Friday, April 29, 2016

Horror Stories if They Took Place in the World of Kult

Warning: Possible Spoilers

Silent Hill 1 and 3 offer glimpses into Metropolis and/or Inferno. Silent Hill 2 takes place in a Purgatory. Silent Hill 4 involves a Dream World.

Condemned: Criminal Origins and Condemned 2: Bloodshot involve parts of Metropolis, especially the Labyrinth.

The Suffering and The Suffering: Ties That Bind depict what would happen if something in the Illusion went horribly wrong and creatures from Metropolis and Inferno broke into mainstream reality and started going apeshit. Likewise with the Doom series, although the invaders in that series would strictly come from Inferno.

The X Files is what would happen if the former and present servants of the Demiurge were too incompetent to completely hide their presence, but still competent enough to make those who discovered them think they were aliens and Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster and shit.

True Detective demonstrates how you can fight the supernatural forces of evil (or at least the human servants of those forces) without ever realizing that there's anything supernatural going on. The cult in True Detective's first season is analogous to the Lodge in Kult.

Harvester depicts the standard recruitment procedures of a particularly weird cult in Kult. The same probably goes for Videodrome and Kill List.

Postal 2 is a depiction of life as a person with a low mental balance, almost no shame, a propensity for violence, and enough undeserved luck to actually enjoy insanity. Jacob's Ladder, Eraserhead, The Shining, and many stories in Fuan no Tane (Seeds of Anxiety) depict variations on the much more common and much less fun form of insantiy. Remember that insanity often results from or leads to supernatural experiences and encounters with Metropolis and other worlds.
EDIT: I just started working my way through Legions of Darkness and read about how the Death Angel Thaumiel is connected in the game to conflict in the Middle East. This led to the realization that Spec Ops: The Line is another great example of what (unpleasant) insanity might look like in Kult, especially if you want to focus on the "War is Hell" theme.

Blood is what happens when someone like the Postal Guy becomes an undead powerhouse and battles the forces of Astaroth on Earth.

Dawn of the Dead is what happens when the human race starts realizing en masse that they don't actually have to go to Inferno and decide to just hang around on Earth. There's plenty of room in Hell, but no one gives a shit.

1408 depicts a portal to a very strange part of Inferno. The Beyond and The Gate include such portals as well. Event Horizon has a portal to a pretty typical part of Inferno, but In Space.

Hellraiser, Cigarette Burns, Oculus, and strangely enough, Raiders of the Lost Ark show off the kinds of magic artifacts that players are likely to find in Kult.

Antichrist is an example of what happens when people are so eager to be punished for their sins that they can't even wait to die or travel to another world before getting started. Alternatively, it's what happens when people with low mental balance start dragging bits of Gaia into the mainstream reality.

As Above, So Below demonstrates how going far enough underground in a city on Earth can lead one to the Labyrinth in Metropolis.

Absentia shows how a stray portal to Metropolis can ruin the lives of innocent people who don't actually go through the portal.

A Nightmare on Elm Street shows how Dream Magic can be used to terrible effect.

Dark City is...just watch it. It's great. Watch the director's cut if possible.

I make some more connections between Kult and other works in this post.

Kult - Setting Ideas

Having recently read the first American edition of Kult's rulebook (or at least the "fluff"), I've been pondering the setting quite a bit. There are some things I would change or build on if I were to run it. Might as well share!

Keep in mind that some of these topics may have already been addressed in later editions of Kult. I wouldn't know, yet. I also still need to read Legions of Darkness (and maybe the Metropolis sourcebook if I can get it for a decent price). These are just some rough ideas. Some may contradict the "canon," while others might fit in well with it. I apologize if I'm doing any injustice to Kult here. These ideas just represent my own preferences for this kind of game.

Why are Lictors and other ancient monsters often made partially out of plastic or modern machinery?
Well, time is an illusion, or at the very least our linear, one-dimensional, always-moving perception of time is an illusion, so it's not impossible for a fucking cyberdemon to show up in ancient Babylon or whatever. But time and space do affect the servants (and former servants) of the Demiurge to some degree within the Illusion, which is why you can occasionally run and hide from Lictors and such. So the "time is an illusion" bit is not by itself an entirely satisfactory answer.

The truth is that the Illusion works, to some extent, by using humans' latent divinity against them. It warps their powers and perceptions so that they unknowingly create their own prison. This is why Awakened people have what appear to others as reality-warping powers within the Illusion - they have stopped allowing their powers to be directed against them. In a sense, we power our own prison the way those trapped in the Matrix power theirs, except instead of serving as a mere power source, we serve as the system's processors, which may have been the film's original concept.

The Illusion responds to our thoughts and expectations. Monsters with "modern" parts look and work the way they do because they are partially formed and controlled by our own fears, anxieties, and obsessions - as a whole species if not individually. Perhaps a Lictor encountered in medieval Japan would look like an Oni. Maybe a Lictor would have appeared to Dante Alighieri as a stereotypical demon with horns and a pitchfork. In the world of the late 20th and early 21st Century, monsters tend to look like something out of Hellraiser or The Suffering or Silent Hill because those kinds of aesthetics reflect the minds of a majority of the Illusion's prisoners.

Then again, since time is an illusion, if enough people in the modern era have thoughts and fears about modern things to influence the Lictors and their ilk strongly and consistently enough, even to the point of outnumbering or overpowering the thoughts and fears of the past, they could conceivably affect the forms and appearances of such creatures far in the past and future, so that boogeymen of plastic and titanium could theoretically menace people even in ancient times before such things were "invented." Maybe the Illusion is weaker against modern thought because the Demiurge disappeared in modern times, so monsters in the past are taking modern forms retroactively.

Or maybe most of history is a lie, and the Illusion has always been a "modern" setting. There are plenty of options here.

In terms of "crunch," a Lictor might have slightly different stats and abilities when taking different forms, but many of their supernatural powers and other features will probably remain the same. A fire-and-brimstone demon and a rotting, corpulent cyborg can both have telekinesis, for example.

Metropolis, Gaia, and Other Places "Beyond Reality"
The other "worlds" in Kult are often presented as if they are part of the true reality beyond the Illusion. This is false. The only sure way to escape the Illusion is to Awaken. Prisoners of the Illusion often find themselves in Metropolis or other strange places and think they have peeked behind the curtain, so to speak, but they are simply exploring the curtain itself.

Metropolis is one part behind-the-scenes operating system shell, one part glitchy, leftover crap and test maps from the game engine, and one part Employees Only section of the prison. Ditto for Gaia. Inferno and the various Purgatories are special areas of the Illusion used to scrub "dead" prisoners of their memories and personality traits between reincarnations. All of this is still within the Illusion. Metaphorically speaking, these worlds are slightly closer to reality, but not by enough to really give non-Awakened people anything really resembling what absolute true reality is like.

Elysium
It doesn't exist, strictly speaking. The Demiurge's palace was in Metropolis; he didn't need a Heaven to live in. The Demiurge was also too much of an asshole to provide a reward for his prisoners even when they play nice, so people with a high mental balance still typically wind up in Inferno or a Purgatory. On the plus side, the Purgatory of someone with a high mental balance is probably a lot more pleasant than that of someone with a low balance. Probably. Maybe.

Alternatively, Elysium could just be the inside of the Demiurge's palace in Metropolis, so when the palace disappeared, so did Elysium. Or Elysium still exists, but in the form of the Abyss. If the players manage to find and enter Elysium, they'd have access to things Astaroth would do anything to see - or else they'd get a taste of whatever horrors Astaroth experienced in the Abyss.

"Magic" and other Supernatural Powers
When humans perform magic, tap into ESP, direct the flow of Ki, or whatever, they are tapping into a small portion of the divine power they do not know they have and using it to alter or "hack" the Illusion. The more belief in your own divinity you have, the closer to being Awakened you are, the more supernatural power you can wield. Of course, this can backfire by attracting the attention of some rather unpleasant creatures, many of which have a vested interest in protecting the integrity of the Illusion.

Vortex and the Dream World
Vortex is a piece of the Illusion's "machinery." It generates the raw sensory input used by the Illusion to deceive and control the human race. Things like the smell of cooked chicken, the color red, and the feeling of your foot going to sleep are produced and pumped out by Vortex, at which point they are distributed throughout the Illusion as needed.

Dream Magic, lucid dreaming, etc. are basically the use of a person's unconscious mind to perform magic which taps into and subverts the power of Vortex. Dream Worlds are basically private little cyst-worlds in the Illusion, much like Purgatories. Getting too close to Vortex drives people insane because of sheer sensory overload combined with the mind's futile attempts to piece a bunch of unrelated and constantly-changing sensations into some kind of pattern.

Sex
Despite what the rulebook says, sexuality is not "original." Like hunger and thirst, it is part of the Illusion. Sexual experiences can grant supernatural power because they can be intense, shocking, or incredibly emotional, not because sex itself is particularly special. Outside of the Illusion, Awakened humans have no need for sexual reproduction and its attendant biological and evolutionary quirks. The experience of Reality is alien to almost anything that can be experienced within the Illusion.

