Sunday, 31 May 2009

weekend warrior: pidonar

The Pidonar are a fierce nation of tribes who dwell to the north of the Artorians; occasional allies yet more often rivals for land that shares a common border. Pidonar raiders attack other tribes for cattle, goods and slaves; there is a strong druidic tradition that keeps the more savage elements in check. Pidonar adorn themselves with swirling designs painted in blue and red dye.

Pidonar Warrior
The Pidonar warrior (half of all Pidonar forces are made up of such) is a distrustful soul, woodscrafty and able to track their enemies. Attuned to the rhythms of nature and cycles of violence; their knowledge of such things inform their tactics and they are fond of bringing hunting skills to battle.

Though individually the Pidonar warrior offers little challenge, it's rare the Pidonar fight in single numbers (or single combat to think of it) - foes are usually confronted by a screaming horde of Pidonar who swiftly fall on their foes, dancing out of the reach of their foes as they stab them.

Pidonar Skirmishers
About 30% of all Pidonar forces are made up of skirmishers. Their skill with a bow is notable but not famed yet the poison on their arrowheads brewed from snakes and toads gives them a feared reputation. Much like their brethren they will bring hunting tactics to the battlefield.

The skirmishers provide missile support for their warriors using natural terrain features to provide cover, sites for ambushes, pits and deadfalls; they are keen believers in numerical superiority and attack along with their warrior clansmen in waves of troops, shooting at targets confronting them.

Pidonar skirmishers are notoriously self-reliant and skilled trackers employed as bounty hunters.

Pidonar Warchief
The warchiefs make up 20% of a Pidonar force and provide nominal leadership for the wild hordes of Pidonar who ravage their enemies. Noted for their swordplay and skill with javelin, the mobile nature of Pidonar combat becomes deadly in their hands as they specialise in telling blows.

Pidonar warchiefs are fairly democratic and will try to achieve consensus among themselves; if this is impossible then usually someone dies. They are utterly amoral and hold natural law (red in tooth and claw) as their prime objective. They are not so arbitrary as to be chaotic, yet they are evil.

Tactics are to lead the warriors and run with the skirmishers; making sure that the horde engages with the enemy and using their combat skill to finish particularly difficult foes.

Saturday, 30 May 2009

three things: random inspirations

Block, burnout, call it what you will, there's a time when expression just doesn't quite cut it, the imperfect beast isn't running. You're stuck. Here's three tools to get you unstuck.

Oblique Strategies - From the mind of Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt comes a number of random inspirations that he's used while composing and producing. If it's good enough for REM, it's good enough for you. A shiny web-based version can be found at as well.

Abulafia Oracles - The game In A Wicked Age uses a pack of cards and a series of tables as an oracle to suggest plot arcs. Abulafia, home to many random generators has compiled a very useful set of genre-specific oracles to work with. You can also use the original four oracles here.

Rory's Story Cubes - Yes I know this isn't recession-proofed but these are pure. improvisational. dynamite. If you can't link even two of these, then take a shower or a walk somewhere colourful. Props to Greywulf for spotting these and to Vulcan Stev for mind-melding the blog post series out my head. Damn due diligence!

Monday, 25 May 2009

on genre death, means & ends and industry

Let’s start to look at ourselves and let’s stop characterising ourselves as a besieged minority: we are connected by an umbilical cord which is unbreakable to every huge movement in the workings of theology and philosophy – the labours of the imagination as far back as we know how to look.

-- Clive Barker, speech at Fantasycon 2006, Nottingham

Think on that a moment then consider the following...

There is a glossary of terms to be found at Amagi Games that helps capture the means and ends we aspire to by experiencing drama, playing games, gambling and performance - yet we can aspire to greater things than even these. Games with social consequence beyond the footprint it takes up to prep and run and experience, be it via giving a share of profits to a good cause or getting people to brainstorm on real-world issues while having fun at the same time.

Delta's D&D Hotspot posts that it's not all about fun. He posits that fun is not the only fruit (to borrow from Jeanette Winterson) and that catharsis is perhaps a better aim, preferring to follow an Aristotlean approach. I'm more pluralist. Why not let yourself have all the flavours at your table - including fun - and choose what you want according to your mood?

