Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Inexorable Beast

Some people call it the Questing Beast.  It quests for you.

The fools have opened the Book of the Beast and its curse has fallen upon them.  There is nothing that they can do.  Though the Inexorable Beast can be killed, it will always return, stronger and more horrible than before.  It will pursue the cursed individuals to the edges of the universe and beyond.

Basically, the beast is an intractable guardian of some arcane secret.  Once the PCs have become victims of its wrath, it will continue to hunt them until they are all dead.  The first time the PC's open the forbidden door, or read the black runes, or pass through the halls of the dead, the beast will appear for the first time.

Starting Form
HD    high enough to shake up your PCs
AC    14
Atk    bite (1d6+1 damage)
Int      animal
Mov   a little slower than the average dude
Save  15 - HD

After it is killed or evaded, the beast vanishes, leaving behind nothing except a bit of blood on the PCs' weapons.  1d20+4 hours later, the beast will reappear in the worst possible place.  (If this seems too harsh, slow it down.)  If they flee from it into a cave, they will find it waiting.  If they fill a bathtub with water, the Beast will come leaping out.  If they check under their bed for monsters, the Beast will crawl out ten minutes later.

If the PCs escape, that counts as ending combat (it doesn't track them, it just reappears later).  If the beast kills a PC, it will likewise disappear with a triumphant roar into a cloud of acidic ash and sulphur.  If the PCs trap it somewhere, it will eat itself and disappear with a frustrated mewl.  If the PCs split up, the beast will go after whichever group seems more vulnerable based on how each PC fought in the last encounter.

Each time the beast reappears, it gains new mutations that make it bigger and more horrible.  It gains three of these each time: a size increase, deadlier attacks, and another horrible ability.  (If this seems too steep, slow it down.)

1. Size Increase.  The Beast gains 1 HD.  After gaining +3 HD the beast is big enough to hold people in its mouth with a successful bite attack, doing automatic damage on subsequent rounds but making other attacks at a -3.  After a gaining a total of +5 HD the beast is big enough to swallow people whole instead.

2. Deadlier Attacks.  Flip a coin.  On a heads, the DM chooses an attack mode of the Beast to incease in potency and do +1 damage forevermore (or +1d6 damage, if you have a high level party).  On a tails, the Beast grows a new attack mode.  The DM should choose this new attack based on whatever would erode the most of the players' advantages based on their tactics in the last fight.

Like, if the PCs killed it from range last fight, then it will grow a spike shooter.  If they surrounded it and killed it in melee, then it will grow the acid spit so it can catch more of them in the cone.

Here are six options: 1 claw, 2 bite, 3 spike shooter (50' range), 4 spit acid (15' cone), 5 horn/spike, 6 tail/flagella (50% chance of grabbing/disarming).  If you can't decide, roll a die.

3. Other Horrible Abilities.  Lastly, the beast grows a new ability.  The DM should pick whichever one would be the most horrible for the PCs, based on their tactics in the last fight.  Like if they escaped it by flying away last combat, there is a 100% chance that the beast will grow wings the next time they see it. Subsequent enhancements to the same ability are indicated with /slash marks.

