Thursday, March 31, 2016

My Blog Knows What You Did in the Dark

Here's a random table of awful (or in a very few cases, merely perceived-to-be-awful) things to feel guilty about in the RPG of your choice. I tried (perhaps unsuccessfully) not to write anything too specific to a particular time period, so that these scenarios could apply in a medieval setting as much as a modern one. You can use these secret sins and shames as PC backstories, NPC backstories, false accusations, motivations for revenge, rumors, fears, nightmares, etc. Roll a d100 and then feel bad.

Warning: Much of this is fucked up, potentially triggering stuff. Please don't include anything from this list in your game if your fellow players are not okay with using this kind of material.

  1. You used to kick the family dog when no one else was around.
  2. Once when you were walking through the woods, you found an injured baby bird. You killed it with a rock. You told yourself that it was to put the poor thing out of its misery, but you really did it because you wanted to.
  3. You have a friend who fantasizes about being sodomized by your local clergy. You found out about this by reading their diary or spying on a private conversation they had. Sometimes when you are alone with this friend, you mock them about it mercilessly. They seem to be afraid to stand up to you about it.
  4. When you were 12, you were playing on a frozen lake with your older brother, who was better than you in every way. Your brother fell through the ice. As you were moving to help, you hesitated because of a stray thought: you would be happier if he were dead. He did indeed die.
  5. You used to bully one particular person ferociously. They used to be skinny, but over the years they gained a lot of weight, their hair turned gray prematurely, and they started to get sick very often. You can't shake the feeling that this is your fault.
  6. You stole your best friend's prized possession. They never found out it was you who took it.
  7. You wrote a full diary's worth of vivid descriptions of your loved ones being tortured and brutalized.
  8. You used to take care of your friends' very young son when they were out of town. You habitually and purposefully put the child's shoes on the wrong feet when you dressed him. He eventually developed trouble walking due to skeletal deformities in his feet.
  9. The last words you ever told your mother before she died were "I hate you."
  10. You convinced a friend who usually abstained from alcohol to get blackout drunk one night. She then slept with someone while in this state and became pregnant with a child she could not afford to raise by herself. She does not remember who the father is.
  11. You stole money from your parents when they needed it most.
  12. You gave your friend a piercing, tattoo, or other piece of body art that got badly infected. They ended up losing a body part.
  13. You killed someone in a hunting accident.
  14. To pay off your gambling debts, you once stole a lot of money from a church.
  15. You once reported to the authorities that a vagrant was scaring you, even though you knew he did not mean you any harm. The authorities did not take kindly to this. They beat the vagrant so badly it crippled him. You could never look him in the eye when you saw him begging after that.
  16. You found out an important local figure was having an affair. You used this knowledge to blackmail him for money. After several months, he killed himself.
  17. Your father used to beat you severely for minor, unintentional slights. You got fed up with this and tripped him down some stairs. He hit his head. Now he has trouble talking and feeding himself.
  18. When you were 10, there was another child you know who would swell up and get sick when she ate a certain food. You thought this was really funny. You slipped some of this food into a meal she was eating. The allergic reaction killed her. You never confessed to poisoning her.
  19. You accidentally burned down your family's house, rendering all of you homeless and penniless. No one ever found out it was you who started the fire.
  20. You and a group of other children accused an innocent person of a crime for fun. The charges stuck, and they were severely punished by the law.
  21. You used to spit in people's food. You only quit because you were almost caught once.
  22. When you were 13, one of your peers beat you up. To get even with them, you killed their dog.
  23. You started a false rumor that one of your peers was a sexual deviant. They are now shunned by the community.
  24. You lit a cat on fire for fun. It was hilarious.
  25. Whenever you need extra money, you mug a stranger. So far, you have gotten away with it.
  26. You used to have a lover or significant other. Over time, you slowly convinced them they were going insane.
  27. You have a history of sleeping with other people's spouses.
  28. You like to slip drugs into people's food or drinks and watch them make fools out of themselves in public.
  29. Your favorite hobby is breaking and entering.
  30. One time, you started a bar fight in which an innocent bystander ended up being beaten to death.
  31. When you could no longer afford to take care of your pet, you abandoned the animal in the wilderness to fend for itself.
  32. You made a lot of money selling illegal drugs to children.
  33. You stole money from a homeless person.
  34. You literally stole candy from a baby.
  35. You borrowed a lot of money from a loved one so that you could start a business. The business was successful, but you have refused to pay back the money you owe.
  36. When you were 14, you caught your sister having sex with an unpopular local figure. You threatened to tell on her if she did not obey your every whim. When you got bored of blackmailing her, you told on her anyway. Your parents did not take it well.
  37. While hiking, your friend fell and was badly injured. They could have lived if not for your incompetent attempt at first aid, which injured them much more severely.
  38. You enjoy deliberately polluting water upstream from people who are drinking from it.
  39. You cheated on your spouse by sleeping with a prostitute. Your spouse does not know, and you remain happily married.
  40. When your significant other became chronically ill, you broke up with them.
  41. You made a lot of money from dogfighting or cockfighting.
  42. When you were 7, a family member tried to teach you how to use a weapon. You accidentally killed them with it.
  43. You know how to hit people without leaving any obvious marks. Whenever you are alone with a child and think you can get away with it, you smack them around. Their parents tend not to believe them.
  44. You have gotten very good at spying on people while they undress or bathe.
  45. You have an employee whom you pay far less than a fair wage, because they do not know better or they are simply desperate enough to tolerate it.
  46. During your first tryst with a new lover, you misinterpreted something they said as making fun of the appearance of your naked body. In a rage, you beat them to a pulp.
  47. You once tricked a very devout member of a minority religion in your community (which you do not share) into breaking a commandment or committing a taboo which would be minor or nonexistent for you but gravely important to them. They were publicly disgraced for this action.
  48. You took advantage of someone's weakness for gambling and took money from them that they desperately needed in order to keep their family clothed and fed.
  49. You made a lot of money as a pimp. You were not a nice person to work for.
  50. You tricked an elderly person into giving you the majority of their inheritance under false pretenses, even though their family deserved it.
  51. You once prayed for someone to die. A short while later, they did.
  52. On a dare, you once put a dangerous animal in someone's house. You did not know that a child lived in that house. The animal killed the child.
  53. You are a very trusted person in your community. Many people tell you their secrets because they trust you to keep such information private. You secretly write down everything they say.
  54. Your friend was accused of attacking someone in your neighborhood. Your friend was guilty, but you lied to corroborate your friend's false alibi. Your friend was not convicted of the crime.
  55. Your favorite hobby is to find strangers walking alone at night and beat them up. You don't even rob them. You just enjoy the violence.
  56. You treat your family with utter contempt, far beyond anything they might deserve.
  57. As a child, you used to catch small animals and kill them slowly.
  58. You sell alcoholic beverages to people who are too young to safely and/or legally drink.
  59. You have a friend or family member who you constantly belittle for their appearance and intelligence, because it makes you feel better about your own failings.
  60. You have a strong sexual desire for one of your siblings. You have purposefully spent less and less time around them over the years because you are afraid of showing your true feelings.
  61. You vehemently criticize and verbally abuse homosexuals and other so-called "perverts" in order to hide or deny your own atypical sexuality.
  62. You like to tear random pages out of books that don't belong to you.
  63. One time, a stranger asked you for directions, and you deliberately gave them wrong information. You later found out they were murdered at the location you sent them to.
  64. You lied to an acquaintance about their spouse cheating on them, causing their marriage to break up.
  65. You and several other violent thugs used to charge local businesses for "protection" and hurt them or their property if they didn't pay up.
  66. You sacrificed one of your children in a religious ritual.
  67. Your fascination with fire led you to burn down several houses when you were a teenager.
  68. You pushed someone down a well and left them to die.
  69. You and one of your siblings have a romantic, sexual relationship.
  70. You have a friend who likes to kill people. You help dispose of the bodies.
  71. The secret ingredient in your popular pies is human meat.
  72. You hide traps outside of town, hoping that people will stumble into them.
  73. When you were 13, you blinded your friend with cooking grease. Everyone else thinks it was an accident. It wasn't.
  74. You kidnapped someone and kept them locked up because it was the only way you could get them to "reciprocate" your love for them.
  75. You only hire employees that you find attractive.
  76. You led a moral crusade to ban a substance in your town which you deemed harmful. This ban led to the imprisonment of someone you loved dearly.
  77. You helped run a family out of town simply because they were foreigners.
  78. You stole money that was meant to be donated to people who are sick and poor.
  79. You were part of a lynch mob that executed an innocent person.
  80. You murdered a family member for "dishonoring" your family.
  81. You went to great lengths to provoke a normally non-violent enemy into attacking you so that you could kill them in "self-defense."
  82. You dared a friend to jump off of a building. They messed up the landing. Badly.
  83. You slipped a drug into a competitor's drink to make them sick so that they would fail a test for a promotion. You got the promotion instead, even though they deserved it and you did not.
  84. You have a collection of stolen undergarments.
  85. You like to steal food from other people's gardens. You're not starving or anything. You just like getting free food.
  86. When you were 15, you vandalized a church. The crime was pinned on a group of young people who belonged to a religion that was unpopular in your town.
  87. You have a monopoly on the sale of a certain important good or service in your town, and you charge far too much for it.
  88. You let an acquaintance live at your house when they had nowhere else to go. You then pressured them into sleeping with you.
  89. There is a young widow or widower in your community who does not have the means to survive without help. You give them enough money to get by every month, on the condition that they have sex with you. They do not have the luxury of refusing this arrangement.
  90. When you were 11, you and a younger cousin went to the barn alone to play doctor. You "showed them yours," but they "chickened out" and ran away when it was their turn to "show you theirs."
  91. You talked someone into committing suicide when they were depressed.
  92. Under the guise of generosity, you deliberately gave someone a blanket or clothing infested with fleas or bedbugs.
  93. You secretly sold weapons to both sides in a conflict.
  94. You used to be part of an illegal underground fighting ring. If you were a fighter, you killed at least one person in a fight. If you were running the ring, you were responsible for failing to stop at least one fight that became lethal.
  95. You saw someone drop money on the ground without realizing it. You could have pointed it out to them, but instead you waited until they left and then kept the money for yourself. It turned out to be a lot of money.
  96. You once murdered a police officer or other authority figure to prevent them from turning you in for another crime. You got away with everything.
  97. You caught someone stealing a small amount of food from your business in order to feed their family. Even though you knew they were just doing it to survive, you turned them in to the authorities. They received a harsh sentence.
  98. You were paid to murder someone's cheating spouse.
  99. While travelling, you came across someone who was stranded in a dangerous place. You moved on without offering any help because they were not the same race/ethnic group/nationality/religion as you.
  100. You murder lots of people and do arts and crafts with their body parts.
A non-exhaustive list of inspirations for this post: Fall Out Boy lyrics, the novelization of The 7th Guest (Yes, this exists, but as of this post I'm not done reading it yet), Blade Runner, Sweeney Tod, Antichrist, Gantz, the Silent Hill series, The Hateful Eight, Les Miserables, Gas Light/Gaslight/Angel Street, and a bunch of stories about serial killers.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

