Friday, April 29, 2022

Vagueposting- Static Module & Creature Designs is a Feature not a Bug + Party Size Dynamics

Something I've been thinking about recently is the differences between video games and tabletop games, especially in the design or and mechanics behind how the game works with a plurality of players in a single instance, party, or map.

In most co-op video games where the co-op is optional or drop-in and drop-out, the challenge of the game's enemies tend to scale up in damage and/or health in proportion to the number of players currently playing the game. There are exceptions to this; in games where multiplayer is expected or even required, such as an old school MMO, enemies do not scale on purpose as to make grouping up encouraged. Did this concept come around from tabletop games?

Art @Stephen Andrade
Even now, tabletop games are a very social and "word of mouth" hobby. Despite what some believe may believe even with the explosion of "geek chic" in popular culture, very very few people actually play tabletop games even after things like Critical Role and a wider audience. It is still a microhobby- and of those few, almost everyone who does does so because they had a friend that did first, or began a group to play with their friend circle who was interested. It has been this way since tabletop gaming's inception; I would struggle to think of any hobby more social then tabletop gaming.

Notice that in pretty much every monster manual, adventurer module, blogpost, etc. everything is almost always static. In other words, an orc will always have 2 HD of health; the game is not written to "scale" this enemy up or down with the players level or more importantly the number of players.

Now obviously there are practical reasons why this is- why create such bloated rules or math for something so inconsequential? If the DM has a group with only one or two player characters, they could just artificially lower the number of monsters, or grant magic items for a powerful one-shot kind of experience that patches over this issue. No author or publisher is going to want to waste all that space in books for something so fiddly and situational.

I want to make it clear that I am way too young to have been around for the oldschool D&D days. I am not a classic grog playing with Gygax or Anderson. This is 100% conjuncture; but I get the feeling that classic D&D groups may have, at least subconsciously, allowed for more players leading to more power for the purposes of boosting game recruitment.

Once again, let me stress that I know this isn't some genius level marketing tactic done on purpose by old TSR back in the day; those creators were very focused on a totally different kind of game experience then modern OSR games- group dynamics were different. Tabletop roleplaying today tends to focus on smaller numbers of individually controlled characters, where as in the past characters often controlled small armies or squads of units. I don't want to pretend that I know otherwise. But I have a strong feeling that the intentional or unintentional reluctance to change the fantasy space to accommodate the players, both in terms of "dumbing down" for new players or weakening monsters or challenges for small or unprepared groups acts as a strong motivator for game recruitment.

Think about it- a party with five characters will always be inherently stronger then a party of four; even if that last character is weak, like a first level wizard or a poorly rolled character, they are still providing more damage, more carrying capacity, more resources and/or skills in game terms, and another player to bounce ideas off of. Having the game be a "player vs DM" arena with a harsh and challenging world really encourages people to have a strong party- and in this case, more players directly correlate to more strength. It's the classic throwaway line in D&D adjacent media, or nostalgia bait movies and TV shows- "oh you gotta show up for the game this Friday, we're going to fight a cave troll!" or something to that effect often comes up. I wonder how true it really was; either back in the day and now.

As a bonus; how does party size affect the game? These are just my observations when I run games; and may not at all apply to your experiences.

Big Parties

  • More Powerful (obviously)
  • Individuals are less important / mistakes are punished less as there is a "safety net"
  • Generally slower and less stealthy
  • More "risk averse" (more people to get browbeaten by)
  • More mechanically oriented / requires Caller moreso

Small Parties

  • More individually engaging
  • Characters are more developed
  • Higher camaraderie / victories more earned
  • Has more "Epic moments" (individual actions are more impactful)
  • More roleplaying oriented

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

10 Camp Spells

I write too many combat spells. Here's some non-combat spells.

10 Camp Spells
Water Reversal
This spell takes an amount of water equal to a large cooking pot or less and "reverses" its heat and temperature, from cool to boiling. Boiling water becomes cool and and can be drank instantly after being purified for instance, cool water becomes boiling to speed up cooking. This spell works best on a large amount of water in one place; if the spell is used on a puddle of water it will hit a few cubic feet, if used against water splashed on someone's skin it will only be able to hit a few droplets; roughly equal to a handprint in size.

[2] Many-Colored Pool
This spell is used in a body of water. It requires touch to use, and is often used by those relaxing in a hot spring or those within a noble's pool. From the caster's hand comes bright and colorful lights which fill the water with it. While this spell can be used for entertainment purposes, it can also be used to light up dark pools of water or to more safely swim at night; granting it a use for exploration.

[3] Queue Spell
This spell magically creates slips of paper, marked sticks, or some other form of item that denotes number. When handed out to people, grants a number. If the slip of paper is ripped up, stolen, or altered it will revert to whatever number the person should have, making skipping in line impossible. If a person with a number dies or is disjointed from the plane, everyone with a number above theirs automatically skips down a number. The mage can also "clear" someone with a number to remove them once whatever they were doing is done, letting everyone know how many more people are ahead of them in line by their number.

This spell is used by wizards at busy markets, in fairs, and even more clever uses like long distance communication. However, it was originally created by healing mages to hand out from the hospital tent in army camps after grievous battles- that way, the many who died before being seen wouldn't need to be searched for when a bed opened up.

[4] Cleaning Solution
Squirts a thimble of acidic fluid from the tip of your finger. After a few seconds, it puffs up into a froth that can be washed away with water, making it perfect for cleaning pots, pants, as well as removing rust in small amounts from weapons and armor. The acidic isn't strong enough to hurt living things except cause a little skin irritation. If you squirt this into someone's eyes I guess it can do one damage MAYBE.

[5] The Clean Smelling Pants
Due to a quirk of this spell's arcane formula; it can only be cast on a pair of pants. If you don't plan ahead, somebody is going to go around in there breaches to use this spell. If you're playing in a Greek or Roman fantasy world, these may be harder to get then you think.

This spell is cast on a pair of pants and strung up on a tree or pole- similar to a flag. The pants make everything in the area smell fresh, clean, and blows away foul vapors or miasmas. Has the strength to cover one campsite or a decent sized cavernous chamber- extremely useful while traveling through the blightlands, horrible abandoned battlefields, or the toxic swamps. This spell also has the knock on effect of covering your party's own scent and animals in the area, but clever creatures may realize that a lack of smelliness from nature is a hint that you passed through this area.

[6] Good Times Spell
Makes clothes and costumes more colorful, adds bangles to your bracelets and rings, fills the air with the scent of wine, and makes music carry and cheerful. In practice, this is a wide-scope illusion spell that increases the atmosphere of any party or celebration; everyone here is guaranteed to have a good time.

Any sufficiently neutral creatures who like to party (satyrs, goblins, etc) are treated as though under the effects of the Charm spell for up to two weeks after this spell is cast and they participate. This isn't a magical compulsion, they're just thankful for the good time and consider you a friend.

[7] Sala
Salt is extremely useful for many things, like cooking, cleaning, preserving food, making magical circles, banishing ghosts, and killing slimes, so it makes sense somebody made a spell to create it. But salt is a magical material, so you can't just make it from nothing- So this spell creates a small handful of salt by drawing it out of your body.

At the first casting per adventure, does nothing.
At the second casting, deals 1d4 nonlethal damage to yourself.
At the third casting, deals 1d4 more nonlethal damage and you take the same in damage to Dexterity.
At the fourth casting, deals 1d6 nonlethal damage hit points + Dex, and you have a 1 in 6 chance to throw up when you're sneaking around (later), alerting enemies to your presence.
At the fifth casting, deals 1d10 damage to yourself and pass out. If you drop to 0 or less, you slip into a coma and will die without some serious help.
Any more castings and you just die.

[8] Faithful Cat
Like the Faithful Hound, but a kitty instead. It can't fight or warn you of intruders, instead it just kills rats. When you wake up in the morning, they'll be a pile of 1d6 mice or other small pests by your bedroll.

This spell is a bit of a cheat; because you probably could actually use it in combat if you really needed to. Then again, I think if you summoned a regular cat  in front of a giant hoard of flesh eating rats it would probably just run away.

[9] Light Weight Heavy Weight
This spell can be cast on any item that could fit in a backpack, sack, or satchel. The item in question automatically rises to the top or bottom of the sack over time; from being jostled around during a hike or carried on horseback, etc. Using the "heavy" version of the spell will make an item sink to the bottom, making it harder to find by a guard's search or using a "light" version of the spell will make something useful rise to the top consistently so you can pull something important out of your pack whenever you need it.

Does this work on bottomless bags? Yes. Just be careful about casting "heavy" weight on something in there, as you won't be getting it back.

[10] Animal Decoys
This spell can only be cast on animals. Animals of every size can be used for this spell; but the effects might be a little wonky if you're casting it on rats or elephants and stuff. If you can get a dog to ride on the back of a horse you could totally cast this on a caravan group as well; but not on animals pulling wagons or actually doing anything useful; just ones standing around.

Every animal in your camp or entourage is magically gifted clothes, stilts, wigs, and other such adornments from thin air which creates the illusion of them being a person. From a distance, every animal will appear as one "person" to scouting enemies or thieves. This means your tiny adventuring party of like 6 people could appear as a huge patrol of like 20 soldiers but its really just dogs and mules in wigs and stuff like that.

Friday, April 22, 2022

Hand-Face-Hand Guard Generator

Every Hand-Face-Hand starts with;

  • TWO Hands (4 HD)
  • ONE Face (8 HD)
  • AC equal to its material
  • No Morale (Never Routs)
  • Cannot move
  • Each round- ONE Hand can act, and the Face acts. Then the other Hand acts next round. If you need more specific speed values- assume the hands are as slow as a golem.
  • If a Hand is defeated; the Face loses half of its remaining hit points. The other hand still only acts once every other round.
  • If the Face is defeated; both hands become inanimate and are defeated.
  • One Special Hand Attack. Either hand may use it on their move.
  • Alignment of True Neutral

Material Table - Roll 1d6
[1] Flesh (AC 10, +1 Initiative) Stapled or stitched. Or is this massive creature alive?
[2] Skeletal (AC 12, Undead, Can Turn on a hand to stun it or release grip) Bone hands of a giant.
[3] Stone (AC 18, Weak to Cold) Block, inorganic shape- its made of bricks.
[4] Metal (AC 16, Weak to Lightning) Giant animated armor; or a clockwork automaton.
[5] Wood (AC 14, Weak to Fire) Carved wooden pieces; took a shipwright to make this.
[6] Djinn Skin (AC 12, Gains 50% Resistance to one Element, Eye Blasts deal 1d8 damage of this element) Has a color matching its element; Red skin for Fire, White for Ice, Blue for Lightning; etc.

Face Table - Roll 1d6
[1] Darkness (+1 AC) Empty hole- or the eyes and lips float on a black smokey mass.
[2] Serene Mask (+25% Magic Resistance) Placid features while it crushes you in its grip.
[3] Giant Crystal (Casts Spells as though one Caster-Level Higher) Glows with energy.
[4] Animal Head (Hands have +1 to Hit and Damage) Is it an idol to a long lost god?
[5] Big Eyeball (Sees Invisible, Cannot be Surprised, Face takes double damage when hit directly) Looks angry and scary but it's really just a big dumb weakpoint.
[6] Gibbering Mouth (Both hands get different Special Hand Attack- roll once for each hand. If you cannot escape a hand's Grip after one round- will bring you to the mouth and bite in a save vs death) It chews that air and flicks its tongue crazily, but says nothing.

Special Hand Attack Table - Roll 1d8
[1] Morph (Turns Hand into Giant Weapon, deals 1d10 damage) Hand into hammer, axe, or sword.
[2] Got-Your-Nose (Silences one party member- cannot cast spells) Holds their voice for one round.
[3] Rocket Fist (As Punch, but holds until next round. Deals 1d12 damage) Shakes as it charges.
[4] Snap (Random character must save or take 2d6+2 Damage) Something tears within from the echoing snap- immune if you're deaf. Powerful Gestural Magic.
[5] Spider (Hand "runs" around the arena on fingers, knocking people prone and dealing 1d4 damage) Skitters on fingers like a giant spider- this move happens once more when the Hand is defeated.
[6] Power Palm (Save or be pushed back along a straight line) Creates a ghostly hand that pushes you along like a forcewall. Add spikes along the wall or a pit around the edge of arena for more "fun".
[7] Finger Gun (As Magic Missile) Might be a little on the nose for a fantasy setting; if you don't like the idea of "Finger Guns" being taken seriously, just make it a finger of death style point instead.
[8] Rock-Paper-Scissors Duel (Play RoShamBo with the DM. If you lose, hand gets a free hit against you, otherwise you get a free hit against this hand) Playful.

