Oct 30 2012

House Lack of Rule

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For my Fortress of Tears game, I envisioned it being very much a LotR-clone, right down to the long marches overland. The characters are HERE, the monsters have the travelers checks HERE, kind of thing. To that end, I came up with a very detailed set of travel rules, with hex-by-hex turns that had Survival checks by the designated Guide to avoid becoming Lost, Perception checks by the Scout to avoid unwanted encounters, Perform checks by the Marshal to keep up morale and help avoid Fatigue, modifiers for terrain, weather, etc.

Then, looking at the (mostly) finished project, I just sorta blinked a few times and said, “What were you THINKING???”

It was a very playable system, and did a good job of simulating fantasy-overland-travel of the type likely to happen in a “war against the dark lord” sort of campaign, but when I was suddenly confronted with the question of “How does this actually make the game any more fun?” I couldn’t find a good answer.

Thing is, I can imagine once upon a time looking over a system like this and going “Cooooool.” Because why wouldn’t you have a detailed system for this? That’s what games have, is systems. That’s how your world and the characters’ world interact. You can’t just decide what happens, that’s cheating! But if I’m honest with myself, I can then just as easily imagine myself using the system for all of three “turns” and deciding it’s way too much work, throwing out any result that doesn’t interest me.

At the end of the day, I ended up with a slightly-modified version of the standard Pathfinder rules, which do little more than give you rough MPH measurements with some modifications for terrain and guidelines for fatigue if you push it. It’s not particularly nifty or cool in any way, but it does provide a reasonably fast framework for figuring out how long it takes to get from !The Shire to !Mordor by way of !Rivendell. Since any encounters that happen are only going to be ones that I think are “interesting” anyway, I might as well just spend my time coming up with those instead of wasting my time trying to simulate the boring bits on the off-chance that characters might come to an encounter lost or fatigued.

I don’t know what it is about the gamer mindset, that occasionally gets fixated on the rules as an end to themselves. Maybe it’s just a geek thing. But to paraphrase uber-geek E.G. Gygax, “A good GM often only rolls the dice to hear the noise they make.” A well-run game is all about the players and the story, not the mathematical construct that it rides on.

-The Gneech

Oct 29 2012

Monday Monster: Mewlips

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The cellars where the Mewlips sit
Are deep and dank and cold
With single sickly candle lit;
And there they count their gold.

Their walls are wet, their ceilings drip;
Their feet upon the floor
Go softly with a squish-flap-flip,
As they sidle to the door.

They peep out slyly; through a crack
Their feeling fingers creep,
And when they´ve finished, in a sack
Your bones they take to keep.

Mewlips are described by Tolkien in The Adventures of Tom Bombadil, in which they are mentioned in a hobbit nursery rhyme. The poem sounds a bit like they’re a race of Gollums, or perhaps just a particularly damp race of goblins. In any case, in the Dawn Reaches, there exist creatures which the humans call “water babies” and the hauflin call “mewlips” which fit the same mold. Small, pasty, wretched amphibian humanoids wrapped in oily rags, mewlips lurk under the water’s surface, preferring to ambush their prey with surprise. They only venture forth at night (or in the sheltering dark of caves), and rise out of the water silently, looking disconcertingly like drowned children, wielding a spear in one hand and a net which they use to trip their prey in the other.

The Mewlips Count Their Gold by ~Loneanimator on deviantART

Mewlip (CR ½, XP 200)

CE Small humanoid (aquatic)
Init +2; Senses darkvision 60 ft.; Perception +4
AC 15, touch 13, flat-footed 13 (+2 Dex, +2 natural, +1 size)
hp 5 (1d8+1)
Fort +1, Ref +2, Will +2
Speed 15 ft., swim 30 ft.
Melee spear +2 (1d6+1/×3), bite -2 (1d3)
Ranged spear +3 (1d6+1/×3)
Special attack nets
Abilities Str 12/+1, Dex 14/+2, Con 13/+1, Int 9/-1, Wis 10/+0, Cha 9/-1
Base Atk +0; CMB +0 (+4 trip); CMD 12 (18 vs. trip)
Feats Weapon Finesse
Skills Perception +4, Stealth +14, Swim +13; Racial Modifiers +4 Stealth, +8 Swim
SQ amphibious
Nets (Ex) Although a mewlip can’t attack to cause damage with its net, it is very skilled at using the net to trip adjacent foes. During the mewlip’s turn, it can make a single trip attack against any adjacent foe as a swift action. It gains a +4 racial bonus on trip attacks made with its tangling tentacles, and if it fails to trip a foe, that creature can’t attempt to trip the mewlip in retaliation.

A greater and larger form of mewlip, the “mewlip lord,” stays in their cave lairs and does not venture out except under the most extreme duress. