Saturday, December 31, 2016

LotFP and the Classic Trio - Possible House Rules for Classes

Let's say you wanted to play an OSR game that meets the following oddly specific and perhaps ill-fitting criteria:

  1. Lamentations of the Flame Princess provides most of the base rules.
  2. The only classes are the original three from OD&D (pre-Greyhawk), and all PCs are human, as Gary Gygax may have wanted.
  3. You don't want to completely abandon the unique rules alterations and innovations of LotFP (hence Criterion #1), but you also want to move away from the "weird fantasy" flavor of LotFP and back toward the flavor of TSR-era D&D to some extent. You want the game to play and feel less like The God That Crawls and more like White Plume Mountain or The Village of Hommlet. (Credit goes to Jason Thompson for making these awesome maps, and Matthew Schmeer at Rended Press for the links.)
  4. Keeping Criterion #3 in mind, you want to make the Cleric something of a conceptual halfway-point between the Fighter and the Magic-User as it originally was, maybe even something Paladin-esque. You want to make the Cleric play more like the old-fashioned D&D version and less like the "alternative Lawful Magic-User" of LotFP.
  5. You want to make straightforward combat slightly less of a bad idea than it tends to be in LotFP. But only slightly.

Well, here are some changes I would consider making in such a situation. I should preface this by saying these ideas are still pretty rough, and definitely untested on my part. Most glaringly, I haven't worked out the exact saving throw numbers yet.

Assume the rules are the same as in LotFP, with the following exceptions:

  • d10 HD (+4 HP after Level 9)
  • Continue to add CON bonus to HP after Level 9 (as Dwarf)
  • Five extra items before gaining first encumbrance point (as Dwarf)
  • Maybe better saving throws - If so, best of all classes overall (maybe as Dwarf)
  • Extra attacks against low-HD enemies, as in OD&D
  • d8 HD (+3 HP after Level 9)
  • Combat Options as Fighter
  • Turn Undead as a separate class ability instead of a spell, as in OD&D. Maybe have it work against demons, Lovecraftian horrors, summoned entities, and/or other "unholy" creatures as well.
  • Maybe better saving throws
  • Maybe reduce time needed to make holy water EDIT: Oh, and do this for protection scrolls, too. Those are a neat idea I don't think I've ever actually seen used at the table.
  • d6 HD (+2 HP after Level 9)
  • Maybe lower cost and/or time required for writing scrolls (or magical research activities in general)
  • Maybe better saving throws (but if so, still not as good as those of the other classes, with the possible exceptions of saves vs. devices or magic)
  • Unlikely but possible change: Can Exasperate as per the Alice class from A Red & Pleasant Land, as a Chaos-themed counterpart to the (Lawful) Cleric's Turn Undead ability. EDIT: I should probably mention that this is one of the few house rules here that I HAVE extensively playtested, and while I still haven't decided if it's balanced yet, I can confirm that it is fun and my players seem to love it. So maybe this isn't such an unlikely change after all.
  • Allow Magic-User spells to be cast even when they are not properly "prepared," when the Magic-User is out of appropriate spell slots for the day, when the Magic-User's hands are full, etc., but with some kind of major risk. Last Gasp has some great rules for this, as does the LotFP Playtest Document.
    Global Changes
    • All characters gain skill points as a Specialist. No separate Specialist class.
    • No Elf, Dwarf, or Halfling classes. If the players really want to play non-humans, you could use separate race and class rules, sort of like these or these.
    • The skill list is the same as it is HERE, except that Open Doors stays (per Rules As Written), and Sneak Attack and Luck are removed. Search is still omitted (in favor of player skill over dice rolls).
    The "logic" behind these changes
    It started with the Cleric. Since I wanted the Cleric to be more like a Fighter than it is in LotFP, but without further undermining the usefulness of the Fighter as a separate class to have available, I decided to try "toughening up" the Cleric in ways that didn't totally step on the Fighter's toes while also giving some new advantages to the Fighter to hopefully prevent the Cleric from simply becoming a Fighter But Better. The Elf and Dwarf classes served as guidelines here. For example, in LotFP the Elf is something of a hybrid between the Fighter and Magic-User, but the Fighter part is added not through the Fighter's increasing to-hit bonus (which remains unique to that class), but through other features like the Fighter's extra combat options and some extra HP (not as much HP as the Fighter gets, but more than the Magic-User does). Similarly, the Dwarf also gets the advanced combat options as a concession to its fighting prowess. I think it makes sense to try something similar with an "old-fashioned" Cleric class, so I gave the Cleric these combat options and increased their HD to a d8. I haven't decided about changing the Cleric's saving throws, but it might not hurt.

    Changing Turn Undead from a first level spell back into its own special ability, like in OD&D and such, was mostly done for flavor reasons. Since undead might not necessarily be plentiful and monsters might not be easily sorted into "types" like "undead" in a campaign that keeps even a little bit of the LotFP approach to monster design, I figure it might make sense to expand the scope of what can be "turned." Besides, I don't see why a Cleric's holy powers should necessarily give them an advantage against a zombie but not a demon. And is a shoggoth being repelled by an elder sign really all that different from a vampire being repelled by a cross?

    The holy water thing is just because I like the idea of weaponized holy water, and because I think the ability to produce holy water as adventuring gear is a cool thing that differentiates Clerics from other classes. But man, a whole week to make one dose of holy water? I doubt that a lot of players would bother to spend the time to make it.

    Since all classes can use all types of weapons and armor in LotFP (keeping in mind certain spell-casting and physical skill limitations), and since magic weapons and armor in LotFP are probably much more likely to be cursed or otherwise complicated to use and, shall we say, "situationally useful," Fighters can no longer count on the use of class-restricted magic items as an advantage or a feature which differentiates them from Clerics and Magic-Users. In LotFP, the major advantages of playing a Fighter are simply that you can hit things more easily/often, and that you can usually take more punishment (probably due to either taking more risks or just screwing up more) and survive. These aren't at all insignificant factors in selecting a class, and as far as advantages go, these ones are appealingly simple, but LotFP Fighters still strike me as a bit boring compared to their peers.

    Since demihumans are out, I figured I might as well spruce the Fighter up with some features cannibalized from the Dwarf. The extra carrying capacity makes it less of a burden for a Fighter to wear heavy armor or carry a variety of weapons than it would be for the other classes. It also gives the Fighter some extra non-combat utility as a pack mule. Like being a "healer" in a lot of other RPGs, being the person who carries the most stuff might not seem like a glorious job, but it's something the rest of the party should probably be very thankful for if they're not a bunch of assholes. This also gives the Fighter the ability to grab the most treasure and run if the other players are assholes and deserve to be abandoned to die. The d10 hit dice (and improved saving throws should I end up including them) make the Fighter the hardiest class, even after the Cleric has been boosted to d8 HD. The whole "continuing to add the Constitution bonus to HP after Level 9" thing cribbed from the Dwarf gives the Fighter something nice to look forward to at higher levels, assuming they're lucky enough to still have high CON at that point.

    The Fighter's "extra attacks against wussies" thing, like the Turn Undead ability, is just something fun and useful from TSR-era D&D that I wanted to include for that old-fashioned flavor as well as it's function as another thing to set the Fighter apart.

    I wanted to give the Magic-User a little love, too. The Exasperation thing is just meant to be something neat the Magic-User can do. If the Cleric can do something magical that isn't a "spell," then why can't the Magic-User? The ability to cast spells "improperly" is meant to make the Magic-User more versatile with Magic than the Cleric in a way similar to how the Fighter is more versatile in combat than the Cleric. It's also really flavorful and entertainingly unpredictable. The d6 HD (and again, improved saving throws should I decide to alter them) is something of a bone thrown to the Magic-User, since all the other kids were getting more HP. Plus, a Level 0 nobody gets d6 HP, as does a Level 1 Magic-User, and it just bugs me to have the Magic-User's hit dice change from a d6 to a d4. It's a personal preference. Finally, I think it might be fun to make it easier (or at least cheaper) to make scrolls as a sort of throw-back to the ease of scroll-making in Holmes Basic D&D.

    The "everybody is a Specialist" thing appeals to me for reasons I've already discussed to some extent. Even though I didn't want to include a Thief class here, I really like the skill system in LotFP, so why not repurpose it? I wouldn't mind writing more on this topic in the future, but for now, let's just call this an effort to make non-class-based skills and activities even across the board in the absence of a Thief or Specialist class.

    So, am I barking up the wrong tree, or does this actually seem enjoyable? I'd love to hear suggestions and opinions, so as usual, please feel free to drop me a line.

    Friday, December 16, 2016

    What Do YOU Think is Going On?

    Let's say your D&D/OSR campaign involves running a bunch of different modules written by a bunch of different people - for example, let's say you're like me and you tend to use a whole bunch of LotFP adventures in the same campaign. A lot of the setting elements presented to the players - deities and other religious or mythological forces, factions, magic items, political and social elements, locations, cultures, the state of the economy, the level of technology available, etc. - might seem random, unrelated, or even contradictory to your players. You might have a dungeon built by Cthulhu-worshipping ancient serpent people who ruled the world in prehistoric times in one adventure, then have satan-worshipping cultists who summon Biblical demons (or angel-worshipping cultists who summon Biblical angels, because that could be REALLY scary) in the next. Or you may have an adventure which suggests that elves come from inside the Hollow Earth, and then another adventure which provides evidence that they're aliens from another dimension.