Combat Rules
The Hand-Face-Hand is an immobile guardian meant to protect one room, doorway, or important item. The Face hovers above a platform / or is suspended by a large upper torso and is out of reach of melee weapons except for spears, polearms, whips, etc. Any "Attack" uses an attack roll to hit, otherwise a "Move" just happens.

Hand Actions - Roll 1d6
[1] Slap - Attacks two or three targets in a row. On hit, deals 1d6 damage and knock victims prone.
[2] Punch - Attack. On a hit, deals 1d8 damage and knocks the victim back (and prone).
[3] Special Hand Attack - (See above)
[4] Block - Move. Raises a palm to block incoming ranged attacks and spells for the face. They damage the hand instead, using its AC and damage resistance values.
[5] Grip - Move. Save or be gripped by the hand. If you are grabbed, you are squeezed for 1d10 damage each round until the hand takes at least 10 damage to release you. Supernaturally strong characters (+3 Strength) can roll to break free. Prone characters are immune.
[6] Slam - Move. Hovers a balled fist over someone, then slams down. If you're standing you can just move away, if you're prone you'll need help or have Dex +1 to jump away in time. If you get hit by the slam you just die- or deals 3d10 damage or something.

Face Actions - Roll 1d4
[1 or 2] Eye Blasts - Attack. On a hit, deals 1d6 magic damage. If the "Face" is a giant crystal, this can be a big energy beam instead to make it look cool.
[3] Observe - Leans in to observe the party closer. The Face and Hands gain +1 To Hit each time it does this for the rest of the battle. Also an opportunity for you to attack the face.
[4] Casts a Random Spell. The Face has a total number of spells equal to its HD.

Sunday, April 17, 2022

Vampire Survivors is Goated + Random Thoughts on Damage

I think this game may be a flavor of the month thing. Still, it's pretty awesome. I really like Vampire Survivors. It's an indie Roguelite with some permanent progression- heavily inspired by Castlevania's art, monsters, and weapons. It's an autobattler; you only control your characters movement while your weapons fire automatically- every time you level up you can get random weapons or support items and using different combinations let you create combos and evolve weapons into higher forms. Half the fun of this game is seeing how powerful your combos can get, while the game spawns literal screen-full waves of enemies to slowly walk towards you and attack.

It's a really fun little game, pretty addicting, surprisingly strategic, and it's only 3 dollars. Sadly, I missed telling you about it when it was on sale for 10% off. You could have saved 30 cents, lmao. Developers are still active on the game, and have a LOT of content planned. I know a lot of people out there refuse to touch early access games- and I don't blame you- but even if that is your concern, there is more then enough content here to justify this purchase easily.

But anyway, this isn't a shillpost for the game- though I do hope this encourages you to check it out. The real purpose for this post was that this game is at its surface incredibly simple; your attacks just do damage. There's no elements or damage weakness types, very few "status effects" really, almost no mechanics, and yet you can screw yourself over if your build has a bad combination of weapons and items because you need a diverse arsenal. Even something simple, like vampire bats or medusa heads being immune to holy water since it's on the ground, isn't in the game. But when every enemy pretty much just slowly walks at you- how can there be a game with some actual depth and thought behind it?

Despite its apparent simplicity, there is a bit of complexity in how the weapons in this game work. Every weapon has a specific firing pattern. For example, the Wand shoots rapid fire but weak bolts at the nearest enemy. It's a highly reliable source of damage against the biggest threat to you in the moment, but bad against crowds and bosses. Several weapons, like the Holy Water and the Rune Tracer, deal great AoE damage but you have zero control over them- not amazing against bosses but strong against crowds of weaker foes. There are also weapons that are very strong, but have a long cooldown, like the Lightning and the Bible. Some weapons, like the Whip or Axe, always shoot in a reliable direction- the axe up and down, and the whip horizontally. This lets you cut through crowds of mobs to escape getting trapped. Finally, the knife is a weapon that shoots high damage, rapid fire, but small and hard to aim projectiles directly in front of you- excellent for killing bosses, but meaning you have to run towards the bosses to aim at them, since your movement is the only way to aim anything.

