Friday, September 16, 2005

Random Game Crap!

And now I go about showing why this blog is called Random Encounters.

1. Fortune in the Middle Stunts: One of the things that bugs some players about stunt systems like Exalted is that it's essentially fortune at the end -- you either have to severely limit your stunts or stunt as though you'd already rolled successfully. So you describe the big cool thing, then roll to see if you can pull off what you already said you did. Now, I (usually) don't have a problem with this, but I can see the awkwardness.

The traditional response of "make the attempt the stunt, without stunting the results" is a solid one, but limited in the Exalted context. So, what Mo suggested was that you do a more typical FitM setup -- general action, roll, describe result. If you describe the result well, stunt it, then you get a bonus to your next roll. Stunts in this situation don't help you with the thing you're doing, they give you a "karmic" boon to cash in the next time you roll. It works quite well in Exalted where there is a "to hit" and "to damage" roll -- and its easy enough to stunt your damage to give you a bonus on your next hit roll as well. (I also considered making stunts more effective by letting them come after the roll and just giving flat bonus successes for good stunts -- 3 dice in Exalted is pretty small. 3 bonus successes after the roll, however, is brutal.)

2. Instinct reactions to stress in Unknown Armies. UA has one of the best madness/stress systems in RPGs today – but it is fairly narrow in its output range for the immediate scene. If you fail a stress check, any stress check, you either berserk, flee, or freeze. This is the same if the failed roll was from watching your mother get beaten to death or if you have a moment in which you're not sure why you just lied to your wife about where you were earlier. And once you start using UA for something other than its designed use (because you're a bad, bad monkey) it gets more startling – Superman beating the fuck out of someone until they die, for example, is probably not all that fitting.

So, I have considered that in future UA sessions I will steal a little bit I've heard about from Burning Wheel: the instinct. Each player would, at chargen, set up an instinct statement for each of their stress meters that details what they do when they fail at that meter. For high-trust games this can be a general mission statement (Bob has a hidden core of rage that makes him go nuts when he gets into the megaviolence, biting and tearing and going for blood from the throat… Bob's self alienation manifests in him becoming cold and callus towards everyone around him, saying deliberately hurtful things). For more standardized games it could be a triple threat of aggression/passivity/withdraw – three default choices you go to when you get screwed in the stress. Violence, for most people, would probably stay "kill it / run /freeze" – but the other meters (Self, especially) could do well with different options.

3. Heroic Stands in Truth and Justice. Truth and Justice is a pretty bad-ass Superhero game. It has one mechanic in specific that I love: the Revolvin Development. In a Revoltin Development the GM basically had the ability to bribe the PCs to accept a sudden turnaround / loss in the situation by giving them mass Hero Points if they take it. It often gets used in order to have the villain toss them into a death trap, escape with the dingus, or do the other things that happen all the time in comics but that normally drive players nuts when they happen in an RPG.

However, while the GM has a "I must win for the plot" mechanism, the players do not have a "I must win for my vision of the character / to have fun at this point" mechanism. Now there are some obvious reasons for this, but for some players such an absence is not a good thing. So, for those who like to be able to sacrifice character growth for the ability to win when it most counts for the player, my wife and I came up with the following idea.

The Heroic Stand: A player may declare that their character simply wins/succeeds at a contest. The cost of this is a number of MAX points equal to the HP cost of a similar "luck be a lady" purchase.

What this does is let the player know they are going to win, but at the cost of their characters advancement. Those that want to win will win, but the character won't grow from it. As with the comics, the time when a character is most likely to grow is when they put themselves out there, but when it isn't so important they can just pull it out in the end, wrap up the issue, and go home.

4. Heroquest is a badass system. However, I sometimes find extended contests drag on to long, or go to short. And simple contests are all over in one roll. But a recent post on the Forge Heroquest forum made me realize there is a way to do a "medium length" contest using variable augments. I like this idea, because it lets players and GMs together decide (through a slightly push/pull mechanism) how long they want contests to go on, based largely on how many interesting poses they can think up. If you have an interesting modification to throw in, in it goes – but if you're out of ideas (which can happen in the middle of an extended contest, leaving it as a bean counting exercise) then you bring the contest down.

Here are the rules I was tinkering with: As with all Heroquest contests, set the stakes and chose the primary abilities that will be used for the contest. On your turn you declare either "modifier" or "ender" for your action. A modifier contest either raises or lowers your or your opponents default ability for the contest. An ender brings the contest to an end, win or lose.

A modifier action uses a non-primary ability of yours to augment your primary ability, or your primary or non-primary attribute to lower the primary ability of your foe. You describe your action, including how it could help you or hurt them in the contest, and then they must resist with an ability that would let them counter what you are trying to do. If you win you get an augment to your primary ability or they get a penalty as shown on the following chart.

Complete Victory -- 1/4th of the attribute as a bonus to you or penalty to them
Major Victory -- 1/3rd of the attribute as a bonus to you or penalty to them
Minor Victory -- 1/10th of the attribute as a bonus to you or penalty to them
Marginal Victory -- +1 to primary attribute or a -1 penalty them
Marginal Defeat -- -1 to primary attribute for you or a +1 bonus to them
Minor Defeat -- 1/10th of the attribute as a penalty to you or a bonus to them
Major Defeat -- 1/3rd of the attribute as a penalty to you or a bonus to them
Complete Defeat -- 1/4th of the attribute as a penalty to you or a bonus to them

Note: Secrets that give greater benefits for augments are treated as 1 level more successful. A secret with a Complete Victory gives ½ of its rating as a bonus.

