Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Magic Users

I've always had a problem with magic users in 5e and it started back when I played 3.5. Even though the newest edition of dnd tries to differentiate the magic users by giving them some fluff and such, there isn't that much of a different between interacting with the world as a warlock or a sorcerer. You can put this up to fluff vs. crunch, but I think a powerful tool in the world building of a class is how the crunch of it is used. The mix of fluff and crunch is what creates a compelling class and helps spur the inspiration of the player choosing that class.

So what makes an interesting class? There are two things:

1.) The tools that the class gets allow it to interact with the game world in a way other classes don't already do. Fighters get to beat people down, clerics get to heal, thieves get to sneak attack, all magic users cast spells. 5e tries to alleviate this with sorcerer bloodlines, warlock patrons, and wizards school specialty, and does a decent job, but these things are left to the player to make important. A sorcerers bloodline might never affect the game, a warlock's patron may never be heard from, a wizard might still be boring. I say push these things into the face of the game.

2.) They need to be fun.

Easier said than done, but I think I'm getting close, at least for my own campaign.

There are several magic users to choose from: wizard, witch/warlock, sorcerer, shaman.

Wizards study magic by taking on (or being stuck with) a familiar. These are based on GoblinPunch's popular post. YOU'RE DOING FAMILIARS ALL WRONG. Familiars are mysterious, powerful, and creepy figures that come from somewhere and have a direct connection to magic. Are they demons? No. That's laughable to them. Demons are so petty. Are they gods? Depending on what you worship. They know the secrets of magic, and how to wield it without fault. They are willing to teach in exchange for favors.

Why is this fun? It gives the player something to interact with. The tables that Arnold has in his post are fuel for the imagination. I want to expand on them and make familiars a tool for DMs and players to interact with magic.

Witches and Warlocks (the only spellcaster to have feminine and masculine nouns because it is in ancient practice) are dabblers in the diabolic. They wield dangerous magic because it's the magic of demons. Unlike a wizard they have no familiar to conduct this magic through. They just try to store it in their brains.

These spellcaster learn spells based on the book Wonder & Wickedness and follow Zak S's level up tables for wizards/witches. They can gain spells by reading from others spellbooks and attempting to copy them down in their own (which can cause a catastrophe), and by eating the brains of other spellcasters.

Why is this fun? It's chaotic. It's random. It's dangerous. You have to eat a brain to gain a level. Why is your character okay with this? It raises questions a player has to answer.

Shaman's are based on False Machine's Shaman. They learn their spells daily by hunting beasts in their dreams. My tables are slightly different and more random. A shaman can choose to hunt any creature they choose, the bigger they are the more powerful of spell they hold. Failing is much easier if you're hunting spells outside of your level and failing is dangerous.

Why is this fun? Hunting spirits in your dreams. I'm sold.

Sorcerers are ones I'm working on, but I'm basing them off of Magica Madoka. Sorcerers make a pact with a being (I haven't figure it out yet, but let's just say it's the little bastard from the anime). They make this pact in exchange for a wish. So yes, at the beginning of a campaign a sorcerer makes a wish, like the spell, and this wish comes true. It's not some bullshit wish that gets turned on its head. It's a  true wish. It happens,  and then the game begins.

In exchange for this wish, the being gives the Sorcerer access to magic to fight evil (or whatever the being perceives as evil, probably Liches). Sorcerers cast magic based on False Machine's article here: Narrativist Spellcaster. Also, much like in Madoka, when a sorcerer finally dies they cannot be resurrected. They become a Lich. This is how all Liches are made.

Why is this fun? The wish. The consequences of any wish happening are enough character development to last an entire campaign or more. Plus the fear of becoming a Lich.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

'Somewhere out in the middle of nowhere, a long time ago, the Chinese wiped out a tribe few people have heard of. Most of history is like this.' - Matthew White, in his book "Atrocitology"

Your party is standing somewhere. Where did you leave them? A lair? Village? Their own homebase?

What was there before them? No, before that. Before they were born. Before man was civilized. Before man was man.

There was something there. A being, a culture, a war.

If you were in Westeros, you could roll on this table and find out:

What stood here before you?

