... now with 35% more arrogance!

Friday, June 19, 2015

Natural Demons

A Tenkar's Tavern post encouraged a lot of people to talk about alignment again. But I want to talk about demons. Specifically, the kind of demons that aren't really demons.

Occasionally, people will mention how some old swords & sorcery stories do not have real gods, but have various monsters that are worshipped as gods. There's a giant snake with fangs that drip a paralytic poison that can also trigger astral projection. It lives in a horrible temple, tended by crazed priests who kidnap children to feed to it. The priests harvest the venom and use it for their own purposes. The priests believe the snake is a god, or maybe they just tell worshippers this so that no one tries to stop their nefarious activities. The snake, though, might not be intelligent or even aware of its followers.

What I haven't seen anyone discuss is the fact that you can handle demons the same way. They could just be really weird mutant animals, perhaps left over from genetic experimentation after an apocalypse (as are the demons in Thundarr.) Or perhaps each demon is created by conjuration magic, called forth from a sorcerer's id, as in Roger Zelazny's Wizardworld novels. Perhaps demons are former wizards who either transformed themselves to achieve immortality and power, as would a lich, or were transformed against their will by dabbling in dark magic. Perhaps they are space aliens, as is suggested in some Clark Ashton Smith stories, or in the Cthulhu Mythos.

The reason why I was prompted to write about monster demons by Erik Tenkar's post asking whether alignment is even necessary is because alignment really isn't necessary if you are using that kind of demon. If a demon is not really supernatural, or is only supernatural in the sense of having innate magical powers, then there is no need to  link them to a specific alignment, or even to each other. Each may be a unique entity with individual needs, goals and desires. In contrast, if you want demons to be part of a supernatural menace threatening the world as part of some cosmic battle, then I think you need alignment, though what form of alignment is really up to you. If demons can be banished from this world, if holy water has an effect on them, and if PCs can choose to join demons in exchange for power or oppose their plans, then you need to be able to tag characters to show which side they are on.

It's a matter of what kind of fantasy feel you are looking for. Epic, horrific, or picaresque?

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Investment Table

I had a lot of positive response for Bribe, Craft, Train and the related posts on building resources like arcane libraries and holy shrines. However, at least one person asked for a table, since that would make the whole thing easier to understand. I thought it over, tried a couple different layouts, and settled on one that I thought would make the most sense: the Investment Cost Table.

The table assumes that the player tells you what they want to do and how much they spend. The player does not know the difficulty level, usually, nor the exact chance of success. You would look up the difficulty level in the header row, then read down that column to find the amount spent, or as close to it as possible without going over. The first number in that row is the target number to roll under with a d20.

The table leaves out some values: 6 to 9, 11 to 14, and 16 to 19. These are all 5, 10, or 15 + another number, so I figured this would be more compact and still easy to do.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Dungeon Puzzles

While I work out a table for the training and investment costs series and write up some additional posts on that topic,  I thought I'd take a break and talk about puzzles. This was most spurred by someone asking about non-riddle puzzles for a game aimed at kids. The age wasn't specified, but I'm thinking puzzles in general are better off as non-riddle puzzles, anyways, regardless of age. There's a slight difference in expected difficulty or subject matter from age to age, but I see these as the best puzzle types to use:

- One of These Things Is Not Like the Other
I'm sure most of you remember this from Sesame Street. Just include images or symbols of three or more things, most of which are the same kind of thing, but one of them is different. For example, you enter a room with four exits on the opposite wall. Above each door is a small animal statue: a snake, a turtle, a crocodile, a penguin. Only one door is safe; the other three lead to traps.

A variant of this: Find the Error. Naturally, you don't want to turn this into pixel bitching, but if you have three or four recurring motifs that are exactly the same almost every time you encounter them, any deviation from the motif becomes a clue. For example, let's say the dungeon is filled with statues of a man throwing a harpoon, a woman pouring water from a jug, and an eagle holding a fish in its talons, and the GM describes these the same way every time they are encountered, but in one room you see a man throwing a harpoon, a woman pouring a jug, and an eagle holding a rabbit, something's different.

- Analogies or Relationships

An analogy, in this case, means the well-known form "A is to B as C is to D", such as "a sword is to a warrior as a wand is to a wizard". A relationship means an implied analogy, such as the sword/warrior relationship implying an analogy of tool to profession.