D&D Pipe Dream - Different Campaigns for Different Editions

In an ideal world in which I had nearly-unlimited time, creative energy, funding, and access to eager and skillful players, I would probably run and/or play in a whole bunch of different D&D campaigns. You know, throw everything I think I might like at the wall and see what sticks. I thought it might be a fun exercise to figure out what kinds of campaigns I would probably enjoy using different editions or versions of D&D, since there are so many to choose from and they all differ at least slightly (and sometimes quite dramatically) in terms of both flavor and mechanics. These are campaigns in which I think I'd be almost equally happy as a DM or a player, but I'm writing about them from a DM's point of view since I'm discussing them from a design standpoint.

OD&D (Introduced in 1974) - I think a West Marches-style sandbox campaign using the Outdoor Survival board (which I actually own) would be a blast. I would start out with just the three Little Brown Books, Philotomy's Musings, The Original D&D Setting (by Wayne Rossi), and maybe a copy of Chainmail. If the players wanted me to, I could slowly introduce classes and other stuff from the various supplements and other sources over time, but at the beginning I would keep things simple. To start, classes would be limited to Fighting Men, Magic-Users, and Clerics; races would only include humans, elves, dwarves, and halflings; and Hit Dice and weapon damage would be non-variable (i.e. d6-based). Most of the world would consist of no-man's land in the wilderness, with city-states and other pockets of civilization few and far between. I'm picturing something like Mad Max or Fallout, but with swords and magic and dragons instead of guns and cars and mutants, and with primeval forests punctuated by other climates instead of just deserts everywhere. The post-apocalyptic ruins would be dungeons and fortresses, of course.

Holmes Basic (Introduced in 1977) - This is the one I'm the least certain about. This version of D&D only goes up to Level 3, so if the players want to level up past that point I would either have to switch to a different set of rules or use a fan-made expansion. Setting-wise, I'm not sure what to do with this version of D&D. My second-hand impression is that dungeon-based gameplay is described very well in the rules, while wilderness-based stuff is fairly vague. If that's the case, then a megadungeon would probably be appropriate.

AD&D 1E (Introduced in 1977) - I would run The Chaos Gods Come to Meatlandia with AD&D's craziness dial turned up to 11. You can read my review if you're curious about why I love this book so much. Go ahead, throw Unearthed Arcana and all the other "broken" stuff in there. Just go ahead and embrace the glorious mess that is early AD&D.
Okay, to be fair, I might leave out some of the annoying combat rules for the sake of speed and simplicity. The weapons-vs.-armor table and the weapons-vs.-differently-sized-enemies stuff would probably get nixed. But on the players' side of things, I would probably let them do whatever they want as long as it's allowed somewhere in the rules. I think the point of Meatlandia is that the world is getting weirder, less coherent, and more fragmented over time. A bunch of classes and subsystems that barely seem to fit into the same game would work well with that kind of setting.
This might sound like I'm bashing AD&D, but I really do like it, based on what I've seen of it and read about it. I've certainly enjoyed a lot of video games that either directly use or take inspiration from AD&D. I'm just saying that AD&D's mechanics don't always seem unified, which is not necessarily a bad thing.

Basic/Expert (Introduced in 1981) - I would try out a bunch of classic TSR modules like The Keep on the Borderlands and White Plume Mountain punctuated by Lamentations of the Flame Princess adventures to keep the players on their toes. The Keep would make a great home base for a sandbox campaign, with other adventure locations scattered around it. I wouldn't worry too much about creating a huge, coherent world right away; the world could just develop through play, starting small and getting bigger as the player characters travel.

BECMI (Introduced in 1983)/Rules Cyclopedia (Introduced in 1991) - Since these rules seem designed for running a long campaign stretching from Levels 1 to 36, with a pretty interesting "endgame," I would want to set my campaign in an expansive world with plenty of weirdness, variety, and space for exploration and conquest. I think Mystara would do the trick, especially since it includes the Hollow World. I might even throw in some time-travel shenanigans so that the players could interact with the Blackmoor stuff in Mystara's past.

AD&D 2E (Introduced in 1989) - This edition introduced a lot of cool campaign settings. I would use either Planescape, Spelljammer, Dark Sun, or some combination thereof. Enough said.

D&D 3E (Introduced in 2000)/3.5 (Introduced in 2003) - I'm actually pretty intrigued by the Eberron campaign setting, so I would probably give that a shot. I also have fond memories of a Rappan Athuk campaign (with elements borrowed from Eberron, among other things) that I played in during college, so I think I might make it a megadungeon campaign. After all, megadungeons tend to have a lot of monsters to fight, and good megadungeons tend to have a lot of interesting rooms or fight in/terrain to fight on, so D&D 3.5's highly tactical, combat-as-sport approach to battle could probably work well in such a scenario. I bet a megadungeon in Eberron would be delightfully over-the-top.

D&D 4E (Introduced in 2008)/Essentials (Introduced in 2010) - I love the video game Darkest Dungeon. Even though 4E isn't even close to being my favorite edition of D&D (although please note that I do like it, in at least some ways), I do have to admit that the combat in Darkest Dungeon reminds me very heavily of the combat in 4E, for reasons I haven't quite put my finger on. Maybe it's the emphasis on positioning and status effects, or maybe it's the way each class has a list of powers that is not too different from that of any other class, at least in terms of format and presentation. At any rate, Darkest Dungeon reminds me of a mash-up of D&D 4E and Lamentations of the Flame Princess, so maybe a 4E campaign based on the tropes and atmosphere of LotFP, video games like Darkest Dungeon and Bloodborne, and manga/anime like Berserk would be really cool. I would probably try to run the campaign in a sort of "hard mode" by setting most encounters to be balanced just slightly higher in challenge rating (or whatever 4E's equivalent is) than what the rules recommend, and then encouraging the players to choose their battles wisely. Player characters could still be badass action heroes if they're smart, but if they try to defeat every challenge head-on they'll be ground meat.