Onto a wonderful counterpoint by JoeTheLawyer (with props to taichara for the pointer) on why the Old School Renaissance is about emotion. Emotion is one of the key drivers behind the RPG blogosphere (along with creativity and it's talkative friend, rumour). The appearance of 4E and other books on bestseller lists indicates a beseiged minority label may no longer fit us; it's time to get a new coat that fits us better.

And if your coat is fine, then your attitude may be next...

Sunday, 24 May 2009

weekend warrior: artorians

The Artorians are a mostly peaceful civilisation under continued invasion by expansionist foes. The nobility rule by divine right over the commoners; Artorian churches assign themselves to watch over the nobles who having instilled a basic rule of chivalry and who in return sponsor orders of holy knights to help keep the commoners safe.

Artorian Levy
The levy is a core element of the Artorian army; 40% of any Artorian force are levy troops; good, hearty and hardworking yeomen who are ready to do their duty to their liege and who have inherited their shields from their fathers.

The levy troops know the dangers and prefer to work in shieldwalls as it provides them a measure of extra protection in battle. The Artorian shieldwall is known to it's enemies because of it's tenacity and it's support of the mounted officers and knights.

The levy are not educated, they know woodslore and they can rouse a worthy battlecry. The officers who lead them know they have limits but they are rarely tested to beyond endurance due to their knights and the superior skills of their officers.

Artorian Archer
The Artorian archer supports Artorian forces; up to 30% of any Artorian force are archers. Archer morality is a lot more pragmatic than most Artorians subscribe to. However the tradition of poachers making good archers is noted even by the most idealistic and the Artorians are a practical folk first and foremost.

Artorians specialise in surprise ambushes and making the first shot count. The use of cunning shot is often taken at an advantage, the better the advantage, the more likely a devastating shot can be placed. Once this is done, the archer will pick their shots carefully but will be shooting consistently.

If pushed into melee, they will use handaxes but will seek to move back into cover so they can use their bows - which is their obvious preference.

Artorian Knight
The knights which the Artorians are famed for make up 20% of any Artorian force. Their prowess in mounted combat makes them fearsome opponents, while they are not heroes in the same league of a player character, their tactics and weapons play to their strengths. They ride warhorses (Monster Manual p.159) into battle and this is taken into account in their stat block.

The typical Artorian knight is a burly yet charismatic figure used to the mounted life. Their dedication to the rule of chivalry makes them sometimes predictable - Artorian practicality is beaten into a reinforced bulwark for chivalry and they take a very dim view of any attempts to abuse knightly conduct for personal gain - yet the rallying cry of an Artorian knight will inspire allies to action.

The versatility and speed of the Artorian knight makes a fierce foe for heavier infantry - the use of javelin and spear charge can give many infantry pause yet when the swords come out, it's serious.

Artorian Officer
Those who lead the knights make up about 6% of any Artorian force - they are respected by the knights, feared by the archers and beloved of the levy. Their battle prowess means they lead from the front and the charge of an Artorian officer is feared by the enemy, particularly as it's usually accompanied by a number of knights trying to impress the officer.

Like the knights, officers are nearly always mounted on warhorse and play to their strengths. The piercing charge is a tactic that shatters spears yet it's devastating effectiveness is enhanced by the speed and power of the warhorse.

An Artorian officer is born to knighthood, unlike most Artorian knights who train for it. They know the rule of chivalry and it's interpretations precisely. Like the knights, they take a dim view of those who violate the rule for personal advantage but Artorian pragmatism makes the officer aware of treachery.

The only exception is if a Holy Knight is present - in which case, the officer has a fixed good-natured smile and takes out the frustration of having such a moral ally on the enemy.

Artorian Holy Knight
The holy knights only make up 4% of any Artorian force but the presence of a holy knight is keenly felt among the Artorians who all seem to stand up a little straighter and make an effort to look smarter and appear on their best behaviour around them. Yet the affection the Artorians have for their holy knights is significant.

These are knights who have pledged service to a lawful good deity as well as to the rule of chivalry. Their donations to the poor and needy have earned them some divine favour. Yet the holy knights recognise the peril that their soldiers endure and take pains to let no death go unavenged.

