Saturday, 14 November 2020

What if we kicked Cthulhu's arse? - part 1

A campaign idea that starts from the point where we win the Cthulhu Mythos.

Mythos fiction is some of my favourite fiction, but you have to admit it's dark. The setting comes with the explicit knowledge that some day, probably sooner rather than later, the stars will be right and the Great Old Ones will rise. The human race will collectively go mad under Cthulhu's psychic influence and turn on each other in ecstatic slaughter.  If we survive at all, it'll be as just another lowly servitor race to Big C. And with the Mi-Go interested in Earth's resources, shoggoths hating us for not being them, Lloigor malice, Nyarlathotep's games, etc.... that's probably the best outcome we can expect. Dark.

Something I enjoy is taking nihilistic settings like this one and extrapolating what they would be like if we solved all the existing problems. And introduced a few new ones so they're still interesting to play.

Your mythos may vary. There have been so many writers involved that you have to to pick and choose. Lovecraft gets in, obviously. Also Ramsey Campbell, Frank Belknap Long and August Derleth (although I don't give any credence to his shuffling of Great Old Ones into neat elemental associations).

Saturday, 24 October 2020

Cursed items

A list of six cursed items that do exactly what they seem to do.

My concept of cursed items isn't objects that stick you with a negative modifier and can't be put down - although those have their place. It's perfectly serviceable items that perform a valuable function in a way that compromises the character's values.

Admittedly that's not much of a threat to murderhobo characters. But the caveats for these items should at least make non-chaotic players pause and then avoid the GM's eye while mumbling about the end justifying the means!

1. Death Holds No Secrets

A gem-studded collar that can temporarily revive a being dead for less than INT bonus days and no more than user's level+INT bonus HD to answer three questions in full. The being can save vs Magic to resist. After the questions have been answered, the collar returns the being to its rest.

After Death Holds No Secrets has passed out of range, there is a 3-in-6 chance of the being reviving again as a hostile undead with HD up to user's level.

2. Stand-Alone

A sword with faceted obsidian inlaid in the pommel in place of a gem. It allows the user to reduce the closest ally NPC's STR bonus by 1 in order to gain the same bonus until the end of a combat. The borrowed strength does not return to the NPC.
(Technically, the effect should apply to PCs as well. Would you want to be in that game? I wouldn't. I wouldn't want to be the same building.)

3. The Uneasy Crown

A simple gold crown, decorated with gold wire and rubies. This item only works if placed on a second person's head by someone who knows the passphrase, 'uneasy is the head'. After that, if the crowned one gives an order anyone with a lower charisma modifier will carry it out automatically, provided it isn't dangerous to them. (Save vs device to resist.) Each time an order is given, the crown tightens slightly. It cannot be removed until the person who crowned the wearer speaks the passphrase. That person is immune to the crown's effects. After being removed it cannot be used again by the same wearer. It will immediately tighten until it's too small to place on their head.

4. The Mirror Gem

The owner of this gem can enter a magical sleep and possess whoever wears the gem. The possessed wearer will look and sound like the owner, and has no will of their own while their actions are being directed. The wearer takes 1d4 HP damage each week they wear the gem. That damage can never be recovered.

5. Man-breaker

This is a lash with a core of hardened clay in the hollow handle. Each time it's used on a person, the victim loses a point from either INT, WIS or CHA and gains one in STR or CON. Over time their skin becomes more and more clay-like until they lose their last point of mental attributes and transform fully into a clay golem, good only for manual labour.

6. Persuasion
A narrow chain, with spiked links. If one of the spikes is used to nick a victim, the entire cord will slither inside through the wound and coil around their bones. From that point, if they refuse to follow when ordered to the chain will constrict, causing awful pain. Persuasion leaves a body the way it enters, but causes a lot more damage in the process. Most die.

Sunday, 18 October 2020

The Why of Ships

It's sometimes important to know about passing ships. In a coastal village, sails on the horizon could mean raiders, or vital supplies arriving. Sometimes your characters need passage, no questions asked. Sometimes they need an unreasonable amount of flammable oil in a hurry, for perfectly legal activities. Sometimes, heh, it's a funny story, but they're stuck without a ship of their own because they set the vessel and its crew on fire completely by accident and there's no-one left to say otherwise.

