person, astral body, hairball, something a cat coughed up, an ordinary tool, something that a neural net created, a creature from Spore...

OK, your prep is done.

When encountered, it works like this.

To be able to interact with a spell properly you almost always have to be able to usefully perceive its actual form. Some are plainly visible, some are not. ALL wizards have got some ability to sense them sufficiently. This ability can be developed with proper training or by doing irresponsible things to your eyes. Non-wizard spell-hunters carry a range of Doodads; each Doodad has a 1-in-6 chance of rendering a given spell visible (salt, a cat, and a layer of alchemical crystals stuck to a sheet of paper are the most common and cheapest types). Almost all spells become visible for a short period each day, but that exact time varies.

One attempt = 1 Turn (10 minutes). The wizard (that's how I'm just going to refer to the person trying to tame the spell) incurs a Stress just to try, as they begin the intense mental work of trying to utterly comprehend the being before them while simultaneously constructing a new space for them to live in and actually navigating the negotiations.

One Attempt == the wizard gets their Wis score in actions. An action may be used to try to meet a single Want on the chart (the Wizard is provided with an unmarked chart) or to ask a general question about what courses of action are more likely to be productive.

The wizard knows whether an action was successful or not. If they were successful but this did NOT yield any points, they are informed of that too.

The threshold that must be met or exceeded to win is usually the total number of available points -6.

If you FAIL, you can immediately retry by incurring an additional Stress. You can also lock any Wants that you previously achieved by taking yet another Stress (note that some Wants will stay locked for free).

If you SUCCEED the spell moves in immediately, taking the first slot that you put the Stress into. The rest of the Stress, you need to get rid of the hard way.

Saturday, 22 August 2020

Paper Golem, a spell for menial tasks

 [ Paper Golem]     D: until next dawn     R: 10'

Target paper-doll enlarges to size of caster, adopts their attributes, and accepts instructions of [sum] nouns and verbs. Paper Golems have one hitpoint, weigh almost nothing, are blown by wind, and will wear off their fingers in an hour of hard work if they have them. They approach problems in the most obvious way that their caster would (as if in a dream, drunk, or half-asleep), have no self-preservation, and have miniscule problem-solving ability. While concentrating, caster knows approximate direction to golem and if golem is destroyed. When destroyed, material reverts to original size. Valid materials follow.

1 MD: Materials that are instantly destroyed by fire and quickly degraded by water (paper, dry leaves, reeds)

2 MD: Materials that are resistant to either water or fire (flake of wax, squashed cotton candy)

3+ MD: Any mundane material.

??? MD: A shadow (ask your GM)

 

Saturday, 15 August 2020

The Price of Ignorance

Experimentation and discovery: important and fun elements of the game. We should examine how we can deliberately include them in our games. Traps that only interact with your Saves, and Obstacles that only interact with your Skill Check, lack these elements, and are generally not fun. Let's do something else.

I want to define a broad category of things that I can't think of a good word for. I can, however, define their likely qualities. I suspect that you could break any and all of these rules and have the thing still serve the same purpose in the game, or have the thing obey every rule and yet not serve that purpose.

  • They serve as an obstacle or impediment, preventing or dissuading access to something behind them (possibly metaphorically)
  • Their operation is deterministic, or at least somewhat predictable
  • They respond to certain specific inputs, possibly in the form of triggers, sensors, behaviours, or manipulable controls
  • Experimentation combined with Thinking is usually the best way to find out how they work. Possible alternatives include getting the information out of an NPC or institute that does know, or expending resources (divination spells)
  • Knowing how they work is usually the best way to cease being impeded by them, though one may be able to remove the impediment (temporarily or permanently) by expending resources; either personal things like spells, or equipment, or money, or time. Or, just by taking a risk.
  • They provide enjoyment by being something to play with.