The holy knights donate nine-tenths of their wealth to the orders that sponsor them who in turn provide arms, armour and steeds as well as a never-ending stream of wrongs to right. The orders also maintain orphanages, hospitals and do works of charity with noble and clerical oversight.

Holy knights are as a result, revered by most Artorian troops and inspire great heroism in the ranks. They like leading by example and like all knights, take a dim view of abuses of chivalry.

Saturday, 23 May 2009

three things: traps

It has been noted in 4E, there is a shortage of random traps.

4E lends itself to improvised game play yet this seems a curious omission for a system that does. So what's missing? The ability to throw together traps using only the Difficulty Class and Damage By Level table, a few keywords and knowing how many xp make a successful quick & dirty skill challenge with Acrobatics, Athletics, Arcana, Dungeoneering, Perception and Thievery?

Come to think of it, it does sounds a bit 'preparation needed'. Anyway - three trap related things. Feel free to bend, fold, spindle and mutilate. And if you want to, modify them as well.

The See-Saw Floor (Level 1 Obstacle 100xp)
Trap: A 20' high triangular pivot is set at 20' along a 40' long and 20' deep pit. The pit is as wide as the corridor. Apart from the initial impact, the corridor ahead is blocked off until the floor is brought back in line with the rest of the corridor.
Perception: DC15 to notice the stonework on the floor appears a bit worn along one side and is made of a neat section of flooring material.
Trigger: Trap activates when the first five feet at either end of the see-saw has more than 10lbs weight placed on it.
Attack: Immediate Reaction. +3 vs. Reflex.
Hit: Take 2d10 falling damage and fall prone. Corridor is blocked 20' ahead by the other end of the see-saw going up.
Miss: Target ends their move action and takes no damage.
Effect: See-saw trap is revealed.
  • A successful Athletics check (DC10/20 from standing) will let the character jump to the half-way point. From that point, they can make an Athletics check (DC20, no running) to clear the remaining distance.
  • A successful Athletics check (DC15) lets a character climb out.
  • An adjacent character can with a Thievery check (DC20) disable the see-saw by forcing a piton or spike into the corner between the floor and the edge of the see-saw. One person can cross per object forced in.
Elite Upgrade (200xp): Increase the Perception & Thievery checks by +2. If the see-saw touches the ceiling crossbows with poisoned bolts fire from the squares in front of it down into the squares at the bottom of the see-saw (Range 15/30; +8 vs. AC; 1d8 damage + ongoing 5 poison damage (save ends).

Stone Block Trap (Level 7 Lurker, 300xp)
Trap: A pressure plate on the floor triggers the fall of a large stone block from above onto the area of the pressure plate. The stone block is heavy and may trap a victim under it. Once the block has been there for 10 minutes, the steel chain on top of it begins to winch it back up.
Perception: DC 24 to spot the flagstone with the pressure plate (which seems a little pushed in in comparison with the other flagstones).
Trigger: Standing on the pressure plate (which is the size of a square) pushes the block out of place and onto the victim.
Attack: Immediate. +8 vs. Reflex.
Hit: Take 2d8+5 damage and make a successful Strength check (DC19) or stop moving. Each round under the block inflicts 1d6 ongoing damage unless the strength check is made. Adjacent characters may aid the victim and get a +2 bonus by using the chain in the top of the rock..
Miss: No damage.
Event: Square with stone block and chain is considered difficult terrain until the winch at the top of the chain activates after 10 minutes and pulls the block back up (this takes a minute).
  • Once the block has fallen, adjacent characters may use the chain to lift the block off the plate and cause the trap to reset. This requires a Strength check (DC17). The pressure plate can then be avoided by an Athletics check (DC5/10 from standing start).
  • An adjacent character with a successful Thievery check (DC28) disable the pressure plate.
Elite Upgrade: Perception DC is 26 and the block is bigger and badder, doing a close burst attack at +10 vs. Reflex on the pressure plate and any adjacent squares doing 3d10+5 damage and requiring a DC25 Strength check to move it off the victims (who still suffer 1d6 damage) under the block each round. Countermeasure checks are adjusted upwards appropriately.

Calidarn's Bestiary
Moren Calidarn was one of the luminaries among the trapsmiths of his generation (long dead now save for a handful of liches and other ne'er-do-wells) and his book is used as a primer for those who craft (and who attempt to bypass) such devices. Written in the manner of a sage's bestiary, it uses flowery language and metaphor to describe gruesome devices encountered in a dungeon or other setting.