Achlys
I'm tempted to discard the concept of Achlys from the setting altogether and give She Who Waits Below something else to guard. I don't like the idea that non-Awakened people can escape the Illusion in any way besides Awakening, even through complete self-annihilation. If I were to keep Achlys in the game, I would probably try to come up with some explanation of its purpose in relation to the Illusion. At any rate, I would at least keep the Labyrinth and She Who Waits Below because they're pretty cool.

The Chicken or the Egg?
Did the Demiurge disappear because of the Enlightment and other revolutions in human thought, or did those revolutions occur because the Demiurge was no longer there to prevent them? Who knows?

The Legions of the Damned on Earth
I would probably reduce the number of Astaroth's legionanaires who are already on Earth (i.e. in the part of the Illusion inhabited by un-Awakened people and designed as their collective prison cell) from the figure of one million given in the rulebook. Assuming that the (former) servants of the Demiurge are not as powerful as either the Demiurge himself or fully Awakened humans, they are not completely omnipotent and omniscient. Thus, it would probably be hard for Astaroth's earthly cult to hide a million inhuman soldiers for very long when many of them are actively fighting in war zones. Sure, the governments of the world are in the pockets of the Archons and Death Angels, but even that can only go so far to prevent information leaks and the resulting damage to the Illusion. Maybe I'm giving people too much credit here, or giving their captors too little credit, but the Legions of the Damned just seem a little silly as presented. I think it would make more sense for Astaroth to wait until the main phase of his invasion is about to begin before sending in such a huge number of troops. Unless I'm running a campaign that heavily involves the "Astaroth is about to invade the Earth" plot hook, I would probably tone the Legions down a bit.

Nosferatu
I would probably leave Nosferatu out of the game, but if I were to include them, they would be an unintentional byproduct of humans tinkering with magic, rather than anything intentionally created by the Demiurge or his servants. Like Dream Worlds, they are only able to exist because the Demiurge is no longer around to give orders to his servants who control the Illusion, and now those servants aren't doing such a great job of maintaining the system. More and more people are getting in touch with their divinity in small ways without realizing the origin of their power. Thus, more vampires, more magicians, more psychics, more ghosts, and more weird shit all around.

A final note: there is a lot of fan-made material out there you can mine for ideas and inspiration. I recommend checking out The Last Cycle. Be warned, of course, that this material is Not Safe For Work.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Roll for Keepsies - Replacement Characters in LotFP

If my understanding is correct, in a lot of Lamentations of the Flame Princess campaigns, if a PC dies, the player has to roll up a new one at Level 1 with 0 XP. There isn't anything necessarily wrong with that, but I just thought of another possible idea that might also be fun.

When a PC dies, the player rolls a d100. The result is the percentage of their dead character's XP that their new character gets to start with. I would personally round up if the resulting XP isn't a whole number, but it wouldn't matter much.

Even if a player only gets to keep 1% of their XP for their new character, that's still more than nothing (unless their last character died at 0 XP). If they get to keep 100% of it, hey, it's that player's lucky day! Most likely, it'll be somewhere in between, which means there will still be a penalty for dying, but not quite as harsh of one as losing all XP. There's also the added benefit of gambling for something important, which is often exciting in RPGs.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Lucius Sanzio, LotFP Magic-User

This is yet another character for an online game of LotFP I'm hoping to play on Facebook. I used this character generator for stats and equipment.

Lucius Sanzio, Magic-User, Chaotic
Male, 5'10" tall, Brown hair and eyes, 29 years old, elaborate clothing
Level 3, 4,500 XP
CHA 8 (-1)
CON 13 (+1)
DEX 11 (+0)
INT 17 (+2)
STR 11 (+0)
WIS 8 (-1)
HP 13/13 = Full HP at first level (1d6+1), 1+Con at second level (1d4+1), 3+Con at third level (1d4+1)
AC 14
Saves: Paralyze 13, Poison 13, Breath 16, Device 13, Magic 14
(+2 to all Magic-Related Saves, -1 to all Mundane Saves)
BAB +1 MAB +1 RAB +1
Skills: Languages 3 (INT Bonus), All Others 1
Weapons: Sword +1 1d8, Dagger +1 1d4, Garotte +1 1d6 (must attack from surprise or grapple), Shortbow +1 1d6
Encumbrance: 12 Items=2 points, Lightly Encumbered
(If stacking of the same item type is allowed, 9 Items=1 point, Unencumbered)
Equipment (I pretty much just gave him first-level starting equipment. Let's say he blew some money wenching.)
Spellbook
Leather Armor*
Standard Sword
2 Daggers
Garotte*
Chalk*
Soap*
3 Torches
Backpack*
Sack*
Tinderbox
50' Rope
Shortbow
Quiver - 20 Arrows
1 Day's Iron Rations
Steel Mirror*
11 Cp*
*=Non-Encumbering
Spells Per Day: 2 First Level, 1 Second Level
Spells Known
First Level: Read Magic, Mending, Detect Magic, Shield, Light
Second Level: Locate Object

Hailing from Italy, this explorer of arts dark and arcane has always been cool as ice...except when money or women are involved. He's always been a one-track lover, travelling down a two-way lane. But now that the temperature's too high, he should have known his lovin' was too hot to last...

AHEM. Sorry, let me try this again.

Hailing from Italy, Lucius has traveled to England in search of an elusive spell which is rumored to make charming the ladies as easy (and inexpensive) as breathing. He has already scoured Italy and Spain for such an incantation, and has come to England on the advice of Gareth Meringue, travelling warlock and English expatriate. Unfortunately, he can't seem to keep any coins in his pocket lately, so he needs to find some work before his quest can continue.

And he always finds himself looking over his shoulder, because he knows the mad conjurer Dean Thornton is also after the spell, and he is one tough customer...

He looks like this, except absolutely not nearly as handsome.
(Borrowed from HERE because it was a good image.)

Hugh Cain, LotFP Specialist

This is just a character for an online game of LotFP I'm hoping to play on Facebook. I used this character generator for stats and equipment.

Hugh Cain, Specialist, Neutral
Male, Short brown hair and blue eyes, 21 years old, drab clothing
Level 1, 0 XP
CHA 9 (+0)
CON 9 (+0)
DEX 13 (+1)
INT 9 (+0)
STR 11 (+0)
WIS 10 (+0)
HP 4/4
AC 15
Saves: Paralyze 14, Poison 16, Breath 15, Device 14, Magic 14
BAB +1 MAB +1 RAB +2
Skills: Climb 2, Search 2, Stealth 2, Sneak Attack 2, All Others 1
Weapons: Sword +1 1d8, Dagger +1 1d4 (+2 Thrown), Garotte +1 1d6 (must attack from surprise or grapple), Shortbow +2 1d6
Encumbrance: 12 Items=2 points, Lightly Encumbered
(If stacking of the same item type is allowed, 9 Items=1 point, Unencumbered)
Equipment
Leather Armor*
Specialist Tools
Standard Sword
2 Daggers
Garotte*
Chalk*
Soap*
3 Torches
Backpack*
Sack*
Tinderbox
50' Rope
Shortbow
Quiver - 20 Arrows
2 day's Rations
Steel Mirror*
1 Cp*
*=Non-Encumbering
(If my math is correct, the character generator must have given be about 160sp to start with. That's a high roll, but within possibility.)

Hugh Cain is a delivery man. He doesn't look in the package, he just delivers it. If it smells or feels weird, or if it wiggles or twitches or makes odd noises, who cares? From nobles to merchants to crime bosses, people in and around London trusted him to take items from Point A to Point B with the utmost haste and discretion. It didn't pay as much as one might think, but it was surprisingly steady work and it earned him a reputation in the underworld as someone trustworthy and efficient. It was only a matter of time before someone asked him to help with a more interesting and lucrative task.

Then one night someone didn't like their delivery and decided to take it out on the delivery man instead of the sender. Hugh was forced to flee, grievously wounding the angry client in the process. He decided it might be best to get out of the city for a while. Now he's looking for whatever work he can get - preferably something quiet yet entertaining. After all, Hugh gets bored too easily for farm work. He likes to keep moving.

He looks like this, except not nearly as handsome.
(Borrowed from HERE because it was a good image.)

Friday, April 22, 2016

Sex in RPGs (NSFW of course)

As I continue to delve into Kult, I find more and more unexpected bits. In the version of the core rulebook I've been reading (1st American Edition), there's a list of suggested (not necessary, but just suggested) events that could occur, and if I'm interpreting the book correctly, the player characters are meant to be able to partake in these activities if they so wish. There's a lot of stuff you usually see in horror RPGs, like surveillance, infiltration, travel, magic rituals, combat, death, escape, and so on. But it also lists "Love and seduction" as well as "Sex." There's also a section of the book describing passions (often of a sexual nature) that can take over a character's life and cause supernatural things to happen, and it is clear that this can happen to PCs, although it does warn the GM not to allow this to happen to a character whose player is not comfortable with it.

