Friday, January 29, 2016

Foreign Angels

Go read a list of demons and you'll notice how Christian they are.

I don't mean that the demons themselves are Christian, just that they are designed as an evolution of human morals.  Demons are often designed to exploit one of the seven deadly sins, for example.  And angels are stamped from the same Judeo-Christian coin, just the opposite side.  And this set of Christian morals informs the whole structure of morality and divinity within a game.  The good gods are the ones that embrace Christian values, and the bad ones are the ones that eschew them.  Time and time again.

This is moral chauvinism.

The funny thing is that D&D has often been about exploring other cultures, religions, and ways of life.  The best parts about it were like the best part of old Star Trek.

And yet this diversity of otherworldly cultures never really spread into morality.  And once you notice that, a strange incongruity begins to emerge.  There are lots of races with bizarre cultures and moralities, not just Christian ones.  Yet, the arrangement of heaven and hell mirrors Christian values, and only Christian values.  Where are the foreign angels?

Lust and wrath are bad. . . right?  What about a culture in which lust was considered sort of okay, and extra-marital sex didn't condemn you to hell?  What about a culture where you were expected to fly into a murderous rage if your honor was insulted, and it was pathetic if you didn't?  What about ones where incest was okay?  Or funerary cannibalism?

And that last paragraph was just for normal, Earth-human cultures.  We haven't even gone into the deep end of fantasy cultures yet.

What if D&D was written by elves, for whom pride was the highest of virtues, and chastity the deepest of shames?  Or by druids, who see language as the root of all evil and bestial mindlessness as something to be aspired to?

Fuck, what if it was written by work-obsessed dwarves?

There are many places where we could begin rewriting the moral cosmology, but maybe we should start here, and just start 

Foreign Angels and Demons

Human angels represent human values (which are not monolithic, but have certain predispositions), and tend to resemble humans (if they resemble any humanoid at all).  Their angels tend to be white and radiant, while their demons are often muscular and fiery, and speak to their private shames.

Dwarven angels represent dwarven values (which are not monolithic, but have certain predispositions), and tend to resemble dwarves.  Most notably, they all have beards (which dwarven demons never do).  Dwarven angels swim through the earth, and many of them resemble moles or other burrowing creatures.  Most of them give gemstones as gifts, or leave them in their wake.  Many of their angels are associated with fire or other symbols of the forge.  Dwarven demons tend to be invisible things, or creatures without any muscle or callouses.  Every dwarven demon is supposedly unique.

Elven angels are freakishly beautiful.  They offer a great many compliments, and expect a great many in return.  They are also fairly worldly, and many expect hospitality to be offered to them.  Elven demons are tremendously ugly.

Orcs have no angels, only demons to torment them.  Their demons sometimes resemble the other races.

Merfolk angels resemble edible fish, and are themselves edible.

Goblin "angels" (of the goblins who worship the False God) resemble goblins with wings made from wires and trash.  They have no powers, no special knowledge, and are mechanically indistinguishable from normal goblins.

Druidic angels are all fucking bears.  So are their demons.

How to Use Foreign Angels

Like all angels, they're sent to help the good guys.  But the cultural gap can be huge.

Maybe the party is supposed to seal a demonic portal in the Underworld, and the cleric prays for assistance.  A dwarven angel is nearby, hears the prayer, and decides to show up.  It casts (a morally relativistic version of ) detect evil and sees that one of the party members donates their money to people they don't even know, and another of them is only interested in knowledge, not money.

If the party can convince the angel that they are good, greedy, and hardworking, it might help them out.  It'll probably just leave, mildly disappointed and disgusted by the party's vulgar display of unrepentant sin.  It probably won't attack them (angels, on average, tend to not be total dicks) unless the party pisses it off by casting ESP on it, trying to pick its pocket, or arguing theology.


Maybe the party is in an abandoned Elven rocket-ship tree and they pray at an elven shrine for assistance clearing out all the orcs.  An elven angel shows up and nearly vomits at how repulsive the party is.  None of them have a Charisma above 15.

But the angel is a professional, and made certain Oaths in the name of Authority.  Besides, it hates orcs, so it negotiates for a little while.

It wants to challenge mortals to testing their skills, so perhaps it will ask the party to go through the dungeon in a more difficult way.  Or challenge them to fight a certain monster in a duel, rather than a group fight.

"You are skilled with a blade, are you not?  If you were truly excellent, you would walk up to those orcs, naked except for your weapon, and challenge their leader to a duel."  or  "Orcs are truly miserable creatures, worth your contempt.  A party of elves could kill all of the orcs in this building in less than an hour.  If you could do the same, I will open the door to the basement, and you can perhaps claim some weapons of the Elven ancestors.  Though you cannot escape the ugliness of your race, there is no reason why you could not bring your skills to an elven level of prowess."

(Dwarven) Angel of Greed

This angel usually manifests as a dwarf with gemstone eyes and enormous badger claws.  It's dirty, muscular, and has a soothing musky scent, like lumberjack beard.  It's belly is fully of dark soil and silver nuggets.  It exists to help dwarves overcome the obstacles that would prevent them from achieving the object of their greed, or to reassure them if their greed should waver.  They strive against evil (lazy dwarves who aren't greedy) 

Digression: a strange bureaucracy of heaven seems to be emerging where dwarven angels oversee dwarves and hold them accountable to dwarvish morals, human angels oversee humans and hold them accountable to human morals, and everyone bows to Zulin, Prince of the Upper Air, Servant of the Authority.  How does this work?  Can a dwarf convert to human-flavored Hesaya?  Are the angels of one the demons of another?

<Unworthy Wealth>  10% of a character's metallurgic wealth combusts (gold, silver, copper, etc).  (5% on a save.)  It does X holy damage to them, where X is equal to the square root of the wealth that was lost.  (So if 100gp were lost, the character would take 10 damage.)  It can do this ability once per round as a free action.

<Mine> Whenever a beneficial magic effect occurs within 100', the Angel of Greed can copy it onto itself.  (This applies to healing spells, as well as healing from potions.)

<Spells> Can give a person a permanent version of find the path so that they will always know how to get to the thing that they want.  Can give away one of those extradimensional chests that is summoned/dismissed by waving the key around.

(Elven) Angel of Pride

This angel usually manifests as an extremely tall elf, clad in a shapeless cloak of leaves in which diminutive birds-of-paradise nest.  Flowers trail behind it, and the whole world seems to be more beautiful because the angel's sense of magnificence, but also uglier by comparison.  When it is in the room, all other beautiful things are not beautiful.  Not your lovely young wife with Cha 18, not the naked nymph (whose beauty-based abilities would also be suppressed).  The Angel of Pride has no Charisma score, because (a) that would be enough to heretically suggest that it's beauty is finite, and (b) it's Charisma is ineffable.

It wants creatures to be proud of what you are good at.  It wants everyone to strive to be better, more skilled, more beautiful, more exemplary.  It wants you to love yourself, and love that excellence within yourself.  And it wants you to ignore anything to the contrary.

It leaves most groups wanting to take a bath and buy some exfoliating skin cream.  It fights with a rapier and a halo of bird-of-paradise feathers, which dart around like arrows, or like hungry minnows.  It can probably also turn you into an ugly little bird, like maybe a kiwi or a small wood duck.

