Friday, June 5, 2015

North Florida Avengers: the Dark Side of the Moon's Mightiest Heroes*

I have a Thursday night beer and boardgames group that occasionally dabbles in rpg games, and the irregular Marvel Super Heroes game I run has actually been more common than my supposedly bi-weekly Dungeon Crawl Classics game.

The group started as the Northeast Florida Avengers, based out of Jacksonville, the town we live in. Half the fun is letting the players role-play inconsequential stuff between themselves. They are based out of an office at a strip mall on a highway, they drive a Volvo to adventures and started off as generally ineffective. Over time they've developed their powers in play (thanks to the ingenious Power Stunt system and my lax enforcement of Karma expenditures for stunts), defeated the corrupt Tallahassee Avengers, and managed to overcome anything I've thrown at them.

They defeated a demigod from Atlantis and stole his magic trident.

They defeated hypnotized heroes and a giant robot controlled by The Hisser.

They defeated an alternate reality Sinister Six with the help of Thor.

They defeated the Hisser and the rest of the Tallahassee Avengers when they summoned the Dread Dormammu.

In the most recent session they travelled into space and explored a shattered asteroid prison, known to the resident alien on the team, Starbucks Jones from the Andromeda system. I used this amazing one page dungeon to great success. I've tried to tie sessions to particular characters. In the alternate reality where the Sinister Six had taken over Jacksonville, the team's powered armor hero The Shack was that reality's Spiderman. When Dormammu was summoned, frat-boy turned native american spirit champion The Seminole had visions of warning (though he barely understood them because he doesn't speak the language).

Humor has been a huge part of the game. Everybody is ridiculous. Rex Powercolt is a superstrong shapeshifting mutant that is dumb as a bag of hammers and tries to mate with alpacas. Dr Mighty Mirror buys billboards around town to promote himself (slogan: "You've heard of me"). El Capitan is the only conquistador who found the Fountain of Youth, but hundreds of years later he's an old man in sweats who forgets things. The Shack has slowly been upgrading the team vehicle, so now they have a volvo that can fly in space (and has heated seats).

They've come a long way even though we don't play that regularly. I'm very forgiving with power stunts to expand their powers and I let them raise ranks somewhat arbitrarily. Their name changes to reflect their growth as well. Recently they parked the remains of the interstellar prison asteroid on the lunar surface so they can call themselves the Dark Side of the Moon's Mightiest Heroes. Assuming Black Bolt of the Inhumans doesn't say otherwise. ;)

Thursday, May 28, 2015

4E Setting that never was

There's a lot of things I liked about D&D 4th Edition and a lot of things that I don't like about it, but I think one thing I had wrong was trying to make something of the game that it didn't want to be. One thing you can say about it is that its exactly the type of game its meant to be, take it or leave it.

I was thinking about some issues I had running 4E years ago and realized I could have embraced some things rather than fight them. There are lots of OSR blogs that look into the earliest rules of D&D and try to extrapolate how the world is supposed to work from that, rather than try to "fix" things.

So: magic item economy. I wasn't a huge fan of how that worked at the time. For one thing, having a glut of magic items, mostly hand-picked by the players, seemed to make magic less special. For another thing, I don't like the exponential gold piece price of higher level items, where a +5 flaming sword might be worth more than a small kingdom. But how can I embrace this?

One thing D&D does is make a clear difference between mundane weapons, made by a simple blacksmith, and MAGIC weapons which are ridiculously expensive by commoner standards and super special even at low levels. For example, a magic javelin probably glows at command and can return to its wielder after being thrown. Imagine how something like that would have been the most amazing thing ever to a primitive hunter, and in 4E it would only be a +1 weapon that most low-level characters would only turn into residuum to get 1/16th closer to buying the thing they really want.

Historical blacksmiths weren't separate from wizards, they WERE wizards. Most people didn't know how to work with metal and thought it was a mystical process. Even blacksmiths thought it was mystical, they used lots of rituals as part of their process. [Aside-its constantly intriguing to me how we don't understand how people in other times thought about things. We either assume they thought like we do, or that they were ignorant savages.]