This works well for the cliche "complete the statue" puzzle. You have a statue of a warrior in full armor with a hand gripped as if it could hold something. In the dungeon, you find several brass objects: a flower, a long-handled spoon, a spear. Which do you put in the warrior's hand? For a full analogy, you would have at least one complete statue indicating a relationship, such as a wolf eating a deer and a gryphon eating a horse. Then you have a pedestal next to these statues with an eagle in a position as if it is tearing into its prey. Your job is to find the object representing its prey and place it on the pedestal.

A trickier version is a room with three sealed doors and a bas-relief above each door, each depicting a different relationship, say a deer with a fawn, a wolf tearing into a cow, and a man riding a horse. In the center of the room is a statue of a gryphon. Placing a ceramic egg at its base opens one door, placing a ceramic horse opens another. There may or may not be a way to open the third door.

- Memory Games

On various murals throughout the dungeon, you have a series of symbols, always in the same order. For example, triangle, wavy line, crossed circle. Then you get to a room with five  bas-relief symbols that are obviously buttons. The symbols are crossed circle, cross without circle, square, triangle, wavy line. Pressing the right buttons in the right order triggers something, such as a secret door.

Another example are the puzzles in Skyrim. They have a few standard symbols based on animals or creatures, and some rotating pillars or rings with three symbols on each. Somewhere nearby, there is a set of fixed pillars showing the proper order, or there are symbols on a "dragon claw" used as a key. This is actually easier than the puzzle described above, because the solution is never very far away, unless you find a door that requires a dragon  claw that you don't have.

What I'd suggest is that riddles, if they are used at all, are best restricted to clues for any of the puzzles above. They are an extra help on what to do.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Barony Development

"Well, it's like in the Army, you know? The great prince issues commands, founds states, vests families with fiefs -- Inferior people should not be employed."
--- Firesign  Theatre
Now here's where I try to get really clever with adapting the magic research rules to all sorts of other things: barony development. Famously, Underworld & Wilderness Adventures brought up the topic of domain management as the D&D "end game", but only offered sketchy details: "Some  possible  investments  are:  Road  Building, Canals, Inns, Hunting, Religion, Armories, Animal Breeding, Farming, Fishing, Exploration, Ship Building, Sea Trade, Land Trade,  Trapping. Successful  investments  will  also  have  the  effect  of  increasing  the  population  of  the investor's  territory,  providing  the  area  of  investment  does  not  specifically  preclude such  (hunting  and  trapping  would  do  so,  for  example)." Many people have tried to flesh out those details, for example the designers of Adventurer Conqueror King, but most aim for logic and realism, working out economic details. I don't want that kind of grief, myself.

The simple way is to again define each feature in terms of levels, much like the holy shrine or the arcane library. In fact, each of those could be considered examples of barony investments. The baron spends money raised by taxes, with the intent of raising the level of the resource, and makes the research roll, with success meaning the level improves, winding up with a 1st level road network, or 3rd level trading.

For commercial resources, the level determines income. Trade, for example, brings in profits, which can be taxed for extra domain income. Since the base tax is 10 gp per citizen, you could figure that 1st level trade brings in 1d6 extra gp per merchant or tradesman. 3rd level trade brings in 3d6 gp per merchant.

The level could also be a target number for 1d20 rolls when trying to produce some specific resource. Say you invest in lumber, and suddenly need a supply of logs to build a palisade. Roll 1d20 less than or equal to your Lumber level to meet that need.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Legendary Weapons

I'd already mentioned Andy Bartlett's post on zero-level NPCs using magic as one of the the things that sparked this recent discussion of re-purposing the magic research rules for many other things, from adding new mundane skills to building shrines and libraries. But one of the other inspirations was a forum discussion about magic weapons and armor that are legendary rather than enchanted. They became powerful because they were used in great deeds, not because they were made by a wizard. In the forum thread, I outlined this idea:

Giving your sword or weapon a name is the first step towards making it legendary. A master smith must etch the weapon's name into the blade or shaft, perhaps adding a gold or silver inlay. The amount of money spent affects the odds of the weapon becoming legendary: 500 gp for a 1 in 20 chance, plus 500 gp for each additional 1 in 20. Double the cost for a +2 weapon, or quadruple it for a +3 weapon.

You don't roll during the crafting, but instead during combat. When you strike the deathblow on a monster that's a higher level than you, roll to see if the weapon becomes legendary. Or, combine this roll with the attack roll: it becomes legendary on a perfect 20 roll for the death blow, or a perfect 19+ if you paid the extra 500 gp, or a perfect 18+ if you paid 1,500 gp and so on.

