Monday, July 29, 2019

Encounter Stew

I've tried to overhaul the random encounter system before.  So have others, sometimes with very interesting results.  Here's one more log for the fire.

You make a encounter check every 20 minutes (every 2 exploration turns).  An exploration turn is the time it takes to investigate an average room.

Your stew pot is a bowl in the center of the table with dice in it.  Whenever you make an encounter check, you roll all of the dice at the same time.

You get Light Dice based on the size of your torch.  Brighter light leads to fewer encounters.
You get Scout Dice by being quiet and observant.  They give you clues and help you get more ambushes.
You get Alert Dice once you piss off the dungeon.

Light Dice

The brightness of your torch affects the frequency of your random encounters.

Your torch starts off as a d12.  With each subsequent check, it shrinks in size, eventually sputtering out.  The size of the torch also affects how far it sheds light.  If there are multiple torches, the strongest torch increases size for each weaker torch.  The die size cannot increase above a d12.

d12 - 30' range - first encounter check
d10 - 25' range - has burned for 20 min
d8 - 20' range - has burned for 40 min
d6 - 15' range - has burned for 60 min
d4 - 10' range - has burned for 80 min
d2 - 5' range - has burned for 100 min and is about to go out.
d0 - Roll a black d20 on the Exultations of the Underworld table instead (below).

Whenever you roll a 1, a random encounter occurs.  By default, neither party is surprised.

A flask of oil has 30 measures of oil. You can choose how much oil you want to burn in your lamp: anything between 4 and 12.  Treat it as the same-sized torch.  (So if you want to burn 12 units of oil, you treat your lamp as if it were a d12 torch.)

This has the added benefit of making the characters and the DM more aware of the passage of time, since the mechanism is literally in the center of the table.  It also makes light sources more important, since there is now some strategy about when you should switch out your torch.

No goblins bothered you while you were lighting up a fresh torch.
Sidebar: Shouldn't More Light Lead to More Encounters?

I can see the logic in that line of reasoning.

However, I'm not approaching this from a simulationist angle.  The Underworld is a mythic place.  It is a nest of dreams and darkness, and even the smallest basement is an extension of its will.  Light is a speartip that holds the Darkness at bay.

And this reinforces the type of tension that I want to create.  I want players to have to choose between safety now VS conservation for the future.  Will low HP force them to burn through all of their torches in a hurry?  Will low torches force them to creep around in the thickening gloom?

If you follow the philosophy of less light = fewer encounters, then you're encouraging your players to wriggle through your dungeons with the tiniest candles.  (This seems less fun, since you'll have to describe rooms through a narrow straw.)  And at the extremes, you may force players to choose between using a tiny candle and travelling in pure darkness, which doesn't seem like a dilemma I want to encourage either. 

Darkness is evil.  Shun it.

Sidebar: Shouldn't This Just Lead to Backpacks Stuffed with Torches?

I'm okay with that.  Players can't carry to much unnecessary stuff if you track inventory.  (GLOG: Inventory holds Str + 2 items if you've got a good backpack.)

They can bring a hireling along to carry a sack of torches for them, but that just means that the DM has one more person who can fall into a chasm, get eaten by ooze, or flee screaming into the abyss.  A torch monkey removes some risk, but it opens up the door to new, interesting modes of failure.

Scout Dice 

By default, the party has a single green d6.  This is the scout die.

Whenever the scout die shows a 1, you find some trace of an encounter.  You might find enormous clawed tracks (traces of a basilisk) or a crawling, shattered skeletal hand (traces of undead).

If the party has encumbered people, they lose their Scout Die.

For every ranger in the party, they gain +1 Scout Die.  If the party gets a pair of 1s on the Scout Dice, they find traces that they are able to track back to the creature's lair.  This gives the party a chance to ambush the creature while it's sleeping (50% default) or explore its lair unmolested.  Either way, they'll have an opportunity to scoop up the beast's loot.

If both the Light Die and at least 1 Scout Die show a 1, then you detect the enemy before you encounter it.  The party has the choice to either avoid the encounter or ambush them.

You heard some goblins coming before they saw you.

Sidebar: Surprising the Party

You may have noticed that there is no default way for enemies to surprise the party.  This is intentional.

Instead I prefer surprise to be a feature of specific monsters.  For example, I run panthers as ambush predators.  The players will always be alerted "hey, a panther is stalking you" and then the panther attacks at some point in the next 8 hours, whenever the party is most vulnerable. 

I've found this gives the party a fair chance to react, while still allowing for the circumstances to evolve in interesting directions.  (Sometimes things happen in the next 8 hours that make for more interesting panther attack scenarios.)

