Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Nuts & Bolts #162 - Here There Be Dragons

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The map of the world. A staple in fantasy games. The map may be something that the players know well, especially for well published settings, or it may be something only the GM knows. Both cases have their pros and cons. 

If the players know the map it makes placing them geographically easier for the GM during each session. They can look at the map, decide where they next want to go, and then clearly and concisely tell the GM that. The players know where they are and where they are going, and the GM doesn't need to contend with player aimlessness or confusion. 

The map can also present a way for the players to self direct. Maybe they see the name and icon of a strange ruin marked on the map and want to find out more. Such self direction is difficult when the map is unknown to the players and/or the characters. Which in turn puts the onus on the GM to drive the game from location to location and provide things for the player to do, at least early on. 

The flip side however isn't all bad. Sometimes the players will see that lack of a bigger picture of the world as an incentive to go out and explore. The lure of the unknown is a powerful one, and the joy of a hex crawl or similar style of exploration focused game can be significant. In such cases it also bonds the characters by making them have a common point of reference for the world. They may be all from the same village, or they find themselves all new residents of a demiplane of a well known vampire named ... Brad? Regardless of their other commonalities and differences they are all aware of only a limited portion of the world they inhabit. 

In such a case the GM should provide some teases to entice exploration. A range of dark hills to the east with a broken tower rising above the treetops. A sea to the south that the local fishermen say hides a place of great power. A well paved (in strange exotic materials ideally) that leads northward toward a rumored city of some other exotic or strange building material. These visual or verbal clues can set the players & their characters to put one foot in front of the other. 

A valid third option of course is to have the characters get lost. Maybe the game is set in a familiar setting but due to circumstances the players find themselves in a portion of the word that is less inhabited and more wild. They are lost (barring some very clever use of skills to narrow things down), and must explore the local world until they can find a place to allow them to orient themselves, a city or town of sufficient size that one or more of them have heard of it and know at least approximately where it is. 

At the beginning of the day, the GM needs to decide how to present the world to their players, and how important exploration will be for their game. The map, or lack thereof, can help to drive certain behaviors and open up certain options for both players and GMs alike. And at the end of that same day making some informed choices up front can help the GM to avoid the game progressing (or not progressing) in ways that they didn't intend. 

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Nuts & Bolts #161 - Gotta Get Away

So, last week over on his blog Andrew posited some ideas for GMs looking into introduce a big bad and enable their escape from the players. (you'll want to read that on first, go on, I'll wait). We've been having sort of semi-related back and forth but I'm going to do a direct rebuttal this time as I think some of Andrew's ideas are great but I don't agree with others. 

To set some ground rules:
  • This is all opinion, and so neither of us is implicitly "right" for all GMs & player groups...
  • ...also for all game systems.
  • The entire point of both this post and Andrew's is setting up the villain to escape, not final showdowns, not how to run those villains the rest of the time, just villainous escapes.
  • Quotes from Andrew's blog in italics.
OK let's rock and roll...

The players have finally made their way into the Throne Room\Lair\Laboratory\Warren of a Big Baddy. On the Baddies home turf, the heroes are in for a fight.
So Andrew posits the scene as the villain's lair, and that's totally appropriate, but so too are situations in the world at large. The villain should be just as able to flee the burning of a village or the arcane destruction of a city (scale as appropriate to the villain). Why is this relevant? Because I think the first intro to the villain should be in the world and not in their lair most times. If you introduce them as "just another bad guy" their eventual escape and return can build up their rep with the party directly rather than building the hype indirectly leading up to the first meeting. This is probably just a style thing, but it bears mentioning.

The mood of these fights should always be a little tense, for you and the players.  For you never want to create an encounter like this that is a pushover for the players, nor should you want a TPK.
I pretty much agree wholeheartedly here when the players already know the bad guy is he villain. When they don't yet know that however, you can easily mood shift into either horror or terror if the villain is more powerful than the PCs. Consider a powerful necromancer who is slaughtering a town and using the corpses and souls to build a) an undead army, 2) a grotesque abomination of flesh, 3) a portal to realms beyond. At this stage the villain is so powerful that he can brush off the PCs as an annoyance, and his "escape" is instead played out after he completes his task and has no further need to stay. The PCs now have a long term goal to find a way to defeat this evil!

Alternately you could pose the scene heroic for the PCs and run the villain's escape as a victory for the players instead of a soft loss. The PCs drive off the warlord and his marauders saving the village, but now he has a score to settle with them later! This flips the script a bit and let's the next encounter be at the villain's impetus.

Regardless of how you parse the scene you do need to be prepared for the dice to turn things away from your intent. I suggest running things outside of strict "combat mechanics" if possible to allow you more leeway to set the long term story but still take account for player actions and avoid laying down rails. 

The Big Bad is a threat, but for the first meeting, they should not be fighting alone.
One word: Dragon. Sure a warlord should have an army, and a mage will likely have summons of some flavor, but what about something so beyond the player's current capabilities that it needs no help. A dragon would not stoop to having minions, it can raze a town and carry off the virgins by itself thanks very much. Granted lieutenants and flunkies can certainly give the players opportunities to get their fight on while the big bad gets away, but that doesn't work for every villain. Sometimes a single creature can, with multiple attacks and/or area effect powers, present not just a challenge but an overwhelming threat all on their own. 

Summons & minions can make great diversions however, as can unleashed beasts/monsters. But so too can out of control fires, frozen or buried townsfolk, and other non-monster/NPC threats. Such cases give you a great chance to leverage player alignment, reputation, motivation, and the like to drive the characters to let the villain escape while they rescue innocents, or prevent the destruction of a sacred site, important artifact, or similar. Also consider than spells like Banishment can work against the players and flip the script on "escapes."

If the Big Bad has their own way instantly get away, via magic item or special ability, make sure the players know about it beforehand. 
I actually don't agree here. Especially if your intent is to allow the villain to escape. The reveal of this power should be a major pain point for the characters, and should drive them to find a way to shut it down prior to their next encounter. This drives engagement and drives story progression. If the players are mad about the villain teleporting away they will have the characters drive the story to find a solution for said boss ability. This is a good thing in my mind.
Other than Special Powers or Items, make sure the description of the room describes the ways of egress from the room.
This I agree with. Describe your scene well. This engages the players, and obvious things like teleport circles, summoning circles, arcane doorways, astral rifts, ad nauseam are all things the players should know about. The ability to cast Teleport, or having a Wand of Plane shift, are both things that the players probably will only know about after one or more encounters with the boss, so depending on the characters' history with the villain you may need to keep some of this hidden. Let me repeat that: You are not beholden to telling the characters about all the big bad's abilities!