An ender works just like a simple contest – one roll between the current values of the primary abilities, winner takes normal results for a simple contest.

So when you want to show your abilities, you must use them and win with them to have them help you. It also makes a step between simple and extended contests – longer contests, but with out AP bean counting.

GMs and players can still use it to determine the length of the contest – mooks might always go for an ender, meaning they only get one roll (or players could penalize the big bad by hacking down his mooks, which he has to resist with their crappy combat score instead of his own massive one), while big bads may do multiple modifiers (with PCs doing the same) before the climactic ender. Similarly PCs can try to stretch things out for a longer fight if they are at a disadvantage, or go for the quick or lucky kill with a fast ender.

Sunday, June 12, 2005


At one point I'd been toasting ideas about the Game Chef's competition, and got onto the historical angle and started futzing. I never could tie in another element, and I was so freakishly over-busy with projects that pay me that evil money that I couldn't focus on it. I did, however, come up with this short sketch of an idea that I may develop into something useful at some point.


An RPG set around one of the wildcat strikes of the late 1800/early 1900s that emphasizes the hard choices made – safety vs power, family vs self, and so on. There is inherent conflict in any strike situation, and doubly so in those early strikes, so there is lots of rich thematic material to be mined. For the miners there is the issue of risking everything in order to get an incremental gain, for the owners the issues of money vs responsibility (especially in cases like the Pullman strike where the owners had shown themselves to have concern for their workers and to be somewhat socially progressive for people of their class and time). For the government there is the ever-present violence and repression against freedom and protecting the people, and for the community as a whole there is the whole host of issues around developing economies, clashing ideologies, and hegemonic domination.

PCs could be set up to be on opposite sides, one of them working for the union, one of them representing the wildcat strikers (this can be divided – one representing the locals, another representing the general cause of unions probably with socialist/communist/anarchist leanings), another representing the corporation, another the families of the community, another the government (and/or the army), a newspaper, and so forth. Then each would have to have a lot of mechanical pressure to not just "be nice and get along" – something to push and spur the conflict.

The Army guy knows that if he can push the situation to violence and the resolve it well, he can get a promotion to general – which will never happen if there isn’t a confrontation. It may well be his last chance to make the big leap.

The newspaper guy knows that no one wants to read stories of peace, they want the mud and blood and bomb throwing anarchists facing off against tight fisted corporate fat-cats. He has no interest in the truth, but a lot of interest in getting a story that will get him out of the basement and into the lead reporter seat.

What about a system where you get points for hitting goals, and at the end (if you’re alive) the number of points you have determines what you get? So if the army guy has lots of points he becomes a general with a job in Washington, if he gets middle he becomes a general but in a nasty place, if he gets low he gets nothing, if he gets really low he gets court-martialed and shot. The union guys can get things even if they don’t get it for themselves (being dead or in jail or having not made the company back down) – the points they get determine how their families are treated and how they push forward the cause of unions elsewhere.

Set up a circle of characters so that the sides get played out. Like if there are two then you have to have the wildcat and the corp. At three add the community, at four add the army, at five add the newspaper, at six add the anarchist, and so on. This could be more flexible, but should be set up so there is always conflict.

There should also be a "turn taking" mechanism that allows the players equal chances to gain points. That way everyone has a chance to either get points or block others from getting points. It should also encourage replay in the "what if the army wasn’t in this one" mode. For example, you should get two different games if you have the corp, the strikers and the community than if you have the corp, the strikers, and the army.


The Pullman strike is probably one of the best models, as the issues of both sides can be clearly seen and defended. The massacres (such as Ludlow) are more weighted, and so can be used for fodder but probably not for the main conflict.

The Pullman Strike
The Homestead Strike
The Ludlow Massacre

Age of Kali

Sorry for the double post to all my LJ friends. I wanted to have this up on this site rather than just the LJ, as a sort of "reminder to self." There is nothing new in this post if you read the last one: skip ahead.

I was looking at Shadowrun the other day, and at Guardian’s of Order’s new books Ex Machina (cyberpunk) and Dreaming Cities (urban fantasy) and thinking about what a fun game Shadowrun was, but how it could have been so much more. It could have been powerful, hit issues about the future of technology and humanity, religion and humanism, and many things besides. Obviously it didn’t want to be, but I decided I did want that game. A game that made magic and machine clash in the near future in a way that would let me explore issues of transhumanism and the cost to the human soul, religious faith and the cost to the human ego, and other things besides.

So I started writing. I came up with the following. It’s raw and unedited, but I think something of the spark that interested me in the idea can be seen there. It is less Cyberpunk meets D&D, and more Transhuman Space meets Mage the Ascension, all with something of a Sorcerer attitude.

I haven’t decided on a system yet.

The Age of Kali

"For three thousand years at least, a majority of people have considered that human beings were special, were magic. What the ability to manipulate genes should indicate to people is the very deep extent to which we are biological machines. The traditional view is that life is sacred… but not anymore. It is no longer possible to live by the idea that there is something special, unique, or sacred about living organisms. We are machines."

- Dr. Robert Haynes, at the 16th International Congress of Genetics, 1988

"That Man is this whole universe, -
What was and what is yet to be,
The Lord of immortality….
This is the measure of his greatness"

- The Rg Veda, first composed ~2000 BC

"Unless we change direction, we are going to end up where we are headed."

- Traditional Chinese Proverb

Dateline: India, 2050 CE.

