Friday, 28 December 2018

Monster Design from Classics - The Lich

The Cocktail Codex makes the bold claim that there are only six cocktails, with all recipes able to be linked at least tangentially to one of these root recipes. So a Martini is defined by the relationship between spirit (gin) and aromatised wine (vermouth), so a Manhattan is simply a relative that uses whiskey instead of gin, sweet vermouth in place of dry, and bitters added for seasoning the added sweetness. 

So what’s the point of all this beyond theory and list-making? It’s really an exercise to demonstrate how new recipes can be created around classic structures, and understanding how to make changes without screwing up what makes the classic work.

Can we do the same for Monsters? It’s not a perfect fit, but let’s try one.

The Lich

The Classic
While dark wizards might seem like the true root, Liches feel much more iconic to me.

STR 7, DEX 7, CHA 18, 15hp. Ceremonial Dagger (d6), Lots of Spells.

The Orthodoxy
  • Great magical powers
  • Physically weak
  • Themes of greed and immortality
Experimenting with the Core

In this case the core of the Lich is its magical powers, which contrast its physical weakness.

We can move the focus to Psionics we get the Mind Flayer.

We can tighten down the magic powers to single extraordinary ability to give us the Medusa, Doppleganger, Dryad, and even the Rust Monster.

We can keep things closer to arcane magic and focus on a particular school to get classics like the evil Necromancer.

You can tip the balance slightly, giving them more modest magical powers in exchange for appearing in greater numbers and being a touch more hardy to get Drow and Gnomes that still rely on magic and trickery over their swords.

And of course the point of this is to help us create new monsters, so what if we focused on Summoning Magic?

The Elemental Conduit
STR 7, DEX 7, CHA 18. 12hp.
  • An elemental cultist that has given up their sapience to become a channel for elemental beings to enter our plane. 
  • They are humanoid but clearly made up of chunks of raw elements barely held together.
  • They want everything to return to raw elemental chaos, and can summon elementals at will. 
Experimenting with the Balance

The Lich's power is balanced by its weak physical form, classically a skeleton but sometimes taken to the demilich extreme of just a skull.

Another extreme take is going for the Brain in a Jar.

Giving the Lich a ghost form keeps them unable to have much physical impact, but gives them the added power of being immaterial, so you should pull back on their magical powers if you go in this direction.

The balance doesn’t have to be physical weakness, but could be other forms of physical restriction. An Aboleth is physically large but bound to water, and limited on where it can move. Some types of Demon or Devil can fit into the Lich mould but they can be banished to their home or otherwise controlled by magic. Vampires have a similar combination of physical power with serious weaknesses to balance their magical abilities.

So let’s make a new creation where the physical weakness is replaced with stupidity and a vulnerability.

Tome Golem
STR 15, DEX 5, CHA 5. D8 Smash. Lots of Spells.
  • Literally made out of spellbooks but doesn’t really understand them. Throws a random spell out in anger if provoked.
  • Drawn to absorb more spell tomes into its form.
  • Extremely flammable (any fire attacks get +d12). 
Experimenting with the Seasoning

The Seasoning is what binds the core and the balance together. A Lich that knows lots of spells but is physically weak isn’t interesting enough to throw into your game, but if they’re the last devotee of an ancient religion or the vain Prince of a ruined kingdom then you’ve got something to grip onto, a reason why they’re the way they are.

Most of the variants above change the seasoning from the classic, but let’s see if we can keep everything else the same.

Eternal Apprentice
STR 7, DEX 7, CHA 18. 16hp. Dagger (d6), Lots of Spells.
  • Doomed to eternally wander the tomb of their truly dead master, tidying up, checking everything is in order, sweeping the floor.
  • Can channel the power of their master if needed, but is woefully lacking in confidence and constantly scared of using the wrong spell.
  • Their spirit is released if the master’s corpse is destroyed.

Thursday, 20 December 2018

A Stocking of Oddities

Work continues on Electric Bastionland layout, editing, and same as every year I face an avalanche of work and social commitments in buildup to Christmas.

Expect a return to more frequent posts in the New Year, including a full update on the state of the upcoming Electric Bastionland crowdfunding campaign.

In the meantime, if you ever wanted a book built on Into the Odd's rules, but replacing my peasant-words with Patrick Stuart's artfully crafted prose, with some of the most fascinating art I've seen in any RPG product, you should go and back SILENT TITANS on Kickstarter right now.

