Wednesday 23 October 2013

The City, a setting for Guild Dogs

"The City" is its common name. Each of the countless races, sub-races, ethnic groups, cultures and sub-cultures have their own name for it. Sometimes one of those names comes into vogue and The City has a new unofficial name for a few seasons. Mostly though, it's just called "The City".

Every Guild has their own private genesis story for The City. Their own private creation myth that puts them and their particular  interests right there at the beginning of it all. Out in public though, no one wants to claim official ownership. No one wants to be responsible for the monstrosity The City has become. Actually being the rightful heirs to the place would be a lot of work. It's easier to just have a secret creation conspiracy. Those myths let The Guilds justify bleeding the place dry.

There used to be open War in The City. Everyone wanted something valuable that was there, smack-bang in the middle of it. Maybe it was beneath the ground, maybe it grew in some hidden grove, maybe it was locked away in a tower. Regardless everyone wanted that thing and there was War.

The Guilds fought for control of singular City blocks. Their war factories were practically built on top of one another. The Guilds could simply roll their death machines out the door and they would have cannon fodder to blast. This went on for centuries. What The Guilds were fighting for was lost to common knowledge.

Throughout these centuries The Guilds experimented with magic and machines, inventing new means of annihilation. Innumerable rifts were opened to the fortean multiverse, whole sections of The City were lost to space time mutation. The Guilds were not concerned about the Things that crawled out of these portals. In fact they quickly weaponized them. The Things were nothing compared to the horrors The Guilds were already inflicting on one another.

Finally The City was brought to the edge of utter destruction. It was brought to the edge of utter destruction over and over again. Once it actually flew over the edge of destruction (those space time mutations proved useful). Whether an external force finally decided enough was enough and stepped in, or The Guilds came to the conclusions that War was no longer in their best interest, the War stopped. The Law was introduced.

The Law is a curse that prevents any of The Guilds directly raising arms against one another.

The Guilds still hate each other though. And even though they have weapons in their arsenals that could implode whole galaxies they can't use them against each other. Instead their forced to use the scum that sit even lower than The Cities lowest underclass. That transient, gold-hungry class of outcasts the rest of The City looks down on. The Adventurers.

Only The Adventurers, those vagabonds who exist outside the normal strata of The City's social spheres, and its infinite network of shady alliances, can truly claim non-affiliation with any of The Guilds. Only they can keep the century long conflict going.

That's you. You're the deniable trash The Guilds use as their deadly puppets against one another. You are a Guild Dog.

(Guild Dog rules) 

Thursday 17 October 2013

Guild Dogs: Shadowruns in a Fantasy City

A friend was describing to me a Lawful Evil campaign he once ran (the campaign world was Lawful Evil not all of the Player Characters). It sparked a thought in my mind; Shadowrun's the Sixth World (the cyberpunked earth that Shadowrun takes place in) is a Lawful Evil campaign world. The Megacorps that run the show are solely interested in profit and power (I assume this to be evil). There is a very oppressive and prevalent sense of  law though. Mostly because these law benefits all of the Megacorps more so than not having any laws. The law keeps the Megacorps from initiating all out war against each other.  This is why the Megacorps need to hire Shadowrunners, to break the law for them in a completely deniable, off the books, kind of way.

This concept could be transferred to a D&D campaign in a world run by self-interested superpowers.  These superpowers would also be bound by a common set of laws they can themselves can not break. It would be a Lawful Evil campagin, but I wanted to to transplant the game formatting of Shadowrun as well as the re-skinned take on PC's working for Evil Megacorps that run the world. 

The basic structure of a Shadowrun adventure/mission/game is a bit like this;
  • PC's get offered a job.
  • PC's do some research on said job.
  • PC's do the job (with help from research)
  • PC's get paid for job

 From my experience this more or less happens every session, there is a definite "job" that is attempted, with either success or disaster. The "jobs" normally involving a specific site where something has to be destroyed, extracting, researched etc. The PC's also have no alliance to one another, and are free to come and go as they please before and after a job. The only thing binding them together is the "job" for the specific time they are actually attempting it.

Sessions of D&D seem to have a much more liquid formatting. Some games you spend a lot of time mucking around in town, sometimes your wandering the wilderness, sometimes you explore a bit of a dungeon. Each session is different. There's no definite chunk or packet of easily quantifiable success per session (other than everyone having fun). Adventuring groups of PC's are also always assumed to have some sort of comradery ,friendship or some sort of other metaphysical glue binding them together.