<Perfection> As long as the Angel of Pride is at full health and hasn't embarrassed itself, creatures who want to attack it must succeed on a save or be compelled towards admiration.  Once it takes damage, the illusion of perfection is ruined and you see it for what it is: a vastly superior creature with immaculate skin, otherworldy grace, and incandescent beauty.  The person who kills it must make a save or fall into a deep depression that lasts until the end of the day or until they get a positive emotion effect.  While in this fugue, they won't want to do anything except mope and apologize to the angel's corpse.

<Look Down Upon> Each time the Angel of Pride is damaged by a filthy mud-creature, it reacts by growing 1d6 feet taller and more beautiful.  (The ceiling grows to accommodate the angel, if necessary.)  It casts command as a free action.

<Eloquent> When it talks to you, every sentence is a suggestion.  When it smiles, save vs charm.

<Boons> Gives away a permanent +1 Charisma to whoever has the most Charisma already.  Give away a suit of elven mithril +1 that can glamour itself into a party dress/tuxedo, but all of this sweet magic only functions while the wearer is at full HP.  Gives a ring of glamour to whoever is highest level that also increases XP gain by +5% or something.  Maybe give you a really racist magic sword that only obeys you as long as you kill orcs and don't take orders from ugly people.  Gives the whole party a blessing that they can expend at any time to double their bonus to a roll (so the people who are already good at something get extra better).

Other Ideas

Angel of Cannibalism

Angel of Incest???

(Elven) Demon of Humility

(Dwarven) Demon of Charity

(Dwarven) Angel of Toil (the value of hard work, and lots of it)

(Dwarven) Demon of Invention and Creativity (humans are very susceptible to this one)

(Elven) Angel of Sloth (wants you to rest, take care of your body, get other people to do it)

(Elven) Angel of Lies (especially white lies)

(Elven) Demon of Honesty (tells uncomfortable truths)

(Elven) Demon of Chastity (bundled up in many layers, full of STDs)

(Orcish) Demon of Mercy (spare the child and spoil the horde)

(Orcish) Demon of Peace and Agriculture

(Orcish) Demon of Calm

(Druidic) Demon of Languages and Symbolic Thought

(Druidic) Angel of Insect Mindlessness

(Druidic) Angel of Selfishness

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Bardic Services

Bards are a service that the players can (and should) seek out in town, similar to how they seek out sages and alchemists.  They usually offer the following things:

#1 Information

Bards talk to a lot of people.  Specifically, they talk to the kind of people that adventurers are most likely to be interested in: tomb robbers, travelers, law enforcement, and one-armed Joe.

This means that they can be convinced to part with some of their knowledge.  Want explicit knowledge of where the dungeons are?  Done.  Want to buy some rumors to go along with those dungeons?  Done.  Pay even more and you might even get some higher quality rumors that the bard knows to be true.

The party might pay in coin, but they might also pay in information themselves, but it has to be the stuff that bard is interested in.  A rival adventuring party looted a legendary sword and used it to kill a a paladin of Saint Ferragun?  That's juicy stuff.  The ghost in the mine moaned the king's name?  Tell me more.  Stories, in a word, not just mere information.

I like this because it quickly tells the party where adventurin' is to be had.  No pussyfootin'.

#2 Rumor Management

I feel like this one is always underestimated.

Want to keep rival adventuring parties from looting the newly discovered dungeon out from under your feet?  Spread rumors that it's empty except for dust and the deadly dickrot disease.

Want to get invited to a fancy party?  Spread a rumor that you killed the hydralisk that was menacing the local swamp (even when you didn't).

Want to keep the local law enforcement off your back for a short while?  Spread a rumor that someone saw Kesselgrave in the nearby swamp, pulling the heads off bears.

#3 Designing a Dungeon

This is getting into story game territory, but bear with me.

Basically, the party asks the bard to tell them about a dungeon that they haven't heard of before, and then the DM asks the group to provide the details about the dungeon.

So the DM asks about what dungeon do they want to hear about, and they're like, let's hear about the sunken tomb of the pirate wizard.

Then the DM rolls their eyes and asks about what treasures are in the dungeon ("Why, I didn't know anyone else had ever heard of the sunken tomb!  It is a tale believed to be false by most.  What hast thou heardest?") and the players are like, a magic boat and a telescope that can teleport you to wherever you're looking.

Then the DM asks about what sort of deadly perils the dungeon holds, and the players are like, barnacle men, zombie sharks, ghost-possessed treasure, and lots of cursed gold that you really don't want to touch.  ("Touch no coin of the pirate wizard's hoard!  Because they are all cursed, each and every one!")

Basically, you just design an outline of a dungeon with the party, bouncing ideas off each other.  Especially pay attention to what they are most excited about, and what they don't want to have in the dungeon.

And then the characters pay the NPC bard for the honor, and you go off to design that very dungeon in between sessions.

But here's the kicker--everything that you just established about the new dungeon are just rumors, which means that they can be true, false, or anything in between.  You can even roll for their veracity if you want, in a pleasant inversion of how things normally work.  (I like a rumor table that is 70% true, but I also think that this should be influenced by how much they pay the bard.  Cheapskate the bard, or threaten him, and the bard will tell you more lies (50% true), but pay off the bard very well, and he will tell you the secrets that he promised not to tell anyone (80% true).)

In a way, it's like the payers paying GP in order to play as the bard, who is playing as the DM.

And then when the players get there, give them the dungeon they wanted, more or less.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Ogres and Their Hungry Kin

You must first catch a child between the ages of four and ten.  It must be shown no gentleness, nor hear any kindness.  The child must be kept from other children, lest they feel sympathy for others in a similar plight.  It must be beaten when they are bad and ignored when they are good.  It must never, ever be allowed to learn manners, or politeness, or cleanliness.

Cuss at 'em, slap 'em.  Leave them out in the rain.  But leave the door unlocked sometimes, so that the child can creep back indoors.  They will learn that a soft bed is a reward for deceit.

And above all else, they must eat, eat, eat.

They must eat until their tummies cramp and nausea curdles their brains.  They must eat until fat blossoms on their small limbs and plumps up their neck.  Their face is buried beneath it, their heart is entombed.

They are rude and lazy, but they are not cruel.  They merely lack all compassion, and in some ways, that's worse.  They are restless and indolent, always roaming, never reaching a destination.

When they have swallowed their tears to the bottom of their bitter bellies.  When they have forgotten all words except curses and mockeries.  When they no longer miss their mom.  When they will spit on you for asking if they miss their mom.  When they think themselves to be grown.

This is when they are ready.

They are hung on racks and washed with bird blood.  Bog water is forced down their throat until their bellies bulge, and then kicked until they vomit it back up.  This process is repeated until their bodies are round like barrels, and just as hollow.

They are stretched, pressed, and beaten.  Their limbs are pulled long, long, long and their fingers stretched until they can completely encircle a man's neck between their thumb and forefinger.  And finally, they are fed bones and sugar, to build an ogre skeleton inside them.

They are full of thick bones.  Not a single one is straight, and no two are identical.  They are big and bent and hungry, and their body is not wrapped in fat nor muscle but some amalgam of both.  This is a newborn ogre.

They are always eating, but they are never full.  They wonder why, but never for long, because that is a complicated, discomforting path that their mind must tread.  And if there are two things that an ogre absolutely cannot abide, it is complexity and discomfort.


The youngest and the smallest of the ogres are called bugbears.  They are also the stealthiest, and they are used to steal more children.

Most are eager to do so.  They have been weak their whole lives, and would like nothing more than to feel more powerful than someone else.