I’ve thrown in tips throughout this whole article, but the biggest tip I can give is don’t force the escape. Players are crafty and they may have come up with a plan that nullifies the big bad’s escape plan, or the rolls swing the wrong way and they have the big bad dead to rights. Let it happen. Lose the Big Bad. 
I agree with this entirely. No plan survives contact with the players. An anti-magic artifact, a counterspell, or clever application of any number of crazy player ideas can foil the mechanism by which you had planned for the villain to escape. I agree with Andrew and suggest you let it happen. The key then is to have a backup plan. Consider the following:

  • The warlord's cavalry are prevented from whisking him away or the party's warrior get's a timely critical hit. Suddenly the conquering villain is dead at the feet of the PCs and it looks like the marauding horde will be leaderless.
    • Instead of simply dissolving into disparate tribes or smaller forces, the loss of leadership unleashes the army to their own devices and the PCs now have to deal with numerous lesser threats. They simply will not be able to stop all of them before something precious is lost, a key locale, an important NPC, or a vital resource. The next steps of the campaign involve putting down these lesser threats and then recovering from the losses they were unable to stop.
    • The warlord had a general who was not part of his race or ethnic group, but was a military genius. It was this general who developed the strategies behind the warlord's actions. They now seize control of the army and change tactics entirely. The players still have a large force to deal with but now with entirely new and innovative tactics.
  • The necromancer is defeated. But the death of such a powerful practitioner of the dark arts releases a cascade of magics that result in unintended and unforeseen consequences.
    • Older evils that rest in the world wake and position themselves within the power vacuum left by the necromancer. This could be a similar foe such as a vampire, lich, or the like, or an evil creature of magic like a dragon or demon.
    • The undead army the necromancer controlled do not fall to the ground inactive with the death of the necromancer. Instead they gain the power to be self animated and some even gain a hint of intellect. Now a scourge of undead wash over the land under no control, or new control, and the characters have to deal with it.
Closing Thoughts
Do plan devious ways for enemies to escape, especially those you have hopes of becoming on-going foils for the PCs. Do allow the PCs to find out ways to foil the enemy powers they know about, but also do give the villains nasty new tricks. Don't shy away from the "untimely" death of the villain; the PCs earned it, and you CAN come up with better stories afterward. Do have backup plans for when the villain bites it.

Also have fun, maybe the villain was actually a tiny alien in a robot, or a demon that possesses bodies who can survive being slain, just remember to drop hints so the return of a dead antagonist isn't just you being crappy. 

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Nuts & Bolts #160 - Board of RPGs #2 Firefly: The Game

So you and your group aim to misbehave. Maybe you have one of the official RPGs, or maybe you want to use something like Stars Without Number, Cypher System, DCC Star Crawl, or FFG's Star Wars/Genysis system. Regardless you have you choice of rules lined up, you have players making characters, but as GM you have SO. MUCH. WORK.

Unless you happen to also have a copy of Firefly: The Game from Gale Force Nine. No they didn't sponsor this (I actually don't find the board game very playable myself), but I cannot dismiss the utility of this game as a GM's resource. Let's begin shall we?

The 'Verse

So there's that big ol' board. The above actually includes the space added by the two big-box expansions, but still you get the drift. Why is this board great? Well firstly it's actually usable. You can lay it on the table and use it during play, everything is nicely legible, and the spaces laid out for the board game work great for semi-abstract RPG travel & navigation. You can use the spaces as a way to gauge distance and time to travel between locations. Each space can represent perhaps a day of travel, with the option to go "full burn" to allow the group to move faster but spend more fuel and run greater risk of running into unintended trouble.

Traveling The Black

Speaking of traveling, not only are those spaces a nice way to give your players an idea of the time and space required to get from point A to point B, but when you also use the two decks provided in the game (for Alliance Space and Border Space) you can roll cards from the appropriate decks and get ideas for random encounters and events. Consider that these decks contain a lot of "big black" cards (25) indicating no encounter, but a smaller number of cards (15) that yield run ins with Alliance Patrols, Reavers, dead ships, or various problems with your own ship (It's busted cap'n!) and you can see how a GM would be able to draw a card or cards and quickly determine if anything should happen and get some ideas of what.

The cards where something happens also work pretty well to give you some shorthand guidance. Take the "Scrapper Ambush" card, it has two ways to pass it, one requiring a mechanics test, the other requiring a combat test. While the players may think of another way out entirely you can use these as guidance to craft the details of the event. For example, the mechanics test may indicate that the players' ship is either physically held in place, or had been disabled (engine damage perhaps?), if the players are unable to fix the ship they will have to face a boarding party of scrapper and the combat that will almost certainly happen thereafter...

Jobs and Trouble

Speaking of stuff to do... a GMs biggest job in a game like this will be coming up with jobs for the PC crew to take on for pay. Luckily there's not just one deck of jobs, but five! Better still each is attached to an in-universe NPC like Badger or Niska or Patience. Some of these jobs will be totally legal. Others decidedly less so. The job cards contain all the info a GM could want; how much does it pay, is it legal or not, where the job starts (e.g. where you pick up goods, or execute a theft) and where the job ends (often another planet thus forcing travel across the 'verse), and any prerequisites for the job, such a a requirement of firepower, mechanical aptitude, or good speechifying. Illegal jobs often also include a number of cards to draw from the "Aim to Misbehave" deck which adds trouble and complications to the job. A GM can easily take this and create a RPG scenario on the fly. And speaking of that "Aim to Misbehave" deck, it's a wonderful resource for injecting a little trouble into the character's lives and make things interesting even when they are not on the job. Each card has a name and three ways to get past the card with two being tests of some kind that can be used to determine skill challenges in your system of choice, and the third an automatic pass if you have the right equipment or NPC ally.

Gear and NPCs

But wait, there's more! Because this little board game has a LOT of cards you also get a deck for every major planet that contains a slew of ready-made(ish) NPCs and gear including both personal equipment as well as ways to upgrade your ship. NPCs come with a name (usually, sometimes it's more of a title), a cost to hire, a couple of skills, and sometimes a unique ability. Fleshing these out into full NPCs may be more work in some systems than others, but I could easily use that card and a choice of level and require no further effort for a Cypher System game. Let's consider that Gun Hand above. He's a mercenary, with a cost of $100, so I could set his level at 1, since he is good with guns I could give him a level 2 for combat tasks, but he's also Expendable, so he gains an ability to be sacrificed to any GM intrusion or similar even if said Intrusion targets a different character.

Likewise equipment and ship upgrades have their cost and their effects in simple terms. Depending on your system of choice this may require more or less effort to flesh out. Again, were I using Cypher for this I could do very easily by converting skill bonuses into either assets or other similar effects. That "A Very Fine Hat" counts as "Fancy Duds" and also makes you a little better at social tests (1 asset), plus it'll open up more options for work when the times come for a new job. Another example (not shown) is "Vera." "Vera" is a sniper rifle (heavy weapon type) with +2 on Firearms and +1 on Speech; easy enough to say that it provides 2 assets on shooting attacks due to its accuracy, and an asset on intimidation checks because its "Vera". Alternately I could say it does +2 damage over a normal heavy weapon, but that doesn't jive with the sniper rifle trait in my mind.

Then there's ship upgrades like that Cry Baby. Cry Baby has a very discrete effect, it let's you escape Alliance Patrols (might also work for Reavers, but maybe not, they are crazy), but you lose it in the process. Still if your hold is full of contraband and your crew has a warrant or three on their heads it may well be worth it to escape Scott-free.


So, hopefully by now you're seeing the potential here. I used to think "gosh, a Firefly game would be so hard to manage" but really it's as simple as a moderately complicated board game. Who knew? Hopefully you do now, and maybe you'll find yourself out in the 'verse the next time the urge hits you.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

DCC Spell: Nuphon's Staff Infection

Stephen Newton made a joke about "Staph Infection" to which I replied (jokingly) about creating a spell called "Staff Infection" for DCC. However joke soon gave birth to reality so, please enjoy the punny fruits of a Twitter interaction...