D&D 5E (Introduced in 2014) - I think I'd run A Red & Pleasant Land pretty happily with these rules. I haven't read any 5E books yet, but I'm pretty sure the author of AR&PL currently runs his campaign with this edition, and there aren't a whole lot of adventures out for 5E yet that I'm interested in, so I bet this would work well enough. Vornheim would be fair game, too.

Other ideas: I would love to run a Lamentations of the Flame Princess campaign in the "default" setting of 1600s Earth, with care taken to (mostly) adhere to James Raggi's style of play. I could probably have a lot of fun with a Carcosa campaign. Empire of the Petal Throne is very intriguing to me. I'd be excited to try out Into the Odd. I might like Ravenloft. The Underdark would probably be fun to use in almost any edition, at least on the "Advanced" side of D&D. Ghostwalk sounds neat. I would play in, but probably not DM, a Forgotten Realms campaign as long as it is sufficiently reminiscent of the Gold Box video games. Finally, I'd enjoy some cross-over action between D&D and Call of Cthulhu.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Initial Thoughts on LotFP Playtest Document 0.1 (Part 2 of 2)

This is the second part of my tentative assessment of the new "Playtest Document 0.1" rules. The first part is HERE.

The last two things I need to talk about regarding the Playtest rules are the new saving throw system and the new magic system. These are probably the most radical overhauls in the booklet.

If you need to make a saving throw, first you need to know if it's a save against a magical effect or a non-magical one. If it's the former, look at your Charisma score, and if it's the latter, look at your Wisdom score. Either way, your ability score determines how many d6s you roll:
3-4: 2d6
5-8: 3d6
9-12: 4d6
13-16: 5d6
17-18: 6d6
To make a saving throw, roll those dice and see how many 6s come up. Rolling two or more 6s means that you made a full save, and the effect is completely negated. Rolling one 6 means that you made a "partial save," so the effect only happens at half strength - meaning you take half damage, or the effect lasts half as long, or whatever principle would apply. If you make a partial save vs. death, you lose half your HP instead of dying. Rolling no 6s means you failed, and you take the full brunt of the effect.

The most notable effects of this new system are threefold. One, leveling up does not improve one's saving throws. Two, saving throws are not affected by one's character class, making class slightly less important and ability scores slightly more important. Three, a character with average Charisma and Wisdom using the new system will have less of a chance of (completely) failing a saving throw than a low-level character in the old system, and a greater chance of (completely) failing a saving throw than a high-level character in the old system. For the math regarding that last point, check out the discussion about the saving throws on the LotFP Facebook page (if you're a member) or the comments on this video.

I think the new saving throw system is very interesting and unique, and I like the novelty and simplicity of it. I'm completely okay with disconnecting saving throws from character class. I'd be very glad to get rid of saving throw charts, and I don't mind ditching separate saving throw categories outside of "magic" and "non-magic."

I do have a couple of objections, though.

First, it seems a bit harsh to not allow characters to get better at saving throws ever, outside of magical intervention. I know LotFP is meant to focus on low-level, high-danger play, but if the game is going to have mechanics for making characters more powerful over time than I think those mechanics should be useful and rewarding rather than frustrating. I think it would be frustrating and discouraging to always do poorly at an important aspect of the game because of one or two bad rolls at character creation. Maybe whenever a character levels up, they should get a 1 in 6 chance of gaining a point in the ability score of their choice, or maybe they should gain a point in an ability score every few levels like in D&D 3.5, or maybe there should be a way to spend money to train an ability score higher.

Second, the "partial save" thing might kind of fall apart when you have situations like "Save or you lose a point of Strength" or "Save to avoid having the Time Demon retroactively make you inherit a spinal deformity" or "Save to avoid the effects of this spell that is written to either completely work or not work at all, with no in-between state" or stuff like that. How are you supposed to adjudicate a new half-failure state for every situation that comes up which does not normally have such a state which remaining both consistent and fair? I think the new Saving Throw system could use some clarification on this subject.

Finally, I think that the new saving throw system stacks the odds against the players a bit too much. Sure, there's a fairly high chance of making at least a partial save, but the chance of a complete success is still pretty low. It was pretty low in the old rules, too. I'm wondering if this just indicates that the original saves in LotFP were also too harsh. I mean, I like the idea that it's harder to outright die in the new version, but that's "harder compared to before," not necessarily "harder than is fair."

But what is fair, exactly? I think the idea is that smart players don't HAVE to make a saving throw because they avoid bad situations, so giving them one at all is a big mercy. But considering how some of the magical traps and effects in LotFP (and D&D in general) could be considered rather unpredictable or illogical, it sometimes seems unfair to blame players for EVERY situation that requires a saving throw. You could also just say "Well, that's the nature of being an adventurer. It's an acceptable risk," but that really gets into "The only winning move is not to play" territory, which...well, that works for Call of Cthulhu, so that could be a feature and not a bug, but when the winning conditions for your game are to grab a bunch of treasure and GTFO I think players can reasonably expect a higher chance of survival. Not necessarily "high," but higher than "almost certain maiming or death."

But hey, it's a horror game. Maybe I'm missing the point. I just think I should give my honest opinion, and my opinion is that things could stand to be a tiny bit easier and the game would still retain more than enough intensity and danger. Making money by going into cursed holes in the ground is crazy and stupid, sure, but if it's too crazy and stupid I think it makes the players feel dumb for even playing, which is the opposite of what I want. It's like going to a casino: the situation is so heavily rigged against you that engaging with it is a waste of time and money. Unfortunately, I don't know where the line should be drawn in this case.

Anyway, let's get to the main event: new magic rules.

The biggest change is that spell levels are getting nixed. "All spells are considered Level 1, and will scale in power depending on the caster's level." A Magic-User can cast any memorized spell at any "level of power" up to their experience level. For example, a Level 10 Magic-User could cast Magic Missile and choose to do between 1d4 and 10d4 damage, since Magic Missile does (up to) 1d4 damage per level.

Since all spells are effectively "Level 1" now, the old "Spells per Level" chart is gone. Now, Magic-Users can simply memorize a number of spells per day equal to their experience level. I like this, since it's nice and simple.

I could see this new "no spell levels" rule making it difficult for LotFP to remain compatible with D&D and with other retroclones, but if the DM is willing to rewrite spells to scale appropriately, or if some kind of guide is released with recommendations for scaling common spells from non-LotFP systems, then I think this could be a lot of fun. It would certainly be nice to no longer have a lot of the coolest spells be walled-off from low-level characters, since LotFP usually focuses on low-level play. It sucks to be presented with a rulebook full of toys you're not allowed to play with.

There are plenty of other changes. Magic-Users can no longer prepare the same spell multiple times at once. No more loading up on nothing but Magic Missile, I guess. I'm neutral about this change. It doesn't bother me, but I imagine that some people might have strong feeling about this. I do like the idea of encouraging more variety in spell use. Also, I guess this would make wands more valuable to those who like to cast the same thing over and over.

The Read Magic spell has been ditched. Good riddance. Now, Magic-Users start with one extra language, generally a dead or obscure one, for the purposes of making their spellbook harder for others to read. I love it. Very flavorful.

Magic-Users still start with three randomly-determined spells, but the rules note that they should be able to randomly get any spell from any rulebook. sourcebook, adventure, blog, etc. that will be used in the campaign. Unless your DM knows exactly which material will be incorporated into the campaign from here until the end of time, I don't see how this is feasible.

If a Magic-User obtains someone else's spellbook, even if they can read it they still cannot cast from it. They have to transcribe the spells from it into their own spellbook in order to be able to cast them. I don't know if this really fits with the new idea that spellbooks are not magically encoded, but as a gameplay contrivance I think it's pretty reasonable.

Spell scrolls are basically no longer a thing; the rules say to just treat them like "effectively flimsy 'spellbooks' containing the noted spells and not ready-to-use spell batteries." Boo. Classic D&D spell scrolls are flavorful and interesting, and I don't think they clash with the LotFP aesthetic. I don't see the point of this change.