1. A village of the first men
2. A forest filled with horse-sized spiders
3. A cult of Children of the Forest
4. A battlefield of first men and Children of the Forest
5. A White Walker massacre
6. Dragons

Or, if you were in the Everwood, my world, you could roll on this table to find out:

1. Tribe of Elephant Men
2. One of the ancient Druid circles
3. Giant the size of a skyscraper
4. Building site of a Moon elevator
5. Elves before they were cursed
6. Lonely witch with her archaic spells

Think about it. This is another thing to think about when your players are in a place. Any place.

What was there before? Make a table of the possibilities. Why? Because the more times you roll it, the more you have to think about it. Like say you're like me and you write "sentient elephant" on your table and you end up rolling it like six times in a row you might make up this Elephant Men thing and have a deeper understanding of your world.

I'm a firm believer in Stephen King's writing advice when he says that he doesn't make his stories, he discovers them. They are already in his head and he is excavating them. These random tables are a tool to help dig.

So do it. Come up with 6 things that were in your world before adventurers. Make them weird. Make them things you don't fully understand. Then roll every time your players go somewhere new. See what you dig up.

Creating the world

I don't know a thing about poetry. I don't think there's anything to learn about it. Art and language go together in a way that even the wrong things can be right. Most times I think in images, pictures. And it's hard for me to put a thousand words for each picture because I see so many. So poetry makes sense. Poetry is just images, I think.

Anyways, this is what I thought about when I took a shit this morning.

The world gawks at me
it forms crippled words that limp from page
into my head
half-formed ideas
half-life thoughts
I graverob from gods
illicit help from mind thiefs
steal the words of others
I frankenstien a thing to life with
lightning trapped in bottle
a word sparked by insanity

Wednesday, August 9, 2017


“Game time is of utmost importance. Failure to keep careful track of time expenditure by player characters will result in many anomalies in the game. The stricture of time is what makes recovery of hit points meaningful. Likewise, the time spent adventuring in wilderness areas removes concerned characters from their bases of operations – be they rented chambers or battlemented strongholds. Certainly the most important time strictures pertains to the manufacturing of magic items, for during the period of such activity no adventuring can be done. Time is also considered in gaining levels and learning new languages and more. All of these demands upon game time force choices upon player characters and likewise number their days of game life…YOU CAN NOT HAVE A MEANINGFUL CAMPAIGN IF STRICT TIME RECORDS ARE NOT KEPT.” - Gary Gygax

I like this. I read it and I think "yeah, that's how I feel". But I've never done it. I've never done a lot of things that I want to do in campaigns. I think it's because I never know if they're going to last. I've only planned out one campaign (my campaign last summer) and it was some of the most fun I've had. I had a map, which is something I never do, and I mapped out dungeons, something I never really do. But I didn't track time. Only abstractly.

It's because I don't like difficulty. Or, I don't like the kind of difficulty that seems like ego-stroking. Like many dungeon master, I take pride in my world, but when I look at calendar systems that other DMs have made, they always make it complicated. They don't treat time like the tool that it is. It is only there to show the passage of time. It's a ruler laid under the campaign that shows progress and change. It should be THAT first, and then it can be used to add to the world, to the lore.

How to make it an easy tool though?

Just look at Stardew Valley. Sun-Sat, 4 weeks to a month, one month to a season. Simple. I'm sold already. 

What do I like about this?

1. It's easy to understand and to grasp. Anyone can look at this and be like "okay, yeah, I get it."

2. It's easy to manipulate. You can make it 12 months like our year, you can switch it to two summer months, two winter months, keep the world in a perpetual spring, whatever.

3. It makes me think about tracking weather and stuff like that. Give each season a small table of weather with some results for wacky weather in each and you're done. Automate it with lastgasp's generators and you're ready to go with the click of a button.

4. There's a chance of making variable encounters based on weather/seasons. Maybe dragons sleep in the winter and the forest is safer then? Maybe manticores migrate in the spring and are extra horny so more likely to be vicious? Stuff of that sort.