Alert Dice

By default, there aren't any Alert Dice in the stew.  You gain alert dice when the dungeon begins reacting to you.  (The most common example of this would be the goblins mobilizing search-and-destroy groups after the party has killed their shaman.)

Alert Dice work as enhancers.  They make certain encounters worse.

If you roll a 1 on an Alert Die, you encounter an enemy patrol.  (By default, this is just the regular goblin group from your regular encounter table, just alert and pissed off.) 

If you roll a 1 on the Light Die, you encounter a regular encounter.

If you roll a 1 on both the Light Die and the Alert Die, the party faces an enhanced encounter.  Either double the size of the encounter, or add 1-2 elites.  If you have multiple Alert Dice, treat each 1 as a similar, stacking enhancement.

Alert Dice can also be used to modulate the horror in a dungeon.  Perhaps once the second floor is unlocked, the catacombs flood the first floor with undead.  Enhanced encounters would be with undead versions of the previous encounters.

Alternatively, Alert Dice can be used to modulate the weirdness in a dungeon.  The Prism Castle begins to shift back to its home dimension once the Pope is rescued from the Infinite Carousel.  Patrol dice are added to the stew, but each Patrol is actually a random hallucinations/insanities that affects the party.  The enhanced encounters are a regular encounter where all the enemies are the ones affected by the madness.

You ran into a patrol while your torch was burning low.
Exultations of the Underworld (d20)

Without the light of the sun, the Throne of the Authority, the souls begin to loosen in their sockets.  Where the Underworld grasps, Hell will soon follow, and those fires have always held a certain attraction for souls.

1 Abduction.  A random player goes missing.  Their companions heard nothing, saw nothing.  If they were restrained by ropes, the ropes are now cut.  They were snatched away by troglodytic paws, or perhaps tumbled down a rocky embankment.  Their cries were muted by the dark.  (This may require two alternative timelines, now converging.)

Now they are held captive on some other part of this floor, or perhaps one floor deeper.  If they are not rescued within 24 hours, they will never leave this place.

2 Panic.  The Underworld speaks, and the soul trembles.  Everyone must make a save vs Fear.  Failure means that they will run in a random direction, ignoring each other and ignoring all threats.  If they are restrained by ropes, they will cut the ropes.  Everyone who is affected can make a new save each round to end the Fear.

3 Rapture.  The Underworld commands, and the soul obeys.  Everyone must make a save vs Charm.  Failure means that they will attempt to murder themselves in the quickest possible way.  They will hurl themselves from cliffs and drink poison.  If they possess a bomb, they will detonate it.  Everyone who is affected can make a new save each round to end the Charm.

4 Dispersion.  If you are crossing an underworld hex-crawl, the party is moved 1 hex in a random direction.  If you are in a dungeon, you are moved 1d4 rooms in a random direction.  This occurs even if the intervening movement would be impossible, e.g. through solid rock or locked doors.

5 Unburdening.  Every character must make an Int check.  If a character fails, a random item of theirs goes missing.  They may find it again, with light.  It is somewhere on this floor, or perhaps the next.

6-10 Trauma.  Everyone gains 1 Trauma.

11-15 Encounter.  A regular random encounter.

16-20 Surprise.  A random encounter, with the enemies getting a surprise round.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Gamjee and the Kludger

First, I've got a goblin for you.  He lives in the Bospero hexcrawl I'm tinkering with.

Then, I've got a new class.


Gamjee's Redoubt [obvious]

The ship is clearly visible on the fringes of the salt marsh, where the ground is a little bit drier.

The swamp is an ancient galleon with a broken back and a busted belly.  It must have been carried inland by some ancient wave.  It is soggy with green moss, and the bowsprit is lifted into the air like a pleading hand.

For 200' in all directions, the ground is covered with traps, in a hundred sundry variations.

The danger is communicated through crudely painted signs and stacks of dire chameleon skulls.  "DANGER: TRAPS" and "FUCKOFF" and "YOU PROBLY GONNA DIE".  A more astute observer will also notice all the tensioned wires, submerged chains, and carefully assembled foilage.

A person running across the 200' killzone will set off about 1 trap every 20 feet.  A person walking very carefully through the killzone will set off about 1 trap every 40 feet.  A person probing with a pole and heaving rocks around will set off about 1 trap every 10 feet, but will avoid the effects of 90% of those traps.