Once a trap has been spotted with a successful Perception check, if consulted (which takes 1d6 minutes) it will give a +2 bonus to Thievery checks attempting to disable the trap. Attempting to construct one of the traps described in the Bestiary requires an Insight roll (DC20) to get past the flowery language. Costs and materials for the traps should be expensive and at DM fiat.

The book is worth 250gp to the right buyer. Certain bands of rogues may have an interest in specific copies which have been annotated by former associates.

Monday, 18 May 2009

waves of the darksea war

In the Underdark, the presence of the Darksea War echoes like the distant tide; the aboleth lake-cities slowly expanding against destructive illithid raids; between this hammer and anvil, the other races carve their own empires in the sunless world. The shifting alliances of the Underdark and the inherent treachery of the Far Realm makes unpredictable neighbours.
  1. Balhannoth are tamed by both aboleth and illithid via telepathy; these alien creatures are set to guard areas with high ceilings. They are not bred by either race as destrachan are - their nature is not suited to it; instead they are allowed to patrol territories that coincide with the tactical desires of either race to feed on the minions of their enemies.
  2. Drow and kuo-toa, despite being on opposite sides of the conflict will do business together - the drow are not always enamoured of waterborne travel and drow slave markets are often filled with choice purchases. The fickle nature of the drow is only provoked by direct attack or if aboleth expansion may harm their cities or territory.
  3. Foulspawn will serve as mercenaries for either side. When they meet the opposite side; there is a brief negotiation, the foulspawn obey whoever pays the most. Naturally both aboleth and illithid have lied before (and will again) and as these conversations happen telepathically, it is very difficult to know if foulspawn will stay allies.
  4. Ropers are willing to negotiate with illithid to watch over certain areas. For a tasty victim or three they will also report on what they observe. The illithid will suggest that the roper takes to the ceiling to maximise their hunting opportunities and after all, such a position limits the danger of being surrounded by enemies...

Sunday, 17 May 2009

weekend warrior: chaldyreans

Converting historic warrior-types into D&D 4E stat blocks? Monster cards as well? Sure I can; it's past time there were some distinctive army-style troops going on. Feel free to customise these further to give each individual warrior type their own added fluff. The names of certain nations have been changed to protect the innocent (whoever that is).

An aggressive, lawful nation known for military excellence and personal arrogance; the Chaldyre pantheon is lawful, evil and militant with war deities in charge of spiritual matters. The officers of the Chaldyrians are present at roughly one in fifteen men. Cavalry when present tend to vary between light-armoured lancers to heavy elites.

Chaldyrean Skirmisher
About 30% of a Chaldyrean force is made up of athletic youths given a heavy shield and spear as well as a sense of divine approval and encouragement of their inherent superiority over the enemy from the officers.

These skirmishers are sent in to engage forces so heavier and slower troops can engage them. The skirmishers are willing combatants equally happy in formation or melee.

Those skirmishers who survive initial battles learn how to make best use of their shields to break up a formation and rely on speed and opportunism to win. Those who do not die gloriously to join the armies of their gods.

There are no old Chaldyrean skirmishers, those who survive long enough are noticed by the officers and then steered into other roles in the army

Chaldyrean Archer
The archer is the staple of Chaldyrean artillery and has a reputation for accuracy and agility. The great longbows of the Chaldyrean archers have helped even the score of dozens of battles; about 25% of a Chaldyrean force is made up of archers.

The archer is lightly armoured and has a short sword for those inevitable times when melee must be joined but in a running firefight or battle, the Chaldyrean archers hold their own against other missilers.

Like other Chaldyrean troops, they pride themselves on their athletic prowess, using this to take sniper positions on rooftops or in a tree and commanding what they view.

Archers also co-ordinate against heavy armour; using Nimble Strike and Aid Another to give an ally a clear shot and gaining Nimble Strike's benefit themselves.

Chaldyrean Heavy Infantry
The Chaldyrean heavy infantry are feared by their foes; their armoured resilience and use of heavy weapons in brutal, cleaving attacks is a signature motif. They make up a quarter of any Chaldyrean unit.