    In this kind of situation, I bet there's a good chance that one or more of your players will ask stuff like "How does any of this make sense? How does this all fit together? Does any of this fit together? What kind of weird-ass setting is this? Is anything consistent around here? What the fuck is going on?"

    Now, the obvious solution to this problem (assuming you see it as a problem, which you don't have to, especially if you're running either a purposefully goofy campaign or a purposefully gonzo/pulpy one) is to prevent it from happening in the first place. You could come up with the connections between the major setting elements of your campaign ahead of time and figure out a way to make them all "cohere," historically and/or metaphysically. (You could also do the same thing "after the fact," spending some private time between adventures making sense of the world you're building.) A related tactic is to change details of the adventures ahead of time so that they fit together in your setting in the way you prefer or in a way that you think makes sense. These are the approaches I lean towards in my current campaign, "Lamentations of the Fallen Lords." Another way to prevent the problem from happening is to be more selective about which adventures and other materials you use in the campaign, being careful to only use stuff that seems to make sense when combined into a greater whole at the table.

    But here's another way of dealing with the problem, which I've heard suggested here and there, and which I'd love to do more: When your players ask those kinds of questions, respond with "Well, what do YOU think is going on? Tell me what you think you've figured out so far. Give me your theories." And then, of course, listen to what they say, take notes, steal the best stuff (in terms of either being the coolest individual possibilities or just the ones that make everything cohere in the most satisfying or interesting matter), and pick some of their theories to be explicitly wrong, too, in part or in whole, just to keep the mysteries fresh and offer some future surprises. Give them the potential joy of discovery in the future as they unravel the facts and innuendo and find out what they were right and wrong about.

    Furthermore, this could be a fun way of engaging in collaborative world-building without making a big, complicated...thing out of it. Your players might not even realize this is what happened, at least not at first. Consider it surprise collaborative world-building.

    I might not be a scientist, but as a player I think there's nothing like coming up with a hypothesis and then proving it right. There's also nothing like thinking you've figured everything out and then being blindsided by something unexpected. Some of the best things about playing a game like D&D are the emotions you get: pride at solving a problem or mystery and being proven right, wonder at the strange things you discover exploring a magical world, relief (and more pride) at overcoming an obstacle that seemed insurmountable, fear when the DM shakes their head and starts rolling a bunch of dice, joy at the fact that somebody brought fresh cookies to tonight's game.

    P.S. No matter what solution you choose, if any, it's still up to the players to figure out the greater backstory of the setting through play, if they want to investigate it - I think there's usually no need to spill the beans and subject the players to some kind of potentially boring infodump just because somebody asked you out-of-character to explain stuff.

    Wednesday, December 14, 2016

    1d30 Uncommon Suicide Methods

    This post should probably be considered "Not Safe For Work" - especially the links.
    1. Stealthily drowning oneself in holy water during a church service, so as not to be discovered until at least the end of the sermon.
    2. Gorging oneself on the cremated ashes of one's entire extended family, going back untold generations.
    3. Building a huge, upside-down pyramid suspended on stilts, then standing beneath the pyramid's point and flipping a switch that causes the stilts to be removed and the pyramid to drop.
    4. Using a needle and tube to siphon out one's blood like gasoline stolen from a car's tank. One can drink the blood if one gets thirsty during the process.
    5. Jumping from a second-story balcony repeatedly.
    6. Surgically removing as many of one's own bones as possible, one at a time.
    7. Lying beneath a sturdy table, which is itself beneath a huge weight suspended from the ceiling, then placing a leg of the table in one's mouth and triggering the weight to drop onto the table.
    8. Beating oneself to death with a hammer, club, or other blunt object, starting at the feet and working one's way up the body as each area is pulverized.
    9. Swallowing a serrated sword, then tugging on it. Twisting if necessary.
    10. Standing in the middle of an oil-coated bridge over a deep chasm, shark infested waters, a vat of acid, etc., then lighting both ends of the bridge on fire.
    11. Balancing on top of a long metal pole during a lightning storm, preferably a storm that one created (or at least predicted) through science or magic.
    12. Lying down and simply refusing to get up for any reason, while moving as little as absolutely possible, for as long as it takes.
    13. Purposely infecting oneself with a slow-acting but lethal disease and refusing treatment.
    14. Shooting oneself in the stomach repeatedly, patching up the wound each time in order to see how many shots it takes.
    15. Tying one end of a rope to a vehicle and the other end to one's neck, then sending the vehicle off at high speed, preferably over a cliff.
    16. Stuffing as much bread up one's nose as possible.
    17. Hammering a nail into one's own sternum or skull.
    18. Gathering everything that one is allergic to in one place and exposing oneself to all of it simultaneously.
    19. Building a pear of anguish that forcefully opens to its full extension instantaneously instead of gradually, then using it on oneself in a crowded area.
    20. Eating or inhaling the seeds of quick-growing vines, which take root in the body.
    21. Completely stop sleeping.
    22. Burn oneself alive at the coldest place in the world.
    23. Use a balloon to float high enough to suffocate or freeze.
    24. Boil oneself in a giant pot of soup, which other people are tricked into eating due to one's careful scheming beforehand.
    25. Orgasm to death.
    26. Seal oneself in the wall of a forgotten cellar to dehydrate or starve.
    27. Cut off one's own nose to spite one's face. Then keep cutting.
    28. Add one small but open wound to one's body each day, and take no precautions against infection.
    29. Repeatedly smash windowpanes and other glass objects with one's head. Tirelessly seek out as much glass as necessary.
    30. Cause a volcano to erupt as you straddle the vent.

    Tuesday, November 29, 2016

    Mere Anarchy is Loosed upon the Blog

    Sorry about the radio silence this month. I've been depressed and scared and anxious due to...recent events in general, I guess you could say. Politics and personal obstacles have conspired to piss in my cheerios. I keep meaning to post something, but it seems like I just end up reading the news and getting worked up and screwing around all night instead. I'm going to try and knock this shit off in December: my next big project is a read-through of Carcosa in the style of my Holmes Basic posts. I was thinking about posting the short script I wrote a while back for the trailer to a theoretical Wolfenstein movie, but I was worried that it didn't have enough to do with RPGs to merit inclusion here. So now I'm writing this instead. Go fucking figure.

    On a related note, does anyone have any recommendations for a good RPG about thwarting the Nazis? I've been in a no-holds-barred kind of mood, lately.

    Just in case anything still matters, here's my fucking Joesky tax, I guess:
    1d20 Odd Fortune Cookie Messages*
    1. "Hating on sluts is like hating on sunshine." (Zak S., March 5, 2012)**
    2. "Surely the Second Coming is at hand." (W. B. Yeats, "The Second Coming")
    3. "The future refused to change." (Chrono Trigger)
    4. "Your lovin' is much too hot to last." (Todd Rivers as Dr. Lucien Sanchez in Garth Marenghi's Darkplace)
    5. "Forget it, [name of reader]. It's [location of reader]." (Chinatown)
    6. "We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far." (H. P. Lovecraft, "The Call of Cthulhu")
    7. "Existence has no pattern save what we imagine after staring at it for too long." (Alan Moore, Watchmen)
    8. "The thread of human hope is spun with the flax of sorrow." (Neon Genesis Evangelion Episode 24)
    9. "Collateral damage can be justified, if the gain outweighs the cost." (Spec Ops: The Line)
    10. "You will escape into the waves." (Marathon)
    11. "You rescued her from the gutter. Her life is yours, to use as you see fit." (Arthur Machen, "The Great God Pan")
    12. "You tried your best and you failed miserably. The lesson is, never try." (The Simpsons Season 5 Episode 18)
    13. "Chaos reigns." (Antichrist)
    14. "You should have been a pair of ragged claws scuttling across the floors of silent seas." (T. S. Eliot, "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock")
    15. "You need to lower your standards, because it is never getting any better than this." (Fall Out Boy featuring Courtney Love, "Rat a Tat")
    16. "Happy people can be so cruel." (Silent Hill 3)
    17. "Take away a man's light, his clothes, his food, his friends, his air, and you leave him with nothing but himself. And for most that is not pleasant company." (The Suffering)
    18. "Everything you touch seems destined to turn into something mean and farcical." (Henrik Ibsen, Hedda Gabler)
    19. "Find a pile of gold and sit on it." (John Gardner, Grendel)
    20. "You don't even exist. We're all just a figment of my cock's imagination." (David Wong, John Dies in the End)***
      *The following entries have been significantly altered in terms of wording, punctuation, etc. in order to fit the "Fortune Cookie" premise: #4, #5, #7, #10, #11, #12, #14, #15, and #18.
      **Just for the record, I agree with this one.
      *** This one is also accurate.