Traps [d6]
1. Snare -- Hard Dex or be hoisted in the air.
2. Bear Trap -- Hard Dex or take 1d3 dmg + grabbed.  50% of these also pull you 10' underwater.
3. Swinging Log, Swinging Hammer -- Hard Dex or 1d8 damage.
4. Spear, Swinging Stakes -- Hard Dex or 1d8 damage.
5. Poison Dart -- Con or Poison (1d6).
6. Noisemaker -- Gamjee is alerted + roll for random encounter.

The ship has no obvious entrances except on the deck, which is 15' above the ground.  Anyone attempting to use a grappling hook to climb onto the deck will probably be thwarted.  The railings break away when any weight is put on them, and then trigger explosive plates on the side of the ship, dealing 1d6 acid damage to anyone standing nearby.

Gamjee has a crossbow with 20 bolts, and a ballista that can be wheeled out onto the deck in 1 round, should the need ever arise.

In a worst case scenario, Gamjee will retreat to his bathroom/saferoom, lock himself in there, and pull a lever that floods the ship with poisonous gas (poison 1d6).  The door is triple-thick wood.  Anyone trying to chop down the door will be deep enough in the bilge that they are 2 rounds away from fresh air, should the poison be triggered.

Aside from all that, Gamjee is a regular level 0 goblin with 1 HP.  He has a 4-in-6 chance of being naked (except for his machete), and a separate 4-in-6 chance of being drunk (bogshine).

If you drink his bogshine you must make a Con save or go blind for 1d20 hours.  Goblins and dwarves are immune to this effect.

Yoshitaka Amano's original goblin art for Final Fantasy I
Gamjee is a paranoic, but that doesn't mean that the smugglers aren't trying to kill him.  (They are.)  Outside of the paranoia, he is friendly, rational, and enjoys making friends and helping people.

The smugglers have tried many different ways of killing this pain-in-the-ass goblin, but all have failed.  Gamjee is meticulous and his ship is stocked with enough salted fish, boiled scum, and gosca.  He also drinks the water that seeps into his basement, although it gives him diarrhea.  He usually has diarrhea.  ("You get used to it.")

He responds to friendly hails, and is quick to talk, but slow to trust.  Trades are conducted by Gamgee raising a pole on his ship, which pulls a submerged loop of rope out of the water where it was hidden.  Two pulleys on each side allow items to be clipped to the rope and shuttled back and forth.  You can even have two items move past each other, so as to arrive at the same time.  The rope is strong enough to hold one person, but not two.

Gamjee wants:
- Fresh food
- A higher grade of intoxicants
- Something to help with the diarrhea (except real talk: he just needs to stop drinking the bog water)
- The head and the hat of Captain Bogbeard (he swore revenge after Bogbeard skinned his dog alive)

Gamjee has:
- four goblin bombados (light fuse, 3d6, Dex for half)
- two dozen spare traps (see above)
- 10 barrels of bogshine
- 1 vial of mutagen (random, permanent mutation)
- 2 vials of rage gas (fumes of hell)
- 3 fireworks
- a new litter of puppies (free to a good home)

Perhaps more importantly, anyone who befriends Gamjee can start apprenticing under him, allowing them to take ranks in the Kludger class.

Goblin from Final Fantasy 14
The Kludger

First off, go read this post by B44L.  I'm stealing an ability from him.

Now then.

Kludgers are the scrappers and the scroungers of the goblin world.  In goblin society, they are held in high esteem (i.e. passers-by are careful to avoid the windows when they relieve themselves against the side of a kludger's house.)

Note: the other respected professions are the filth wizard, the cleric of Shadoom, and the squirmisher.

They are among the most intelligent goblins, and the most likely to journey far from home. They tend to have short, eventful lives.

Template A - Improvise, Scrounge
Template B - Sabotage, Trapper
Template C - Overclock
Template D - Biohacker

Note: even though most of these abilities only require a "round of work", your DM may require you to spend more time on larger or more complex tools.  You cannot combine any of these abilities with each other.


With a round of work, you can fix a broken tool or mechanism.  At the end of each round of use, it has 2-in-6 chance of breaking irrevocably.


Whenever travelling causes the DM to roll for a random encounter (roughly 2x a day for overland travel, or every 3 rooms in a dungeon), you may also roll a d6.  On a 1, you find a random broken item from the starting equipment table.


With a round of work, you can rig a functioning tool or mechanism to break under conditions that you specify.  The conditions must be simple, physical, and feasible.


