Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Reminder: It's your last night to petition Santa Ghoul!

I'd hoped  for a slightly bigger turnout. So remember, I'll write anything you like up to two pages in length as long as you get it to me before Christmas Day (Mountain Time). I'll add it to my OSR Christmas list and post it before tomorrow night.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

OSR Christmas List Item #3: A Houserule (And my first bit of followup on 3e-isms)

My most excellent commenter ProfessorOats has asked for
Ooh, I know! I love reading other people's house rules (despite it being a cause of so much frustration), so maybe a list of some you've used in the past. I'd be especially interested to know how you modded 3E "back in the day"
Well, Professor, the fact is I didn't all that much. In those days I was just a dumb teenager scared to screw too much with the program. I first thought this post would instead deal with how I'd houserule 3.x to make it into something I'd willingly play, but the muse is a funny and fickle creature, so instead you're getting a little piece of the d20 (And 4e, and pathfinder, and surprisingly even 5e-- I'm nothing if not promiscuous with my blasphemy!) generation brought back to the OSR-- and my latest awful modern heresy.

Here's some skill rules I'd like to use in the future:

Every character begins with a number of trained skills equal to the number of skillpoints the corresponding 3.5 class receives per level or 4, whichever is higher, plus their Intelligence modifier. Humans are trained in one additional skill. They may choose from the skills available to their class in Pathfinder (which streamlines things somewhat and removes from its skill list the horrible evil that is Concentration), except for Craft and Profession, which are covered by the normal Secondary Skills chart (the one in the LL Advanced Edition Companion, for example). An untrained character may attempt to use a skill by rolling 1d20+the relevant modifier, a trained character adds half their level (rounded up) to the roll.
A character may train in additional skills, languages, secondary skills, weapons, or types of armor not otherwise available to them. To do so, they require 1d6+3 months time studying under a trained teacher, and they must devote at least four hours per day and five days per week to studying. Most teachers will expect a reasonable compensation, on the order of 2d6x10 GP per month. The maximum number of such extra proficiencies they are able to retain can be no more than the amount of skills they started with plus their Intelligence modifier.
All thieves (and other rogues, such as Bards and Assassins) must be either very lucky or very talented to progress in their chosen career. Choose two skills, plus a number of skills equal to your Intelligence modifier. When using those skills, you may roll twice and choose the better value. This is intended to replace the special advantage provided by the percentile thief skills (and Hear Noise), which are otherwise redundant in this system.
I think this is an interesting rule, so if you ever want to use skills in your old-school game in the future because you're crazy like me, and you elect not to use the LOTFP ones (which are also pretty nice, even if I think LOTFP itself relies too much on shock value), I hope you'll give this a try.

Edit: And here I am the very next day rethinking this rule... It's not that I'm fickle, you know, I just overthink things. One day I need to write a big post about designing like a Taoist.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

OSR Christmas List Item #2: The Genealogy Room

Merry Christmas to Roger, who asked for:
how about a description of a single room, locked for 200 years, in a castle run by mad wizards and aristocrats?
Here it goes, then.

The musty smell of stale air and book mold practically suffused the room. Ebony-dark bookshelves lined three walls, lined with thick books covered in blue leather. Each bore a number engraved in silver, and there were so many that the last of them had numerals as small as a pinhead. The last wall was taken up a vast desk, above which hung a huge chart. The desk was strewn with so many books that I thought it was a wonder that the whole thing didn't collapse in a heap. Slumped across the desk was the unconscious form of a wizened, emaciated old man. I thought he was dead, until he shifted, and the top book of a particularly precarious stack tumbled onto his shoulder.

With a yelp of surprise he arose and flipped from page to page in a few of the histories and journals, pausing occasionally to record something in the blue book whose ink had smudged his bearded face as he slept with his face in it. He worked with unnatural speed, and in moments the book had nearly filled. With a satisfied sigh, he made the final mark and shut it, then feebly scrambled atop the desk to mark the chart-- only then did I realize it was a family tree going back as many generations as I could count and more. He stood on gnarled tiptoes as he drew a line to a name written in gold, a name I had heard once before in this castle and never forgotten.

