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Sunday, July 5, 2015

A half-baked idea for high-level characters

I don't have a lot of mental energy to devote to RPGs right now, so I'm presenting this as a bare-bones idea.  If anyone wants to take it and flesh it out, modify it, or fold, spindle, and mutilate it into something else, feel absolutely free to do so.

It's often said that high-level D&D is about domain-level play rather than dungeon crawling and fighting ever-bigger and badder monsters.  High-level play is also plagued by breakdowns in game mechanics as hit points, attack rolls, saving throws, thief skills, etc. continue to grow with each level. 

Well, how about all those things max out, or at least slow down drastically, around name level?  Characters don't get too much better at bashing monsters after name level.  Instead, each class starts building abilities and skills appropriate to domain-level play.

Fighters get bonuses and special maneuvers for leading armies in mass combat.

Magic-users and clerics learn magic rituals that affect entire domains and may last weeks or months, but consume large amounts of resources and take days to cast, instead of just getting bigger and flashier guns to fire off in a combat round or an exploration turn.  That would require writing up a new list of high-level spells.  Maybe all spells of level 7 and up are of this type.

Thieves could become skilled in political subterfuge, intelligence gathering, maintaining a stable of alternate identities, etc.

I don't have any specific game mechanics yet, but it seems like this might be a good way to keep high-level play interesting and keep level advancement relevant without breaking the power curve too badly.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Dark fey: Bugbears

Shhh!  Did you hear that?  That scraping sound - something under the bed, or in the closet?  You heard that because he wanted you to hear it.  When he doesn't wish to be heard, he is as stealthy as midnight's own wings.  He thrives on your fear, savors it like an intoxicating drink.  And there is no keeping him out.  His joints bend every which way you please, and his bones are all of gristle that flexes without breaking.  He can pry doors and windows with his long clever fingers, or squeeze through gaps and hide in crannies you'd never think to check before blowing out your lamp.

 He likes to taunt and tease with little noises, bumps and scrapes and huffing breaths.  He knows you won't dare spring from your bed and flee.  You're in his power now.  Then, perhaps, as you tremble beneath your blankets, praying for the dawn to come, he'll unfold himself, all seven or eight long and gangly feet of him, and let you see the shadow he casts in the moonlight upon the wall, but only for an instant.  The next you'll see of him is his great leering face, with its mad, bloodshot eyes, its straggly hair, and above all its too-wide grin full of gleaming yellow fangs. 

No, my lass, don't cry for your father or your mother.  He'll kill them, with nary a thought, with his sharp barbed knife or his strong grasping hands.  It isn't them he wants.  It's you. 

Into his great black sack you'll go, with bones and snails and bits of rats, and then he'll steal back to his dark lair where he dwells with all his brothers.  What will he do with you there?  Oh, fear not, he doesn't want to eat you.  He's far too lazy for that.  The bogey-folk never do for themselves what they could have done by helpful slaves instead, nothing, anyway, except frightening people and stealing naughty, lazy little children. 

And so you'll dig and dig and dig in their dank smelly tunnels, and catch rats and toads and worms for their dinners, and you'll grow up there in the darkness among them.  Oh, they'll take a shine to all-grown folk sometimes too, and spirit them away to the dark mines, but for those ones, the toil and the drudgery are all they have to look forward to for the rest of their born days.  Only one in a hundred ever slips away and manages to find his way out of the depths of the lair to feel the warmth of the sun again.

Little children, though...especially little children who whine and complain and won't do their chores as they're asked...those are their favorites, for they remind them of themselves.  They might take a real liking to you, and frighten you extra-special, because that's their way.  And if you amuse them with your cowering and sobbing, and if you eat your slugs and worms like a good little lass, and if in the end you put down your spade in spite of all their frightening and scaring, and show yourself to be as stubbornly lazy as they are...well, you might just grow up to be one of them.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

A few spell families

This is sort of a proof-of-concept post.  The gist of the system is that the entire spell family is memorized as one spell and the caster may choose at which level to cast it within the limits of his available spell slots.  Number of spells which can be memorized is equal to the number of 1st level spells the magic-user can cast; thus a level 5 magic-user in a B/X-based game can memorize two spells, and cast them at the 1st, 2nd, or 3rd level of magnitude by expending a corresponding slot.

