Monday, October 23, 2017

Time and Tech for CaBH + Forte and the Rust Belt

Generally, unless specified, the nations of this world as a whole have a tech level roughly analogous to what we have now, with different countries or regions corresponding more to say an impoverished state (so the tech levels in the definitely-not-ghettos-why-would-you-ask in Johannesburg) to an ultramodern upper class one (Akihabara or Silicon Valley). Broadly speaking most people have access to a phone, of not a cell phone, though exact tech will vary.

Chevalle, for example, has a kind of high-tech-60s-to-70s, Archer-the-tv-show aesthetic of outdated Soviet style machines made to work for the modern world through great effort. While there is not a Japan or USA in this world per se the kind of culture we enjoy with our technology would be a step or two beyond what we have now, about the advancement level we'd be if everyone's Alexa was instead Deep Blue and that's about it. There are, as detailed below, exceptions.

Where Feng Shui is concerned when it comes to technology the key things it's concerned about  is time period or Juncture, and even this is 90% concerned with what kinds of guns you have access to. The remaining 10% is focused on whether you are stuck with a horse or can have a hoverbike. For our purposes we'll need to flip those numbers. First things: as FS assumes a default swath of proficiencies implied by your Type, CaBH assumes any racer proficient with their own Vehicle no matter the tech level of their background or the vehicle involved. Since the appearance and description of these will vary pretty wildly that's...good.

Apart from that there's nothing especially preventing a character from 1350s Mongolia from picking up an AK47 and figuring it out. It'll just take different rolls until enough practice is under their belt to imply proficiency, and this is using action movie definitions of "enough practice" where random dishwasher Jackie Chan can effectively use a bazooka when he needs to.

An exception to this is what the game dubs Scroungetech, weapons and body-modifications designed using machines from the far future designed to warp reality to the same extent as magic. The default setting's Scroungetech stuff is in flux due to plot shit, like the future blowing up and being run by monkeys. For us, though, Scroungetech simply represents a technology that is beyond. Perhaps it comes from a pocket of AI-assisted potential, or was designed with help from the future in some kind of Contact-cum-Looper situation. It might be the result of some kind of unique Holtzman-Spengler genius, or the kind of strange Tesla machines Lovecraft had in mind when he first wrote Nyarlahotep, technology created with understanding outside our world which allows for impossible things...

Very few Types make use of Scroungetech as a core component. If you're one of these Types you are either from one of the following places or your transformation was rooted there. Just finding such devices in the world, however, may not carry any geographical significance. It could have come from anywhere and, with some trial and error, is anyone's to use. People from high-tech nations will just have an edge, is all.


Forte is a kingdom with one foot in tomorrow. The seat of all technical advancement and medical breakthrough is one where every man is just a bit machine and every machine is just a bit man. AI capable of a level of independence, bio-assisted computing, smart prostheses, and other advances mean every person you speak to in Forte may be several "people" with their own identities and ideas. Forte is a futuristic paradise in many respects but at the cost of uniform participation as a requirement of citizenship - those who wish to abstain from any form of Communion or who see Derived Beings as inherently lesser are not punished except by forced emigration, before which any Fortean 'assistances' are removed. They share much of their gifts freely with other nations but require both a share-back guarantee for other advances and representation within that local government - an ambassador who is themselves a whole embassy. Tracking their leader is nearly impossible for someone unconnected to their framework so dealing with any sort of department head or group spokesperson should be dealt with as if dealing with Queen Victoria herself.

Dumesk was once a nation rich in all manner of natural resources. Many of those were stripped in preparation for a secret war which never ended up happening anyway, the Thrilight Krieg, for which neutral Dumesk was a seat of production for many nations. Abandoned factory and housing complexes nearly cover Dumesk now and she has little left to sustain her people, bartering with the leverage of incalculable debts racked up by other nations. Its head woman, affectionately known as "Babushka Brunn," has turned the processing power and monolithic thinking engines which fueled her nation's drive to its current state to a new task: developing infinitely within. Other nations can tap into the richer "metaverse" Dumeski peoples enjoy with some great expense or effort but here even the least citizen is able to neuromance with the best of them, creating marvels impossible in physical space into which the wind-snapped citizenry escapes. They call it the Square, a nation increased by its own power, but everyone else on the planet calls this anti-apocalypse world "Dumesday."

To the distant west of Dumesk's capital it borders an old rival, Erlin. Erlin's progress has come largely through its mastery of the atom. They are chief when it comes to finding new and strange sources for the world's energies, though they don't always get things quite right. The consequences of this, lamentable though they are, also are inevitable. That's fine: Erlin excels at containment, making them powerful allies for SEDAN. Their society and politics can be a bit old fashioned and Chairman Holland, their effervescent elder statesman and executive leader, can be severe in the finality of his pronouncements. Nevertheless, Erlin is a place rich in transformation, discovery, and growth, not all of it planned.

South of Dumesk is what once was the Temple Sea, now something of a ruined heap of oxidizing scrap. When Thrilight Krieg was averted every nation began quickly looking for somewhere to offload its killdroids and death machines. Whoever dumped first is hotly debated but under the logic of "who will notice one more load" thousands of loads of advanced weapons and silver warriors were abandoned in the now-filled salt sea. It was actually a decade or more before the no-man's-land was noticed to be active - alive. Someone forgot to switch something off and a robo-nation made out of itself developed like a slime mold unattended. Since this was something of a no-man's-land already when the machines declared themselves the independent state of Ping their new neighbors decided to, well, roll with it...after all, they certainly didn't have the resources to fight Ping since Ping WAS their resources. The Clients of Ping modify themselves constantly, some serving as edifice one week and individual another. Peer, their representative to the rest of the world, has long reigned over an order of mandatory peace, these fearsome but gentle machines utterly lost without a manmade drive for death.

Finally, the tiny mountain nation of XXXThrill0 is little more than a series of volcanoes bound to endothermic industry. Constantly belching tons of black smoke into the world the small population here which hangs off the mountain faces in its black metal coffins are almost entirely concerned with maintaining mother nature's own imperfect boilers. Theirs is not an aspirational or forward thinking population but when it comes to Making The Thing Do The Thing few can surpass them. Their leader is the long-bedridden Count Dude, his advisor and voice in all matters of state the fearsome and canny Desdemona Troyer, and their most famous citizen....well, no one will officially say he hails from XXXThrill0 but we all know who we're talking about, don't we?

Friday, October 6, 2017

I'm Not Publishing A Game Today

There are two schools of thought regarding motivating yourself, particularly on a long-process endeavor. The first suggests that you should keep it to yourself, because the brain registers the recognition you get from "I am going to do a thing" as progress to doing a thing or as doing a thing. Talking about what you could do and never doing anything. Self defeating. I do this part a lot because I confuse my need to be heard with the good of the project, I suppose.

Another school espoused by twelve step programs and Crossfit Bros calls for not just transparency and being forthcoming but being VERY open, even forward about your goals. The idea is to encourage accountability by putting it out there, making your friends and those around you complicit in keeping you on track. I think this is a productive idea but there's a lot of social anxiety and shame that can get caught up in that for people. For myself my friends are too amiable and accommodating to be a stricture for me.

There's a common ethos espoused on the DIY scene (and we really do need a better name for this community because just as I've never truly been whatever OSR is I've never thought DIY D&D was more about this ethos than any process) that if you have a game thing you want to do just fucking DO it because there is nobody stopping you. A lot to recommend this but a lot of people follow this advice only to be greeted with an indifference bordering on antipathy if you aren't already something of a name. Even then god help you if what you published was some kind of fantasy ruleset. For every Beyond the Wall you HAVE heard of there are a hundred games swallowed like ghosts. Certainly I've done basically a whole game before to a resounding hollowness.

But there's also a good point made in the recent LotFP podcast appearance by Raggi, Zak, and Patrick, made BY Patrick, which is that too many people are putting out stuff that is just an echo of an echo of an echo without ever going back to a primary source or doing any of their own research, like one would if writing a novel. I think this is a smart suggestion but I've run aground many a project with the idea that I've got to do more reading first, get some mastery of subject before attempting...usually arriving at the conclusion that I've got no business casting my ill-equipped voice into the darkness. It can be its own paralysis if you let it, and while I have no doubt that Veins is everything I've waited for so long (I've yet to afford it) I also am keenly aware of how long that process took and ehhhhhhh no thanks on that.

Keep it to yourself, just do it, keep yourself accountable by telling everyone, take your time and do your research right. It's all good advice in turn and I'm not great at deciding when to take which part.

This is NOT a post where I ask for that advice.

The game is currently called Hunger City.

It began as an attempt to strip down the Gamma World and Mutant Future rules, with some elements of TSR's Marvel Super-Heroes, in order to make things more streamlined for public play. When that campaign never materialized I repurposed a lot of it as a post-apocalypse DuckTales rpg that resulted in two decent little campaigns and a fun antigencon game. It was revisiting the rules for a third go at this and abandoning it that I decided to strike out and do something different instead.