Even outside of metal, other weapons were still carefully crafted in ancient times. We see a wooden stick and think of a club. An ancient crafter knew which part of which tree to use wood from for different weapons, knew how to carve it to make it balanced properly, could cut an edge that would draw blood like an axe, etc. No decent weapon was made quickly and cheaply, that came with the industrial revolution.

So...ALL weapons are magic. Anything that isn't an improvised weapon has been made with enough care for it to count as magic. Weaponsmiths pick the right materials, pray to their gods as they work, and produce something of quality or they're not worth their salt.

To exaggerate this, the setting is a mythic prehistory. The Dawn War is barely over, the land bears marks of destruction and even fallen primordials. The mortal races are only a few generations old, still exploring the world. Everything the heroes do is shaping the beginning of the world. Their deeds will echo through history.

*Cue borrowing heavily from Scarred Lands, Exalted, and Imperishable Fame*

So weapons, and armor too, are always magical. Nobody is minting coins, the main currency is residuum. Precious gems and materials will have value because they can be used to make magic items. PCs trained in Arcana or Religion can craft magic items by paying the required amount of residuum. Rare items require some special ingredient or circumstances to craft. I don't see on a practical level how this is different from "assume a merchant has the item your characters want to buy next time they're in town."

This has all been brainstorming, I'm still not sure about a couple of things. It seems like all mundane gear should have some magical properties too. And it could create a glut of magic weapons if all NPCs have magic gear. As long as their gear is low level I think it could be managed--everybody will turn their gear into residuum at half price, I just have to make sure they don't have too much "money" from that. Also, there's a different perspective. Weapons aren't just laying around, they're carefully crafted and guarded. Those bandits aren't just lowly criminals who found some short swords, they're warriors with magic weapons who have been outcast for some reason. That instantly has more flavor, and seems a more serious threat.

I like this idea because I feel it gives greater meaning to the magic items in the world without doing away with the basic way they function as characters adventure and level up. Here's some tables to flesh out magic items:

What's special about this weapon's construction?
1. Starmetal--taken from a meteorite
2. Strange alloy of metals that's stronger than their base components
3. Forged in complete darkness under the earth
4. Carved from a tree that was struck by lightning on a clear day
5. Metal was quenched by fresh blood during forging
6. Forged from ore to finish during the passing of an eclipse
7. Carved from a flawless jade stone
8. Inscribed with runes of its crafter's entire lineage
9. Mementos of a passed loved one were added to the metal while forging
10. Forged in the bonfires of the village's annual feast day
11. Buried in earth one year to honor the primal spirits
12. Made from the bones of a creature killed by the crafter

I imagine the Disenchant ritual being more of a ritual offering of a magic item to a spirit or deity. For example, the Celts and Norse would twist swords in half and throw them in a lake for the water spirits. Magic items could also be buried, burned, shattered, eaten by animals, etc. The residuum would be some token or magical material that could be used to create more magic items. Trophies of fantastic monsters could be residuum (the horn of a gorgon, the teeth of a hydra, the eyes of a medusa). It could also come from special occurences, like a meteorite or flawless gem like above.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Super Hero stuff

I've been running an irregular Northeast Florida Avengers game with my Thursday night gaming group. We use the Marvel Super Heroes rpg rules. I have the basic and advanced boxed sets, we mostly use the basic set for character creation. Its fun and incredibly silly.

I came across the free RPG homage/rip-off FASERIP, and it has a cool character creation system and updated power list. If I wanted to run a different iteration of this game I would probably opt for it. FASERIP changes a lot of terms, I guess for copyright reasons, but I like the original rank names because 1) I have them memorized, and 2) I have enough charts to roll on from all the other rulebooks. Here's my streamlined character creation guidelines:

All abilities start at Excellent (20) rank. Roll three times on the Random Ability Score table and boost each ability by +1. Roll three more times and lower each ability by -1. These can stack or cancel each other out.