      Tuesday, November 8, 2016

      1d100 Political Scapegoats

      1. Puppies
      2. Kittens
      3. Puppies AND Kittens
      4. War Widows
      5. "I blame the lame-stream media. Also that other media."
      6. Video Games
      7. Audio-Video Games
      8. Audio-Video-Olfactio-Gustio-Tactio Games
      9. Whatever music the youth are listening to
      10. The youth in general
      11. Pacifists
      12. Oceanographers (The Pornographers of the Sea)
      13. Womenfolk
      14. The "Moors"
      15. Organized Religion (referee's discretion as to which one - bonus polling points for a persecuted minority denomination)
      16. Disorganized Religion
      17. The Elderly, except the ones who have managed to remain fuckable
      18. The Fuckable Elderly
      19. Sincerely Reformed Criminals
      20. The Best and Coolest Drugs
      21. Books (bonus polling points for books that are "controversial" for reasons no one can identify)
      22. The Unemployed
      23. Restaurant Serving Staff
      24. Left-Handed (i.e. Sinister) People
      25. The Sea Peoples (or THESE Peoples)
      26. Teachers, British Nanies, Cartoon Animals, and other people with a suspicious fondness for children
      27. The Cartoons and Action Figures Which Aren't as Cool as the Ones You Had as a Kid
      28. The Homeless, especially when they're just trying to get some fucking sleep
      29. That Sports Team No One Likes
      30. Voter Fraud
      31. The New Dance Craze
      32. Santa Claus
      33. People who have much better and more frequent sex than you Filthy Hedonists
      34. Loving Marriages
      35. Divorcees
      36. Supermodels
      37. Ultra-Deluxe Models
      38. Newfangled Gadgets
      39. Lazy People (who only work three measly jobs to get by)
      40. This Week's Horoscope
      41. An "Act of God" (presumably an omnibenevolent, omnipotent, and omniscient one)
      42. A hoax perpetuated by almost the entire scientific community for nebulous reasons
      43. The fact that the Earth is only 6,000 years old, thus we haven't had very long to learn to do any better
      44. The Expansion of the Sun
      45. Legal Aliens Who Just Look Illegal
      46. What She's Wearing
      47. Sass, Backtalk, Attitude, Lip, Snark, and General Uppitiness
      48. Jokes (although "Jokes" are okay)
      49. Those who "can't take a joke"
      50. Politeness, Manners, Respect, Consideration, Tact, and other PC bullshit
      51. Unarmed People
      52. Actual Goats (I mean, have you seen their freakish eyes?)
      53. Those who dare ignore our most arcane and pointless traditions
      54. Huddled Masses
      55. POWs
      56. People who don't vote
      57. People who do vote, but are the wrong color
      58. People who are just especially punchable/hangable/flammable for whatever reason
      59. The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas
      60. Zoologists (The Pornographers of the Sea of the Land)
      61. Genetically-Modified Orgasms
      62. Something that must be true because I totally saw it in a movie once
      63. Sound and Fury
      64. Filthy Pinko Commies
      65. Commie Mutant Traitors
      66. Spring-Heeled Jack
      67. The Mad Gasser
      68. The Prophecy of Yore
      69. Purely accidental circumstances which lead to me innocently slipping and falling into vaginas/butts
      70. A widespread lack of moral fiber
      71. Those stupid reporters and their dumb, hard questions
      72. Kids who don't eat their Brussels sprouts
      73. Rural Folk
      74. City Folk
      75. Those Pesky Human Rights
      76. Haters
      77. Irresistible Temptation
      78. Thugs, Punks, and Ne'er-do-wells
      79. Bikers
      80. The Mentally Ill
      81. The Mentally Chill
      82. The Mentally Real
      83. Anyone dumb enough to pay taxes
      84. Satanic Cults that Supposedly Exist
      85. Bad Influences
      86. Subversives
      87. Radicals
      88. Moderates
      89. Fatties (i.e. The Non-Airbrushed)
      90. The Childless
      91. Artists, Intellectuals, Philosophers, and Other Smarty Pants
      92. Hollywood Movies
      93. Nasty Underground Movies
      94. People's private medical business
      95. People's privates
      96. A Terrible Curse
      97. The War on [insert thing that isn't in jeopardy here]
      98. Theoretical Mathematicians (The Pornographers of the Sea of the Land of the Abstract Logic)
      99. Murderhobos
      100. Fun

      Monday, October 31, 2016

      Sleepy Hollow (1999)

      So I just saw Tim Burton's loose adaptation of the classic Washington Irving story, which is to say the 1999 film Sleepy Hollow. Wow, that was WAY more over-the-top, more violent, and frankly, more Flame Princess-esque than your typical take on this story, so of course I loved it. "Heads will roll" indeed, movie poster tagline. (There will be spoilers from here on out.)

      Granted, there was room for improvement. Some of the dialogue felt wooden or contrived to me, in both content and delivery. The set-up to Ichabod's involvement was actually harder to swallow than all the gonzo shit that followed - "Hey, our police department is super-corrupt and sloppy, and we generally don't like you. We especially hate your lousy Scientific Methods. Thus I, Judge Christopher Lee, shall give you a choice between being thrown in a cell for contempt of court or going off to the site of several brutal murders with the express purpose of proving the worth of your fancy Science to us and becoming a hero in the process." Also, the Headless Horseman should have been on fire when he walked out of the burning wreckage of the exploded windmill, just because that would have looked really cool. Oh, and the main villain did that whole "reveal your enitre plan in a monologue to the people you think you're about to kill" thing, but that didn't bother me too much since it was in keeping with the tone of the piece.

      But yeah, overall, great movie, especially on Halloween. It had some stuff that felt right at home with the philosophy and aesthetic of Lamentations of the Flame Princess, too. (I've actually seen it recommended as inspiration for LotFP somewhere online before, but unfortunately I don't remember where.) I mean, there's a gnarly, twisted tree that bleeds and contains a portal to hell lined with severed heads and which also serves as the Headless Horseman's grave, for fuck's sake. (Was this movie an inspiration for the excellent OSR mini-module The Bloodsoaked Boudoir of Velkis the Vile?) And at the end, the Horseman, a.k.a. the ghost (or zombie or whatever) of a widely-feared high-level (well, high level for LotFP) fighter who was primarily in the mercenary game just to fucking kill for fun, and who filed his teeth into fucking points, bite-kisses the witch who used to control him and then pulls her through the aforementioned hell portal in a way that looks like a home video of a woman messily giving birth set on rewind. That's pretty fucking metal. Oh yeah, and he had gotten his skull back at this point, which had promptly regenerated his head-flesh in a manner reminiscent of both Uncle Frank from Hellraiser and Large Marge from Pee-Wee's Big Adventure. EDIT: I totally forgot to mention it, but the Horseman also kills a small child. You don't see it on screen, but it's heavily implied.

      As for LotFP's gaming philosophy or style, everybody certainly seemed low-level. I'd guess Ichabod was a level 1 or 2 specialist, Katrina was a magic-user of the same level, and young Masbath was a level-0 henchman on the path to becoming a fighter. Aside from a few people who were probably level 1 fighters, the mortal form of the future Horseman (who could have probably been that badass at, what, level 6?), and the witch pulling his strings (no more than a level 3 magic-user, and possibly less), everybody else was probably a typical level 0 peasant. Thus, even a relatively low-powered supernatural force, compared to what you generally see in "main-stream" D&D, was a big deal and very dangerous. Combat is very lethal, except when the PCs are both very lucky and properly prepared. And the main characters succeeded not through brute force, but through clever thinking (including some classic moves like throwing your lantern and running away and using the enemies' magic powers against them). There's a lot of investigation and dealing with quirky NPCs, including a witch who summons a demonic spirit into herself just to give Ichabod a clue and help him save the town, because demon-summoning witch or not, she's just a really nice and helpful lady. Of course she gets killed for her trouble. Oh, and the Horseman's skull was a good magic item: use it carefully and it is very powerful, but fuck up and you're fucking finished.

      Actually, going off of that thing about the witch above, three out of four witches in this movie were basically good guys (although Katrina did do some questionable, murderhobo-like stuff such as burning evidence to protect someone who looked super-guilty, getting over the death of her NPC love interest in about a nanosecond, and doing suspicious magical shit with little or no effort to either hide what she was doing or explain it). This actually jives sort-of well with the sympathetic way witches are often portrayed in LotFP - I'm specifically thinking of the well-intentioned but probably misguided witches in Better Than Any Man and No Salvation for Witches, among others. Meanwhile, the intolerant bigot who kills Ichabod's mother because of her witchcraft is clearly portrayed as an absolute monster in the movie much like how many witch-hunters are disgusting, corrupted zealots in LotFP. Granted, morality in general is less black-and-white in LotFP than in the movie, with different witches and witch-burners being sympathetic to different degrees, but many of the same moral values and intended levels of sympathy seem to be shared between the game and this movie. This is really a whole other complicated topic, but I thought it was worth touching on here because the movie did give me a Flame Princess vibe in this regard, justifiably or not.

      Anyway, at the end, the two PCs and their henchman (hopefully with a shiny new level under each of their belts, even if XP-for-cash remains the gold standard in the game) stick together and presumably go off to have more adventures, with Ichabod probably having earned a better (or at least more complicated) reputation with the police. I kind of wish there was some kind of sequel, in which they go deal with another supernatural threat and team up with some new characters. Maybe tackle another classic module from that era like RLS-1886 Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde or MWS-1818 The Modern Prometheus. That could be a pretty sweet campaign.

      Thursday, October 27, 2016

      Avarton, or "Possession is 9/10 of the Law"

      This is very loosely based on a nightmare my wife had the other night. In the spirit of Halloween, I thought it might make for a nice, spooky RPG location. I had the default Lamentation of the Flame Princess setting of 1600s Europe in mind while writing this, but you could fit Avarton or some place like it into all kinds of games.

      Avarton is a large village (or small town, depending on who you ask) of about 500 people. The town is fairly prosperous for its size because of its large gristmill, which serves the surrounding communities, as well as its lead mine, which shows no signs of running out any time soon (unlike other mines in the area). The town is noted for having very beautiful foliage in the autumn, and for growing great big pumpkins and surprisingly tall corn and wheat.