  1. More legs.  The beast becomes as fast as a man.  /faster than a man. /faster than a horse.
  2. Discerning tongue.  By licking the air, the beast can smell hiding or invisible creatures with 40% success.  /80% success.
  3. Freakish agility.  The beast now has 16 AC.  /17 AC.  /18 AC.
  4. Jellied flesh.  The beast now takes half damage from bludgeoning weapons and +50% damage from slashing weapons.  /no damage from bludgeoning and +100% from slashing.
  5. Thick hide.  The beast now takes half damage from slashing weapons and +50% damage from piercing weaopns.  /no damage from slashing and +100% from piercing.
  6. Armored scales.  The beast now takes half damage from piercing weapons and +50% damage from bludgeoning weapons.  /no damage from slashing and +100% from bludgeoning.
  7. Spiderlike Limbs.  Its arms become as long as pikes, allowing it to attack as if with a reach weapon.
  8. Anti-magic properties.  Its skin becomes polished and nacreous, and all magic has a 2-in-6 chance of failing when used against it.  /4-in-6
  9. Wings.  The beast can fly.
  10. Amphibious.  The beast can swim and breathe underwater.
  11. Bludgeoning head.  The beast can knock down doors in a single action with a 3-in-6 chance of success.  /5-in-6 chance of success.
  12. Giant brain.  The beast's features become more human-like.  It gains near-human intelligence, the ability to speak a few words, and the ability to cast a 1st-level spell (choose the most effective one).  /human intelligence, fluent speaking, and a 2nd-level spell.  /genius intelligence, mastery of language and all the noises of hatred, and a 3rd-level spell.
  13. Gaseous Form.  The beast can now slither under doors and creep in windowsills.
  14. Explodes upon death.  Does damage = half HP, save for half.
  15. Poison.  Save or take half of your HP as damage.  /save or die.
  16. Mimicry.  Can imitate noises, shapes, and colors.  (Like a mimic, but sans glue.)
  17. Burrowing.  Moves about as fast as a crawling man.  /as fast as a running man.
  18. Invisibility.  It's fucking invisible.  /if you actually look at it via see invisibility or something, its new horrible form will drive you temporarily insane unless you succeed on a save.
  19. Elemental.  Takes half damage to an element (fire, ice, lightning, acid) and +50% damage from its inverse (ice, fire, acid, lightning, respectively).  /immune to damage from an element but takes double damage to its inverse.
  20. Thrashing, bladed tentacles.  All creatures within 5' automatically take 1d4 damage each round.  /2d4 damage each round.
Again, if you can't think of what horrible ability to give it, roll a d20.  But if you roll for an ability that wouldn't give it an advantage, based on what the beast knows from the previous battle.  It is an incarnation of Lamarckian evolution after all.  Like, don't give it water breathing unless it's an ability that the beast "wished that it had" in the last fight.

The beast adapts.  The beast doesn't anticipate.

The beast doesn't speak, although if it could, it would probably be frustrated by it's attempts to convey the ineffable depths of its hatred.  Like, humans can love in ways that salamanders can't imagine, and the Inexorable Beast can hate in ways that we cannot conceive of.

You'll notice that some of the damage types (slashing, bludgeoning, piercing) and the elemental types (fire, ice, lightning, acid) give the creature weaknesses.  This is intentional, since one tactic that the PCs could use is to intentionally use a lot of clubs on the beast one fight in order to be able to slaughter it with spears on the next fight, after it grows its Jellied Flesh. (This is the sort of information that they could find out by consulting a sage, or learning about previous people who have been hunted by the Inexorable Beast).

Describing the Beast

Honestly, just go wild.  Don't go too wild, too fast, since the beast needs to get bigger and presumably more complex each time it comes back, but just keep adding limbs and jaws, and faces.

Especially add faces.  More faces.

I imagine its starting form looking like a cross between a hairless wolf, a pug with a skin condition, and a human.  But it could be anything, really.

Winning the Beast

You probably should give your PCs a way to kill it.  Maybe after traveling to a nearby city/castle and browsing the library (and giving the beast a chance to wreck the library) they learn of a method.  Suggestions:

1. Kill the beast according to a very specific recipe (a damage password).  E.g. two stabs from silver daggers and then a fireball spell.  The fireball spell must be the attack that delivers lethal damage, and nothing else can damage it between the two dagger thrusts and the fireball.

2. Kill it in consecrated ground.  A church, or holy site.  (Of course, you've also got to convince the people in the church that letting you in is better than just locking  you outside and letting the beast kill you.

3. Collecting samples of its blood and creating an Anti-evolution toxin, that will make the beast devolve.  Losing 1 HD per round until it is just a harmless little zygote.  After it petrifies, you can put it on a chain and wear it around your neck, granting you the powers of whichever mutation the PCs hated the most.

4. Getting it to evolve into a specific state and then imprisoning it.  E.g. killing it with acid twice, so that it turns into a beast of sloughing, corrosive stone, and then burying it beneath holy dirt (made the same way holy water is).

5. Passing off the curse onto someone else.  Get them to accept the book.  The ole switcheroo.  This may involve going back tot he exact place where you got the book.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

And by player skill-based, I mean PLAYER SKILL-BASED

Character skill is the stuff written down on the character sheet.  The +3 to-hit bonus, the Acrobatics +6 skill, etc.

And player skill is the guy behind the curtain, who makes decisions.  Like whether to trust this lying Jawa when he says he's got a bridge-protocol droid to sell me.  This is decision-based player skill.

But there's another type of player skill, too, where you actually challenge the player to accomplish a task similar to the one that their player is attempting.  Can we call this simulation-based player skill?