The 0-level line represent a minor at-will powers that a magic-user may access while having that spell memorized, i.e. a cantrip.  Presented for your examination, three popular magic-user spells:

Range: 120' Duration: See below
Minor Vanishing
Makes a small object, weighing no more than ½ pound, invisible for 1 round (10 seconds.)
Lesser Invisibility
Subject is made invisible for 2d6 rounds. Attacking or spellcasting ends the effect.
Subject is made invisible for 2d6 turns. Attacking or spellcasting ends the effect.
Circle of Invisibility
Caster and all within 15' radius become invisible for 2d6 turns. Attacking or spellcasting ends the effect for that individual only. Stepping outside spell radius ends the effect for that individual. Subjects can see each other.
Indefinite Invisibility
As Invisibility, but the effect is permanent until the subject attacks, casts a spell, or voluntarily cancels the effect. If cast on an object, effect ends when the object is touched.
Intermittent Invisibility
As Invisibility, but effect may be toggled on and off at will. Attacking or spellcasting renders the subject visible, but may become invisible again in one round.
Improved Invisibility
As Invisibility, but attacking and spellcasting will not end the effect.  After initial attack, the subject may be attacked at -4.

Range: 120' Duration: Special
Charming Presence
Character is treated as one row higher on the Charisma adjustment table for 1 round. Makes a good first impression, but any given creature may be affected only once per day.
Charm Person
Single living humanoid of no more than 4 HD treats the caster as a trusted friend and ally.  Receives another save in 1 day, 1 week, or 1 month, for high, average, or low intelligence.
Charm Animal
Charms a single normal or giant mammal, bird, reptile, amphibian, or fish.
Charm Group
Charms up to 6 humanoids or animals of no more than 2 HD each.
Charm Monster
Charms a single living (not undead, construct, or extraplanar) creature of unlimited HD.
Mass Charm
Charms up to 18 living creatures of 4 HD or less.
Charm Enchanted
Charms one construct or extraplanar creature whose HD do not exceed twice the caster's level.

Range: 120' Duration: Concentration +1d6 rounds (if not permanent)
Miniscule Phantasm
Create an illusion affecting one sense, which must fit within a 1' cube and lasts 1 round.
Lesser Phantasm
Illusion affecting one sense in a 20' cube within spell range.
Illusion affecting up to two senses in a 20' cube, which may be moved at will within the spell's range.
Mass Phantasm
Illusion affecting up to three senses, which may fill the entire spell range, i.e. a diameter of 240'.
Permanent Phantasm
Illusion affecting up to four senses, which may fill the entire 240' diameter of the spell's range, permanent until dispelled.
Programmed Phantasm
Illusion affecting up to five senses, which may fill the entire 240' diameter of the spell's range, triggered by a specific event of the caster's choosing, permanent until dispelled.
Grand Delusion
Affects all within a 20' cube. Alters the target creatures' perceptions of themselves, e.g. they believe themselves to have grown or shrunk, been polymorphed into toads, lost a limb, gone blind or deaf, changed sex, etc. Save vs. spells to avoid; thereafter permanent until dispelled.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Some half-baked ideas about spells

There are a couple schemes floating around the OSR for spells without levels, or for having every spell have a 1st-level version and boosting its range, duration, and/or damage by using higher level spell slots when casting.  That gave me a framework for some thoughts I've been mulling about making each spell an entire category or family, with the range of effects (rather than just numerical parameters) expanding according to what level of slot is used to cast it.  A family of spells must be learned in order; you can't learn the 2nd-level spell until you know the 1st-level one, and so on.  However, then you'd only have to memorize the base spell (1st level) in order to cast any spell in that family by expending a slot of the appropriate level.

As the post title says, this isn't a fully developed system yet, just some preliminary thoughts and ideas.

For instance, Feather Fall, Levitate, and Fly could form a neat little spell family.  As a first level spell, it gives you a bit of lift, but not enough to completely overcome your own weight.  You can't gain altitude, but you float gently to the ground, and you don't trigger most weight-activated traps.  At second level, you gain the ability to rise or descend vertically.  At third, you gain full three-dimensional movement.

Charms could be made to fit the pattern too, starting off allowing the caster to charm beings similar to himself (Charm Person), working up through normal animals, to monsters, to plants, to mass charms, and maybe even constructs and undead for the highest level versions of the spell.

Polymorph self?  At first level, you can change to human or humanoid forms, up to plus or minus 50% of your size.  You can't take the form of a specific individual, but you can alter your height, weight, body proportions, coloration, or apparent sex.  Second level, partial polymorph - say, change your hands to claws, grow a tail, and things of that nature.  Third level, you can change yourself into any normal animal of your level/HD or less.  Fourth, polymorph into any monster form of no greater than twice your level/HD, as per the spell in the rule book.  Fifth, polymorph self into plant forms.  Sixth, polymorph yourself into mineral or non-living matter.  Seventh, polymorph yourself into multiple creatures whose HD do not exceed twice your level/HD.  Eighth, you get the special defenses of your new form, e.g. immunity to normal weapons, immunity to fire, etc. Ninth, you get all special attack forms too, just like the Shape Change spell.

Illusions work too.  First level, you can cast an illusion that affects any one sense within a 20' cube.  Second level, you can affect two senses; the illusion still needs to fit within a 20' cube, but you can move it around within the 240' spell range.  Third level, you can affect three senses, and the illusion can fill the entire 240' range.  Fourth level, four senses, and a static illusion can be made permanent.  Fifth level, five senses, and you can program a sequence to go off under circumstances of your choosing.

I could go on, but you probably get the gist.  Of course, some spells don't lend themselves easily to a scheme like this, and others won't stretch all the way up to 9th level.  Is that a feature or a bug?  I'm not sure.  It seems like it might be a cool way to shake up the traditional spell system of D&D without warping the power curve too much.

Feel free to weigh in, or take the idea and run with it.

Dark fey: Hobgoblins

When household tools and family heirlooms go missing, the wise housewife will suspect the activity of hobgoblins.  Like a snarling, ill-tempered magpie, the hobgoblin will "collect" whatever is within his reach and tickles his inscrutable fancies.  Avarice is his hallmark; avarice, but not discernment, for he will as readily purloin horse-shoes and glass beads as gold coin and precious gems.  The enterprising adventurer who is able to claim a hobgoblin hoard has a task at once enviable and daunting before him in sifting through mounds of rubbish for the inevitable pieces of great value, but he may also earn the lasting goodwill of the local community by returning to them many long-lost belongings.

Yet despite his avarice, the hobgoblin is a creature of clannish and communal habits, gladly adding his precious baubles to the tribal hoard.  Perhaps this is for the sheer delight of seeing so great a collection amassed together.  The clan's "king" is in reality the steward of the hoard, and has few other interests than in protecting and enlarging it.  His "subjects" may freely gaze upon, or even handle, the contents of the hoard, but it is simply unthinkable to them to remove any for their personal use or enjoyment.

Between different clans, however, rivalry is prevalent, and capturing a prized trophy from another clan, by stealth or by force, is a source of great pride to king and clan.  Clans are distinguished by differences of seemingly little consequence to the human sensibility, but which are evidently of great importance to the hobgoblin: the pointedness of noses or the relative lengths of the second and third fingers, for instance.

It is perhaps because of the occasional brutality of these rivalries, and the ease with which the hobgoblin may be tempted into armed service of other races with generous payments of worthless trinkets, that he has acquired the reputation of military inclination.  While it is true that he does not blink at violence, the typical hobgoblin is chaotic and unruly, and is at best a skirmisher in an irregular division and not part of a disciplined fighting force.  In truth, except with regard to other clans of his own kind, a hobgoblin prefers to go unnoticed, and to indulge his inborn kleptomania without risking his neck, unless he clearly has the advantage over his mark.

Where goblins and hobgoblins share territory near human habitations, they exist in a sort of unintentional symbiosis which wreaks havoc on the human community.  The dainties one sets out to repulse goblins are readily snatched up by their grasping cousins, leaving the home unwarded against goblins and encouraging further incursions by the hobgoblins.  Some knowledgeable persons say that hobgoblins fear dogs; whether or not this is true is a contentious subject, but it is fact that the hobgoblin does not share his cousin's curious affinity for savage wolves.  Others will assert that a blessed object such as a holy text or symbol, added to a clan's hoard, will shortly disperse the entire nest of hobgoblins, and so will advocate the leaving of such items where they might readily be taken.  The efficacy, or lack thereof, of these and other remedies is left to the individual house-holder to determine through trial and error.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Dark fey: Kobolds

So, here you are, all decked out in a new suit of mail, and you think you're ready to face the worst the dungeon has to offer?  Let me tell you something, laddie, the things down there most to be feared aren't the ones lookin' to put a spear through your shiny new coat.  There're things in those dark places that'll kill you without your ever seein' 'em, or get you to kill yourself with foolish missteps and save them the bother.  Tappers, some call 'em, or knockers, or mine-haunts.  Kobolds, to the person of learnin'.

What's that?  Oh, sure, you can take them down with your axe.  Probably only take one swing, too. Good luck getting a stand-up fight out of 'em, though.  They see as well in pitch dark as you and I do in the noon sun, and they hear better too, like dogs.  Can talk back and forth 'tween each other that way, so you never know it.  Kobolds are uncanny in tunnels.  Never get lost, and sometimes they dig warrens of little passages and crawl-ways alongside the main ones to get around unseen.

Mischief is what kobolds love best, 'specially the kind that gets folks hurt or killed, and all the better if it takes a long time to do you in.  First you'll hear them tap-tap-tapping down in the dark depths, inviting you to come investigate.  They'll make other noises too, if they think it'll grab your attention, and some of 'em can mimic just about anything - a dog barking, water trickling, birds chirping.  All for the purpose of gettin' you deeper into the dungeon and lost.  They like to rub out your chalk marks on the walls, or make new ones, steal your rations and lamp oil, lock doors you already unlocked, reset the traps you disarmed.  Or they might put your prized magic ring in the thief's bag while you're asleep.  Nothing makes 'em happier than turning a party against itself.

Only way to negotiate with a kobold is to help him do mischief on somebody else.  Sometimes you can trade 'em things like chalk for writin' on the walls, or strong whiskey, which they won't drink themselves but maybe put in the next fellow's water skins.  Don't count on their favors lasting long, though - if you're lucky, they'll leave you alone just long enough for you to find your way back to sunlight and fresh air again.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Dark fey: Goblins

Pity the goblin - poor wretch!  For he is a creature of envy, doomed never to know joy or contentment of his own, forever tormented by that of others.  There is no thing animate or inanimate which is not the object of his envy.  He envies his brother-goblin who found a dead rat in the tunnel; he envies the rat, for it has no more concerns to trouble it in this world; he envies his chieftain for his position of power (even as the chieftain envies him a life free of the heavy burden of dominating the rabble with the lash!)  Most of all he envies men, elves, and dwarves, for the fellowship they share between one another, for the beauty of their crafts, for the delight they take in food and drink, for the mirth of their songs.  He envies them childhood, full of wonder; he envies them the robustness of adulthood; he envies them their wise venerability.  Especially he envies that they so freely walk beneath the daylight sky which burns his pallid skin and sears his red eyes.

Yes, pity the goblin, but fear him as well!  For so great is his misery that there is no act he will not contemplate to assuage it for the briefest of moments, or to share it in as great a measure as he can.  He is not brave, or at least seldom so, but he is sly and clever, and his eyes see in the blinding darkness.  He will steal whatever he may that seems to bring enjoyment to its owner, and either hoard it away with a hundred other forgotten baubles when it disappoints him, or ruin it that it might never give another the delight it has denied him.

He will hew down your beloved apple tree, set aflame your thatched hovel, pull the guts from your old striped cat because he sees you smile at her.  He balks not at foul murder, even - especially! - of children, who laugh and love so easily.  He laughs, too, as he works his malice, all full of madness but utterly void of mirth, and thus it is a sound most horrible.

Yet, pity him, though he has none in his withered heart for you!  Cold steel may slay his body, but it is kindness which his spirit cannot abide.  Set out bowls of food and drink for him at night, and little shoes and waistcoats sized just for him, though he will leave them untouched. Only then will your home and your kin be safe from his cruel mischief.