I hate these red bats so much its unreal.

From this, we can extrapolate a sort of system for other games, including tabletop games, which add granularity to the relatively simple game mechanic of "hit things until they die". Despite all of them just "doing damage", the concept of different fantasy classes or roles in a combat focused game having defined and useful combat roles despite the apparent simplicity is really appealing to me.

For example; characters like crossbow users or rogues can deal very high burst damage all at once to individual targets. The implied combat "role" here is taking out high value targets. Enemy spellcasters, monsters on their last legs, and really dangerous monsters like level draining undead or creatures that have many attacks to take out at range.

What are all the different ways you can do combat when it comes to fighting monsters or groups- ignoring things like in universe fiction or damage types? There are four ways to think of damage in a non-timing environment (turn based) against all other concepts like in universe fiction, elemental damage types, random chance to land a hit, and so on. These four types will be near and far in range, and many targets with low damage, or few targets with high damage.




Class Fantasy Equivalents




“Tank” Warrior, Paladin, Animal Companion




Dervish, Barbarian, Rogue




AoE Blaster Mages, Clerics, Bards(?)




Rangers, One-Shot Wizard Spells

As you can see, it doesn't really work 100% to import this kind of system into a fantasy game world. The fiction of the game space doesn't line up with this concept of damage. Fighters are both "tanks" but also can do a lot of damage- they swing around big weapons. In the same vein, it's rare to see characters designed around the concept of doing slow, consistent damage- especially at range or with an area of effect, since by necessity focus firing attacks or spells on one target to get rid of them quickly is more important then dealing 2 damage to all goblins in a room even if that will mathematically kill them all faster.

This may also be the reason that fantasy games tend to have more elements thrown in. Most games have some amount of randomization when it comes to attacks- at least randomized damage plus chance to hit or absorption of hits depending on the ruleset. This is probably to stop games from being mathematically solved quantities- like if the rules say every attack with a human swordsman does 3 damage and the troll has 9 health and recovers one health per turn you can do the math to see exactly how long it would take or how many counter attacks you'd be forced to take; thus letting you know the outcome before it happened.

Friday, April 15, 2022

8 Mermaid Spells

[1] Magic Conch
This spell requires a magical conch shell taken from the sea- Ask a question into the magic conch. The DM will roll a d20 and record the number. Then, the DM will give a vague sounding answer based on the roll; a roll of 1 might be "never" and a roll of 20 might be "yes and better then you think", where as a roll of 10 might be "maybe", and so on.

If you act upon the question of the magic conch, the DM will substitute that roll with a roll made by yourself or a creature. For instance, if you ask the magic counch "will I die before I leave this dungeon?" and the answer was "no" because the roll was a 1, then the DM could replace that roll of 1 the next time an orc tries to attack you, and so on. This is a double edged sword, as if you asked "will I survive this dungeon" you could just as easily get a roll of 1 or 2 which the DM can use to substitute any saving throw you make with something that will kill you instead.

This divination of fate isn't fullproof. If circumstances or the players themselves break the chain of events that would contradict the magic conch, it shatters apart.

[2] Stairway in the Waves
Rising from the ocean; crystal stairs rise up upon casting this spell. This spell can only be cast at night, as concentrated light (from a lantern, torch, or sunlight) will break the fragile enchantment. This spell makes crystal stairs appear from the water- they are physically present but not strong enough to cause damage to ships or large animals moving through water. They are fixed in place; though you could be thrown off by a strong enough wave or crash of water.

The stairway can be spiral (maximum of 60 ft of height), ascending in one direction, a curve, etc. Steps can also be wide, steep, shallow, whatever. Night sirens use this spell to lounge around above the water and entice sailors, or give them a way to descend from the deck of a high ship down to the random precarious rock in the middle of the ocean they're always lounging on.

[3] Magic Bubble
Surrounds a person in a bubble that can float around. The bubble is under the control of the caster, and can envelop one human-ish sized creature, or a handful of smaller creatures. The bubble can float in any direction, including underwater, and moves at a brisk walking speed. It is partially cut resistant, but can be popped with any sharp object- consider its AC 18 for an attack roll to pop it, with ranged or melee inside the bubble. The bubble could not survive being moved through a coral reef or forest; it can only go through tight passages if there is ample room.