      Most outsiders don't spend more than a few hours in the town at a time, and almost no one stays overnight unless they live there. If asked about it, most people probably will not have given this trend much thought, but some likely explanations may be offered. The simplest reason is that there are other communities nearby, so people who don't live too far away just go home to their own beds at night, while strangers to the area tend to choose much nicer accommodations elsewhere, rather than the single plain-looking inn (and largest tavern) in Avarton, the Grubby Goose.

      Some might point to another problem: People who spend more than a day in Avarton tend to experience strange tingling sensations and numbness, abdominal pain and nausea, muscle weakness and coordination problems, and some mild confusion. This illness goes away after about a week spent in town (or a few hours if one leaves town as soon as the problems start), as suddenly as it comes on, which is why the residents don't seem to suffer these symptoms - they all just "got over it." Still, this mysterious and temporary sickness is unpleasant and inconvenient, so outsiders who know about it just don't stay in Avarton long enough at a time for it to manifest.

      For every 24 hours they spend in Avarton, PCs must make a saving throw vs. poison or else come down with this sickness. Once contracted, the sickness lasts for 1d6 days in town or 1d4 hours outside of town. The sickness can only be caught by a PC once per stay in Avarton. If a PC leaves Avarton for more than 24 hours, they are at once again risk of getting the sickness. A sick PC suffers a -1 penalty to all attack rolls, saving throws, and skill/ability checks of any kind.

      (Oddly, none of the residents ever seem to experience any signs of lead poisoning, not even the miners. Unless you count the brief illness they all "got over" upon first moving to the town, that is, and even that doesn't seem to apply to people born in Avarton.)

      The final reason outsiders don't stick around is a bit harder to get people to admit. When the sun starts to go down in Avarton, many outsiders feel a strong sense of paranoia. The feeling is usually described as a certainty that the people around you want to take away something that belongs to you, or that you've accidentally taken something that belongs to them and they're plotting to take it back.

      At sundown, any PCs in Avarton must make a saving throw vs. magic. Success means they experience this paranoia, which may serve as a warning sign. Failure means they feel nothing unusual.

      The Curse
      Residents of Avarton suffer a collective magical delusion, or rather a pattern of delusions. Between sunset and sunrise, the people of Avarton tend to believe that various objects which do not belong to them are in fact their rightful property, and always have been. If you set something down on a table and move away from it, within moments someone will come up and blatantly try to take it, because they will genuinely think it belongs to them. If confronted or questioned about this, not only will the "thief" be confused and insulted by your objections, but any other villagers nearby will also back up their claims of ownership, making up stories of seeing the "thief" buy or make the object or receive it as a gift, seeing them carry it around or use it on multiple occasions, seeing it in their home, etc. They will genuinely believe these stories, not realizing that they are lying. The "thief" will absolutely refuse to give up their "rightful property," and if it comes down to it, every single other resident of the town will side with the "thief."

      And in all likelihood, this will happen over and over. If you set something down and walk away from it, it will be gone when you come back. Those horses you hitched up out front? Farmer Bill is taking them home right now. The trail of breadcrumbs you left behind you in the wheat maze? Little Sarah has been following behind, picking them back up and wondering why she left her collection of favorite breadcrumbs out here. Did you set your mug of ale aside to go take a whiz? I hope you didn't plan on drinking that.

      All it takes for one of your possessions to be potentially "up for grabs" is for it to not be in physical contact with either your body or an item you are wearing (like clothing, armor, or a backpack) for about 20 seconds or so. However, just because it's potentially "up for grabs" doesn't mean a villager will necessarily lay claim to it right away. If you let the item out of your line of sight, it will be stolen almost immediately if possible, but if you stay nearby the curse could take a while to present a "thief." In such cases, there is a 1 in 6 chance that any such item suddenly "belongs" to a villager every 10 minutes. Separate rolls should be made for multiple items.

      When a villager lays claim to something between sundown and sunup, they will not let the matter go. They will get the law involved if you push the matter, and if that doesn't get them what they want, they will gladly whip up an angry mob. And while new delusions of ownership cannot be formed during the day, old ones from the nighttime will persist permanently, so don't expect Farmer Bill to come to his senses about those horses just because the sun is shining. Even if they don't need the item, or wouldn't even ordinarily want it, they will refuse to give it up under any circumstances. Perhaps the people of Avarton would have been a bit more laid back about the whole thing a few years ago when the curse first started, but you can only see other people walking around with your stuff so many nights in a row before you start to get a bit defensive, you know?

      When a villager steals from another villager in this way, everyone will agree that the stolen item does indeed belong to the person who took it; even the person who was robbed will agree, though perhaps not right away. Villagers accidentally exchange items like this every night and usually think nothing of it (outside of the occasional, brief argument about why Person A had taken things from Person B), since their delusions essentially create new memories of ownership. If the PCs pay attention, they may notice this strange activity happening around them before they have a chance to fall victim to it themselves.

      Some Locations
      The Grubby Goose
      Tied up in the basement is a merchant who tried to peddle some wares after sundown and got extremely hostile when everyone just started taking his stuff without paying for it. He caused a scene, everyone involved overreacted, violence broke out, and just like that he ended up imprisoned and badly beaten. He had all kinds of deeds and other legal documents on his person, which now "belong" to the enraged townspeople. Said townspeople have been torturing him for the locations of "their" property and money (as granted by the documents they "own"), and for the merchant's signature wherever it is needed to make their ownership "official." The merchant is stubborn, so he may hold out a while before he finally either gives up everything or dies. His family would pay generously for his safe return. Not everyone in the village knows about the kidnapped merchant, but enough of them do.

      The Gristmill
      One of the mill workers has been possessed by a vengeful ghost. She has taken to putting small amounts of lead in the flour. This doesn't seem to affect the people of Avarton, but the citizens of nearby communities are slowly starting to feel the effects of this contamination. The mill worker has also set up a strange shrine in a hidden room beneath the mill. On top of an ancient stone altar stands an upside down cross woven from corn husks. A lead knife and a bowl of wheat husks, both caked with dried blood, also rest on the altar. A summoning circle has been made from flour and surrounded by five pedestals topped with bowls of grain and pumpkin seeds. Trapped within the circle is what looks like a living lead statue of a gargoyle-like creature with a jack o' lantern for a head. This creature introduces himself as Stingy Jack, a representative of the First National Bank of Mamona. "Would you please be so kind as to fetch me my ledger? I dropped it somewhere in the mines, clumsy me! I'll make it worth your while."

      The Pavilion
      Every major holiday, the people of Avarton hold a feast at the big stone pavilion on the edge of town. The parties here can sometimes last from noon to midnight. One small stone above the pavilion's fireplace is carved with an upside-down pentagram. If asked, none of the villagers seem to know why it's there. If the stone is removed, a hidden compartment is revealed. It contains a key marked with the same pentagram and a map indicating a certain tomb in the town's graveyard, with the words "The wages of greed is life," scrawled beside it.

      The Corn Maze
      Every fall, the people of Avarton celebrate All Hallow's Eve with an odd tradition. They cut a maze in one of their largest corn fields and hide jack o' lanterns (made from truly huge pumpkins) in all the dead ends. These jack o' lanterns contain not only candles, but also coins and other treasures, "given" as playful offerings to the ghosts and ghouls of the season. Of course, this treasure always ends up taken by somebody eventually, but not until after the holiday is over - unless some outsiders decide to take it first. Taking shortcuts through the maze is ill advised: not only is the ground pitted with holes just the right size for twisting your ankle, but the "walls" of the maze tend to be filled with booby traps left by the villagers. It's part of the tradition. Besides, the maze is there for the spirits and monsters, so you have no business trespassing. Also, there's always the possibility that the maze is genuinely haunted. Hey, did that scarecrow just look at me funny?

      The Lead Mine
      The deepest level of the mine connects to an ancient temple, sealed and buried for ages. The miners breached several walls of this chthonic complex years ago, but have not disturbed it since, except to make the yearly offerings necessary to ensure the mine does not run out of fresh lead to sell. The structure bears features of Babylonian architecture, along with styles of construction and artistic flourishes which are harder to identify as being carved by human hands or invented by mortal minds.

      (Alternatively, you could put the Temple of Greed here or something.)

      I imagine Avarton would need to be fleshed out a bit more to make it ready to run - you'd need NPCs, maps, encounters, etc. If I ever run or revisit this, I'll have to let you folks know. In the meantime, I hope this can serve as inspiration for somebody. Happy Halloween!

      Thursday, October 20, 2016

      A Simpler Start for My Online LotFP Game

      So I've thought about my tentative house rules for the online campaign that I hope to start soon, and I think I might be forcing my players to jump off of the deep end if I subject them to all of that right away. Most of them are probably unfamiliar with both the specific set of rules and the old-school/OSR style, so adding a whole bunch of weird, experimental rule changes on top of that might overcomplicate things or give a false impression of what the typical experience of the game is like (assuming there is such a thing). If I were new to the game, I could easily see myself playing for the first time in a campaign with all kinds of oddball rule changes and then playing what I thought was the same game elsewhere and practically having to learn everything over again. "What? Different character classes get different saving throws? And what's up with all these different categories?" Maybe that wouldn't be as hard as it sounds in my head, but I bet that it would be more beneficial to start off simply and then introduce the more unorthodox ideas later, maybe even in a different campaign. There will hopefully be time for playtesting after everyone has gotten comfortable.