But children are also a danger to a bugbear, as well.  If the bugbear feels any kinship with the child, or pity, or empathy, their whole ogre quintessence will erode.  And so it is that children sometimes kill the bugbear that was sent to kidnap them.

By the time an ogre grows out of the bugbear stage, they are beyond such trifling doubts.  They are an ogre, and will forever be proud of that fact.


Ogres eat.

Ogres are horrible people.

Sometimes ogres eat horrible people.  When this happens, the horrible person isn't digested down into nothingness.  They exist within the matrix of casual cruelty that forms the ogre's biology.

Sure, there are kidneys and spleens in there, but those organs don't do what you think they do.  An ogre's kidney removes kind thoughts from the blood.  The spleen produces bile and pumps it into the brain.  The lungs filter the ogre's breath and exchange gentle words for callous ones.

And into this metaphysical ecosystem enters the half-digested psyche of whatever curmudgeon the ogre happened to eat.  Fire cannot burn fire; like cannot devour like.  And so the horrible parts of the eaten person persist, like islands of fat floating on top of chicken broth.

And sometimes these people--those who were eaten and then halfway digested--sprout back out from the ogre in which they were buried.  They grow a new head on their shoulder.  They become a two-headed ogre: an ettin.

The head that grows isn't the dead person, not exactly.  It's more like a crude imitation prepared from the worst parts of their original personality and memories (which is all that survives the brutish fermentation of the ogre's guts).

Ettin heads usually argue among themselves, and in true ogrish fashion, this usually leads to violence.  Sometimes, it even leads to decapitation, a process that the ogre usually survives, unfortunately.

Ogre Magi

Sometimes the horrible person that an ogre eats is another ogre, and then the brute has two ogrish heads sprouting from their shoulders.  Sometimes an especially foul human was already ogrish enough that it counts as an ogre for this purpose.  (Not all ogres are shaped like ogres; remember that as you go about your day.)

They are smart, because they have two heads, but they are also dumb, because they have two heads.  None of us is as dumb as all of us.

As an ogre grows a second head, it gains in sloth and bitterness.  But it also gains in magical acumen, as well.  No one knows why this is exactly.  They cast spells like a group of people competing for a bartender's attention.

More heads sometimes, but not always, correspond to increased magical power.  So while there are some potent ogre mages with two heads, the exemplars of their type are enormous, ancient cannibal-giants with vast nests of grimacing heads atop their shoulders, some from kidnappers, some from kings.


Ogre mages are ostentatious and bold.  They favor outward displays of power: flight, lightning bolt, cone of cold, darkness.  And so it makes sense that their wickedness is displayed outwards, manifesting as new heads.

But some ogres are elusive and crafty.  They favor inward displays of power: invisibility, charm, illusion, polymorph, mirage arcana.  These are the hags, and they hold their wickedness inside themselves, where it cannot be seen.

They are made in the same way as ettin and ogre magi: by the consumption of especially wicked people.  But these sinners are not reborn into the ogre, as they are inside an ettin.  Their bodies are not cradles, but tombs.

It is for this reason that every hag has a belly full of corpses, or perhaps just their heads.  The more corpses in her belly, the greater her power.

If that sounds repulsive, yes, it certainly is.  But I doubt you will think that when you meet a hag.  They are wrapped in so many layers of illusion, glamour, and polymorph spells that it sometimes takes wizards years to figure out what a hag's corpse really looks like.  They don't renew their aging glamour spells; they merely put down another layer.


Now, ogres are lazy hedonists, that much is known.  And although they despise all forms of thought and intellectualism, they are not stupid.  If they behave stupidly, it is because they despise the act of thinking, not that they are necessarily bad at it.  (This isn't quite captured by "Int 8", but use your imagination.)

The constant pursuit of pleasure often leads to pain.  Alcohol leads to hangovers.  Stealing sheep leads to a painful rain of slingstones.  Raping bear cubs leads to a mauling.

And so, among some ogres, a new type of thought emerges.  A bastard form of Epicureanism.  An ogre seeks pleasure, but pleasure can also be defined as the absence pain.  Freedom from noise, fear, distraction, and stimulation.

Remember that an ogre's body is a mirror of its mind.  As soon as an ogre begins to think these things, its body begins to change.

An eye becomes red-rimmed, rots, and falls out of its socket, so that the ogre may see less of of the world and the sundry sensations that cause it displeasure.  The remaining eye grows large and yellow.  The two eye sockets merge into one.  Now it is a cyclops.

They seek the loneliest places possible.  Their mindset is nearly monastic.

But remember, they are still ogres.  They are not at peace, and they are not satisfied.  That frustration and gnawing dissatisfaction is still there, except it is now a mental turmoil instead of a physical one.  They don't seek things to make themselves happy, they seek absence of things to keep themselves from being unhappy, but towards this end they have failed miserably.

Everything annoys them.  Sounds annoy them.  Silence annoys them.  They hate everything.

Cyclops have a unique power, too.  They can see the future.  It is a cruel gift, because to look into the future is to accept more unwanted stimulation, more hateful scenes of an unwanted life.

And so a cyclops may make for a passable oracle, if you approach them with a great deal of sheep and a very small amount of noise.

Headless Ogres

These are ogres that have decapitated themselves.

Ogres move through stages of gluttony, indolence, and annoyance.  Ettins remove annoying heads by bashing them in their sleep and then chewing through the neck.  Where else could this wretched cycle end?

But decapitation is not death, for an ogre.  (However, disembowelment is, because an ogre's guts are much more essential than their head.)

Remember that an ogre's body is like a fairy's body: it exists and operates as a manifestation of the mind.  Not the inverse, as is sometimes claimed of humans.

Headless ogres are damned things.  They wander the moors and the wastes, living only a slightly more pointless life than before.  They catch small animals and pulp their corpses between two rocks.  This bloody pulp is then pushed down their sucking neckholes by dirty thumbs.  In this way, life goes on.

Poets love headless ogres, and say that they are a reflection of ourselves.  We all grind up coyotes between flat rocks and shove them in our neckholes, and having done this, stagger off into the next wasteland.

Ogres feel a great deal of sensation.  They feel so fucking much.  They have the biggest appetites and the biggest joys.  Nothing is as hungry as a hungry ogre, and nothing is as jolly as a drunk ogre.  They have the biggest hearts, though they be bent and blackened.

They are carnal creatures, perhaps the most carnal.  And because an ogre feels so fucking much and a headless ogre has no meat-brain to feel that muchness, the sensation spills out into the environment.  They're broken fire hydrants, pumping themselves into the street.

We are candles; they are torches.  Everyone feels what they feel, but they also feel what it is like to be an ogre: restless, hungry, and frustrated.

Stat Blocks

HD 4  AC leather  Club 1d12
Move 9  Int 8  Morale 7
<Bully> The ogre insults, intimidates, or shoves a creature.  If the target fails a Charisma check, they take 1d6 non-lethal.  However, if this would reduce a creature below 0 HP, they do not get knocked out, but instead run away in tears/frightened if they fail a save vs fear.
<Omnivore> Given enough time and ketchup, an ogre can eat anything softer than metal.  They are immune to harmful effects of things they've eaten (e.g. acid, poison, green slime).

HD 3  AC none  Cudgel 1d10
Move 9  Int 8  Morale 7
<Spells> invisibility 3/day, self only, this invisibility only works on adult humanoids.
<Nemesis of Experience> Bugbears are childrens' foes.  Innocence is the key to fighting them, not experience.  Attackers get a penalty on their AC and attack roll equal to their level, max -6.  Children deal double damage to bugbears and can hurt them even with flimsy improvised weapons (such as cardboard swords).