Nuphon's Staff Infection

Level: 3
Range: 10'/CL
Duration: Permanent and/or Varies
Casting Time: 1 round
Save: Mundane staves get no save. Magical staves receive a save using the owner's Fortitude vs the Spell Check.

The vile arch-wizard Nuphon crafted this spell specifically to destroy the elaborately crafted staves of a rival. When cast on a staff (magical or mundane) the spell will infect the staff and cause rot, mutation, and decay. Especially potent castings of this spell may also affect the owner of the target staff. If no staff is present the wizard may cast this spell on a tree within range at a penalty of -1d.

Manifestation: Roll 1d4:
  1. The caster coughs violently before expelling a disgusting blob of sputum that infects the target staff.
  2. The caster gestures forth with their hand and a gelatinous blast of sickly yellow-green energy strikes the target staff.
  3. The caster vomits forth a magically animated bile that flows over the target staff.
  4. The caster belches forth a noxious cloud of infectious gasses that travel to and surround the target staff. 
Corruption: Roll 1d4:
  1. The skin on the caster's hands splits open and falls away revealing rough wooden bark like skin.
  2. The caster's touch become inimical to wood and wooden items. Their very touch deals 1d3 damage per round to wood. This effect penetrates clothing and boots.
  3. The caster doubles over and begins to cough for 1 full round during which they expel 1d3 pounds of rotten wood chips, and suffer 1 point of Stamina damage per pound.
  4. The becomes highly allergic to tree pollen and suffer a -1d penalty to all actions while out of doors during the spring season. 
Misfire: Roll 1d4:
  1. The caster takes a point of Stamina damage and becomes riddled with disease and cancerous growths. Each day the caster must make a DC 15 Fortitude save or lose another point of Stamina. The disease rages until the caster is dead or succeeds on their save for 5 straight days. 
  2. The caster's own staff (or similar hand held item) cracks in half and is destroyed.
  3. The ground nearby caves in as a swarm of termites rushes forth and onto the caster inflicting a penalty of -1d on all action dice for 1d5 rounds.
  4. A nearby tree becomes diseased and begins to emit foul odors and drip caustic pus. Within 1 round its rotting trunk collapsed and the tree crashes onto the caster (or an ally within range) dealing 1d12 damage.
  • 1: Lost! Failure! WORSE! Roll 1d6 modified by Luck: (0 or less) corruption + patron taint + misfire; (1-2) corruption; (3) patron taint (or corruption if no patron); (4+) misfire.
  • 2-11: Lost. Failure.
  • 12-15: Failure, but spell is not lost.
  • 16-17: The caster targets a single staff within range. The staff becomes twisted and gnarled gaining 1d6 ugly cancerous growths. For each growth the fumble range of the staff when used in melee combat is increased by 1. On any fumble the staff breaks irreparably in addition to any other fumble effect. 
  • 18-21: The caster targets a single staff within range. The staff becomes thorny and rough as it splits and twists. The wielder of the staff suffers 1d10+CL damage as splinters and thorns tear through their flesh.  
  • 22-23: The caster targets a single staff within range. The staff becomes twisted and gnarled and gains 1d3+CL weeping sores. The holder must make an immediate Fortitude save against a DC of 10+ the number of sores or suffer stamina damage equal to the number of sores. 
  • 24-26: The caster targets a single staff within range. The staff becomes twisted and gnarled and gaining 1d6+CL corrupted growths that twist magical energy. These growths disappear at a rate of 1 per day. Additionally, the user suffers a penalty on all spell checks equal to the number of growths. On any spell misfire the staff explodes dealing damage equal to the number of growths remaining in addition to normal misfire effects. 
  • 32-33: The caster targets a single staff within range sundering it into kindling. Anybody within 5xCL feet of the staff takes 3d8+CL damage from flying splinters (Reflex save for half). 
  • 27-31: The caster targets a single staff within range which explodes in a fiery conflagration! Anybody within 5xCL feet of the staff takes 5d6+CL damage from burning cinders (Reflex save for half). 
  • 34-35: The caster targets a single staff within range which grows boils and festering wounds for 1 round before bursting in a shower of pus, ooze, and gore. Anybody within 5xCL feet of the staff takes 3d10+CL damage from diseased mucus (Reflex save for half) and must make a DC 15 Fortitude save against disease or lose 1d4 Stamina as boils and pustules break out on their skin.
  • 36+: The caster targets a single staff within range which instantly explodes in a shower of festering shards. Anybody within 5xCL feet of the staff takes 4d10+CL damage from diseased mucus (Reflex save for half) and must make a DC 20 Fortitude save against disease or lose 2d4 Stamina as boils and pustules break out on their skin.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Nuts & Bolts #159 - Board of RPGs #1 Gloomhaven

Four years ago I wrote a blog post about harvesting the boards from your board games for use with your RPGs (find it here; TLDR: you probably already have a closet full of RPG ready maps). Board gaming is a big part of my hobby time as I have gotten older. It's easy to do a board game regardless of who can show up, but RPG sessions often require all players be present (especially when your group is small, as mine is). We play a lot of games from the super lite, 20 minute games, to heavier games like Terraforming Mars, Orleans, Firefly: The Game, and probably the heaviest game that makes frequent rotation: Gloomhaven.

Thing is that while some of these are very "board gamey" others like Gloomhaven, and Firefly have very RPG-like choices to be made and mechanics that would not be otherwise out of place in an RPG. Do you sell the mercenary a healing potion as he asked, or choose not to and risk his ire? Do you take on a job ferrying slaves and risk pissing off your crew during the trip to the next system? These are very RPG-like choices. Playing these games has got me thinking about how board games have clearly been inspired by RPGs and how RPGs can be inspired right back by board games.

All of that said, let's talk about Gloomhaven, the very much an "RPG in a box" board game, that manages to evoke a lot of RPG like decision making and interactions despite its utter lack of a GM to tailor things to the group.


So, first of all, let's talk goals. When you make a character in Gloomhaven you get two cards of the goals deck and choose one. These cards give you a bit of character background and set up what your character's personal goal is as well as the reward for meeting that goal. The character who meets that goal will thereafter retire. These can be a simple as "defeat X number of [monster type]" or "complete X number of encounters while [condition]". In addition to these, each character will also get a short term goal for each encounter/mission. Things like "end with your maximum health," "only take short rests," or "don't use any equipment." These short term goals act as a way to, essentially, gain experience to unlock perks (Gloomhaven actually has two independent advancement tracks, but more on that later).

At first glance these may seem like board gamey ways to "gamify" the process of unlocking additional content from the box (which it is) and/or improving your character, but surprisingly a lot of role play happens around these goals. When a character is one kill from their goal and that enemy is downed by another character in search of their own goals the talk at the table gets pretty interesting (I needed to hit my short term goal dang it!).

There's value here, especially in a hobby that often loses itself in the theoretical "endlessness" of the game. Yes, you the player may want to keep adventuring, but would that character actually keep going after everything they've been through? I know my decision to retire a character at only level 3 in a Dungeon Crawl Classics game struck some of the other players as odd, but he had modest wealth and was the newly elected mayor of the town, adventuring didn't feel like a choice the character would make. Better still that choice resulted in the character becoming the "god emperor" so I think it was a good one.