      I do want to use some house rules right from the beginning, but not so many of them or ones that are quite so different from what the players could read in the free rulebook. So for now, here are the few house rules I definitely want to start with. To quote the post I linked to above, "I should also note that most of these are lifted from the LotFP Playtest Document, either as-is or in modified form. I may not explicitly mention this in all cases, so please keep in mind that credit for a lot of this material should go to James Raggi."

      UPDATED ON APRIL 25, 2017 - See sections marked "EDIT" and the "Summoning with the Arcana Skill" section.

      Ability Score Checks - When a PC attempts to accomplish certain risky actions that are not covered by a Skill, the DM may ask for an Ability Score Check (Strength Check, Charisma Check, etc.) in order to determine success or failure. The player rolls 3d6. If the result is equal to or less than their character's relevant ability score, they succeed. If the result is higher, they fail.
      EDIT: I am considering two alternatives to the above rule.
      1. As above, except that if the DM decides that a check should be somewhat more difficult than usual, the DM can require the player to roll a d20 instead of 3d6. If the DM decides that a check should be much more difficult, the DM can require the player to roll a d30 instead of 3d6.
      2. As above, except that the player rolls a d20 for all skill checks.
      EDIT ON 5/16/17: I'm 90% sure I'm just going to go with Option 2.

      Character Classes - There are two four options regarding the available character classes that I am considering. Before the campaign beings, I would like my players to make a group decision about which one to use. I would be glad to answer questions about these choices, of course.
      EDIT: I added two more options.
      1. Available character classes are the Fighter, Specialist, Magic-User, Cleric, Elf, Dwarf, and Halfling. Class abilities operate by the book, or RAW (Rules as Written) at the beginning of the campaign, but we can negotiate tweaks to these rules over time if desired. Also, new classes can be "unlocked" or discovered through play, and thus added to the roster of character creation options in the future. Members of the Elf, Dwarf, and Halfling classes should note that their characters may face severe discrimination and hostility in human communities, and that NPC members of these classes will probably be extremely rare. I may or may not implement my house rules from this post regarding the Elf.
      2. Available character classes are the Fighter, Magic-User, Cleric, and Alice (or Fool). In addition to their usual class abilities, all characters gain skill points as per the Specialist, which is no longer a separate class. No class starts with free specialist tools. The Alice class will probably use the HP, Saving Throw, and XP chart of the Specialist, and the Level Up table for the Alice will be altered to remove the entries that improve the character's Saving Throws or increase skill points. I reserve the right to alter the table in other ways before the campaign begins. Also, new classes can be "unlocked" or discovered through play, and thus added to the roster of character creation options in the future. However, I will alter these new classes to fit the house rules above if I feel it is helpful or necessary.
      3. The Classic Trio
      4. Separate Race and Class
      P.S. I still want to try out my crazy "everybody's a Fighter" thing I mentioned previously, but since I don't think it's very old-school compared to the options above (among other reasons), I have decided not to do so with this group just yet.

      Critical Hits - If a natural 20 is rolled to hit, the attack automatically hits and does maximum damage (e.g. 8 if the attack would normally do 1d8 damage).

      Experience Points - No more than one level of experience can be gained per session. If a character gains enough experience points to gain more than one level in a single session, the character only gains one level for the time being. In order to reach the next level, the character must gain at least 1 additional experience point in a future session. This continues until the character does not have enough experience points for the next level. "Excess" experience points are not lost.

      Increasing HP - Upon leveling up, roll a number of Hit Dice equal to your new level (up to level 9, after which each additional level gives you less, as per Rules & Magic). If you roll an amount higher than your previous maximum, that becomes your new maximum HP. If you roll an amount equal to or lower than your previous maximum, your new maximum is your previous maximum plus 1.

      Read Magic - This spell is no longer necessary.

      Replacement Characters - When your character dies, you have two options.
      1. Create a new character. This character starts with an amount of XP (and appropriate level) determined by the house rule outlined in this post.
      2. Use one of your last character's NPC retainers as your new character.
      The Rule of One (Paraphrased from the Playtest Document) - If the DM just really wants an excuse to screw with the players, they can roll a d6. On a 1, the DM has permission to add a problem or complication to the current situation.

      The Rule of Reasonableness (Paraphrased from the Playtest Document) - If the chance of failure wouldn't be interesting, or if it seems reasonable that something should just work, let the PCs automatically succeed at what they're doing.

      Skill List - Available skills include the following:
      • Arcana (This works mostly like the "Mystical Traditions" skill from Santa is Dead, plus this can be used to activate certain magic items, like scrolls and wands, that can normally only be used by Magic-Users or Elves.)
      • Architecture (I might change this to Engineering, as per Papers & Pencils)
      • Bushcraft
      • Climb (I might change this to Athletics, as per Papers & Pencils.)
      • Languages
      • Medicine (I might call this First Aid)
      • Seamanship
      • Sleight of Hand
      • Sneak Attack
      • Stealth
      • Swimming (EDIT: Added after the release of Veins of the Earth. If I change Climb to Athletics, I may remove this skill again and use Athletics for swimming purposes.)
      • Tinker
      • Others that may be added over time
      The skills "Open Doors" and "Search" have been removed, as per my notes HERE.
      EDIT: Added Arcana and Swimming, and removed Luck.
      EDIT ON 5/16/17: I think that I will mostly follow these guidelines from Ten Foot Polemic when it comes to determining how skill rolls actually work.

      Strength - No longer affects Open Doors because this skill has been removed. (If an Open Doors check would ordinarily be called for, an ability score check can be used instead.)

      Summoning with the Arcana Skill - When summoning a creature with the Arcana skill, rather than the Summon spell, ignore Steps One and Two (Rules & Magic, p. 134). Instead, simply roll 1d10 to determine the creature's Hit Dice. The Arcana skill cannot be used to summon a creature of more than 10 Hit Dice.
      Summoning a creature with the Arcana skill will always result in the summoned entity being hostile to the summoner unless at least one Thaumaturgic Circle or at least one Sacrifice is used. If no Thaumaturgic Circle or Sacrifice is used, treat a successful Domination roll as a basic failure (i.e. the creature lashes out). A character who is not a Magic-User (or Elf) can create Thaumaturgic Circles just like a Magic-User as long as they have at least 2 points in the Arcana skill. Any character can perform a Sacrifice.
      Summoning a creature with the Arcana skill takes an hour, so it is a slower process than simply casting the Summon spell. (Added on April 25, 2017)

      Shadowgate (NES Version) and D&D

      My internet was out at home yesterday, and I wanted to do something spooky in keeping with this wonderful season, so I popped Shadowgate in my NES and played through it again for the first time in a while. The game was clearly influenced by D&D (and/or games or fiction related to D&D), so I had a few thoughts about old-school tabletop RPGs while playing it. Needless to say, there are going to be spoilers, but this game is about as old as I am, so I doubt anyone is going to care.

      As with D&D, Shadowgate is cool because it draws from a variety of sources to create its fantasy setting. D&D had the famous Appendix N, plus it often drew monsters and magic items and such from fairy tales and folk tales, from mythology and religion, from urban legends, from history, and even from jokes and puns. Shadowgate has a greedy troll guarding a bridge, a riddle-loving sphinx, a cyclops who gets dispatched almost exactly like Goliath (complete with a cry of "Death to the Philistine!"), a shark swimming around an underground pool like something out of Jaws or a cartoon, a wishing well that responds favorably to money, green slime straight out of D&D, a dragon and some dragon-like creatures, a werewolf, a hellhound, and much more packed into this relatively short and simple game.

      In some ways, Shadowgate does some things that would be inappropriate in D&D. Puzzles generally (perhaps always) have only one solution, and other than the fact that some puzzles can be solved and some areas can be explored in different orders, the game is very linear, so a tabletop version of Shadowgate would be a total railroad if it were run just like the video game. Also, things in Shadowgate are either lethal or non-lethal; there are no saving throws or hit points to give the player some slack for making bad choices or having bad luck, although the game does give the player infinite lives and the ability to save their progress, so I guess it's a wash.

      On the other hand, Shadowgate gets a lot of things really right about old-school, D&D-style dungeon crawling as far as I'm concerned. Running out of torchlight is a constant concern. Life is cheap and death is often hilarious. There are secret passages and chambers all over the place. Burning things is often the key to winning. The challenges come from a good mix of NPCs, traps, and puzzles. The environment has a lot of stuff to examine and interact with, and not all of it is necessary for victory. There's at least one magic item that feels a bit more unique and strange than just another magic sword or scroll - I'm specifically thinking of the super-cold magic orb, which gets more than one use, unlike most items in the game other than torches, and the use of which requires some clever thinking on the part of any player who lacks a walkthrough. The titular castle is enough of a gonzo funhouse dungeon to offer lots of surprises and amusement, but also pretty coherent overall since it totally seems like the kind of place an evil and powerful warlock would design. And of course, you can't trust the woman chained up in the tower begging for help. That's a classic trick in fantasy games. Playing Shadowgate feels to me like a satisfying old-school dungeon crawl distilled into a quick, rules-light, solo game with great music.