With 10 minutes of work, you can trap a battlefield in a specific place, or trap a battlefield in general.  If a battlefield is trapped in a specific place, the first creature to walk over that area triggers the trap with a 4-in-6 chance.  If a battlefield is trapped in general, every time an enemy moves into a new area, there is a 2-in-6 chance that they trigger the trap.  If you don't have an opportunity to tell your allies where the traps is, they are also susceptible to this chance.  Potential traps are limited to the 6 listed above, but you can probably research more if you bring your DM some Taco Bell.


With a round of work, you rig a functioning tool or mechanism to operate at a higher level.  Weapons deal double damage, pulleys require half as much force to use.  At the end of each round of use, it has a 4-in-6 chance of breaking.  Single use items require two consecutive turns: one for overclocking, and another for use.


All of the previous class abilities can now be applied to living tissue, including magical properties of that tissue.  Basilisk eyes can petrify, dragon glands can still breath fire.  Corpse parts must be fresh or at least well-preserved.

If a corpse has been dead for more than 1 minute, you cannot use Improvise on it.  PCs "resurrected" in this way cannot be raised above 0 HP.  If a creature has multiple attacks, only one can be Overclocked at a time.

Monoclass Party Bonus

If there are multiple Scroungers in a party, every time a pair of 2s is rolled, an intact item from the complete Alchemy Items + Adventuring Gear list is found.  If a trio of 3s is ever rolled, you find some major magic item (Stormbringer, a genie's lamp, the Hand of Dominion).

Kobold from Final Fantasy 14!

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

The Cursed City of Nibulum

There are many cursed cities in Centerra.

One is haunted by imaginary dinosaurs, another infested with flying worms.  A certain fortress is forever burning from an underground fire.  An iron city has succumbed to fairy-sleep.

But there is only one cursed city that is still populated, and still does regular business.  That city is Nibulum, Darkling Town, the City of Twins.

The Boring Stuff

Like many cities in Centerra, the city is built around giantish ruins.  Beautiful marble stairs, taller than your waist, with crude bricks forming a miniature stairwell for each one.  Winches that no one is strong enough to turn.  And stone buildings that were once a single story home for giants, now crudely converted into a two-story home for humans through the construction of a shoddy, interstitial floor.

The city is larger than its people.  Most houses are empty, and even the poor live in darkened mansions, filled with dead leaves and lice.

They feed themselves from the sea.  They sell the lumber cut (very carefully) from the Dembraava Wilds.  They dig in the city's productive steel mines.

pic unrelated
By Oleg Bulakh
Your Twin

Everyone has a dark twin.  And if you never come to Nibulum, you will never meet them.  This is probably for the best.

Here is what happens:

Imagine that you walk into Nibulum at sunset.  Perhaps you were too hasty to be warned of the town, or perhaps you are just a fool.  But as the sun dies, so does your mind.  Sounds fade, objects recede, and the last of the day's light runs down the street like hot wax.

Before you can respond to any of this, it is morning and you are alone on the far side of town.  You are sitting in an armchair in an unfamiliar building, surrounded by sleeping dogs.  Your purse is much lighter and your head is heavy with wine--the empty bottle still in your hand.

You probe your gums.  You seem to be missing a tooth.

Relax.  It could have been much worse.

When the sun sets, everyone's mind is replaced with their evil twin.  Their evil twin will gamble your money away, have sex with dubious characters, cut blasphemies into your belly with your own dagger, and scrawl depressing marginalia into all of your books.  Your evil twin is a wicked thing.

And it would all be that simple, except that its not.


Imagine that you find yourself at the gates of city at Twilight.  Your memory is hazy, your companions unfamiliar.  You can remember your mother--or at least, several competing versions of her.  You feel sick to your soul, like you're nothing but an empty bag of bog water and bile.

As the shadows darken, you talk to people.  Some seem as confused as you are, while others move with the confidence of people who have a night's work ahead of them.

Eventually, you are told the truth.  You are a figment, a echo of a more permanent person.  When the sun rises, you will die.

You may be back again the next night, if your Daysider decides to stay in the city.  But if your Daysider decides to leave (or if you leave), you may never wake up again.

You already know what it will be like to watch the sky redden in the predawn chill.  It is the wind that escorts men to their execution, except for you, the death will be ambiguous.  This may be your last night on Centerra, or it may be the first of many.

And if you will die in the morning, you resolve to seize as much of the night as you can.  Who cares how much of the Daysider's money you spend?  They've got the rest of their life to earn more, while you only have a few hours.

So you throw yourself into drink, plunge through brothels, and assault a puppet show.  And when it is all done, when you are ragged with alcohol and opium, sagging into a chair like a beached eel, you open one of the books in your backpack and fill it with words, begging your Daysider to remain in Nibulum a few days longer.