These soldiers are confident and disciplined; forming tight pickets of longspears against cavalry, chariots and charging enemies; switching to morningstar in breach or close fighting.

Their use of group intimidation is enough to unnerve most warriors. Their athletic prowess is also notable but it is in battle that the heavy infantry are most celebrated and feared.

Heavy infantry pride themselves on their braids and their beards; even women soldiers have fake beards.

Chaldyrean Elite Infantry
The elite are feared by their enemies - not least for their exceptional attributes among the hardened forces of the heavy infantry. About five percent of any Chaldyrean force is made up of elite infantry - this steel core has a lot to do with the Chaldyrean reputation of martial prowess.

Their fierce endurance has led to many enemies claiming the Chaldyreans possess superhuman attributes for the elites and the heavy infantry share many traits; with the Chaldyrean love of war, some warriors identify closely with great heroes or even their own gods of war.

One notable difference is the use of bow by elites; this causes some alarm among the enemy when a well-placed shot hits one of their leaders. The Chaldyrean elites also enjoy fighting from the back of war chariots; driving their foes before them.

Chaldyrean elites are equal opportunists; they still have the love of braided hair and beards and often compete with each other over length and decoration.

Chaldyrean Officer
Officers have notably smooth faces - in odds of the traditional Chaldyrean love of braided hair; this makes them distinct from the heavy infantry so that soldiers know who is in command. There is one officer per fifteen troops in a Chaldyrean force and it shows.

All Chaldyrean officers form disciplined lines and thickets of long-spear wielding infantry. They also enjoy riding on battle chariots to survey the effects of a battle; though they are best valued leading from the front where they can use their abilities to bolster their allies.

The officers are also skilled athletes though their ability to threaten the enemy is particularly effective when it is backed up by a knot of heavy infantry. Skilled in both martial prowess and invective, the officers are treated with reverence by the troops.

This series of posts is inspired by Phil Masters' Dungeons &... Dragoons article in White Dwarf #20. Kudos to both Asmor's Monster Math Cruncher and DungeonMastering's Monster Cards for the stat blocks.

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

salient facts on the darksea war

I mentioned the aboleth and mind flayers in my next campaign world are at war in my response to the Mr. Doppleganger incident. This is one of the first historic events in the campaign setting and the war has not slowed up since that long-lost time. Here's a brief summary of the notes around that and some ideas that spun out from those notes.
  • Aboleth create large shallow lakes by using slaves to build dams across Underdark rivers; the resulting flooded caverns are enlarged by servitors or dominated slaves. The resulting flooded caverns are enlarged and the stone used to build the great crenellated towers, wells surrounded by rings of short spikes and mazes found in aboleth construction.
  • Some aboleth take controlling the water supply even further. Their servitors dig deep wells for nearby client villages in return for a tribute of potential servitors. Aboleth takes pains to ensure that tunnels leading to the wells are secured - usually by deadfalls, clouds of mucus or multiple glyphs of warding. to discourage intrusion.
  • The resulting structures have a disturbing aspect, one part coral reef, one part nightmare. The decoration of sections in arcane glyphs and swirling patterns makes the construction seem to swim before the eyes while clouds of mucus and silt fog parts of the construction.
  • Kuo-toa venerate aboleth and provide them with slaves, honouring them as culture-bringers. While the occasional guard is offered as servitor material, aboleth regard the kuo-toa as willing allies rather than servitor or slave. The fanatical nature of the kuo-toa is used as an example of how servants should act, though occasional madness is not desirable.
  • Aboleth usually practice a studied contempt for the 'lesser' deities venerated by the former races of their servitors yet the divine patrons of the kuo-toa are respected for their influence. Beyond this, there are the dark entities who the aboleth entreat in complex lines of glyphs across buildings, etched into crystal seals or even into their own flesh.
  • Illithids are confident in their dealings with lesser races, even the most blood-crazed war troll considers the mind flayer something to be respected. This arrogance has led them into alliance with certain drow and resulted in grimlocks, hook horrors, umber hulks and war trolls joining mind flayer armies. Drow, bugbears, troglodytes and trolls have been found as illithid thralls or dominated servants.
  • Masterminds surround themselves with armies of thralls and use them for menial labour as well as troops. As a result, illithids can quickly spawn devoted thrall communities but their progress is sometimes sluggish due to the deep despairing trance of thralldom which leads illithids to using whips and torment - adding sadism to their other evils.
  • Mind flayers are fascinated by study and academic achievement; their intellects are drawn to arcane matters, lore about the Far Realm and oratory. Their studies of fauna, flora and constructs (usually with the intention of using them to control or become thralls or dinner) makes them potent scholars.
  • Their willingness to share this lore is limited, an exchange would require an intrepid scholar to have something spectacular at hand (a difficult skill challenge involving Arcana, Bluff, Insight or Dungeoneering may be of some help) though failure may lead to dinner for the offended scholars.
Both aboleth and illithid breed destrachans as guardians and warbeasts; their aberrant nature and the breeding programs have led to beneficial mutations of the base destrachan stock.
  • Aboleth-bred destrachans have translucent skins and strong webbed limbs (swim 6 instead of climb 3). They still breathe air so they sport on the surface of the city-lakes and sound in a manner akin to dolphins. Dolphins armed with thunderbolts of course.
  • Illithid breeds have ruffed collars that display if it grows aggressive (gain Intimidate +6) and sleek, athletic bodies (speed 8 rather than speed 6 climb 3) - the long claws of these runners are still razor-sharp and their sadistic nature is no less diminished.