The last big change worth mentioning here is that Magic-Users can actually cast unsafely now. Think of it like the Magic-User needing to tap into more power than they can safely control during an emergency, overclocking themselves for more performance at the risk of having a meltdown. Awesome.

Assuming I'm reading the rules correctly, it works like this: a spell is cast safely if it has been previously prepared from the Magic-User's own spellbook, the caster has not yet cast more spells that day than they can memorize, the spell is cast with both hands and with the Magic-User able to speak freely, the Magic-User is no more than lightly encumbered, and the Magic-User has not taken damage during the same round that they are casting the spell. A Magic-User must be able to speak and must have at least one free hand, but other than that, if the Magic-User does not meet the above criteria they can still cast any spell from their spellbook (or even from another spellbook in their possession) unsafely. To cast unsafely, the Magic-User must make a magic saving throw, at a Charisma penalty of -1 for every unsafe condition after the first one. If they completely succeed, the spell is cast normally. If they fail, they have to roll on the brand new Spellcasting Error Table, and the intended spell is not cast. If they make a partial success, they still have to roll on the Spellcasting Error Table, but the spell is also cast correctly right afterward.

The Spellcasting Error Table has six pre-written entries, and encourages the DM to come up with six more entries for each individual spell. The idea is that every spell has a 50% chance of failing in a default sort of way and a 50% chance of failing in a way that is unique to that spell. The rules do state that if the DM does not want to come up with individualized entries, they can just have the Magic-User roll a d6 on the table instead of a d12.

The pre-written entries are suitably nasty and weird, so casting unsafely really is a risky proposition. The booklet also includes six examples of individualized entries, using the Cure Wounds spell as a base. These examples are also appropriately creepy and dangerous.

I really dig the Spellcasting Error Table. Again, it could be a lot of work for a DM to come up with six unique errors for every non-LotFP spell brought into a campaign, but it could be rewarding, and if the DM doesn't like it they can just use the six default entries on the table. I would imagine that the eventual new edition of the LotFP rulebook would include unique errors for all of the default spells in the game, although this has not yet been confirmed.

And that's pretty much it for the Playtest Document. I'm sure I left out some details, but this should hopefully give you a good idea of the kinds of rule changes Mr. Raggi is considering. Some of these changes bug me, but for the most part I think they sound quite good. They definitely make LotFP feel different from the other D&D-like games out there, and for the most part, I think they match the game's weird horror vibe very appropriately. I would love to give these rules a try in a one-shot or a separate campaign, although I don't think I'll be introducing them into my Lamentations of the Fallen Lords campaign any time soon, unless my players want me to. Still, there's a lot of promise here, and I'm excited to see what direction the game takes next.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Initial Thoughts on LotFP Playtest Document 0.1 (Part 1 of 2)

As James Raggi mentioned HERE (among other places), members of the Pembrooktonshire Gardening Society who ordered books recently received a copy of the "Lamentations of the Flame Princess Playtest Document 0.1 February 2016" 8-page booklet. It contains some tentative (not set in stone) changes and updates to the LotFP rules that Mr. Raggi is considering for the game's next edition. People have been having some interesting discussions about the new mechanics on the LotFP Facebook page and Google+ page, and there's a video of the rules in action HERE, although I haven't gotten around to watching it yet. My estimation of the reactions so far is that they are mostly positive, with a few misgivings.

I have not yet played with these proposed rules, but since I have a copy of the Playtest Document I figured I might as well discuss my initial impressions from reading it. My opinions are certainly subject to change after I get some experience with these rules, so please feel free to take them with a proverbial grain of salt.

In this post, I will talk about the new rules related to ability scores, classes, skills, and some other topics. I will save my thoughts on the new rules about saving throws and magic for another post (HERE), so that this one does not get too long.

I generally love the new ability score rules. Charisma now determines saving throws against magic (instead of Intelligence), Constitution now determines a character's hit dice (ranging from d4 to d12!), Dexterity determines initiative, Intelligence affects skill points, Strength determines how many items a character can carry per encumbrance point (between 3 and 7, instead of always just 5 like in the current rules), and Wisdom determines saving throws against non-magical hazards. One of the most dramatic effects of this system is that hit points and saving throws now have little or nothing to do with a character's class, which is fine by me because it means that both high and low ability scores of any kind now matter for every class. Plus I think that the squishy wizard trope is a little overdone.

Another quick note about HP: when a character levels up, they re-roll all of their hit dice. If they get a higher maximum HP than what they had before, they keep it. If they roll equal or lower, they keep their old maximum. I'm torn on this new rule. It's nice to be able to "fix" any low rolls from previous levels, but it sucks that they don't get any new HP at all when leveling up if they don't roll higher. I would probably give players 1 HP if they roll too low, out of pity.

Classes are down to the Fighter, Specialist, and Magic-User. I've heard that the Cleric, Elf, Dwarf, and Halfling will still be available in an appendix when the new edition eventually comes out, but the playtest document makes no mention of them. Considering that a Cure Wounds spell is used in a rules example at the end of the booklet, I'm guessing that by default the traditionally "Clerical" spells will be added to the Magic-User spell list.

I'm actually a big fan of the LotFP version of the Cleric class, since it's really more of an anti-magic, witch- and demon-smiting class than the traditional D&D grab-bag of spells and abilities. Not that I particularly dislike the D&D Cleric, but the LotFP version seems more focused and thematically consistent to me, and impinges on the domain of the Magic-User a lot less. Still, I think I get why Mr. Raggi wants to ditch the class by default, and you could presumably just play a Magic-User with healing spells and a religious backstory and achieve the same thing, so it's not that great of a loss. I guess my only complaint is that the reduction of classes to just the Fighter, Specialist, and Magic-User means that only one class in three has any kind of magical abilities, which bothers me for reasons I can't quite put my finger on.

Anyway, class mechanics: all classes advance at the same rate, experience-wise, which I love. At character creation, Fighters get to roll for HP twice and take the higher amount, while the other classes just roll once, as usual. Makes sense to me, since Fighters should be tougher on average, but some outliers should be allowed (again, wizards don't have to be squishy). Fighters still get improving to-hit bonuses as they level up (and presumably still have their usual combat options), Specialists still get 4 skill points to freely spend at character creation and 2 more each level, and Magic-Users still sin against man and nature. Niche protection is still enforced to a large extent.

Maybe too much, as far as attack bonuses are concerned. There are now 4 categories of attack bonuses: Melee, Ranged, Firearms, and Guard (more on that last one later). Fighters begin with a +2 in each category and increase by +1 per level, which is basically the same as before. Specialists and Magic-Users, on the other hand, not only never increase their attack bonuses past first level (as usual for LotFP), but they only start with a +1 bonus in Firearms and in one other, random category, making them even less versatile in combat than in the past. I don't see what this actually adds to the game. I would at least let players choose their one category besides Firearms, so they can have more of a hand in shaping their own characters if they wish. I don't think that a +1 across the board at first level was ever game-breaking, though.

As far as niche protection goes, I do think the new skill rules are generally a huge improvement, though. Everybody starts with some skill points (assuming their Intelligence score doesn't suck), but only the Specialist gets skill points beyond first level, and only the Specialist gets to choose how to spend some of their skill points instead of having them all spread randomly. It's slightly more complicated than this, but this is how it basically breaks down: not counting the extra skill points gained by the Specialist, a character with very low Intelligence gets no skill points, a character with low Intelligence gets 3 skill points, average Intelligence gets 5 skill points, high Intelligence gets 7 skill points, and very high gets 10 skill points.

One of my biggest complaints about LotFP was that only the Specialist really got to take advantage of the game's simple and fun skill system, and it was a little too unrealistic that no one had any extra skills at all besides the Specialist (shouldn't a Fighter have some experience with Stealth or Bushcraft as part of their training?), so the new rules address my complaints almost perfectly. My only real problem here, again, is that I think players should be able to choose how to spend these points if they want to (for a specific character concept or whatever) instead of being forced to roll randomly for their characters' areas of expertise.

Overall, it's nice that almost everyone gets a few skills while the Specialist still has good niche protection.

More new skill-related stuff: Sneak Attack is curiously absent from the list of skills. I wonder if it's supposed to be a class ability of the Specialist that advances independently of skill points now (which I would be fine with), or if it's been completely removed (which would suck), or what. Open Doors is also absent, but I didn't like that skill anyway, so I'm happy about that.