The city is dreaded by most godly folk, and it is extremely rare for anyone to spend more than a single night.

Fighting the Nightsiders

There are a few ways for travelers to ease their stay, and thwart their vile shadows.

You can always pay someone to imprison you.  Usually, they just throw you in a jail cell, tell your Nightsider that you're drunk and will be released in the morning.  That's good enough for new Nightsiders who don't know any better.

Nightsiders who know the truth are liable to hurt themselves, and so they must be restrained.  And sometimes gagged, too, in order to keep them from chewing on their tongue or cheeks.

You may write a note to your Nightsider, give them some money, and encourage them to go see a show.  A little goodwill goes a long way.

You'll want to visit the bank, so you can lock up your money until the morning.

All of this must be done in secret, by the way.  There's no one you can entirely trust to hold your money for you, because anyone else will become a Nightsider as well, and Nightsiders always seem to stick up for each other.

There are enough empty buildings and lost cisterns around Nibulum that its simple enough to find an empty corner to hide your things.  Nothing is foolproof, however, and if the Nightsiders find it, they'll move it to where you can't get to it, even locked boxes.

Fighting the Daysiders

The Nightsiders will tell you that the only thing they want is life--a future.  How can it be evil to want that?

They won't get it, of course.  The Daysiders hold all the power, and so that life-desire is usually heated, beaten, and shaped into a blunt weapon of resentment.  Many Nightsiders hate the Daysider with whom they share their body.

Nightsiders have a few different ways to fight.

It is an unfair fight, of course.  If they leave town and never return, your death is no different from any other, save for the fact that you never knew which day was your last.

The door remains open all sorts of petty mischief and revenge, however.

Spending all of their money is one classic one.

Sinking their ship, so that they'll be forced to stay longer in Nibulum, is another.

You can drink all that you want, it'll be your asshole Daysider who has to deal with the hangover.

And of course, you can always get yourself pregnant, if you're willing to walk that road.  (Local laws differ, but usually a child conceived by your Nightsider is considered the Nightsider's child, and the Daysider has no claim over it.)  Pregnancies are rare, however.

Self-mutilation has already been covered, I believe.

Tattoos--a desperate grasp at shaping the world, of forcing your Daysider to acknowledge and remember you.

A more extreme method would be to hire someone to imprison you throughout the days, or else accomplish it yourself through a clever lock that you can open, but your Daysider cannot.

And of course, a poisoning is the ultimate fuck you.  A cup of hemlock in the morning fog, or perhaps just an asp slipped inside your pocket.

pic unrelated, again
by Oleg Bulakh, again

If this doesn't seem like a very stable situation, you're correct.  Constant conflict is no way to live.

And so most permanent residents of Nibulum have found ways to work together with their Othersider.  This involves passing a lot of notes, but it also involves a lot of trust and respect.

Not too much trust, mind you.  You still have to hide your money.  (Coincidentally, this is why you may sometimes come across little caches of coins hidden around the city.)

There are a lot of advantages to allying with your Nightsider.  You can share a house, for one.  It's like having a roommate that is never home.  And if you share a career or an occupation, you can work through all 24 hours of the day.

There's at least one painter in Nibulum who seamlessly trades off with her Nightsider every night, without ever stopping their brushstrokes.

Marriages still provide some difficulties, however.  You may wake up next to someone every day who is not your spouse, then travel across town to your house.

The Secret

There is a secret here, something that not many know.  Only those who have spent a great deal of time talking to their Nightsider will ever realize it.

The Nightsider has a name.  The Nightsider has a history, too, even if that history isn't as "real" as the Daysider's own.

And if you trade enough notes you will realize that your Nightsider is not your polar opposite.  Your Nightsider has a lot in common with you, more than is perhaps comfortable.

You may share ancestors, known by name and accurate description.  You may share careers, if not identical, then at least in parallel.  And you may even share parents, a surprisingly common condition.

Sebastiana Odrina wrote a book detailing her attempts to resurrect her dead sister, Noira.  She traveled the world with her corpse and never revived so much as a finger, but in Nibulum, she found a modicum of success.

She conversed extensively with her Nightsider, who seemed to have exactly the same sister as her.  The only difference was that the Nightsider's Noira wasn't dead, and was in fact, happily married to a farrier in Bospero.  All sorts of stories were related: of Noira's ability to compose a tune, of her scandal with the night-dog, and of Sebastiana's niece.

Some say that her stay in Nibulum gave Sebastiana hope, when all reason would have abandoned the idea.  And that her final, grim fate was merely an extension of the curse of dread Nibulum.