You have 8 points to spend on powers. Roll eight times on the Power Acquisition Table and the related Random Power Tables to determine eight powers. You probably won't keep all 8 powers, but you can if you like. All powers start at Good (10) rank, and cannot be advanced to more than Amazing (50) at character creation. You can increase or modify powers in a few ways:

You can drop a power to increase any ability or power rank by +1. If you do this more than once for the same ability or power the cost goes up exponentially (two powers for the second +1, three powers for the third +1).

You can drop a power to increase a power with the same category by +1. Categores are Mental Powers, Attack Powers, etc.

You can use a "+1" to instead get a flexibility or alternate power listed under your power.

You can take a limitation listed under your power to get a +1 on that power.

You can drop a power to get two bonuses from this list: +1 Resources, +1 Popularity, or a random Talent. Resources and Popularity initially start at Typical (6).

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

The Portal Under the Stars

First session of Dungeon Crawl Classics last night!

I told everyone ahead of time that we would be creating four 0-level characters for the first session, and spent a little bit of time explaining the high death count, stripped-down rules, and sword & sorcery weirdness that defines the game. I allowed 4d6-L for ability scores, but still required they be in order (no rearranging) and stuck to random rolls for everything else. We even rolled on the random name chart in the back for PC names.

Some of the more interesting characters were Llambachis the orphan with a rag doll flail, Tharaskis the farmer with a hen, and Cambellio the caravan guard in the spider man suit (it might have been just the miniature, we never confirmed in-game).

We ran the Portal Under the Stars from the DCC rulebook. It wasn't as deadly as I thought it would be, but I might have run it a little too easy. Only two PCs died, so I told the players to pick two each to promote to 1st-level for now.

The napalm-spewing statue was fun. I think its supposed to just attack for 5 rounds in a row and run out of fuel, but since I initially described it as rotating slowly (about 180 degrees per round), the party spent a lot of time running around in circles keeping behind the arc of fire. So when somebody tried to disrupt the fire blast with a torch I let that disrupt the trap, but the character got burned to death in the resulting explosion.

Nobody touched the crystals in the pool, which was funny because they weren't dangerous unless they got greedy and damaged the floor too much. The clay army wasn't too difficult because they destroyed the skeletons on the top level, which meant the 7 generals were already disabled.

And they got a lot of loot for 0-level characters! Some quality equipment, and two demonic magic items. I made the snake-demon's horn a link to Demogorgon. The Prince of Demons was destroyed in my Savage Tide campaign years ago, so if they take him as a Patron they'll be able to summon his avatar, a shard of his destroyed form. I made the alien force in the crystal ball Tsathoggua, one of the Mythos gods. He's from Saturn and helps sorcerors apparently out of boredom, it seemed a good fit.

They also freed the crystal people, who returned to life in sunlight. They're an ancient race of humans who will need to adjust to a new world but could be an interesting role-playing opportunity.

I'm going to let several months pass to explain how everyone trained up to their new class abilities, and flesh out the world some more.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

So I couldn't sleep...

I'm nerdy enough that sometimes when I can't sleep I get D&D ideas and need to to get them down on paper. Or text file, whatever.

I've been wanting to do a stripped down, easy version of 4E for a while. Essentials is a good start, but those books are way too thick and disorganized for a beginner. And honestly, I like "beginner" versions of D&D.

Since this is my brainchild, I'm favoring Celtic-themed stuff. This means I can pull from Heroes of the Feywild liberally and reuse a lot of the Celtic campaign ideas I had way back when.

Anyway, here's the basics on ability scores and the Warpriest class at 1st level. It needs editing, this is the first draft.


There are three Ability Scores - Fortitude, Reflex, and Will.

Fortitude is physical strength and stamina. Your Fortitude bonus affects attack and damage with power weapons, your hit points and healing surges, and the Athletics and Endurance skills.

Reflex is agility, speed, and wits. Your Reflex bonus affects attack and damage with finesse weapons, Initiative, Armor Class in light armor, and the Acrobatics, Stealth, and Thievery skills.

Will is self-discipline, empathy, force of personality, and leadership. Your Will bonus affects most magic abilities, and the Heal, Insight, Nature, Bluff, and Streetwise skills. 