5. It lets the party track their own time. Give them a blank map (or a map with some stuff on it, like festivals, migration dates, etc) and let them mark days off and write down special events of their own.

6. BIRTHDAYS! Let the party roll randomly (or just choose) their birthday on the calendar, and there will be a little sub-table of birthday surprises that can happen on that day. Things like: your mother sends you a plate of cookies and eating them heals 1d6 hp, you gain advantage on one roll today, for some reason you feel like you cannot die (if you were to drop to 0, drop to 1hp instead. Thinkg like that.

I'm going to start working on these things right now. So the next few posts will probably be the tables and weather and shit like that. Or maybe I'll finish my map. I'm excited for my map.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Monsters or Man?

I had an idea for a kung-fu campaign a while back. It was going to be DnD but there would be no monsters. The Monster Manual was the Fighting Guide. Each monster was actually a family, or a gang, or a dojo. The goblin dojo is numerous and weak, while the dragons are the toughest warriors in the land. All attacks are the names of their special attacks. When fighting the ten-fisted beholders, watch out for their disintegration palm, or the paralysis knee drop. The Great Red Wyrm has a fearsome spin kick that is so fast it burns the flesh from bone. Shit like that.

I think of that idea often. 

My journey through Zak S.'s blog is complete too. There's a few things I passed up (mainly the art history lessons because that is not my wheelhouse) but I learned a lot. There are three things I learned and they are all related.

1.) Learning to think differently. About everything, but mainly the game and my position in it. I thought about what I like about the game and how I want to play the game. My view of the game was very basic, vanilla. It was the player's handbook, the monster manual, and the DMG. And while I don't like everything about OSR, I do like the mindset, the ingenuity. My favorite moments in any game have been moments where death was at the door and the party pulls it through (most of the way).

2.) Learning to embrace the weird. Zak is a weird guy. The things he's created are weird. And I love it. I think consistently about the gold machine in Maze of the Blue Medusa (which I know was written by both Patrick Stuart and Zak S.). The idea that you can do that really blew my mind. Of course you can do that. You can do anything. It's just playing pretend. Zak showed me that side of my imagination.

3.) Random Tables. Never made them. Never used them. My entire D&D career as DM has been improvised based on the player's choices. I would dream up interesting openings to campaigns and then let the players run wild. They wouldn't all work, but the ones that did were unforgettable. Random Tables are my tool now to have the randomness of improvisation but still have it all adhere to my world.

Speaking of my world, I'm still trying to figure it out. I don't feel like I have it right yet. I know I'll have it when I feel it, and I feel so close. Going through these blogs and learning the way other people do their worlds is helping me discover (and steal) ideas about what the world inside my head is. 

So far I've really only figured out a few things, well figured out one thing and have other things I want in it. 

There's an Endless Forest and a place called the Only City, also known as Aberdeen. The forest is full of demons and mutants and strange villages. This is where my party is right now. This is where my energy has been. 

Other things I've talked about are dungeons in people's minds. I still think there's something there, but I'm not sure what or where it fits. But this post is not about this.

This post is about the fact that I finished Zak S., learned some things, and I'm moving on to Patrick Stuart and his blog "False Machine". Already thinking about a lot. Mainly his post about the Kenku

It relates to my campaign idea mentioned before about how there are no monsters. And it's got me thinking about how many monsters are in my campaign world. I know there are Elves. They're cursed. I know there are Dwarves, they came from the center of the Earth. I know there are dragons, demons, devils. But what else? 

I think I'm going to go through the Monster Manual and redo it all, figuring out which monsters are actual monsters, and which ones are just man that has been pushed too far. 

The Fog

Stand at the edge of the Ocean and look out into it. It goes on and on for as far as your eyes can see. It's still but it's moving, it's not human but it's alive. It rolls and tumbles and pushes and pulls, but still retains its shape. The brave sail it, the lazy die in it, and in the darkness are mysteries the human eye has yet to see. Entire ecosystems buried beneath shadows. Shark eyes in a murky cloud of breathless life.