Let's do some loosely Festive Oddities for your stocking to tide you over until January.

 Reindeer Bone
A shard of red bone carved into a spike (d6 damage). By using a mental trigger the wielder can have the spike fly forward at high speed, carrying them with it (d8 to anybody in the path) but it only stops when it hits something solid (d8 damage to the wielder). The wielder cannot let go once it is flying and cannot change the direction.

The Darkest Wolf
8hp, Two d6 Claws or d8 Bite. 
  • An almost entirely black wolf roaming on its hind legs and howling out challenges. 
  • Hates all traditionally "good" animals such as dogs, eagles, and deer. 
  • Compelled to obey spiders, ravens, snakes, or other animals that are considered evil or dark in character.

The Number Song

An effectively infinite song with nonsense lyrics that everybody subconsciously knows the words to. Once you start you can't stop until somebody willingly joins in and takes over the song from you.

Flesh Gorger

A red, cucumber sized leech that sleeps if left in a bag or pocket. Can be violently shaken to rouse it into a feeding rage. It will latch onto the next thing it can (targets get a DEX save, if they pass it latches onto you instead) and start to devour them for d8 damage each turn until removed (STR save). Easily removed by fire, ignores all other physical harm, regenerating itself while it is attached.

Mercy Hawk
6hp, STR 5, d6 Claws.
  • Trained hunting bird, skilfully catches its prey without leaving lasting damage. 
  • Will show the prey to their owner before releasing them. 
  • Turns on its owner if they refuse to show mercy. 

Wishing Star

A large white flower that blooms for just a few days each year. When made into a tea it works as a powerful hallucinogen, showing the drinker's most desired wishes coming true. When they return to normal they will find a small object on their person that they dragged out of the fantasy.

Repeater Globe

A room-sized glass dome filled with artificial snow. When powered up, anybody inside is covered in a blizzard and transported back to one day in their life. They relive this day as a passenger in their consciousness, unable to change the past, but can view every detail of the day.
The Poverty Prayer

A sickly-sweet rhyme about how being poor and hungry lets you truly appreciate your family and faith. A victim's name is invoked at the end of the prayer, and over the next three days they lose all of their wealth. However, if the victim embraces their poverty with good spirit the praying-individual will be stricken with disease in return.

See you all in January!

Monday, 3 December 2018

Electric Bastionland Preview - Deep Country

I talked about route mapping Bastion already. Here's a preview of how the same method can be used for Deep Country.

Wednesday, 28 November 2018

A Quiet November

So this month has been quiet on the blog because I've been grinding away at the layout for Electric Bastionland. There's lots left to do, but the skeleton is in place.

I wanted to have a physical thing to take to Dragonmeet this Saturday.

It's full of typos, the cover is hideous, and it needs lots of format work, but it's a real one-off thing that I can wave around in front of people, show off the initial pieces of awesome artwork by Luka Rejec, and give them an idea what to expect of the finished book.

Tuesday, 30 October 2018

Ritualising D&D Spells

I like the idea of spells that draw upon more concrete requirements than "Wizard, Level 4" or "3 uses per day".

Imagine Spells that any character can attempt, provided they learn about it and jump through the required in-world hoops.

I'm taking the spell list from Swords & Wizardry (from here because it's the easiest for me to work through) and seeing how they could be turned into Rituals.

The main consideration here is that this changes the spell by:
  • Making it usable by any person, no level restrictions.
  • Giving it a method or other means of restricting its use.
  • Keeping things system agnostic.
  • Making the spell more outright interesting while we're in there.
Here are some examples. I'm drawing on with spells beginning with A, but this is in no way a commitment to me re-writing every spell this way. 

Waking the Servant (Aerial Servant)
  • Ring bell of pure silver in the smoke of plants grown on a grave
  • Whisper a passage from a tome dependent on the current phase of the moon.
  • Command the bound spirit to fetch one thing up to the weight of a Horse. 
  • If the spirit cannot bring the object, the object is not the commander's legal property, or a command is not given within a few seconds, it goes insane and attacks whoever rang the bell until they are incapacitated (d10 crushing grasp, 5hp, immune to physical attacks). 
Feral Rebirth (Animal Growth)
  • Gather a number of creatures of the same breed equal to twice the normal litter size.
  • Pack the creatures into a wicker cage with no space left.
  • Cry out to the creatures in their own tongue. 
  • Shower the creatures in the blood of their predator or prey. 
  • Light the cage on fire.
  • The creatures will spring forth twice as strong and resilient and utterly feral until death. 
Invasive Species (Animal Summoning)