This spell can be cast on a friend or foe, both can be useful. The bubble also traps whatever is around the creature at the time, so aquatic creatures keep an amount of water for breathable medium or a sphere of air is kept for air-breathing creatures who are taken underwater or into space, etc. The bubble technically lasts forever until it is popped, which really won't take that long.

[4] Beguiling Barnacle
It requires touch and a willing or relaxed target to place this barnacle on them. Usually, the forehead or one of the hands is chosen for this spell.

The magic barnacle sticks to the target and acts as a Charm and Quest spell. Those under its effects are in love with the caster, and will go to the ends of the Earth to accomplish whatever task they are given. If a Remove Curse or they are 'snapped out of it', the barnacle remains, squeezing and causing them pain the longer they resist the command. The barnacle can also be pried off with a successful save and reduces the victim's health by -1d4 permanently.

As an added effect, anyone with one of these barnacles on their skin absolutely cannot swim.

[5] Distortion Wave
Requires both hands to be touching a body of liquid- both hands shove out a magical wave. The wave has two effects; the first is a powerful splash- not enough to harm, but enough to shove people back. This disrupting casting a spell. The second is the disorienting effect this has on anything swimming near the surface; divers, fish, monsters, etc. They get spun around and confused, taking a round to reorient themselves.

Mermaids usually use this spell in surprise when some pirate is swimming after them but has stuffed his ears full of wax or cotton.

[6] Underisle
This spell is pretty strong. Anyone who casts it will take 2d6 magical damage, nonlethal. This spell creates a magical underwater tunnel, cave system, or base underneath an island. All of the entrances to it must be underwater, but it can have as many as you want or as few as one. The underisle is hollowed out and magically formed from the rock, and has no bearing on the structural stability of the island, nor does the displaced water cause any visible movement besides some bubbles and surprised fish.

The island's size and shape generally infer the size and shape of the underisle. If the island is small enough to fit on a gridmap, then it has the same number of grid spaces for the underisle, in any combination of rooms and passages of any shape that the caster desires. If the island is big enough to fit on a hexmap, then you can only dig out a small amount of space in a single hex. Total space of about 200 squares per area seems fair.

The Underisle is not furnished beyond with stone. If you press your ear to the roof of the underwater chamber, you might be able to hear footsteps on the island above. You could also dig up or somebody could dig down to connect the isle with the underisle. While the Underisle will not collapse naturally, it combined with an earthquake or some big bombs could cause the entire island to collapse in on itself, or cause a small inlet bay to form if used on the mainland. This is in fact how the mermaids intend to retake the surface world and make the world one big ocean again.

[7] Whirlpool
The Whirlpool forms as a small sucking circle of water in any body of water- anything as small as a bathtub or as big as the ocean. Every round the speaker chants the spell, the increases in size by one "square" or size unit. This must be continued- the moment the caster is struck or interrupted, the spell ends and the whirlpond quickly dies down. Anything caught in the whirlpool is sucked towards the center until they are then brought under- which means they sink to the bottom of the body of water in an instant. Large objects like ships or giants are only sucked under if the whirlpool is large enough to accommodate them.

Naturally, this is the main method that sea witches and ocean casters use to sink ships of surface dwellers. Protecting oneself from archers while standing on the shore and casting this spell to defeat an invading navy is a surefire way to become the king's court magician in any nation. However, those who steal these most sacred enchantments from the sea are said to be doomed to return them by watery grave.

[8] Conveniently Clothed
This is the reason why mermaids always appear with little shells over their boobs instead of just being topless, as you'd imagine a bunch of weird sea creatures would be. When cast, this spell causes random items in the area; small living creatures, trash, plants, and so on to become stuck onto the caster in convenient ways to censor their nudity to all who may be leering. If you cast this in a crowded market on someone naked; within a moment they'd find themselves covered with an empty coinpurse, some flyers from the faire, and a banana peel over their junk. In a jungle? Convenient leaves are slapped on by the wind, and so on.

Unlike the other spells on this list, there is no known practical reason as to why mermaids cast this spell on themselves. As they are not human, and do not need protection from the weather or other elements. They have no civilization to speak of- so what purpose does this serve?