This liquid formatting of a D&D session is great if your sitting down with more or less the same people every week and you can pick up exactly where you left off. It's not as great if you have different people dropping in and out each week and have to spend a bit of time letting everyone know where you are up to and what was achieved last session. Players not present for every session can also get annoyed with random distribution of reward. They might only be there for the 6 hour long "Talking in Town" session and get little to no reward, and then miss next weeks "Bumper Haul of Treasure from the Dungeon" Session.

I've been toying with the idea of campaign that's built to be played entirely online. I've noticed most sessions I run online go for 3 hours. At the end of these sessions sometimes I feel that the adventure was a complete, neat package, other times there's lots of loose ends that may or may not be remembered. I want every session of this campaign to feel like a neat, completed package.I want a campaign that could crank out 2-3 hour long sessions where something tangible is always completed, that each player felt like they had done something, gained something and more or less ready to move in any direction the next session (whether they make the next session or not).

I want to do Shadowrun-like mission based D&D campaign. The PC's are free-lancers, not owing allegiance to an specific entity or group in "The City" ("The City" is what I will refer to the place the campaign will take place in). Specific entities and groups see the value in free-lancers because they can hire them to do things that would get them in a lot of trouble if they were caught doing it. If the PC's are caught doing those things the specific entities and groups can just say " We deny all association with those lunatics".

It makes sense for these groups to use "adventurers", there will be lots of them around, just milling about at taverns between dungeon delves. They have the skills the groups wants and the groups have the gold that the adventurers want. Adventurers are almost a pest to any city, being a bizarre class of people akin to super powered gypsies, so they make a good deniable assest or scapegoat. Basic D&D PC's are essentially treasure hunters, and thus have the basic skills required to break into places and do illegal things. Its also a format that works well with the motley cast of characters that can randomly turn up at a game. There's no need to explain why they are all together in an "adventuring party", there just working together to get a specific job done. 

The classic example of Fantasy City Shadowrun is when the Gray Mouser and Fafhrd meet for the first time in Lankhmar. They're freelancers, both of whom have done enough research to know a certain entourage of Thieves Guild representatives will be walking down a certain street, at a certain time. They also know this entourage will be carrying something of quite a bit of value. They both plan an ambush and take the loot, meeting each other in the process.

That's what I plan for many of this campaigns sessions to be like; some planning, some research (legwork) and then a very specific scenario or site that can be approached (and go wrong) in any number of ways. Then depending on how the "Job" went the campaign world's balance of power will change.There would always be a number of "Jobs" on offer, as well as the ability to just cause some havoc in "The City" if none of the jobs appealed to any of the players.

Now I've got to get to work planning out "The City" and the myriad of self-serving douche bag Guilds that run the place. Also some nods towards Shadowrun in the form medieval body modification augmentation would be cool.

Friday 11 October 2013

City Scene Generator

This is the random city scene generator I used when my players ended up in the city of Thuleth. There's a lot going on in any city but Thuleth in particular is a self-contained, self-sufficient mega-city. I used the scene generator to work out what was happening on the fly as the PC's roamed through the streets. I had the city mapped out into vague zones, and specific area's had their own notes, but that didn't feel like enough for a whole city. This generator was for when the PC's wanted to explore the streets to see what they would bump in to.

You could use it too.

Bear in mind as it's a "scene" generator, it doesn't give adventure hooks, or obstacles, or monsters, it's just places that would be in a city. There's people doing things in the scenes, but it's up to you or the PC's to interact with them.  Depending on how well you know your city , many of the things that could happen in the scenes could easily lead to on the fly adventures.

Before I get to the tables here's the lowdown on Thuleth that may explain some aspects of the my City Scene Generator.

Thuleth is a city in the middle of the desert. For some reason (or maybe a number of reasons) it has a super abundant supply of water within its black walls. It doesn't like to share this water though, and it also doesn't allow any one who wasn't born in Thuleth to enter the walls. Huge towers, huge walls and lots of guards keep outsiders out of the city. As such it's a relatively ordered place (with a more or less oppressive militaristic police force). Security is so good that any one actually inside the walls is kind of assumed to be allowed to be there and people that may not look local are left mostly un-bothered (mostly). The PC's I ran through the city had got in via the muddy tunnels that criss-cross the ground beneath the city. There is possibly a mud-man problem in the city.

The city is run by a senate elected by super rich noble class. The military is directed by the senate, who is directed by the super rich noble class. There is lots of people in prisons, the military has lost control of some of these prisons. Magical brass statues line the streets, these can direct lost citizens (they also record the comings and goings of citizens). There is farming land inside the city walls.

Thulethian's have oval shaped faces with eyes freakishly far apart. When they leave the city they don masks. They mostly leave the city to kill or enslave desert wanders or to trader further afield for luxuries and/or luxurious slaves.