Once it becomes legendary, the GM secretly rolls for intelligence and possibly ego, perhaps using only 1d6 to start. Each additional legendary deathblow gives a chance for the weapon's intelligence to increase, and thus have an increasing chance of communicating with the hero and/or developing powers. To add specific powers, take the legendary weapon back to the smith to inlay some runes on the weapon for another magic research roll, the cost based on the effective spell level of the desired effect (flaming swords might be 3rd level, a sword that summons storms would be 6th level.)

These costs do not have to be ornamentation by a blacksmith; that's just an example. It could instead involve performing rituals and using rare magical substances, or paying bards to spread rumors about the deeds of your mighty blade. Also, you can set maximums for the plusses on a weapon, or limit intelligence to magical swords as per the rules as written, or require a minimum character level before a weapon could become legendary.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Arcane Library

Continuing the discussion on re-purposing the magic research rules for other things: the way holy shrines work is itself a re-purposing of some  ideas I have about arcane libraries. Some variations of magic research allow reduced research costs if the magic-user has a library available. I thought about including the cost of the library as part of the cost of research, but that makes it easy to build up a library that guarantees success when researching 1st level spells.

I decided instead that it's easier to assign levels to arcane libraries. A 1st level library lets you research 1st level spells, but not spells of 2nd or higher levels. A 5th level library lets you research spells of up to 5th level, but not those of level 6+. The library's level acts just like a shrine's level: it doesn't add to the chance of successful spell research, it just sets a minimum target number. As long as you spend the minimum required on spell research, a 5th level library gives a 25% chance of success.

A hypothetical arcane library that would grant automatic success to spell research would be 20th level and would cost a minimum of 262,144,000 gp ... and you have only a 1 in 20 chance of successfully creating the library, at that cost. Spending 5,242,880,000 gp would guarantee that you'd get a 20th level library, assuming that's even possible. Perhaps max library level would be max spell level? Even if it isn't, 260 million plus in gold pieces seems like an unreachable amount, even in most Monty Haul campaigns.

If someone steals a wizard's magical tomes or sets fire to the library, the value of the lost materials lowers the library's level. How you handle this wouldn't be set in stone, but for example you might rule that a thief could grab 1d20 x 1,000 gp worth of tomes at a time, or an out of control fire would lower the value of a library by 1 level every 2d6 turns. It all depends on what seems right for the given situation.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Holy Shrines

In a comment on the post about Level Zero scholars creating scrolls, Andy Bartlett and I started discussing applying this to priests and miracles as well. I've written before about using the reaction roll/turn undead mechanic for working miracles through faith, but I'm not sure I mentioned that I like leaving NPC priests at Level 0. Instead of them having spells, it's the temple or shrine that has one or more spells. Different places have a reputation as a healing shrine, or an oracle (casting Commune,) or hallowed grounds safe from supernatural attack.

It works a bit more like spell research than creating scrolls.

The saint who establishes a shrine invests in it. Tithes and donations from the faithful pay for religious icons, altar decorations, stained glass, or whatever local custom sees as glorifying the divine. The miracle asked for, usually just a blessing at first, is assigned a spell level, and the value invested in the shrine is used to figure out the chances.

Example: Bless is a 1st level. Spell research for a 1st level spell costs a base 500 gp for a 1 in 20 chance of success, plus 1 in 20 for each additional 500 gp, up to 10,000 gp for automatic success. The GM rolls to see if the shrine is Blessed. Only the GM will know for certain until the shrine actually Blesses someone.

When one of the faithful prays for a blessing, roll a 2d6 reaction roll. A Good result means the worshipper is blessed. A Neutral result means the worshipper is blessed only if no Bad result has been rolled for that shrine. A Bad result means no effect, and a Very Bad result means that worshipper can never receive an answer to their prayers until they've made atonement of some kind. Either a Bad or Very Bad result means the shrine is less generous with its blessings, as already noted.

Until a shrine actually grants a blessing, a player has no idea if their prayers at a shrine are being ignored, or the shrine just isn't truly sanctified. Players could always try donating to the shrine. When they pray and have their prayers answered, not only does the player benefit, but so does the shrine; it is now officially sanctified.

Whatever spell effect a shrine has also establishes the shrine's Level. A basic shrine that provides blessings is a 1st level shrine. One that is known for raising the dead is a 5th level shrine. If the faithful pray for a new kind of miracle -- in other words, "research a new spell" for the shrine -- the minimum target number equals the shrine's current level, so a 5th level shrine always has at least a 5 in 20 chance of adding another miracle to its roster as long as someone invests a minimum of 500 gp. Famous shrines thus have a tendency to collect more miracles.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Bribe, Craft, Train

In the previous post, I modified the magic research rules and applied them to mundane scholars creating magic scrolls. This, of course, can be generalized to many other tasks, from bribing informants and advertising for henchmen through item crafting and general education.

