Sunday, June 28, 2020

40 Minute Settings- Dying Kingdom

The Kingdom is old, and the light has faded. The oldest bloodlines of the Kings, known as the holy lineage, has long since been pissed away into the bellies of whores and bastards. The once proud connection to the land, the fisher-kings, who bled the soldier's blood and sweat the farmer's sweat, now are so far removed as to be parasites on the life of the land instead. The rules were simple; what a man did, his children did. The bloodlines and rules set by the Gods, the great feudal lines and traditions, were broken time and time again- societal change brought the ruin to the Kingdom. The lesser sought above their places, and in turn spoiled it. That may just be a symptom of the disease and not the cause, but none can be sure.

In the olden days, order and righteousness was brought to the land from the Gods above, granting mankind the divine spark. The divine mandate of heaven, which gave rise to the rulers, who tamed the savages who tamed the land. The earth was plundered for its riches in ores and jewels, laws and writing was made, and seeds were harvested for bread and ale. The times were good. Now, everything is dying. It's not all at once, your grandparents thought everything was dying too, and so will you, and so will your grand children. People still find joy in the little things, but it's clear that it's all coming down. The decay will destroy everything, and nothing we can do can stop it.

The capital city of Arvakus was once the shining beacon of the world, which is now a ruin. The fields and forests nearest to it, once carefully tended, now are stalked by corrupted beasts and the game-warden families who were once sworn to protect it. Now the game wardens look much the same as the animals they are to game. The city itself is a broken cobble, irreparable and ominous, monsters roam the streets and the only “citizens” that remain are the broken shades who go about their daily labors without any thought or understanding- undying and impotent. Nobody knows what is happening within the great castle of the highest King; is he aware of the suffering in his manor, or is it his doing? The corruption within makes the corruption without, so say the Gods.

Along the roads and forts of the land; the once proud Knights are now the worst terrors of all. Purging all perceived corruption and perversion from their lands, they too were the worst corrupted. Once their armor was shining white, now it is pitch black with the pyres they have made from the innocents. Their eyes are blind towards the great flying beasts and flayed ghouls who dance along the walls of the crumbling castle, but a defiant and proper peasant woman will be accosted and tried as a witch. It is obvious to all that the land and people are sick, and no one has the cure.

The Noble Families
The great city of Arvakus is the seat of the Holy Lineage, the first and greatest line. Along with this King, several noble lords were selected from the primordial pre-men that the Gods chose for their piety and pagan-righteousness. Among these families were the proud Camnus, the wise Obligurd, the brave Foreon, and the compassionate Silovan. These noble lords were given the land to split among themselves evenly, and each of them elected their favored champions to be their lords and vassals, and these vassals split their lands among the low folk, humble yet good, and all was well in the Kingdom.

But the rules were broken. Time and time again, the men and women of these noble houses allowed their desires of the flesh to take over their rational minds and pure hearts; they married commoners or among the other houses, diluting the holy lines that gave them their power and strength. The strength and honor of the Kingdom, the house of Camnus, once measured the average height of five cubits. Now, they are shrunken dwarves, hiding in holes underneath the ground to steal the organs from wandering passersby. The wise house of Obligurd, the keeper of divination rituals, caught heritable blindness and became fools. The Foreon, who once sailed in ships to the foggy islands outside of the land of the Kingdom to find new realms and see if anything would threaten it, retreated to the inwards most parts of their manor- they became so deathly afraid of water that they resorted to drinking the blood of their low folk, the vampires they became. Even the uncorruptable Silovan have fallen; still preaching purity and truth to the lands, but having become weak and impotent, their hands shrivel and fall off along with their teeth as soon as they reach the age to see the evil in the world and wish to stop it. The only house seemingly unaffected is the Holy Lineage, but none know or have seen what corruption lies with them, if any.

These noble families, once the greatest and exemplars for the people, have become so degenerated that the commoners no longer respected them. If a noble can lie with a commoner, then a commoner can lie with a beast. The offspring are twisted, but righteousness was so foreign to the people of the Kingdom that it mattered not. Half-mutants walk the streets in daylight now, a sign of our dying times, madness and melancholy reign over all over emotions and feelings. Children seem to barely be out of the flush of their youth when their wrinkles begin to set in, and men begin to cough dust as soon as they turn in their mid thirties, if not even earlier. Much of this only feeds into itself; the Lords tire of their wives quickly, and seek young peasant girls for their fix of beautiful love, only further driving a stake between goodness and honor and their own personal lusts.

The Broken Steel
Once, the steel of the kingdom (mostly made by house Camnus) was the greatest that could be imagined. Spectacular, immutable, well balanced and forged without a hint of rust or bend. But now, the tools and weapons created in the sooty forges are warped and weak; the blacksmiths sacrifice bone and blood to the fires, a pagan ritual that only strengthens nature, to improve their blades so they are not dull right after being sharpened again. The truth is that the steel is weak because the people are weak; even the most noble of knights seem to walk around with rusting, patchwork armor.

The good people, however few remain, are themselves weakly armed. Stunted and corroded steel is a poor defense against beasts with supernatural strength and aggression, but it is all they have.

Still, a few old gleaming forms remain. Perhaps in the old Arvakus castle armory, or perhaps hidden in some buried treasure chest; these gleaming swords are almost blindingly white like ivory, capable of destroying anything corrupted with a single strike. These highly sought after weapons are fewer in number every year, as a careless man will crack it in an awkward swing against a stone and watch the light fade from the alloy.

Silent Temples
Perhaps worst of all, the peoples' despair only mounted greater and greater as the temples were silent. Those who were humble priests, or the paladins and priest-kings of Obligurd, found their divinations less and less effective. The widest spread heresy was that the Gods lost interest in the corrupted and degenerated people of the Kingdom, but the church themselves blamed the people. Every sin, every perversion acted like a cloud of dust kicked up in the eyes of the Almighty, and it was the fault of the people the rulers and sages could not commune with the divine. That is when the great purges began, the corpse fires burning streams of smoke in the sky that never quite fully fell down from it later on, even now the sky is still dark even during the day, the sun itself eclipsed by the weight of the sodden Earth beneath it.