With nearly 1.5 billion citizens, India is the largest nation on earth and holds nearly a quarter of the earth’s total population. It passed China in mid 2030, and has recently passed the total population of the entire European, South and North American continents combined. It is a country of contrasts. In the refurbished palaces of the princely dynasties of yester-year, 8 of the 10 richest people on earth live lives of perfect luxury and pleasure. But in the streets outside babies die in the streets, India’s infant mortality rate being more than double any other countries. 125 story glass and steel high-rises tower over the swarming temples of ancient gods. Corporate scientists take advantage of the world’s loosest laws about technological and biological experimentation while charismatic gurus gather cults that reject modern technology, refusing to even take penicillin to cure the diseases which still ravage the subcontinent. It is a land of the Kama Sutra and religions that revel in sexuality as the generative force of the world, and a land of the most draconian moral laws – where it is possible for a man to stone his wife to death for committing adultery.

It is said that in India the past is at war with the future, and the outcome of their struggle will be prophetic of the outcome of the struggle facing the whole human race. As William Barrett said, "Our modern adventure began with the seventeenth century, but the earlier age has not vanished like a marker on a line that we have passed; it is still present, with all its paradoxes and tensions, in the uncertainties and malaise of our modern consciousness." These aspects of ourselves, the conscious of the modern age and the unconscious of the past ages, are coming to a head in the ancient cauldron of India.

At the beginning of the game life will be fairly normal. Technology will have advanced at a good rate, but it will not have overcome any major paradigm hurdles. Computers will be smaller and faster, medicine more potent and versatile, cars faster and running off of hydrogen and electricity: but everything will be much in the mode of modern technology but better. Corporate India will be huge, with massive numbers of technical and scientific jobs being centered in the country. While computer and information tech are as big as everyone expected, the biggest industry is biotechnology: an area that India has come to dominate due to extremely permissive laws with few to no restrictions on controversial areas like organ harvesting, free market trade in body parts, fetal stem-cell research, and cloning. Here you can buy a kidney legally, and there are 1 billion poor who are usually willing to do without one because the money will let them lift themselves out of the gutter.

At the same time India is as religious as ever. Bhakti (devotional worship) movements with charismatic leaders are gaining steam, putting a new slant on ancient Hindu beliefs. In the streets of the cities new religious movements are growing out of fusion music, the Vedas, and hip-hop consciousness. Mixing elements of Vedic Hinduism, Buddhist Tantra, and Sufi mysticism, this new movement claims to be able to give visions of the divine, its followers dancing, fucking, and dreaming themselves into ecstatic states where they believe they see beyond the mechanical world. Beside both of these movements there is also a growth in fundamentalist Islam, evangelical Christianity, and hard-core Jainism. The only thing these religions have in common is that they are almost universally opposed to the way the biotech corporations treat life and the sanctity of the human body.

The PCs will be somewhere in this vast and eclectic mix. My first thought for setting is New Delhi, a city which has seen its share of violent change: from Hindu to Arab to Persian to Mughal to British to Hindu and now to the future. It is a city of Djinn, of unlimited financial growth and possibility, and ancient grudges and prayers. The PCs take on rolls of those caught in the divided grip of India, powerfully conflicted between the forces of old vs. new, religion vs. secularism, technology vs. magic, and extremism vs. mediocrity. They are people who are caught between the past, present, and future in a way that puts their whole life and concept of self in jeopardy. The religious Muslim whose family is on the verge of starvation who is offered enough money to open a shop – if only he donates his kidney. The Brahmin scientist who is working on a way to clone human children without the need for a human womb, who has to face issues of her own infertility and her parents desire for grand children. The hip-hop urban DJ guru who uses cutting edge tech to pirate and remix corporate music, living as a parasite on their system while trying to bring it down. The genetically-selected Rajput army Lieutenant who has to deal with a history of violence and racial oppression while finding himself in love with a genetically impure untouchable. And so on.

Once play starts and the human elements of the PCs relationships and struggles have been well established, things will start to move faster. Technological breakthroughs will start coming faster and bigger. Semi-sentient AI will kick in, doubling the processing power available to scientists. Virtuality and direct-neural interface systems will combine with expert libraries to make information and expertise something that anyone with enough money can buy. Clean fusion technology and nano-machines will promise a world without scarcity, without hunger or fear or want, if only humanity can accept it. Things will go from "near future" to "transhuman" with shocking speed. Singularity will go from a theoretical blip on the horizon to a cliff taking up the whole horizon rushing towards the characters faces at a million miles per hour.

At the same time the religious side of things will accelerate as well. Mass movements will grow up out of the gurus and ulema circles. Millions will be in the streets, chanting prayers and screaming protests, and then inch by inch, things will start to happen. Magic will return with a subtle insinuation that will quickly grow into a world-shaking force. As clean fusion comes out of the labs, Shiva and the other gods come out of the human heart – glorious and terrible and ready to dance the end of the world. Magic and the gods will offer humanity salvation and joy, a world without hate, or fear, or damnation, if only they can accept it. Things will go from subtle to blatant, and as singularity rushes up so do ascension and the apocalypse. The Age of Kali is coming to an end, and the world must be returned to the cosmic egg.

And in the middle of all of this, the focus and the force, are the PCs. They will be pushed, they will be tested, they will have to decide, for themselves and symbolically (ritually even) for the whole world which path they will walk. They can chose either, they can try to chose both, or neither – but they must chose, and from their choice the karma of the whole world will be determined. The point will not be how the world ends, it will be what the players say about their characters and their beliefs about the world and the future.

Because of that the PCs should be pushed to the point where things become uncomfortable – where they raise real questions. Having a cyber-arm isn’t enough, that’s cliché, comfortable, old news.