Four new skills have been added, bringing the total up to 12. There's Leadership for keeping retainers in line, Luck for re-rolling crappy results, Medicine for improving natural HP recovery, and Seamanship, which is the Bushcraft of the Sea. It's a good list. I like to think I predicted two of the new skills, in theory if not in execution.

Interestingly, Leadership and Medicine actually have built-in punishments if the rolls are failed, making it risky to even use them in the first place. Previously, the only skill that had a negative result if failed (rather than simply no result) was Climb, assuming I understand the current rules correctly. The Climb and Bushcraft skills have also been updated in the Playtest Document in a similar manner. Instead of vaguely saying that a failed Climb check results in a fall from a random height, the new rules state that a failed check calls for a saving throw; a partial success (more on the new saving throw system later) means a fall from halfway up, and a complete failure means a fall from the top. I appreciate this clarification. Also, the new rules explicitly note something that I think was implicit before, namely that the Climb skill should only be needed for climbing sheer surfaces without rope or other climbing tools, which I also appreciate.

As for Bushcraft, there are specifically new traveling rules that involve the skill. The gist is that the person in the party with the highest Bushcraft skill must make a skill check at the beginning of each day of travel. Failure means the DM gets to roll on a d10 chart of problems for the party. It seems quite fun and reasonable.

I could see some people arguing that Specialist skills should not penalize characters for their use, but I'm fine with these new rules. They seem to be based on common sense and are not unduly punitive. It's not like anyone needs to make a skill check to walk ten feet on flat ground without tripping or anything.

Besides saving throws and magic, there are a few other miscellaneous things that are different.

Reaction rolls can be influenced by the Leadership skill, and hirelings with a different religion than that of their boss now have penalties to their loyalty or morale. Cool.

Characters can theoretically survive until they drop to -4 HP, although whether or not they survive dropping below 0 HP and whether or not they remain conscious and whether or not they lose a point from their maximum HP all depend on a saving throw. Neat.

Characters can now hold an action in combat. Between this and the fact that Dexterity now affects initiative, I have to wonder if LotFP is ditching the group initiative option. That would make me sad, since LotFP made me fall in love with group initiative in the first place. Perhaps Dexterity should affect something else instead of (or in addition to) initiative. Or maybe in group initiative the party's initiative should be determined by whoever has the highest Dexterity or something. At any rate, if you want to use individual initiative, you should probably allow characters to hold an action, and the proposed rules for doing so are fine.

Characters can now Guard in combat. This replaces the Parry option from the current rules. It basically increases a character's AC temporarily by an amount equal to their level plus their Guard bonus. This can be done out of initiative order, but at a penalty (unless you're a Fighter). I like it.

Weapon damage has been greatly simplified to something similar to the damage rules of OD&D. All weapons do 1d8 damage, but armor counts double against minor and small weapons, and half against great weapons and polearms. I'm not a fan of this approach at all. I think the way weapons and damage worked previously in LotFP were simple enough while still allowing enough variety for equipment choices to be meaningful and flavorful. Also, adjusting AC based on weapons sounds annoying. This is probably my least-favorite change in the rules. I don't think it adds enough utility to make up for what it removes.

To summarize, what do I think so far? New ability score rules, new class rules, new skill rules, new dying rules, new reaction/morale rules, new traveling rules, new Guard and Holding an Action rules, and new "universal" rules = very good, with some minor caveats. New attack bonus rules, new weapon damage rules, and (possible) lack of the Sneak Attack skill = not good. A bit of a mixed bag so far, but more positive than negative.

In my next post, I'll finish up by talking about saving throws and magic.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

How to "Myth" Up Your Next Adventure

If you want to make your campaign more like Myth (which was the actual premise of the LotFP campaign I'm running now), roll on the following table for something to add to your next adventure, or just pick something that fits.

1. A whole bunch of undead monsters. No, more than that. Enough that the players will need to either flee or enlist a small army to help them fight. And have the undead be an organized fighting force, not just a series of short encounters.
2. Dwarves with bombs. Bonus points for friendly fire.
3. Arrows made out of the bones of the severed limb of an evil wizard. If you shoot that wizard with them, the wizard turns to stone.
4. Scantily-clad folks waving around greatswords and painting themselves blue.
5. Magic roots that heal people. Bonus points if someone repurposes a root-digging shovel as a weapon.
6. Bloated undead that explode like TNT if they take more than a tiny bit of damage. Their bits and pieces act as shrapnel that paralyze those they hit. They carry around daggers so they can detonate themselves.
7. Undead monsters hiding underwater in ambush. Bonus points if they taint the water supply.
8. A book that can tell you anything from the past or future, but you can only open it to a random page and have no control over what it actually lets you read.
9. A pocket dimension full of spiders and pyramids of severed heads. Bonus points for M. C. Escher references.
10. Giants that can kill the average human with a single kick, but that turn to stone when they take too much damage.
11. Desperate villagers fleeing in droves to one of the few remaining safe places. They won't be safe for long.
12. People who are very talented at fighting, but handicap themselves by wearing heavy tiles from the walls of a distant palace as penance.
13. A spell that blows up a whole crowd of people/monsters in an impressive chain reaction, provided the targets stand close enough together. Theoretically, if everyone in the world were to line up closely and refuse to move, one casting of the spell would kill them all.
14. Monsters that used to terrorize the entire human population have now gone extinct themselves, but eventually they somehow come back to life.
15. A wizard who dives to the floor of the ocean to learn forbidden magical secrets.
16. A bottomless pit. Everyone knows it's there, but they generally ignore it. If you throw in a certain object, an explosion emanates from the pit.
17. A Dream Duel between wizards, as psychological as it is supernatural.
18. A giant stone head worshiped by nomadic ape-like creatures. They roll the head along with them as they migrate. Bonus points if someone wants to blow it up.
19. A wizard frozen in a river or buried in a landslide, but not dead.
20. Forest giants that promise to come help you out, but don't show up. Assholes.
21. People who dual-wield katanas and reference non-European animals like jaguars in an otherwise Medieval Europe-flavored setting.
22. Two groups (bonus points for whole armies) of undead fighting each other, with innocent people caught in the crossfire.
23. A small number of heroes defend a narrow mountain pass from a much larger force. Bonus points for a rain of arrows that blots out the sun.
24. Ancient stone monuments that are secretly part of a teleportation network. Bonus points if someone wants to blow them up to keep someone else from using them.
25. A bow that shoots lightning, a sword that shoots lightning, and undead monsters that shoot lightning.
26. Monsters from another dimension that are trapped in the players' world. They must wear the skins of native creatures so that the local god does not see and smite them. Because of this, no one in this world knows what they actually look like.
27. The number 7, which keeps popping up again and again. You feel as if you remember it from a dream, but you can't quite remember...
28. Huge cities made of iron, now melted and warped, buried in the wasteland. The rivers run red with rust.
29. Cultists, warlocks, bandits, or other dumbasses who collaborate with the forces of darkness even though said forces of darkness clearly intend to betray them and drive their species to extinction.
30. A spell that turns the caster into a flock of ravens. If you kill one of the ravens, the caster can never cast the spell again once they return to their normal form, and they become even crazier than usual.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Evil Weirdness: A Game Idea

I don't know if this would work better as an RPG, a board game, a video game, or what.

You play as the forces of Evil Weirdness. Nyarlathotep, the Demiurge, a Ruinous Power from Warhammer - whichever abomination tickles your fancy, as long as it works subtly or from a distance. Your goal is to spread Magical Chaos and Eldritch Awfulness across the world. You do so by creating the dungeons/adventure locations, monsters, magic items, supernatural phenomena, etc. that the players usually fight or otherwise try to deal with in games like D&D, Call of Cthulhu, and other fantasy/horror games in which evil is usually fought by small groups of heroes, adventures, or investigators.

You start out making isolated pockets of Evil Weirdness. These pockets often seem unconnected, partly because you want them to appear unrelated to each other in the eyes of all the potential investigators out there to prevent them from realizing a greater conspiracy is at work, and partly because your agents on Earth (or whatever world you're corrupting) are varied and don't always get along. Over time, you can start making the isolated bits of weirdness start working together to ruin the world. You can amass cults, build armies, corrupt the laws of nature or reality, influence world leaders with dark magic, weaken the foundations of society, and just generally start partying like it's 999.

You are opposed by pesky do-gooder types among the human/humanoid population, monsters and magical phenomena that don't want to cooperate with you, other gods of Evil Weirdness who want to end the world their way instead of your way, dwindling resources (what, you thought Nyarlathotep didn't have to pay taxes?), and any progress or improvement that society manages to undergo over time. And maybe aliens, because aliens are cool.