The Temple-Houses were also once were the money was made; holy money blessed by the Gods so it was never used and traded to a treacherous hand. However, a the temples became silent, the money fell out of favor. Soon, red coins made from the blood of beasts came into effect and was commonly traded in the Kingdom. Now, no one can tell if the bloody red coins were made from beasts blood, or the blood of man or woman. They are too dark and spotty to tell anymore; even giving money to the poor feels like a dirty act to simply touch such coinage, and so few wish to dwell on how it is made.

Magic in the Kingdom, which was too once a tool to better divine and know the will of the Gods, has been corrupted as well. Taught from the holy and lofty institutions that once kept it a secret from the masses, it became too widespread and impossible to control. Each person could interpret the laws and rules of magic their own way, and while each had the greatest of intentions slowly they changed from a tool of learning and communion with the divine to a tool of blind ignorance and domination. The men of magic now wear tattered yellowing robes, a far cry from the white healers smock they once wore, and now command fire and branch to their wills, instead of staring into the flames or counting the rings of trees to know the will of their creators.

Old Knight's Head
The people who still seem to have the most sense in their head are those who live in the middle lands. Not in the outskirts of the Kingdoms near the made, treacherous coasts where godless heathen sea-raiders come from a mysterious land to the south. Nor are those who live near to the heart of the Kingdom, in their treacherous and decadent cities overflowing with greed and sewage. No- it is those in the blissful countryside, free from all outside and inside corruptions, that seem the most at peace. But even their peace there is strife, as none are truly free from the taint.

Your village found it- the Old Knight's Head. Still in its helmet, the decaying head can speak. And it did, a simple hammer blow to the unbreakable metal dome and the mouth will split and tell tales of the olden days. It will harken to a time before children were born with split lips and backwards knees, to a time before the greatest knowledge wasn't in books of the past but in the field and learning of the day. The Old Knight's Head fills you with the strangest sense of nostalgia for a time before you were alive.

The Kingdom is dying. You feel the weight of your years even in your youth, your split leather shoes and gloves, taken from a calf who couldn't breathe after its birth, are your most expensive pieces of armor aside from your rusting and crooked sword. Only a few have thought to raid the oldest tombs of the Kingdom- not for treasure and greed as they were raided before, but for wisdom. Speaking to the old dead, and to the men who made this land great, and learning from them what has gone so wrong. The corrupted watch may not approve of your actions, madly declaring your insanity for wanting to fix this broken land, but you must not ere from the path. But even as you struggle, you feel the pit in your gut deepen as you know, somehow, deep down, that no one is watching your struggle and no one will let you succeed. You fight against forces that can't be beaten. You will fail. Your effort will only end in an inevitable death and further slide into barbarism and returning the world to the primordial muddy chaos from which it can't stray. Still, what else can be done? You will fail before you begin, or fail after you have tried your greatest. Is the struggle worth it?

Friday, June 26, 2020

Big Sac

This is a too simple system for Encumbrance. It's not actually a system. I was going to call this “Dirt Simple Encumbrance” but it's not a real system and this name is more funny.

Big Sac
Nobody gives a shit how much stuff you carry around. You can carry around 6 torches and 14 arrows and a whole heap of iron spikes to wedge doors and three swords and 25 keys and nobody cares. Just tell players to write down all that stuff; just whatever they're willing to pay for and how much they're willing to keep track of. Your character sheet can have a hundred tools and sticks of chalk and I really don't mind this. You're not going to remember you have it and even if you do I'll reward you instead of making you play the game slower.

Then, you have the Sacks. Each “Sack” unit is one over-encumbered unit. Carrying a sack makes you vulnerable, you go last on the first round of combat (have to put it down before drawing your weapon, or autofail the “act in surprise by rolling 6+ with your class HD thing I do) and increases the chance of drawing wandering monsters from the noise (+1 on a d20 roll, probably shouldn't use if you use the 1 in 6 chance some do). If you're playing a game in real life, put an actual little burlap sack/dicebag on the table in front of the player, fill it with little rocks or beads or whatever, make it cool.

Each “Sack” is for whenver your characters are carrying around a ludicrous amount of stuff. If you're on a long term trip, then all your food is in one sack. All your camping gear is in another sack. If you brought disguises to wear to a fancy ball, that's a sack. One shovel doesn't encumber you, but if you want to take six of them to outfit a digging team, then that's another sack. Obviously all your treasures go in Sacks- all your coins can fit in a Sack as long as there isn't like a thousand of them. The big portraits and art items can go in another Sack. Magic equipment and potions go in another Sack, if you don't want to use them. Carrying them without putting them in a Sack is what exposes you to curses; even if you don't equip them. Carry an extra Sack if you want to be safe.

The exception to the sack rule is if you're wearing the heaviest possible mundane armor available in the setting- so Bronze Fullplate in a Bronze Age kind of archaic era game, full body suite of Chainmaille in a dark ages kind of game, or a sort of giant Havel the Rock/Onion Knight level of ridiculous full plate armor in a high medieval style of game. Anyone wearing all that shit counts as though they are wearing a sack. You also have to count as carrying a sack if you're carrying a large tower shield, or an oversized (d10) weapon. Each of these sacks don't stack, so if you're wearing heavy armor you might as well carry a huge weapon and big shield too since you'll be over encumbered anyway. Basically being heavily equipped = carry a sack.

Nobody cares about pounds or load. Just care about the Sacks. You Sacks can get stolen or left behind. There is a 1 in 6 chance you leave behind a sack on accident if you run in combat, or all of them if you didn't make a fighting retreat. You have to lug the sacks over a hill or through a river. If a character dies, they drop their Sacks. If you fail a save against dragon fire, one sack at random is burned apart- maybe if it hit your sac full of coins it just melted them a bit instead of destroying all your healing herbs and boiling away your sack full of healing potions you thought it would be a good idea to bring.

Your Strength score goes like this; if you have +1 Strength you can carry one sac without having the negatives. If you have +2 Strength you can carry two sacks without the negative. If you have -1 Strength then being forced to carry a Sack makes you even weaker, but you can avoid this by not carrying a Sack. If you have -2 Strength you can't carry Sacks at all.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Battle in the Mind + Alternative Armor Rules Concepts

Battle in the Mind
This is when two warriors face off towards each other, close their eyes, and plan every single move they're about to do against each other. This abstracts combat down to a single die roll; instead of having high level warriors dueling and chipping away at their AC and HP pools for ten rounds or more, this keeps it quick. This is essentially a very parsed down duel system.