HD 5  AC leather  Club/Fist 1d12/1d6
Move 9  Int 8  Morale 7
<Two-Headed> An ettin is harder to surprise.  If you can get the heads to disagree on something, they have a 2-in-6 chance to waste 1d6 rounds arguing, unless you do something obvious like attack them.
<Omnivore> Given enough time and ketchup, an ogre can eat anything softer than metal.  They are immune to harmful effects of things they've eaten (e.g. acid, poison, green slime).

Ogre Mage
Just give an ogre a few more HD and some of these spells: lightning bolt, cone of cold, fly, darkness, disguise, earth tremor, command, stone snare, dancing weapon

Just give an ogre a few more HD and some witchy spells, such as these: illusion, charm person, invisilibity, disguise, gaseous form, sleep, dominate person, fear, reduce

HD 6  AC leather  Club 1d12
Move 9  Int 8  Morale 7
<Foresight> A cyclops can see the future, or at least a few of the most likely timelines.  All creatures that the cyclops can see get -4 attack and AC when fighting the cyclops.  A creature gets immunity to this ability for 1 minute if they do something completely unexpected (i.e. everyone around the table agrees that they did not think the creature would do that).  This shunts the person onto one of the less-likely timelines, and the cyclops' third eye must spend a minute casting around for the proper thread.

Headless Ogre
HD 6  AC leather  Club 1d12
Move 9  Int 8  Morale 7
<Broadcast Self> Everyone within 1 mile feels more ogrish.  Within 100', creatures cannot benefit from morale bonuses or anything that depends on positive emotions.  They get -4 against anything that depends on negative emotions.
<Broadcast Pain> When damage is done to a headless ogre, half of that damage is mirrored onto the person that damaged it (as long as there is a person that directly caused it).  Save for half.

This post at least partially inspired by:

Monday, January 25, 2016

Regional Classes - Kaladar

Why not have regional variations of each of the four basic classes?  Regional subclasses.  Like in one part of the world, fighters train in this style, and in another part, they train in this style.  Maybe not all the fighters in that part of the world, but perhaps most of the fighters.  Or perhaps that is the style of fighting that they are most known for, even though few people actual practice it.

It gives a map a different kind of texture that players will care about.

If I wrote a bunch of these, it might just be a book of alternate classes.  You don't need to restrict player choice when it comes to these classes BUT YOU COULD.  There could be two levels two character generation: the first one when the gaming group decides where their adventuring party is from (which determines which classes are available) and a second one when each player decides what class they are from.

It allows a group of players to create a party that is already identified with an organization or a group within a part of the campaign world.  They are born complete with affiliations and motivations.  I like that.  Born with hooks in 'em.

One thing that unites all of Centerra is that they all bow (to varying degrees) to the Reincarnated Prophetess and the Holy City of Coramont.  This support is paid not through money (that was condemned by the Prophetess) but through personnel.  A great deal of talented people assemble in the name of Coramont and then set out to work in the interest of the Church or the free people of the continent.

The Kingdom of Kaladar

When I first started writing Centerra stuff down, I decided that there would one vanilla, generic, white-bread place somewhere on the map where I could stick all the knights and dragons and damsels and people with names like Goldenloin and Lionsbreath.

That place is Kaladar (formerly known as a bunch of other names that all started with K).

It's basically a generic Camelotoid except for:

  • It's one of two superpowers in the world, the other one being the colonial, rapidly industrializing nation of Noth.  They're basically opposites of each other.  These are the only two nations (and everyone else is a city-state of some sort).
    • Kaladar and Noth are the only two places that aren't Points of Light-styled, because they're well populated.  They're Points-of-Darkness where the society will lean pretty heavily on adventurers, though.
  • It's where the Prophetess (who founded Hesaya) and is where the Pilgrimage usually starts.
  • It's the only place where dragons are allowed to own property.  Some of them are landed nobility who are allowed to eat peasants without having to justify it, and others are Dunkelzahn-style merchant-kings, the most powerful of whom is Maladryn Masaat.
  • I'm probably going to put in a couple of Orientalisms in there to keep me from falling asleep when writing it.  Like, everyone eats a lot of noodles and sits on the floor.  Honorable suicide is expected when you fuck up.
  • They are the inventors and primary practitioners of culinary alchemy (see below).

Fighter Variant - Dragon-knight

Oh man, everyone thinks that it's so great to be a dragon knight.  Ride dragons into battle, be a bad-ass.

Well, I got news for you.  It sucks.  Compared to his mount, a dragon-rider is about as badass as a rat riding a wolf.

Because think about it.  Between a man and a ten-thousand pound killing machine, who do you think is going to be in charge?  That's right.  The dragon is the boss.  All the dragon knight does is protect his neck with a shield-lance (the only really vulnerable part of a dragon) and try not to vomit during the acrobatic parts.

If you don't clean Sir's scales perfectly by the time he wakes up, you're fucking fired.  He'll get a new squire faster than you can say 'flambe'.  There are a lot more dragon-knights than there are knight-dragons.
  • Lose some defensive abilities of the fighter.
  • Gain the ability to defend your allies a little better.
  • At higher levels, you can bargain with a knight-dragon for a service.  It requires the king's approval and a lot of money, but you can pay a dragon to join your party for a day.
Some dragon-knights are wizards.  They specialize in divination and communication spells.  They're basically the knight-dragon's radar and comm systems.

Fighter Variant - Knight

Keldon is the Generic Fantasy Kingdom so of course it has Generic Fantasy Knights.  I f igure the fun thing about being a knight is the knightly character, and how the knight fits into the rest of the world, not so much the mechanics themselves.  They're interesting in the same way that a paladin can be interesting.
  • Slightly less good at hitting things.
  • Code of Honor, paladin-style.
  • Huge social benefits.  Can kill peasants and no one gives a shit.  Invitations to parties.  The king has patted you on the back before.
  • You get a free horse every level!
  • You can throw lances for some reason!
  • If you carry a battle standard in one of your hands and yell shit like "King!  Crown!  Honor!  Princesses!" all your allies get +1 to hit and +1 vs fear.

Rogue Variant - Black Rabbit

The Black Rabbits are a family of wererabbits loyal to the king.  They were formally a powerful cabal of thieves until they were captured and threatened with execution.

In time, what started out as a forced relationship (the king held many members of their family hostage in his household to ensure their loyalty) has turned into a convivial one (many of the Black Rabbits have now married into the royal family).

There is a secret place called the Royal Warren.  It is full of rabbits, and the rabbit king lives there.  The black rabbit family has intermarried into this royal family, too.  (And some of the Black Rabbits are married to a rabbit princess and a human princess, neither being aware of each other.  Rogues, right?)

The Black Rabbits aren't common knowledge, but people in Kaladar know not to fuck with rabbits.  Fuck with too many rabbits and you end up buried in five different burrows in five different counties.  They're rabbity ninjas.

The Black Rabbits manipulate a lot of things in Kaladar.  They're the only reason the dragons are still in power, for example.  The dragons are powerful and immensely good at focusing their attention at a single big task (like leveling a kingdom) but they are basically blind when it comes to noticing things that aren't shiny, shouting, or waving a sword in their face.
  • Less ability to kill things.
  • Can turn into a rabbit and back again, at will.  Bonus powers during full moons.