There are some similar games that already exist, like Dungeon Keeper and Cthulhu Wars, but I have little experience with these games. I'd like to see a game in which the goal is to spread chaos in a way that is both worldwide in scale and opposed by small, independent groups of resourceful people. A Sauron Simulator, if you will.

I don't think I'll be able to pull off designing such a thing, or at least not any time soon. If someone steals this idea to make a good game, I'll be more than happy.

Video Game Soundtracks

Sometimes, people get the urge to integrate music into an RPG campaign. I've already talked about this in one respect. I think music can also be helpful as inspiration (or "mood music") while writing or preparing adventures, and sometimes it can be fun to play ambient music during actual play at the table. Here are some miscellaneous video game soundtracks that might be useful for those who run dark fantasy or horror games and want to incorporate some new music.

Shadow of the Beast

Shadow of the Beast II

Shadow of the Beast III

Chakan: The Forever Man

The Immortal

Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver

Forbidden Siren

Siren: Blood Curse



Alien Trilogy

Doom (Playstation version)

Final Doom (Playstation version)

Alone in the Dark (1992)

The Binding of Isaac



Dr. Chaos

The 7th Guest

Clock Tower

Splatterhouse (TurboGrafx-16 version)

Splatterhouse 2

Splatterhouse 3




Sweet Home

Yume Nikki

Dark Seed


Tombs & Treasure

Nightmare Creatures


Diablo II


American McGee's Alice

I mostly had D&D, LotFP, and similar games in mind while choosing these. I think Alien Trilogy and Marathon could be useful for Carcosa, Forbidden Siren and Siren: Blood Curse might fit Qelong well, and American McGee's Alice may be good for A Red & Pleasant Land. Of course, not every track is going to be good as background music, and some of the songs won't fit the appropriate tone for a dark fantasy or horror game, but there's definitely some good stuff here, if you ask me.

If you enjoyed any of the Youtube videos I embedded above, please make sure to "like" them on Youtube.

Casting the Movie of My Campaign

As a DM/GM/Referee, do you ever just tell your players something like "The man in front of you looks like Christopher Walken," or "The voice on the telephone sounds like Tim Curry," or some other celebrity-based shorthand description of an NPC? I might be lazy, but I've found it helpful to do it every once in a while. Therefore, I've decided to beat this idea like a thousand dead horses. If asked (or if the mood struck me), here are the celebrities/actors to whom I would compare many of the NPCs in the Lamentations of the Fallen Lords campaign.

NPCs the players have met:

NPCs the players have yet to meet (This list is subject to change):

Even if you never actually describe your NPCs to the players in terms of real-life look-alikes or sound-alikes, it might be helpful to keep a list of comparisons like this to help keep all of the characters' appearances and personalities straight. Besides, it can be fun to cast your ideal movie adaptation in your head; people seem to do it with books all the time.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Magic Item - The Book of Deeds

The book weighs 5 lb. and features a black leather cover with golden letters reading "The Book of Deeds" and gold leaf pages. Abstract gold figures decorate the spine. The book gives off a faint smell of myrrh. If you look at the book out of the corner of your eye, you get the sense that it is slowly expanding in size or moving closer to you, even though this is clearly not the case. The book is kept closed by a simple lock covered by a red wax seal depicting a stylized sun. The lock is easy to pick or break. The pages are blank until the book is opened, but it would obviously be difficult to determine that without opening the book and triggering its effects.

The first person to open the book determines its contents. If an NPC is the first to open it, the pages will be filled with descriptions of various events that have taken place in that NPC's past. The descriptions will generally revolve around the most morally right and most morally wrong actions that the NPC has ever taken. Since morality is at least partially a matter of belief or opinion, exactly what choices count as the most morally "right" or "wrong" among all those ever made by the NPC should be determined by how glad or ashamed (in a moral sense) the NPC is to have made such choices (or to be reminded of them by the book). If the NPC is not capable of feeling gladness or shame regarding matters of ethics, or if they can feel these emotions only in a very shallow sense, or if they are simply incapable of knowing right from wrong, the NPC's actions depicted in the book will be those which would generally be considered the most righteous or depraved among the NPC's peers, community, or associates.

If a PC is the first to open the book, it contains the actual play reports of all campaign sessions involving that character up to that point. You can be "meta" and have the wording in the book literally be the same as in the actual play reports, possibly causing any readers to discover that they are living in an RPG, or you can just use the actual play reports as a guideline for determining which events are depicted in the book, and thus avoid any issues of breaking the "fourth wall." Either way, the book's sole contents are descriptions of what the PC did in the past, along with any other characters who were present, of course.

At the instant the book is opened, a second copy of the book also appears out of thin air somewhere else in the world. The DM can determine this location randomly, or just place it in a spot that will result in the most interesting, entertaining, or complicated situation for the players. If you have a world map, you could maybe drop a die on it and put the copy roughly where it lands. Don't put it somewhere that will automatically and completely ruin the party's chances of survival or success, though; they should have a chance to find out the book is out there and try to recover it if they so great cost and with great difficulty, of course.

EDIT: If you can't think of another way for the party to find out that the copy is out in the world, you could just have the final paragraph in the book describe the new copy appearing, with vague hints as to where it is or who might find it.

After 24 hours, the pages of the original book become totally blank if that book is closed for even an instant. The copies, however, are mundane books with contents that are not automatically erased. Once the book has become blank, the next person who opens it will trigger its effects again.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Separate Race and Class in LotFP

UPDATE ON 1/16/17: Version 2.0 is HERE, although this post might still be useful for context.

Today's post is a riff on THIS POST from a cool blog called The Eye of Joyful Sitting Amongst Friends. There is also a useful comment from Jeff Wike on the aforementioned post in the Lamentations of the Flame Princess Google+ group. Credit where credit is due.

I'm honestly not a big fan of the race-as-class concept. I cut my teeth on D&D 3.5 (and computer games based on AD&D 1E and 2E), so maybe I'm biased, but even though I'm coming to prefer the B/X and/or BECMI way of running D&D in almost every respect, there are a few things I prefer from the Advanced branch of the game, and separating race and class is one of them. I think it can give players a few more character creation options without totally overcomplicating the process or making it much longer. Can being the operative word.

Here are my suggestions for separating race and class in Lamentations of the Flame Princess.

At character creation, the player chooses both a race and a class. Available races are Elves, Dwarves, Halflings, and Humans. Available classes are the Fighter, the Cleric, and the Magic-User.

Elves must be Chaotic, and they can only be Fighters or Magic-Users. All Elves use the HP, Saving Throw, and Experience progression table of the Elf class from LotFP (for example, they use a d6 for Hit Dice). At character creation, Elven characters gain one extra point of Intelligence. Elves progress in the Search skill like the Elf class in LotFP. Elves are only surprised on a 1 in 6 chance.  Elves are immune to Sleep, Charm, and Hold Person spells, and are otherwise affected by certain spells differently than other characters; see Rules & Magic for details. Elves are damaged by holy water like other innately magical beings. Magic-Users who are Elves can cast spells with one hand and can cast spells when up to heavily encumbered, and they begin play at first level with the same starting spells as Human Magic-Users. Fighters who are Elves can cast Magic-User spells from wands and staves as a first-level Magic-User if they make a successful Save vs. Device; failure means the spell is not cast, but the appropriate charges are lost as if the spell were cast.

Dwarves must be Lawful, and they can only be Fighters or Clerics. All Dwarves use the HP, Saving Throw, and Experience progression table of the Dwarf class from LotFP (for example, they use a d10 for Hit Dice). At character creation, Dwarven characters gain one extra point of Constitution. Dwarves progress in the Architecture skill like the Dwarf class in LotFP. It takes 5 additional items for a Dwarf to gain their first point of encumbrance. Dwarven characters continue to add their Constitution modifier to their hit points after Level 9.

Halflings must be Neutral, and they can only be Fighters. All Halflings use the HP, Saving Throw, and Experience progression table of the Halfling class from LotFP (for example, they use a d6 for Hit Dice). At character creation, Halfling characters gain one extra point of Dexterity. Halflings progress in the Bushcraft skill like the Halfling class in LotFP. Halflings also begin play with a 5 in 6 Stealth skill. Halflings receive a 1-point bonus to AC when not surprised. Due to their size, Halflings cannot use large weapons, and must use medium weapons two-handed.