1. Using a game of Mastermind to simulate the decryption of an arcane lock, with failure occurring after X rounds.  (I used this last week in my PF game.

2. When a player gets maze cast on them, they are given a maze, printed on a sheet of real-world paper.  Every round, they get a number of seconds equal to their intelligence score to attempt to finish the maze, with completion meaning that the character escapes the maze back into the game world.  (I think I saw this one on Zak's blog at some point.)

3. My players spent a couple sessions in a dungeon that was actually a hill giant beer festival.  If they finished a beer and threw the empty into the recycling bin from across the room, they got +5 on their next roll.  Trading empty cans was allowed.  (Extremely fun rule, very unfair to the badly outnumbered GM, would not want to use the rule again for at least a few more years.)

4. To simulate firing an arrow, throw a dart at a dartboard.  Concentric circles have been painted on it that range from 1-6 damage (or whatever the damage of your bow is).  Depending on the target's AC and the character's to-hit roll, the player stands a variable distance away.  (I just made this one up.)


On the plus side, you get to help immersion a little bit by giving a player a chance to interact with the game world using more than just dice.

On the down side, this can rapidly devolve into LARPing.

On the plus side, you get to introduce the player to a new minigame, which can often be fun for the variety it provides.

On the down side, this forces players to attempt things that they might not be good at, and may exclude them from playing the characters that they want to play.  (Like if they want to play a master archer but suck at darts.)

Logical Conclusion

I can easily imagine a game where the idea of simulation-based player skill has been taken to its logical conclusion.  Everything that can be converted into a skill-based minigame has been.

No more attack rolls.  Instead the player swings at a pinata, hits a thrown baseball, or performs the appropriate combo on some boxing mitts.  Handicaps applied according to AC and +hit bonus.

Grappling is determined by wrestling the DM, with appropriate handicaps applied.  Like, if the PC (player) was wrestling a goblin (DM), the DM goes in with a blindfold and one hand tied behind his back.  If the player wants to wrestle a dragon, the DM gets to select a second person to help him, making it a 2v1.

Bards will have to bring a guitar and play some bitchin' tunes.

Casting spells will be resolved by the wizard solving a math problem.  Or for the chemist in my group, reconstructing an organic molecule based on its IR and NMR spectra (because nothing seems more like wizardry to me).

Scrying can be resolved by solving a Magic Eye problem.

By and large, the ideas above are terrible ideas.  However, I will add that I think it would be hella fun to wrestle my players.  And maybe

More Logical Conclusion

It's probably a good idea to include these in your games, as long as they don't (a) force players to performing activities that they don't want to do, (b) don't make players suck at things that they're supposed to be good at, (c) don't make the character sheet irrelevant.

So use simulation minigames sparingly, and make sure that none of the minigames are things where a huge gradient of skill is involved.  Like, drawing a line through a maze with a pencil has a small gradient.  I don't think anyone is extremely better than anyone else at solving a maze, and so the skill levels are pretty similar.  The same can not be said for darts or wrestling.

All pictures on this page are by John Zeleznik.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Alternative Spellbooks

Apparatus of Auchindoa

This is an enormous contraption of brass, glass, and gears.  At one end is a chair.  In a compartment beneath this seat is a set of 9 magnesium rods (although there is room for 23 more).  If the magnesium rods are lit and placed into a parabolic apparatus behind the chair (functionally similar to a bullseye lantern) it will project  strong beam of light towards the other end of the device.

The other half of the device resembles a huge telescope.  It is in fact a projector, and with the right combination of prisms and filters, different lenses can be fitted into the front of the "telescope", which will then project an image onto the wall.

The images are densely written pages from spellbook, written in a psychosemantic argot that combines (relatively normal) spell runes, geometric jargon, and ancestral archetypal symbolic shorthand.  The spells contained in the Apparatus of Auchindoa are better documented than nearly any other spellbook, and so it is unusually easy to learn spells from the device.  However, accessing the spells is the difficult part, and finding the correct combinations of diffractors and wavelengths is essentially random (unless a proficient user is present).

The Apparatus contains many common spells, as well as Daily Ghost, Argent Refuge, and Glass Band.

Daily Ghost
Level 4 Spell
Creates a pseudo-ghost from all of the body's cells that die each day.  (Seriously, a pound of you dies each day and you don't even care.)  This ghost manifests as a floating version of your skin, with visible intestines on the inside and a visible haze of blood vessels.  The caster can command it mentally as long as it is in within sight.  Don't let it wander off (see last paragraph).  A caster can only have one of these at a time.