When the “battle in the mind” is over, the two warriors rush each other and one will defeat the other in one or two rapid blows. The losing warrior will fall over dead, or with their weapon destroyed/disarmed and dropped to one hit point; spared by the victor. Note: This only works with two combatants, more then that and you'll need to use the regular combat engine.

Both Fighters roll a 1d6- then:
  • Add +1 to the Fighter who has the better armor and/or weapons. Unarmed Fighters automatically lose unless their Kung Fu is so good it is equivalent to weapons.
  • Add +2 if one Fighter is one higher level then the other. If one Fighter is two or more levels higher, they just automatically win. These are duels between equals, not between novices and masters. Level is by far the most important factor to Fighter power in the mind.
  • Add +1 to the Fighter who is younger. You could go by cosmic age here, so technically an elf who is eternally young is still older then an aged human, to give some strength to the underdog, or it could just be who is biologically younger. Youth grants an advantage.
  • Add +1 to a Fighter who knows a hidden blade art that would greatly help in this duel that the other does not. Like a sliding technique while fighting on a rocky hillside.
  • Subtract -1 to a Fighter who is injuried. Doesn't matter if they're cut up and only have 1 HP left, or if they just took a single scratch, even a single wound is enough to be an advantage. If both Fighters are injured, ignore this.
  • Subtract -1 to the Fighter who is angry or vengeful. Emotion and rage lend power, but also leave oneself open. Calmness and an open mind is the pinnacle of fighting skill. The passion of the challenger will grant his opponent a window. If both Fighters are equally inflamed, then ignore this or grant it to the one who is more personally involved.

The Fighter with the higher roll wins. If it is a tie, both Fighters either kill each other or survive with 1 HP and struggle to their feet.

Alternative Armor Rules
Armor is a fun rule to mess with. Most people in the DIY or blogosphere use D&D style armor, the AC vs a to-hit roll. This is a nice system because it speeds up play; no need to roll damage if an attack misses, but can also greatly slow down play because of whiff-fests. Designing the game around a small range of possible AC scores and small modifiers can also help this, which is something I wanted to accomplish by putting in a maximum AC score. I also like AC systems because it gives certain attacks or spells the ability to play around with AC scores- like having magical arrows that never miss bypass AC entirely.

Note: If you haven't read my other blog posts about this before, I give each class a maximum AC. The max AC is reached through stat modifiers, armor, magic items, spells, etc. If you get to the max, you don't need to stack any more armor or magical modifiers. That's the most you can have, and that way combat is snappy and fast. There is still a value in finding or getting better armor though, as you can wear less armor (and therefore have less encumbrance) even at the max AC, or you can stack AC beyond the max which just grants you extra in reserve in case a spell or ability breaks some of your armor like a rust monster.

But not everyone is happy with this solution. Even beyond just having armor be useful for a game, it is also interesting to see what kind of ideas or mechanics armor could be made to have simply on the side of game design, untethered to the idea of a fantasy dungeon crawl.

Armor as DR (damage reduction) is an interesting concept as seen in Into the Odd. It is a relatively common houserule or conversion that I've seen. It goes something like this; instead of a to-hit roll, attacks just hit and armor just reduces the damage of attacks. And attack “misses” when it fails to do enough damage to hurt the wearer. Usually leather grants +1, chain +2, plate +3 or a similar metric. This means against plate, a roll of 6 for a sword would only do 3 damage.

I think this idea is pretty interesting but it makes weaker small weapons unhelpful in almost all circumstances except circumference or class restrictions. It also has the strange idea of the most tough class (Fighter) taking the least damage from hits. D&D style armor already does this by avoiding hits however, it's not unusual at all, just is one of those weird things that makes combat take longer. It's not necessarily bad or anything, just not super common.

Armor as DL (damage limit) isn't a concept I've seen anyone else suggest; but nonetheless I think could be interesting to explore. Consider it in the form of damage dice. Armor “blocks” all damage die that size or higher. Using normal armor tiers; consider leather as a d8, chain as d6, and plate as d4. This means if you tried to use a d10 battleaxe on someone wearing leather, they can't be hit by it. (abstracted as damage or by not being able to make an effective cut). The only way to hit someone wearing plate armor would be to attack them with a dagger or other very small weapon, which fits the idea of d4 weapons still being useful. Arrows of a d6 bow bounce off, but chainmail can still be pierced by them, because it's damage limit is d6. If you aren't wearing armor using this system, you just take the full damage. Of course, there could be special rules for certain weapons like blunt weapons to have anti-armor properties, or perhaps Fighters can use various parts of a weapon- such as Half-Swording to use the point of a sword much like a dagger, this way they can remain flexible. Instead of making it so the weapons are totally ineffective, it could just lower the size of their die to the armor. So using a d10 greatsword is reduced to a d6 sword against chainmail, but you can still use it without difficulty.

The second version of the above is just to limit the points of damage you can take in a physical attack. Using the above but as the point values; such as Leather being 8, Chain being 6, and Plate being 4. This means whenever you take damage from an attack, the maximum points you can take from the attack is equal to the point value or less. This would encourage the use of heavier weapons, at least for dealing the maximum amount of damage every round, but it would have the same effect of DR but backwards. Interestingly, this point idea could be used to make multiple dice attacks still fit under the paradigm; like a 3d6 super slam move is still limited to doing 10 damage to your Rogue or whatever.

Armor as Resource is another method that has been used to give armor more texture and interesting gameplay. In some games, this would equate to armor being used like temporary hit points. I like this concept, as it allows for each piece of armor to be truly useful and valuable, but it also leads to some questions. Does “armor points” restore after each combat? After a long rest? Only when returning to town? Is it described in the fluff as being actual damage dealt to the armor that is reduced as damage is taken, or is it a totally abstract measurement?

Another idea with the above is “shields will be splintered” as a rule, but with armor instead. I really like the concept of doing this, but with specific pieces of armor. And instead of reducing damage by points, it just negates an attack entirely. It also only works with specific attacks- to give armor more usage and more ways to attack foes. For example, if an enemy is trying to bash you with a club, it's more then likely trying to strike you in the head with it. In this case, your helmet would have to save you. One hit you can absorb per combat is fine. Two hits in one combat and the helmet is dinged up, lowering your vision or needing repairs. Three or more and you start taking damage; or it is knocked off on the third hit and you are now vulnerable to getting killed and/or struck unconscious the next time he comes around swinging his club. Shields may be special in that they can absorb any attack, or most forms of attack, and could have their own pool of hit points- if this game is using hit points at all. Platearmor could be the best because of the fact it can take a lot of hits before losing its effectiveness, or because it can take basically any kind of hit, from blunt to piercing to slashing and form many different angles- both of which would be valuable qualities for armor in this concept.