A Rolling Roster

Retirement of characters does mean that your cast changes. Rather than looking at that as an bad thing, consider the opportunity that this presents. With the removal of a given character and the introduction of a new character the roles and skill sets that that character filled will likely change. This opens up an opportunity for existing characters to explore aspects of their character outside of their existing niche. This means that a character may be able to step up into the role of tank, or healer, or utility character. It's also possible that the entire party dynamic may change. If your wizard retires and the player brings in a rogue as their next character the way the party approaches combat and exploration is not only likely to change, but is likely to NEED to change.

Certain RPGs really make it hard for a character to die and therefore make it easy to keep playing the same character. Worse, I have seen a lot of "I only play X" and "this is a version of my old character [name]". While I can understand that there is comfort in the familiar I also think a lot of folks are missing out on trying new things. A rolling roster can help motivate the players to try new things; after all, if it doesn't work out that character can just be retired.

Building a Home: Prosperity, Reputation & Influence

OK, fair to say that I didn't learn this from Gloomhaven specifically, but Gloomhaven does do a very good job of this, and has driven a lot of RPG-like talk at the table. So Gloomhaven has a track for how prosperous the city is, another for the reputation of the player party (which can fall below zero because the game knows that people can be a-holes), and all of this had an impact on play as both the player party wields influence and the city wields influence on various encounters. The most obvious way this is felt is that Prosperity influences the starting level of new characters. A fantastic connection that can be directly ported into your RPG if character death is a thing (see above). RPG Judges/GMs could easily just say "you come in at the lowest level in the part minus 1" or similar, but by tying it to how well the city at the center of the campaign is doing you are telling the players that they can affect their own future characters by ensuring the city does well.

Equally as impactful (though we often forget about this) is that reputation influences item pricing. As the player group gains reputation they can buy items more cheaply (or presumably at greater cost if their rep is in the toilet). This hits the players in their characters' wallets, and that can be shockingly effective. Again, the players' characters' actions can have direct feedback on the way the world reacts to them. This is lost on murderhobo style games, which can be a real shame because it robs the players of the repercussions of their own behavior through the characters.

Similarly some of the random encounters that can take place within the city or on the road can be influenced by these values. A merchant may pay more after getting help if the character's have a high reputation, or a NPC group may react differently if Gloomhaven's prosperity is above or below a certain threshold. Consider how the wealth of a town impacts the way that raiders, merchants, and neighboring towns view it. A poor tow is less likely to see raiders and merchants will visit less often, while neighboring towns may look to annex land, and steal capable citizens.

And more ...

I could probably go on for quite a bit about how the structure of Gloomhaven's quests and random encounters mimic the best aspects of a hex crawl, about how the random encounters are really well designed despite being a simple two choice system, or how the game is smart enough to lock side quests away behind gating accomplishments (we really want to find a way to breathe under water so we can do a side quest we learned of a long time ago), but I think that can maybe be another blog for another time. In the meantime maybe take a look at your own board games (RPG-like or otherwise) and see what you can take away from them for the purposes of your RPG sessions, and let me know if there's anything cool out there I should know about or look into.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Nuts & Bolts #158 - Invasion!

Author's Note: I've been away from regular blogging for a bit, and even before I stopped I was posting a self made module for a while. Returning to this hobby has been on my mind for bit but I finally decided to do so with a kick in the pants from a few friends and an idea to potentially generate a sort of discussion via blog with my freind Andrew Cady over at We're going to give this a try and see how it goes, with one of us writing something and then the other responding either with a similar idea, or a rebuttal of sorts (depending on the post content). Here's my kickoff offering, a bit of discussion around my current Cypher campaign, and alien invasion story... you can find Andrew's offering here.

Welcome to Gideon IV, a world nearly 200 light years from Earth. A fringe colony; the people of Gideon IV are self sufficient in a way that the inner colonies are not; the travel time to Earth is nearly 2 years, and so they have to be. Not all is well on Gideon IV however. An alien object entered the system mere days ago at great speed and just three days ago it reached Gideon V where it apparently wiped out the terraformers there before continuing onward. Two days ago Gideon IV had two moons, but the aliens diced the smaller moon into chunks and harvested it in mere hours before moving toward the larger moon.

This is the setting for my current Cypher System campaign, which I call "Invasion!" It was pitched as an alien invasion, which it absolutely is, but in many ways I am running it as a horror game. The PCs, normal folks trying to go about their lives, a scout, a mechanic, a tough criminal, a drug manufacturer, and a cop. They are caught in events that they cannot escape, and may not be able to avoid. the aliens possess technology that is well beyond that of the colony. Even the colonial defense is unable to put up meaningful defense of the two moons of Gideon IV.

Why am I using the Cypher System? Because, it's actually pretty good at horror without also making the player characters helpless in the process. The characters have agency and they can strike out at the aliens. They have destroyed two robotic aliens (probes or scouts? who knows) with their combined effort of arms, but they also know that the aliens can harvest moons with ease, and swat the colonial fleet like they are pests.

Invasion isn't going to be a story that will get the Hollywood treatment. The players are unlikely to form a plucky resistance that will defeat the alien menace and win the day for the colony. Instead they must figure out how best to survive, for however long that requires. With Cypher they can do that. I can put them to the test, but still let them do impressive things. WIll they survive? Will they escape? How?

Not every RPG is about being the hero. Not every RPG set-up can be won. Sometimes survival is all you can ask for, but then maybe that just redefines what "winning" means. Getting out alive can be all the reward the characters want if the likelihood is very much the opposite.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

MCC - Purple Pit of the Mole Men (Area 2-4)

Area 2-3 Reactor Chamber

This is the facility's reactor chamber, the source of the radiation flooding the lower levels, and the "throne room" for the mole men's queen. As an environmental hazard this room is exceedingly dangerous, requiring a DC 16 Fortitude save against 1d8 damage PER ROUND unless the reactor has been at least partially deactivated.

Once through the access chamber the door opens into a massive chamber. Nearly 150 feet across and rising and unknown distance upward (at least 100 feet based on the stairwell). This chamber consists of metal catwalks over a steaming lake of water tinged with shimmering bluish-purple light. The center of the camber is dominated by a massive purple crystal that glows from within with a sickly light (or a large empty area of open water surrounded by catwalks. The mole men here are the largest of those you have seen and the 6 warriors are instantly at guard and ready to strike down an enemy at the slightest provocation. A grossly obese or perhaps greatly pregnant mole-woman presides over the room from a throne of crates and cushions. She wields a strange artifact in one hand and wears a suit of form hugging shimmering metal cloth.

The guards are always at the ready and fiercely protective of their queen/matron. They have 15, 16, 29, 20, 8, and 26 HP. The queen is armed with a laser pistol and wears plasteel mesh. All of the mole people have the ability to regenerate 1 HP per round unless the reactor has been completely shut down, so adapted to the radiation they have become.

Mole Men:
Init: +2; Atk +1 Spear (1d7) or +1 Bow (1d6); Act: 1d20; AC: 13 (hides); HD: 3d10 (15); Mv: 20; SP Immune to Radiation; Sv. F +3, R +1, W +2
Mole Woman Queen-Matriarch
Init: +0; Atk +1 Laser Pistol (3d6, ranged, 1d20 charges) or +4 Mind Control (pg 75); Act: 1d20+1d16; AC: 15 (plasteel mesh); HD: 5d10 (30); Mv: 20; SP Immune to Radiation; Sv. F +4, R +0, W +4
The queen is willing to talk to visitors (they have proven themselves strong and worthy of domination) but will attempt to Mind Control them as soon as she is able. The Queen will use her 1d20 action die for mind control until she loses it after which she will use both action dice to attack with the laser piston until it runs out of ammo.