(Edit to Add: I've done a couple articles showing specific examples of the following rules, so I'll add some links here to collect them all in one place.


I'll keep adding more links as I write.)

The basics: You can train, buy research materials, or craft an item for a cost of 50 to 1,000 coins, with a chance of success based on total spent: target number is 1 minimum for the base cost of 50 coins, +1 per additional 50 coins.

Roll 1d20:
  •  If roll is less than/equal to target, training, search, or crafting succeeds.
  •  If more than target, but less than Intelligence, you fail to finish, but can keep trying.
  •  If more than Intelligence score, your efforts are ruined. Start over.

As long as your efforts are not ruined, the target number is based on total spent, not on how much was spent in the current week.

Substitute Charisma for Intelligence when advertising for a job or bribing people for information. If your efforts are ruined, you've pissed off the wrong people and must start over in a new location for any chance of success.

If you are undergoing gruelling physical training, substitute Constitution for Intelligence. If your efforts are ruined, you've injured yourself and must recuperate for at least a week before starting over.

Divide costs by ten for items or information of temporary use, such as bribing informants for clues or making limited-use items.

Multiply costs by ten when dealing with magic or unnatural abilities. This cancels out the limited-use adjustment when enscribing magic scrolls or brewing potions.

Spells have levels, as do some NPCs you might want to commission for a job. You can also rank other things by level, such as traps (1 level per die of damage.) The base costs assumes the spell, NPC, or other item is 1st level. Double the base cost for 2nd level, and double again for each additional level. Minimum time needed to complete training, research, or crafting is one week per level.

You can also use levels to adjust the time or cost of some mundane skill training or item crafting.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Mundane Spellcasting

Something Andy Bartlett wrote about zero-level thievery and spellcasting on the Known World, Old World blog and a completely unrelated forum discussion about legendary weapons has got me thinking about the magic research rules again. I know, sounds completely random, doesn't it? But bear with me.

I've occasionally talked about re-purposing the magical research rules for other things. What I want to explore in a series of posts is one way of doing that. And I'm starting with this passage in Andy Bartlett's post:
"But, of course, not all thieves are Thieves, not all 'fighting men' are Fighters, not all priests are Clerics, and... not all students of magic are Magic Users? Yes, possibly even the last case should be true. There should be 0 level scholars, cunning men and wise women who can work some petty magical effects, at great expense, effort or sacrifice, but on classed and levelled Magic Users can work magic with true power."
But how to implement zero-level magic use? I suggest that ordinary scholars have to make magic scrolls to cast spells. True magic-users have the exceptional ability to memorize spells and cast without scrolls, which ordinary mortals can't do. Also, ordinary mortals can't always read a scroll correctly: non-magic-users must make a reaction roll to see if the scroll works, (Neutral/6+ on 2d6,) fizzles (Bad or 3-5 on 2d6,) or backfires (Very Bad/2 on 2d6.)

The cost to make a scroll should be high for non-magic-user scholars. I'd base it on the magic research rules. A quick run-down: it costs 10,000 gp to research a 1st level spell, double for 2nd level, and doubled again for each additional spell level. But that's to create a spell that an M-U can cast repeatedly. Set the cost to one-tenth that, or 1,000 gp, for something that works only once, in this case a scroll.

There's a chance a scholar can do it for less, just as there's a chance to successfully research a spell at a lower cost. Spending half as much gives 50-50 odds; spending only a tenth gives only a 10% chance of creating a useful scroll.
Let's change it to a d20 approach: 50 gp for a 1 in 20 chance, an additional 50 gp for a +1 chance. We could make this a roll-high Target 20 roll, but by making it roll-under, we can do a little trick to make Intelligence relevant:
  •  If the roll fails, but is still less than Intelligence, no work is lost. Next roll is based on total cost.
  •  if the roll fails and is greater than Intelligence, the scroll is ruined. Start from the beginning.
  •  Optionally, a roll of 20 means the scroll is cursed.

The minimum time required to create the scroll is 1 week per spell level, plus an additional week for each additional roll to complete the scroll. Magic-users, of course, can create scrolls cheaper (100 gp for 1st level spells, instead of 1,000 gp) and with no roll required. Optionally, allow an M-U to do a "rush job" in a single day and make the d20 roll, with the M-U's level as the target number: any roll higher than the M-U's level means the scroll isn't finished, and if the roll is higher than the M-U's Int, the scroll is ruined.