Secondly; combining the above with an AC system sounds pretty doable. Keep AC extremely limited; you only get AC for being high level, weapon bonus, being a specific race, a stat bonus, and with a base of 10. Read “AC as fencing” below. Doing this keeps most enemy chances to hit at roughly 50% depending on modifiers, which makes only half the attacks sent at a character needing to be absorbed by their limited armor and defensive resources.

Armor as a Block is a concept that I don't have a good name for, but it doesn't fit so well for tabletop games. It kind of does though, moreso for a game with some strategy or board game elements. I like to think of this as being able to “block” a certain number of attacks or amounts of damage each round, similar to the armor as resource or armor as DR, but it has a set limit to how much it can take.

For example, chainmail might be able to block 1 “attack” per round. Meaning the first person to attack the armored guy is not effective. But this isn't just people; high level characters could have multiple attacks, so the first attack is not effective but the second is, and so on. High powered armors could block multiple attacks each round, where as weaker armors like leather or improvised armors may do something like have a 50/50 chance to block an attack or something similar.

The idea behind this is armored users require multiple concentrated efforts to take down. The main disadvantage is that you could never defeat certain foes regardless of how good your rolls are depending on the situation. Some platemail wearing beast that takes three attacks to even scratch for a whole round needs to be focused on by the entire party, and when only two characters are left they are now faced with an impossible challenge. The same applies for the players though, so as long as a heavy armored guy doesn't wade into a huge group of goblins they won't get hurt from one or two griffon claw swipes. I like the idea but it would be hard to balance, difficult to add granularity due to high jumps in power, and could make the players accuse the GM of focus fire or favortism since, logically, most enemies would need to artificially focused on the fighter with heavy armor to take them down. Of course this armor concept might just be for player-character armor, and monsters use a traditional AC vs a d20 + modifiers roll the players are used to, which could work for its own game. There is no reason to assume players and monsters are running on the same combat engine, so why not?

Edit: Instead of armor blocking one attack, it could block one die of damage each round instead. Perhaps it blocks the largest single die the enemy has, or blocks the highest die of up to a limit (based on the armor level) If you have multiple attacks, or throw out multiple damage die per hit, it would fit well. You could also consider having weapons do multiple dice worth of damage, if such a thing was built into the core of the game.

Armor as Fencing
The above concepts of armor apply specifically to armor as an item, or as a piece of equipment. They do not, however, necessarily correlate to what AC is or how you get it. I've seen ideas for AC to be based on fencing and self-defense techniques; which are based on character class, Dex modifier, level, and the like. This concept I feel is strong. I can't take credit for this because I've read it on the blogosphere somewhere before at least once, plus Anonymous posters on various internet forums have also posted a similar idea.

It could be something like thus; Fighters get the most basic AC from deflection skill, Rogues and Semi-Fighters like Clerics and Paladins get less, and Magicians/Sages get the least. The idea is that if you are armed with a weapon, you can deflect and dodge incoming blows. This certainly adds to the feeling of Fighters being highly skilled warriors, and Fights can be more based on characters wearing robes or dueling on the sides of a mountain and the like, over people in knightly armor trudging around. This could be a sort of “Base” AC based on your class, then it advances upwards as you level up. Here's a rough table outline; probably not the final figures.

Fighter AC
Rogue AC
Sage AC

The problem with this idea is twofold. Firstly, it would greatly slow down character strength, especially against high ranking monsters with high +to hit for their attacks. In normal D&D you can usually buy the best armor pretty early on, but with this system you have to slowly build up. The second is based on the above suggestions and ideas for armor; What does armor exactly do? What should it do? If your AC is mostly based on your personal skill and level, your character wouldn't need or want to wear much armor. That is unless armor is really powerful- armor as temporary hit points or a flat number of blocked “attacks” that hit could be really good depending on the action economy and damage numbers of a game. You'd also have to unteach everything your players already know. In fact, in this kind of system, wearing really heavy armor might reduce your AC, given that you can't see or deflect blows as well. Instead, your armor would have to help you soak damage, so you'd be more of a tank.

You also probably want to have at least some benefit to wearing armor, especially magic armor. You could also say that the above is your AC, but characters could still have an AC “cap” as in my homebrew system, so you wear armor until you grow out of it. Big boys don't need armor, they just deflect everything. Which I think is kind of cooler.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

10 Arguments at the Fantasy Dinner Table

[1] Do bear men shit in the woods?
[2] Casters vs Martials. The eternal debate.
[3] All Dwarves and Elves at the table just start arguing over nothing.
[4] Should you hang your magic sword above the fireplace? Is that tacky?
[5] If you could only bring one spell to a deserted island, which one would you take?
[6] What is the “inside” of an “inside out man”?
[7] Do werewolves sniff each others butts?
[8] How many times have the Gods destroyed the world to start over?
[9] Are zombies immune to turning if they walk at you backwards? Or is that “Forward Undead”?
[10] What is King Aragorn's tax policy?

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Mental Labyrinths

In the same way a realm of spirits can be thought of as a physical thing, a mind can be a physical thing too. Not on its own, of course, but one can enter it. One can use the gates of astral travel, or powerful spells, or shrinking powders, or a psychic bridge more powerful then most. Then, you step inside the head of a sleeping person and enter their dream as a passenger.

Of course, within a person's mind, things are unsteady. You are bombarded with memories, trains of thought, imaginations. People and objects become idealized- it is best if you only enter someone's mind if they do not know you, else you will be subtly changed by the experience. If the target of this intrusion thinks of you as an annoying braggart; you will become arrogant and useless as you sit back and take the credit for everything. Women grow extra cup sizes in the minds of men, and men become whimpering, doddering fools talking about their “emotions” in the minds of women. Such things are best avoided, and are simply troublesome for everyone involved. Every few minutes, the dream will shift again and again, following a train of thought to new destinations only partially connected.