(Thuleth) City Scene Creator:

"Roll for aspect" refers to rolling on my "everything" table to further define something (I will explain this in a later post).

1) Exits (Could be the number of streets, alley ways, canals or paths that run through an area):

00-25) 1
26-50) 2
52-76) 3
77-99) Dead end/secret passage

2) Area Layout:

0-9) Narrow street/ alleyway
10-20) Wide street
21-31) Plaza or square
32-42) Grand water feature / lake
43-53) Two way street with plaza or square
54-64) Huge Building
65-75) Open field, paved area
76-86) Canals
87-97) Bridge or bridges
97-99) Area floating on water

3) General purpose of area:

0-8) Poor housing
9-16) Shops/trade (roll for aspect)
17-24) Military
25-32) Entertainment (roll for aspect)
33-40) Religious (roll for aspect)
41-49) Guilds (roll for aspect)
50-60) Noble housing
61-78) Farming area (roll for aspect)
79-85) Prison
86-90) Medical
91-95) Public utility (roll for aspect)
96-99) Senate building

4) Building material:

0-14) Blackstone
15-28) White marble
29-43) Bare rock
44-70) Brick
71-80) Bejeweled blackstone
81-90) Natural or growing
91-99) Wood

5) Condition of buildings:

0-25) Pristine or brand new
26-50) Aged yet looked after
51-75) Falling apart or in disrepair
76-99) Shabby but structurally sound

6) Population in area:

0-12) Empty, abandoned
13-26) Busy with commoner foot traffic
27-40) Quiet but not empty
41-53) Busy with horse, cart traffic
54-67) Military proceedings (roll for aspect)
68-82) Religious proceedings (roll for aspect)
83-93) Guild proceedings (roll for aspect)
94-99) Senate proceedings (roll for aspect)

7) Content of area:

0-8) Water feature (roll for aspect)
9-17) Statue (roll for aspect)
18-26) Music or performance (roll for aspect)
27-34) Debate, arguing, demonstration (roll for aspect)
35-42) Lewd entertainment (roll for aspect)
43-50) Oppression (roll for aspect)
51-59) Slavery or weird trading (roll for aspect)
60-68) Conspiracy (roll for aspect)
69-77) Nobles in conflict with (roll again on this table)
78-86) Guilds in conflict with (roll again on this table)
87-94) Commoners in conflict with (roll again on this table)
95-99) Military or senate in conflict with (roll again on this table)

Thursday 3 October 2013

Simple Conditions For Old School D&D

Up until recently I was playing a fair bit of a game called Barebones Fantasy . It's a nice, simple system that I had a lot fun running but eventually stopped due to annoyance with the multi-action per turn combat. The game listed a set of Conditions that you could disadvantage characters with. They had a elegance to them that worked well with the rest of the game's rules. You could happily apply them without having to trudge through a rulebook to work out the specifics of each condition. They were also all listed on one page, rather than being spread across different sections and different books.

I had each of the conditions allocated to the result of a roll on a d100. I used this for getting ideas for special attacks and abilities of monsters or the specific dangers of hazards in a game. I also would just have it laying around to remind me of different ways to fuck with players.

I was thinking of putting the list straight into my Labyrinth Lord file as is, and work out D&D equivalents for the conditions on the fly. That would have been lazy, so here they are, reworked for Labyrinth Lord. Not all of them actually needed to be changed but some were specific mechanic-wise to Barebones.

They're not particularly original, and the same things probably been done some where before, but they will be my way of slotting in quick and easy conditions to D&D. Many of these conditions are already present in some form (spells, specific monster attacks, surprise rules etc) but this saves me wading through rule-books and matching per-existing rules to words. Plus, I tried to make them as simple as possible, so regardless of actual rules I will be using these.

(I've given them all results on d100 for funsies).

Negative Condition:

0 - 8) Dazed: Your head is spinning! Victim gets -1 to attack rolls, +1 to attribute saves. The condition can stack (ie, get daze attacked twice and your attack roll goes to -2) and will also stack with the Fatigue condition. Lasts a d6 amount of time.

9 - 18) Fatigue: You are exhausted. Victim gets -1 to attack rolls, +1 to attribute saves until they rest. The condition can stack (ie, not dealing with your fatigue will result in -2 to attack rolls the next day) and will also stack with the Dazed condition.

19 - 27) Immobilized: Victim is held in place, they can't move but can still perform actions (that obviously don't require moving). They must make a Save vs Petrify or Paralyze to cease the condition.

28 - 36) Paralyzed: Victim can't move and can't perform actions. They are aware of their surroundings but have no recourse to interact with it. They must make a Save vs Petrify or Paralyze to cease the condition.