Things that are part of this broad category:

  • Some puzzles (if you do them right)
  • Traps (if you do them right) 
  • All manner of unique, possibly arcane, machinery in your dungeons, workshops, and wizard laboratories
  • Most Black Doors
  • Magic items (maybe)
  • Golems (maybe)
  • Bound devils/demons (maybe)
  • A north/south passage that you can only walk through while facing south
  • A 20' chasm with no bridge and the ghosts of 10,000 angry geese
  • An immortal Skeleton Jelly that steadily splats wetly after you without getting tired

 If all the relevant information of the obstacle is immediately obvious, then you get a closely related group in which the experimentation, discovery, and play exist only within the mental process of nutting out a good solution, as you consider different possible options:

  • Other puzzles (if you do them right)
  • Other Black Doors
  • Very obvious traps
  • Guardians with Riddles
  • Other magic items (maybe)
  • A cylindrical tunnel, lined with frictionless material, sloping upwards
  • A 20' chasm with no bridge
Some things that I believe do not belong in this group:
  • People that must be spoken to and negotiated with, or killed, avoided, etc.
  • An ordinary locked door, because everyone already knows the main options to deal with ordinary locked doors and thus require no thought. At least: the first locked door may be part of the prior category, but the 50th one will not be. Same logic applies for the 20' chasm if you see a lot of chasms.
You don't have to know what is behind these obstacles for them to work. The impediment may be metaphorical rather than physical (if the only reward is knowledge). I think you could potentially have something like this with nothing behind it at all, if you wish to either teach your players how something works (and equip them better for a similar obstacle) or simply waste everyone's time.
 
Unique "correct" solutions are not necessary, and in extreme cases no intended solution need be prepared at all (as long as the GM is reasonably confident that the party could come up with a way to proceed).

There also doesn't have to be an explicit penalty for doing the "wrong" thing - it's pretty much the defining quality of a trap, some puzzles use it, the only cost may be time, or it could be entirely negligible if you and your players are happy just solving puzzles. Still, I think that I would recommend incorporating some cost, no matter how small, in general.

Update:
I'm going to refer to these as Special Obstacles until further notice. That differentiates them from creatures and the most common structural features and describes their function in the universe.
Alternative names included simply "Obstacle", "Hazard", "Toy", "Diversion", "Thingy", and "Jawn".

I had another discussion about the folly of trying to categorise things and whether this is fundamentally limiting, but I don't know what to think about that yet. I think my main purpose in digging into this concept is not to try to rigorously and rigidly define the pieces that I am using to stock my adventures; it is to analyse how all these different kinds of things may be presented best and most freely when encountered. So that I can see the similarities between the game structures in different places and save myself mental work.

I also realise that the role that anything will play in your game cannot be described purely by its own qualities and place in the universe. That has a major impact, but there is also the part of how the Party relates to it, which is based on what they think of it, which the GM cannot control. Things can even be deliberately misrepresented, or miscommunication can occur - for example, the story of The Gazebo is famous. Things won't be boxed in.

Rethinking Trap Procedures

Traps: they should logically exist in at least some places in our games. Kobolds are very popular at the moment, and kobolds love traps, so you almost can't get away from them. However, too often they're simply not fun.

Common potential problems:

  • GMs slapping their players with damage they couldn't be reasonably expected to avoid
  • Players neurotically searching and re-searching areas "just in case"
  • Metagaming responses to low rolls or the GM's unfortunately-worded descriptions resulting in the PCs completely disassembling harmless bits of dungeon dressing step by step
  • GMs slipping in false positives or intentionally suspicious language in an attempt to dissuade metagaming resulting in a lot of time pointlessly wasted
  •  An absolutely huge number of perception/search rolls that don't mean anything
  • Attempts to spend real time only on interesting content inherently telling the players that a particular spot is interesting, mysteriously making the heroes psychically aware that a hazard is likely near

 Existing trap procedures, each fixing some of these pitfalls, form an even longer list - which I'm not bothering to describe.

The goal, as always, is to have them exist in the game in a form that they actually make the game more fun, not less fun. This is my own attempt to design the trap process in games to mesh elegantly with existing structures. It is a modification of the process described in Many Rats On Sticks: it makes some assumptions about what you are already doing to run the game. It is also completely untested!