This is an rpg about how David Bowie starred in The Running Man. Not a desert ruin crawl or a Fury Road chase, this would be a game about living in a dead city. I had some side-experience with that. Not a destroyed city, just a city that had ended. I based the list of mutations entirely on Diamond Dogs. I wrote up a list of magic powers and rules that involved potentially killing yourself in using them. I tried to work fashion in as an integral part, and I wanted to make Jeff-style carousing into a bloodsport spectacle used to sow legends, change alliances, and invent identity. Inventing identity would be a big part of this.

I took some skill ideas from Raggi and modified them. I built in some rules about diminished returns even from what you're the best at, and the price of scarcity, and stripped down armor and equipment and encumbrance options. I have a document file I haven't merged with the rest yet which contains, I think, a pretty common sense solution to gear that I also find pretty funny.

It works. It's not done. I may try to move some things away from D&D rolls and LotFP rolls. I may try to monkey with the "race" options available currently. I may try to move things away from HP, even, but probably keep levels... A lot of the changes from here on are going to depend on my making a lot more bad guys and seeing how they work. That'll require more play. Right now, for every reason that has prevented me from playing in all of your games or from running some fucking regular D&D, that's kind of a problem.

What do I want to do with it? Well, certainly not get rich, which is a fucking good thing. I want to basically take this to product as a dry run toward making something even stupider that even fewer people will want to play because I am a fucking idiot. The idea for format is basically zine style. Do the first "issue" as everything you need to play, the most essential rules. Only make a comparative few of these, send them to people who do cons and stuff to sell with no obligation to send me a dime. A gift. Taking a loss altogether on that printing. Then, if there is any interest beyond that, I'll do another print run and put the pdf up for PWYW. If there is no interest I'll just put the whole thing up for FREE-free and call that a failed experiment and move on, hopefully having learned enough to make the next thing work.

If I make enough on that run to cover the cost of the printing then I'll do another "issue" of the zine, keep going, up to a dozen of these. Some are filled with enemies, some are filled with sci-fi gadgets, some are small adventures, some are maybe more spells. Then maybe just leave it like that forever. If there's enough interest down the line then a few years from now maybe I put everything together in one big book.

Keep in mind that I have no expectation of getting to...almost any of these steps beyond that first "gift run." But I am going to get this to something approaching usable and put it out physically because I need to know the things I'm going to learn from doing that. And I'm telling you all

ALL of this


to KEEP myself from just putting it all up here on the blog and saying Fuck Off and going on to another project. I could call this done and move on but it'll be better for me if I don't. I don't know that the end result will be any better. I guess we'll find out together, or not.

So if you want to be a mutant cyborg who doesn't have acid spit and kangaroo legs but DOES become a Ghost because they believe all the world is a jellyfish delusion then watch this space.

Sunday, October 1, 2017


Stripped of their blood and limbs by the enemy, stripped of their arms and mail by the common scum, stripped of their reward eternal by victorious but strange gods, the dead inherit only loam. Murder, misadventure, disease, happenstance, age, these all find homes under consecrated circumstances. Not so the battle people. They are Carted, claimed and carried, to one apocryphal blind box canyon where they are planted like ragged roses line in line awaiting a torpor and flourish that time and rebirth can bring only. The damned have been sown for centuries in gravel and clay made redder than God by unceasing hours of bony-fingered determination. They have been lain up a store, like pickles of apocalypse. Apickleypse.

Poorest imagination will reveal the purpose for this charnel pantry - it will comes easily to lips if you attempt to describe it - but the when: when is this hellcrop due for a mortal harvest? At what hour comes the Reaping Which Stands? Well here is a fear long heeded by the cleverer nations: The Deaths Will Come For You When You Come Looking For It.

The city state of Nuydeqag did not get the magical memo. Young and starving they have set themselves as a kingdom upon the goal of the tallowed valley. A bid for power or an ill-conceived attempt at smiting a known and stationed evil in the name of a boring sky-dad, that much is unclear: Nuydeqagites (hey real quick piss off with these names Ozco) are merely carrot and stick to justify spiriting your cast to the brink of high stakes disaster in a strange race where nobody wins unless no party reaches their destination.

Other forces are...well, not on your side, but opposed to the Nuydeqagites, and you'll have to deal with those as well. There are also the mundane mad and the wild people of the hills, disciples of pacifist war gods in search of a cause worth blaspheming for, a veil breached only by watching dispassion and the strange deer-faced insects who linger past the fringes all waking perception. Die and become the danger. Fight and feed what's coming. Follow....but steer clear the Carter and his nine forms of finality.

Illison Ozco writes, Monster does the illustrations.

A word about ghouls -

Ghouls are not undead, they are simply of-dead. They are perhaps most traditionally, most respectfully, a type of being, or perhaps a shade which an uncareful man might pass through, becoming something not themselves but also not just Send More Paramedics. Closer to a Wendigo, but for once not a WENN-DIII-GOOOO.

A Ghoul is compelling when they are not just another thing that wants to eat you, or another thing which is dead and naked aggression, or another thing which is some kind of faerie or some shit. A Ghoul is compelling when they need to eat you. More specifically, primarily, they need to eat the dead, and not the recently dead either. The buried and moldering bone case where your snout gets all pinochled up. They have been pushed to this by desperation because even the fallen and ripening have been long cannibalized due to circumstance, or else set on by wild animals whose lives are relatively comfortable compared to a Ghoul's own. You must eat the dust, low thing. You must dig for poison, cursed shape. That is all that is left. A Ghoul is a one who in their need has become so base that in all aspects they are diminished but in a strange way hidden to the sight of the gods they have become...if not more, exactly, no, not more, then only ah... deeper. Leatherface was not a Ghoul, Gollum was. A Ghoul is not one who likes a nice long pig now and again, a Ghoul is that one guy from Lovecraft whose house was so old and shitty and he ate so many people that he went so crazy his house exploded.

They need to eat you because they see it in you, a glimmer of everything that was lost, and you are a map to them back to love and light. They will grin and laugh and seemingly delight in the hunt as they paw at you down corridors dark enough for their grayed eyes to tolerate. Giggling scratchers, theirs is instead a damned jog after the last lifeboat on the Titanic. They are sinking. They do not know you cannot save them.

Illison Ozco missed her chance to go insane on dat good-good radioactive cocaine thanks to growing up without a communist shadow looming overhead but she didn't let a little thing like that stop her. Naval hero and one of the only historical uses of the phrase "Polish Invasion" that isn't immediately followed with "OH SHIT," Illison came to the second generation of Adder Entertainment with something to prove. In word this was that Eastern Bloc mysticism and a century of light bulb jokes could still produce a new generation's Ivanov but, in practice, it was positing the entire Eurasian clash-up as a spiraling gravity bigger than nations and bad ideas, a weighty ink like the aforementioned HP's bottomless Massachusetts. This is most evidenced in Abandoned Abaddon Abandon, her third of five projects for the company, in the web of Ultimately Assured Destruction woven between the local state-nations. Also, the Carter himself serves as a sort of Uncle Creepy koriphyos-cum-Guy-Who-Pretends-To-Kill-The-Shark-On-The-Jaws-Ride. Trusting him is not foolish because he will betray you. Trusting him is foolish because evil always wins out the prisoner's dilemma of entropy and expecting anyone to have any effect on the grinding of galaxy wheels is like counting on a maggot to stop a volcano.

If your cast elects to follow the Nuydeqagites' trail on the road then you get to see a series of nations braced for murder-by-suicide and the opportunity to patch things up along the way as their communities fall to shit while the Big People pretend at plans. If your path takes you over the mountain then looping, interconnected concentric trails must be carefully navigated or you join the Snow, one of my favorite examples of ghost-as-geography in gaming history. Go through the mountains and you have a harder time than Gandalf's slowest-pitch adult league softball team, coming face to face with home-grown parasite purgatories who looked at the attempt to build a physical world hell and went "hey, let me on that titty." There's a good generator for these but they end up way gonzo and that's me saying that: I let people play a bag. The three off-the-shelf options are much better.

Actually, speaking of the Gore Chief, let's talk about Monster, the prog botanist whose art adorns these pages. It's minimal. It's spare. It's affecting. It's completely wrong. Monster's art for Abandoned Abaddon Abandon was famously mixed up at the printer with the art it had completed for the licensed Tazmania RPG that Warner Bros. planned to put out. That means that while Monster's strange interpretations of John Astin's forgotten resume are captivating they are entirely alien to the text, which gives them their own weird horror vibe. The proofs that escaped into the wild from the quickly-scrapped Tazmania book show something like a true Coleridge experience while also serving to underline the hubris in flying too low to the common denominator with this particular pitch. (I'll try a Spinning ability score, that's a neat trick!)

There's your meme history for the week: this is why the Gore Chief lovvvves pepperoni pizza.

Ozco did not actually collaborate with Monster again although its artwork graced three of her four efforts for Æ. Monster would go on to heights of its own with a little cam-pak we'll discuss next time. As for Ozco, her jet accident left her with limited manual dexterity and cataracts in her focus but she still serves as advisor and ambassador for the Red Raj series of books over at Pinnacle.