What about the girl with fertility issues who becomes an assassin, ripping out her womb (which she will never use, she doesn’t want children) to replace it with a flesh-pocket that can release a swarm of nanite killers, a swarm of microscopic machines that can strip the flesh from a man in a second. She births death now, rather than life. Why not? It makes her better at her chosen job.

Or what about sexuality – if you can procreate without sex and have sex without procreation, why stay with safe genders? Why not make your clit bigger, your cock longer, why not have both? Dick chicks and cunt-boys, girls genetically fixed to make great jelly-donuts, things that would give the Z’bri of Tribe 8 nightmares. Why not make biological machines to service you? Suck slugs that excrete addictive pheromones while giving physical pleasure? Why not? It feels good and it doesn’t cost you anything.

Or in the once noble area of organ donation: when you find a way to keep "neomorts" as long term organ banks – taking a dying body, keeping it alive despite the brain being dead, and grafting multiple organs into it in order to grow genetically compatible parts. Imagine banks and banks of them, once people with families and lives, now repositories for genetic grafts, harvested like trees for their fruit. Why not? It will save lives.

Same deal on the religious front. Can your character deal with never having sex except for procreation, or having sex with people you do not like because your Guru command you to? When Shiva tells you to kill your mother because she must dance onto a different life, can you do it? If magic requires blind faith, can you really be blind? Is it safe to believe in what you are told to, even when doing so gives you power? Or will it just hurt you more in the long run? When you can see the future before it happens, what becomes of your human uncertainty? What about the guru who gains power by leaving the world, sitting alone in the mountains with the power to change the world, but no longer part of the world that he could change?

Take the things you believe about religion, science, rationality, and push them. Then put them in a human context and apply human pressure. Then turn it up to 11 while gods and AIs walk the world.

It should be one fuck of a game.

Friday, October 08, 2004

Save the Last Slayer

Buffy was a white girl in a rich white school because Joss wanted to deal with the Donna Reed issues of the old sitcoms his grandfather wrote. A more recent phenomena in teen movies is the outsider picture: a show focusing on either a white student in a mostly black or hispanic (and usually urban at-risk) school, or a non-white student in an all white (and usually upper crust) school. Save the Last Dance is one of the more successful uses of this formula, and so will form the basis "must see" for this Buffy campaign dealing with racism, inner city life, and big bad voodoo daddies.

Formula: Save the Last Slayer is a series about fighting demons and vampires while struggling to fit in with all the normal teen angst with the addition of racial and cultural difficulties in a rough urban environment. Take two parts Buffy, two parts Save the Last Dance, and dashes of Boston Public, O, and Dangerous Minds and shake well.

Theme: The themes of the series are all grouped around poverty, racism, and the process of ghettoization. Seasons will focus around questions like: Can teens of different backgrounds learn to work together? Who benefits from racism and segregation? Where does racism start, and how does it continue? While these are serious issues that doesn't meant that they have to be dealt with heavily, and the should not be dealt with philosophically. They should manifest as actual problems that have solutions in actions. Take, for example, the scenes from Save the Last Dance when Chenille and Sara get in a fight over Sara, the white girl, coming into the hood and snatching up the only college bound black boy in the school. It was a real issue, dealt with all sorts of problems, but did so in a practical way that was solved through character actions of patience and friendship.

Production: Hip Hop, sly urban fashions, techno-revolutionishm, and voodoo syncretism will rule the day. The look will be slick, Buffyish but with a level of grime, against which the eye-popping slammin fashions of the characters will stand out. Hip Hop symbolizes the urban fusion of cultures, sounds, and moves that make up a unique but potentially binding fashion and way of seeing. Techno revolutionism takes the tech geek image but adds the wheels of activism and the cyberpunk ideal that "the streets find their own uses for corporate toys." Voodoo syncretism represents the aspects of cultural integration and belief, both good and bad, easy and scary, that replaces Buffy's (now) safe Wicca as the counter-cultural force of magical change.

The soundtrack will have lots of Missy Elliot, Outkast, Beyonce, Freeway, and Santana with occasional salsa and gangsta rap rounding out the diversity.

Characters: General rules for Buffy characters should apply. Hero characters are good for slayers, tough ex-bangers, voodoo priestesses, and experienced watchers. White hats are fitting for everyone else, as even tough inner city kids are still teenagers and aren't really ready to take on vampires.

Genre convention characters would include: the white slayer who's new to the hood, the activist teacher/watcher who is informed, poetical, and down with it (Mr. Campbell or Mr. Morgan from 10 Things I Hate About You), the slayer's best friend who just happens to be a no-nonsense master of urban life, the good kid struggling to not get sucked into gang life, the banger who still has a heart, the activist kid struggling to make the hood a place worth living, the techno-revolutionary, the musician and/or dancer, the capoeira fighter, the bookish girl trying to get out of the hood through study, the jockish boy trying to get out of the hood through sports, the local cop who wants to help, the Obeah worshiper, the Umbanda magician. Really just about any Buffy type can be used, but they should be made hip, urban, and racially conscious in some way -- this isn't Sunnydale, biatch, it's Compton.

Hip Hop could be taken as a wild card skill that covers Acrobatics for dancing only, Influence for fashion and dealing with those in the scene only, Knowledge of fashion, music and clubs, and Language for slang only. It's potent in it's sphere, but that sphere is limited. Fashion Sense could be taken as a new advantage, working just like Appearance except that it works on anyone in the scene rather than just anyone sexually compatible. Thus it'll impress anyone at the club, girl or boy, but won't gain you crap from a cop or teacher.