      Sometimes I think that when RPGs started being adapted to video games, both directly and indirectly, the various things that make RPGs good got split up between different genres. Point and click adventures like Shadowgate (and their older cousins, text adventures/interactive fiction), especially really good and complex ones with multiple puzzle solutions, nonlinear progression, and choices (especially dialogue choices) which can heavily alter the course of the story, often handle the creative side of the RPG experience really well. Meanwhile, video game RPGs tend to do interesting things with "crunch" like creating intricate combat systems, offering a variety of interesting choices in character creation and advancement, making in-game economies that matter to the player (because they need to get better equipment or more supplies or what have you), making the player balance exploration with resource management, and getting the player addicted to collecting loot and XP. But looking at older video games, and perhaps newer ones to a lesser extent, adventure games don't generally offer the "crunch" of RPGs, and RPGs generally don't offer the puzzles or dialogue of adventure games. This is obviously not true across the board; for example, the Quest for Glory series combines the adventure and RPG genres, while many RPG series like Fallout, The Elder Scrolls, and Mass Effect have won over fans with branching stories, interesting dialogue systems, quests with multiple solutions, and open-world gameplay. Sometimes this genre separation in video games is not a bad thing, either, but I think it holds true much of the time as an overall trend. One cool thing about D&D and many other tabletop RPGs is that they're like playing a point and click adventure and a video game RPG at the same time, in one fairly seamless experience and with a plethora of options and possibilities more or less unavailable in video games due to the limits of pre-programmed game systems vs. human imagination and ingenuity. This, along with the social and cultural aspects of tabletop RPGs, helps explain why I love such games, despite (or maybe just in addition to) my love of video games. Tabletop RPGs continue to be amazing fun in a world of electronic entertainment, and their versatile, free-form nature accounts for much of that.

      UPDATE: If you want to learn more about video game RPGs, I recommend checking out The CRPG Addict. Ditto with adventure video games and The Adventure Gamer.

      Wednesday, October 19, 2016

      Babbling in Common

      So I stumbled across this post over at Tales of the Grotesque and Dungeonesque, and it made some things click into place for me.

      Your typical old-school D&D setting is basically a howling wilderness with only small bastions of civilization, right? Basically a post-apocalyptic world. (It certainly explains all of the dungeons and other ruins.) And yet, the people in these isolated fortresses and Medieval-Europe-Meets-Mad Max-style ramshackle villages, who have little contact with outsiders, little in the way of wealth or resources, and little access to what we would consider "education" in the modern sense, all manage to speak at least one common, consistent language. And if I'm not mistaken, many (even most) of these people are generally portrayed as literate, too! We're talking modern or near-modern literacy levels in a setting that is both pseudo-medieval and post-apocalyptic. That's got to be some kind of miracle, right? Some kind of magic?

      Well, why not explain all this by sticking a Tower of Unity somewhere on your world map? A reverse-Tower of Babel, the construction of which created a common tongue. The aforementioned blog post called it the "Lexicos Spire." You could even go a step farther and say the Tower somehow creates or enforces other commonalities between the far-flung remnants of civilization, like a common form of currency and a common set of by-laws for all those Thieves' Guilds and Druidic Circles and such.

      And maybe a well-organized coalition of bad guys are trying to bring down the Tower and pull a Babel on the world for their own nefarious reasons. Since this would make life a lot more difficult for the PCs, they might want to do something about it.

      Tuesday, October 18, 2016

      "Huh? Radio? What's going on with that radio?"

      Roll a d12:
      1. All of the radio stations within range are broadcasting pure silence. Every once in a while, the silence is broken by a series of tones which drive some people to commit crazed and creative violence.
      2. An announcement from the CDC warning about the dangers of a memetic virus slowly turns into a vector for that virus.
      3. The news reports are all talking about an impending collision with a rogue neutron star. Outside of the news, there is no evidence that this is really happening. At least, not yet.
      4. The commercials are all advertising unappealing products like Fetus-Os cereal and Now That's What I Call Scaphism Volume 10.
      5. The usual Sunday hymns are replaced with primal, gurgling chants, and the sermon discusses the virtues of being eaten last.
      6. The songs are all ostensibly by familiar artists, but no one recognizes a single one of these tunes.
      7. Someone is hosting an all-day radio interview with Ketatath, the Lord of Ossified Polynomials.
      8. This song is so catchy, you just can't help but dance. Seriously, you have no choice.
      9. The hit new single is literally just sex sounds. Everybody but you seems to love it without question.
      10. The traffic report casually mentions a miles-long swarm of acid-spewing killer bees headed right in your direction.
      11. The only station on the air has someone just listing names in a somber tone, occasionally broken up by sobbing and whimpering.
      12. The lyrics to every song on the radio have been altered in order to include messages that personally threaten you and your loved ones.
      (This post's title is a quote from Silent Hill, in case you were wondering.)

      So You Decapitated the Quest-Giver

      Roll a d12:
      1. Your victim breaks down into their constituent parts. Roll 1d6: 1=Sugar, Spice, and Everything Nice; 2=Snakes, Snails, and Puppy Dog Tails; 3= Earth, Fire, Wind, and Water; 4=Earth, Fire, Wood, Water, and Metal; 5=A neatly folded pile of skin, a carefully stacked pile of bones, a coil of intestines, etc.; 6=Carbon, Oxygen, Hydrogen, etc., with a 50% chance of highly radioactive or otherwise unstable material being present in a dangerous amount
      2. Smoke pours out of the victim's neck stump and forms into a genie that offers to grant one wish, provided the wish is no longer than four words and the first three words are "I wish for..."
      3. Confetti and candy shoot out of the victim's neck stump, and children can be heard cheering in every direction.
      4. The victim picks up their head and carries it around, being all like "No big deal, guys." The Quest-Giver now works stupid head-related puns into conversation as much as possible.
      5. The Quest-Giver disappears Obi-Wan Kenobi-style, leaving just empty clothes and possessions behind. They may return as a blue ghost at the referee's discretion.
      6. The Quest-Giver's head grows limbs and starts scampering around like John Carpenter's The Thing. I hope you brought fire.
      7. The victim's body turns out to be a lifeless mannequin. Which you've possibly been talking to for quite a while.
      8. The victim turns out to be three children stacked on top of each other and disguised as a single adult. And now you've just decapitated the topmost child.
      9. A new head pops up in place of the old one. There is a 50% chance that it is either comically tiny or unreasonably huge. There is also a 50% chance that it is either identical to the original head or that it is identical to someone else's head (referee's choice). If this new head is chopped off, rinse and repeat (but with an even bigger or smaller head).
      10. Your victim's blood shoots at least six feat into the air like a geyser or a high-pressure fire hose. The gushing lasts 1d6x10 seconds. Then roll 1d6 again: a secondary spurt of that many seconds happens shortly afterwards.
      11. Some kind of lumpy homunculus craws out of the victim's neck stump, grows tiny wings, and tries to fly away in order to report your actions to its mysterious master.
      12. The disembodied head explodes with the force of a hand grenade. On top of that, there's a 50% chance it also sprays the area with that ink that department stores sometimes put in security tags on clothing, and an additional 50% chance it produces a cloud of foul-smelling fumes that seem to stick to everything like skunk spray.

      Thursday, October 13, 2016

      LotFP Specialist vs. Referee Book Thief

      In the free Lamentations of the Flame Princess Referee Book, there's a section (p. 70-71) which talks about comparing the Specialist class to the Thief class in old-school D&D and similar games. A table is provided which demonstrates how to convert the Thief's percentile-based skill spread to the Specialist's d6-based skills. I thought it might be interesting to compare how many skill points the Thief's proposed skill spread gives a character based on this chart, in comparison to the number of skill points a regular Specialist gets. Remember that skills in LotFP start at 1 in 6 for all characters, and they max out at 6 in 6, so it takes 5 skill points to raise a skill from the minimum score to the maximum.

      Level 1          Specialist 4 (Total 4)          Thief 7 (Total 7)
      Level 2          Specialist 2 (Total 6)          Thief 0 (Total 7)
      Level 3          Specialist 2 (Total 8)          Thief 1 (Total 8)
      Level 4          Specialist 2 (Total 10)        Thief 1 (Total 9)
      Level 5          Specialist 2 (Total 12)        Thief 1 (Total 10)
      Level 6          Specialist 2 (Total 14)        Thief 4 (Total 14)
      Level 7          Specialist 2 (Total 16)        Thief 2 (Total 16)
      Level 8          Specialist 2 (Total 18)        Thief 0 (Total 16)
      Level 9          Specialist 2 (Total 20)        Thief 1 (Total 17)
      Level 10        Specialist 2 (Total 22)        Thief 3 (Total 20)
      Level 11        Specialist 2 (Total 24)        Thief 2 (Total 22)

      It looks like the classic Thief gets an early lead, but is quickly eclipsed by the Specialist and never surpasses it again.

      On the one hand, if it's true that most LotFP players are almost never going to get to level up their characters, as I've seen some people say, then you could argue that the Thief is actually the better class simply on account of it having higher skills at level one, the one true level that you're going to be stuck at anyway.

      On the other hand, the Specialist clearly seems better to me for two reasons. First, the Specialist gets to distribute those points as the player sees fit, allowing for different character "builds" (a term which probably makes some old-school players cringe, but I feel like the shoe fits here). That way, you're not stuck playing a Thief, but instead you could be a translator or a scholar or a wilderness survival expert or a pirate or whatever, and that's super cool. Second, if you do manage to level up, you're going to get way more points in the long run as a Specialist, and it won't even take that many levels to outclass the Thief. It's probably also worth mentioning that the Thief doesn't get any skill points at level 2 or 8, which is boring, and the table only goes up to level 11 in the Referee book, so I don't know if the Thief maxes out at 22 points or not - I guess it would depend on which game's Thief you're converting to the d6 skill system.