Cleric Variant - Cleric of Saint Borgaine

There's a part of Kaladar called the Plentymore Plains, named after their fertility.  It's full of big networks of farms built around hub-towns, each one about a day's travel from each other, like what actually existed in the medieval ages.  It's entirely safe to travel through as long as you don't ask questions or open any locked doors.

Saint Borgaine is sort of the anti-druid.  Forests are evil; parks are good.  Forests must be pushed back and tamed until future generations think of forests as someplace peaceful and relaxing (because that is true victory over the wild).

  • Instead of turn dead, they get turn nature.
  • Possible leric spells: speak with farm animal, multiply food, farm animal growth, make straight the path, control sun, summon harvest angel (it's got a scythe and a pumpkin head), touch of starvation, corpse to cornucopia, summon the mighty ox, everything in its place.

Wizard Variant - Hundred-Year Chef

So there's this space dragon called Forganthus Valore.  Centerra holds nothing that he desires, except perhaps some tasty food.  But not just any food.  He needs a stew cooked to his specific specifications--which are so exotic and precise that it usually takes about a hundred years to assemble and cook them all.

So Forganthus shows up every hundred years or so, eats a huge stew brimming with exotic flavors and impossible alchemy, gives instructions for the next stew which is to be served to him in 1d20+90 years, and then flies back into space.

In exchange for this stew, Forganthus answers questions.  He was alive prior to the Time of Fire and Madness, and knows the truth about the elves.  He doesn't see the future, but he's a hell of a prognosticator (and gives really good stock tips, so to speak).  He has two heads; one eats while the other answers questions.

Example ingredients: Three black goats, each born with a third eye.  The tear of a laughing angel.  The laughter of a man who has destroyed what he loved most.  Ten thousand mermaid hearts.  Basilisk blood boiled with butter for the last three years.  A furball coughed up from a calico cat.

And Forganthus has a delicate tongue.  Delicate enough that he could taste the difference between a hairball from a calico cat and a hairball made from the mixed hair of different colored cats.  That little fuckup cost Kaladar 60,000gp (for the new tower) and a princess (which was kidnapped and never replaced).

The particular little branch of the royal Kaladarian* apparatus that is in charge of overseeing this stew-dragon-prophecy business is the Stewer's Guild.  Except for the dragon families (taken as a whole), they are the most powerful force in Kaladar.

*Ye gods, it sounds even worse as an adjective.  I love it.

They are composed primarily of alchemical chefs, but their numbers also include some bureacrats, mercantile speculators, historians, spies, and seers.

  • They're based on the manrider alchemist class (which was itself based on the wizard) except that instead of making lots of small potions that can be stored indefinitely, they produce a few huge meals that must be eaten immediately.
  • Examples of feast powers, which will usually affect the whole party: anyone can teleportingly switch places with another party member, inter-party telepathy, anyone can send HP around like Paypal money, the whole party fuses together into a big fucking Voltron made of meat with one hand made of sword fingers and another hand made of wand fingers. 
  • They are the only class that can wield a telescope fork, because they comprehend a need.  These magical instruments function as wands, and become more extensible as the thousand-year chef gains in power.
Should I watch Toriko?
It sounds cool, when people describe it to me.


I rewrote the Death and Dismemberment table again.  As well as the Insanity table.  I did this because I am a crazy.

Goddamn, the old one was complex.  I don't know why I ever thought it was simple.

Anyway, this was all precipitated by a D&D game I ran last night, wherein a couple of players died, going from full health to dead dead dead in one fell swoop, with no chance to run away.

Yeah, they were first level, and first level is supposed to be squishy.  Was there sub-optimal playering?  Perhaps.  Was there sub-optimal DMing?  Perhaps.  Was there sub-optimal dungeon design?  Perhaps.  But I can't fix any of those things right now.  What I can fix right now is system.

Compared to my old Death and Dismemberment Table, this one is. . .

  • Smaller.  Only 3 lines instead of the prior 6.  Why did I think I needed 6?  Christ.  
  • About 20% fewer dice to roll, on average.
  • Less superfluous.  (Of course you fall over if you get your leg hacked off, why even waste a fucking entry stating that?)
  • More injurious.
  • Less deadly.  In fact, instant death isn't even on the table any more.
  • The injury sources are more comprehensive: fire, acid, lightning, eldritch, non-lethal.
  • Just as shoddily styled.  Three tables, three different ugly formats.
New ways to fuck up characters includes:
  • Crushed Throat.  You cannot speak louder than a whisper.
  • Crushed Ribs.  You suck at holding your breath.
  • Burned.  You cannot wear armor.
  • Split Personality. Roll up a new level 1 character that uses your current physical stats, but new mental stats.  The class must be different from your current one.  Each session, alternate between these two characters, each one tracking XP separately.
I dunno.  I think there's less chaff and more good, usable stuff.

But shiny new thing is the Fatal Wound thing.  That's what I'm going to replace "Dying" and "Instant Death" with.  We'll see how it works out.

I don't think I've posted pictures in a while, have I?  Here's a bunch.

Friday, January 22, 2016

A Few More Words on Dwarven Culture

Dwarven Religion

Dwarves don't worship the dwarf god.  There are no dwarven gods (possibly because no dwarf has been creative enough to invent any) and in fact, the whole notion of gods usually requires some explaining in the first place.

Hesaya is the primary religion of the dwarves, just as it is the primary religion of the entire continent of Centerra (although it takes a few different forms).  Like everyone else, they indirectly revere Zulin, Prince of the Upper Air and directly worship a multitude of local priests and slave-gods.  But how do you get dwarves to worship an air god?

Missionary: "What is better, the earth or the air?"
Dwarf: "The earth, because it gives us toil, tombs, and bread."

Missionary: "But does not the act of digging create an air-filled tunnel, which allows you to access more of the earth?  You claim to love the earth, yet you strive for its absence."
Dwarf: "Harrum.  This does not seem to be entirely untrue."

And so this is the root revelation of the Dwarven Covenant: that goodly dwarves will never escape the cycle of rebirth and enter the Heavenly Mansions of Truth.  Instead, goodly dwarves will simply be reborn as dwarves, to dig in the endless earth for all eternity.

One knock on effect of this philosophy is that each dwarf believes that they are already the best lifeform possible.  There is no hope for a better life, because the dwarven life is the best life for them.  This leads to a great deal of civil contentment and smugness.

Note: If you're a regular reader of this blog, don't try to follow Hesaya too closely.  It's gets rewritten every couple months because I can't make up my mind.

The Dwarven Crusades

Given the Hesayan predilection for antonyms and inversion, it is entirely possible that the Riddle of Air is not a metaphysical one, but a physical one.  And it is possible that the answer is to be found downward, rather than upward.

And so the most devout dwarves engage in the Quest to Find God, which mostly involves digging as deeply as possible.  It's a cross between mining, a never-ending pilgrimage, and the Crusades.

There are multiple, concurrent Under-Quests.  Each one is a legion of dwarves digging to the center of the world, supported by supplies from their surface cities.  In the centuries since they started, the front of this ant-line has moved deeper and deeper into the Underworld, leaving dozens of empty cities and cathedrals behind them, abandoned as they build new ones deeper and deeper.

Quite of few of the Dwarven Crusades have become lost, and the fate of these unknown, eternally digging colonies is not known.

Dwarven Gender and Sexuality

Dwarves have no concept of gender, and struggle to discuss sex.

Male and female dwarves look identical, unless you get them naked.  They are completely unromantic when sober, and marriage and conception is something that is usually performed in the service of their king or council.