But there is a deeper part to the mind. Beyond the surface level, beyond basic dreams and experiences. There is something called the Labyrinth. It resides inside everyone; it is a connection of the person's core beliefs, cherished memories, skills, self experiences and closest secrets and loves. Naturally it is a very attractive targets for thieves and explorers; you can find out anyone's secrets here. Within the mindscape of the labyrinth, you can even find and manipulate a person's skills and magic. It is more then possible to cut away a Fighting-Man's inbuilt reflexes and well oiled moves and turn him into a limp wristed pansy, barely capable of holding his sword anymore. Making a wise old wizard into a senile simpleton is just as obvious. But the Labyrinth is deep and dark- needless to say, it is an adventure to venture here. Within the mind, you are as real as a thought, and anything that you could imagine harming you could actually harm you here.

The Labyrinth seems to almost have an inbuilt defense against intruders like yourself; certain beings manifest from the thoughts and dreams of the person. The religious have statues of their most beloved Gods here within their mind- watching over even this place. Nightmares and negative emotions are actual beasts here. Traps in the labyrinth slide down into trauma from the past, hidden just beneath the surface. Their imaginary friend from childhood is still with them; it is the Minotaur that wanders the halls. The person whose labyrinth you explore is very much master here- if they become aware of your presence within their mind and are conscious; even a novice can make things even harder and could forcibly eject you. Masters of psychic warfare and psychology may well be able to trap you within their mind-maze at their own desire; letting them torment you further or even killing the intruders with the sheer force of their will and imagination. Of course- to the intruders, the ire of the owner of the mind they are invading will appear as black storms, or sudden hoards of jeering townsfolk in an angry mob; you are the unwelcome monster here.

The Mental Labyrinth
Each person has a unique maze within their mind. It can only be entered with specific spells and a magical journey. The maze has walls and floors that mimic the person's own life and personality- the labyrinth twists and turns along with their memories and thoughts. The traits of the individual make up the Labyrinth's details and the details of the mind.

The walls of the labyrinth are the place where the person feels at most most comfortable. This may well be a childhood home, the clean walls of a sanitarium, or it could be the rough hewn walls of stone, present in the masterful minds of dungeon crawlers and treasure collectors. It is where someone feels most “in their element”. The light of the Labyrinth is also based on the person's own nature and secrecy. Honest men have honest hearts; and in their Labyrinths the air is practically glowing. You won't even need to burn a torch, it may as well lit a summer's day. But most normal people with a few secrets, and especially those of criminal background or the guilty, will have darker and darker dungeons. The Labyrinths of spy masters, secret keepers, and dark people will have thick fog and heavy shadow that makes it even harder to navigate.

Depending on the creature's Intelligence score, the Labyrinth's details and interior spaces are changed. Creatures with a very high intelligence will have a mindscape which is well established in detail and landmarks. The layout of the Labyrinth will be relatively stable, you can map it out. You can look at the walls and see cracks. The monsters in their mind, memories or imaginings, have plausible biology and anatomy. If you are invading the mind of a creature with lower Intelligence however, the labyrinth will be vague. Instead of mapping on a grid- map the maze as a “point crawl”, with only the major things sticking out. Inbetween these points of interest the hallways lack any detail and are simply suggestions of forms. The creatures too are affected; blobby approximations. You can cut off a limb and the resultant stump will be a cartoon with a bone and generic pink flesh around it. Mouths end at the throat; no digestive system is needed for such cardboard stand-ins.

Depending on the creature's Wisdom score, the maze will denizens with their own goals, personalities, and factions. Those with high Wisdom will know the connections between people, and there will be a deeper level of interaction with the creatures of the maze. This does not necessarily equate to benevolence or neutrality- but more to a consistent and real “personality” to the place. Higher Wisdom scores also indicate a deeper level of religious and spiritual understanding; puzzles involving symbolism and the deeper cultural subtext will be created within the mind. Those with Higher Wisdom are also said to have a “rich inner life” and will have a more beautiful labyrinth, though this combines with Charisma as for artistic talents. Those with lower Wisdom will instead have a demographically barren labyrinth; few if any personalities will spawn within their mind, their motivations banal and pointless. Low Wisdom people may have Labyrinths that lack any kind of personal touch; any given part of it won't seem to be a part of “them”, as they lack that will. Those with Low Wisdom will even suffer from their own monsters and censor-beasts lacking somewhat in conviction; after all, only a very religious, empathetic man will truly know the full depth of evil a Balrog lives and breathes.

Depending on the creature's Charisma score, the maze with become more or less powerful and difficult to escape. This seems backwards; those with high Wisdom but low Charisma will have artistic, rich personal dungeons with talkative manifestations. This is because Wisdom and Charisma are used for different purposes; Charisma is however about force of will and personality as an OUTWARD force- and those factors bring great power to the mind-maze, where as Wisdom is more an INWARD force, the power of ones own convictions. Those with Higher Charisma are better apt to change the people who enter their mind, subconsciously or not, and will have higher walls, stronger creatures, and more vivid emotions. Those with powerful Charisma will have rolling waves of emotions or memories that intruders will feel grip them as though possessed by them. Those with weak Charisma, on the other hand, will have less passionate and less powerful labyrinths as a whole. The traps lack the sharp spikes of spite, the jokes and references to their personal life won't have the edge of a well timed joke. Escape a Labyrinth of a person with low Charisma is relatively easy, simply slip out and be forgotten, where as one with High Charisma will drag intruders in even deeper and harder to escape their innate magnetism.

The Alignment of the individual is also important to their mental labyrinth. Those with a more Lawful alignment will have tight right angles, well placed walls, and symmetrical layouts, where as those with a more Chaotic element will have organic walls that curve, chambers of varying sizes, randomly sized doors and so forth. The Good to Evil axis is more abstract, since everyone thinks they're at least a little bit good on the inside or justifies their behaviors- instead Good and Evil will manifest more as clouds of energy; positive if more Good, and negative if more Evil. Because this in the imagination, the fogs of positive energy will heal wounds and bolster holy and white magic, where as the mists of negative energy will degrade equipment, deal damage over time, drain levels with extended exposure, and empower undead. Of course, like-minded individuals exploring another person's mental maze will be more at home and rewarded for sharing the same alignment as the owner; but Evil creatures tend to be backstabbing and not work well with each other, so in this case it makes sense that the evil mists still hurt other evil creatures; but they COULD act as a force that is used to empower dark spells regardless, or act as healing mist for intelligent undead and evil-high priests and the like.