Humans can be Fighters, Clerics, or Magic-Users. Clerics must be Lawful and Magic-Users must be Chaotic, but Human Fighters can choose any of the three alignments. All Humans use the HP progression table of the Fighter (so they use a d8 for Hit Dice), and they use the Experience progression table corresponding to their class in LotFP.
All Humans start with a Saving Throw of 14 in every category. At first level and every level thereafter, Humans can choose to either improve four different Saving Throws by 1 point each, improve two different Saving Throws by 2 points each, or improve one Saving Throw by 2 points and two other Saving Throws by 1 point each. The minimum Saving Throw for a Human in any category is 2.
At character creation, Human characters gain one extra point in either Charisma, Strength, or Wisdom, as they see fit. All Humans gain Skill Points and distribute them among their skills like the Specialist class in LotFP.

EDIT ON JAN. 2, 2017: If you want a slightly less radical take on humans as a race, here's a simpler possibility.
Humans can be Fighters, Clerics, or Magic-Users. Clerics must be Lawful and Magic-Users must be Chaotic, but Human Fighters can choose any of the three alignments. All Humans use the HP progression table of the Fighter (so they use a d8 for Hit Dice), and they use the Saving Throw and Experience progression table corresponding to their class in LotFP. At character creation, Human characters gain one extra point of Charisma. All Humans gain Skill Points and distribute them among their skills like the Specialist class in LotFP.

 Some ways I think these rules might affect the game:
  1. All PCs would be more powerful across the board, but hopefully not by too much. I wouldn't recommend pulling too many punches if you use this race/class system for LotFP. On the other hand, if you want to run AD&D or more "modern" D&D modules with the LotFP rules, these house rule ideas might help address the possible issue of your typical LotFP characters being too weak to have a decent fighting chance at surviving or succeeding. Whether or not any issues of characters being weaker or stronger than "intended" even matter is in the eye of the beholder, of course.
  2. Magic-Users, in particular, would be a lot beefier. I personally see this as a good thing, since it encourages Magic-Users to take advantage of the lack of weapon and armor restrictions in LotFP, thus tempting them to take more stupid risks in combat and die gruesomely instead of letting the Fighters handle such messy matters. Players might also be less frustrated when playing low-level Magic-Users when they don't have to deal with the usual problem of supposedly becoming "useless" for the rest of the day once their few spells are cast, and thus less likely to want to throw dice at the DM or go play World of Darkness or something. If the idea of bending to the complaints of your players is entirely beneath you, that's fine, but I think that sometimes the players have a point.
  3. Players who want a lot of control over how their characters progress or want to be the most powerful (insofar as a diversity of skills/options in any given situation is a form of power) in the long run would probably play humans, while players who would rather have a prepackaged starting advantage (despite diminishing returns at later levels) would be more likely to play demihumans. Of course, there are other factors to consider. The most likely exception would be players who just want to have massive amounts of HP, since they would probably go for Dwarves. Anyone who wants Sneak Attack is going to need a Human. The ability of an Elven Magic-User to cast while heavily encumbered can come in handy at any level. Etc.
  4. Considering how long it takes to level up in LotFP, and again, how deadly LotFP tends to be, the majority of players might even gravitate toward playing demihuman characters because of their initial advantages. That's fine. Remember that humans dominate society, demihumans are rare, and non-humans are usually going to be treated as freaks and curiosities at best or targets for superstitious mobs and witch-hunters at worst.
  5. Of course, I might be completely wrong about all of my expected results. Maybe I'm way off-base with my predictions about "initial advantages vs. long-term power" being the main difference between demihumans and humans. Maybe if this is something worth actually aiming for, I should make some more radical tweeks to the system. Playtesting would be needed to see what would actually happen. I would love to hear predictions from more experienced D&D players, as well!
Additional notes:
I changed the Dwarf's bonus to Constitution and the Halfling's bonues to Dexterity from a bonus to the modifier to a bonus to the initial Ability Score itself because the former approach (from LotFP RAW) complicates the way Ability Scores work a bit too much for my taste. Like everything else, please feel free to ignore my opinion on this. EDIT: Brett Slocum convinced me in a discussion on the LotFP Google+ group that it would be better to just use modifier bonus like in the LotFP rules as written. It's more useful to the players if they do it that way, and it's not that much more complicated.
I added the rule about Elven Fighters being able to use wands (shittily) because I thought that they were slightly outmatched by Human and Dwarven Fighters without some kind of little extra perk, and because I think it fits in with the magical nature of Elves.
The main idea I was going for here is that humans have more choice over their destinies than demihumans, and are less set in their ways. I think this matches a lot of fantasy fiction rather well, along with the fluff for the demihuman classes in LotFP and the depiction of the Dwarf race in Hammers of the God.
Looking back over these rules, I kind of feel like Elves suck in general compared to Humans, Dwarves, and Halflings. This could be a false impression. Playtesting would help confirm or deny it. Insert whining about how hard game design is here.

Friday, March 11, 2016

"The Chaos Gods Come to Meatlandia" Review

The Chaos Gods Come to Meatlandia is a campaign setting book written for Lamentations of the Flame Princess and other OSR systems by Wind Lothamer and Ahimsa Kerp and published by Knight Owl Games. Spoiler alert: I highly recommend getting this book. You can do so HERE.

Meatlandia gives the phrase "fleshed out setting" a whole new meaning.

The very brief and fairly tame opening about the history of Meatlandia's gods will not prepare you for the glorious madness to follow. You know how the Fremen in Frank Herbert's Dune would drown a small sandworm and use its Spice-laden secretions, the "water of life," to create their own home-grown version of the psychic (or prescient or whatever) Reverend Mothers? Picture that, but with creepy biopunk magic instead of psychic or metaphysical abilities. Now make that a huge industry in a city that is under siege by more (and weirder) sandworms and controlled by David Cronenberg's re-imagining of the Invincible Overlord and subject to random bouts of reality losing its fucking mind and you've got a good idea of what the setting of Meatlandia is all about. Just picture that, but sillier and more disgusting and more awesome.

The book's got cool factions and NPCs with plenty of plot hooks, weird magic that players are sure to both desire and fear, a city and surrounding territories with just enough detail to be fascinating and useful without getting bogged down with any pointless crap, rules for Chaos Storms that will probably break your campaign (in a good way, LotFP-style), crazy new classes with insane new rules, neat new monsters and magic items, rules for altering your flesh for fun and profit to become a meat man, and meat mechs. That's right. Meat. Mechs.

The tone of the book manages to hit that fine line between comedy and horror. It's a hard tone to pull off well (I'd recommend the works of David Wong if you crave this sort of thing), but Meatlandia does it. Reading about the downtrodden and doomed citizens of Meatlandia, I was caught between laughing at the absurdity of their situation and feeling really bad for them. This is a setting that wanna-be heroes and murderhobos alike could enjoy.

I think the new classes were my favorite feature of the book. There are three, count 'em, three distinct species of bards, and somehow none of them are lame. There's the Raconteur, who amasses a small army of NPC henchmen, the Chaos DJ, who takes metagaming in a hilarious direction with the power of the player's music collection, and the Nexus Bard, who calls down Chaos Storms to just break everything (which is probably a good thing, considering the situation in Meatlandia).

As if that wasn't enough, there are also Meat Mages (a.k.a. Carnomancers) to take advantage of the new spells/ritual magic rules/worm-based drugs, and Kaldane, a race of six-legged heads who ride around on headless bodies and generally do freaky things. The Kaldane are especially unique, and look really fun for both mechanical and roleplaying reasons. Imagine Master-Blaster from Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, except that Master is a disembodied head creature and Blaster is...pretty much the same, but without a head. Good stuff.

Some of the random encounters and Chaos Storm effects might be a little too harsh or arbitrary, like an encounter that can make a character lose a point of wisdom if they can't figure out a riddle shouted by some random madwoman, but the DM could always adjust things by allowing more saving throws or letting the players avoid certain problems with some quick thinking. Besides, Meatlandia is supposed to be harsh and sort of arbitrary, so this is probably a feature and not a bug. If you don't like these encounters, adjusting them is easy, but there might be some value atmosphere-wise to keeping this as written.

