Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Platonic Dwarf

There comes a time in every man's life when he must ask himself a very important question.  "Should I get rid of demi-humans in my campaign?"  And like all major life decisions, it bears some discussion, lest one rush into a loveless campaign setting that you'll regret years down the line.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

The Eight Dooms of Eldritch America

Never cast spells.

Don't be a magic-user or a wizard or a mage or a sorcerer.  Spellcasters derive their power from the insane, transdimensional consciousness that hang bloated in the night sky over Earth like bricks with no concept of gravity.  These god-things have no concept of what humans are, nor would they care if they did.  Drawing power from such a source results in insanity, mutation, and Doom.  The unavoidable kind.

They're doomed.  And they know it.

Every miscast spell moves them closer and closer to an inevitable Doom.  Basically, every time a spell is cast, there is a chance that it goes horribly wrong.  And whenever it goes horribly wrong, the sorcerer gains 1d4 Doom Points.  At 10, 20, and 30 Doom Points, something terrible happens.

10 Doom Points - The Doom of Fools
20 Doom Points - The Doom of Kings
30 Doom Points - The Ultimate Doom

The Ultimate Doom is aptly named.  It marks the end of your mage's career, and time to roll up a new character.  There might be ways to avoid or postpone your personal Ultimate Doom.  And indeed, the existence of ultra-wizards (like Tesla) is proof that this is not impossible.  Just the same, there are no established methods, both in Eldritch America nor in the rule books.  If a Cure for Doom exists at all, it will be the result of a long and difficult quest.  And as every aspiring mage who has ever picked up a spellbook knows, they will one day have to face their Ultimate Doom.  That is, if the mutations, insanity, or lesser Dooms get them first.

Dooms are personal.  Every mage invokes a different set of Dooms.  However, these are the most common ones, based on what school of magic the mage practices.  Some schools have it a lot worse than others.  (The Cthonomancers actually benefit from their Dooms, oddly enough).  None of them give any saves.  THESE ARE DOOMS!  YOU CAN'T SAVE VS DOOM!  DO YOU SEE SAVE VS DOOM WRITTEN ANYWHERE ON YOUR CHARACTER SHEET?  WELL DO YA?

Doom of Fools:  Gain a minor mutation.
Doom of Kings:  Gain a major mutation.
Ultimate Doom:  Turn into a 1 ton mindless blob that eats everything and continuously spawns creatures from your shattered subconscious.

Doom of Fools:  1d3+1 Moon Beasts (3 HD) immediately appear via gateway and attempt to drag you back to the moon with them.
Doom of Kings:  As above, except 1d4+2 Moon Beasts of (5 HD).
Ultimate Doom:  As above, except 1d20+20 tentacles (5 HD) of Yosganeth himself emerge from the walls and ceilings within 300' to drag you back to the moon.

Doom of Fools:  +1 Strength.
Doom of Kings:  +1 Constitution.
Ultimate Doom:  You turn into a crystalline creature.  Your head resembles an inverted, featureless geode and your body is semi-translucent and pale blue.  You can no longer talk, but get +2 vs poison and disease.  You are a mineral.  You no longer have a biology.  You must make a save every month or you will finally accept that all your labors thus far have been in vain, and journey beneath Australia to join Cascrysmagog in sympathetic communion.

Doom of Fools:  You erupt into a living inferno or ice storm (whichever is more appropriate).  You fly around, shooting flames while being on fire and blowing shit up.  Your only goal is the destruction of people and property, and you go about this task with insane, cackling gusto.  Lasts 2d6 minutes.
Doom of Kings:  As above, but lasts 2d6 days.
Ultimate Doom:  As above, but permanent.