Finally the being's age and Experience level will indicate the size, depth, and complexity of their labyrinth. Children, simple races like goblins and kobolds, or a grown simpleton will have only a few turns, their whole labyrinth being no more then a few rooms of their most important features. Adults, adventurers, and monsters with a few HD will be more complex, at least those with minds and histories. The biggest, meanest purple worm isn't going to have a maze in their brain at all, because they don't really have one. The immortals, elves and ancient wizards, have massive, sprawling labyrinths. These beings may even have different “wings” of the labyrinth, each one representing a different period of their lives or where they reinvented themselves. The entire place is filled with lovers who died of old age, forgotten events from history, treasures that have long since been melted down back into gold and sold off in the real world from ages ago. This is probably the best way to talk to a dead man from a history book; but it will not be them as truly as they were, but how the individual whose mind you are sneaking around in saw that historical figure when they knew them.

Threats of the Labyrinth
Every exploration turn, you are faced with a Manifestation Roll, which is equivalent to a wandering monster roll. Instead of the roll being based on how encumbered, slow, or loud your party is moving; it is based on how aware the mind is of your intrusion. If you are wearing colors that go against their own personal tastes, are members of races they do not like or are unused to, if you are acting against the flow of their mind and so on you are making them more and more aware of your presence. This makes it more likely that a roiling manifestation of their mind reaches you.

Instead of using a normal 1 in 6 roll to determine wandering encounters, consider using a “roll a 18 or higher” on a d20. This equates to a 15%, close to a 1 in 6 at 16.66%
This way, you can add more modifiers for smaller breaches in conduct; add a +1 for each infraction.

It should also be noted here that the Labyrinth is at least partially in the “subconscious”, meaning it isn't quite as variable or easily as to control as the raw mindscape and imagination of the person. If the person becomes aware of you, they can't just immediately wipe you out by imagining you disappearing into nonexistence, as long as you are in the Labyrinth. Of course, if the person is aware of you inside their mind, they can focus to give you a manifestation roll every single exploration turn, with greater levels of control to those who have more Charisma and willpower. Of course, even this isn't fullproof- people sometimes find surprises within their own mind.

Manifestation Table- Roll 1d6
[1] Memory. There are memories in the form of portraits (to remember faces), maps (to remember places), and objects (to remember events) scattered all throughout the labyrinth. But sometimes specific memories manifest directly as snippets; glowing ghostly phantasms act out the memory. Disrupting the memory will cause awareness to grow from the Labyrinth's owner, but can also permanently alter their perception of an event. Also if anyone who has gone into the other person's mind to invade their Labyrinth was in this event in the memory; then the memory will not feature a clone of them but they must act out their role in that memory as the owner remembers it. This can also lead to clues about the invasion of their mind; you remember someone meeting you at the fancy dress gala, but in your memory they're wearing bloody armor with swords and rags. To the educated and powerful, jarring events like this in memory that nobody else seems to be remember is a very telling sign of someone sneaking around inside your brain.

[2] Imaginations. These are beings wholly created from imagination, and may be either supportive of the creator of the labyrinth (sharing alignment, protecting it, etc.) or may be against the creator, as though from a tortured psyche or moody artist. Imaginations are similar to illusions; you can make a saving throw modified by wisdom to disbelieve them, but in the mindscape everything is partially illusionary, and as such the illusions can still interact with the world but simply cannot hurt you unless you allow them to. This still requires a successful save, even though you know they are “fake”.

Imaginations can exist as any kind of creature, person with any equipment, or even made up and fictional creatures which cannot or do not exist in the “real” world of the fantasy space.

[3] Moods. Moods appear as colorful ghosts or spectral versions of the labyrinth's master themselves- they always act according to the mood. Moods are stated as spellcasters, and can shift the labyrinth around them based around their emotional states. Moods get reaction checks when encountered, which indicates how reasonable or clouded they actually are based on their mood or emotion. Very low rolls will make an anger elemental attack you out of habit, where as a high roll would indicate a bit more nuance and being able to actually have a conversation.

[4] Static. Strange half formed ideas, boiling emotions, or half-forgotten dreams struggling not to die among the eddies of the master's mind. They appear like flaming orbs or cubes of shapes, with suggestions of shapes and voices. Less of a creature and more of a hazard; flies down corridors in a haze of change. Make a save to duck out of the way or take 2d6 damage.

[5] Custodians. These are like spirit guides, memories of teachers and mentors, positive spirits or ideas, or other usually friendly beings inhabiting a person's mind. While they are usually of inner origin, some of them may be actual angels putting good ideas in their heads, or ancestral spirits granting old knowledge or magical power by realigning the stones of the mental labyrinth.

Roll a reaction check when interacting with a custodians. Only if you are obvious or a bad result is listed will they realize you are foreign to the mind maze, and will otherwise be helpful, granting advice or directions.

[6] Censors. These are among the dangerous threats in the Labyrinth, as they are specifically designed to hunt beings like yourself within a foreign mind. Everyone has Censor-Beasts inside their head, roving around to remove astral parasites or dark influencers. People sucked into another's mindscape count as foreign bodies in their heads, and the Censors have the innate ability to sniff you out. You must make a successful stealth check each time you encounter them, even if you defeat them in combat, and on a failure the alarm is raised and the person's whose mind you are within realizes something is wrong. This is another reason why delving a person's mind is much easier if they are willing to the procedure or otherwise knocked out so Censors don't awaken them to your plot.

Censor Beasts (2+2 HD, +3 to hit, Bite at 1d8, Erasure at 1d4, tracking, howl)
Morale: 17
Numbers: 2d3 in Labyrinth, 1d2 in Outer Mindscape, 2d8 near Labyrinth Center

The Censors are powerful psychically driven beings who appear as the individual's mind would perceive a ruthless, tireless hunter. For the vast majority of people, this would be a hunting dog or group of wolves, hence the name, but just as often they are monstrous looking city guards or patrolling orc justice-makers. Censors Beasts have two attacks; a “bite” which could also just as easily be a sword slash or short fire breath attack based on their manifestation, and their Erasure. Erasure only works on foes who stand still long enough for it to erase part of their being, and as such highly Dexterous fighters (+2 or better) avoid the erasure entirely.

Being erased is a lot worse then being harmed. If your character is actually physically present within another being's mind, such as through a portal or powerful spell, then when the Erasure move deals 4 damage on a hit, they take a level in level drain. Part of their being is deleted and they look and feel slightly transparent and wraith-like, which gets worse the more they are drained. If your character is not physically present in the Labyrinth, and are invading through magical and psychic manifestations or are otherwise using a proxy, then the Erasure beam deals 2d6 damage to their avatar instead.