Sunday, 10 May 2009

dark heresy: the slaughterman cometh

In the 41st Millenium it's hard not to get desensitised to violence. The slaughterman provides a vital function to Imperial society, providing meat for the table. Yet the perils of corruption do not merely settle for Inquisitors or acolytes. Chaos occasionally invites ordinary citizens to the table as well and it only takes a few bad apples to spoil the whole barrel.

Deuhirst Whall, slaughterman and outcast scum.
WS:25 BS:20 S:30 T:30 Ag:35 Per:20 WP:20 Fel:20
Move: 3/6/9/18 Wounds: 12 Corruption Points: 36 Insanity Points: 62
Disorders: Minor Delusion (Righteousness), The Flesh Is Weak!
Malignancies: Wasted Frame
Mutation: Feels No Pain.
Skills: Awareness, Common Lore (Imperium), Concealment, Medicae, Secret Tongue (Gutter), Speak Low Gothic, Trade (slaughterman)
Talents: Ambidextrous, Melee Weapon Training (Chain), Quick Draw, Sound Constitution, Thrown Weapon Training (Primitive), Unremarkable
Weapons: Chain Axe (1d10+7 R, Pen 2, Tearing), Mono butchers' knife (1d5 R, +2 Pen, 3m), four large butcher's knives (1d5 R, 3m) and three flintlock pistols (1d10+2 I; 15m Reload: 3 rds Full action, Primitive, Unreliable, Inaccurate) for intimidation purposes only.
Gear: Datapad (contains Void-born perversion and heresy - reading this bestows 1d5 Corruption Points), Medicae kit, Stained citizen's garb (poor quality), 3 Throne Gelt

Whall is wiry and almost attractive yet despite this, nobody seems to notice him except for the occasional whiff of fresh-cut meat. He preferred to work in relative seclusion and gained some reputation as a quietly-efficient slaughterman until he found the datapad of a Void-born psyker girl which contained heretical confessions with accounts of an unnatural lust for violence.

Deuhirst began to view the world through this lens and in his insane righteousness, butchered three people and fed them to a noble family before killing them as heretics. Usually this would attract the Inquisition's attention but local authorities intervened and Whall became an outcast among the dregs of Alpheus Primus.

Whall became an outcast very quickly but soon adapted. Even scum need food and his skill as a slaughterman meant the meat wasn't poisoned and the bodies disappeared quickly. Over time, his masochistic streak increased to the point that he mutated under Khorne's baleful influence. Now Whall feels no pain and takes care not to include his flesh in the meals he prepares.

Saturday, 9 May 2009

giving back to the community: the twisted spires

Another in the series of Adventure Fillers; this one takes place in deep caves where stalagmites protrude out the ground like church spires. The monsters are twisted, there's flammable oil for the taking and food is scarce. What could possibly go wrong? As always - made with open-source software for your playing pleasure: The Twisted Spires.