  • Wear the skin of a creature native to this area.
  • Use the blood of this creature to draw a symbolic representation of another animal on a natural surface (tree, cave wall etc).
  • The ritual calls forth a chosen creature not native to this area. The limit is one creature larger than a man, or three animals smaller than a man.
  • They burst out of the surface marked with the symbols. The animals obey the caster’s commands and nothing else, having lost all their natural instinct.
Death Spirits (Animate Dead)
  • In a graveyard, or site of a massacre or battle, perform an hour long poem and dance, remaining hooded and uninterrupted throughout.
  • Note that the site need not actually contain corpses.
  • After the initial hour, d12 Skeletons burst from the ground, and another d6 every hour left uninterrupted. If a 1 is rolled then no more corpses will appear and the site is dry of death energy. 
  • These creatures are minor spirits of death, not actual reanimated corpses, so they will serve you as long as it involves death.
Imbue with Soul (Animate Object)

  • Take one inanimate object that serves a function in a house, ie a chair, rug, or grandfather clock. 
  • Combine the entire hair of a crafts-person skilled in making that object into the wax of a candle. 
  • Light the candle and loudly chastise the object for not serving well. 
  • The animated object follows any commands as long as the candle burns, after which they return to inanimate. 
Stone Child (Animate Rock)

  • An area of natural, unshapen rock must be cleared of any loose stone, debris, gravel. 
  • A stone formed in the last day (commonly from magma) is ground to dust, formed into a paste with milk and spread over the area. 
  • The name of one of the Stone Children (there are twelve, guarded by druids) is called out repeatedly, then the ground struck with a pick to form a crack.
  • A shambling, 10ft tall stone elemental is born out of the ground. The elemental acts like a confused toddler, but has great strength. They can be easily influenced, but you have no real control over them. 

Scare-Circle (Anti-Animal Ward)

  • Lay out a 10ft circle of copper sticks during daylight and splash with clove-steeped alcohol. 
  • No animal (normal or giant) can enter the circle unless being carried by a human or similar. 
  • Animals within the circle cower and submit, and cannot leave without being carried. 
  • Non-animals can pass through the circle without effect, and removing even a single stick breaks its power. 

Saturday, 27 October 2018

Electric Bastionland Character Preview

Do you long for raw unedited sneak peeks of your most anticipated game of 2019? 

Today's your lucky day. 

Monday, 22 October 2018

Three Step Dungeons

I recently ran a group through the start of the Tomb of the Serpent King, and thoroughly enjoyed it. My dungeons often end up as ultra-non-linear piles of weird toys with a notable lack of anything that's an outright hazard or reward, and definite lack of a climax.

Sometimes it's nice to pull yourself a little closer to sanity, so I'm going to write a small dungeon that teaches players about its more unusual concepts as they are introduced, with a focus on leading towards a challenge for a reward, and multiple opportunities for an end-of-session climax.

In doing that I created a sort of procedure, because of course I did.

The Three Step Process:
  1. Introduce First Concept
  2. Introduce Second Concept
  3. Challenge involving both concepts and an additional twist, typically with a reward. 

First think of a bunch of interesting concepts you want to include in your dungeon. They can be monsters, items, hazards, or anything between.

You don’t really need to include things that are dead simple like “skeleton warriors” or “pit traps” but if you plan on putting a twist on them then add them in too. You can also skip out anything that has no real element of danger, say a crystal ball that lets you see other areas of the dungeon.

For this example let’s steal some fun stuff from other dungeons. Forget making a coherent theme for this, we’re just looking at how we would introduce these concepts.
  • The Green Devil Face
  • Wraiths
  • Portal Gun
  • Crossbow Snipers
  • Smoke Elementals
  • Reserve-Gravity
  • Quicksand
And we’ll be introducing them two at a time. This could be a small dungeon that only introduces two new concepts, or a sprawling dungeon comprised of smaller sections that each focus on two concepts.

The Introductions
Ideally this is an opportunity for the players to get information about the concept in a mostly safe way before it really challenges them. It needn't even be a direct encounter, the common example being a statuary that introduces the presence of a Medusa.