Aside from the Laser Pistol and Plasteel Mesh the only loot of note within the reactor chamber is the large purple crystal. Characters wishing to take a sample of the crystal are free to do so, and judges are free to decide how good, or bad, of an idea that is.

Exits to:

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

MCC - Purple Pit of the Mole Men (Area 2-3)

Area 2-3 Reactor Access

A larger airlock style chamber that provides access into and out of the reactor. Only one door to this room can be open at a time. If a character enters the access chamber with the facility comm badge the doors will cycle automatically within 1 minute. Alternately a DC 12 check by a Rover will engage the cycle. If neither option is available a total of 50 damage must be done to the mechanisms to force the closed door open.

A chamber no bigger than three long paces on a side. The door into this room is heavier and thicker than those you have seen prior. The door opposite is the same way and remains closed. Within the chamber are a triplicate of lockers on one wall. 

The ambient radiation here is high, unless the reactor was turned off, and requires a DC 14 Fortitude save every turn to avoid 1d8 radiation damage.

The lockers contain 1 medishot (pg 178) and 1 radshot (pg 178).

Exits to:

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

MCC - Purple Pit of the Mole Men (Area 2-2)

Area 2-2 Central Maintenance

A large open room that has been mostly cleared out by the mole men, this area is the main hub of the lower level.

A large rectangular room occupied primarily but a large artifact of some kind taking up an entire wall, and three exits, one on each of the other three walls. Spaced around the remaining space are lockers shelves, and tool chests. The air here is hot and humid, and there is are a number of mushrooms similar to those found upstairs growing in the corners. 

The ambient radiation here is high, unless the reactor was turned off, and requires a DC 12 Fortitude save every turn to avoid 1d8 radiation damage.

Searching the shelves, lockers, and tool boxes will yield three Envirobelts (pg 175) in working order, these can be potent artifacts if the reactor is still functioning. With a successful luck check a fusion torch (pg 180) can also be found but it requires a power source to be functional.

The artifact control panel is the auxiliary control for the reactor and can execute the same tasks but does so with a more complicated control scheme for the purposes of maintenance. It uses the following results table and has a Complexity Modifier of -5:
  • 1: Meltdown! Claxons wail as the controls fail and the reactor enters meltdown. Meltdown will occur within 3d24 hours creating a massive explosion. In the lead up to the meltdown radiation within the facility rises dramatically forcing a DC 20 Fortitude save per round vs 1d30 radiation damage. 
  • 2-10: No effect. Such complexity boggles the mind and you simply fail to make any meaningful adjustments to the operation of this ancient device. 
  • 11-15: Minor adjustments to the operation of the reactor reduce the radiation output from the strange core. Reduce all Radiation DCs by 2 and the damage from failed saves by -1d.
  • 16-19: Partial Shutdown. The reactor is moved to standby power levels reducing all save DCs by 5 and damage by -2d.
  • 20+: Complete Shutdown. The reactor is fully shutdown removing the ongoing threat of radiation within 1 turn but also turning off all power within the facility.

In addition to the stairs up to the first level (Area 1-7), a closed door exits to Area 2-1 Pump Control, and an open one leads to the small Reactor Access Area 2-3.

Exits to:

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

MCC - Purple Pit of the Mole Men (Area 2-1)

Area 2-1 Pump Control

One of two possible ways for the PCs to reach the lower level, this room acts as a sort of barracks and sauna for the mole men, who are immune to the radiation present in the air and water. The ruined equipment here used to circulate the cooling water from the core to the underground reservoir. Now that the pumps are broken the water is heavily irradiated and has caused the damage to the elevator shaft as described in Are 1-3.

One end of this room is flooded with about a foot radioactive water coming in from the degraded elevator shaft. The other is dry with a hatch leading into the central maintenance area. The room is full of broken machinery and sleeping pallets of the mole men. It's far cleaner than the upper den (the bathrooms) but still cluttered with all manner of items. Three of the sleeping pallets appear to be occupied by the large forms of mole men warriors. 

The warriors here (HP 14 / 5 / 22) work with their leader in the stairwell to protect the inner lair and their queen. The atmosphere here is highly polluted by radioactivity and for every turn spent within a DC 12 Fortitude save is required to avoid taking 1d6 radiation damage. This is affected by anything done to the reactor from the main control or the central maintenance areas.

Mole Men:
Init: +2; Atk +1 Spear (1d7) or +1 Bow (1d6); Act: 1d20; AC: 13 (hides); HD: 3d10 (15); Mv: 20; SP Immune to Radiation; Sv. F +3, R +1, W +2
The room is largely empty of useful items but a thorough search of at least 1 turn can reward the PCs with a Multitool (pg 181) and, with a successful Luck check, a Sonic Spanner (pg 181).

Exits to:

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

MCC - Purple Pit of the Mole Men (Area 1-7)

Area 1-7 Stairs

Cleverly hidden behind some easy to remove panels of the barricade that breaks up Area 1-2 is a doorway that the mole men use as entrance and egress. Characters can spot this if they specifically disassemble this portion of the barricade, or with a DC 10 Intelligence check.

You open the door into a chamber that was likely once bright white, but years of grime have rendered it a mottled grey. To the left there is a ladder to the ceiling and hatch. In front of you there is the start of a set of stairs down. 

If the reactor has been shut down there will be no lights in the complex and the stairs will be dark as the mole men can see in the dark. The stairs wind downward for nearly 100 feet and the area is usually under guard by a single mole man () who is armed with the usual weapons plus an artifact zapper glove (pg 175).

Mole Man:
Init: +2; Atk +1 Spear (1d7), +1 Zapper Glove (sp) or +1 Bow (1d6); Act: 1d20; AC: 13 (hides); HD: 3d10 (15); Mv: 20; SP Immune to Radiation; Sv. F +3, R +1, W +2
If the power is on the guard will not be alone and on low awareness, but if the power has been shut down he will go to the bottom of the stairs to gather the mole men from area 2-2 as reinforcements.

The hatch in the ceiling leads directly outside and is the way that the mole men typically enter and leave the complex, it is not locked, and may be a way to get some light into the stairs if the power is out.

Exits to:

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

MCC - Purple Pit of the Mole Men (Area 1-6)

Area 1-6 Main Control Room

A complex artifact looking out onto the reactor chamber below. This room has a great deal of ambient radiation but also can enable the characters to shut down the reactor below.

A wall of hard air separates you from a room filled wall-to-wall with complex machinery and controls. Clearly an artifact of incredible complexity, it even has seats for two ancient ones to operate. Beyond the controls a window looks out onto a wide open space from which an intense purple glow emanates.   
The doors to the control room will automatically open for anybody with the comm badge from area 1-1, or with a DC 10 check by a Rover, a total of Str 20 applied, or 30 points of damage inflicted upon the hard air.

The hard air portal swooshes open and a wave of hot air rolls out and over you causing you skin to tingle and your nostrils to flare from the stale smell of aeons old air. You can now hear the quiet clicking and whirring of the great mechanism before you.

Any who enter the control room should make a DC 10 Fortitude save or take 1d6 radiation damage. Repeat this save for every turn (10 minutes) spent within the control room due to the in effective radiation shielding.