It causes seizures and necrotic lesions in those that it touches.  It is fragile, however, and a more common use of it is to use it to speak with the caster's voice (which it can do perfectly).  The caster can also eat it, which will heal them for 1d4 HP.

If the caster dies while the pseudo-ghost is active, it will re-inhabit the body, heal it, and then animate it.  Since the mind of a psuedo-ghost is an utterly alien creature, without understanding or sympathy of human life, this is generally a very bad thing.  The outsider-given-flesh speaks with the Voice of Three Tongues, and slings impossible magics before being hacked apart, or else getting trapped in some dungeon, unable to escape.  (It's basically an insane wizard-zombie that babbled with three voices.)

Argent Refuge
Level 1 Spell
Caster steps into a mirror that is at least as wide and tall as the caster.  The caster can remain in there for at least 8 hours.  She can look out of the mirror, but others cannot look in.  If the mirror is broken, she is ejected and takes 3d6 damage from the lacerations.

Glass Band
Level 1 Magic Item
Contains instructions on how to build a certain kind of glass torc.  The end result is an organically rippling necklace.  If the maker wills it, the necklace will sever the wearer's head.  If anyone except the maker attempts to open the intricately locked clasp, it will probably sever the wearer's head (treat it as a trapped lock).  It the necklace breaks from trauma, it will sever the wearer's head.  The necklaces are very delicate.

Myriapodalia of Exestre

A rotten log.  A subtle hissing and rustling can be heard within it.  Searching will reveal hidden hinges and a clasp.  The inside of the log is a miniature carving of a church interio, complete with pews and an altar.  Milling around inside this odd dollhouse are 600-700 white cockroaches, each with a letter scratched into their backs, in a wandering script, as if someone crudely etched each one with a dull needle, over and over again, never quite in the same letter twice.

The cockroaches are the spellbook.  When the log is opened, they will crawl to the nearest flat surface and spell out the title page: "M-Y-R-I-A-P-O-D-A-L-I-A".  By running your fingers through the insects, you can turn the pages (miming the act of turning the page, advancing through a book).  However, the cockroaches never hold still for very long, and trying to make sense of the skittering insects can be maddening for an inexperienced user.  (An experienced user is already mad, of course).  Additionally, the words on the "page" never seem to be exactly the same twice.

Some of the pages cannot be accessed simply by "turning the page" to the right.  More subtle types of caresses must be given to the insects before they reveal the hidden pages.  Rumors that it is capable of displaying results in response to questions, or that the spellbook allows one to contact an unknown intelligence are unsubstantiated.

Still, despite its oddity, the Myriapodalia of Exestre is a functional spellbook.  It contains many common spells, as well as Speak With Insect, Ruinous Crow, Exoskeletal Shackles, and Yellow Servant.

The cockroaches are physically normal.  If at least half of them are killed, they will disperse as normal cockroaches (and the spellbook is effectively destroyed).  They eat and breed.  After a cockroach reaches its final molt, its companions will scratch a letter into its back.  Subadult roaches are sometimes similarly inscribed, but with punctuation.

Speak With Insect
Level 1 Magic-User Spell
Caster can speak with insects for a few minutes.

Ruinous Crow
Level 2 Magic-User Spell
If a touched crow fails a saving throw, it will fly unerringly to a named person within a 1 mile radius who has been identified unambiguously to the crow.  Then it will land on the person's shoulder and vomit a hot mixture of blood and gastic acid into the person's face.  (The spell actually converts all of the crow's innards into this poison, so all that is left is just skin and feathers.)  The person takes 1d4 damage and must make a save vs disease.  If they fail this save, they will sicken and die within 2d6 days.

Exoskeletal Shackles
Level 5 Magic-User Spell
If the target fails its save, over the next 2d6 hours they will mutate into an insect hybrid under the control of the caster.  (+AC, -speed and intellect, you can figure out the details.)

Yellow Servant
Level 3 Magic-User Spell
This appears to be a highly modified version of the Unseen Servant spell.  The spell summons an invisible, intangible force that nevertheless reeks of ammonia and leaves yellow footprints.  It can anything an unseen servant can do, except that it is much stronger.  If commanded to kill a target, it will attempt to strangle them (treat as a 3HD creature with 14 Str).  It can be escaped, but is only affected by things that affect an area.