The Obliterat

The Obliterat are (what outsiders consider to be) the center of the void monk culture.

They are a secret organization that studies forgotten and alternate histories.  They would tell you that Nibulum is unique among all the places in the world--It is where what-almost-was collides with (and is consumed by) what-is.

The Obliterat is also the name of the tower that sits outside of the city, where they are centered.  It is only accessible by Nightsiders, or by Daysiders on the absolute cusp of death (on the cusp of non-existence).

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Dynamism and the Generic Optimum

Gotta admit: I love squeezing out new jargon.

The Generic Optimum

The generic optimum is the best plan that's printed on your character sheets.

If your party was dropped into a blank 20' x 20' room and forced to fight a level-appropriate assortment of boring enemies, you would adopt a specific strategy.

You'll put the fighter up front, open up with your best moves, set up your combos, while saving your daily abilities for when you really need them, and saving your single-use items for when you really need them.

This is your generic optimum.

Some optimums are more generic than others.  4e had a very dry generic optimum, while I can imagine a 5e party of wild magic sorcerers having a more dynamic fight, since there's so much chaos baked into them.


Dynamism is the opposite; it's how much you have to change your plans each round.

On the first round of combat, this is how far you have to deviate from your generic optimum.

Encountering a nilbog, realizing that it is healed by damage and harmed by healing, is a very simple example of extreme dynamism.  It forces you to invert your usual strategy.

It isn't necessarily complex, since it's not hard to figure out.  And it's not challenging, since the cleric has no problem dropping a heal on the little bugger.  But it is dynamic--out of the ordinary.

Changing tactics as you deplete spells over the course of a day isn't really dynamic.  You knew that would happen the moment you rolled a wizard.

by Line Beinkamp

Chaos and Law

Players tend to love dynamism.  It's literally why we roll dice--to inject a known quantity of unpredictability into our games.

When people say that they don't like a system/class because it's boring, they're usually talking about a lack of dynamism, and a lack of ways to respond to dynamism.

A chaos sorcerer (all spells chosen at random each day) is dynamic since she wakes up surprised every morning, and can respond well to dynamism, since wizards (as a group) have a very wide array of abilities open to them.

The humble fighter is often lamented as the most boring class because they are not very dynamic (they don't have to roll on a d20 table of mutations as part of their class).  In fact, they are usually the opposite.  They are a reliable extension of a character's mundane abilities: fighting, leaping, surviving.

Depending on the system and DM, though, fighters can respond to dynamism quite well.  They have a better attack bonus, more survivability, and often better physical prowess than their peers.  This means that they can attempt, succeed, and survive more shenanigans than the other classes.

People who are bored by fighters are often bored by either (a) the lack of respondable dynamism in the dungeon, or (b) the lack of their creativity in responding to it.  (By respondable dynamism I basically mean how much weird shit the fighter can interact with.  A fighter has many ways to interact with an alcoholic door.  A fighter doesn't have many ways to interact with force field that can only be dispelled by magic--but this is just poor dungeon design, and I won't consider it any further.)

Having fun with a fighter in an OSR game requires you to be creative with it.  You are in a uniquely stable position--use it to attempt destabilizing things.  Players who don't realize this are apt to be frustrated by the apparent lack of options.  Fighters don't get new buttons to press, they just get better at pressing the old buttons, and its easy to undervalue that.

Sources of Dynamism

Nearly all games would benefit from more dynamism.  Let's talk about where it comes from.

The OSR love difficult enemies, because difficult enemies are inherently dynamic.  They're too tough to be overcome with the generic optimum.  A creative solution has to be found, or a precious single-use item must be used.  An enemy that can't be solved by the generic optimum is a puzzle.

Wizards are not inherently dynamic.  If the DM keeps putting dispel magic doors in the dungeon so that the wizard will "feel special" by casting dispel magic to help his party through, then both of them will only succeed in boring each other.  Never write a dungeon that expects a certain spell.  Keep your puzzles open-ended.

A series of unlucky rolls can cause the combat to unfold in ways that you weren't expecting.  This causes people to change their plans, which is more interesting than just trading attack rolls.  We want combat to be a little uncertain.  Consider putting more randomness in your environments, e.g. in the windy room, there is a 1-in-6 chance that everyone's torches are blown out.

Like the nilbog example, another way to insert more dynamism into your game is to attack all parts of the character sheet.  Destroy equipment, steal money, switch stats, switch character sheets, teleport them into an unexplored part of the dungeon.