Sex seems to be a sticky subject (snicker) for a lot of RPG players. Sexual material honestly hasn't been lacking in our Lamentations of the Fallen Lords campaign; nobody seems to shy away from it, mostly because it's funny but also because I think there's a certain transgressive-yet-harmless aspect to it that adds color to the game. On the other hand, I have a great deal of sympathy for groups who completely or almost completely avoid sexual material in their games, since that kind of thing can get extremely awkward, even creepy, at the speed of light. Even our group generally keeps sexual encounters involving an actual PC kind of vague, with most of the specific "action" being implied. The way I see it, it's fine as long as it's enthusiastic and consensual.

I just realized that makes it sound like our games are basically orgies. Hey, at least my wife is there.

You know what? I might as well give a quick, non-comprehensive list of sexual stuff that's come up in the campaign. It might be amusing.

  • The Pale Lady (in the adventure named for her) offered to help the party if one of the party members with magical abilities impregnated her so she could continue her experiments with more offspring. One's sex was not an issue, since the Pale Lady had a potion on hand that would temporarily grant male genitalia to any woman who drank it. The party decided to distract her with the offer of sex while setting up an ambush. Willow, a female Journeyman, took the potion and came this close to actually getting intimate with the Pale Lady before the rest of the party sprung their trap and killed her. When Willow drank the potion, the group insisted I roll randomly to determine her penis length. I decided it would be 1d12 inches. I think I rolled a 2 or something - I'll have to ask if anyone remembers. Ever since then, the players have constantly requested I roll a d12 for male NPCs whenever sex seems likely.
  • In Fuck for Satan, Jewbaba the Warrior (hey, I didn't pick the name) stuck an alien up his own ass. I felt so bad for the poor thing. This same character wanted to have relations with a horse in the earlier adventure Tales of the Scarecrow, but to his disappointment, they were all dead. I guess he didn't see a point in beating off a dead horse.
  • No Salvation for Witches contained all kinds of sexual content. The leader of the coven of witches went around naked, and while nudity is not inherently sexual, Orelia was deliberately making a statement about gender inequality, so it was at least sexual in that respect. Also, some of the treasure the players found was in the form of expensive pornographic art, and at one point one of the party's Mages attacked a monster with a golden dildo while invisible and flying. I'm sure there's other stuff I'm forgetting.
  • When the party first met Joop van Ooms at his house, they did some magic drugs with him. This made the party's Dwarf Muira horny, so she slept with Henry VII. I rolled the d12. He got a 12. He seemed confused by the encounter, but not displeased, since he had always wondered what sex with a dwarf was like.
  • At some point, Muira also started wearing a necklace of tiny fake penises. Sometimes she adds more dicks to it.
  • A secret sex club in the city of Tandem was wiped out by mysterious monsters. The party investigated and found out it was the work of Hymenials, monsters from Lusus Naturae. They killed the monsters and saved the employees and patrons of a brothel (many of whom were in flagrante delicto) in the process. The party's other Mage also started seeing a prostitute named Candy.
  • Death Love Doom used sexual material in a number of ways I won't spoil here. I'll probably go into detail when I get around to writing our actual play reports.
  • In Hammers of the God, a random magical effect summoned a green-skinned woman from Carcosa named The Bright Dominator, who instantly latched onto Raziel, another Journeyman. She refuses to wear clothes and insists on making wild, passionate love to Raziel every night, which heals him to full HP but annoys his fellow adventurers. She also has 1 HP and refuses to leave Raziel's side. He's actually been getting a bit fed up with her.
  • In The Idea from Space, Willow and a Warrior who sometimes joins the party (unfortunately, I forget the character's name at the moment) made a sort of deal with a god of strength. The god would give them a boon if they performed a series of tasks within a limited amount of time, but would punish them if they did not. The tasks involved fucking, killing, and eating somebody. One of the pair (I think it was the Warrior) asked if swallowing the semen of the person they fuck-murdered would count as eating him. I said "why not." The two of them picked out a mutated, musclebound cultist of the god, double-teamed him, then beat him up and killed him. They got the god's boon. The sex was kind of average at best, since the mutant just plowed away with little regard for technique. Still, the players were satisfied that the plan worked.
I know there's a lot more stuff I'm forgetting. Anyway, my friends seem to embrace this kind of stuff, but it just wouldn't work in other groups. You really have to know your audience (or rather, collaborators). I could see some people being uncomfortable with their significant others playing in more explicit games, too. Where do you draw the line between, say, a ranchy play-by-email RPG and cybersex? I think there's a lot of difference, but not everyone will see it that way. Comfort is key here.

Still, everyone I play with is an adult and my friend. I trust them to communicate their feelings about the game's subject matter to me and each other, and I think we all respect each other's boundaries. It especially makes sense for deliberately transgressive RPGs like Kult and LotFP to put the possibility of sex on the table (giggle). Even AD&D had that Random Harlot Table. If someone out there wants to turn their game into an orgy, fictional or otherwise, and all parties involved participate in a safe, sane, ethical, consensual manner, more power to them. I'm not the RPG police.

Increasing Ability Scores (LotFP House Rule Idea)

This is just a little idea I had for Lamentations of the Flame Princess. It could more-or-less be used the same way in most versions of D&D. I haven't playtested it yet, but I wanted to jot it down.

Ignore the primary ability scores and just use the bonuses. Ability scores now simply cover a continuum from -3 to +3.  All characters start at first level with two ability scores at +3 (equivalent to a score of 18), three scores at 0 (equivalent to the 9-12 ranges), and one score at -3 (equivalent to a score of 3). Use a different array of ability scores if you prefer. You can have players choose which abilities get which scores, or you can determine it randomly in true old-school fashion.

If you're using the Playtest Document 0.1 rules, ability scores would go from -2 to +2 instead, with these numbers being shorthand for the five tiers of ability score bonuses, like how Con makes HP goes from d4 at the lowest to d12 at the highest.

If you want to start PCs at level 0 instead of 1, you could make one of the +3 scores another 0, and let them bump one of the 0 scores up to +3 if they manage to claw their way to level 1. Or you could start level 0 characters with scores of 0 across the board and cruelly make them pick a score to drop to -3 along with two scores to raise to +3 if they manage to level up. This could reflect some kind of injury or trauma they suffered during their first adventure, like what happened to the Flame Princess' leg and fingers, or massive sanity loss, or some jacked-up facial disfiguring.

Whatever the case, whenever a PC reaches a new level (2 or higher), they get to pick one ability score bonus to increase by one point. At level 2, a PC could make that -3 into a -2, or make one of those 0 scores into a +1. Likewise, if a PC loses a level, they have to pick an ability score to decrease by one step, or the DM could make them determine an ability score to decrease randomly. If my math is right, in the current LotFP rules, all ability scores could be maxed out by level 16, and in the Playtest rules they would be maxed out by level 11. If this seems too nice, keep in mind that with LotFP's steep experience point requirements (especially in the Playtest rules), characters usually don't even survive to level 11. If they do, I think they've earned some better ability scores!

If you're playing an adventure with monsters/traps/items that drain ability scores directly, consider limiting any single instance of ability score drain to one point, since this new range of scores only goes from -3 to +3 (or -2 to +2) instead of 3-18. In this setup, losing one point would already often be the equivalent of losing several points in the vanilla rules. Ability score drain could be used to offset the constant increase per level if the DM thinks what I've proposed is too rapid, although characters should still generally have a fair chance to avoid ability drain, of course.

Honestly, one of my least-favorite aspects of old-school D&D and games derived from it is the concept of ability scores that do not increase with a character's level. If I wanted to explore the concept of one's capabilities being mostly determined by one's birth/station/other immutable factors through the mechanism of almost-unchanging PC statistics and abilities, I probably would not choose to do so in a fantasy adventure game that holds as one of its main draws the ability to become more powerful and competent (and sometimes more heroic) over time. I get that LotFP is kind of a pessimistic, horrific take on D&D, but the lack of non-magical ability progression still feels more disappointing than fulfilling. I mean, if the only reason you're keeping levels at all is to use the promise of experience points as a carrot to lure players into awful places that they're better off not exploring and would enter under absolutely no other circumstances, a promise that often leads to disappointment due to the the game's difficulty and themes of pessimism and horror, why not just get rid of levels altogether? Why half-ass things by cutting down character advancement to almost nothing? I'm sure a group that really wants to play a horror version of D&D could brainstorm together and quickly come up with some other justifications for adventuring. People go on dangerous adventures in Call of Cthulhu, after all, and those folks are usually pasty academics and assorted nobodies, not hardy adventurers.

Well, I guess keeping a leveling system helps with compatibility between LotFP and other games, which helps Mr. Raggi make money, and I absolutely can't blame him for that, especially since I fucking love his work. But that's not a satisfying enough reason to keep things working the same way at my table.

I also think it's a little silly that PCs can't get stronger through exercise, or wiser through their experiences over time, or what have you. (See what I did there?)