Final note: the doomed Æ miniatures line was never reborn to see Carter cast in pewter but a 3D printer file for a pitched Reaper commemorative protoype made its way online last year thanks to an enterprising Tattoo Society member (among whom, unsurprisingly, a figure like Carter has proved popular). You can download it here for free but any donations you make over on the right go to efforts helping to free Skinny Tim, still in prison from 2015's GenCon Gridlock event at the Marriott.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Different Thieves

This is sort of based on the T&T Rogue and that "good at/bad at" system someone put together (I forget who?) and Telecanter's famous rogue but adapted for a FLAILSNAILS style experience and with an eye on this setting I've been creeping toward. Normal Thief proficiencies/restrictions/XP thresholds/saves/HD.

Each level choose 1 thing you are Skilled at. Whenever you would roll to do that thing, you roll an extra die of whatever kind you're rolling (usually a d20 or d6). You may always elect to take the higher roll or not, for the rare situations you might want to roll lower. If more than one roll is successful then the DM may either improve or multiply your success effect or grant you some additional boon, at their discretion.

At first level and at every even-numbered level you may either choose two Skills or one Expertise, which is a Skill that grants you two extra dice.

At third level and at every odd-numbered level you become capable of using a different kind of magic item.

At first level whenever a Robber employs a non-combat skill while engaged in combat their allies EACH gain a damage bonus for that round equal to the Robber's level. If the Robber is off opening a safe during the gnoll fight then this doesn't apply.

Thieves who reach level 9 do not choose a normal Skill that level but instead gain either an Expertise in an existing skill or Supremacy in an existing Expertise. Supremacy grants an additional die as well.

At level 9 a Robber decides whether to become a Fighter or Magic-User and levels up from there using the Robber XP chart, gaining any abilities by-level as if they were the new class. She no longer gains Skills, Expertise, or Supremacy. You do, however, gain a new ability score: Fortune. Once per day per level of Fighter or Magic-User the Robber possesses, they may take their Fortune roll in place of an attack, damage, or saving roll.

So what are Skills? They're something any character may attempt but they get only one die per shot, while Robbers get up to 4. This includes metagame concepts like the wandering monster check (which you can chalk up to the Robber's evasiveness) , initiative, surprise, navigation through wilderness with a map, etc. It includes pure combat elements like to-hit rolls, maintaining a grab, two-handed fighting. It includes old skills like Rope Use, things like LotFP's Architecture, 4e's Endurance, 5e's Persuasion, and Cooking and Herbology and Mapmaking and Tattooing and Seduction and Camouflage and Smithing and Disguise and Impressions and Handling Your Ale.

If you ask for something weird for a Skill it's up to the DM, who always gets to define when your Skills are appropriate. Don't go thinking you can just take Skills in Fighting and Stealing and call that lunch.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Strange Monks

Image result for fat cobra


HD: as Dwarf
Save: as Dwarf
Attack: as Dwarf
Advance: as Dwarf
Requirements: No ability score lower than 9 (or qualifying for the class with a Requirement Roll)
  • Boxers may use any armor and may use any weapon. They may not use a shield but gain a shield bonus if holding a two-handed weapon.
  • A Boxer's stances and techniques are limited by any armor, however. When a Boxer is the subject of an attack, hazard, or effect targeting their AC the Boxer rolls 1d20 plus their Wisdom bonus. If their result is higher than their own AC, the attack fails or is mitigated. If the Boxer's result is higher than both their own AC and the aggressor's to-hit result, the Boxer may make an unarmed attack as a free action. In this way an unarmored Boxer is always a safer, more fluid fighter.
  • A Boxer may also fight unarmed, doing less damage overall but gaining an added benefit. A Boxer's unarmed damage is equal to twice their highest ability score bonus. This unarmed damage is considered to be whatever type of damage the Boxer's target is most vulnerable against, including elemental damage or silver or holy water. Enemies who can only be harmed by magical attacks will be harmed by the Boxer's unarmed strikes.
  • At each level from 1 to 9 you may choose to make an additional unarmed attack per round or elect to learn a Special Move. Special Moves can be performed on your initiative and may duplicate the effects of a single piece from the Equipment List for a round. There is no limit to how weird you can get with this but a movement technique will always take place during a movement phase, an attack effect will always take place during attack phase, etc. This extends to armor and weapons; while armor bonus gained this way will not count against you for your evasion/counter rolls, the higher damage potential from unarmed damage duplicating weapon effects will NOT benefit from your normal unarmed damage's ability to bypass resistances and exploit weaknesses.
  • At level 9 Boxers become Masters. They may elevate level 0 characters to level 1 Boxers with only a day's instruction. Additionally they must choose to walk the path of perfect body, perfect mind, or perfect spirit.
    • Mind- At each level starting now you may pick one Skill or Language from your game and consider yourself 95% proficient in it, only failing in your attempt on a 1/d20.
    • Body- At each level starting now you reduce all physical damage, including from poison or elements or falling or other hazards, by half your level.
    • Spirit- At each level starting now you may choose one spell of any level from the list of your campaign. You may cast this spell once, and you are forever immune to its effects from other casters.
  • Boxers may advance to level 16. At level 16 you WILL be killed and one of your pupils will gain +5 levels in order to seek their revenge.

    Monday, August 28, 2017

    Rogue Time Lords

    Related image 

    HD, Saves, Advance as Cleric. No armor or shields, no weapons. Time Lords never gain XP from treasure. They may use any magic item or scroll. They may advance to level 16.

    Time Lords have five abilities.


    When a Time Lord is reduced to 0HP make a save vs. Death Ray. On a successful save you Regenerate. Roll d100; if you roll above your Constitution, you survive and take on a new form. You keep your XP and levels but re-roll all ability scores and re-roll your HP. You may do this 12 times. Everyone at the table except you gets to describe some new affectation of dress or personality quirk by which you must now abide.


    A low-level psychic ability allows you to speak and read any written language; the DM may roll 1d8 twice in a row to make an exception but must get an 8 both times. If dealing with creatures with no spoken or written language who are nonetheless capable of language you may get only vague emotional states.

    Plot Devices

    Once per day you may produce from your pockets some gizmo or other that allows you to roll 1d30 in order to accomplish a task. If you still fail you must make a save vs. Wands/Devices or the DM may make up some worst-case-scenario bullshit to complicate your current situation. If you roll a 30 you not only succeed but may use the same gizmo once more before the day is out.


    A target must save vs. Petrification/Gaze or be under your influence. You are considered to have Charisma 20 (+5 bonus) for purposes of extracting information from a neutral party, intimidating/forcing a morale check for your enemies, or controlling your hirelings in a complex or life-threatening situation.

    Oncoming Storm

    If you survive to 9th level or your 9th incarnation, whichever comes first, you gain proficiency with all weapons and armor, gain the Thief's Sneak Attack ability, and gain a one-time-only d100 roll with a Plot Device (though rolling 100 gets you a second use). You detect as Chaotic Evil.

    Tuesday, August 22, 2017

    CaBH Magic + 4 Magical Kingdoms

    Related image

    Using Magic in Feng Shui involves having a Sorcery value (or Creature value) for your primary or secondary attack. It is also rolled like a traditional Action Value in order to use it to make the equivalent to Arcana checks, or to turn up a magical contact, or similar things. Where most characters have a place on their sheet reading Fortune or Chi or whatever yours says Magic, and is used as both a pool of points to spend to activate magic effects and points to be spent on more standard Fortune dice.  If a Fortune check is prompted against you and you succeed you can easily get away with describing yourself succeeding with some supernatural flair, even if you don't have a relevant schtick.

    Schticks are great but the hardest thing to break people of when they're new to the game is thinking with their schticks. Tony Jaa probably doesn't have a specific schtick to do a somersault axe kick off the back of an elephant into the back of some dude's head in Ong Bak II but he sure fucking did it. There's nothing stopping a zen Buddhist monk from also being a high flying stunt driver and there's nothing keeping IMPEEERATOHH FURIOSHAAAAA from trying to use a magic amulet if she finds one. Your starting AV might be less than great (defaults to 7) or the difficulty might change but you still have a shot. True for action movies and for the kinds of children's fiction informing this game. The lifeblood of most Feng Shui games' sorcery is a plain old magic missile style Chi Blast, just a good old zap. That's fine for a lot of stand-up fights and will even be quite helpful during racing legs but the other shticks available to magic peoples are going to be more effective here, especially the ones that let you do well during Pit Stops (and therefore build Teamwork points).

    Only a handful of Types have magic baked in or have the opportunity to learn it as they advance. In theory anyone could seek our some witch and learn a few tricks with enough practice but we will not really afford time for such.

    Most of these Types will come from kingdoms rife with magic, where their power is stronger, but not always. Maybe your racer comes from a more mundane nation where your special powers make you a true standout. Maybe you're from somewhere magic isn't even supposed to be possible, like one of the steaming smoking machine kingdoms. Maybe you're just a ghost, ghosts come from anywhere. That's fine, just be aware that your powers will be affected by the region you're in.