Magic needs few changes, as much of the voodoo feel can be done with the existing rules. The feel may, however be quite different, and those wanting lots of info should check out the appendix of the Magic Box and GURPS Voodoo. Another route to go with voodoo characters is to make them Tribal Warriors (ala the Slayers Handbook quality) with abilities based on their Loa. A 15 point version of the merit could be taken by those that can switch their Loa (and rearrange their bonuses) with a 2ish hour ritual.

The Big Bad(s): Initial bads will focus on the typical inner city problematic, but with a Buffy twist. Corrupt cops working for sorcerers, vampiric gangs, land-developers and politicians who traffic with demons, and wicked country western pied pipers will all have appearances. Behind it all lurk a pair of really bad and really big forces: Zarabanda and Mbua. Zarabanda is the berserker, the murderer and foul-warrior who uses images of proud African warriors to drive gangs (mortal and vampire) to greater acts of violence, brutality, and racism. Mbua is the Great White Hunter who keeps men in cages before hounding them to death, he uses his image of power, exotic sport, and wealth to drive white developers and politicians towards greater and greater acts of greed and violence. The two are actually working together, playing one side of hate off the other to increase the pain and suffering in the hood until they can summon their brother Ikku -- Death. Once he comes the neighborhood will be turned into a demon realm, a place of endless suffering and death. That is, of course, unless those nosey kids do something to screw up their plans.

The Episodes

DebutThe Slayer comes to the hood and doesn't fit in. Meanwhile zombies are attacking clubs in the area, kidnapping friends of the other PCs. The group gets together to stop badness, hopefully becoming friends in the process.
Focus: SlayerThe Slayer has to confront her outsider status when a demon curses her to make the worst possible impression, leading to fights and accusations of racism.
Focus: PC #2To be decided by plot hooks from PC's background
Continuity A powerful vampire who styles himself after Shaka Zulu starts taking over local gangs and rewarding service with vampirism
Continuity A group of demonic cops comes after the PCs, planting evidence and getting them into legal trouble and eventually trying to kill them
Focus PC #3To be decided by plot hooks from PC's background
Stand AloneA demon claiming to be an angel turns the Christian population of the hood against those practicing other religions in a witch hunt.
Focus PC #4To be decided by plot hooks from PC's background
ContinuityRich white folks, dressed as cops and guarded by a demon bodyguard, come to the hood to hunt the most dangerous game.
Change of PaceAt a football game in a rich neighborhood the PCs are targeted by a cheerleader sorceress who makes "dark mirrors" of the PCs -- villainous duplicates who ruin the PCs relationships and reputations.
Stand AloneWhen one (or more) of the PCs is asked to be part of a music video they come to suspect that the star is a Vampire -- but is he, or is he actually an ally against a common foe? (Of course he is!)
Focus SlayerWhen the Slayer loses her powers she invites retaliation from mortal and vampires alike. Is the the Watcher's test, or is some darker force behind it?
ContinuityA close ally of the PCs is turned into a Zombie, and in trying to find a cure for him they have their first run in with the Voodoo King in his subterranean palace.
Focus PC #5To be decided by plot hooks from PC's background
Stand AloneA Vietnamese student, neglected and despised at school, makes a dark pact that allows him to bring the comics he draws to life. Mayhem ensues as he makes a point that life isn't black and white.
Continuity The Voodoo King sends dream-haunting spirits to start a rebellion at school that could lead to a siege (see Light it Up), and the PCs must deal with it, him, and their own failed dreams.
ContinuityFollowing clues given to them by the Voodoo King, the PCs fight demon warriors and robot-drones to find the identities of the Big Bad and their plan.
Finale The PCs final confrontation with the Twin Bads, including a fight at the top of a skyscraper overlooking the hood, and a possible journey to a hell realm to stop Death from emerging.

Saturday, July 10, 2004

Conan NPC stats

I dug up the Conan RPG stats for the main NPCs in the adventure I posted last week, and now present them to you. For minor NPCs, I'd suggest using the "instant NPCs" .pdf from the Mongoose site. 

Bunchhan Muul, male Khitan Scholar 16: CR 16; Medium-size humanoid (human); HD 10d6+14+6; HP 54; Init +3 (Dex); Spd 40 ft; Defense: Dodge 19 (+6 Class, +3 Dex), Parry 17 (+6 Class, +1 Str); DR: 0; Melee +17/+12/+7 finesse (2d4+2 & Death Touch, Crit x2, AP 2); Spell +13 (by spell); Spell Points: 15 (60); SV: Fort +7, Ref +8, Will +16; Str 12, Dex 16, Con 14, Int 20, Wis 18, Chr 20.
Skills: Appraise +13, Bluff +24, Concentration +18, Craft (alchemy) +22, Craft (herbalism) +22, Decipher Script +24, Diplomacy +15, Gather Information +17, Intimidate +26, Knowledge (Arcana) +25, Knowledge (the planes) +25, Knowledge (Local) +16, Knowledge (architecture) +16, Listen +16, Move Silently +13, Perform +13, Search +13, Sense Motive +14, Sleight-of-Hand +13.
Feats: Adept: Necromancy, Fleet Footed, Iron Will, Menacing Aura, Opportunistic Sacrifice, Ritual Sacrifice, Combat Reflexes, Steely Gaze, Leadership (Leadership Score 25), Tortured Sacrifice, Weapon Focus (Staff).
Languages: Aquilonian, Demonic, Hyrkanian, Khitan, Old Archeronian, Shemitish, Zamorian.
Spells: Agonizing Doom, Awful Rite of the Were-Beast, Basic Counterspell, Black Plague, Calm of the Adept, Conjuring, Curse of Yizil, Darting Serpent, Death Touch, Draw Forth the Heart, Draw Forth the Soul, Gelid Bones, Greater Black Plague, Greater Ill-Fortune, Greater Warding, Ill-Fortune, Lesser Ill Fortune, Master-Words and Signs, Raise Corpse, Shape-Shifter, Summon Demon, Summon Elemental, Telekinesis, Yimsha's Carpet.
SA: Knowledge is Power, Acolyte
Items: Staff of Death, Phylactery of Cyaegha’s Schism (+5 to rolls to Summon Demons & gives feat "Augment Summoning"), Several doses of every type of Lotus, Lotus Smoke.
Reputation: 85