  1. If the party proceeds cautiously, they are assumed to be trying to not set off traps accidentally, and get some indication of all traps.
  2. If the party suspects something is a trap, they should be encouraged to investigate it without permanently expending resources (for reasons that will become clear).
  3. Resolve their actions according to reasonable expectations, as normal
  4. If the party begins to regularly employ techniques that DO consume resources when they poke anything suspicious, those resources should be added to the depletion process of normal exploration to indicate that they use it frequently (just like torches, and food)

Example: Poking every exposed surface with a long pole will not deplete the pole as a part of normal progress. If there is a trap that will grab/destroy the pole, resolve it at that point when they actually poke it. Same thing for driving livestock in front of the party; they keep the livestock until they actually run into something that would deprive them continued usage of said animal.

Example: Sprinkling dust should not deplete, or deplete extremely slowly, because you can just collect it back up and reuse it. Again, special circumstances that would make the dust irretrievable would reduce your inventory.

Example: Pouring water to look for seams, bubbles, or low patches should definitely be added to normal expenditure of consumable items unless the party has some explanation of how they are getting all the water back. 

I suggest just keeping a section of notepaper where you list their common approaches to strange things - a new technique gets written down, and a checkmark for each repetition. Outliers get added to the depletion list. Of course, it's up to you to decide about how fast each thing should be used up.

This procedure can also be combined with the Click Rule for extra excitement whether or not anyone is in actual danger when they set off a trap (say, by poking the trigger intentionally). I think I'll be using it.

Load-Bearing Design, OR What If Jeremy Bentham Ran Games, OR Utilitarianism In Gaming

This is going to be a short post, simply to define a rule that I intend to refer to many times in the future. It is so blindingly obvious one may wonder why I bother to say it at all, but I do think that there is value in saying it, so that we can make a more conscious attempt to follow it and, hopefully, grok it. I will make my thesis statement in just one sentence.

 "Everything in your game should actively support the goal of making your game enjoyable."

When I say "everything", I mean "everything": whether designing or modifying systems, worldbuilding, designing monsters, constructing an adventure or employing pre-written content, populating dungeon rooms, managing the activities of major factions or any individual, describing places and situations and people, resolving each action and process, running a conventional combat encounter, interacting with the people at your table, and the act of just being a player. The rule is so all-encompassing that I can't help but see it as more of a guiding philosophy.

We already collectively know that it this is true. GMs that do not follow it tend to lose their players. Systems that do not obey it are not popular. Games evolve as pieces are replaced with new parts that serve it better. That's why we write, research, test, and share houserules, after all.

Nothing is sacred enough in gaming to justify it remaining if a better alternative can be identified; life is short and playing no game at all is better than playing a bad one. This does not mean that we should all throw out our D&D 5e books and exclusively run our own beloved heartbreaker systems - there is enjoyment in being able to just sit down and play without spending the energy to learn a new system, to draw in players that want to be able to say that they're playing D&D, and to easily transfer content between editions.

For myself, I somewhat dislike that every game uses str/dex/con/int/wis/cha (try: strength/agility/wits/willpower, as strength covers normal str/con, agility more explicitly covers mobility, and the lines between the "mental stats" have been redrawn entirely), but I still decided that my own GLOG offshoot would use those same six, for familiarity reasons. While I regard it as a necessary evil, I also went over the definitions of these attributes and rewrote them to be more coherent and useful, trying to make the most of what I had, trying to make this structure serve common player expectations and my own expectations equally well.

If I follow this philosophy, I can easily find three things that I can actually do.

  1. Go over my games (after the event) and analyse what went wrong. Try to work out why, and what could be altered to fix it.
  2. Keep my eyes and ears open on forums that share their modifications to game structures and consider whether these would improve my own game.
  3. Listen to my players and try to meet their expectations on what they want to do.

None of this is particularly insightful or groundbreaking. I rather think I am preaching to the choir: I believe that the true rallying cry of the thing calling itself the "OSR community" is not to resurrect the most ancient game structures of our hobby - it's just to play better games.

Good luck in your perpetual self-improvement! 

Thieves' Guild: Greaser

This is a Thief Guild following the format invented by Velexiraptor , as follows: Level 1: Gain 2 abilities at rank 1 Level 2: Rank up an...