For the Reverse Gravity example you’d have a Reverse-Gravity room with one majorly obvious hazard so that they can get used to how it works, and the Sniper would be introduced as a lone sniper in an area with plenty of cover, and make them immediately visible (even if not immediately accessible). The Intro and the Challenge could even feature the same individual monster encountered in two separate environments, if the Intro leans towards a non-hostile introduction.

I lean pretty heavily into giving lots of information, so you may find that less works for your group.

The Challenge
Sometimes just combining the two concepts is enough, but usually it’s better to add something else in. Some ideas could be:
  • A beefed up version of the regular concept. 
  • Adding an “opposite” element to the monster, such as a hyper-intelligent variant of a previously dumb monster, or a pacifist version of a hostile monster. 
  • Adding a load of basic monsters.
  • An environment that makes things more difficult for the players. 
  • A restriction on how the players can act.
  • Removing a safety net that was previously in place.
  • Remember to put a reward in there, Treasure being the most obvious but even just passage to a new area would work. 

Adding Extra Stuff

If you go straight from concept one to concept two to a combination of both it can end up feeling quite game-y, like you're playing a Megaman level that's built around new enemies rather than a real place you're exploring. This isn’t a bad thing if that’s what you want, but if you want things to feel more organic then consider that a Three Step Dungeon need not be a Three Room Dungeon:

  • You can have simpler areas in between that don’t require introductions or just give some clues for the larger dungeon. 
  • You can include basic elements that don’t require explanation or previously introduced concepts. 
  • You can have nonlinear layout but keep the Introductions on the “main path” as best you can. 
Example- Wraiths in the Quickbog

We’ll assume this is a branch off a larger dungeon, linear except room 4 which branches off from room 3 as a dead end.
  1. Wraith (Intro 1) patrolling a hedge maze. 
  2. Precarious ladder. 
  3. Ghouls (let’s say these are civilised Ghouls, so more NPC than monster) hanging around Quickbog Patch (Intro 2). It's quicksand but gross and boggy. 
  4. Ghoul shrine (mostly just some fluff and to give the Ghouls a bit more territory to roam)
  5. Flooded cavern
  6. Treasure being guarded by three Wraiths, surrounded by Quickbog (Challenge)
This is all very vanilla so go back through and add another layer of detail on top. A nice trick is to add an unexpected or opposite element, rather than just adding another layer of the same coloured paint.
  1. Wraith patrolling a hedge maze is a pathetic lonely outcast looking for friends, but can’t help inflicting its chill touch. 
  2. Precarious ladder leads down a shaft, Ghoul Graffiti covers the walls and it’s mostly terrible poetry. 
  3. Ghouls hanging around Quickbog patch. They’re having a banquet, half sunk in the bog themselves, and arguing over which of them is going to give themselves up as the main course. 
  4. Ghoul shrine. The altar has a valuable crystal skull and the Ghouls say anybody that takes it is cursed. 
  5. Flooded cavern. A ghoul is chained to the bottom, doomed to drown forever. If rescued they reveal themselves to be a life-worshipping Ghoul-Heretic. 
  6. Treasure being guarded by three Wraiths, surrounded by Quickbog. The treasure is a helmet being worn by one of the Wraiths, the other two are jealous. 
Now what's happened is the Ghouls have almost ended up being too interesting to count as a basic element, but I figure they're fine if they're mostly interested in their own affairs, not hostile to the characters. 

Knock out a handful of these Three-Step Dungeons, have them branch off a hub area or lead into each other, and you've got yourself a decently sized dungeon ready for your next game.

It might look like this:

I messed up some of the labels in that diagram, but you get the point.

Each boxed-off section represents a Three Step Dungeon, with our example being D2. The hubs and "fluff" sections in between can still be fun, but they should either be safer areas or deal with simpler concepts that don't need introduction.

Oh and I should write up those monsters at least:

10hp (immune to physical damage). Chilling Touch (d10, ignores Armour)
  • Repelled by light or fire. 
  • Mostly want their tombs to be left alone. 
  • When a victim takes Critical Damage they will continue to drain them until they reach STR 0 and become a Wraith.

Civilised Ghoul
3hp, Claws (d6. Critical Damage: Bite to paralyse and drag away), Surprisingly Fancy Clothes. 
  • Revel in the macabre.
  • Fetishise death but have no appetite for killing. 
  • Try to maintain their humanity in spite of their horrible lives.