Doom of Fools:  You have some sort of psychic seizure and shoot a lightning bolts out of your eyes in random directions every round for 2d6 rounds.  There is a 40% chance per item that your gear is destroyed.  Any small metal objects that you are carrying become fused to your body.  (See also: Tetsuo: The Iron Man).
Doom of Kings:  As above, except 50% and all medium sized metal objects carried become a party of your body.
Ultimate Doom:  As above, except 60% and you automatically fuse with the nearest big metal thing.  This could be a WWI tank, a septic tank, or a telephone pole.  Attempting to intentionally induce this Doom in a controlled environment so as to fuse your body with something cool has a 40% chance of going horribly wrong unless rubber gloves, tesla coils, and goggles are somehow involved (which brings the chance of things going horribly wrong down to 25%).

Doom of Fools:  Lose all spell-casting abilities for 2d6 hours.
Doom of Kings:  As above, except 2d6 days.
Ultimate Doom:  As above, except permanent.

Doom of Fools:  -1 Strength.
Doom of Kings:  -1 Constitution.
Ultimate Doom:  You die.

Doom of Fools:  You gain 1d4 insanity points.
Doom of Kings:  You gain an insanity.
Ultimate Doom:  Your body becomes the vessel for twisted alien intelligence, and your soul is shunted out into the cold void between stars.

The nice thing about imminent, unavoidable Doom is that it gives a strong mechanical thing for me to point at and say, "Don't be a mage.  Mages are fucked."  This sort of fits in with a Carcosa-style ethos.

At the same time, it's not entirely unavoidable.  Electromancers have a built in way to engineer their Ultimate Doom.  Cthonomancers don't have an Ultimate Doom that is as bad as the others.  Necromancer's can avoid their Ultimate Doom by being a Lich.  Psychomancers might sidestep their Ultimate Doom by abandoning their bodies early.  This puts the initiative back in the hands of the PCs.  They've seen their Doom approaching for a long time now, and they'll try very hard to find a Cure for Doom in order to avoid rolling a new character.  Of course, the roads in Eldritch America are (almost) literally paved with the bones of mages who thought they could escape their Ultimate Doom, so success isn't guaranteed by any means.

Can you imagine playing with a PC mage who has 27 Doom Points?  The next spell he casts could be his last before tentacles tear through the paper-thin walls of our reality and drag him screaming back to nameless places with impossible geometries.  He's made some progress at avoiding the Ultimate Doom, but it's a difficult, frustrating process.  He's considering abandoning it, and resigning himself to his fate.  He could just avoid casting spells ever again, but that hardly seems preferable to suicide. He's a mage.  Mages are doomed.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Stark Staring Mad

I like insanity rules.  I like that there's a psychological element to the game.  I've seen other sanity mechanics, but I wanted to make my own.  Here they are.

  1. Whenever you see something terrible, you gain 1 Insanity Point. 
  2. Whenever you gain insanity points, roll d20 + Wisdom mod.  If you roll higher than your current amount of insanity points, nothing happens.  (But the points don't go away.)
  3. If you roll equal-to-or-less than your Insanity Points, you have a breakdown.  This lasts until your friends can calm you down (a few rounds away from the stressful) or you cry yourself to sleep.
  4. At the end of your breakdown (if you had one), make a save.  If you fail the save, reduce your insanity points to 0 and gain a permanent madness.  If you succeed on your save, reduce your sanity points by 1.
Breakdowns (d4)
  1. Fainting.
  2. Flee in terror.
  3. Hide.
  4. Stand there babbling/worshipping.
Permanent Madness (d20)
  1. Phobia. (Must make Wis check to endure fear.)
  2. Kleptomania. (Urge to steal things from vendors, Wis check to resist.)
  3. Minor hallucinations. (Senses become unreliable, e.g. listening at doors)
  4. Nightmares. (Con check to sleep unaided.)
  5. Voluble Paranoia.  (Cannot talk without talking about conspiracies, penalty to social interaction.)
  6. Substance Abuse.  (Wis check to pass up an opportunity, penalty if you go without it.  This includes sex addiction.)
  7. Amnesia.  (Lose some XP, but it will return slowly, as memories are recovered.)
  8. Alien Hand Syndrome.  (One arm basically becomes an NPC.  Roll a starting reaction roll for it to see how it feels about you, and then roll again during stressful situations.)
  9. Nervous twitches.  (Penalty to fine tasks, picking locks, climbing walls, firing bows.)
  10. Murderous psychosis.  (Wis check to avoid flying into a rage during combat, this gives no bonuses but it prevent you from retreating.
  11. If you roll 11-20, it's the DM's choice of whatever's most appropriate.
You can get rid of insanity points by doing extremely normal stuff.  Getting drunk with your friends, working on a farm and milking cows, drinking wine while staring at the ocean, and taking long, introspective showers.  You can remove 1 insanity point per week if you are relaxing in peaceful, sane surroundings.