The artifact control panel uses the following results table:
  • 1: Meltdown! Claxons wail as the controls fail and the reactor enters meltdown. Meltdown will occur within 3d24 hours creating a massive explosion. In the lead up to the meltdown radiation within the facility rises dramatically forcing a DC 20 Fortitude save per round vs 1d30 radiation damage. 
  • 2-10: No effect. Such complexity boggles the mind and you simply fail to make any meaningful adjustments to the operation of this ancient device. 
  • 11-15: Minor adjustments to the operation of the reactor reduce the radiation output from the strange core. Reduce all Radiation DCs by 2 and the damage from failed saves by -1d.
  • 16-19: Partial Shutdown. The reactor is moved to standby power levels reducing all save DCs by 5 and damage by -2d.
  • 20+: Complete Shutdown. The reactor is fully shutdown removing the ongoing threat of radiation within 1 turn but also turning off all power within the facility.
Exits to:

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

MCC - Purple Pit of the Mole Men (Area 1-5)

Area 1-5 The Den/Restrooms

Once on the other side of the debris barrier the PCs should notice a pair of doorways on the left side of the room. The closer of the two leads to the restrooms, now used as the den for the mole men. All is quiet within except on a truly exceptional roll or with a mutant power which may detect the 2-3 mole men sleeping within:

Through the opening you can see into a dimly lit room. The air within is a stinking miasma of body odor and fecal matter, apparently the mole men are not big on hygiene. You can dimly make out the shapes of several sleeping pallets of hides and furs at least 2 of which are occupied. Along on wall you can see a waist high shelf and the room double back into a section of metal walls. 

Stealthy PCs may be able to ambush and/or coup de gras the mole men within. Allow the PCs to roll d24s for initiative and/or the first round attacks if they maintain stealth. The first 2 mole men in the room have 20 & 17 hit points, roll 3d10 for any additional mole men you may need.

If the combat takes more than 3 rounds, or spills out into the main room (Area 1-2) the mole men from area 1-4 will ambush the PCs if they have not already been dealt with.

Mole Men:
Init: +2; Atk +1 Spear (1d7) or +1 Bow (1d6); Act: 1d20; AC: 13 (hides); HD: 3d10 (15); Mv: 20; SP Immune to Radiation; Sv. F +3, R +1, W +2
Once the mole men are defeated the players will likely search the room. The metal walled area are the old bathroom stalls which no longer have active plumbing but the mole men still use for their business and are disgusting but otherwise unoccupied. The half wall is a row of sinks and one of them has a medishot (pg 178). The room is otherwise devoid of useful loot.

Exits to:

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

MCC - Purple Pit of the Mole Men (Area 1-4)

Area 1-4 The Break Room

Once on the other side of the debris barrier the PCs should notice a pair of doorways on the left side of the room. The farther of the two leads to the break room, and the Judge may opt to have the flickering light of a fire come from the doorway and/or the sound of high-pitched mole men voices. If the players sneak up to the entry they should definitely see and hear these. Should they look in describe the following:

Through the opening you can see into a small room, no more than 15 feet on a side. Two of the walls are occupied by storage compartments with a large metal storage box directly across from the opening. The center of the room is filled with a fire-pit over which a large pot or cauldron hangs and from which the sounds and smells of some kind of strange stew cooking can be experienced. Huddled around this meal-to-be are a group of mole men [1+1/2 PCs; typically 4] conversing in a strange chittering language.

The mole men will react hostilely to any intruders and a pitched battle is almost certain to happen. The first four mole men in the room have 14/14/12/11 hit points, roll 3d10 for any additional mole men you may need.

If the combat takes more than 3 rounds, or spills out into the main room (Area 1-2) the mole men from area 1-5 will ambush the PCs.

Mole Men:
Init: +2; Atk +1 Spear (1d7) or +1 Bow (1d6); Act: 1d20; AC: 13 (hides); HD: 3d10 (15); Mv: 20; SP Immune to Radiation; Sv. F +3, R +1, W +2
Once the mole men are defeated the players will likely search the room. The cabinets are largely empty except for old gnawed bones and rotting scraps of flesh. The large metal cabinet however contains a useful item:

When you open the large metal container a wave of cool air that reeks of rotting meat and stale blood wafts out. On the center shelf the de-fleshed skull of a human stares back at you. The grisly sight is tempered by the metal object residing within the right eye of the skull. An apparent artifact of the ancients it seems to have replaced the owners original eye. 

This is a cyber-eye artifact (pg 178 and when activated with any check result of 12+ by any character who is not a healer it will immediately and forcibly implant itself in their head, destroying and replacing one of their eyes if need be and dealing 1d3 damage. For a healer any result of 12+ will allow them to hold the eye in preparation for a less traumatic surgery at the time of their choosing.

The first player daring (or foolish) enough to sample the stew in the pot must make a DC 12 Fortitude save. If they fail they will lose 1d3 Stamina from a rather nasty case of food poisoning. If they succeed they will earn +1 Luck (replaces lost luck first).

Exits to:

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

MCC - Purple Pit of the Mole Men (Area 1-3)

Area 1-3 Elevator

The metal slab on the right of the shroom filled area is an elevator door that.

Set into the wall is a slab of polished metal with a seam down the middle filled with something black. To the right there is a small jewel set into the wall that glows with a dim whitish light. The slab is roughly 6 feet wide and 8 tall and seems fully untouched by the aeons. 

The door can be opened by pressing the glowing jewel in the wall, which turns the jewel green and produced a "ding" before the doors slide apart. Alternately they can be forced with a DC 18 Strength check. A rover can make a DC 5 check using their Artifact Doors check bonus.

The slabs of metal part opening into a dark shaft nearly 10 feet on a side. Below the shaft descends some hundred feet and looking down you can see a shimmer of water from which a strange blue glow emanates. Dangling from the darkness above a pair of metal ropes descend some 6 feet before terminating abruptly, clearly you can only descend so far before you need to provide your own rope, or simply drop into the pool below. 

A DC 8 Strength of Agility check is needed to jump out and grab the metal ropes. Climbing down (or up) them requires another DC 8 Strength of Agility check. Dropping the last 40 feet into the water deals 1d3 damage, falling from higher up requires a DC 10 reflex save; if made the damage is 1d8, if failed the damage is 3d6.

The pool of water below is highly radioactive and immersion in the water forces a DC 15 Fortitude save for half damage against 1d8 radiation damage.

The water is strangely warm, almost hot and immediately your skin feels hot and tingles. You can see that this shaft has deposited into a larger cavern, either natural, or eroded over time. There is the remains of one wall of the square shaft with a pair of sliding metal doors at the water level. They appear to be your own exit.

The characters will want to exit the pool as quickly as possible. Every minute spent in the water forces another DC 15 save for half against 1d8 radiation damage. Forcing the lower doors open requires a DC 8 Strength check.

Exits to:

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

MCC - Purple Pit of the Mole Men (Area 1-2)

Area 1-2 Shrooms and Screamers/Main Office

Having gained access from the entrance the players can proceed into the mushroom infested area they saw through  the hard air door.

The next area is infested with a multitude of mushrooms both large and small. All glow with a strange blue-purple bioluminescence, but in some spots where the mushrooms are especially dense a green glow can be seen as well. The area is some 30 feet wide and perhaps twenty deep. The depth appears to be false however, as there is an obvious makeshift barricade blocking you from the deeper portions of the room. To the left there is a large slab of shiny metal set into the wall with a glowing gem set into the wall beside it. 