That ship on the horizon is:

  1. A fishing boat 
  2. A freighter carrying goods to market 
  3. A smuggler 
  4. A military patrol vessel 
  5. A pirate 
  6. A fast courier 

Its distinctive feature is:

  1. An elaborate figurehead
  2. Coloured sails
  3. An unusual flag
  4. A motto emblazoned on the hull
  5. An unusual crew makeup
  6. A strange passenger

The captain is:

  1. A drunk 
  2. A scoundrel 
  3. A strict disciplinarian 
  4. Deeply religious 
  5. Deeply morose 
  6. A lunatic 

Their misfortune is:

  1. Damaged 
  2. Low supplies 
  3. Disease on board 
  4. Blown off course 
  5. Short-handed after a failed mutiny 
  6. Short-handed after a successful mutiny 

The closest ports are:

  1. Allies 
  2. Enemies 
  3. Neutral 
  4. Closed to them 
  5. Open but may confiscate their goods 
  6. Under the influence of a rival
They know:
  1. The location of a nearby island with timber, game and fresh water
  2. Passwords to make military ships ignore them
  3. The location of a cache of supplies, guns and money
  4. A colonial governor's humiliating secret
  5. A safe route through an archipelago dotted with dangerous reefs
  6. Market prices across all ports within a week's travel

Saturday, 10 October 2020

Starting situation generator

Mounted knight
Tables for instantly generating the bones of a simple adventure. 

Sometimes you want to start with the action and figure out the why of things later. Especially if it's a pick-up game with little or no prep time, you want to play now, plan later. 

With the tables below, you can throw down a set of polyhedral dice and instantly have enough background info to start in media res.

The party is (D4)

  1. fighting with
  2. negotiating with
  3. hiding from
  4. chasing

a group of (D6)

  1. guards
  2. mercenaries
  3. zealots
  4. intelligent monsters
  5. unintelligent monsters
  6. beasts

in a (D8)

  1. city street
  2. dungeon 
  3. wilderness
  4. crypt
  5. temple
  6. mansion
  7. ship
  8. tower

because (D10)

  1. something has been stolen
  2. someone has been taken
  3. an offence must be punished
  4. a plague must be cured
  5. a curse must be broken
  6. a bounty is on offer
  7. a sentence must be commuted
  8. a prophecy has been spoken
  9. an oath has been sworn
  10. a debt is owed

 and if they fail (D12) 

  1. a debt will default.
  2. they will be cursed.
  3. they will be outlawed.
  4. a bounty will be placed on them.
  5. an ally/family member will be harmed.
  6. an allied faction will be weakened.
  7. a crime will go unpunished.
  8. a regime will fall.
  9. a war will begin.
  10. their home will be destroyed.
  11. an opportunity will be lost.
  12. an enemy will be empowered.
The theme for this adventure is (D20)
  1. betrayal.
  2. the generosity of honourable enemies.
  3. competition with another party of adventurers.
  4. a generation-spanning grudge.
  5. insidious, creeping evil.
  6. a race against time.
  7. conspirators in every shadow.
  8. revenge.
  9. defending the weak.
  10. reclaiming a heritage.
  11. exploration.
  12. impending disaster.
  13. righteous vs despotic monarchs.
  14. revealing treachery.
  15. the gods are angry.
  16. babysitting.
  17. keeping up an act.
  18. acting with stealth.
  19. allies in unlikely places.
  20. forbidden knowledge.


Saturday, 3 October 2020

D6 delving-adjacent complications


A D6 table of ways an adventuring party can be victims of their own success.

You delved the dungeon. You lived. Now you're on your way back to town with the loot. Neat. Clean. Simple. Except... when has an adventurer's life ever been that easy?