    It also shouldn't need pointing out that other Types can come from the more magical kingdoms. Camelot had Big Bruisers too. Sigil still has street sweepers. If you want to show all those fancy wizards that some punk kid can become more famous than any of them then by all means, go at it.

    Once you run out of Magic points you're out of juice unless you find some kind of potion or geomantic nucleus to let you top off. Normally they all come back at the top of the next session but there's lots of reasons that might not happen.


    Serapter is ruled over by the Marquis DuPont, a man at once like an old tree and the shadow of that tree. He has borders within his borders, the Circles of Hell, concentric rings featuring differing degrees of penetration by supernatural planes of existence. There is the Demon Ring, the Spirit Ring, the Nightmare Ring, the Midnight Ring, the Goblin Ring, the Bone Ring, and the Crimson Ring where stands All's Hallow Hall, a castle as big as a city and residence to the Marquis' enormous and ever-growing family. The Marquis is definitely NOT a vampire, why would you even ask?

    Wigviauln is a place where the practice of magic is so common it is used for daily tasks. Small elemental creatures and magically animated constructs are found here but that's about it. Wigviauln citizens do every job under the sun but with a bit of magical flair. Then there are the spellcasters. Druids, maguses, priestesses, warlocks, witches, sorceresses, mediums, wizards, any kind of magical practicioner, specialization, or tool you can name: all of these are found here, in the world's top center for magical research and understanding. The government of Wigviauln is somewhat corrupt, based on an enormous academic committee honoring truly arcane seniority and tenure traditions. The young Librarian, Sheila Lala, sits at the top.

    Goroshi is rich in mystical presence if you know where to look, or how. Attend the right shrine, bathe in the right spring, knock on the right log, and you might summon a spirit - perhaps the spirit of that log, or of the forest, or the spirit of trees. You are always watched but rarely interfered with. Obviously-supernatural things do happen but they are accepted as a common thing to plan around, like a thunderstorm or like harvest time. There is a very respectful, congenial relationship between the people here and the many spirits of nature, machine, and emotion. When a spirit gets out of line, though, humans are expected to handle it themselves. Almost every top exorcist from SEDAN comes from Goroshi, and the Goroshi government (headed by President Iku, though he prefers "Mr. President") even has its own department to head up human and spirit world affairs. It's anyone's guess how many people on that department are spirits in disguise.

    On the tiny islands of Pilioimoi the most dangerous thing you can meet is a stranger. That's not to say that the folk there are fearful. Far from it: the beliefs of their nations hold that kindness, openness, acceptance, forgiveness, and an overall spirit of giving to strangers is the wisest and best option. For another culture this readiness to greet your conquerors would have led to some turmoil over the centuries but, here, it means that life has progressed largely untouched by the dangers of the modern world, barring a few technological conveniences. That is because the dangerous strangers in these islands have long been the peoples' protectors, swirling these misty archipelagos with boons and wards beyond reproach by other powers. The islands of Pilioimoi are where the gods go to both vacation... and to hospice. Perhaps it's inevitable that some of the less alien among them would fancy a good race now and again...

    Hobbits As Consolation Class

    Image result for rankin bass hobbit
    Inspired by this and this and I guess this and this.
     HD, Saves, Attack as Thief. Requires 2 Ability Scores of 6 or less. You may use no armor but leather and may use one-handed weapons/small weapons/d6 weapons, but nothing that needs two hands apart from a shortbow. You may use a shield with a melee weapon but if you do then your weapons only do 1d4 damage. The shield grants you an extra point of AC bonus from what normal folk get. No speed penalty but you can carry a quarter of what a normal human can.

    Instead of tying your bonuses to which specific values took the hit when you rolled up your pawn I'm just going to give you a list. You have up to 6 pts to spend, 1 for each shitty ability score. None of these effects improve as you level and you can't choose any of them more than once. If your scores are reduced below 6 later in game you do not get new abilities, but neither do you lose these abilities should your scores later improve.

    Speaking of leveling: if you are part of any successful adventure or perilous scrape that results in a member of your party leveling up then you level up. You don't track XP and certainly not gold for XP because. Your fortune is the fortune of others. You may still only advance to 8th level.

    At 8th level you gain any Hobbit powers you don't already have, are free to establish your own private Estate and attract a bunch of distant relatives to live on your lands, are considered fluent in the language of any creature you met in your journeys, and may choose to Retire. Retirement is important because you can come out of retirement ONCE and be treated like a level 16 Fighter by those around you, also gaining equivalent to-hit and save benefits.

    The effects you get to choose from are:

    Charming Manner: +3 Reaction roll
    Escapist: Like "shields shall be splintered" without the shield; if you can explain how being little, thinking carefully, or leaps of faith might have spared you from what might have been a disastrous magical effect, hazard, or killing blow, then congratulations - you made it. Usable once per day. You can expend your use for the day to conveniently be able to wriggle out of bonds or through bars or whatever and get away, so long as there is the narrative possibility.
    Barrel Rider: You gain a swim speed equal to the fastest land speed in the party, can hold your breath for at least 2 minutes, and do not suffer check/attack roll penalties associated with being underwater.
    Forager: You have a 3/6 chance of finding enough food to feed the party in wilderness or grasslang, 2/6 in a city, 1/6 in a dungeon.
    Bravery: Whenever a fight breaks out you may elect to suffer from Fear, as the spell, and immediately make a saving throw, making a save at the top of each round. If you save against this effect then you may consider enemies you engage this round to be under the effects of Fear for a number of rounds equal to what you experienced, minimum 1, no save.
    Christina Ricci: If you wander away from the party for one Exploration Round and are not immediately accosted or killed then you may rejoin the party at any point by declaring yourself to be inside something nearby, like a chest or barrel or cabinet or monster corpse. You do not have to explain how you got there, it just has to be barely big enough for you to fit into; rooms, closets, wagons, etc are not a suitable use for this.

    Sunday, August 20, 2017

    The Prayer

    Grass underfoot crisp black, dandelion strong.

    Drink of green, burning and festered, belly boiling vision eating. Wound in the earth.

    An arm not honed but strong. Too many heats red. Death rattle nails.

    Steel blood cold, grass black. March on

    I forget what it looks like...

    Banner billowing licking gold with crimson before column of only one. There is no surrender. There will not be none: there was surrender.

    Song out of step, thunder dust rolling advance. Fire drinking, vision eating. Night walk, this scream dance. Forward laughing.

    The laugh is an important detail.

    SEE: men not men onrushing slowly in avalanche patience. Awful things leagues astride, upon awesome animals, boulder flesh bearing mistake people toward new ruins.

    Soon ruins.

    There is no love nor rage nor hate nor fear, no not really fear. It increases, though, burning the rope of the world. Stronger we are pulled. Our blood is left only iron. Hope only hunger. Need only take. Never keep, only continue.

    I need blood.

    Horns are worn, not blown, but now it sounds - a refrain stilling all bone in anticipation of crescendo upon us then

    Who killed the soil? Who burned the sea? Who cut the sky? Who corrupted hell? WHAT mutilated the church? WHAT broke our very souls? WHAT laughs in the night?

    It is not night.
    I have forgotten it.

    Share me the blood for blood is life. Give me some life for life might end. Sell me an end for ends are mercies. Show me some mercy for mercy is a blessing. Bless me now in the sight of god. No, not mine. I have forgotten it.

    Hurry now, while my throat still cracks, listen! I name Him! I call it Forthcoming. He is Horizon Darker. King of Ghosts. Rider in All Lights. Ash in the cry of orphans, He, usurper of shadows, an demon angel, Father -- Father to Monsters! Whet of tooth, wet of blade, forge-breathed, lion-ready.

    Who has come?
    I have forgotten the sun.

    WHAT killed the sun?

    Wednesday, August 16, 2017

    Requirement Roll
    Emily Carroll
    Thinking about changing things up with my (I am tired of saying old schoolish, DIY, dndish, etc, and I don't really find the term OSR useful, so how about) Basic Red classes. In the process I think I'm going to reassess the ability score requirements of so many old games and exotic classes. I like the idea of people being to play a really shitty dwarf in the same way someone can play a really shitty thief. But I like the idea of requirements as gatekeepers from everybody just playing nine elves in a row. So how about a d12 roll? You roll 1d12 and then you can be anything equal to or less than the value rolled.