37 - 45) Petrified: Same as Paralyzed but now the victim has an AC of -5 as they have turned to stone. They will need some sort of magical cure to cease being stone.

46-55) Prone: Victim is sprawled on the ground, their armor class is increased (ie, made worse) by 5. They will have to devote the next turn to getting up.

56 - 63) Slowed: Victim can only act every other initiative pass. This condition may last a certain amount of turns or the victim may have to make a specific save depending on how the condition was gained.

64 - 72) Stunned: Victim can only act every other third initiative pass. This condition may last a certain amount of turns or the victim may have to make a specific save depending on how the condition was gained.

73 - 81) Surprised: Victim always rolls a 1 for initiative. Surprised characters takes their turn after the non-surprised characters and opposition have acted. If opposition also rolls a 1, surprised party member can roll a d6 for initiative but the opposition also gets to re-roll.

82 - 90) Unconscious: Victim is required to make an appropriate save to wake up.

91 - 99) Weakened: Victim only does half damage with martial weapons.

Tuesday 1 October 2013

Undead Proliferation in Classic D&D and Alternatives for Turn Undead

Clerics of the Diety of Demolition Work

The Turn Undead ability is a major component of the old school Cleric. It's a very specific ability that only Clerics receive. Deities really hate Undead for some reason, which is odd because if ALL Deities hated Undead why is there so much Undead left? Possibly the Turn Undead ability is an extrapolation of a holy man's ability to perform exorcisms and shoo nasty spirits away.

My take-away from this is that old school versions of D&D expect the appearance of Undead to be as likely as Player Character's getting wounded and requiring healing. Any campaign world you run using an old school version/variant of D&D assumes the existence of hordes of skeletons, ghouls and ghosts roaming about.  The existence of Undead is built into the very core of one of the main classes, and therefore the game.

I don't use Undead in my Campaigns (often). Their not a group of beings that appeal to me. I prefer things that are monstrous due to an overabundance of life. I prefer slime and tentacles to bones and dust.

This begs the question: Does a Cleric playing in my campaign thus have a fundamental disadvantage by being denied the use of one of their abilities? I'm not sure of the exact trade off, but Clerics are worse at something, somewhere along the line because they can use Turn Undead.

I feel that, yes, in a Campaign without Undead, a Cleric is disadvantaged. They are denied one of their core abilities.

This got me thinking as to how to replace the Turn Undead ability in a Undead-free campaign*.

This is easier to do when playing a game using a "HD amount of Undead" turning table, rather than a "Specific Undead Creature" turning table. In this case you can just replace the "HD amount of Undead" with "HD amount of whatever Thing the Cleric's Deity really hates". When playing a game that uses a "Specific Undead Creature" turning table, a bit more work is required to find equivalent beings. Though, you could just ditch that system and move to a HD based Turning table.

Replacing "Turn Undead" to "Turn something the Cleric's Deity hates" allows customization to the relatively rigid old school D&D cleric. Plus, it may make the oft neglected Cleric class a little more appealing to players.It also gives greater definition to the Deities at play in a campaign.

If you have your own campaign Pantheon it's pretty easy to work out what specific thing each Deity REALLY hates. If you allow a Cleric to make up their own deity, or bring one from another campaign setting, its probably worth spending a little bit of time defining exactly what that deity REALLY hates.

Replacing "Turn Undead" with "Turn Something the Cleric's Deity Hates" has a lot of scope to be either really overpowered, or be so specific as to be useless. Though, this is also the case with Vanilla Turn Undead.

Some examples; 

Evil Deity of Alcoholic Beverages and Inebriation; Cleric has the ability to Turn Sober Pub Patrons. Sober people flee from a site of alcohol abuse. (This is one of the ones that are so specific as to be useless.)

Good Deity of Order; Cleric has the ability to Turn Aberrations. These could be things with too many arms or legs, mutated things, people who believe Anarchism is the best form of government (Not to say Anarchists are aberrations, but they are by definition at least some what opposed to Order).

Neutral God of Nature: Cleric has the ability to Turn Technology. This would be things like Mecha-Golems, Robots and Hi-Tech Weaponry. Could also turn (cause to malfunction) things like Looms and Mills.

The alternative route would be finding a group of creatures analogous to Undead in your campaign (as they were perceived in old school D&D [as in so prevalent a class needs to be allocated an ability with whole half page table devoted to combating them]), but I feel that wouldn't be as entertaining as having a Cleric who has the ability to send a Loom running from the room in fear.

 *Or free enough for a Cleric to have cause for complaint.