  1. Muggers
    Think you were discreet? A party of battle-hardened adventurers rode into town and bought up food, torches, oil, and pack animals. They hired on a group of helpers who look like they can run fast, for 'sundry duties to be clarified as and when needed'. Smells like someone's planning to make some quick money.

    Of course, since they are battle-hardened, it makes sense to let them go about their business and stake out the road they take out of town. When they return, exhausted and bleeding, a gang of bandits strikes.

  2. Claim-jumpers
    Everyone knows the corridors of the tomb complex up on the hill are littered with gold coins... and guarded by vicious undead. It's gruel and cheap beer again this week, but that's better than being something else's meal.

    But if someone else takes the risk and staggers away for a long rest before returning to finish the lower levels, a clever and careful person sends for the closest neighbours and lets them know there's an opportunity. They grab packs and hurry up the hill to step over the smoking skeletons and ransack the cleared levels.

  3. Price gougers
    As soon as you were spotted returning on the road, the richest merchant in town bought up everything you could possibly need. Of course he's willing to sell it to you... at ten times the original price. He has a squad of mercenaries protecting his stores. You could try taking them, but it wouldn't be easy and then you'd be law breakers.

  4. Lawsuits
    It turns out the family that originally built that tomb on the hill still has scions in the kingdom. Diminished, impoverished, but still inheritors of the family name and crypt. They never had the guts to step inside or the money to pay for someone to clear it out, but fate just handed them an opportunity. You robbed their ancestors and now they're practically salivating at the chance to sue you for the return of that loot.

  5. Terrain
    Paintings, statues, antiques, golden idols. They're as good as money, but only if you can get them home. Can you carry them out of the forest? Will the cart's axle support the weight? Is the road passable to a fully laden cart, or will you bog down in every wheel rut? What if the weather changes and the road turns to mud? What if you have to go cross-country to avoid bandits?

  6. Suspicion
    You chose a platinum crown studded with gemstones as part of your share. Now it's gone and the wizard's pack looks a little heavier. Did you face all this danger to let one of your own companions rob you when you let your guard down?

Saturday, 19 September 2020

B/X class: Goblin

A B/X class for playing goblins as tinkers and trap-setters.

When I wrote up monster entries for some goblin variants I came to the conclusion that it would be a lot of fun to play one in a semi-serious game. Browsing for other people's take on the subject, I found interesting posts on The Treasure Hunter's HQ and Against The Wicked City. Treasure Hunter clearly feels that goblins and thieves overlap, while Wicked's goblin is a vile, mad little scrapper who'll bite you in the unmentionables. I love them both.

I also love Terry Pratchett's vision of goblins as grubby but mechanically-talented scroungers. And I'm unfairly prejudiced against gnomes (twee little shitcakes), so I want to steal that niche for goblins. My vision of the goblin shares elements from all three of those sources. I can imagine one of them leaning out of a steam train cab window, yelling "Show us yer tits!" and laughing evilly around a dog-end cigarette.

My goblin class is a mix of what I found at the two links above and a couple of ideas out of my own brain:

Requirements: Minimum Dex 9
Prime requisite: DEX
Hit dice: 1d4
Maximum level: 12
Allowed armour: Leather, hide or filthy rags
Allowed weapons: Small or normal-sized
Languages: Alignment language, common, goblin, orc
Saves and level as per thief

Goblins are horrible green- or grey-skinned humanoids with pointed ears and noses. They average a height of three feet and live wherever tolerated. They live in bands, but solitary goblins will sometimes strike out on their own. They have a reputation as erratic, thieving public nuisances and vandals who love drink and petty crime.


Darkvision to 60'.

Tinker: Use the cleric's turn undead table for this, where the GM's assessment of difficulty replaces the monster hit dice number.
  • Disarm trap
    • Success: trap only triggers on 1-in-6. Each character/NPC passing must roll.
    • T: trap is inert, but goblin can instantly reactivate it.
    • D: as T, or goblin can disassemble trap to gain 1d3 scrap.

  • Set trap (requires 3 scrap)
    •  Success: trap will affect one creature.
    • T: trap has an area of effect.
    • D: as T, or goblin can refine the mechanism to regain 1d3 scrap.