    This is what I'm thinking about for thresholds and classes, and what comic book artists I'd associate with each class (you don't have to look like that but you get 5% bonus XP if you do; that's right, I'm decoupling bonus XP too):

    1 Thieves work weird now. They are from Mike Mignola.
    2 Fighters work like LotFP (level as tohit bonus, press/fight defensively, quickly improving saves) and can make death saves to not die at 0HP like everyone else does. John Buscema.
    3 Priests work like Prophets and follow Magic-User rules for armor and weapons. They all have strange faiths and new gods. Charles Vess.
    4 Dwarfs are much the same but instead of deep dwellers they're just nocturnal and make homes deep inside pretty much anything (this is why they are always so grouchy during daytime) and have a great sense of smell instead of infravision. Mark Buckingham.
    5 Magic-Users work like Wonder & Wickedness/VAM! and they all look like they came from almost any Doom Patrol comic except for the ones John Byrne made.
    6 Judges are straight about healing and smiting and get the good armor and weapons. They serve The Church, whatever church that is. Brian Bolland or Kevin O'Neill.
    7 Witches and Druids work like These Druids and Emily Carroll draws them
    8 Elfs all work like BX Halflings. Wendy Pini, or maybe Jill Thompson, or Moebius.
    9 Monks can be random or strange but they are all specifically Fat Cobra, Princess Mononoke, or Donovan from Darkstalkers.
    10 Weird FLAILSNAILS races/classes always look like Scrap Princess designed them.
    11 Barbarians, Rangers, Assassins, or any other AD&D style class that we just kitbash until it fits. Yoshitaka Amano, which I think is cheating.
    12 Some manner of absolutely unique thing. I will extend the offer, whether it be allowing a good orc, a talking lion, weirder spellcasting, or giving you a gun. Something I would normally use an NPC for, now you can be that thing and get levels. If you don't like what I offer then fine, you get your pick of the other classes, go nuts.

    If you have 2 or more ability scores 6 and under you may also be a Hobbit regardless of roll. Hobbits are a consolation class where each ability score 6 and lower unlocks bonus abilities, I will update this part when I finish that article. They are little Jack Davis people.

    Those who suffer sanity-crumbling effects can become Crazy Boys. Crazy Boys all slowly start to look like silent film characters.

    Tuesday, August 15, 2017

    Action Philosophers for TSR 

    If you don't want to skip to the bottom just remember that TSR's Marvel Super-Heroes is a great fucking game. This kind of thing isn't something I love writing and posting here for a few reasons but it has been on my mind and I need to get it out so better things can come through the tunnel.

    I have a weird thing when I'm drunk where I end up sounding like I'm trying to make an opposite point to what I'm trying to do. This is bad with sensitive subjects. On a lighter note I recently took a big digression dump in some conversation of Zak's and made it sound like I think the best thing comics can be is Aesop's Fables, teaching morals and life lessons.

    I won't bore you with the 3000 word preamble this could have been but by now I suspect my initial point doesn't need explaining to most folks: comics aren't superheroes. One's a medium and the other's a signal. And while I respect everyone who uses the medium to tell a story (especially a personal one that might be difficult to tell) or explore a theme (I can't imagine it's possible to run out of worthwhile ways to evidence the stupidity of racism) or serve a demand or need (sure my niece will buy anything with Disney characters on it, might as well give her some Frozen comics) the medium is, like film, a visual first medium. It's #1 job is to give people interesting things to see.

    There's lots of reasons superheroes exploded in the States to the point of dominating our comics industry, a lot of reasons for their longevity, but Job One pretty much sums it up. It's a genre umbrella whose definition is pretty much "stuff interesting to look at," and developed to encompass crime stories, melodramas, O. Henry schtick, war comics, comedy, science fantasy, whatever meant there would be something cool to look at. Sometimes this can be facile - pretty naked people are great and well drawn naked people are great, sure, but so much of the Avengelyne era of hero was about some weird Tex-Avery-As-Envisioned-By-Larry-Flynt draftmanship focused solely on basically alien erotica at the expense of any other aspect of a composition. Sometimes it can be demanding - a lot of comic artists' real strength lies not in their gallery-level talent but in the way they use the medium, which forces you to kind of learn on the go and eschew medium shot gridlock comfort zones. But there's always something to see, and from characters who can punch somebody right through the panel barrier to books whose whole schtick relies on the fact that (unlike film) there are no depth of focus or depth of field issues, you could find 90% of comics pet-rock-boring and still keep finding showcases for Cool Stuff To See.

    That's really all that's on the written test when you get your superhero comic license, which is why superhero comics have turned into Every Genre But More So over the years. Frankly HORROR is better at consistently passing the Cool Stuff To See test and really consumes and envelops genres faster and more smoothly than superheroes do. Horror just doesn't have the penetration with the markets for which superheroes are so eminently merchandisable. No, not even now in the post-Walking Dead gold rush for horror franchise properties. You can sell Batman to Methodists but not Babadook. Not a coincidence the spandex set had its renaissance after the horror market got its balls chopped off.

    There's another thing superheroes have going for them that explains their longevity advantage over horror beyond the obvious (which is that horror loses its teeth when you try the same scare for too long, in the same way a joke becomes trite). It's their philosophical underpinnings. Not all heroes are specifically built around them but they inherit a lot implicitly from Superman, the ultimate fuck you from a couple Jewish guys to Nazi notions of Nietzsche, subverting or inverting their self-actualizing excuses for general fuckery. To be best is not to be better, to be best is to do better.

    Some characters ARE built around a specific underpinning, or they come to be. Animal Man is a good example of the latter, Wonder Woman is something of an ur-example of the former. But from Peter Parker to Barda Free to Elektra to Punisher to Invincible to the modern day Carol Danvers everybody has a little bit of this in them, a positing of This Is What Good Is that is challenged by and proved by responding to different evils as a pretty explicit structure. Again, it can be facile, it can sure be repetitive, but it ultimately drives all the conflict in the way that a situation, location, context, or other characters might for other (and some better) stories.

    This is good because while it can be as conservative and simplistic as any morality in a horror movie it gives superheroes an edge which is An Excuse For Things To Happen. Horror conveys temptation by the devil largely through tone and atmosphere. Superheroes do it with the protagonist strapped into a rocket train blasted into outer space filled with mind controlled POWs.

    That's what I love about the best superhero comics and what I feel is missing from more modern day superbooks: even the most childlike view of good an evil can be used to drive the Make Stuff Happen boat and give us interesting things to see, which is what we're really here for.

    Too many modern superhero comics, and this is coming from someone who does still love the industry, come at it the other way: all the action is an excuse for superheroes to stand around or fly around shouting philosophy at each other. This is an approach that, say, a prose book handles well. One inciting incident and a few bursts of excitement can keep characters reassessing the proper course of action, reconsidering past actions, expose old tensions and new connections...I love reading this shit. I love a lot of movies that are like this, a lot of comics that are like this. Hell, most of Star Trek is like this. But for action movies or action comics the DO and the LOOK AT THAT are always going to be more important than the why. Having your fistfights drive philosophical discourse would be disaster in a Die Hard movie. I contend that it is the same for the Justice League.

    I think it's an instinct for wanting the thing you loved when you were younger to grow up with you and become more like other, mature fiction, so you can still enjoy it. To that I say just enjoy the things you love, people, and enjoy them for what they are. Adventure Time will never be Lord of the Rings and that's fine. When it's just allowed to be the best version if itself, frankly it's better.

    So RPGs...

    I have not played all the superhero RPGs in the world. I don't know that I could, at the rate they pop up. But so many of them are very concerned with capturing the melodrama in superhero comics. Built in rewards for tension-ratcheting failure, stat blocks for Perry White so you can roll your Not Superman against his Newshound value, some weird moralist elements, advice on designing your world so you can have the Street Level or Cosmic campaign you desire, a Super Friends like balance emphasis to make sure Green Arrow is as useful at the table as Metamorpho or Sapphire Stagg.

    I think that's effort out of proportion with necessity, an attempt to make playing an RPG feel like reading or writing a comic book. If you're looking for that then cool, let's get these dice out of the way and talk about this idea you have for a Saturn Girl detective series, I'd be interested in that. I'd love to get the cast-off Marvel Micronauts a gig myself...

    Any comic nerd can have and has had conversations like these that run for hours. Many turn them into cool little fan fiction, and that's neat. Sure, I'll read that, even if it's more filled with sex and romance than I'm looking for. If you're a pal then I'm interested in your voice, your perspective, your ideas...You have an idea for a new superhero series that you don't think will ever get published? I'm your audience of one, and I'm sure in return you won't mind listening to my pitch for MANK, the half man half tank.

    When it comes to a superhero RPG, though, what I look for at the table is something that feels like DRAWING a comic. Shit Is Happening, Look At That, What Other Interesting Thing Can We Cram In Here, Check Out That NPC's Shitty Beard Ha Ha, Oh Shit Space Bees, Deep Inky Shadows, Time Dilation, Hard Cuts, That Was Slowing Down So Now We Are Over Here With These People Where Something More Interesting Is Happening...

    TSR's Marvel Super-Heroes has a philosophical underpinning that takes up maybe half a page and can be used to romp in the old 616 Sandbox or make your own whole thing. It's this: you can do awesome things better and easier if you Act Like A Superhero. The philosophy drives the action, gives us more Cool Shit To Look At. We can't see these illustrations this time but the point where this gets us fighting the Hand to protect a runaway mother and child, NOW we're playing a comic. It's small, simple, and largely invisible. Best of all if you object to the morality it espouses (or rightly point out that it's a morality not always even espoused by its source material, but a version made safe for mass marketing to 8 year olds in a bright yellow box) you can change the whole thing and therefore redirect the energies of the whole campaign in about fiiiiiiiiiive minutes.