Dynamism usually comes from the monsters.  The players usually choose their fights, and so they choose things that they can win as long as nothing too unexpected happens.  Dynamism occurs through randomness ("another crit--fuck!"), discovery (the man is actually a magic-immune golem), and behavior (instead of fighting, the orc king jumps on his dactyl and flees).

And an obvious source of damage is a boss that changes form/tactics when its HP is depleted.  Adds can join the fight, etc.

Complexity vs Dynamism

A common mistake that DMs and game designers make is confusing complexity and dynamism.

Imagine a lich with a bunch of spells and abilities: fireball, finger of death, teleport, disintegrate, counterspell.  It has a bunch of legendary actions each turn, paralyzing people and using cantrips.  As a monster, the lich is fairly complex to run.

And yet, despite that complexity, the lich is not very dynamic.  A party facing a lich expects to take a lot of damage every turn.  Most of the lich's abilities do not disrupt the party's plans.

A fireball goes off.  They heal and carry on.

A PC takes heavy damage from disintegrate or finger of death.  They heal and carry on.

The cleric's spell is countered.  The party carries on.

A PC is frightened or paralyzed.  The party heals them, or they don't.  In any event, they usually don't have many options between "keep fighting" and "run away".  Their tactics don't change significantly.  (The paralyzed character has even fewer options.)

Even the lich teleporting can be a static tactic.  If the lich uses it to flee somewhere the party cannot locate or follow, it doesn't do anything except give the DM a chance to save the BBEG's life.

A lich is more dynamic than a bunch of orcs, yes, but it's not as dynamic as it's complexity warrants.

In this case, the DM has failed to provide the players with a dynamic challenge.  There was never a moment in the fight when the party realized "shit, our generic plan isn't going to be enough, we need to come up with something new", and those are the most fun parts of any combat.

In contrast to the lich, I present a couple of counterpoints.

A skeleton jelly is a low-level undead that is completely immune to damage.

A candy fairy can cast invisibility, swords to sugar, and charm.

These are examples of monsters that have a very high ratio of dynamism to complexity.

Two Legs Bad, Four Legs Good

I'm not trying to argue "dynamism good, generic optimum bad".

Too much dynamism leads to gameplay that is very loose.  The stuff written on the character sheet tends to become more meaningless.  (If the PCs in the Dungeon of the Thief God die when all their possessions are stolen, and in no other way, HP is meaningless.)

And a simple fight can often be a palate cleanser after a particularly dynamic fight.  It gives the brain a chance to decompress.  Fights where the party realizes that it's not going to work, that they'll have to come up with something new--those fights are stressful and they require a lot of player attention.  Don't burn your players out with a long series of dynamic, high-stakes challenges.

Fights that follow the generic optimum also gives players a chance to use their abilities in a straightforward way, which is good for players who want to realize their character concept along the lines they originally envisioned.  (For example, the player who rolled up a barbarian probably wants at least a few straight-up fights where can wade into a bunch of skeletons and let loose with their rage.)

And of course, when a player chooses a class, they are (partially) choosing how dynamic they want their gameplay to be.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

New Wizard: Baboonist

This should come to no surprise to anyone, but nature never gave us the baboon.

How could they?  The face, the teeth, the genitals, the cruel intelligence of the baboon--these things set it apart from their fellow beasts.  They are artificial, as false as any other chimera.

Image result for mandrill angry
Technically not a baboon.
You'll find most baboonists among the nobility.  Baboons require a large amount of space and food, and require a large amount of resources.

Besides, many noble families enjoy employing the baboons as thugs--equipping them with blackjacks and matching vests.



You may never employ any hirelings except baboons.  You may never use any mount or war beast except a baboon.  If you break this rule, your baboons will realize your treachery as soon as they see you or smell you, and they will immediately revolt and never again obey your commands.  Your baboons are assholes.

One of your starting spells is always create baboon.


You can command a number of HD 1 baboons equal to the size of your liver.  To increase the size of your liver, you must eat livers from magical creatures.  Each liver eaten this way increases your liver by 1 size, up to the HD of the magical creature minus 1.  You start with a size 1 liver.


The name is a misnomer.  A baboon can be a baboon, mandrill, or various mandrilloids (permutations of the mandrill schema).  The provenance of the liver determines the type of primate produced by the create baboon spell.

You can only give your baboons commands as a group.  They will not allow themselves to be separated or to be commanded separately.  Treat your baboons as a single pile of HP.  For every 4 points of damage the baboons take, one of the baboons dies.  the horde makes a single attack, with +1 to Attack and damage for every baboon beyond the first.