Obviously, it's more dangerous to keep adventuring once you've got Insanity Points on your character sheet, so after a PC picks up 1 or 2, they should maybe start thinking about going back to town.

A PC cannot normally get more than one Insanity Point from the same source.


I like this method because it still links insanity to both Wisdom and saves, so people with low wisdom will suffer more breakdowns, while higher level characters will have a lower chance of permanent madness.  They probably got enough of that at lower levels anyway.  It also gives characters a reason to stay in town and just be normal people for a little while.  Read some books, tell stories in the tavern, bang the innkeeper's daughter, whatever.

If you do the math, the level 1 PC who sees five things that give him +1 insanity point each has got close to a 50% chance of being insane by now.  Math is funny like that.

I think that insanity points should be given out when a player knows and accepts the risk.  Less of "you open the door and see Cthulhu's penis so now you gain 5 insanity points" and more of "Are you sure you want to transcribe the spell out of the squidlord's tome?  The letters are literally crawling across the page."  Or better yet, "Are you sure you want to torture the prisoner to find out where the rebel base is?  That sort of thing can scar you for life."

I'm not saying the first kind is bad either.  Sometimes the party needs to be surprised with the cuttlefish of cthulhu (if you know what I mean).

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Asthmatic Berserkers and Skeleton Jellies

A lot of people will tell you that monsters don't need complicated mechanics to be interesting.  And they're right.  A lot of the awesome parts of the fight can come from the fumbles and the crits and the interactions with the environment.

Buuuuut, if you want to add a level of tactics at the monster level, here are five low level guys with gimmicky tricks to them.  They all reward a certain tactic and punish another.  I'm lucky in that my PCs have always enjoyed figuring out how to best defeat a new monster.  If that's your thing, you might like these.

Asthmatic Berserker
Armour Class: 7 [12]
HD: 1+1
Move: 120' (40')
Sword  +2 to hit, 1d6 damage
Save: 14 [+6]
Morale: 12 when raging, 8 when asthmatic
Special: Asthmatic rage

Asthmatic Berserkers can fly into a rage.  While raging, they get +2 to hit and do +2 damage.  However, they can only rage for 1d4+1 turns, after which they stagger around wheezing for five rounds.  While they are staggering around wheezing, they get -2 to hit, -2 to damage, and move at half speed.

These could be reskinned as deeply flawed clockwork warriors who periodically grind gears and shoot out springs, or civilian victims of some rage curse.

Variant - Juicers: The rage lasts up to 10 turns, but can be ended prematurely if someone severs or unplugs the tubes that pump psycho-juice from their backpack into their skulls.

Skeleton Jelly

Armour Class: 6 [13]
HD: 1 (but it doesn't matter)
Move: 90' (30')
Jelly Claw +1 to hit, 1d6 damage
Save: 15 [+5]
Morale: 12 (mindless undead)
Special: Immune to damage

This is a symbiotic organism formed between an undead skeleton and a necromantic slime.  The skeleton's bones are squishy, like lutefisk.  You can't hack it apart, and any injury it takes is automatically healed.  They don't even burn, and acid just makes them smell worse.  They're about as strong as a neurasthenic poet, so give them -2 to grappling or something.

I love these fuckers.  There were a couple of rounds after they where introduced where all the PCs were at a loss.  Then something clicked and they started throwing them down pit traps, pinning them under furniture, and sealing them inside sarcophagi.  Turns out there's a lot of ways to neutralize immortal monsters if the monsters are weak as shit.