    Every aspect of those rules, even this, maybe especially this, is devoted to doing interesting or explosive things to keep things moving forward and ride a momentum of Something New Happened Now. It's not breaking things into separate rooms, considered discussions over HERE and giant Civil War clusterfucks to take nine sessions to adjudicate over HERE. It's just going "if this then that" in a very elegant way. In a lot of ways I think this system is even smoother than D&D.

    That feels a lot more like a superhero comic to me: not going "I see what you did there, very clever," but "HOLY CRAP WHAT JUST HAPPENED?"

    Brave Little Tailors (another subclass)


    Brave Little Tailors can be any class, be it a cleric who dresses divinely, a harried dwarf who can't keep ahead of all the clothing needs of a culture that's notoriously hard on their work wear, or a strange druid who cloaks themselves in the seasons quite literally. It costs you an extra 1000XP to reach level 2, 2000 XP to reach level 3, 4000 XP to reach level 4, etc. until you stop gaining Hit Dice. Additionally, before you can level you must completely update your Look.

    Brave Little Tailors have three abilities:

    Looks Can Kill

    Each BLT has a Look all their own, utilitarian or fashionable, always idiosyncratic. They cannot wear magic robes, cloaks, capes, or armor, but they can copy the pattern of any wearable magic item and stitch it into their outfit. This works like the Blue Mage's copy ability but 1) for magic items, 2) it scales differently and you get no bonus from ability scores, 3) it's constantly renewed. You can have a number of effects equal to your level and a daily total number of magic-effect-uses equal to your Charisma score. As mentioned above you can only level up by changing your Look. That means even if you hit your XP threshold you have to sacrifice all learned magic abilities and put together a whole new outfit, losing all your stored abilities! You can relearn abilities in the new outfit but you have to still have access to the items you are copying.


    A BLT may make a melee or ranged (-3 to hit) attack roll on an enemy or creature and attempt to use their satchel of scraps (no encumbrance, stock up on fabric remnants as you would rope) to re/design an outfit for their target. They must be successful in this attempt 3 times in order to create a finished effect. There are three effects of Makeovers, chosen by the BLT at time of completion, when the whole ensemble comes together:
    • Entangle for a number of rounds up to your number of Hit Dice, target gets a save each round.
    • Make them look stupid, forcing a Morale check at -2.
    • Try to capture their inner essence and true self, forcing a Reaction Roll.
    You may only give any creature a Makeover once per level.


    A BLT may dress themselves in a makeshift approximation of an enemy's costume as a 1 minute action. They do not gain Look benefits while in this costume. When the BLT is injured in this outfit, the enemy they are dressed as takes damage equal to half what the BLT took. A BLT may also use one of their sewing needles to prick themselves, dealing up to 1 damage per HD to themselves and an equal number of d4 damage to the enemy they are copying.

    Possible Mods

    You can have as many magic effects copied as you can find but only use as many effects per-day as you have Hit Dice.

    Classes may give up a benefit (Fighter to-hit bonus, spell slot, Sneak Attack damage) on a Makeover roll to make it a one-shot thing instead of 3. Surprise Makeovers!

    You can sew little simulacra or dolls of your enemies instead of dressing like them. They encumber you like chains and the cost is like Thieves Tools.

    Monday, August 14, 2017

    Crazy Boys (Lovecraft Level Drain)

    What the FUCK, yugioh, that's awesome! Where is THIS show?

    Everything I can think of that does Level Drain is either some unspeakable abomination, some crazy weird eldritch trinket or trap, or something along those lines. People hate Level Drain because it can be hard to recover from without shlepping back to town and paying a bunch of money. Not every party cleric is going to roll something capable of helping you. You are determining your spells randomly, right?

    And I get it. Putting your cool stuff from next level further away is a bummer. Taking away toys you thought you already earned can feel disappointing. The loss of HP involved could be deadly. In the past I have usually made Level Drain work more like XP debt, something extra you have to clear or be cured of before being able to advance. That's not a fix in fiction, though.

    Cort the Druid doesn't head back to the tavern going "Ah hell, I got Level Drained." Or even "That spirit raked its claws upon me and I did feel my essence weaken; it will be long before I am what once I was, longer still before I am up to the challenge of the Hazeon Hex." That second example sounds fine in fiction except for focusing on the energy lost. That kind of thing, from a monster's perspective, puts focus on energy GAINED and opens us up to a boring Ecology Of post that describes all these hoary horrors in knowable, safe terms. How does the Friggit use the energy it takes from level drain? Does it sustain it? If so how often does it need to feed? What happens when it doesn't? If it just gets more powerful from level drain why isn't that reflected in a called-out monster level-up mechanic?

    That kind of thing makes for an interesting episode of Planet Earth but I don't want someone interested in my nightmare creature. I want them to go OH SHIT.

    Level Drain should be about the Oh Shit experience from the character's perspective. Not just fear - running away from the dragon is a pragmatic solution and failing a morale check or a save vs. a Fear spell is no different really than being outclassed by a level 36 wizard's Lock. You're just dealing with a bigger number at that point. Not just the player's anxiety about losing toys. This is something primal, superseding normal mental or physical reactions and mucking about in your soul. Your spirit, your kung fu, is reduced by these interactions. They are less about taking from you and more about shaking you. Creating cracks in your foundation, cracks you might fall into.

    Lovecraft's dedicated authors and those of his imitators largely don't have to worry about death-by-octomonkey. A lot of them die from 1200 CCs of sheer crazy.

    That's what I think we're talking about with, say, a wight. It's not there to claw you open or suck you dry like Shang Tsung. It's there to stop your heart in terror, cosmic force-of-the-universe terror, and if your body fails from your mind and soul falling away like ashes in a rainstorm then that aperture in creation is what makes your old wormbait start walking around under its own power again, as something outside of nature drives you like a car. It's not enough to leave you a shell of your former self. Nature abhors vacuum. An empty shell must be filled.

    I think a lot of monsters are defined by how they can kill you, how many attacks doing how much damage and such. I think it's a pure way to think about a monster in a childlike, fairy tale, folklore, Pearce Shea, wendigo, Dracula, demoniac, Roswell sense to think about how a monster can GET you. I think this is why Slenderman caught on. Honestly it's probably a lot of how Freddy caught on: most movie killers have to chase or trap you, while Mr. K only had to exist. The child murder and rape and stuff was barely necessary except to justify how upstanding lawman John Saxon could ever commit a crime. Those of us more familiar with his filmography know that he's actually committed lots.

    That was a big digression but my point is, I hope, clear. We have whole games built around sanity mechanics. We have lots of people trying to adapt those and bolt those on to D&D in some way. We've also got this mechanic for ghoulish apparitions that nobody likes to use. Seems to me an economic sort of rehab would be just folding the new spice into the existing batter.

    So, Level Drain:

    Level Drain works like it says on the tin. You lose one of your HD worth of HP. If you're one of these fancy classes with d12 for a hit die then sorry bro, you're subtracting 1d12. That's your chi being fucked with by this experience. A lot of those classes with huge hit dice are things like barbarians which, yeah, them having a worse reaction to the unnatural works in the fiction. In this way, though, you can actually survive being LD'd down to Level 0/Normal Human, as long as you are lucky with your HP loss. The only thing I don't love is that this is usually a to-hit roll instead of a save. Making it a save would let you deal more in Presence, so more in atmosphere. The to-hit roll works for Game of Thrones, though, so I'll leave it there. That's easy enough to mod on the fly.

    That XP loss though...where does that go?


    Every time you suffer the effects of Level Drain you gain what I normally would refer to as "1 point of Shock" or something. Today I'm saying you gain 1 level in Being a Crazy Boy. That XP you lost? It goes here, but there aren't hard XP thresholds. It's abstracted as a level of psycho-spiritual wounds.

    A common fix for LD in many campaigns is letting Remove Curse fix it. In that case, this is also a good way to have on-the-fly Curse/Remove effects, damaging your willpower patchwork. Also fun and fast for those crazy monsters later on who drain multiple levels at a time.

    When you gain enough XP to level up you may EITHER advance to your new level as normal OR "spend" that XP to remove a Crazy Boy level. Actually, this setup works even if you never reduce the target's XP, it just gets a different KIND of experience from its contact with the weird.

    Crazy Boys are:
    -X to all saves, where X is their Crazy Boy level.
    -X to all healing, where X is their Crazy Boy level.
    +X to damage with melee weapons, where X is CBL.
    +X to the difficulty of saves against your spells (or +X to your Turn Undead result)
    After your first CBL you are +1 to defense/save/whatever vs creatures with Level Drain.
    When you have CBL 4 you gain your level as a bonus to morale checks vs the supernatural, attempts to understand madmen, and attempts to interpret the primordial tongues from beyond.
    When you have CBL 8 you can no longer sleep and are never surprised.

    You can see how some people, especially murderous or power-hungry ones, might allow themselves to gain levels in Crazy Boy. This isn't just good for Sanity effects, this can act as a kind of moral damage.