"There," he sighed. He began to climb down, so much more slowly than he ascended, but before his foot reached the floor, I felt a draft from the door I stood in, and the dust that seconds before had been the mysterious old scribe had scattered, leaving only his robe behind, and lifetimes of genealogy.

This small chamber has been sealed for over two centuries. Its lone occupant was tasked by previous generations of the masters of this castle with recording their complete family history, there to remain until he could establish their descent from an ancient god best left forgotten. This whole time he has been under the influence of a Haste spell, made permanent by a ritual until his task was complete-- indeed, none of the aging he has experienced already is due to the spell since it has not yet ended. If left undisturbed, he will finally find the proof he needs within one turn, record it, and immediately age 7,050,043d10 years. A Time Stop spell will save him if cast in time, but the decades of isolation have driven him quite mad and getting information from him is a remote prospect at best. The books and the genealogy chart themselves would be of immense value to all manner of scholars and heralds, as they represent a significant fraction of the populations of half a dozen kingdoms going back practically to the age of myth.

Incidentally, this is post #75 on this blog! Excitement and huzzahs are in order!

Friday, December 20, 2013

OSR Christmas List item #1: Treasures of the Insect Cult!

First comes the stocking of Arnold K., who asked Santa Ghoul for
I would like a list of beautiful jewelry/treasures made by insane, insect-worshipping cultists.
So, here goes nothin'.

Roll 1d12 and consult the following table:
Perfectly-formed chrysalis made of real gold instead of silk. A caterpillar broken out of its native chrysalis and sealed inside will turn into a butterfly with wings of pure gold
Deedly-bopper-like antennae of silver wire. The balls on the end are made of pure rubies
The Knee-fiddle, an experimental musical instrument made in imitation of the cricket. A skilled performer can dance and caper about while playing it, but currently none of them have more than mastered the basics
The Amulet of Hammond: A pendant of magically-treated amber: the mosquitoes inside are alive and wriggle about in it. Rumors persist that this item was stolen from the cult of the Reptile God, whose priests use it to summon dinosaurs.
A pair of jade double-rings, long scything scalpels jut beyond the finger of the wearer. These are used to cut the veins of sacrifices.
Clicking mandibles of copper inlaid with platinum. When worn across the tongue, they make normal speech impossible but facilitate speaking the languages of phraints/thri-kreen/formians/what have you
A cunningly-made crinoline that, when worn under the black and white robes of a priestess of the insect cult, makes her look like a gravid queen ant.
An ant farm-- the world's first-- made with dwarven mithril frame, gnomish glass, and sand of crushed rubies
A tank of pygmy ankhegs and rust monsters, each the size of human hands and fed on a diet of iron filings and expensive sausage.
A map to the purported burial sight of the world cicadas, horse-sized things that are said to awaken and breed for only a single day every seven thousand years.
Giant flowers for the cultists to crawl in, that they might know the purposeful joy of the worker bee.
A holy text made from the paper of a giant wasp's nest, the letters written in their venom.

It turns out there actually IS a Secret Santicore this year...

But my Christmas offer stands firm:

So tell you what: Comment on this post and tell Santa Rachel your Christmas wish, kiddies, and I'll do my level best to provide it, within the limits of my abilities. Tables, fiction, poetry, new content, anything you want that takes up no more than two pages. If you feel like being charitable, volunteer to take up someone else's wish, or just heap more on my pile, I'll take it on. Ho ho ho.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013


Of late, I don't know what it is, but I've begun to miss some of the particular features of the D&D of my youth, third edition.

Now not everything, mind you, and not yet implemented in the same way. But I am finding that a nice d20-based skill system, a few simple feats, a saving throw model based on the way one resists rather than the effect one resists against, and even the idea (if not quite the execution) of prestige classes have begun to wander around the distant corners of my mind.

Were you sick of hearing me talk about Clerics yet? In case you weren't, one of the early symptoms of this line of thought came to me when I was reading Luigi Castellani's Dangers and Dweomers, a thought very uncharacteristic of my recent approach: If you were embracing that peculiar D&D henotheism that often rankles me, for instance if you were playing a Forgotten Realms game, it might be an interesting experiment to allow clerics to choose from the appropriate domain spells-- only the domain spells (but perhaps unlike 3.x, all the domain spells, rather than just your choice of two domains from the appropriate god's list.) My brother felt that it restricted the abilities of clerics too much, but I think it'd be an interesting idea, and if not suitable for PCs maybe suitable for NPC priests that are not adventuring, militant clerics.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The rivers of the Thunder Rift make zero sense

I like Thunder Rift, it's a solid little setting. But seriously, did everyone at TSR flunk Earth Science when they were in school or something? There are all kinds of rivers intersecting at extremely unlikely angles, flowing uphill, and branching off miles from any delta.