You can't reskin these guys as anything else.  They're too perfect the way they are.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Your Next Villain's Voice

What kind of accent does your lich have? Does he talk like Chigurh from No Country For Old Men?  What do the street urchins in your cities talk like?  Maybe some of them sound like Al Pacino in Scarface?  Do all of your NPCs have cockney accents?

Voices and accents are one of the easiest ways to distinguish NPCs, especially villains.  I encourage everyone to indulge in epiglottal impersonations.  And anyway, DnD is more fun with ridiculous voices.

One tip: pay attention to the pauses and the timing.  It's easy to overlook, but it adds a lot.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Potions Make You Fat

HP and healing aren't broken.  They work great, and there's a lot of elegance. But I like tinkering, so here's one alternative idea.

You don't start bleeding until you run out of Hit Points (which represent dodging, morale, etc).  Then you start taking damage to your Life Points, which represent slashes, broken bones, and burnt flesh.  (You've seen this idea before.)  

Hp restores itself to full with a good night's rest.

Hp restores itself to full with a good long meal.  You can only do this 1/day, and it takes 1 hour.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Wtf are those goblins doing?

So you've just rolled on your random dungeon chart and the result comes up: 2d6 goblins.  2d6 goblins.  Again?  I hope the party doesn't get bored of goblins. . .

Wrong attitude, Mr. DM!  Humanoids are awesome because they can do anything that the party can do.  They're people!  Little green, incompetent people that you can kill and loot and not feel bad about because they aren't really people!  You are so lucky to roll 2d6 goblins!  Here's why:

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Electromancer, his Foe, and the Worm

The year is 1929, and Edison and Tesla have survived both the Apocalypse and the War of the Currents.  They're both old men now.  Edison has locked himself in his labs with his electric elephant in order to protect himself from the electric ghosts outside, and Tesla talks to pigeons and absentmindedly instructs his devotees in the finer points of Electromancy.

Everything in the Pre-Apocalypse section actually happened, although I've messed with the chronology and details a bit.  (Flames didn't really shoot of Kemmler's skull, but he did start smoking.)

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Eldritch Americana

I have an idea for a new setting.

America is old enough and varied enough to be a campaign setting on its own.  The plots and the locations already exist, and many of them are flat-out awesome.  America already has civic undergrounds and witch crypts and Mammoth Cave and Sing Sing prison and Edison vs Tesla and presidents with shotguns.

Everyone else has a pet campaign setting; I want one, too.  It will be eldritch Americana.  Not modern fantasy or noir with wizards or dieselpunk or whatever.  It will be a roiling celebration of all that is American, with all the feverish exuberance of the 1920s, already 30 years after the apocalypse.  Gangsters and shoggoths.  Speakeasies and hagfish-men.

Gimme Diminishing Returrns

I want to play a game of DnD where a bunch of level 1 character can fight alongside a level 5 character and still contribute.  I don't want PCs to start out being badasses, so I guess it'll have to be a low-level, gritty system.

There's some precedent for this.  Even in 0e, saving throws eventually slowed their rate of improvement, and +1d6 HP per level eventually becomes +2 hp per level, which I suppose is slightly less.  But by then, the PCs have already killed kings and tea-bagged tyrannosaurs.  I want a small, powerful little system that plateaus early.

For this to work, HP, skills, and attack bonuses cannot advance linearly.  I need a way for skills to be reined in heavily beyond third (?) level, but still easy to obtain at level 1 and 2 (because players like their level  1 thief to be mechanically differentiated than the other level 1 thief in the party).

I can think of two ways to do this.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Non-Euclidean Architecture, Part 2

This is a sequel to my first essay on non-Euclidean architecture. If you haven’t read that one first, you should.

Non-euclidean spaces just mean that parallel lines don’t stay the same distance apart. They either bend together or splay apart. Four right angles don’t always make a square.

A lot of the ideas below are not technically non-Euclidean, but they’re close enough. They all play around with illogical spaces and angles in a way to make an environment illogical.