    Characters reaching CBL 9, what would normally be Name Level in another traditional class, basically become monsters. They haven't been consumed and filled by the Outside. They have been changed by it, embraced it, and are now something perhaps no mightier than a man but much much different from one. The DM controls your character now and no amount of house rules and Remove Curse will save you. You're an other thing now. This, by the way, is how Moon Slave finds both his generals and the gristly body offal which greases the spindles of new wars.

    Sum up: I can use Level Drain to close off parts of the existing game as written. I think it wouldn't take much, though, to open its victims up to a whole new game inside the one they're already playing.

    Sunday, August 6, 2017


    Start with any base class and add this on as a modifier. It costs you 1000XP more to reach 2nd level, modifying how long it takes you to level all the way until you stop gaining hit dice (+2000 to reach 3rd, +4000 to reach 4th, etc). Explicitly stole this gag from Josie X.

    You can be a fighter trying to make ends meet, a cleric selling kitschy Pelor memorabilia, a regular old hobbit waitress, etc. Shopgirls can be boys too and you can call that whatever you want. I'd probably call them Shopgirls still but if that's sensitive for you then use whatever, or just call it Shopkeep.

    Shopgirls have four abilities:

    Heavy Duty

    Shopgirls count as one size larger for determining encumbrance, lifting, forcing doors, etc. If there are attack or AC penalties for being over-encumbered in your game they do not suffer those.

    Cleaning Up

    Shopgirls can clean a non-supernatural mess in a room in the span of an exploration round. Afterwards they must rest or be exhausted until their next meal, where they will consume 3X normal. A successful save against magic also allows them to clean supernatural messes (within reason; green slime still eats their mops) but a failure means they make it twice as bad in the process.


    Once per day a Shopgirl can raise her voice and put her foot down, forcing a morale check from creatures with fewer HD than she or a second initial reaction check from creatures with greater HD than she.

    Have You Seen The New BT-16?

    You choose what kind of shop you work for. Whenever you encounter the kind of thing sold in that shop you can identify its type and provenance, and tell if there is something remarkable about it. "Those are Chiluhixan shoes. They look magic!" "That's a Kingsbury loaf. OH, that's a bad bake Mary, it smells like poison!" "I'd recognize a Henderson quill anywhere. Henderson quills, because geese don't grow on trees. Anyway, this model hasn't seen circulation for a hundred years..."

    Shopgirls require some manner of certificate, promotion, honorific, official recognition, or bonus perk in order to level. These cannot be granted by a god or king but someone much more important: a Shopgirl's boss. Means even if you bust your ass in the dungeon you've still got to be punctual and impress people back at the shop.

    Tuesday, August 1, 2017

    Feng Shui Rules Not in CaBH + the Grandissimo Prix

    I've already mentioned that I won't be assessing Juncture penalties normally associated with Feng Shui's base setting. I'm going to spread those out geographically. There are some other things I'm not going to be doing as much.

    Advancement is not going to be based on controlling chi sites; instead, you advance and the rest of your team mildly improves whenever you win a race. Advancement is not as rigid or as necessary in Feng Shui as it is in other games anyway; the difficulty curve is a lot flatter.

    I'm not doing "called shot" stunts and multi-attack; that is, no "I want to stab two extra guys" and get a penalty to your roll. This makes more sense in physical combat and isn't all that interesting to adjudicate anyway. Since a ton of Driving checks are involved here it's also harder to call a shot - with everyone jockeying for position, not just impact, a lot more moving parts. Instead, if you get a great result (boxcars-then-success or you just really really nail your check by like 5+ over what was needed) then we can tack on an extra benefit as well. Throwing mud, catching another team off guard, going up on two wheels to earn some Favor points... whatever.

    If you deliberately crash a vehicle you don't get to decide whether that crash is potentially fatal or not. I do, or I make a Fortune check to decide.

    As mentioned elsewhere your characters won't start out with a lot of the vehicles and firearms they normally would get as a matter of course, with exceptions for Types who only exist to use a weapon like Sword Master, Killer, etc.

    Weapon Ranges are going to use the Grover Metric of "near and far" used to determine racing distance. No modifier for near attacks, +4 Difficulty for far attacks.

    Weapon Concealment will not be a factor.

    No Melodrama Checks. I trust everyone to be able to remember to be true to their characters. Instead of enforcing this with a check I'm going to use positive reinforcement in the form of Favor and Teamwork. Most of the weight of picking your concept and hook are taken care of by the setting and character/team generation tables. From there, if you are true to the spirit of your guy and the game even when it would benefit you not to be, you'll earn some Favor or Teamwork. This is the only way you can earn Favor during Pit Stops and Teamwork during racing legs.

    The CH-CHAK rule: one of the cutest rules in the base game is adding 1 shot to your Guns action to cock a shotgun, adding +1 to your damage. The cool thing about this rule is that it helps get you to thinking of actions in terms of shots. Jackie kicking a guy is one action but can be a slow-mo shot of Jackie's kick connecting, a shot showing the enemy going flying, and a shot of Jackie resuming his Good Kick stance. Thinking about things in terms of cuts explains why some actions take the time they do. That said, we won't have as many shotguns in this game so....At any time you can add 1 to a shot in order to gain +1 to your inflicted Chase Points IF you can describe the action with some extra bit of visual flair. You should be doing this a bit anyway, and this change should help to reinforce that a bit. Remember though: shot cost matters, and you can easily burn through a sequence landing only two good moves and spending the rest of your time dodging.

    Lastly, excepting for Dragons, Transformed Animal reversions do not mean you lose control of your character. This is because I think it is funny and genre appropriate if you turn into a pig mid-race and continue driving. You lose all your cool Shticks and your Skills all set to 7 and you follow Mook rules but otherwise you are good until the next Pit Stop. If you are not restored quickly, however, you do remain stuck as an animal and your interest and effectiveness in racing wanes. Your Team can keep you around as a good luck mascot from now on but until you are restored you are basically furniture.


    In Feng Shui terms the Grandissimo Prix is one long chase scene lasting multiple sessions, meaning it's one long FIGHT lasting multiple sessions. There are no Pit Stops in the Grandissimo Prix and Marks of Death pile up quickly.

    In terms of the world, the Grandissimo Prix was first staged after the first racer to win all Four Winds declared herself the greatest racer of all time. Mammon Summer took exception to this and staged the Grandissimo Prix, a road race comprised of herself, this new challenger, and eight teams picked from the final Victory Point standings of each circuit. The Dawnstar Racing Test Track is the stage, a flat straight drag across stainless steel laid into alkali flats.

    Tragedy and disaster have occurred during each of the previous eleven Grandissimo Prix events. Death, natural disaster, and stranger things: during the last Grandissimo Prix five years ago a sudden eclipse shrouded the track and only the track. When the race was over only Mammon Summer stood standing, and she only barely; all other racers were either maimed, comatose, or worse. None have been able to speak about that day and Mammon sure isn't sharing.

    Mammon Summer is not an evil woman, it seems. There have long been rumblings that Dawnstar Racing hides a dark side, as well as valuable secrets. If these are true then she must be the true keeper of these keys. One could scarcely blame her for doing whatever it takes to see Dawnstar Racing flourish. Mammon stakes both her reputation and the future of her company on the Grandissimo Prix. They're one and the same, and the true prize to be sought.

    Mammon Summer was not always Dawnstar Racing's president and CEO. She was a racer. A storied one, sure, but one who gambled her way into a position of absolute power. Why she has allowed tradition to stand during her reign is anybody's guess - perhaps she secretly hopes someone will defeat her one day - but completing the Grandissimo Prix opens a golden door for you and everyone you care about. It might open more.

    Monday, July 31, 2017

    Welcome Back Potter: Reacquainting Myself With My Old BX Books

    Basic and Expert as a unit really do paint such a unique picture of D&D even from the unified expanded BECMI line, let alone AD&D and other versions of the game. You flip through the Rules Compendium and this is a game that is all about super high level monsters who can only be defeated by galloping goatshit magical chicanery, here's all the ridiculously high XP thresholds to get strong enough to do that, oh by the way did we mention all these other-dimensional creatures and monsters we made up in a hurry ("It has a big mouth and a big eye and uhhhhh like all the magic and you can't hurt him;" Beholders were put together like modern Doctor Who baddies) and remember how you could already fight all those dragons well those dragons SUCK here are a bunch of new dragons and fighting them is like fighting SIX dragons and here are some more giants and some other stuff way better than dumb old dragons I mean who wants to do that anyway?

    I am going to die mid-way through a run-on sentence one day. That will be punctuation's final revenge. That said, quick sidebar: FUCK the MLA; I got too much fucking style as it is.

    There are TWO spells in Basic that immediately stand out as doing direct damage to your HP. Combat encounters list seven steps that have to happen before things get started, with like four chances for no armed struggle to happen. The majority of the monsters on its list are animals, bigger animals, tougher animals, just guys, some fungus, a few dead guys, and then a vastly outnumbered selection of monster-monsters, most from the Greek canon or Tolkein. Expert's monsters are mostly giants, dinosaurs, Halloween shits, and uh fuck let's say "ethnic monsters," a game of remembering the middle east exists but not talking about it too directly. Expert also has about 9 more directly-damaging spells.