Urracca Knife-Dancer, female Zamorian Thief 8 / Noble 6: CR 14; Medium-size humanoid (human); HD 10d8+4+8; HP 61; Init +11 (+7 Dex, +4 feat); Spd 40ft; Defense: Dodge 24 (+6 Class, +7 Dex, +1 feat), Parry 18 (+7 Class, +1 Str); DR: 0; Melee +19/+14 (+20/+15 sneak) finesse (Akbitanan Short Sword 1d8+2, +poison, +5d8 Sneak; Crit 19-20/x2, AP 4); Missile +19/+14 (thrown dagger, 1d4+1, +poison, +5d8 Sneak; crit 19-20/x2, AP 1); Saves: Fort +5*, Ref +16*, Will +12*; Str 13, Dex 24, Con 13, Int 15, Wis 14, Chr 20.
Skills: Appraise +7, Balance +16, Bluff +20, Climb +10, Diplomacy +11, Disable Device +7, Disguise +12, Escape Artist +12, Gather Information +12, Hide +20, Intimidate +12, Jump +10, Knowledge (local) +7, Listen +7, Move Silently +20, Open Lock +12, Perform +10, Search +7, Sense Motive +10, Sleight of Hand +14, Spot +7, Tumble +17.
Feats: Carouser, Combat Expertise, Eyes of the Cat, Fleet Footed, Improved Feint, Improved Initiative, Leadership (Leadership Score 25), Light Footed, No Honor, Poison Use, Striking Cobra.
Languages: Shemitish, Zamorian, Hyrkanian
SA: Lead By Example +2, Comeliness, Sneak Attack Styles (Short Sword, Poniard, Dagger), Sneak Attack +5d8, Trap Disarming, Trap Sense +2, Sorcerous Protection*
Items: Akbitanan Short Sword, 4 daggers, 3 doses Black Stygian Scropion Venom, 3 doses Apple of Kerketa Juice, 2 doses Purple Lotus Juice, harem girl’s silks, thieves outfit, lock picks, rope and grappling hook
Reputation: 45

Cittaprasadana Jayasurya, male Vendhyan, Noble 11 / Solider 3: CR 14; Medium-size humanoid (human); HD 7d8+3d10+35+8; HP 93; Init +2 (Dex); Spd 20ft; Defense: 17 (+5 Class, +2 Dex); Parry 33 / 36 w shield (+7 Class, +5 Str, +1 Feat); DR 12 (Plate Armor w Visored Helm); Melee +17/+12/+7 (Akbitanan Tulwar, 2d8+8, Crit 15-20/x2, AP 10) or +18/+13/+8 (Light Lance 1d10+5, Crit x3, AP 7) or +19/+14/+9 (Charging Lance 3d10+16, Crit x3, AP 8 [9 in formation]); Saves: Fort +10, Ref +6, Will +11; Str 20, Dex 15, Con 18, Int 14, Wis 14, Chr 20.
Skills: Bluff +10, Climb +8, Diplomacy +20, Gather Information +14, Handle Animal +10, Intimidate +20, Jump +8, Knowledge (local) +7, Knowledge (nobility) +11, Knowledge (religion) +7, Perform +10, Ride +20, Search +5, Sense Motive +16, Spot +5, Survival +5.
Feats: Cleave, Combat Reflexes, Great Cleave, Improved Critical – Tulwar, Leadership (Leadership Score 29), Mounted Combat, Parry, Power Attack, Reflexive Parry, Ride By Attack, Spirited Charge.
Languages: Vendhyan, Khitan, Hyrkanian, Shemitish
SA: Formation Combat: Heavy Cavalry, Special Regional Feature +2, Lead By Example +4, Do You Know Who I Am?, Savoir-Faire.
Items: Akbitanan Tulwar, Plate Armor w Visored Helm, 1 dozen lances, Bhalkana warhorse.
Reputation: 70

Shalmaneser, male Shemite, Nomad 12 / Noble 2: Cr 14; Medium-size humanoid (human); HD 10d10+35+12; HP 101; Init +4 (Dex); Spd 30ft (50 in desert); Defense: Dodge: 20* (+6 class, +4 Dex), Parry: 20 (+7 class, +3 Str); DR 6 (Mail Shirt w Steel Cap); Melee +17/+12/+7 (Akbitanan Scimtar 1d8+3, Crit 18-20/x2, AP 7); Charge +18/+13/+8 (Light Lance 3d10+6, Crit x3, AP 6); Ranged +17/+17/+12/+7 (+18/+18/+13/+8 inside 30 feet) (Shemite Bow 1d10+3 (+4 inside 150 feet, +5 inside 30 feet), Crit x3, AP 7); Saves: Fort +12, Ref +11, Will +8; Str 17, Dex 19, Con 18, Int 16, Wis 15, Chr 17.
Skills: Appraise +10, Bluff +12, Climb +8, Diplomacy +12, Gather Information +12, Handle Animal +10, Hide +11*, Intimidate +19, Knowledge (local) +8, Listen +9*, Move Silently +11*, Ride +21, Search +8*, Sense Motive +8, Spot +11*, Survival +12*,
* = +6 in Desert environments, +1 in Plains.
Feats: Diehard, Endurance, Far Shot, Improved Precise Shot, Leadership (Leadership Score 23), Mounted Archery, Mounted Combat, Precise Shot, Point Blank Shot, Rapid Shot, Ride-By Attack, Shot on the Run, Spirited Charge, Track.
Languages: Shemitish, Hyrkanian, Stygian, Argossean.
SA: Special Regional Feature +1, Favored Terrain (Desert) +4, (Plain) +1, Nomad Charge +2, Born to the Saddle, Improved Mobility
Items: Masterwork Shemite Bow, Mail Shirt w Steel Cap, Turanian Warhorse (w improved movement: 80).
Reputation: 55