Maybe I just feel this way because I'm used to the way RPGs are done in video games, where there usually isn't a statistic displayed in a menu that you can't improve through use or experience. I just don't think mostly-static ability scores make a lot of sense, from the standpoint of game design, the game's themes, or "fun" (there's that word Mr. Raggi doesn't like). I could be missing the point here, but I think more is gained than lost by allowing ability score improvements with leveling up. Besides, I prefer to have leveling up be a big deal, and I think increasing ability scores help with that.

That's just my two copper pieces on the subject.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Reality-Warping Dwarves

(This pertains to my Lamentations of the Fall Lords setting based on the Myth video game series. More information about the Dwarf class in our campaign can be found HERE and HERE.)

If you were to take almost any piece of advanced dwarven technology (a dwarven explosive charge, for example) and transport it to a world which did not contain any member of the Myth world's dwarven race, it would not work. It would almost work, and one or two minor changes (say, a different ingredient in the explosive's chemical recipe) would usually be sufficient to restore functionality, but it would not actually work as-is.

Unbeknownst to them, the dwarven people are reality-warpers, who unconsciously and unwittingly exercise some minor control over the laws of physics in their environment. The Fey (elves, fairies, and their ilk) have similar unconscious reality-changing properties, and even though the Fey seem to be newcomers to the world of Myth, it is possible that they somehow share a common origin or ancestor with the dwarven species.

When a dwarf truly and fully believes beyond all doubt that something that they or another dwarf crafted is going to work, it generally does, provided it is close enough to something that would work otherwise. Determining what counts as close enough would require much study. Since dwarves are culturally inclined to have a great deal of faith and confidence in their work, they tend to build things that function even if they "shouldn't."

Basically, they're like the Orks from Warhammer 40,000.

When a dwarven inventor gets incredibly close to having a breakthrough, instead of putting in that final bit of work needed to have their "Eureka!" moment, they just go ahead and have that moment because the local fabric of reality changes itself to make things function as the inventor expects. This goes for architects and engineers, as well; many dwarf-built structures could not stand if other beings tried to craft them on other worlds. Dwarves cannot control this ability and do not even know it exists.

This is a very weak, low-level effect that does not seem to apply equally in all cases. Almost no one even suspects that dwarves have this inherent power, since the tech-level of the Myth world is rather low outside of the inventions of dwarven scientists and human mages, the latter of which almost exclusively creates technology which explicitly makes use of magic. Few understand the laws of physics, chemistry, etc. enough to consider the possibility that something odd is going on with the supposedly non-magical technology they encounter. Even if they did, what evidence would they have? Dwarven technology works in a repeatable, verifiable way in the world of Myth, so who's to say that something is "wrong?"

It doesn't help that spells like Dispel Magic and Anti-Magic Shell do not disable dwarven technology unless they are cast by someone of at least Level 20. The reality-warping effect is only weak in the sense that forces like gravity are weak.

In theory, dwarven reality-warping could affect a much greater variety of things than just bombs, buildings, and the like. However, the Dwarven Kingdom is still recovering from many social/cultural setbacks resulting from the various Dark Ages as well as their own unique struggles throughout history (as depicted in Hammers of the God). In dwarven society, scientific thinking may be relatively uninhibited, but cultural thinking is still fairly rigid. Such rigidity may strengthen certain beliefs, but it also leads to a lack of imagination in many aspects of thought.

When the dwarves first arrived by whatever means in the world of Myth, deep in prerecorded history, their powers may have reacted to their environment in such a way as to shape their physiology. If they had ended up living in forests instead of mountains and caves, they might have become willowy creatures with a supernatural aptitude for woodworking and herbal medicine.

If the dwarves were ever to discover their true potential, who knows what they would accomplish? Perhaps they would be a race of gods.

New house rule: As a character of the Dwarf class levels up, their belief in the success of their explosive weaponry becomes stronger. When a Dwarf character of at least Level 4 attacks with a dwarven explosive, any targets make their saving throws at a penalty of -1. This becomes -2 at Level 8, -3 at Level 12, -4 at Level 16, -5 at Level 20, -6 at Level 24, and -7 at Level 28.

Heron Guard Tournament

"Then he told me that next year the Heron Guard will be reinstating the septannual tournament to fill out their ranks. Men of bravery and warriors of renown from every corner of the empire will gather to compete for the honor of joining them."
-Myth II: Soulblighter

Starting in 2542 A.E., the Heron Guard have hosted a tournament every seven years in order to see who is worthy of recruitment. The next tournament will be held in 2843 A.E.

Anyone is welcome to apply, with the exception of those who have been found guilty of certain crimes like murder and treason. All Journeymen are expected to compete at least one in their lifetime, although there is not considered to be any shame in failing to make the cut. Thousands of others, generally Legion members, guards, and mercenaries, also flock to Muirthemne to compete in each tournament. No dwarves, fir'Bolg, or mages have ever won a spot in the Heron Guard, mostly because very few have ever competed, but there is technically no rule against such people joining the tournament.

Before the original transformation of the Heron Guard into Journeymen and the resulting dissolution of the tournament tradition, legend has it that only six or less people were actually chosen to join the ranks of the Heron Guard at the end of each tournament. Now that the tournaments have been reinstated, the average number of successful inductees has risen to an average of 100 per tournament, not counting a few even greater numbers in the first few tournaments of Emperor Alric's reign. With an empire to rebuild, and myrkridia, undead, and other dangerous beings infesting the wilds, more members were sorely needed.

The exact number of battles that one must win in order to join the Heron Guard varies depending on the number of entrants in the tournament and a set of esoteric rules enforced by the judges. Only the Emperor has the right to overrule the judges on any ruling in the tournament.

Perhaps the number one incentive for joining the Heron Guard is the promise of eternal life. They say that the first time any Jarl Root is used on a new member of the Heron Guard, that person becomes immortal. Violence can still kill the Heron Guard, of course, but death by old age is no longer a concern of theirs.

The tournament is a series of one-on-one battles. In the arena, the following rules apply:
  1. All fights are one-on-one only.
  2. Combatants must fight until one of them yields or can no longer fight, but not to the death if it can be helped. Leaving the arena during the fight counts as yielding. Cheating counts as yielding. Dying accidentally counts as yielding. Killing one's opponent on purpose counts as yielding, and the killed combatant will be posthumously inducted into the Heron Guard. Ties are decided by the judges.
  3. Only leather or chainmail armor is allowed. Fighting unarmored is also permitted.
  4. No magical weapons, armor, items, or spells are permitted inside the arena.
  5. No items or equipment other than basic clothing, one or two weapons (per combatant), armor, and/or a shield (in place of one weapon per combatant) are permitted inside the arena. Exceptions may only be authorized by the judges ahead of time on the basis of medical needs.
  6. No more than two weapons (including a shield) are permitted inside the arena (artificial limbs, for example).
  7. No poisons or unauthorized drugs or medicines are permitted inside the arena.
To determine one's competition in any given battle in the arena, roll on the following tables.

Opponent's Level (d20)
1 Roll on the Low Level Table below.
2-5 Level 7
6-9 Level 8
10-12 Level 9
13-15 Level 10
16-17 Level 11
18-19 Level 12
20 Level 13

Low Level Table (d20)
1-3 Level 1
4-6 Level 2
7-9 Level 3
10-12 Level 4
13-16 Level 5
17-20 Level 6

Opponent's Weaponry (d20)
1-10 Twin Longswords
11-14 Longsword and Shield
15-17 Greatsword or Greataxe
18-20 Polearm

Opponent's Armor (d10)
1-7 Chainmail
8-9 Leather
10 Roll 1d10 again. If the result is another 10, the opponent wears no armor. Otherwise, the opponent wears Leather.

Is the Opponent Cheating? (d100)
1-99 No
100 Yes. The DM decides how.

Roll 3d6 three times to determine the Constitution, Dexterity, and Strength scores of the opponent.

Any character who joins the Heron Guard changes their class to Journeyman. They retain their level of experience and gain all of the abilities of a Journeyman of the proper level, but forfeit all of their previous class abilities. They also gain an amount of additional experience equal to one-fourth (round down) of their current experience and three points to allocate to the ability score(s) of their choice. Once a spell is cast on the character from a Jarl Root, the character will no longer physically age. That last sentence may or may not be partially or completely true, at the DM's discretion, but if it is true for one member of the Heron Guard than it is true for all of them.

Friday, April 15, 2016

The Devil is a Time Traveller, or The Duvan'Ku Retcon

"You must understand, our presence here doesn't alter history. You and I meet here because we are compelled to, we have always met here. History is irredeemable. Drop a stone into a rushing river, the current simply courses around it and flows on as if the obstruction were never there. You and I are pebbles, Raziel, and have even less hope of disrupting the time-stream. The continuum of history is simply too strong, too resilient."
-Kain, Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver 2

"And as of that moment, he was gone, he got sucked in and he was zapped out of the past, present, and future, out of our memories. They have that power somehow, whoever 'they' are. But one night, me and John got really drunk and we sat around telling Todd Brinkmeyer stories, real stories, stories that happened but didn’t happen. I think of his face and sometimes I can see it, and it’s like a dream you can’t quite remember the next morning. And I go back and go over the chain of events and there’s places, holes where I know Todd should be. He was there and he helped us, Arnie. He fought with us. And I’m not even allowed to remember him, to mourn his death. At least Jim got a funeral. But Todd, I can’t find his picture in the yearbook. Can you even imagine what that’s like?"