    They don't model everything they can think of for equipment, just about a hundred things you'd need to explore a dungeon.

    There's not that much info speaking directly to DMing in either really but what's there pulls weight. There's not a ton of information on traps and most of the magic item tables rely on your knowledge of things you're ALREADY FAMILIAR WITH from earlier in the book and so don't have long write ups.

    The book seems in places to be saying here you go: this is what you do and where you do it and what you do it with and what you do it for. Venture, kill, die, come back, loot, level, repeat. Your campaign can be anything: a series of dungeons where you try to kill a monster and find treasure along the way, a dungeon where you try to get some treasure and kill some monsters along the way, all two types of game there are.

    Which would be fine. That's a fun game too. But I think these books are written that way because that's the only shit you need. There's a section on building castles and boat fights because that shit is hard to model or waive off on the fly. You're expected to be able to argue with the vizier, sing for your supper, hire a poisoner, find a map, pray to your god, and win at Gwent without the book's help. You're a person who has been in the world, use those tool sets for Make-Em-Up World.

    Some people struggle in the world and so struggle with the fake world and that's fine, we need lots of brushes in the tool tray to make up Photoshop. I'm never in a position to judge. Then again I suck at chess and that's not chess' fault. Point is your world, the campaign, the story (explicit and/or implicit and/or player-facing emergent) can be whatever you want or need it to be.

    This is how dungeons work, and it's where dragons are. That's it! That's all there is to the game, the big fucking secret on how to Do Good at the game. Just love the game, do the game, and use the book when you need to do some specific hard things for the game. There is a somewhat implied setting but you can ignore that like hell and just make your game be about a bunch of Protestants trying not to burn so many farmhands for witchery that everyone starves come winter. You can win an ENnie if you write that shit down.

    D&D picks up so much This Is How The World Works Care About It Care About It Now so quickly before the novels even get into things... You know I never understood how Rogue Trader could be the bedrock of the 40K world's lore and still so poorly regarded by people who really really take that lore seriously. I needn't have been mystified, it's the same way there are people who OMG LUV D&D but only this specific iteration of the later game, or for that matter people who LOVE Spider-Man but only Earth 5714 Spider-Man who works for BANDAI. There are a lot more people who love things about D&D than just plain love how D&D works.

    That's not a problem. It makes sense. I'm that way about that Game of Thrones show, I only love things about it. That's fine and I don't want anyone to be denied THEIR D&D, even if their D&D is deciding to recreate some Salvatore fan fiction using FATE.

    In the search for MY D&D, though - trying to find out what D&D means to me not in a philosophical sense but in a family-genus-species sense - I am amazed every time I come back to this tight little engine. This set of books doesn't put you in a box or tie you to a milieu. It just gives you a framework. That framework says "You are small, there are many threats beyond you, never trust a dark or lost place, if you try to kick the ass of everything you meet you will probably die, here's how to try anyway."

    I fully get people not digging that and deciding that it doesn't give them enough opportunity to Play The Hero and have a big cinematic moment. Me, I've always maintained that D&D wasn't a game of fantasy heroics (that's the elves complicating shit again) but instead one of survival horror. Oh, I'm going to go slowly mad before Big Squidward's creepy crawlies? A quarter of the monsters in Expert turn you slowly into fucking stone while you watch, and that's before the ghosts show up. I'm covered, thanks.

    All Gold Is Books Now

    Little Golden Books Treasury: the original LGBT

    The implied setting in BX is incredibly hyperliterate. Tables for different magic books and manuals, demihumans in particular starting out reading and writing oodles of languages, spells to leave messages, rules for how many bonus languages you know, alignment languages, secret magic languages and spells to read lamguages, and it piles on as time marches. Druidic, thieves cant, runes, ciphers, tongues, advanced rules for copying and scribing, Bards and their fucking fakebooks...

    I sometimes feel like our D&D characters have outstripped even we, with all our modern conveniences and translation apps and Duolingo and shit, when it comes to language and literacy. That's weird because while the weird make-em-up time that most D&D is set in is not exactly the dark ages (and the dark ages weren't the blindly ignorant period people often generalize about) we are still talking about a setting where the price of a decent spyglass - not a telescope, a spyglass - is enough to raise your own small army and sack a town. The price of academic luxury and liberal art, the distances involved in these worlds (and how short a distance it can take to be considered 'remote'), cultural divides and good old racism, and that's all before you get into the crushing cycle of toil and harvest or the fact that elves are a thing...

    Basic has all humans speaking two languages by default. I think we've all known humans who have trouble speaking one language. Hell, I think we're all even guilty of that sometimes. Here in the states especially complete bilingual fluency is not especially common. This isn't the ability to muddle through asking when the next train to Antwerp is due, this is being able to hold discourse on your favorite Belgian philosopher in either language. I say this is exceptional. To the response "Well PCs are meant to be exceptional" I would myself respond back "Yes and no." PCs are meant to do exceptional things whatever those may be. The idea that they just ARE better by existing or somehow naturally accrete due to awesomeness levels is a pretty newschool "My lv. 1 Fighter is a legendary warrior" kind of thinking to my mind. The only thing Basic characters are better than by default are the Normal Man baseline provided for the DM's convenience when the PCs inevitably start throwing around Charm Person and starting petty brawls; compared even to the Bandit or Medium a few pages later even first level Thieves and Magic-Users are paltry.

    A king must be able to communicate her orders to her generals, sacred scriptures must be passed down to new acolytes, and words of power once found must be kept under lock and key for some kind of eldritch cold war. But unless you are a scribe or tactician you almost certainly don't need this kind of thing in your day to day life in a society where you can trade grain for chicken and you die at 47.

    YET D&D has this permeating literacy.

    I decide that this suggests a less considered aspect of the much-blogged "implied setting" of BX D&D, a world knee deep in Greek monsters, petrified warriors, vast hoards, and easily exhaustible magics. Literacy and multilingualism is something prized even in rural communities and weaponized at the higher levels of society and secrecy. Texts are still difficult to produce, sometimes difficult to interpret, but are prized both as objects themselves and as sources of permanent information and knowledge. This does not mean that this world does not glory in whispered rumor, spoken tales, or oral histories. It means only that they prize everyone, EVERYONE, having a baseline of knowledge, and for this purpose a permanent source of information is invaluable.

    Why? Magic springs to mind. When even rolled up pieces of paper with words on them can be deadly in the hands of half the population, whether they're true students of magic or not, then having a population at least literate enough to differentiate between finding someone's diary and finding someone's Cthulhu summoning ritual at a glance is helpful; they may not understand that they're seeing a summoning ritual in that second parchment but they know the first book is just Trevor's wank fantasies and nothing to worry the regent about.

    Time is another big reason. If the only people with a really good grasp of what things were like 100+ years ago were the elves...fuck, are we going to take their word for it? Better not, pointy eared devils could be subtly controlling us, shaping our culture. Elves and dwarves being hyperliterate would be a factor: here's these ancient cultures with cities older than Greg's Mountain and they mostly just hang out with earthworms or butterflies but they can do these little scribblies and look at them later and suddenly have way more power than us in trade warfare medicine manufacture...

    If we take both to their extremes and answer the implicit question of how THOSE two races got that way then we arrive at an easy explanation for everything: dragons.

    1) Dragons discover magic
    2) Dragons invent language to help control magic
    3) Dragons teach language to ancient races, accidentally inventing civilization
    4) Civilization invents new languages, which in turn is more tools to use to control magic
    5) Better control of magic leads to greater ability to explore and discover magic
    6) If magic is change then greater discovery begets greater change
    7) Magic invents dragons, transformed by their power and knowledge, retreating into their massive stores of power
    8) Elves discover magic, and, learning from the Dragon playbook, seed language to lesser/younger races

    We get a lot of fun ideas to play around with for this setup but let me finally finally get to my main take-away, one I intend to implement:

    All gold is books now.

    You get yourself a Type H hoard haul? Congratulations, son, you found like nine different kinds of books. These can be traded for resources and favors back in civilization. You can liquidate them into coin, sure, but why bother with that middle step? Give the party a treasure they can carry with them, one they have to strategize and agonize about giving up, one which can be a similarly universal currency but not so convenient or inexhaustible as a pile of thousands in gold. You don't have to worry about draining coin off your PCs if their bag of Make This Problem Go Away is filled not with enough gold to build a new planet but like, all 7 Harry Potters. You get 7 big opportunities to surmount an obstacle and that's it, plus you endear yourself to your followers by reading them a chapter each night, improving their morale; is giving one of these up to buy passage to Stormboner really worth it to you?

    It's also a resource that catches fire in a world full of fire breathers and fire ballers. That's a hell of a volatile market. I call this feature not bug.

    So, blahblahblah wordl building bullshit, result: your party does not find 3200g in copper, silver, jewelry, gems, statues, and weapons. Your party just found a private library. Take this idea out for a spin and maybe swing on by Zak and Pat's places for some more toys to use in this Fright Zone playset.