Merlino, male Hyborian Noble 8 / Thief 4 / Borderer 2: CR 14; Medium-size humanoid (human); HD 2d10+8d8+8; HP 54; Init +7 (+3 Dex, +4 feat); Spd 30ft; Defense: Dodge 20* (+3 Dex, +6 Class, +1 feat), Parry 19 (+2 Str, +7 Class); DR 0; Melee finesse +12/+12/+7 (+13/+13/+11 sneak) (Double Poniard, 1d6 (+3d8 sneak), Crit 19-20/x2, AP 3); Saves: Fort +7, Ref +12, Will +10; Str 14, Dex 16, Con 13, Int 20, Wis 18, Chr 22.
Skills: Appraise +19, Bluff +25, Craft (jewler) +10, Decipher Script +12, Diplomacy +27, Disguise +15, Forgery +15, Gather Information +27, Hide +9*, Intimidate +15, Knowledge (geography) +10, Knowledge (local) +20, Knowledge (nobility) +10, Listen +9*, Move Silently +9*, Perform +11, Profession (Merchant) +9, Ride +8, Search +12*, Sense Motive +19, Sleight of Hand +10, Spot +9*, Survival +11*.
* = +1 in Plains
Feats: Combat Expertise, Deceitful, Diligent, Eyes of the Cat, Improved Feint, Improved Initiative, Investigator, Leadership (Leadership Score 25), Light-Footed, Persuasive, Sleep Mastery, Track, Two Weapon Defense.
Languages: Aquilonian, Shemitish, Hyrkanian, Argossean, Hyperborian, Cimmerian
SA: Sneak Attack +3d8, Favored Terrain (Plains) +1, Special Regional Feature +2, Title, Wealth, Rank Hath Its Privileges, Smear Others, Lead By Example +2, Sneak Attack Styles (poniard, war spear), Trap Finding, Trap Sense +1
Items: Lots and lots of hawt lewt. He can get almost anything money can buy.
Reputation: 35

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

Conan Adventure

This is an idea I had for a Conan adventure setup. I wanted to get a good amount of the feeling of the middle Conan stories, where Conan was not just a fighter but a political player as well. To do this I created an unstable situation, a rich city full of danger, and five powerful foes that are also all foes of each other. I see it playing out a lot like A Fist Full of Dollars, but with 6 powers that be rather than 2, and 3 to 5 Men With No Names coming into town rather than just 1. I’d also play it that the PCs didn’t have to work together, and would probably even work against each other at points. That’s something many aren’t comfortable with though, so it should be able to be worked so the PCs all end up fighting together for the sake of survival.

There aren’t a lot of stats here. Level and class guidelines are given for Mongoose’s Conan RPG – but you could do this with lots of systems. (I’d be tempted to use HeroQuest.) Whatever you do, be sure to play Basil Poledouris’s “Conan the Barbarian” as your soundtrack.

The Setting

Seconderam is a city where rapacious men with shining swords trade tender flesh and shimmering silk for stained coins and winked favors. Its yellow stone walls loom over the vast aridity of the Hyrakanian step, guarded by hard-eyed soldiers with weapons of Akbitanan steel against the hawk-nosed nomads with their brutal horn bows. The blood and life of this stone whore is the trade that passes between Shem and Vendhya, for Seconderam is the only safe stop between the tenebrous Vilayet Sea and the glittering towers of Khorala. Any merchant wishing to make the silk run must stop here, and must pay, pouring gold and silver into the corpulent hands of the collectors.

There are five towers in Seconderam, arranged in a dread pentagram which some say binds the will of the city to its points. In each monolith lurks one of the five who rule, each eyeing the others with knives in their hands and malice in the black pits of their hearts. For a decade they have split the city between themselves, each scheming to fell the others. What no one in the city realizes, not even the rulers, is that the very towers they sit in drive them to fight against each other. No man may live in towers built by that beyond the stars and stay sane. When the rulers chose their towers they instinctually took the tower opposite that of their worst rivals, and so the fiercest rivalries are those which cut across the pentagram. If a new lord were to take over the tower they would mystically find themselves inheriting these conflicts.

The NPCs

First among these iniquitous equals is the sorcerer Bunchhan Muul (Khitan, Scholar 16) who sits in the Ebon Tower opposite Cittaprasadana Jayasurya’s Ivory Tower and Merlino’s Gold Tower. It was he who raised the five towers, calling them from the dark between the stars so that they were built in a single night, giving him the power to claim equality with the other leaders of the city. Though he has fewer followers than the others he commands fear and the blackest of sorcery, and few have ever dared oppose him. The heads of those who did still scream from the top of his tower, despite having lost their bodies years ago.