-David Wong, John Dies at the End

(This pertains to my Lamentations of the Fall Lords setting based on the Myth video game series.)

Most mages don't grasp this, but necromancy is just a sub-school of chronomancy. You turn back time on the capabilities of rotting flesh and bleached bone without restoring the warmth, the physical wholeness in space, the smell and pulse of true biological life. You reverse time unevenly, to create something that is dead in the present yet acts like its living self in the past. Sometimes, in proportion to your skill and knowlege, you augment the past/present not-corpse/corpse as desired, with abilities it could have had in stillborn timelines. You give it flight from the universe in which it had bladders under its skin full of lighter-than-air gas, or energy-draining powers from the non-past in which it was a creature of the negative material plane.

If none of this makes sense to you, you're probably not a necromancer. Even if you are a necromancer, you might not understand this.

If a teacup falls on the floor and shatters, one could repair it with a localized time-reversal spell. Using necromancy, one could imbue a shard of that teacup with some of the properties of the entire, full teacup. Pour tea on it and the liquid would float in the air, contained by invisible boundaries, the ghost of the teacup. Anything you can do to a teacup, you can do to a human body. A ghost is not a soul, it's an incomplete reversal of time. An animated corpse is just animated by part of its former self.

So if necromancy is just chronomancy, why did the Fallen Lords show such a complete lack of imagination? Why attempt to conquer the world with slow, stupid, destructible armies of undead when they could have turned the bodies of their enemies into super-heated gas from moments after the big bang, or turned their enemies' food supplies back into seeds, soil, water, and sunlight? The Fallen Lords were masters of necromancy, so why apply it only to mere meat?

Because necromancy did not always work this way. Or rather, it did always work this way, but only because history was changed retroactively.

The Duvan'Ku were, depending on which place and time you're talking about, either a religion or a nation or a school of magic or a secret society or a species or a boogeyman or a demon or a god or all of the above. The facts that remain constant are these: they are evil, they worship death and all its attendant miseries, their power comes from the manipulation of death via the manipulation of time, and they work to insert themselves into the histories of as many worlds in as many universes as possible.

The Duvan'Ku did not always exist in the Myth universe. When the Cycle was broken (or delayed, depending on who you ask) at the end of the Soulblighter War, the world lost some of its insulation from the other worlds in the multiverse. Alien beings and foreign magic began to immigrate to the Myth world in a slow trickle, sometimes unwillingly and sometimes on purpose. This is why Elves never existed here and then suddenly the Cath Bruig Empire was lousy with the bastards. This is why everybody and their grandmother seems to know Magic Missile when wizards used to be rare and Magic Missile was just an anagram for Miss Cilia Gem, former Duchess of Madrigal.

But unlike the other newcomers, the Duvan'Ku had the power to insinuate themselves into the world's history retroactively, so that they were always here. They're only newcomers from a metatime perspective.

To an outside observer of both the original and Duvan'Ku-influenced versions of the Myth world's history, things will be mostly the same on the surface (the flow of history is not easily diverted, after all), but subtle changes can be observed, changes which may eventually create a vastly different future when they all add up. The insidious stain of the Duvan'Ku now marks previously-unconnected events.

In the old timeline, the Fallen Lords didn't use chronomancy because necromancy and chronomancy were completely different disciplines in the Myth world, working through mostly-unrelated principles of magic. A ghost was the soul of a dead person, not a trick of time manipulation. The Duvan'Ku altered the metaphysics of the world, the fundamental fabric of local magic, the very rules of how magic works, to create an environment more conducive to their schemes. The effort of such a monumental change killed the Duvan'Ku (or at least these Duvan'Ku), but that matters little to masters of death and time.

But as mighty as the Duvan'Ku are, history is mightier still. It could not be changed all at once. In the new timeline, the Fallen Lords waged their wars in almost exactly the same manner, due to sheer chronological inertia. If you asked them why they relied on animated skeletons to do their dirty work, they would probably laugh at your boldness and then kill you where you stand, but assuming they didn't do that they would probably cite some obscure magical problem that made the flashier necromancy spells more trouble than they would be worth. "Equivalent exchange" or something.

But in the year 2841 A.E., magic seems to be easier to use, more eager to be cast. A new Fallen Lord might not face the same difficulty, assuming they could obtain or create the right spells.

And the Duvan'Ku, though long dead, once reveled in the certainty that their unfathomable, sadistic plan would inevitably turn a bright future into calamitous fate.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Kult - How Do You Use This Crazy Thing?

So there's this Swedish horror RPG called Kult. I've been slowly digging into it lately. There's a new version coming out soon (link may be NSFW). Over on the LotFP Facebook page, Eric Fabiaschi referred us to this website containing a lot of free resources for Kult. I recently bought the old sourcebook Legions of Darkness on Amazon for a steal, because the word on the street is that it's one of the best books ever published for the game, maybe even the best, and it fleshes out the setting very well. Long story short, I want to talk about Kult.

I don't want to spoil too much, but suffice it to say that Kult has a Gnosticism/Plato's Allegory of the Cave/The Matrix or Dark City with occult stuff/Philip K. Dick fever dream thing going on. It's a very strange and interesting setting that can be interpreted as both hopeless and hopeful, depending on how you look at it. Humans are trapped in a metaphysical prison and purposefully deceived by nightmarish monsters. Oh no! But people are capable of busting out of this prison and regaining their former power and glory. Yay! But doing so would turn you into something that could no longer be considered human as we know it. Hm...

A lot of people seem to love the setting, but it also seems unclear what players are actually supposed to do in the game. Investigate things Call of Cthulhu style? Fight monsters? Explore strange locations? Uncover conspiracies? Get trapped in a remote location with a monster and try to survive? Start a cult and do weird sex magic? It's nice to have an open-ended setting and system that allows for all kinds of different styles of play, but without some kind of guidance or examples of clear goals, the whole thing can be confusing to play, run or design adventures for. Simply reading the rules, it might not occur to the reader that any or all of these suggestions may be intended or plausible. I've read a lot comments to this effect. I'm betting the game offers some suggestions on this front (keep in mind that I haven't finished reading the game yet, and I haven't played it at all), but clearly a lot of people have found the books lacking in this regard.

I've seen several solutions to this problem suggested, and if it's not too presumptuous of me I think I may have more to add, based on my cursory investigations into the setting.

1. Silent Hill: The RPG
This one gets suggested a lot, and I think it's a fantastic idea. Aesthetically, Kult seems like Silent Hill before Silent Hill existed. The players could live in a town that keeps shifting between the "real" world and a supernatural, industrial hellscape that pits them against monsters created from their own sins and those of their neighbors.The Order from the Silent Hill games is right at home in Kult, too.

2. The Matrix, but Occult
Another cool idea that comes up often. Put those seemingly out-of-place martial arts rules to use, ki powers and all. Deck yourself out in leather, shoot monsters and their unwitting human servants with a ton of different guns, and try to get people to wake up to the true nature of reality. You know kung fu? Show me.
Some other good inspirations for a splatterpunk action game are the Splatterhouse series, The Suffering and its sequel, the Killing Floor series, and the F.E.A.R. series. (Okay, so The Matrix isn't exactly what I would consider "splatterpunk," but I imagine Kult's version of it would be!)

3. Call of Cthulhu with a Twist
Another point of general consensus about Kult online is that the setting is incredible, but the rules themselves are mediocre, at best. Many people have suggested grafting other rule systems onto Kult's setting to make your own ideal version of the game. Call of Cthulhu seems like a perfect fit, and has often been suggested as such. What's more, your players will probably be shocked if and when they figure out that their world operates on almost the exact opposite principles as usual in Call of Cthulhu: Instead of being subjected to an uncaring, impersonal cosmos in which most of the danger comes from the insignificance and weakness of humanity, they're trapped in a universe that revolves around them, that was built for them...and that hates them and wants to keep them oppressed. Or maybe it loves them, but it's strange, inhuman "love" is hard to distinguish from hate, Hellraiser-style (or perhaps Berserk-style).

4. X-Files/Twin Peaks/True Detective/Condemned: Criminal Origins-style Weird Investigative Procedural
I've seen some variation this idea come up at least once. The players could be police or detectives dealing with horrifying cases of extreme brutality with connections to the occult or supernatural phenomena. Heck, Twin Peaks is actually quoted in at least one version of the Kult rulebook. This has some obvious crossover potential with the Silent Hill and Call of Cthulhu ideas above. The Condemned series of video games is a natural fit, as well, since Kult really nails the "What the fuck is going on? What's the whole story here? Can I ever even collect nearly enough pieces of this puzzle to put it all together? Why are homeless people suddenly trying to kill me? What's up with these magic noise-emitting hubcaps in abandoned buildings across the city? Does any of this even make a lick of sense?" aspect of those games.