Friday, 8 May 2009

even more gaming tools

Inkwell Ideas has some wonderful tools; while some people have pointed at the magnificent Hexographer, the Coat of Arms Visual Designer deserves it's own mention for those of you who need a heraldic coat-of-arms stat. And if you're a GIMP mapper, you'll love these brushes that draw on the icons from D&D's classic Mystara setting.

Dungeon Mastering have created a 4E monster database. This provides ready-made cards for your monsters and importable code into Obsidian Portal and HTML (for Epic Words, blogs and other wikis). There is also a database of shared monsters that will certainly grow over time with contributions. Potluck can be fun.

You may also find the Magic Set Editor (lets you make your own trading cards) of particular interest (and it's open source too) - this is just dandy if you have a card system for contacts/ stuff you can pass to players. Speaking of 4E, an epic labour of love can be found in the Universal Card Set that could be used with the above.

Thursday, 7 May 2009

failing your takeover bids one at a time...

Provoked by an excellent post at Gothridge Manor about Mr. Doppelganger and by the alarmed response by Chgowiz about uber-monsters and the carnage they can inflict on the ecology of a campaign world.

One real-world reason that the world isn't anyone's oyster. Except ours of course and there is some uncertainty even on that point.

1. Catastrophe - With the best will in the world, if Nature says you're going down in the fifth, then that's it. Earthquakes, volcanoes, tsunamis, hurricanes, even meteor strikes are hard to parry with your changing shape, mental attacks or fiery breath.

Now let's take two classic enemy within species.

Dopplegangers - five reasons they haven't taken over yet.

1. They have to revert sometime. You can guarantee when this happens someone has cast a ritual or is using an item to scry on them. Big secret out, time to leave town. Robert deNiro's character in Heat says it best.
"Don't let yourself get attached to anything you are not willing to walk out on in 30 seconds flat if you feel the heat around the corner."
2. Undead. You'd be amazed how being able to impersonate someone flawlessly makes no difference to a ghoul. You'll still taste like chicken to them - it might be useful if you've got a friend able to rebuke them into leaving you alone? No? Oh dear.

3. Rakshasa. They play the same game, just for higher stakes. Nobody likes competition and in a fight, my money is on the tiger-men with the funny hands. It'd be a rare doppleganger to beat a rakshasa wouldn't it? Maybe with a lot of advantages...

4. Dragons. You really think parlour games would impress them? Slow exhalation...

5. They make phenomenal actors. Why take over the world when they have the hearts and minds of their audience, invitations to the best parties, romances with beautiful admirers? And where better to hide their collection of costumes? Never forget a line either...

Mind Flayers - five reasons we're not all brain food.

1. Githyanki. They have psychic mojo, big shiny swords and pact dragons. The last is a kicker.

2. Githzerai. Psychic mojo. Kung fu. Hardcore magic. And that first hit is going to hurt.

3. Golems and Guardians. Not another fantasy heartbreaker but the monsters. Spellcasters can make things that are a real pain in the cranium and which will floor most minions. This means that they of course must be the first thing to go come the revolution.

4. Aboleth. They play the same game and their adaptation to water makes them deadly in that environment; their slaves appear nutritious but contain their own hazards. The slime mages and overseers can usually out-psychic a mind flayer of any stripe outside the Forgotten Realms.

5. Treants. Hoom. The idea of a vegetarian illithid (treants and dryads only) amuses me but the animated trees are going to make it a bad day for our tentacled friends. A mind flayer may find the trees a hard target to mind blast.

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

the future of roleplaying

May's RPG Carnival invites us to engage our preferred prognostication methods and scry the future of roleplaying games to answer this set of cunning questions.

What games do you see emerging as the big players in the near future?
When/if it comes - D&D 4.5 may be as significant a sea-change as 3.5 was for 3E - particularly if Wizards review the GSL and bring it back closer to the OGL's flexibility (if they don't Paizo will get a lot more market share with Pathfinder and Wizards will have nobody to blame but themselves).
Consider how well received 4E is at the moment and there's another set of core book add-ons planned next year, it won't happen just yet.

Yet DDI is not exactly being forward in adding features and WotC seem content just to put out core materials in different formats (e.g. power cards) rather than focus on world settings other than the Realms or the core 'Points of Light' setting. Remember Eberron?

Maybe they're making enough money for now?

Dark Heresy will continue to gain more ground as more original material is put out - there's a lot of 40K canon that hasn't been touched on and now FFG are running it, there's going to be more support than previously. Given GW's current situation, I suspect it'll gain attention from gamers looking for that 80's nostalgia hit that the grognards just can't... quite... reach...

West End Games Open D6 may be the dark horse that surprises us all. If it happens.

What companies should we be watching out for to release the next big product?
Wizards of the Coast will continue to dominate the roleplaying field with Paizo, Green Ronin and Necromancer Games following in their trail. For those of you of a gothic or manga high fantasy persuasion, White Wolf will feed your fix. West End Games may do well to launch an Open D6 reboot of Paranoia if they want to recoup their old fanbases.

How will technology become more integrated into roleplaying games?
There is a sea change coming. Campaign wiki platforms and Web 2.0 tools are becoming more common and content through subscription services, online magazine publications and print-on-demand are making the distribution of games easier than ever - and this IMHO has always been the 800lb gorilla reason why tabletop games have never realised their full potential.

What industry writer do we need to be on the look out for?
Mike Mearls currently has his finger on the pulse. Liz Danforth's recent interview suggests a grass-roots revival around gaming skills. And Berin Kinsman who has so far been able to predict with uncanny foresight a number of major trends in gaming - he was talking campaign wikis and stripping out mechanics long before we were. There's three. Pick any one.

What blogs do you see exploding into becoming the next big thing?
Blogs aren't individually a big thing. Blogs are an army ant phenomenon - take a look at the RPG Blogger Network right now and you'll appreciate there is strength in numbers. I don't think all will survive, burnout will stalk the blogosphere like Death stalks Conan? Blogs will continue to mark grass-roots trends and if the industry is smart, it'll glom onto this more than it is currently.

What do you see for the future of the industry?
Assuming things stay as they are - there's going to be more subscription services running in the wake of DDI & Dungeon-A-Day and more convergence of online/tabletop gaming using tools like RPTools. Until someone works out a few unwritten assumptions of course but that may mean giving away my master plan for world domination. Wait & see. :)

spring festivals

As Friday was May 1st, it seems apt to create a 4E version of a spring festival. The presence of the Feywild and Shadowfell also needs some consideration. So, here's three versions of the same festival - one for each plane.

Spring Festival - A pastoral festival, with dressing of trees in ribbons, rags and kerchiefs, weaving of covers for wells out of supple twigs and ribbon and the raising of a dancing pole with ribbons, bells and tipped with a wreath of spring blossom. Sweet wine and strong ale are shared between participants and quiet groves are set aside for merry-making and trysts.

Songs and prayers to Corellon, Melora, Pelor and Sehanine are offered in ceremonies to foster beauty, harmony with nature, fertility and love. At ports, this is reproduced around a ship's mast with coloured ropes and ribbons. Rum and ale are circulated freely, bawdy songs are sung on the docks and beaches as taverns offer all kinds of entertainments.

The Ribbon Tree - In the Feywild, observance of seasonal rituals is serious and in the courts of the Green, Gloaming and Summer fey, a living tree is adorned with bells, ribbons and rags for a spiral dance. Musicians play a lively reel, wine and ale are shared and quiet groves do not stay that way. Oaths are not obliged or asked, they must be given freely.

The fomorians and goblins will sometimes raid at the time of the Ribbon Tree to carry off guests as a declaration of war. A version of the Ribbon Tree is also performed in Brokenstone Vale; as the lycanthropes dance with humans to hunt them down in the groves before trysting with each other in bloody revelry. Not all spring ceremonies are pretty affairs or end in love and harmony.

Chaining The Gallows - Even in the Shadowfell, life is celebrated. A former gallows is torn down and the pole has several slender chains and dark ribbons nailed to it's head before being crowned in a wreath of dark blooms and thorns. It is then raised up for a dance which starts slow like a gavotte but which grows more frenzied until the participants are face-to-face.

The shadar-kai find the rite exhilarating and often seek to ensnare one another in the chains (in homage to the Raven Queen's admonition that none escape the chains of fate) - for in the Shadowfell, this ceremony acknowledges the limits of the Raven Queen's power for a time yet winter will come again - such a thing is inevitable.
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