I'm not claiming I'm the world's foremost physical geography expert, but I at least know what gravity is-- screw a wizard did it, rivers flow downhill.

Oddly, if you scoop most of the rivers out it actually starts to work pretty quickly. Are the dynamics on this perfect, hell no, but they at least stand up to a quick skimming over (I could probably get rid of the southern swamp near the Black Knight's Keep-- I'm willing to at least entertain the notion that the Gloomfens are magically created). Credit goes to Havard, whose map I used as a quick'n'dirty template in hexographer when I made this and which you can still see a little of if you look closely.


In the interests of clarity, here's the original drawn map (with, for some reason, the towns removed but a hex overlay added), both so you can see the rivers I removed and in the interests of demonstrating that it seems to me that the general slope of the valley is north to south-- the narrow canyons in the southern mountains are a little weird still, but that seems the implication to me.

New Monster: Diamond Dogs

Diamond Dogs

 (Formatted for BFRPG, as usual)

Armor Class: 13
Hit Dice: 1*
Number of attacks: 1
Damage: 1d6 or by weapon
Movement: 40', burrow 20'
Number Appearing: 1d6, Wild 5d4, Lair 5d4
Save as: F1
Morale: 6
Treasure Type: D (additional 30% chance of gems and jewelry)
XP: 37

Diamond Dogs are pug-faced, stooped humanoids that range from the size of a kobold to that of a dwarf. They are fond of gemstones of all types (favoring quantity over quality) but are supremely lazy and covetous, preferring to steal gems or kidnap others to work in their mines whenever possible (particularly those who have magical abilities that can help them find more gems). To that end, Diamond Dogs often fight to subdue, so that their new slaves will be ready to work as soon as possible. Their powerful claws, though not made for fighting, enable them to burrow through earth at a surprising speed. They have little concept of personal hygiene and are often smelled before they are seen. On top of their many other vices, Diamond Dogs are cowardly, and can easily be persuaded to return their slaves if they have reason to believe that keeping them will be more trouble. Despite being unrepentantly selfish and evil, most do not really have it in them to kill or mistreat captives, only threaten and bully them.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

In Defense of Crystal Dragon Jesus

I decided to consult with some external perspectives on the matter that's been eating at me this week. And so far I've gotten a good amount of response, both at RPGnet and TheRPGSite (Reddit has been more lukewarm). Over on RPGnet, Aaron Peori said this:

If you're going to have a European fantasy pastiche that looks like Europe you need a centralized, hierarchical, institutionalized religious authority that exists in a constant state of detente with secular Kings and feudal lords. Whether this Church is going to have monks and nuns and rosaries and convents and cathedrals is really just set dressing; though having those things is a damn sight easier than creating whole new set dressing out of nowhere.
 And by gum, I think he's right.

With this in mind I may yet learn to love Crystal Dragon Jesus-- and Its clerics-- after all.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

In which Fantastic Heroes and Witchery becomes my favorite retroclone

A few days ago over on Dragonsfoot, Turanil had this to say:

Next book is going to be the Blasphemous Bestiary. I am going to rework it from the ground up. Besides my own interpretation of goblinoids, trolls and orcs (mostly fluff), and the inclusion of demons type 1 to 6, this will be mostly about Cthulhu critters, science-fiction monsters, and probably all that are found in John Carter of Mars, plus several from Doctor Who (yet all of them will be but inspired by, to avoid copyrights infringements).
This is pretty exciting and I hope he'll have a free preview version available. (The reason for his reworking is to encourage people to check out the Adventures Dark and Deep Bestiary, which was recommended in the thread. My interest in Adventures Dark and Deep has definitely been piqued by the recommendation, as I found FH&W most excellent. Joseph, if you're reading this, any chance I could review it for you?)