5. D&D (or Lamentations of the Flame Princess, obviously) in the Kult Universe
I'm serious. I've seen this concept suggested, but not thoroughly explored. This idea deserves its own blog post once I've become more familiar with the Kult universe, but suffice it to say that there are plenty of places in the realm of Metropolis which would make for interesting dungeons to explore and loot.

6. The Lives of Nice, Normal People Suddenly Get Invaded by Creepy, Sick, Yet Strangely Erotic Magical Bullshit
The films of David Cronenberg are a big influence on this one (especially Videodrome), as well as the films of David Lynch, the Tetsuo trilogy of films, the film They Live, and the video games Phantasmagoria 2: A Puzzle of FleshCatherine, and Harvester. The players are all average Joes and plain Janes who are minding their own business until one day they're all mutually caught in a weird, frightening situation that they can't explain. There's no one who will both believe them and help them except each other, and if they don't take action and keep ignoring what happened, more bad things will keep occurring. Maybe monsters are walking among the townsfolk, but they look like ordinary people to everyone except the players. Maybe the players keep getting mysterious letters in the mail, and if they don't reply with intimate and embarrassing details about their lives, their loved ones die gruesomely. Maybe all of the food in town is slowly being replaced with human flesh, and again, no one notices except for the players. Maybe there's a Ringu-style curse going around, and the players need to work together to break it or pass it on before something terrible befalls them. Maybe everyone the players sleep with goes axe-crazy the next day. Maybe they all have the same ominous dreams, and soon, the same repugnant mutations.
If you want to include a sleezy, or even sickeningly erotic aspect to the horror, try making something enticing, tempting, or desirable about the otherwise-repulsive phenomena that the players have to deal with, so that the players and/or NPCs might consider using or even indulging in it instead of fighting it. This could be hard to pull off in an RPG, but you might be surprised what less inhibited players might have their characters do in a game of imagination. Delightfully, horrifyingly surprised. I sure have. A couple of PCs in my Lamentations of the Fallen Lords campaign once gangbanged a mutated musclehead and then murdered him in a humiliating and cold-blooded fashion to gain favor with a petty "god" they just met. It was hilarious.

7. Be a Bunch of Murderous Assholes
I have the Postal video game series in mind for this one - both the creepy, off-kilter, disturbing first one and the goofy, purposefully-stupid, off-beat, and yet still kind of disturbing second one (let's forget Postal 3 exists, if you don't mind). Play a bunch of misanthropic, antisocial, deranged, violent jerks in a world that feels off, somehow. Mix comedy and horror. Go out to buy milk and end up burning a marching band alive. Try to order at a fast-food place and find yourself face-to-face with a Mad Cow Zombie. Piss on the grave of your father and accidentally awaken his shambling corpse. Defend yourself from hordes of demonic celebrities. Only your weapon truly understands you, but since there's probably more than one player at the table (unlike in Postal), keep in mind that you can get what you want more easily, cause a lot more chaos, and have a lot more demented fun if you band together with like-minded bastards. Go crazy enough, and the true face of reality just might show itself to you, whether you're ready or not...

8. "Your lives have ended. What you do with your new lives is entirely up to me. That's the theory, anyway."
Just rip off Gantz, straight up. I ran a d20 Call of Cthulhu campaign like this in college, and it was a blast. Come to think of it, the main characters discovering that they were trapped in the Kult cosmology would have been a far better explanation/plot twist than what we actually got in the manga, but I digress.
The premise is this: the players all "die" before their time in strange or violent incidents and find themselves somehow still alive. ("Death is only the beginning.") They are then contacted by a mysterious being. About once every month, this being renders the players invisible to other people, arms them with odd weapons and equipment, teleports them to a seemingly random area of the city, sets a time limit and borders they can't cross, and forces them to fight for survival against bizarre, sometimes goofy, and always terrifying monsters. They can even earn various amounts of points per kill and cash them in for prizes. Imagine X-COM, but the humans are all untrained civilians instead of soldiers, and they have no support from the government or anyone else except another homicidal alien who also kind of hates them. The whole thing seems to be some kind of sick, highly dangerous, non-consensual game show or reality show for the amusement of alien entities.
Maybe this is some kind of purgatory created by Astaroth, or a form of amusement for a group of Azghouls, an Archon, or a Death Angel. Maybe a powerful cult set this up as an over-elaborate ritual sacrifice. Maybe the powers-that-be are using ordinary people as convenient, expendable foot soldiers in their various proxy wars against each other. Maybe an Awakened individual is running the show as part of some incomprehensible plan to weaken the illusion. Whatever the case, the players need to find a way to escape this situation, because the battles are getting more difficult and horrifying each time...

9. "We are Approaching the Limit..."
The players are scientists, researchers, parapsychologists, and experts in complex or esoteric fields. They are working to understand and apply some abstract principle of science, psychic phenomenon, etc., either in private or as part of a larger institute. Doing so, they get far more than they bargain for, and have to decide whether to try and exploit their disastrous new knowledge and power or put the genie back in the bottle...if they even can. Think Frankenstein, H. P. Lovecraft stories like Herbert West - Reanimator and From Beyond (and their movie adaptations), the pseudo-scientific/occult/conspiracy aspects of Neon Genesis Evangelion, and films like Pi, Altered States, Scanners, Flatliners, X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes, and Beyond the Black Rainbow. There's actually a piece or two of introductory fiction in the Kult rulebook dealing with the concept of scientific research gone wrong, so the game designers might have actually had this in mind as a possible style of gameplay.

10. Escape from Metropolis
The players are all stranded together in Metropolis, Gaia, Inferno, or some other nasty place. If they work together, hopefully they can find a way home. If they can't do that, maybe they can find a way to survive in their new surroundings, although this may cost them their humanity. If my understanding of its premise is correct, this is sort of like Changling: The Lost if the time spent in captivity in the fairy realm was the core of the gameplay instead of the characters' backstory. I'm also reminded of Dante Alighieri's Divine Comedy (especially Inferno), the manga The Drifting Classroom, as well as countless stranded-on-a-deserted-island stories like Gulliver's Travels and stranded-on-an-alien-planet stories like Enemy Mine and Pitch Black. Just make sure there's lots of scary supernatural, occult, and/or demonic stuff.

11. The Book of Revelations Meets Fury Road
The Seventh Seal is broken. An apocalyptic battle between "angelic" and "demonic" forces is taking place, or has already happened. The world is in ruins. Civilization has crumbled. Monsters, both human and supernatural, stalk the wastes. The laws of nature no longer seem to fully apply. Resources and allies are in short supply. Can you survive in this mad new world? If so, what is the best course of action: to be content with mere survival, to try and rebuild society, or to try and escape this corpse of a world altogether? Each of these options has a steep price...
EDIT: I've thought of some video game references I would personally keep in mind when trying to run this kind of supernatural, apocalyptic setting: the Metro 2033 series (the books would also apply here), the Shin Megami Tensei series (especially Nocturne), Doom II: Hell on Earth, Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter, Nier, the post-apocalyptic levels in Splatterhouse (2010), Lone Survivor, and the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. series.

12. Your Parents Warned You about the Dangers of RPGs
You know that "Satanic Panic" crap from the '80s and '90s, in which parents and church leaders were worried that D&D and other RPGs (and cartoons, and toys, and comic books, and so on) would corrupt the youth and make them worship the devil or kill themselves or each other or start doing drugs or whatever? Give them the finger and make their nightmares come true. Well, not really, because I don't want anyone dying over a game, but pretend to make their nightmares come true. Play a bunch of cultists, mystics, and warlocks. Take the game really seriously (or rather, mock seriously). Call upon demons in your hammiest voice. Act out parts of the magic rituals in the game. Use props. Wear robes. Blur the line between the game and reality...after establishing some safe words and ground rules, of course. Design NPCs based on people you don't like in real life, then put curses on them. Act horrified if someone's character died, as if they were actually harmed in real life somehow. Play by candlelight. Pour hot wax on things. Treat every decision with either religious reverence or demented glee. Blindfold your friends, get them to stick their hands in wet spaghetti, and tell them it's a bowl of guts. Incorporate some minor forms of hazing - nothing painful or dangerous or illegal, but maybe some silly right of passage that everyone treats with faux-solemnity. Maybe some light spanking, if all parties consent. You know what? Just let the game devolve into an orgy. Give the prudes something to talk about. If any horror RPG is designed for it, it's definitely Kult.

Old vs. New - LotFP Character, Level 10, Max Dice Rolls

Think of this as an addendum to my last two posts about the Lamentations of the Flame Princess Playtest rules (HERE and HERE).

As a quick experiment, I wanted to compare some characters made with the current LotFP rules to ones made with the Playtest Document 0.1 rules. Out of curiosity regarding a "best-case" scenario, I decided to compare two characters who had rolled the maximum amount possible on all rolls of the dice during character creation and leveling up. Out of similar curiosity about "high" levels, I picked Level 10 for both characters, since that is the first level in which Constitution stops influencing HP in the current rules, so HP per level would start to drop off in the current rules compared to the Playtest rules (assuming I understand them correctly).