Cittaprasadana Jayasurya (Vendhyan, Noble 11 / Solider 3), known as the White Bull of Saiva’s Fury, sits in the Ivory Tower, opposite Bunchhan Muul’s Ebon Tower and Shalmaneser’s Wormwood Tower. This mighty man is the royal delegate from far off Khorala, and holds his position partly by being the guardian of the route to fabled Vendhya, partly from his own prowess in battle, and mostly from the hundreds of loyal Vendhyan lancers under his command. So long as he holds the royal seal, even Bunchhan Muul is wary of crossing him openly.

The Blood Tower is the opulent commorancy of Urracca Knife-Dancer (Zamorian, Thief 8 / Noble 6) and sits opposite Shalmaneser’s Wormwood Tower and Merlino’s Gold Tower. This provocative murderess turned ruler knows how to use men’s lusts, be they for flesh, coin, or power, against them. She rose to her position by turning brother against brother and murdering whatever was left after their feuds. Even now, when she has a small army of thieves to serve her, she is known to go out on dangerous missions herself, as she lusts for the kill.

Shalmaneser (Shemite, Nomad 12 / Noble 2) is lord of the Wormwood Tower, sitting opposite Cittaprasadana Jayasurya’s Ivory Tower and Urracca’s Blood Tower. As Cittaprasadana guards the caravan route to Vendhya, Shalmaneser guards it to mighty Shem. However he answers to no crown, and has no noble seal to back his orders. All he has is his incredible brutality, which is bestial enough to give even Bunchhan Muul pause, and his hundreds of Shemite swordsmen.

The Merchant Prince Merlino (Zingaran, Noble 8 / Thief 4 / Borderer 2) holds the Golden Tower, facing Uracca’s Blood Tower and Bunchhan Muul’s Ebon Tower. Of all the rulers Merlino is the wealthiest, and the most loved by the people. Where the others are followed from fear, many of the merchants and commoners see Merlino as a tolerable, civilized man. That he really has no heart (literally as well as metaphorically) is a secret he keeps well hidden behind his pleasant smile.

There is, of course, a sixth man of importance to Seconderam, but from the outside rather than the in. He is Hafizullah Amin (Hyrkanian 12th level Nomad, 3rd level Noble), khan of the Farishta clan. His are the raiders that take the most caravans, his the savage bowmen that terrify the city’s soft inhabitants, and his the desire to pull Seconderam to the ground and take from it all the gold, silk, and flesh that his men can carry.

The PCs

Arjuna (Vendhyan, Noble 8 / Solider 4): Lecherous but loyal son of House Bharata, Arjuna has been sent by his family to find a way to either bring Cittaprasadana Jayasurya into line or force him out of power. Arjuna has come with a royal decree and a large number of lancers, but he knows that he must be careful. Cittaprasadana Jayasurya is a dangerous man, after all. Even worse, while Arjuna must corral or kill him, he must do so without disrupting the noble power of Vendhya in the city – for doing so would lose the vast amounts of gold that flow to the royal coffers.

Madog (Cimmerian, Barbarian 12): Unlike the weak civilized men around him, Madog knows that life is nasty, brutal, and short. So he lives every moment to the fullest, and accepts nothing but the finest in weapons, women, drugs, and wine. Unfortunately for him he arrived in Seconderam with nothing but the clothes on his back and the two cheaply made daggers in his belt. This is an expensive city, but it’s also a city where a man with nerve can make a lot of money, and gain a lot of power. The question isn’t so much who to kill as who to kill first. Perhaps this Merlino everyone speaks about would be a good man to ask?

Xiao Xing (Khitan, Scholar 12): Wise, silent, and disciplined, Xiao is the last student of Grey Master Phoenix, and before she can be released from his service she must complete one last quest. So it is that she has come to Seconderam with the humble task of killing Bunchhan Muul and recovering the Phylactery of Cyaegha’s Schism, the very thing which allowed Bunchhan Muul to raise the Five Towers in the first place. Of course, if she can gain power for herself in so doing, all the better.

Fortunato (Zamorian, Thief 10 / Borderer 2): They say that Bunchhan Muul has a box that can summon demons, Cittaprasadana Jayasurya a bull of gold and ivory that weighs over a ton, Merlino a diamond the size of a man’s heart, Shalmaneser a hundred casks of golden coin that have the minting mark of Acheron, and any one of these could make a man a king among thieves. Fortunato wants all of them together. But even more he wants the heart of Urracca Knife-Dancer, whom he has been obsessed with for over a decade.

Shamshi-Adad (Turanian, Nomad 12): Son of the Khan of the Ocalan clan, he has come to Seconderam because his people are currently being squeezed between Shalmaneser’s rapacious mercenaries, Hafizullah’s murderous scorge, and Merlino’s gouging of food and water prices. His father sent him to sue for peace, but on the way his entourage was attacked and his younger brother killed. Now Shamshi comes for vengeance. First he will find who sent the man that killed his brother and make them die so it will be spoken of for 100 years, and then he will really begin his vengeance.

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Xanderan: The Wizard Slayer

I'm a large fan of both Eden's Buffy RPG and Shooting Iron's Talislanta. One night, while my randomly selected playlist was musing me, it occurred to me that it would be possible to mix the buildingly episodic nature of Buffy with the Conanesque Swords and Sorcery of Talislanta. The Xambrian Wizard Slayer, a Tal character driven by the spirits of his ancestors to avenge their near-genocide, seemed the perfect replacement for the Slayer, and the rest fell into line from there.

Here's what came of it: Xanderan: The Wizard Slayer