Finally; Censor-Beasts are hunters. They exist to destroy rogue bodies like yourself within the very mind you are plumbing. They can track like dogs can by scent (though in this case, it's thought). The only way to avoid being tracked is to meditate and move without thought or leaving your 'mark' on anything mentally. Don't describe or interact with the environment. You'd have to move without mapping in order for you to lose a patrol of these beasts, which means you'll also be getting lost. Finally, Censor Beasts will 'howl' upon the death of their last, which forces another wandering monster check. If it succeeds, then the wandering monster encountered will always be another pack of Censor Beasts. In the unlikely event these Censor Beasts flee combat, then they don't howl and instead fall back to dissipate into the mind.

Treasures of the Labyrinth Table – Roll 1d6
[1] Secrets. Private memories, dirt, shameful things, and so on found in the Labyrinth. Sometimes found in memory snippets, sometimes find in abstract locked rooms or dusty corners, sometimes manifested as the prize to win in a highly defended “dungeon”. Can be used as blackmail against the person whose mind and privacy you are invading. Doesn't require anything special, just finding it and remembering it is is enough to learn their dirty secrets.

[2] Skill. The “well of experience” appears as a literal well with shimmering gold liquid. It may also appear as small piles of coins (such as coins won in successful duels) or little portraits with moments of success from the labyrinth owner's life. This is their abstract experience. Each “load” unit you find and take is equal to 500 experience points, which is lost from the owner and given to whoever absorbs it first. Stealing from monsters/NPCs will instead cause a lose in HD and related abilities. Characters who are in line with the archetype get the full experience value, but characters who are on a different path may only receive half experience as it doesn't help them learn as well.

Note that as an abstract item, it may not manifest in the real world correctly and may simply dissipate like a dream when you leave the Labyrinth, unless you have a special container that can keep something abstract like an idea in a physical form.

[3] Abilities. Similar to skills above, but this could be about entire specific abilities the person has instead. Magically or psychically you could take out a person's ability to speak a certain language, to pick locks, a blade art, or a specific spell or group of spells. When taken out of the person's mind, these will manifest as an item that can be worn to grant that ability to somebody else. Spells turn up as scrolls or can be transcribed on scrolls; which can then be cast or used to write in a spellbook as normal. While not totally realistic or in-line with the fiction, it may be possible to do things like steal a snake person's ability to create venom and forge it into a vial that refills itself with venom every new moon instead. Stealing or trading innate powers into magical items.

[4] Friends. The minds of people contain imaginary friends from their childhood, half forgotten faces of people they haven't seen for years, and even passengers and beings from the astral planes or shared through thoughts. While most of these beings will have a great deal of loyalty, even love, for the progenitor of the Labyrinth, they may also see a chance to leave as beneficial. Outside of a person's mind though, these beings are either like living illusions or ghosts without bodies in the physical world, but inviting them into your own mind could act a bit like a helpful custodian within yourself, acting as an extra guardian. In these cases, you can always speak to this being while its inside your own head just with a thought, letting you gain advice or companionship. Even while physically alone.

[5] Identities. Using the magic of names, or some kind of super Rogue-Disguise power, stealing the “faces” or “names “ from within the mind of a person could allow one to disguise themselves in real life. After all, the mask made from the memory of a dead man will pass much better then a second or third hand retelling of the man's appearance. Also speaking magically, stealing some bits of a person's mind could be a powerful method to create “proxies” of them; voodoo dolls weaved from cloth found in a person's own mind could create a very powerful method to control them or protect yourself from their arcane witchdoctory.

[6] Actual treasure. While uncommon, it is possible for certain things inside people's minds to be valuable in and of themselves. For example, a rush of positive emotions or a feeling of comfort could be taken from a mind and given to someone else for a payment. Certain creatures, like some fantasy versions of dwarves or nonhumans in general, may not be capable of “true” creativity and as such stealing the creative spark from inside a human brain will allow that being to become truly creative, but of course robbing these qualities from your first subject makes them incapable of them and leaves them permanently decreased in their quality of life. There is also always the chance of a fantasy wizard storing something valuable or like a pile of gold in someone's subconscious; this is why after a particularly good dream they find a gold coin on their pillow when they wake up. Must have slipped out of their ear.

Monday, June 15, 2020

Stats as Quirks (Rough Draft)

This is an unfinished idea. If your character has a stat, maybe they have a 1 in 6 chance to have a “quirk”. These quirks represents real life talents or biological quirks people have, and tying them to stats makes them reasonably rare and fitting to the character. Use only the character's highest/lowest/most extreme stat if they have a quirk and give them a Quirk for that.

-1 Strength: Some kind of Keloid scarring disorder. Any wound or injury has a good chance to form an abnormal amount of scar tissue. Probably shouldn't make a game element out of this, just what I feel fits good for a “quirk” for having strength.

-2 Strength: Some minor to severe scoliosis or spine misalignment.

+1 or +2 Strength: You can jump super high. Basketball player jump.

-1 or -2 Dex: Probably seizures of a minor kind.

+1 Dex: Double jointed in one body part. Just a quirk, not super useful.

+2 Dex: Partially ambidexterous. Can use weapons in both hands just fine.

-1 or -2 Int: Putting something here like development diseases or actual down syndrome would be a bit offensive and too crippling in a “realism” sense- and aspergers/autism is more of a social trait then a mental one in this context. Dyslexia would work just as well as a negative quirk. -1 Int just gives Dyslexia when in stressful situations but -2 is like permanent Dyslexia.

+1 Int: Photographic Memory?

+2 Int: No idea.

-1 Con: Sweaty?

-2 Con: Allergic to bees or something.. Will die without medical treatment after sting.

+2 Con: You've got that thing that makes lactic acid go away so you can basically run forever cross country if you wanted as long as you get enough food and sleep.

-1 Wis: Aphantasia, or you can't imagine things. Probably doesn't need to come up in a game but neither do any of these stupid ideas lmao.

-2 Wis: Colorblindness. Maybe only if you're male, unless you have -2 then you can have some more severe colorblindness or as a female. Colorblindness is more common in men but in weird fantasy genetics it could be totally different, especially for nonhuman races.