Stand at the edge and look out and know that you're from that place. No matter what you believe, no matter the book you take your meaning from, you know, in that moment, that you are from that place. You were once a lurking mound in the wrinkles of history. You came from there and are now here, looking upon it with wonder, fear, and even excitement. Why? Because you know that you'll return to it someday. As will all things.

Now imagine instead of blue, it is green. That instead of water it is made of leaves, ancient, moss-ridden trunks, timber as old and dusty as time itself. It's a forest, the Wood. Beneath the green canopy is an ecosystem made of instinct; kill or be killed. Apex predatory, prey. On or off. It's very simple and easy to understand. It's that idea we like to call "common sense".

Step inside it and find a world owned by nature. Layer upon layer of human settlements stolen by the forest and turned into ruin. Graveyards of progress. Monuments set upon the hills of misfortune. But still people poke their heads in to see what's going on, and they feel a sense of returning, the guardian gaze of homecoming. It's not a feeling of being watched, it's a feeling of nurture, of destiny. It doesn't feel good, only natural. The Forest knew you would come, and now that you're here, it doesn't want you to leave.

We call it the Fog, because that's what we see when it happens. At some point in your journey in the Wood, you may find something or experience something that causes you to want to leave. You may find the gold needed to retire. You may get the call to return to Aberdeen. Regardless, you will turn around and will to leave the forest. That's when you'll see the Fog.

It will spill into the trees from above and descend upon you. It wants you to come further into the Wood. There is something in there, something so far in and lost, and it wants to be found. It will attack the party in three steps: 1) it seperates, 2) it confuses, 3) it destroys.

Step 1: Locked arms are enough to keep you together, but even inches apart can be stretched to days. Horses detached from their caravans wind up in Druid stews, and comrades are jumbled and scattered like flicks of paper in a hurricane. Anyone seperated from the group, or not attached to one another by some mean, or not touching something, must roll a percentile to determine where the Fog puts them.

Step 2: The Only Road becomes one of many splitting paths made to confuse and muddle the journey. The first time the fog hits, it's four paths, the second time it's six, and the third time it's eight. Roll the dice needed to determine what the right path is, then let the party make their choice. If they choose wrong, roll the percentile to see where they are. The important thing here is, if they are off the Road, they are lost.

Step 3: Creatures that only exist in the Fog come from the Fog to maim and drag those who would leave the Wood, deeper into the Wood. These creatures come in a variety of forms, all of which are familiar to the person they are attacking. Roll to determine: 1) an old friend, 2) a parent, 3) a party member, 4) a sibling, 5) childhood pet, 6) monster from your nightmares. This creature has the same HD as you, the same attack bonus as you, and deals the same damage as you. The second time you meet these creature they have +1 to all of those, third time it's +2.

When does the Fog come for you? It only occurs when you attempt to leave. This is more a state of mind than a location or a destination. Traversing the Forest in any direction is not part of the variable. It is the will to leave that brings the Fog. It comes for you the first day after you begin to return, and through each layer of the Woods as well. Some say it even follows those who make it out.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Bibliography from the year 2030

1. The Everwood: a Guide to Episodic Play

2. 100 Floor Dungeon - published 1 floor at a time then combined at the end in a nice package.

3. The One Module That's a Fully Loaded Village, Easy to Pick Up and Drop Into Any Campaign World With Ease, and With Enough Stuff in it to Run an Entire Campaign With Just That Book (think Stardew Valley)

4. Aberdeen: The City That's Trying to Kill You

5. Time Loop Adventure - it would be simple in set up and design, made for open interpretation by DMs. Think of it as a list of details that happen over a 3-day period, fully detailed. After those 3 days the world is destroyed and the PCs reset with the knowledge, items, and xp they gained those 3 days. Rinse repeat until they defeat the evil or give up.

6. Haven's Throne - think Gothic Disney.

7. Atli's Academy of the Arts - a ruined school that was attacked by a dragon. Basically a "get-in-and-get-out-before-the-dragon-sees-you" adventure.

8. The Metal Gear Solid Module, basically a sandbox filled with tools and warring factions. The fun of this one would be choosing sides and getting the factions to kill each other.

9. The Death Star is a Mega Dungeon

10. That Thing My Party Wants to do That I Never Really Thought of...