The non-creative, work-obsessed dwarven psychology disappears entirely when they are drunk.  It is during these times when dwarven acts of passion are committed.  These include marriages and joint mortgages, but they also include more traditional one night stands (which are usually accompanied by a lot of fumbling around with belts and beards, and a lot of speculation whether the other dwarf's hardware is a "bolt" or a "nut".  Not that it changes the outcome much, except when it comes to pregnancy.)

They don't have gendered pronouns.  The closest thing that they have are the concepts of craftsdwarf and miningdwarf, which they use as translations for 'female' and 'male' respectively.

A big divide in dwarven culture exists around the concepts of those who obtain raw resources (the miners) and those who refine them (the crafters).  This schism is large enough that dwarves often lament their irreconcilable psychologies ('craftsdwarves are from Venus, miningdwarves are from Mars').  And like human genders, these labels come with a host of stereotypes and cultural expectations.

Craftsdwarves tend to care more about their appearance and be more assertive, for example.  (The appearance thing is not to be understated; some miningdwarves are filthy, and spend decades without beds, baths, or razors.)

Dwarves use craftsdwarf and miningdwarf as stand-ins for 'woman' and 'man' in private, or around humans if they are still largely unexposed to human culture.  This is because miningdwarves are usually away from home, doing hard labor, while craftsdwarves rarely travel too far from their hearths.  This is the most salient detail dwarves notice when trying to tell apart human men and women.

They struggle to notice boobs and timbre.  Gender just doesn't sit very close to sexuality in the dwarven headspace.

The biggest oddity is that dwarves sometimes change professions throughout their lives, especially in the miningdwarf to craftsdwarf direction.  This leads to odd questions, such as:

Dwarf: "You repaired that saddle excellently.  Are you planning on becoming a woman in a few more years?"
Man: "The fuck you say?"

It is rare, but not unheard of, for biologically female dwarves to adopt human culture down to its gender roles.  These dwarf-women shave their beards; other dwarves usually mistake them for halflings at this point.

Dwarven Names

Dwarves frequently identify themselves according to what their labor produces.  Here are some sample names for a miner, gemcutter, and warrior.

  • Brevigon the Calcite Strand
  • Tivik the Smagdarine Eye
  • Korlag the Nine Orcs
First names are reserved to intimate friends.  Those who meet Tivik had best become accustomed to addressing the dwarf as "The Smagdarine Eye" for a while.

<digression>This is similar to how dragons identify themselves by their hoards, or by the most valuable item in their hoard.</digression>

Dwarven Rulers

Being non-creative, sober dwarves struggle in leadership roles.  For this reason, dwarven kings are never kings themselves.

They are known for kidnapping clever people and forcing them to rule the dwarven kingdom.  (They are good at detecting duplicity and schemes.  They are non-creative, not stupid.)

But they sometimes engage in the practice of shackled kings.  This is when they summon a clever devil and force them to become their king after extracting a lengthy and comprehensive contract has been drawn up.

And not just one devil-king.  They usually get a hold of several devils and force them to work at cross-purposes.  (Pitting the Devil King of Infrastructure against the machinations of the Devil King of Military keeps the devils working in the dwarves' interest.  Most of the time, anyway.)

The only time that dwarves are ruled by dwarves is when they have a Council of Drunkards.

Upside-Down Colonialism

When dwarves invade a place, they usually kill all the underclasses, but preserve the nobility.  The captive aristocracy is confined to their houses, but is generally allowed to continue going on as they always have.

They are attended by dozens of servile dwarven war-butlers, armed with daggers in case the old nobles try anything funny.  The children of these nobles grow up in a city that is 99% dwarven.

The former aristocracy will be depended upon to run the administrative tasks until the dwarves figure out how to take over these things themselves.  Then these human families will be ushered into service industries: masseuse, psychiatrist, and bards (roles that dwarves struggle with, or despise doing).

Dwarven Debts

Dwarves have a great love for contracts and courts.  They have a great many of each.

Debt is something that is common to many dwarves, and they frequently incur a mutual debt in order to cement a treaty or a marriage.  It is a revered--almost holy--tradition.  Since one dwarven family might be richer more than another, or they may be unequal when it comes to repayment, it is often that one family slides into debt to another.  A large proportion of dwarves are born with huge debts.

This isn't seen as too onerous, since it is honorable work.  It only requires fourteen hours of labor a day for several decades, and then the dwarf is free.  Working your way out from under a large debt is immensely respected among dwarves, and is accompanied by parties, laurels, and all the tasteless beer they can drink.

Dwarven Prisons

Dwarven prisons are always fortified labor camps.  This is also not seen as too terrible, since there is always work to do and the work is always tallied accurately.  Sometimes a human is condemned to a life of hard labor in a dwarven work prison, and the dwarves will wonder why the human cries so much when the sentence is read.

The second-most terrible thing you can do to a dwarf is to cut off their beard.  The single most-terrible thing is to cut off their hands.

Even dwarves in solitary confinement are given bricks to stack or a pile of straw to sort.  Lacking that, dwarves go insane, and will smooth the walls until their hands bleed, or slip into the idiosyncratic madness known of fleshmining.

Dwarven Madness

More than any other race, dwarves tend to go insane.  There is a lot of genetic pressure on their behavior, and it creates a lot of psychic friction.

Stable colonies of insane dwarves are known as the duergar.

But there is an upside to this madness.

It is well-known that magic items (aside from scrolls and potions) are only created by a master craftsman in a mindset of great instability: fear, love, and of course MADNESS.

Dwarves are also the most likely of the races to allow madness to run its course.  Mad dwarves are often sealed up inside their homes and given the materials needed to perform their crafts.  A close eye is kept on them, and they usually send for the healer when the mad dwarf begins headbutting the floor monotonously or eating their own beard.  This is why dwarves have more magic weapons than anyone else.

They also sometimes die from overwork, but this is something to be revered, like starving to death because you gave all your food to hungry orphans.

Dwarven Tombs

What do dwarves do when they have no work to do?  When there is an absence of gems to cut or metal to work into armor?  There must be a release valve somewhere, for the overflow.

And this is the function of tombs in dwarven society.

A dwarf's most prized possession in their tomb.  The usually begin digging it when they are very young, and they will slowly excavate it throughout their entire lives.  They like this because it is concrete and (relatively) impossible to steal.  It is eternal.

And so every dwarven city is surrounded by a halo of tombs, most of which are occupied.  This also helps with their brand of ancestor-worship.

If you do a great service for the dwarves, they will probably reward you with one of the royal tombs.  (The laborers who built the royal tomb are already buried under the floor.  It is their tomb, too.)

Humans who would prefer to have territory, money, or soldiers instead of a royal tomb are usually given these lesser honors, with a shrug.  Who can understand the minds of humans?

Remember. . .

According to the high elves (who alone have a history that predates the Time of Fire and Madness), dwarves were created by them be a race of asteroid miners.

I've been thinking a lot about dwarves lately.  Hopefully this will make the beards stop.

See Also:
A Few Words on Dwarven Culture
The Dwarves of Mt. Doldrum

Bottle Imps

by Jeff Haynie

There are many demons you can summon from hell, and the least of these brimstone-belching brutes are the bottle imps.

Bottle imps are small, usually only one or two inches.  They come in all sorts of colors.  Some of them even appear as miniature versions of other demons.  (1" high balor, anyone?)  They are very labile, and will react violently with oxygen.  If their bottle is every opened or broken, they die instantly in a small, sputtering flame.