  • Repair weapon/armour
    •  Success: item is usable, but functions like a similar item one step lower (eg. d6 weapon does d4 damage, plate protects like chain, etc).
    • T: item regains full function.
    • D: as T, but the goblin adds spikes to it. Item is +1. Spikes have a 1-in-6 chance of falling off each time the item is used. (Requires 1 scrap.)

  • Build weapon/armour (requires 3 scrap)
    • Success: goblin builds a d4 weapon or a shield. It falls apart at the end of the next fight and becomes scrap again.
    • T: item functions normally.
    • D: as T, but with spikes on. Item is +1. Spikes fall off on 1-in-6.
Headstab: Similar to a thief's backstab ability. By dropping onto an opponent from above and hanging on, a goblin can make a number of attacks equal to its DEX bonus. Opponent may make a STR vs STR roll to dislodge the goblin on their round, otherwise another headstab attack can be made.

Eat anything: A goblin can live on almost anything that isn't fighting it right now. Allows forage rolls in dungeons and cities. If other party members attempt to eat what it finds, make a save vs poison. On success they gain the benefits of a ration. On failure they take -2 for the next turn as they vomit uncontrollably.

Snivel: By slumping and letting their noses drip pathetically, a goblin can appear to be harmless. Opponents will prefer other targets unless the goblin attacks them.

Mock: A goblin's taunting crosses the language barrier. It can say something or make a gesture to offend any intelligent opponent. GM determines how NPCs react.

Saturday, 12 September 2020

The OSR is...

Ask ten people what the OSR is and you're likely to get 10 + 1d6 opinions for your trouble. So why ask? You can get those opinions and many more by rolling on the table below!

The OSR is made up of...
1. Old-school grognards
2. Wild-eyed rules hackers
3. Posing art-wonks
4. Fun-hating pedants
5. Mouldering grey-beards
6. Chattering children

1. Gary Gygax's Chainmail rules
2. un-houseruled OD&D
3. a heartbreaker ruleset from a particular weekend in 1970, preserved like a fly in amber
4. something new-school with an art style somewhere between psychedelic and heiroglyphic
5. an original ruleset that everyone agrees 'just feels' OSR (by which they mean their characters get killed a lot)
6. a Frankenstein's monster of rules that don't fit with each other, pulled from half a dozen of their favourite OSR titles

1. Jeff Rients, passed out in a beanbag surrounded by copies of his carousing rules, occasionally mumbling "level fiddy, mudderfuckers"
2. SWORD DREAM tinkerers who want to replace all their stats with usage dice
3. six pear-shaped guys with real metal swords they forged from beer cans HEY WATCH WHERE YOU'RE SWINGING THAT
4. a couple who brought their teenagers because they can't be trusted at home alone
5. Dave Arneson's actual corpse
6. eight college students who still think this is 5E

and are 'led' by...
1. an elite group who've played in con games GMed by Gary G and have photographic evidence
2. a cabal of self-publishers who cracked the code for selling platinum on DrivethruRPG
3. a demented group who argue that Cops 'n' Robbers is the original RPG, but only if you didn't let girls play
4. scruffy basement-dwelling contrarians who just want to be in opposition to everyone
5. purists who don't play any game available in PDF or POD
6. nostalga-junkies who remember the 70s as a better time

but actually led by...
1. Rosicrucians
2. Freemasons
3. the Kickstarter board of directors
4. a rogue CIA cell locked in proxy combat with a rogue KGB cell since 1990
5. a millennial cult sifting the errors from millions of furiously typed forum comments for prophecy
6. Arnold K from a hidden base in the caldera of an active volcano commanding an army of crowdfunded drones armed with scalpels

with the goal of...
1. destroying storygames forever.
2. inoculating the next generation against social media-triggered political madness.
3. making a quick buck the hardest way.
4. assembling a critical mass of brain matter conditioned to simulate fantasy worlds. The harvest begins next year.
5. winning a bet.
6. sorry, only the even secret-er cabal knows that.