      So yeah, I prefer the Specialist. It's definitely one of the nicest things LotFP brings to the B/X formula, at least insofar as I've experienced it.

      Friday, October 7, 2016

      Final Fantasy 1 Classes for LotFP

      "For ten years I probed for the FLOATER."

      Here's something I'm pretty sure no one asked for: classes for Lamentations of the Flame Princess based on those of the classic NES/Famicom game Final Fantasy, which you may have heard of. ("What?! You've never heard of Dr. Unne?") These have not been playtested as of this post, and are probably not balanced. If you use these, I would probably recommend restricting the classes available to the players to just these (and possibly other Final Fantasy- or video game-themed classes, if you have any).

      All Classes - "You might think that there is something to it.... But in fact it is just an ordinary well."
      • XP as Elf.
      • Gain and spend skill points like a Specialist. No class starts with free specialist tools.
      • Add Strength modifier to melee damage.
      • Critical Hits - If a natural 20 is rolled to hit, the attack automatically hits and does maximum damage (e.g. 9 if the weapon used does d8 damage and the attack has a Strength modifier of +1).
      • All classes that cast spells can do so one-handed, as LotFP Elf. A holy symbol is not needed in order to cast Cleric spells.
      • The Read Magic spell is no longer necessary.
      • Holy water does 1d12 damage to appropriate targets instead of 1d8.
      • I wouldn't worry about alignment, personally, but if it came up for some reason, I'd say Fighters/Thieves/Black Belts can choose their alignment, White Mages are Lawful, Black Mages are Chaotic, and Red Mages count as whichever would be more interesting at any given moment.
      Fighter - "You impertinent fools. I, Garland, will knock you all down!"

      • Hit Dice are d10, as LotFP Dwarf (UPDATE: This was originally "d8, as LotFP Fighter")
      • Saving Throws as LotFP Fighter or Specialist, whichever is better (see my Myth Warrior class for an example of how I do this)
      • Base Attack Bonus, Combat Options, etc. as LotFP Fighter
      • Increased encumbrance capacity, as LotFP Dwarf
      • Constitution modifier continues to apply to HP gained per level after level 9, as LotFP Dwarf.
      • At level 10, the Fighter earns the title of Knight, and can begin to learn and cast some Cleric spells. For purposes of determining known spells and Spells Per Day, treat a level 10 Knight as a level 1 LotFP Cleric, a level 11 Knight as a level 2 Cleric, etc. Knights can never learn or cast spells of over third level, even from scrolls (although Cleric potions of any level will work on the Knight just like any other character). Knights cannot research/create brand new spells or create magic items.
      Thief - "Unprofitable business is not a practice of the Dragons of Cardia."
      • Hit Dice are d8, as LotFP Fighter
      • Saving Throws as LotFP Fighter or Specialist, whichever is better (see my Myth Warrior class for an example of how I do this)
      • Base Attack Bonus, Combat Options, etc. as LotFP Fighter
      • Only surprised on a 1 in 6, as LotFP Elf
      • +1 to Dexterity modifier and +1 to AC when not surprised, as LotFP Halfling
      • Extra +1 to initiative (UPDATE: Not originally included)
      • At level 10, the Thief earns the title of Ninja, and can begin to learn and cast some Magic-User spells. For purposes of determining known spells and Spells Per Day, treat a level 10 Ninja as a level 1 LotFP Magic-User, a level 11 Ninja as a level 2 Ninja, etc. Ninja can never learn or cast spells of over third level, even from scrolls, wands, and staves (although Magic-User potions of any level will work on the Ninja just like any other character). Ninja cannot research/create brand new spells or create magic items, but they can learn spells (by gaining levels, copying them from other spellbooks or scrolls, or researching spells already on the game's spell list) like Magic-Users. A Ninja must buy or otherwise acquire a spellbook; one is not automatically provided.
      Black Belt - "The TAIL of a rat proves your courage. I shall give you the honor due true Warriors."
      • Hit Dice are d8, as LotFP Fighter
      • Saving Throws as LotFP Fighter or Specialist, whichever is better (see my Myth Warrior class for an example of how I do this)
      • Base Attack Bonus, Combat Options, etc. as LotFP Fighter
      • Does not gain any AC bonus from armor heavier than Leather. Does not gain any AC bonus from a shield.
      • Only does d4 damage with over-encumbering weapons, and does not apply Base Attack Bonus when using such weapons.
      • When no more than lightly encumbered, the Black Belt does higher damage with unarmed attacks than other characters: d4 at level 1, d6 at level 4, d8 at level 7, and d10 at level 10. At level 5, the Black Belt gains the ability to make 2 unarmed attacks per combat round when unencumbered, and this increases to 3 unarmed attacks per combat round at level 10. These are altered versions of rules borrowed from Qelong by Kenneth Hite.
      • Ignores damage from 10' of falling per level (maximum 100'). When unencumbered, can move up to 60' per round (180' running). In addition to using the Climb skill as normal, a Black Belt can Spider Climb (as per the spell) for a total number of turns per day equal to their level (maximum 10), and these turns do not have to be consecutive. These are altered versions of rules borrowed from Qelong by Kenneth Hite.
      • At level 10, the Black Belt earns the purely honorary title of Grand Master.
      Red Mage - "400 years ago, we had an advanced civilization. Our interest was the universe!!"
      • Hit Dice are d6, as LotFP Cleric
      • Saving Throws as LotFP Fighter or Specialist, whichever is better (see my Myth Warrior class for an example of how I do this)
      • Base Attack Bonus as LotFP Fighter when up to lightly encumbered, but only BAB of +1 at heavy encumbrance or higher. No Fighter Combat Options (or Fighter firearm rules if you use guns). UPDATE: If you want to stick closer to the original LotFP rules, or if you just want the Red Mage's class features to be a little less fiddly, you could easily swap out the increasing BAB for the Fighter Combat Options and call it a day.
      • Cannot cast spells if more than lightly encumbered
      • Casts Cleric spells and performs other magical functions as LotFP Cleric, with some differences. At level 1, the Red Mage can cast 1 Cleric Spell Per Day, and their Cleric Spells Per Day increase every odd numbered level after this. For example, a Red Mage can cast 2 first level Spells Per Day at level 3 (like a level 2 Cleric), 3 first level Spells Per Day at level 5 (like a level 3 Cleric), 3 first level and 1 second level Spells Per Day at level 7 (like a level 4 Cleric), etc. Red Mages can never learn spells of over fifth level, and can only cast them from scrolls or other magic items.
      • Casts Magic-User spells and performs other magical functions as LotFP Magic-User, with some differences. At character creation, the Red Mage starts with a free spellbook containing three random first level spells. Each time the Black Mage earns a level, they gain one free random spell of the player's spell level of choice as per Rules & Magic, but they only take one day to scribe it into their spellbook (instead of the normal research time). At level 1, the Red Mage can cast 1 Magic-User Spell Per Day, and their Magic-User Spells Per Day increase every even numbered level after this. For example, a Red Mage can cast 2 first level Spells Per Day at level 2 (like a level 2 Magic-User), 2 first level and 1 second level Spells Per Day at level 4 (like a level 3 Magic-User), 2 first level and 2 second level Spells Per Day at level 6 (like a level 4 Magic-User), etc. Red Mages can never learn spells of over fifth level, and can only cast them from scrolls, wands, etc.
      • A Red Mage can make potions of Cleric spells without help from another character (see Rules & Magic p. 81).
      • At level 10, the Red Mage earns the title of Red Wizard. The Red Wizard gains the "Most Learned" ability from the Doctor character class created by Patrick Stuart and published in The Undercroft #9. They also gain a 50% discount on the purchase of any hat due to their obvious and admirable expertise in fashionable headwear.
      White Mage - "We, the Twelve Sages, were led here by the stars and prophecy."
      • Hit Dice are d6, as LotFP Cleric
      • Saving Throws as LotFP Cleric or Specialist, whichever is better
      • Casts Cleric spells and performs other magical functions as LotFP Cleric.
      • Can cast spells at any level of encumbrance less than over encumbered (5+ points).
      • Can memorize (but not cast) up to 1 addition spell per spell level per day. This "Spell Versatility" rule is borrowed from the article "Classless Lamentations of the Flame Princess" by Marc "Lord Inar" Gacy, published in The Undercroft #4.
      • At level 10, the White Mage earns the title of White Wizard. The White Wizard automatically succeeds at creating protection scrolls (see Rules & Magic p. 76) as long as an appropriate creature of at least 1 HD is sacrificed. Furthermore, the White Wizard can now create a vial of holy water in one day (and with one casting of Bless) instead of 10 (see Rules & Magic p. 76).
      Black Mage - "----TCELES B HSUP A magic spell?"
      • Hit Dice are d6 at level 1 and d4 after that, as LotFP Magic-User
      • Saving Throws as LotFP Magic-User or Specialist, whichever is better
      • Casts Magic-User spells and performs other magical functions as LotFP Magic-User
      • At character creation, starts with a free spellbook containing the spell Summon, one first level spell of the player's choice, and two random first level spells. Each time the Black Mage earns a level, they gain one free random spell of the player's spell level of choice as per Rules & Magic, but they only take one day to scribe it into their spellbook (instead of the normal research time).
      • Can perform "Unsafe Casting" in order to cast spells when out of Spells Per Day or otherwise unable to cast normally (see LotFP Playtest Document 0.1 for details).
      • Can memorize (but not cast) up to 1 addition spell per spell level per day. This "Spell Versatility" rule is borrowed from the article "Classless Lamentations of the Flame Princess" by Marc "Lord Inar" Gacy, published in The Undercroft #4.
      • At level 10, the Black Mage earns the title of Black Wizard. The Black Wizard automatically gains the spell Advanced Summon (treat as a fifth level spell, not ninth) in addition to the usual spell gained upon earning a level - this is the only way to gain this spell, and no other class can learn or cast it. This spell magically appears in the Black Wizard's spellbook, so it does not take a day to copy down. Even if cast from a scroll or other magic item, only a Black Wizard (a Black Mage of level 10 or higher) can cast this spell. Furthermore, when using a laboratory, the Black Wizard no longer needs to roll a Saving Throw vs. Magic in order to see if the value of the laboratory is decreased or if an explosion occurs; this Saving Throw is simply assumed to automatically succeed.
      Closing Thoughts - "See your face upon the clean water. How dirty! Come! Wash your face!"