Bottle imps answer questions.  Each type of bottle imp is a completely reliable source for a particular strain of information.  If asked, they will give you an accurate answer.  (Yes, most demons twist their answers, but not bottle imps.  Their answers have already had their sinful price paid; that's how you summon a bottle imp.)

They are chatty little bastards, and will do their best to get you to ask them a question.  They know that the longer you talk with them, the greater you'll slip up and ask them a question.  Because as soon as they are asked a question, they answer it, and then they are free to go.

Player: Do you really think I'll fall for that, imp?
Bottle Imp: You just did!  Ahahaha!  *disappears back to hell*

If you ask them a question that they do not know the answer to, they'll probably shout "I dunno!" and gleefully disappear.

Just as you can determine what a potion does by tasting small portions of it, you can determine what type of knowledge a bottle imp has by talking to it.  Just be careful not to ask it a question.

And just like potions shouldn't be hard to identify, neither should bottle imps.  Anyone should be able to figure out what an imp does if they talk to it long enough.

by fobiapharmer
Types of Bottle Imps [d8]

1, Sagacious Imp - Knows everything that a extraordinarily complete library might have (with nothing printed more recently than a year ago) as well as all the daily newspapers printed since then.  Can also identify another magical item, like a sage.  Finds a way to fit sexual or violent anecdotes into nearly all of its answers.  Identifiable because they are always asking about science, geography, current events, etc.

2. Scandal Imp - This is actually an anti-imp, which doesn't dispense information but instead allows you to inject it into the world.  If you give it a rumor, it will spread it across the city overnight.  If you give it a lie, it will seamlessly insert the lie into whatever book or document that you wish.  Identifiable because it fucking tells you exactly what it is--contrary little bugger.

3. Scavenger Imp - Knows everything that has been forgotten, and can help you forget things that are best forgotten.  By whispering in your ear, it can restore lost memories and even cure insanity--and afterwards you'll have forgotten what it said.  It also has a knowledge of really, really old things--before recorded history.  Identifiable by its enigmatic, nonsense phrases and the fact that it spouts off the events that drove long-dead men insane, such as "Meechum the Kingslayer went insane when he viewed his mother's incest.  That's a common theme, as it struck Bulwarg Fallowheart, but his brother Hurkis remained lucid until his deathbed, when the apparition of his dead wife appeared in his chamberpot."

4. Scryer Imp - Knows everything in the local area: what's inside that chest, the layout of the current dungeon, the shortest route to the exit, where's the nearest secret door, etc.  Contemptuous personality.  Identifiable because they are always showing off by telling players what they have in their pocket, or telling you that a trap was poisoned (lol!) right after it has already stabbed the rogue.

5. Scuttlebutt Imp - Knows three true rumors about everything.  Alternatively, knows a dirty secret about everyone (and everyone has a dirty secret) that you can probably use to blackmail them.  Identifiable because it's always gabbing about interesting people and dungeons across the world, and all the different people that they've been gossiping with.

6. Seeker Imp - Knows how to find any thing you are looking for.  Identifiable because it's always talking about magic swords, and saying things like "but of course, you have no idea how to get there, poor thing."

7. Spell-fetcher Imp - If a spell is known to exist, the imp can fetch it and scribe it on the inside of the bottle before disappearing (where it is treated like a scroll).  For spells that might not exist, there is a 33% chance that the imp finds the new spell as described (effectively discovering a new one), a 33% chance that the imp retrieves a vaguely similar spell, and a 33% chance that the imp just writes down a bunch of dirty limericks in draconic.  Identifiable because they're always asking you what sort of spells you know, and if you've heard of any interesting spells.

8. Spy-brain Imp - Can read someone's mind (like ESP) or extract a specific memory out (the person doesn't even have to be present).  Will then relay all of the juicy details to the querent, lavishing extra details on anything even mildly scandalous.  Identifiable because they are always asking you what you are thinking, and talking about how dirty-minded humans are (even the priests).

How To Use Bottle Imps

Bottle imps belong on your random potion table.  They are the same size as a potion, and they are single-use.  Therefore, they are a potion.

They're not rare.  A wizard PC would know what they are, and would know all the general information in this post (e.g. don't ask them questions unless you mean it).

If the players are having trouble figuring out what an imp does, they can have a sage identify it just like a potion.

Any bottle imp can become a familiar.  They'd love for you to ask.

from Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Detaching Advancement From Levels + Secret Monk Techniques

I'm a big fan of detaching character advancement from level progression, for three reasons.

  • It makes a character's increase in power more gradual, and less staggered.  It gives them something to look forward to between level-ups.
  • It reduces the burden on the XP -> leveling system.  Sort of like taking some of the eggs out of the basket.  This makes things like level drain (slightly) less painful.
  • Just as XP -> leveling drives a goal of getting more loot, a different system of advancement can drive a different goal.
There's already an obvious example of this in play: wizards can learn new spells by finding scrolls and adding them to their spellbook.  So a wizard, even if they are at the level cap or whatever, still has a mechanically incentivized reason to play.

And there are a few old-school things that advanced characters without just giving them XP.  Like a fountain that gave +1 Str to whoever drank from it, for example.

You could also argue that magic swords and their ilk are a method of advancement not tied to XP, but we're getting into gear, and that's almost a different thing.

I've been gradually inserting other examples into my homebrew.
  • My skill system (which has been revised innumerable times) ties skill advances to how often you use a skill, with a cap based on your level.
  • Fighters keep track of how many kills they get with particular weapons.  At certain thresholds, they learn a new ability with that weapon.  Because tracking kills is fun, right?
  • Bug Collectors gain badges from collecting all the bugs in an area.  This is basically pokemon, and encourages bug collectors to tell their friends "Wait!  We can't leave the mountain yet!  I still need to find a grimbly fly!" which is basically the buggiest collectoriest thing a bug collector can shout.
  • Demon Blades have a couple of abilities that hinge on the highest HD angel (or whatever) that they've ever killed.  This motivates them to go out and kill bigger and weirder angels.
<digression>   I just had this idea about cherubim, and added it to the angels page.

Cherubim are extremely important, for one reason: they are engineering the birth of the messiah.  You think saviors are born just by chance?  It requires hundreds of generations of careful breeding to bring about the right collection of genes and environmental factors to create the next Prophetess, which only happens if the right people fall in love with each other.  And woe to anyone who interferes with the finely wrought clockwork of their fanshipping.  </digression>

So, with that in mind, here's my idea about monks.

When I picture a monk, I'm basically picturing a pastiche of all the martial artists I've ever seen in anime.  This includes Goku.

And how does Goku become more powerful?  Not by winning.  Goku becomes more powerful by losing, and then running away and training for a fucking six episode piece of shit why is King Kai even a thing.  Fuck him forever.

Anyway, here's my first draft of an ability that you learn at level pXX:

Secret Techniques

You learn your first Secret Technique: Stunning Fist.  You learn additional secret techniques whenever you are defeated by a powerful foe and then spend a day training in some dramatic location in order to beat them.  

What constitutes "defeated by a powerful foe" is left up to the DM, but a sincerely-fought combat that ends in player death or retreat should be considered a defeat.  Alternatively, the monk could seek out a Hidden Master and receive training from him.