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Killing the Cleric (Probably Not The last Cleric post after all)

Well, I arrived at that decision surprisingly quickly. And it was like a weight off my shoulders when I did.

As you know, or at least can see from five minutes in my archives, I've thrown away days of my life researching and trying to come up with a religious framework that is not Crystal Dragon Jesus, but adequately leaves room for the spells and class features typical of the cleric, which is loaded down with a lot of implicitly-middle-class-American-Christian ideas about both gods and holy men. Some may enjoy that, and far be it from me to condemn them, but for me it always seemed a little... intellectually lazy. So I had some cognitive dissonance to work through.

It has been less of a challenge and more of a vexation, frankly.

So, I got to thinking, something has to give, either I have to learn to stop worrying and love Crystal Dragon Jesus, or I need to stop trying to fit his vaguely-cross-shaped peg into my round fantasy hole. Apart from which, I think it's just not terribly compatible with my largely non-theistic (though not atheistic) take on the world... not to sound hidebound of course, but I just do not give a damn about the existence or worship of gods one way or another, and there's nothing worse for a story than not giving a damn about its subject material.

There is something that does come a little more naturally to me though, in terms of the human relationship with forces that are, by and large, beyond it: the sort of "virtuous pagan" attitude that seems to come standard for the good guys in Tolkien. Of course I come to it for different reasons-- him writing an intentionally Catholic work, and me, as I said, just plain not being arsed about gods in the first place. But that same sort of attitude-- reverence toward nature/the universe, song, belief in good and courage and stuff... that I can write for. Now, a druid (in the fantasy sense of the term, at least) or a witch, I think, can reconcile easily with that worldview, but not so much a cleric.

I think, despite my initial reservations, that just passing most of the spells that aren't already duplicated over to the Magic-User is probably a good start. Particularly if I just go with Wound Points and Vitality Points-- I think VP/WP reduces some of the burden on spellcasters to always have healing prepped (especially if healing only works on WP) because VP regenerates comparatively quickly.

The big mechanical problem I found myself stuck on, then, was what to do about the other vital function of clerics, the one which Mike Mornard and his friends originally demanded the creation of the Cleric for: Turn Undead. I've seen some retroclones make it a spell as well (usually a 2nd level one), but I wasn't sure if that was the best option. But I was concerned both from a gameplay perspective (that making it a spell might make it too scarce comparatively, making undead particularly nasty and killer opponents), and a thematic perspective (just what is the spell doing?).

To be honest I sort of always thought of it being like the "True faith" feat or advantage in many other RPGs... which... honestly doesn't make much sense given that paladins tend to be both more zealous in general and less effective at turning. Of course there's the 3.5 answer: that it's somehow channeling a positive energy that's anathema to undead... but the check for it is weird, in that case, isn't it?

But then... the fact that Energy Drain is one of those other things that just bugs me means undead lose a bit of their teeth in the first place, maybe I don't need Turn Undead so badly. So that was it. Kill the Cleric, pass on its spells to the Magic-User. My life is simpler now.

Of course this doesn't mean there isn't religion, but ditching the character class explicitly focused upon it means there's less of an obligation on my part to try to force together something that isn't crypto-Christian but where there's still somehow a militant order of priests that use maces and wear armor and heal and part the ocean and scare the undead and stuff. If I need priests or a temple for a story, or even if I have a player who wants a religiously-inclined character, I can make up something that works for the scenario I want to provide or the story they want to tell. And that's... extremely liberating.

Monday, December 2, 2013

The Cleric: a gamepiece

Regular readers of this blog (All five of you) are aware that the existence of the Cleric (and what sort of religion she might belong to other than the to-me-unsatisfying choice of Fantasy Pseudo-Christianity #326?) is something with which I often grapple. Some might ask why I bother, when instead I could just drop the silly thing from my worlds altogether and save a lot of hassle. To them I would say that it is because I think of D&D mainly as a game, with the classes being different kinds of pieces. Therefore, I am concerned with the unforeseen impact on gameplay that might be had by either denying the functions it provides, or shunting them off to another character class-- most likely the Wizard/Magic-User. Frankly this is mostly just a ramble, but it seems that something or other has to give eventually. Will I stop worrying and learn to love Crystal Dragon Jesus? Will I just kick the cleric to the curb? It remains to be seen.