Grindhouse McGee
Level 10
Experience: 384,000 for Fighters; 288,000 for Specialists; 432,000 for Magic-Users; 336,000 for Clerics
Charisma 18 (+3 to Retainer Hiring and Loyalty)
Constitution 18 (+3 to HP per Level and Daily Travel Distance)
Dexterity 18 (+3 to AC, Ranged AB, Initiative)
Intelligence 18 (+3 to Saves vs. Magic Effects and Languages)
Strength 18 (+3 to Melee AB, Open Doors)
Wisdom 18 (+3 to Saves vs. Non-Magic Effects)
Items per Encumbrance Slot: 5
Unarmored AC: 15
HP: 102 for Fighters, 83 for Specialists and Clerics, 39 for Magic-Users
Base AB: +10 for Fighters, +1 for others
Melee and Ranged AB: +13 for Fighters, +4 for others
Skill Points (beyond 1 in 6): Specialists get 22 to freely distribute and +3 to Languages and +3 to Open Doors (Total 28); others get +3 to Languages and +3 to Open Doors (Total 6)
Magic-User Spells per Day: 4 First-Level, 4 Second-Level,  3 Third-Level, 2 Fourth-Level, 2 Fifth-Level (Total 15)
Cleric Spells per Day: 4 First-Level, 4 Second-Level, 3 Third-Level, 3 Fourth-Level, 2 Fifth-Level (Total 16)
Fighter Saving Throws: Paralyze 8, Poison 6, Breath 7, Device 7, Magic 10
Specialist Saving Throws: Paralyze 9, Poison 10, Breath 12, Device 11, Magic 10
Magic-User Saving Throws: Paralyze 11, Poison 11, Breath 14, Device 11, Magic 12
Cleric Saving Throws: Paralyze 10, Poison 7, Breath 12, Device 8, Magic 9

Playtest Pete
Level 10
Experience: 640,000 (Assuming the amount needed continues to double with each level)
Charisma 18 (Saves vs. Magic Effects 6d6)
Constitution 18 (1d12 HP per Level)
Dexterity 18 (Roll 1d12 for Initiative)
Intelligence 18 (+5 Skill Points to randomly distribute)
Strength 18 (Items per Encumbrance Slot: 7)
Wisdom 18 (Saves vs. Non-Magic Effects 6d6)
Unarmored AC: 12
HP 120
Attack Bonus for Fighters: +11 in all categories (or +10 if AB still caps like in the Grindhouse rules)
AB for Specialists and Magic-Users: +1 in Firearms and one random category, +0 in the others
Skill Points: Specialists get 22 to freely distribute, a +2 bonus to randomly assign, a +3 bonus to randomly assign, and 5 to randomly assign individually (Total 32); others get a +2 bonus to randomly assign, a +3 bonus to randomly assign, and 5 to randomly assign individually (Total 10)
Safe Spells per Day (Magic-User): 10
A partial save requires rolling one 6 on 6d6. A full save requires rolling two or more 6s on 6d6.

Honestly, I'm not sure how much this data can tell you, since rolling all 18s on ability scores and rolling max HP every level is almost impossible. This doesn't take minimum HP into account, for example. Still, I hope this might give you some idea of the different on-paper capabilities of Grindhouse characters vs. Playtest characters. Different things are either constant, class-based, or ability-based in each set of rules.

A few notes about Max-Stat Level 10 Characters in particular: Playtest Pete gets more HP, more Skill Points overall, more items per encumbrance slot, less AC, less Attack Bonus (but possibly more if he continues to level up, depending on how the new rules are meant to be interpreted), less safe spells per day (but more if he chooses to risk any more castings beyond that), and saving throws that I'm not sure how to compare mathematically. It seems that Grindhouse McGee gets to affect the hiring and morale of retainers without spending skill points, gets to travel farther per day, and gets to use the same Base Attack Bonus for all attacks. Playtest Pete determines his saving throws, HP, and initiative independent of his class (except that Fighters get to roll twice for HP at first level). Perhaps most strikingly, it takes Playtest Pete a lot more XP to reach Level 10.

Anyway, make of this as you will. I'm sure things will look much different for the average (or below-average) character.

EDIT: I realized I made an embarrassing error on the HP of Playtest Pete, originally listing it as 168, because I was going to use Level 14 as a baseline but changed my mind. Sorry!

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Advanced Summon Spell for LotFP

Arguably, one of the most popular and beloved aspects of the Lamentations of the Flame Princess Rules & Magic book is the Summon spell. I mean, come on, you've got to love a first-level spell that lets you summon a randomized monster, often vastly overpowered, that can either eat you, serve you, or straight up end the world if you screw up badly enough.

However, sometimes you want to summon something a little more specific. Sometimes, you don't just want any demon, but specifically Headsosoth the Headsucking Monstrosity from Mars. Sometimes you want to summon a demon that can possess a pet bird and use its body to spy on the local mayor, as was the case in our game last Saturday.

Here's my house rule for handling that situation.

"Advanced Summon" is not technically a separate spell. When a Magic-User reaches a high enough experience level to cast ninth-level spells, the Magic-User can choose to memorize Summon as a ninth-level spell instead of a first-level spell. This version of the spell is considered Advanced Summon.

When casting Advanced Summon, the Magic-User must sacrifice at least one creature worth at least 2 HD total; this is not optional like it is for the regular Summon spell. The Magic-User must also make at least one thaumaturgic circle (again, not optional), and the thaumaturgic circles used for the Advanced Summon spell cost ten times as much as they do for the regular Summon spell (i.e. 5,000sp instead of 500sp). The sacrifices and thaumaturgic circles still aid in the domination roll, as usual.

Casting Advanced Summon takes one full hour (not including the set-up time of preparing the summon circle and killing the sacrifice).

Upon casting Advanced Summon, the Magic-User is allowed to choose the form of the demon from the table included in the Summon spell description; any available form can be chosen except for the results that would normally be possible if one were to roll a 20 on the table (Collective Unconscious Desire for Suicide, Disruption of the Universal Order, etc.). The Magic-User also gets to choose one appendage (adjective and noun) and one power from the corresponding tables in the Summon spell description, in addition to the appendages and powers that may be randomly rolled as usual. The Magic-User only gets to make these choices if they succeeded on their save vs. magic (Step 2 of the Summon casting process).

Other than the differences listed above, Advanced Summon works the same way as Summon.

Example: Mordamir the Twice Dead, a Level 20 Magic-User, spends 50,000sp to create 10 thaumaturgic circles, sacrifices 10 HD worth of prisoners from his seclusium's dungeon, and casts Advanced Summon over the course of an hour using a ninth-level spell slot. He attempts to summon a 20 HD monster. He succeeds on his save vs. magic. He chooses to summon an Orb of Light with Gossamer Feathers and the Memory Wipe ability. He also randomly rolled a Smoking Horn and the Victims Rise as Undead ability, so the creature has those features as well. Because of his level, his sacrifices, and his thaumaturgic circles, he gets a +35 bonus to his domination roll. He succeeds on the domination roll by double a Great Margin. Mordamir now controls an Orb of Light with gossamer feathers and a smoking horn bound permanently to his service, with the following stats: AC 12, MV 120', Morale 10, 20 HD, 1 attack (1d6 damage) that causes those it kills to rise again as undead, immunity to normal weapons, and the Memory Wipe ability.

If you're running a campaign in which the PCs are unlikely to ever make it to a high enough level to cast Advanced Summon, you can lower the spell level needed to cast the spell. You can also make Advanced Summon a completely separate spell that needs to be discovered or researched, if you so desire. I'm rather fond of the idea that one spell can have multiple methods of being cast, with multiple results.

In case you're wondering, the PCs in my campaign used Advanced Summon to obtain a demonic eyeball that mind-controlled a pigeon (after surgical replacement of one of the pigeon's eyes). The demon said it enjoyed its new avian body because it was amused by its lack of continence regarding waste expulsion. Demons are gross.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Green Devil Face #5's "New Character Creation and Advancement Techniques"

The fifth issue of James Raggi's Green Devil Face includes an alternate character creation/advancement system that fits on two pages. I've never used it, and I don't think I've ever heard of anyone else using it either, although I have heard at least one person express interest in the idea.

Basically, all characters start with the same HP, attack bonus, special combat options (Parry, Press Attack, and Defensive Attack), and saving throws. At first level and every level thereafter, each character rolls randomly on a table determined by their class. They can choose to either roll a d10 twice (to get two different benefits) or a d12 once (presumably hoping to roll an 11 or 12 and get really good benefits, because otherwise they would only get one benefit instead of two). Benefits include things like extra hit points, better saving throws, attack bonus increases, skill points, spells, and more unusual things like better bonuses to the special combat options.