I do have to mention some weaknesses in this book. It could have definitely used another pass by an editor, since typos are pretty frequent. They didn't get in the way of my understanding of the material, but they were annoying. The stats are supposed to be compatible with Lamentations of the Flame Princess, but using them with that system might require some slight hacking, since there are a lot of references to AD&D-isms like a paladin NPC, schools of magic, the 9-alignment system, etc., plus the sheer power-levels and diversity of abilities of the new classes seem to be more in line with AD&D or modern D&D than the ultra-streamlined classes of LotFP. This isn't really a bad thing; in fact, it makes me really want to run an AD&D 1E campaign set in Meatlandia. But I wish there were more conversion notes for using the material with Basic D&D-type games like LotFP, and maybe even some non-D&D-based games (at least the book uses the excellent skill point system from LotFP). Finally, I think that some of the new spell descriptions were a little too vague in terms of what kind of actual mechanical effects the spells were supposed to have. This is nothing major, but a tiny bit more guidance in terms of "crunch" might have been nice.

Still, the strengths of this book far outweigh any weaknesses I may have perceived. The sheer creativity, imagination, goofiness, grossness, usefulness, and fun of this book, coupled with its strong and consistent theme of order putrefying into chaos while reality takes a lunch break, make this a must-buy for all you OSR freaks and geeks out there. I can't wait to see some adventures released for this setting, but in the meantime, The Chaos Gods Come to Meatlandia gives you everything you need to get in touch with your inner Lloyd Kaufman, Stuart Gordon, or (early) Peter Jackson.

The Chaos Gods Come to Meatlandia gets a Worm-Infested Panda Bear with Acid Breath out of 10.

Disintegrate - Feedback and House Rules

This is a follow-up to my previous post about possibly nerfing the Disintegration spell in LotFP.

One of the players in my group, Rob, has been a D&D fan for a long time. His first version of the game was the Holmes Basic Set from 1977, complete with that sweet cover. He also plays the only PC mage in the current party, named Damien. He tends to have useful advice, naturally. He agreed to let me quote him on his thoughts about my possible Disintegration house rules.

"I tried replying on the blog, but it doesn't seem to work, so.... here you go. (Hope this all fits...)

There are definitely some overpowered spells in D&D in general. (And this rule set in particular, due to some glaring loopholes the authors missed.)
 Harm and Disintegrate are right up there near the top. As you've noticed, I have avoided using it, specifically because of the over-powered nature of it. Magic Missile, as well, is insanely over-powered at higher caster levels. It's almost guaranteed death when cast at another mage of the same level, once both are over level 11.

In fact, just about any spell that has a level-based effect with no level cap, has the potential to be overpowered. Luckily, there are some simple ways to deal with it.

1) Any spell that has an instantaneous, non-dice-based effect, should have a saving throw. (IOW - Anything where you don't have to roll for damage.) So Disintegrate should get a save. Magic Missile, where the damage caused is determined by a specified number of random die rolls, doesn't. The exception is, of course, anything where the spell description specifically states that the target does, or does not, get to save. In that case, go with the description, unless it becomes an abuse problem."

This sounds perfectly fine to me. Disintegrate now allows a save, and so do other instantaneous, non-dice-based effects, unless the spell description specifically says otherwise.

"2) Any touch-based spell should require a combat to-hit roll for an unwilling target. AFAIK, that's the control on the Harm spell. It is touch-based, and should require a to-hit roll."

Also sounds good. One of my Journeyman-playing friends already agreed with this as well. Touch-based spells now require a to-hit roll to work.

"3) Institute a cap on level-based spell effects that stops at, say, 10 levels over the minimum needed to cast it. So Magic Missile would reach maximum effectiveness at caster level 11, with 11 missiles for a total of 11d4 damage. The venerable Fireball would have a max of 15d6 damage. Also removes some of the ridiculosity of Bless."

I'm okay with this. I knew the lack of a level cap on spells like Magic Missile was entirely deliberate on the part of James Raggi when he wrote the LotFP rules, and usually it's a concept I like, but I'm fine with ditching it for this campaign. Also, I want to note that Fireball is not in LotFP if you play it RAW (and no player invents it with the spell research rules), but I've mentioned before that it does exist in the Lamentations of the Fallen Lords campaign as a rare spell. Long story short, level-based spell effects cap at 10 plus the minimum character level needed to memorize the spell.

"(Also, I would consider Harm to be non-dice-based damage spell, allowing a saving throw. This means that the successful use Harm would require both a to-hit roll, and a saving throw. This instantly makes the spell nowhere near as unbalancing. If that's still not enough to prevent abuse, then institute some form of Code of Conduct that somehow prohibits PCs from using Harm, which could be appropriate for honorable warrior-cleric representatives of the empire. Maybe "Your god considers such actions to be dishonorable, and refuses to grant you this power.")"

I'm on the fence about requiring a to-hit roll and a saving throw, but considering that Harm only leaves an enemy with 1d4 HP, it might be fair. I'll have to talk it over with the group. I think a Code of Conduct would be overkill in this case, since I don't like rules that remind me of alignment crap. You know, "your paladin was imprisoned in ice for 10,000 years and couldn't tithe, so he loses his powers," and annoying garbage like that. Not that the Code of Conduct is nearly so egregious or anything, but I don't want to risk even winding up in that ballpark.

"Regarding your proposed saving throw against Disintegration for items, I think you should rule it one way or the other, and not allow player choice. Either you have to roll for items, or you don't. It doesn't make sense that, while being vaporized in a split second, you somehow get to decide whether or not the spell gets to vaporize your items, too. IMO, all non-magic items go *poof*. Each magical items gets a save, individually, with any magical pluses being applied to its individual roll. This gets rid of having to roll for hordes of generic stuff, and allows for special stuff to be saved."

I'm pretty fine with this, too. The target makes a Save vs. Magic to negate the Disintegration, and then if they fail they die and their non-magic items are gone, at which point they must make a Save vs. Magic for each of their magic items to see if they are disintegrated or not.

I could see it being kind of weird that the saving throw of the person carrying the item determines how easy it is to disintegrate the item. Would a magic item that is not being carried not get a saving throw? I should think about this a bit more.

"Regarding the problem of hordes of wand-wielding Disintegrators... Rather than put more artificial restrictions in place in more game systems, perhaps a simple approach would be the best. I would limit the effectiveness of the tactic using a simple modification of your original house rule: Put some controls over the manner in which non-mages use wands. Say, for example...

1) A max spell level that can be cast. Set it at five, and the problem disappears. Not just for Disintegrate, but for all related spells, such as Power Word Kill and the various Prismatic spells.
2) Require a saving throw every time it is used. Low-level characters have pretty poor saving throws, meaning that hordes of low-level wand-wielders would be extremely ineffective. Higher level characters with better saving throws could still take advantage of the rule with minimal risk. Failed saves could cause some random effects:
a) Simple failure means the charge is expended to no effect.
b) Botched saves could result in anything from harmlessly expending additional charges, to random discharges against random targets, having the effects target the wielder, to harmless or even catastrophic destruction of the item with accompanying explosions with a strength determined by spell level and number of charges. Make it random, so even a botched save doesn't mean that you automatically die.

In this manner, using a wand that has good effects would still be, mostly, without risk. It may take a few tries to get that Spider Climb to work right. But, you'd have to get really unlucky to botch a save, and then roll an explosion on top of it. Attempting to use harmful wands on a mass scale with non-mages, however, would have a statistically significant chance of leading to disasters like people incinerating themselves, or exploding wands tearing holes in your own lines.

I think that would strike a good balance. People could still use wands individually with minimal risk. The potential for failure from massed usage would provide some serious disincentive to using them on a strategic scale. But if you insist, good luck!"

This was a helpful line of thought. Let's keep it simple while using some of these ideas. If a mage uses a wand or staff, things proceed as normal. If a non-mage uses a wand, they must make a Save vs. Device. If they succeed, the spell is cast as if a 1st-level mage cast it. If they fail, the spell is not cast, the charge is expended anyway, and the failed caster takes HP damage equal to the spell's level minus 1. For example, if a non-mage tried to cast Disintegrate from a wand and failed the saving throw, they would take 5 points of damage because Disintegrate is a 6th-level spell. The damage would presumably come from a backlash of arcane energy as the spell fizzles.

I think scrolls can only be used by spellcasting classes, so my worry about them falling into the hands of common troops was probably unfounded.

I feel like these changes should address my major misgivings about using the spell list from LotFP in a setting with open warfare between factions controlled by numerous magic-users. Thanks again for the advice, Rob!