The green glowing spotys are actually dormant screamers (MCC pg 196), 1 per character (HP 6/13/14/18/14/14) that will "wake" and attack if they are at all disturbed (usually by investigating the green glow). These are some of the dead ancients who once staffed this facility, corralled here by the mole men and then barricaded in.

Healers or other characters may want to investigate the mushrooms. There are 1d3 varieties and the judge should allow a luck check to see if any of them have restorative properties. If failed they are either safe but otherwise unremarkable, or potentially poisonous (or possibly all 3 ...).

The metal slab on the right is an elevator door that leads to Area 1-3. The door can be opened by pressing the glowing jewel in the wall, a Dc 18 Strength check, or a DC 5 Rover check.

Inspecting the barricade reveals it to be made of stacked up office furniture.

The barricade is roughly 7 feet high and appears to be constructed primarily of large sections of a metal and hide wall. These sections are square metal with some kind of strange fuzzy hide stretched across the middle. Among these sections of wall you can also see old chairs and strange metal boxes. 

If the characters seek to deconstruct the wall ask them where along its length they want to do this (on the right there is a door hidden within the barricade to Area 1-7) and tell them that it is not difficult but will take time and may make noise. Beyond the barricade is a larger space that is scattered with debris and leads to areas 1-4, 1-5, and 1-6.

Beyond the barrier you see a larger space. Clutter about are large piles of debris and old furniture. On the left there are two openings in the wall that clearly lead into other spaces. At the back of this long space is a wall of entirely hard air beyond which a room containing machinery and controls with blinking lights. Through that room you can see a large window into a larger space from which the pervasive purple glow emanates.

Exits to:

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

MCC - Purple Pit of the Mole Men (Area 1-1)

Welcome to the first a in series of weekly posts detailing my Mutant Crawl Classics adventure Purple Pit of the Mole Men. Each week I will provide an area of the map in complete detail and by the end of this series you will have a full adventure ready to be run. This adventure is based on Harley Stroh's The Sinister Secret of Whiterock, and I consider this an adaptation of the adventure to the MCC rules set. You can navigate using the links provided in this post or via the page in the header bar above. This is designed with 4-6 level 1 characters in mind, if you are running this with higher level characters increase hit dice and enemy numbers accordingly. 

Area 1-1 Entrance

The player characters can find this location while exploring or head directly to it if they were witness to the landslide that revealed this entrance after untold years buried.

You stand amid the rocks and earth of a recent landslide looking up at the shorn off earth above. A strange site greets your eyes; a wall of artificial stone of the ancients juts partway out from the rocks and fresh earth. A small ledge of similar material leaves a place where one could stand were they to climb the loose slope. A portion of the wall seems to be the strange "hard air" of the ancient ones, and may provide access to this newly uncovered ancient ruin. 

Climbing up to the ledge can be done with a DC 7 agility check. No check will be needed if there is a rope other aide. Atop the ledge the following additional detail can be seen.

Standing on the ledge you see that this structure's exposed wall is perhaps 15 feet across and ten feet high. Set into this wall is a section of "hard air" roughly 6 feet long and 7 feet high, which is grimy with age and dirt. Through the dirty "hard air" a strange purple glow can barely be made out within the ruin. Set into the wall on the left is a black square with a triangular depression. 

The "hard air" is a sliding glass door which serves as entry into this ruin. A rover can attempt to open the door with a DC 10 check to bypass Artifact Doors and Security Systems. The glass/hard air can be smashed with 10 points of damage, or it can be forced open with a DC 15 Strength check (or a combined strength of 25). The wall to the right of the door is cracked and with an hour of effort the broken stone can be pulled down enough to squeeze through.

Once inside the characters will find a room 15 feet long and 10 feet deep.

Inside you found a small chamber 15 feet long and 10 feet deep. Directly ahead is an opening barred by another "hard air" barrier, beyond which the purple glow is more obviously visible. To the left is a small wall, half the height of a man, and to the right an area of the room contains 4 upright pillars.

On the left is the security area. Behind the console is the corpse of an ancient one. Time has deteriorated the bones such than any disruption will crumble them to dust. The body has a security comm badge that will open all doors in the facility, and a gauzer pistol with 7 rounds.

The control unit is mostly broken, but a DC 15 Intelligence check can repair it enough to allow the door to activate and open into Area 1-2. A result of DC 20 will also reactivate the 4 decon-pillars in the room which will purge radioactive material from any who walk within the area they outline. The only effect of which would be to inactivate any materials useful for Glowburning.

If the characters do not fix the console they can open the inner glass door in the same way as the outer door (DC 10 check from a Rover, DC 15 Str check, 10 points of damage, or a combined 25 Str). Alternately if the Comm Badge is activated it will automatically open the door for the possessing character.

If the characters peer through the inner door into Area 1-2 they will see a larger area festooned with glowing mushrooms in various shades of purples, blues, and reds, as well as a number of areas where a different green-yellow glow leaks from between the mushrooms.

Exits to:

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Coming Soon - Purple Pit of the Mole Men

I've been quiet lately due to various factors, mostly a busier than usual work schedule leaving me with less time to write, but also because the impending demise of Google+ really has me down. However as I am off to Gary Con to run Purple Pit of the Mole Men I can announce that I will be returning with regular blog posts on my return. I am going to break up Purple Pit of the Mole Men into a series of blog posts, one each per room, and providing the full details. There are approximately a dozen areas in the adventure so this project will take about as many weeks to complete, but in the end you will have a full adventure, or a bunch of possible drop in rooms to add to other adventures.

You may wonder why I don't publish, and the easy answer is this, I don't feel that this qualifies as an original adventure. It retains a great deal of DNA and inspiration with Harley Stroh's The Sinister Secret of Whiterock and, as a result, it feels more appropriate to post this for free for others to enjoy rather than simply holding it in my pocket for all time.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Nuts & Bolts #157 - Hacking the Cypher System - Role Play Informed Modifications

I've mentioned before my current Cypher campaign in the Nightbane setting (a Palladium RPG that's proving way more fun in Cypher System). The players are really getting into things and exceeding my expectations for role playing in a horror setting. Horror games can be tough if the players aren't on board for playing horror, but so far this hasn't been the case for this tale of people turned monsters. In the course of the campaign thus far fear and paranoia on the part of the characters has been playing strongly into the actions of the players. Even better the dice seem to be in on the fun and have been supporting things.

Picture the scene ... one of the characters has found that by traveling through mirrors he can access a parallel shadowy earth; a twisted realm known as the Nightlands. He convinces a second character to help him take the bodies of two doppelgangers they killed to the Nightlands for "disposal." This second PC has been pretty freaked out by everything and is reluctant to go to this scary sounding Nightlands place, but he mans up and tries ... and fails. He spends a moment to put some effort into it and tries again ... and fails, again. He spends and XP, and still fails (mind you a lvl 4 task with effort he only needs a 9+). He takes a recovery to get some points back and collect himself and tries, and fails, again.

I mention this not because these moments are amusing and memorable but because I've been taking these role playing moments, and using them in conjunction with a little use portion of the optional rules: XP Advances.