Secret Techniques
Each secret technique costs 1 HP to use, maybe.
  1. Ten Thousand Punches (Keep making punch attacks for as long as you want.  For every two punches you throw, you take 1d6 damage, hit or miss.)
  2. Quivering Palm
  3. Too Many Shurikens
  4. Fire Punch???
  5. Flash Step
  6. Goku Beam???????? 
  7. Focus (Spend a turn declaring to your target how determined you are to win.  Your next hit on the target turns into a crit.)
  8. Counterattack
  9. Immovable Stance
  10. Koan (bonus on a save vs some mental effect, if you save, target must save or be confused)
  11. That thing that Dhalsim does
  12. Consider the Lotus (lets you pay XP in order to deal more damage because monks are craaaaazy)
my next monk will be a voldo
So Where Is This Hidden Master Anyway?
  1. On a mountain top, inside a giant, angry tortoise.
  2. He retreated from this illusion into another.  You can meet him if you go into the swamp and smoke a wisp.  You'll have to catch it in this magic pipe, first.
  3. He's in hiding because of his stance against the current king, who has ordered the hidden master to be hunted down and killed.  If you cause enough trouble for the king, the hidden master will surely find you.
  4. He's out fishing.  Follow this miniature whale through an ocean full of horrible bullshit, where you will find him on a tiny raft made of sake bottles, enjoying his nine-year bender.
  5. He's on the moon, you poor fuck.  Go catch the Cat's Tail (the dangling end of a space elevator that passes over the Brimstone Waste every once in a while) and ride the elevator-golem up.
  6. He's dead and in hell.  Pack some holy water.
What Bullshit Does the Master Demand Of You?
  1. A fucking riddle.
  2. Get drunk with him and his extra-special carousing table.
  3. Defeat him in single combat.
  4. Something truly awful, like get swallowed by a purple worm and then survive.
  5. Serve him for a year and a day.  He mostly wants a cook, but also someone to fight off all the annoying assassins that keep arriving.
  6. Marry his beautiful but incompetent offspring.
underneath the mask will be the smiling face of the goku

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Dwarves Are Lazy Because They Are Hardworking

The industriousness of dwarves is well established, even across multiple settings.  They're also dour, obsessed with gold, and possessing of an ambiguously Scottish accent.  They don't like elves or trees, but they like grand halls and forges.  Family and tombs.  Honor and beer.  Lots and lots of beer.

Dwarves are extremely well characterized.  The dwarven character is as strong and as distinctive as the character of Homer Simpson.  Except one is a single dude and the other is an entire race.

Race is the lazy way to define your character.  (That's one reason why I killed all the humans.)

What I mean by well-characterized is: I have no problem imagining what Homer Simpson would do in any given situation, just as I have no problem imagining what a dwarf would do in any given situation.  As soon as you told me their name, I knew them.  I can already hear their voice.

And of course, that's why people play dwarves.  They're prepackaged bundles of character.

No longer do you have to define your character through word and through deed!  You merely have to say "I'm a dwarf!" and people know all about your character, exactly as if you had said "I'm Homer Simpson!"  It's a big shortcut, and best of all, this characterization doesn't require any roleplaying at all.

Imagine the inverse.  Imagine that you decided to play Homer Simpson the fighter, but that you introduced him to the other players as Scrotar the Gladiator.  And then you said things that Homer would say, and did things that Homer would do, and over time, the other players (and in-game NPCs) would get a very good feel for your character.  He would be very well characterized, and you would have earned it.

But that's difficult, and takes a long time, which is why people like being dwarves. It's nice to have NPCs treat you as your character expects to be treated, and if you're a dwarf, that takes about five minutes.

The same is true for elves (haughty, beautiful,slim, clean, beardless, magical, serene, fuckin' Mary Sues), orcs (yell, smash, intimidate, be tough as a two dollar steak), and gnomes (chipper, excitable, mischievous, witty, impulsive, mildly magical).

People who change their setting so that "their dwarves/elves/whatever are different" would be wise not to change their dwarves too much, since players expect a certain degree of cliche dwarfiness to be present (so they can roleplay their character easier) even though they might sigh at how generic the dwarves are in this setting.

You Should Play a Dwarf If. . .

If you're new to roleplaying, by all means, be a dwarf.  The easiest characters to roleplay are the ones that are the most strongly characterized.  A stereotypical dwarf fulfills that niche handily.  And after you establish your dwarfiness, you cban start striking out into new territory, away from your racial stereotype.  Perhaps you're the only dwarf who likes trees.  Or maybe you're a shitty craftsman.  Or you eschew beer in favor of opiates.  That's (mildly) interesting stuff.

Or you might just play a hack and slash game, where characterizations don't really matter because everyone is a murderhobo.  In that case, this whole essay is moot.  Go put on your pointy helmet, beard-face.

You might not be a confident roleplayer, or you might not have a good idea for a character.  In that case, may I suggest a dwarven ancestry for monsieur?  It's strong, reliable, and easy.

Or you genuinely don't give a shit about characterization.  For you, the game lies in other directions.  That's fine, too.  There's many ways to play a game.  Don't let me shit in your fun-bucket.

You Should Stop Being a Dwarf

There is no if.  You should stop being a dwarf.

Just be a human.  Anything a dwarf can be, a human can be.  Greedy?  Humans can be that. Honorable?  Humans can be that.  Drunk and possessing a ridiculous accent?  Humans can do that.  Scornful of elves and their fruit wines?  I already do that all the time.

Rolling a human forces you to come up with a unique character concept.  If you can't come up with one, and would prefer to fall back upon the ol' bearded crutch, consider some famous personalities.  Be Bill Murray from Ghostbusters.  Be Nolan's Batman.  Hell, be Nolan's Joker.  Be a good-guy version of Hitler.  Be Scrooge McDuck (miserly, loves his asshole nephews).  Be Borat.  Be Princess Mononoke.  Be that guy from the Old Spice commercials.  Be Han Solo.

Show, don't tell.

Second, being a demi-human can actually interfere with a lot of roleplaying/characterization choices.  Want to romance the human princess while you're a halfling?  Get ready for a lot of size jokes.

Did you have an arm replaced with a troll's arm and a second row of teeth from a mutation?  Well, that sounds alright for a human, but for an elf to have those things, it seems a bit overloaded, conceptually.  Like a half-demon dwarf who invented the grenado and is attempting to be the next king, also seems a bit overloaded.  But half-demon human seems alright, I think.


Strawman: when we play fantasy races we can explore new roleplaying opportunities!  Like what it's like to be a dwarf who's afraid of the dark, or an elf who is dreaded how her husband will die from old age while she is still young.  Can you really explore those things if everyone is a human?

Of course you can.  You can have Genghis Khan's son who is afraid of horses.  Or you can be in love with a person who is dying from the Slow Death.

Or, if you really want that whole "lives underground, drinks heavily, reveres ancestors" thing, have you thought about how weird it would be to just transpose humans into the dwarven lifestyle?  We already accept the dwarven culture as normal, but humans who spend their whole lives underground, digging their own graves, toiling over furnaces, and birthing their children atop anvils. . . that's way weirder.  And therefore, more interesting and more memorable.

Also, another benefit to having everyone be a human: it creates a zone of normalcy within the party.  The game stays firmly rooted, and doesn't drift up into kitchen-sink fantasy, where everyone is a different race of unique snowflakes.  This leaves room for weirdness later, so that when the elves emerge naked from the trees gnawing on pieces of babyflesh, they are the other and they are weird and horrible and alien.  As it should be.

The forest should be a little alien and hostile.  This is harder to do if you have elves in your party.

The underground should be unknown and oppressive.  This harder to do if you have dwarves in your party.