You start with a +3 bonus in one ability score, a +1 in another ability score, and +0 in the last.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Dungeon Crawl Cthulhu

One thing I want to do in my hypothetical upcoming DCC game is include lots of Mythos elements. I have all these cool figures from the Doom That Came to Atlantic City board game, and its a good way to make it weirder and different than normal D&D. Granted I won't be trying to play it as dark and horror-themed as a Lovecraft story, more like dabbling in it like a Conan or Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser story.

So I dug out my Cthulhu Dark Ages stuff (I got it online years ago before it was actually released as a book) and took some notes. Here's what I have:

The Otherworld is composed of the mists that reside between the spheres. Outside of normal reality disembodied spirits dwell, from ghosts to nature spirits to demons of ideas. Nothing there has material form, and isn't "real" in the sense we know it. Its a dreamland, a place of ideas and nightmares, not a parallel reality.

Ultimately the Otherworld is managed by Yog-Sothoth, but its ways are mysterious to mortals and it often has avatars like The Grey Wanderer. The Grey Wanderer is an Odin-like figure, patron of travellers, bards, and bandits alike. He can call wolf spirits to possess his followers, creating berserkers.

Elves are spirits from the Otherworld who have taken a material form to enter our realm (like the Fair Folk in Exalted). They have a dreamlike appearance and may manifest hints at their spiritual nature.

The Otherworld is ultimately a thing of Chaos, never a part of the material realm. It is a source of much magic.

Shub-Niggurath is a nature goddess. I really don't want this to be an "evil nature goddess" thing, but more like, "if you could grasp the totality of her you would go insane, just like any godly thing". She is the mother of orcs and goblins, as well as darker fae, slimes, and mutant plants and animals. Worshipped by Neutral Druids as a giver of life and death.

Cthulhu is an ancient enemy of man, so in a way comparable to Satan (the adversary). His cults will be standard "sacrifices and bonfires". He is connected to Deep Ones, which I've always wanted to highlight in a game. They're also comparable to Celtic fomorians, especially as presented in Slaine.

Dragons are cthulhu-spawn. Ancient beings, poisonous and hateful towards humans. I have 4 different green dragon figures I want to use as specific dragons in the setting. One will be named Corpsegrinder, because dragons are depicted as living underground and eating the dead.

Giants are "children of earth and sky", meaning part human and part supernatural. Every giant will have a connection to something more powerful. They used to be great in number, but are almost gone from the world now.

Nyarlathotep is the shapeshifting trickster god, like Loki. He sows chaos, begets monsters, and guides witches. He might be simply The Black Man.

Tsathogguah is another rare Mythos entity that seems to want to interact with mortals. He is patron to sorcerors, and if I use the Portal Under the Stairs intro adventure he will be the alien force that helped the ancient wizard.

Appendix N

Appendix N was a list of suggested reading in the AD&D Dungeon Master's Guide. Its Gary Gygax's list of stories, novels, and authors that inspired Dungeons and Dragons.

Its interesting that overall its much more Sword and Sorcery than high fantasy, more pulp than epic, more Conan than Lord of the Rings. Gygax claimed that he only pushed so many Tolkien elements into the game to appeal to a larger fan base. That's arguable, its also possible he was bitter at Tolkien's estate for making him change names (Ent to treant, hobbit to halfling, Balrog to Balor, etc.). Regardless, there's a LOT more going on in D&D than just Lord of the Rings ripoffs.

Appendix N is the inspiration for Dungeon Crawl Classics, an attempt to put more weirdness into fantasy. As someone who likes D&D but is sick of a lot of the tropes, this appeals to me.

Anyway, there's this awesome series on where two guys are reading and commenting on authors from Appendix N: Advanced Readings in Dungeons & Dragons. There's some really interesting analysis on what parts of these stories made it into D&D, both from Gygax's direct influence and their impression on players as the game grew.

Related there's an article about Orcs that touches on some thoughts about racism in Tolkien that have been bumping around in my head (short version: its complicated, and I think its in the spirit of the author to talk about it).