      • I gave the Specialist's skill points to every class because Final Fantasy doesn't have anything really comparable (the Thief in the video game is basically a Fighter variant), so it seemed better to give a little bit of skill check duty to everyone in the party regardless of class instead of keeping it in the domain of one class, and therefore drastically changing how that class would probably play in comparison to the video game. Final Fantasy is a very combat-focused game, so these classes follow suit. Plus I kind of like the idea of having a skill system that is separate from and/or parallel to the class system, kinda sorta like in later editions of D&D. I'm sure this isn't to everyone's taste. An alternative idea is to ditch the skill system and play like it's pre-Supplement I OD&D: Just try things, and the DM will tell you if it works or not.
      • Likewise, I added the Saving Throws of the Specialist to those of the "base" classes just to make the "everyone is a Specialist" thing consistent and to make the new classes a little tougher. It's not at all necessary. 
      • I'm not entirely happy with how magic works with these classes, especially the Red Mage. I feel like there must be a simpler way to handle the number of spells these classes can cast at a given level, for example. Maybe some kind of MP system is in order, like in the video games?
      • If you think holy water just isn't Final Fantasy enough, you could probably reskin it as some damage-dealing item from another game in the Final Fantasy series.
      • If NPCs behaved in your LotFP campaign the way they do in video game RPGs like this one - you know, repeating the same lines over and over, occasionally speaking in weird ways, obsessively patrolling certain paths, constantly getting in your way - I imagine it could be pretty creepy and/or funny. Maybe every town in the world has been afflicted with the same crazy curse.
      • Since they're so much more powerful than the default classes in Lamentations of the Flame Princess, these new classes would probably work better in a slightly more typical D&D-style campaign than in a typical LotFP campaign featuring a low monster count, rare magic, low XP-per-game, etc. It would have probably made more sense to base these classes on the B/X rules or AD&D rules or something, but I'm honestly more familiar with the LotFP rules as of now. Plus, I thought this might serve as an interesting thought experiment or something, I guess. Still, a mash-up of Final Fantasy and LotFP might not be so bad: JRPG tropes clashing with bleak cosmic horror and surprising injections of a brutal, heavy metal aesthetic. My Lamentations of the Fallen Lords campaign is similarly over-the-top in terms of character abilities, and it's been really fun, so...who knows?
      • I tried to create an interesting mix of specific class features from the NES game (or at least rules inspired by them) and stuff I like from the existing LotFP rules and publications, plus some of my own ideas. If anyone has any suggestions on how to improve any of these classes, please feel free to let me know.

      "My legs are beautiful! It's so nice to have legs."
      I want to give a shout out to Blueberry Buttface at GameFAQs for posting the text dump of Final Fantasy that I mined for quotes. Thank you!

      Thursday, October 6, 2016

      Annoyoid - Monster for OSR


      (Some inspiration.)

      They're basically those one-eyed little fuckers from Dark Castle (called "mutants" in the original game, apparently). They stand about two or three feet high. Each one has a single, cyclops-style eye, white gloves, little sequined boots, and a tendency to go "nya nya nya" all the time despite having no visible mouths. Other than humming a few notes from Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, they don't seem to make any vocalizations besides the "nya nya nya nya nya" thing, which they do almost constantly, and a variety of occasional nonsense noises unique to individual specimens.

      Their round bodies tend to be various shades of yellow, green, or blue, while their arms and legs either match their bodies or sport colors from anywhere on the spectrum of normal human skin tones. Irises are any color of the rainbow. They're kind of like asshole Skittles. Despite their garish colors, they're pretty stealthy when they want to be. Unfortunately, they don't seem to want to be stealthy often - NYA NYA NYA NYA NYA NYA NYA.

      They're not even useful when you kill them. Their flesh is rubbery, practically inedible, and has no nutritional value. Their flesh is mostly a continuous, flabby mass, devoid of tendons that could be used as string or bladders to serve as bags or fur to make into a blanket or teeth and bones to fashion into tools. They're not particularly flammable, so they don't make great fuel. Those boots and gloves? Part of their bodies, and once they die the boots and gloves turn out to be shabby and rapidly fall apart. Instead of blood, annoyoids are just fucking filled with glitter that just fucking gets fucking everywhere.

      And they come in groups (of probably no less than 3 annoyoids, and usually more like 30), generally avoid direct confrontation, throw rocks and detritus with painful accuracy when they do engage in combat, keep coming back if you merely drive them away instead of murdering their stupid little faces, and don't SHUT UP!

      Their shit-filled, Mischievous & Malignant candy-like bodies can hardly contain their constant, petty evil. Constant and petty are the key words here. Here's some of their typical bullshit:

      • If you're camping in the woods, they'll wait until you're just about to go to sleep, stand behind some trees at the edge of your camp, and start going "Nya nya nya." It's practically impossible to sleep while they do this. If you try to attack them or chase them away, they'll flee and come back later when you're about to fall asleep again. If you're persistent, or if you actually manage to injure one, some of them will let you chase them far away from camp while others circle around behind you or set up ambushes, at which point they will pelt you with thrown rocks and pine cones and animal dung and clumps of moss and maybe some gear they swiped from your camp while you were gone. Good luck sleeping long enough to get any spells or HP back tonight, asshole.
      • If you're climbing a steep hill, they will roll boulders or rotting barrels or dead cows or wagons full of cow shit down the hill at you like Donkey Kong.
      • Annoyoids don't seem to manufacture tools, but if they know about traps (and they usually do), they will try to lead you into them, and if you leave tools around they will try to use them against you. Thankfully, they are too small to make use of most human weapons, and they tend to avoid attacking in any way that doesn't involve throwing something, with the exception of hitting people in the face or groin with "humorous" objects on occasion. They will gladly poison or drug you if they get their hands on that kind of stuff, though. And sometimes they like slings and crossbows, but these stolen weapons seem to accidentally break after a while.
      • They do lay traps in the sense that they cover up or hide clues to naturally-occurring dangers so that people blindly wander into them, or try to lure people into such dangers. They'll cover holes or quicksand with foliage, leave stolen and much-needed supplies near a beehive or bear cave, take down the "No Tresspassing" signs on the private property of a trigger-happy citizen or restricted hunting grounds owned by the nobility, sweep away the bones outside of the killer bunny's lair, wipe away animal/monster tracks and remove bits of fur and droppings from the area, or obstruct paths so you'll be more likely to wander into the nearby thorns or poison ivy.
      • Don't let one of these bastards get a bucket. They will pour water on anything you own. They also like to tear apart dams or throw logs and junk into streams to make new dams, whichever will flood an area. On a related note, they've been seen throwing corpses down wells.
      • Give a man a fish, and you will feed him for a day. Give an annoyoid a fish, and it will momentarily grow bold enough to slap you in the face with it.
      • Have any riding or pack animals? Annoyoids love to let them loose or drive them off.
      • If there are stairs nearby, annoyoids will cover them with pebbles, marbles, lard, or whatever they can use to make them slippery.
      • Hunting? The annoyoids will wait until you're just about to take a shot at that deer, then go "Nya nya nya" and scare your prey away. Fishing? They'll throw stuff in the water to make a bunch of big splashes and spook the fish, or maybe they'll just stand under the water and go "Nya nya nya," since sound travels well in water.
      • Is it raining out? They will try to remove any dry shelter, or get you to leave that shelter.
      • If they find treasure, annoyoids will try to toss it into some place where it can't easily be recovered.
      • In dungeons, they will open or close random doors to confuse you about where you've been. If you leave a trail of chalk or breadcrumbs or something, they will wipe it out. If you're trying to be stealthy, they will make enough noise to draw stuff from the random encounter table.
      • Strangely, they don't seem to be adept at using fire, but they do try to put out fire whenever possible so that you don't have proper illumination or warmth or cooked food.
      • If all else fails, they will actually shut up for a bit, sneak up on you, and try to steal your stuff.
      HD1, AC as leather armor, thrown rock for 1d4 or so, season to taste. Or just use the stats of a kobold or goblin or something, changing a few numbers if necessary.