Let's get my criticisms out of the way: Personally, I don't see how a mere 1 in 6 chance of getting something awesome on a d12 is worthwhile when it means you have a 5 in 6 chance of screwing yourself out of one of your class perks for that level, but I guess I'm not much of a gambler. Honestly, the randomness of this advancement system is a turn off to me, which is probably why I haven't given much thought to it until now. If I ran a game with this material, I would probably just let my players pick two items off of their class table (excluding items 11 and 12) each level instead of making them roll, because I think it's a little too harsh to expect players to crawl and scrape for every bit of XP for five to ten sessions (the recommendation for low-level parties on page 26 of the free LotFP Referee's Book) and then risk rolling things they don't want on their class tables and hearing me say "Tough luck, deal with it." It feels like I would be unfairly taking control of their characters away from them, in a way. I'm not totally opposed to using random tables in certain aspects of character advancement (after all, I love the Alice class from A Red & Pleasant Land), but I don't like the idea of making all advancement random.

Also, this system does not say how many experience points are needed per level. Does it depend on class, or is it the same for everyone like the starting stats? I would probably use the XP requirements from the new Playtest Document (which I discussed HERE and HERE), but others might have different preferences.

But, there are also a lot of cool possibilities packed into these two pages.

I like the idea of being able to double down on certain class abilities at the expense of others. What's that, Mr. Fighter, you want to keep pumping your to-hit bonus up twice per level until it's impossible to miss anything, ever? Sure, go ahead, but that means your HP and saving throws aren't getting any better at all, and your greataxe still only does 1d10 damage per hit, so let's see how well that plan works out. While I do like it when all of the classes in the game are balanced against each other, I'm okay with players choosing sub-optimal builds within a class if they think doing so will be fun or interesting and they make the choice willingly and from an informed position. Is that a contradiction? I ought to think about that some more.

Also, you could probably make some absurd characters, like a Dwarf who picks "+5 Items to gain the first Enc. Point" every level until they could carry around several tons of items, even if their strength and constitution scores are below average. That would probably be too illogical for a fairly serious campaign, but if the DM and other players are willing to run with things on the silly side then I don't see any harm in it. Perhaps the randomness was included in the system by Mr. Raggi partly to reduce the likelihood of such silly characters from being created. To each their own, I guess.

A neat aspect of this system is that it includes a note suggesting the creation of new classes via custom-made tables. It includes a ranger class table as an example. The whole process of making a new class seems pretty streamlined when you can boil it down to ten entries on a table, some of which will probably be repeated. As someone who dabbles with character classes a lot, I can really appreciate that. Let's try it now.

Paladin
  1. +d8 HP
  2. +d8 HP
  3. +1 All Saving Throws
  4. +1 Defensive Attack Armor Class
  5. +1 Parry Armor Class
  6. +1 Press Attack Armor Class
  7. +1 Attack Bonus
  8. +1 Attack Bonus
  9. +1 Spell Slot
  10. +1 Spell Slot
  11. Results 1, 3, 7, and 9
  12. Results 4, 5, 6, and 9
I don't know how good that table is, but making it sure was fast. Someone who understands the crunchy bits of D&D a lot better than I do could probably tinker with this slightly and get something workable in no time flat.

For those who want to keep the demihuman classes in LotFP while reskinning them to be human classes, coming up with new names for those classes can be tricky. Interesting, Green Devil Face #5 suggests that "Dwarf" can be replaced with "Barbarian," "Elf" can be replaced with "Dabbler," and "Halfling" can be replaced with "Sidekick." I don't know who would willing choose to be considered a Sidekick in the party, but Barbarian and Dabbler seem like good suggestions. When it comes to goofiness, I guess "Sidekick" isn't that far removed from "Halfling" (or "Bard," for that matter), and if there's one thing most players I've encountered seem to love to do in RPGs it's playing weird, quirky, or misfit characters, so maybe the term "Sidekick" has more appeal than I give it credit for.

Some other details and oddities that I like: Most classes have a chance to get at least one or two skill points per level. Ditto with increases to their attack bonus. Different classes still advance differently in their saving throws, but even if the system is used as written the player gets to determine which saving throw category increases, except when all of them do. Different classes also get different hit dice, as usual. There are no suggestions that any benefit be capped, although I imagine one could theoretically survive long enough to max out all of one's saving throws. No distinction is made between Magic-User and Cleric spells, so if the DM wants to use an alternate magic system it would be easy to plug in.

How well does this system work? Would it still work if you took out some or all of the randomness? How easy is it to make new classes that are decently balanced? Could a variation of this system be used for quick and easy multiclassing? If anyone has any answers or suggestions, I would love to hear them.

And now, I think I've written a blog post about this system with a higher word count than the system itself. Go figure.

PART 2 IS HERE.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

The Bestower of Omnipotence

On March 24, 2016, Zak Smith tweeted the following:

"i had a friend once who thought the way the world works was this..."
"....each person is omnipotent and don't know it for one sentence, then the omnipotence randomly passes to someone else..."
"...like you say "this train needs to die" and if it's you for that sentence the train actually breaks..."
"...so be careful who you're singing along with is all i'm saying. Especially if its like Wolf Gang or Hole"

Sounds like a pretty good idea for a monster for Lamentations of the Flame Princess.

THE BESTOWER OF OMNIPOTENCE
AC 12, Movement 120', HD 3, Morale 6, Average Ability Scores

When the Bestower of Omnipotence comes to town, it is always preceded by beams of sunlight emanating from between the clouds.

At a glance, the Bestower of Omnipotence looks like a normal human being, one who is never especially handsome or ugly, and does not stand out as particularly unique. If one were to look under its clothes, one would see several unusual features. The creature has seven eyes scattered unevenly across its chest, each a different color. Its shoulder blades protrude slightly through its skin. A single rib protrudes from the creature's left side in much the same way. Throbbing veins around the creatures navel and spine form patterns reminiscent of interconnected wheels.

Once per month, the Bestower of Omnipotence can change its appearance in terms of hair/eye/skin color, hair length, height, weight, sex, facial features, etc. within the normal range of human phenotypes. It must make all of these changes at once, rather than individually. The transformation process takes one hour, during which time the creature's flesh appears to be flowing like melted wax and slowly resolidifying into its new shape. The creature's voice is also changed by this process. Clothing and other items are not transformed in this manner. The creature tends to move from one town or community to another upon transforming.

Once per day, the Bestower of Omnipotence can select one person within 100' to become retroactively and involuntarily capable of unwittingly fulfilling a "wish" for the duration of the last sentence or phrase they uttered or wrote. For example, if someone were to sing the line "I wish I were a generic-brand hot dog" within range of the Bestower of Omnipotence, the creature could use this ability to transform the singer into a hot dog, provided it uses this ability before the singer can say or write anything else. The Bestower of Omnipotence can detect and understand all spoken and written communication within 100', so actually hearing or reading the "wish" is unnecessary. The target is entitled to a Save vs. Magic to negate the effect, but if the save is successful the Bestower of Omnipotence is not considered to have used this ability that day and can attempt it again within one round.
More possible examples of this ability in action:
"If only my family would disappear so I could have some peace and quiet."
"I hope you catch pneumonia and die."
"Someone ought to take that guy down a peg."
"If I had all the money in the world, I would sure show them."
"I want you to want me."
The Bestower of Omnipotence always uses this ability with the goal of causing harm, rather than helping people. The "wish" is not necessarily granted literally, but rather in accordance with its meaning as understood by the person granting the wish. Suggesting that someone should be "knocked off their high horse" would probably not cause that person to be struck from the saddle, but to instead lose social standing or otherwise have their pride injured.

The Bestower of Omnipotence can attack by opening a stigmata-like orifice on the palm of its hand and emitting a thin beam of the purest white light toward its target. If it hits, the attack deals an amount of damage equal to the amount of damage dealt by the target's last attack within the last week. If the target has not attacked anyone within the last week, the target takes 1d10 damage instead. The beam attack has a -2 penalty to hit beyond 20', a -4 penalty to hit beyond 50', and a maximum range of 80'. This attack can be used in melee without penalty.

Anyone who successfully hits the Bestower of Omnipotence in melee must make a Save vs. Breath or else get sprayed by the creature's glowing white blood. Anyone covered in this blood must make all rolls twice and take the worse result until the blood is washed off or otherwise removed. Those covered in the white blood experience auditory hallucinations in the form of the voices of their loved ones telling them that they are powerless to change the world in any meaningful way.

The person who delivers the killing blow to the Bestower of Omnipotence can choose one roll made within the next week to automatically succeed as completely as possible. For example, the player could chose to take a roll of 20 on a to-hit roll instead of making the roll as normal.

A note on running this monster, in accordance with my humble opinion:
Don't be a total dick. Nearby NPCs should not spout out nonsense just so that the Bestower of Omnipotence can say exactly the right thing to completely screw over the players without any way to avoid it. NPCs should say things that they would realistically say, and the Bestower of Omnipotence should then have to carefully try to turn their words to its advantage - assuming it hasn't already used up its wish power for the day bullying random strangers. If you're going to have someone mutter something really world-breaking like the aforementioned "all the money in the world" comment, give the players a chance to shut that person up before they can choke out the words, or have them first say it once just outside of the Bestower's range as a warning to the players, or something like that. There's no sport in killing PCs through DM fiat alone.