You'll find the text for XP advances in the Cypher System Rulebook on page 230-231. The basic gist is that the player can trade negative character traits for XP. For example a character who is wanted by the law might get ~4-6 bonus XP. Normally such traits and their trade off bonuses are the domain of character creation, but I've started to use the rule in the situations above to give role-play informed modifications to characters in exchange for Advancements.

So in the example above I offered the player a permanent Inability in tasks related to traveling through mirrors (a pretty big deal since the Nightlands are the only place to get Cyphers for this character in this game) and in exchange an advancement for extra edge in a pool of his choice. I did similar for another player whose character continually refused to transform back into their human guise. These are optional for the players and I only offer them when it feels right for the character and the story, but so far it has been well received and has made for interesting character development and roleplay.

If a GM wasn't willing to give out entire advancements they could hand out XP, or other short, medium, or long term benefits. These types of character impacting modifications should obviously be taken carefully and not abused. Let the game guide you and only offer them when it feels earned by the direction of the role-play and the game.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Nuts & Bolts #156 - MCC - The Ecology of Spider-Goats

Loyal readers may have noted that I have ceased re-caps of my monthly game. Mostly this is because I find recaps difficult to write and I have had a lot of other stuff that needed to get out more. However, last session saw a "randomish" encounter with spider-goats, and I can't help but make a few notes on the subject.

The three characters were exploring the toppled remains of an old tower, the hollowed out tube of the life making an easy way to guide their progress to the top also felt like a place that something predatory would make its home. Enter a pack of three spider-goats. Things were pretty touch and go not for the damage they dealt, but for the paralytic poison and the entrapping webbing. I use the dice chain a lot so even while webbed the character's could try to act but were rolling at -1d or more. This allowed me to use the webbing to hinder the players without tipping the scales too far too fast since we have such a small group.

The PCs battled for perhaps 4 rounds before coming out on top. Things went south for the S-Gs fast once the radium rifle was brought to bear and a critical hit scored (ouch!). Once defeated the SGs yielded a few horns (for future use in making awesome helmets) and a pair of poison sacs (for future use in making the judge wince). The PC then moved on.

I didn't think to mention any egg sacs or webbed over corpses, and the players never asked. This occurred to me (as often does) the day after. I was mad at myself at first, because this seemed like a cool opportunity missed. But then I thought about it more. Spiders consume the liquids within their prey and leave dessicated husks, but goats? Goats eat EVERYTHING. So wouldn't a spider goat first drink all the gooey stuff, and then, while hungry and waiting for more prey, snack on the prey-jerky and eventually even their own old webbing?


Yes, they would.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

State of the Blog 2019

Hi folks!

2018 was a good year for the blog. A tough year, but one that saw the Alphabet of Outer Beings go from idea, to concept, to 27 blog posts and a physical handout I brought to Gary Con. The Alphabet, when taken as a whole, is easily the largest thing I've ever written. It's also something that I'm actually willing to pretty up and ask people to pay me for in either a collected digital or a physical form of unknown fanciness. I've never really self-published before though. As a result 2019 is looking a bit scary.

This is the first post I've written since mid-December, and that kinda feels good as well. I'm going to be taking a different approach to the blog this year. Namely, I'm going to skip weeks. My goal is still a post a week, but I'm not going to kill myself to do it. I've got a lot going on at work, and frankly I don't know what kind of effort will be needed for the Alphabet, so I'm going to write when I can, post when I can, and when I cannot, there will be no posts. That sucks, I know, especially since with G+ dying I want people to be able to come here regularly and find new stuff, but I only have so much time and energy. I'd rather deliver occasional good stuff than routine average stuff.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Nuts & Bolts #155 - MCC Genotype table

I have been playing MCC for over a year now, and as a group we've lost a lot of PCs. So much so that I finally took the game off the rails. I wanted to take a look at how compatible MCC really is with the other "DCC family" products and see if classes from Lankhmar, Umerica, fanzines, etc. could roll along with the DCC & MCC classes. I realized that there was need for a larger table for generating Genotype under these circumstances. So I created this with the intent of using it for my "MCC Unchained" campaign rolling forward.

Genotype Table (roll 1d10)
  • 1-2: Homo Sapiens - The legacy of the ancients. The homo sapiens has been one of the dominant species on Terra since well before the Great Disaster. Homo Sapiens is split into 2 sub-species. Roll 1d6.
    • 1-3: Homo Sapiens Firmum - These are an offshoot of the ancient who have evolved a robust genetic code that resists mutation due to environmental factors. Use MCC Pure Strain Human classes.
    • 4-6: Home Sapiens Sapiens - These genetic throwbacks are born to mutants (homo mutaris) infrequently (roughly 1% of births).  These humans are lacking the genetic hard coding of Firmum, and can develop mutations over time. Use human classes from DCC, DCC Lankhmar, & The Umerican Survival Guide.
  • 3-4: Homo Mutaris - Many are the descendants of humanity who have gained mutations both grotesque and wonderful. Though homo mutaris is a separate species it is fully capable of interbreeding with homo sapiens. Roll 1d6.
    • 1-3: Homo Mutaris Multis - The common mutant, these genetically unstable offshoots of humanity exhibit any number of strange defects and amazing powers. Use the MCC or Umerican Survival Guide mutant classes.
    • 4: Homo Mutaris Dryadalis - Also occasionally known as Elfs, these mutants breed mostly true with a delicate visage, a painful allergy for iron, and a natural affinity for manipulating strange energies that even the ancients did not fully understand. Use the DCC Elf class, or other derivations.
    • 5: Homo Mutaris Pumilus - Sometimes called Dwarfs, these mutants mostly breed true with a short stocky visage and a strange ability to smell precious metals and other minerals. Dwarfs have a seemingly racial talent for martial endeavours. See the DCC Dwarf class and its derivatives. 
    • 6: Homo Mutaris Nanus - These tiny mutations are occasionally called Halflings. They exhibit the a form of Darwinian Luck similar to the Homo Sapiens Firmum. Use the DCC halfling class and its derivatives.
  • 5-6: Animalis Sapiens - The animal kingdom saw its fair share of mutations after the Great Disaster, and many of those mutants gained sentience. Some even evolved humanoid form. Roll 1d6.
    • 1-3: Animalis Sapiens Multis - The common manimal. This represents not a true species but instead a broad category of mutant animals with human form and extraordinary abilities that are similar to those of the Homo Mutaris Multis. Use the MCC manimal class.
    • 4-6: Animalis Sapiens Primalis - Another broad characterization of mutated animals. The Primals have a more stable genetic structure compared to manimals, and some among them even have an innate connection to the strange forces of magic. See Primal Tales #1.
  • 7-8: Planta Sapiens - Though less common among the plant kingdom, mutations that resulted in a strange sort of sentience and some form of human-adjacent body structure have occurred. All such plantients exhibit varying physical mutations and powers as well as an odd ability to affect themselves and others via olfactory detectible secretions. Use the MCC plantient. 
  • 9: Boletus Sapiens - Commonly known as Shroomers these highly intelligent fungi are rare and all seem to share a devotion to some higher intelligence. Gifted with immense mental powers the shroomers are one of the more physically stable mutants of Terra A.D. (find the class here)
  • 10: Xenos - Aliens from other worlds visit Terra A.D. on occasion. Though rare, these alien species occasionally find themselves stranded, or take up a long term goal that requires they interact with the locals. Use the Gray class from The Umerican Survival Guide, or see Star Crawl for a multitude of Xenos options.