+1 or +2 Wis: Perfect pitch? Maybe unable to feel fear? I don't think that's a common medical thing though. Making people with High Wis sociopaths doesn't really fit even if it would make sense from a sort of “willpower” or “ignore fear” kind of thing, but I don't think so. Animal magnetism is more Cha so I'm unsure what to put here.

-1 Cha: Can't whistle.

-2 Cha: Insomnia. I know this could be in Int or Wis, but I like Cha because it gives you the bags under the eyes and makes you more irritable, and leads to moody behaviors and walking around at night because you can't sleep.

+2 Cha: Ok you can be Heterochromatic now.

Thursday, June 11, 2020

DCSS - Orcs

This post is being written during the April shutdown due to the Corona virus. I often write blogposts in advance, but this time I thought I would actually straight up tell when it is being written for the very specific backstory I'm going to give you. Basically; during this shutdown everyone is just staying inside. And that means everyone is on the internet; some days it's pretty slow, or if the internet goes down where I live for whatever reason, then I don't have much to do since I can't even go to the gym.

But you know what I can play? Games that don't require internet access. And among those, I redownloaded Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup. I haven't played this game in years, and it's something I've always had a lot of nostalgia for. There's no sarcasm when I say that this game's massive dungeon crawling with many interlacing mechanics, loads of great races to play, tons of monsters and spells, and a bunch of other stuff is what helped get me into Dungeons and Dragons.

However, something very specific has stuck with me over the years with this game. And that's the Orcs.

Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup Orcs
The Orcs in this game are not exactly like any other orcs I've seen. They have this great look to them, but sadly they are just sprites! I love the way they look though. They have a more humanoid skin tone and appearance in general, but still look very “orc” ish. They have the classic tusks, glowing red eyes, and have an overall more “ogreish” appearance to them, but yet stay within a relatively human frame for size and shape. This in mind cements them as a more “baseline” race, despite them still being very orc ish. Then you have their ears, which are more bat like then pig like, but don't cross over too much with elf or humanoid ears. They also have a more rounded face, except the fat one (Blork), giving them less of that hulking brute look- it reminds me a bit of Lord of the Rings goblin/orcs/uruks in a way, though in Crawl they are explicitly bigger and stronger then humans.

As for the more lore aspects; I like how they have so many different designs and how they are a pretty constant threat throughout the game; their culture and general ideas behind them and the unique playstyle you get if you play an Orc who follows the Orc God Beough (only Orcs can follow this God), then you can recruit other Orcs to your side. It's pretty neat. Plus they are skilled with Fire magic, which is fitting, and get a bonus to the axes skill which makes sense, plus in general all the Orc mages and Priests you fight give them a more rounded depicition then just being a bunch of generic “warrior” dudes. They are very much a proud warrior race- but they can take it to the extreme which is where Beough comes in, making them racial supremacists. I even love their description;

An ugly subterranean race, orcs combine the worst features of humans, pigs and several other unpleasant creatures. They tend to run in packs or mobs, and delight in outbursts of insane violence.”
-From Crawlwiki

It gives me the distinct impression that this game's narrator is of an ancient, high elven race or perhaps an omnipotent 3rd person, lumping humans in with the world's fauna and as an 'unpleasant' creature at that. That may not be the way you're supposed to read into it, but I do. I love it. You can also see some of the inspirations from the animals there; I wonder if the author originally intended to have “humans, pigs, bats, and several other unpleasant creatures” included in there; their ears give me a distinct BAT look to them, plus them being a subterranean race in this game makes it fit.

I've already spent several blogposts talking about pig orcs, or more specifically, my P'orcs. As much as I like this homebrew take on the race, they don't really scream “generic fantasy orc”, which can be a bad thing sometimes. Any unique take on a race or thing in fantasy means extra learning time for your players or readers. Secondly, I have to be in the right exact mood for my P'orcs, where as the DCSS are much more easily seen as “Orc”ish in my eyes. I might switch to showing my Orcs in my games as more akin to the DCSS orcs, as opposed to my unique snowflake P'orcs.

But specifically, this blogpost is about their appearance, and more specifically their LACK of a appearance. As a game purely with sprites or originally ASCII graphics, the orcs lack definition. They only exist in description and as basic sprites; I would love to pick the brains of the original guy who did the spritework in this game's art to see what inspirations he was using for his Orcs, because they come from a very unique places. I've never seen any orcs exactly like this.

DCSS Orc Depictions
Here's a drawing I made of the Orcs from DCSS. In it, I experimented with different orc looks, and how to depict them in a slightly more detailed style then their sprite counterparts. The biggest issue though is the lack of a visible nose in the game. I then drew them with several nose types; including bat, pig, and humanoid noses. I drew different expressions since I'd have gotten bored with drawing them all the same way.

Art @spdhatsan
This is a piece of fanart of Blork the Orc, the fat unique Orc, about to get stabbed by an Octopode character (you can play an Octopus in DCSS, which is pretty cool). The artist here drew Blork with a much more “ogre-ish” look to him, though that could be just do to him being fat. Notice- a more humanoid nose was added here, since it isn't present in the sprite.

Art @here (artist name unknown?)
This picture here are several sketches of a felicid character (cat person, but not like a Khajiit. Just a straight up quadrupedal cat with magic and claw attacks). The top left frame seems to have a cat with Blork again, judging by the ears and weight, which once again gives it a more humanoid nose.

Finally, this last picture comes from the larger pixel art spreads that sometimes accompany the game when booting up. This creature here could be an orc, but I don't think so. It has downward facing fangs, red skin, small looking body next to that cauldron, and the armor and ears much more suggest a simple goblin or hobgoblin. Still, it's useful to see what its face might look like given their close relation to Orcs at least within most fantasy settings.

All in all, I really like the look and feel of orcs from DCSS, but it seems like creative freedom will allow whoever uses them to depict them however they wish. Bulbous, humanoid noses for those who want them to appear more uglier but more human, bat-like noses for those who may want to embrace the horror and deep-dwelling racial aspects, or a more pig-like nose for those who like their piggish orcs. I think “no Nose” might also be an option, but it seems weird and random; especially for a subterranean race to not rely on all of their senses in dark places. Perhaps they rely on their sense of taste and heat-sensing like reptiles instead, which is why I drew the silly reptile nose version in the last pictures. Truthfully, the pig to human nose ratio seems the most likely given the game's in-game description, but all of this was a fun exercise in drawing and imagination. Hope you enjoyed it.