The baboons will not do anything helpful unless commanded to.  This means that your first round of combat is usually spent telling you baboons what to do.  They can understand up to three words, optionally accompanied by you pointing at something.

Spell List

  1. calm
  2. create baboon
  3. rage
  4. Shadoom's serpecation
  5. speak with beast
  6. weigh heart
  7. psychography (variant: your baboons do the writing)
  8. spider climb
  9. overload baboon
  10. secret beasts
  11. golden needle
  12. possess baboon

Legendary Spells

  1. wild polymorph
  2. elevate beast
You take damage equal to whatever the doubles showed (1-6), and. . .
1. You are silenced.  (Int check at the start of each round to end; lasts at least 1 round.)
2. You are blinded.  (Con check at the start of each round to end; lasts at least 1 round.)
3. You lose all prepared spells except one, randomly determined.
4. You cast a random prepared spell at a random target with a random number of MD.
5. You start turning into a baboon.  Body party chosen at random: face, tail, hands, fur.
6. You learn wild polymorph.  If you've already gotten this result in the past, wild polymorph is instantly cast on you.

You turn into a foul-tempered baboon for 1 hour.  You, and all of your baboons, go on a rampage.  They will flee difficult combat in favor of easiest targets and/or rampant vandalism.  You forget that you were ever anything other than a baboon.
2. As above, except for 1 day.
3. As above, except permanent.

Also not a baboon.
Appendix A: Spells and Shit

New Rules: Mixed Success in Spellcasting
Some spells have graduations of success.  You invest your magic dice normally, but only the highest roll counts for the result.  The more dice you invest, the greater your chance of a critical success.

1-3 = Mixed Success
4-5 = Full Success
6   = Critical Success

Create Baboon
R: touch    T: primate    D: permanent
The ingredients required to make a baboon are 8 hours, a fresh liver, and a live mammal.  The animal must be fed a large amount of the liver.  (Rats can be purchased in a major city for 1c.)

Mixed Success -- Disfigured baboon causes you 1d6 Cha damage.
Full Success -- You create a normal baboon.
Critical Success -- Brilliant baboons allow you to give more complex commands.  (+1 word)

Shadoom's Serpication
R: touch  T: creature  D: permanent
Target is cured of a poison, which they vomit out in the form of a serpent.  The form of serpent depends on the type of the poison.  Although they look exotic, these new species behave like normal snakes.

Mixed Success -- Serpent immediately attacks you, and acts normally afterwards.
Full Success -- Serpent acts normally.
Critical Success -- Serpent is nonaggressive to you and will obey one command, once.

Weigh Heart
R: touch  T: heart  D: instant
You hold a heart in your hands.  The creature does not get a save, but [sum] must equal or exceed its Level.  You learn the best and worst thing that the creature has ever done (in the creature's own estimation).

Psychography (Baboon Version)
R: 50'  T: baboons  D: 1 hour
Ingredients: writing utensils and appropriate surfaces.  After one hour, one of your baboons will bring you the best piece of writing they've accomplished so far.

Mixed Success -- Pure gibberish.  Eroded Shakespeare.
Full Success -- The last interesting thing that happened here.
Critical Success -- The last two interesting things that happened here.

Overload Baboon
R: 50'  T: baboon  D: permanent
Each round, target baboon gets +1 to Attack and Damage.  At the end of each round, the baboon has a 1-in-4 chance of exploding.

Secret Beasts
R: 50'  T: creature D: permanent
Up to [dice] willing creatures are hidden inside of your body for [sum] hours.  (If you are a baboonist, up to [sum] baboons can be hidden this way.)  This lasts until either you or the creatures wish to be ejected (a free action).  Creatures hidden this way manifest on your skin--for example, a blond person will put blond hairs on your skin.

Golden Needle
R: touch  T: creature  D: 2 * [dice] rounds
Target creature takes Xd6 damage once the spell dissipates, where X was the spell's duration.  You can end the spell early as a free action.

Possess Baboon
R: 50'  T: baboon  D: [sum] rounds
Exactly what it says on the tin.  If the baboon is your baboon, it gets no saving through.

Wild Polymorph
R: 50'  T: creature  D: [sum] rounds
Look up [sum] random creatures (use the index in your bestiary) and choose one.  The target turns into the chosen creature.

Elevate Beast
R: touch  T: beast  D: permanent
Touched beast immediately turns into a beastman with an intelligence of [sum]-[dice].  You permanently lose 1 Wis and 1 Cha.  You choose how much of your memories, knowledge, goals, and personality you want to copy into the beastman.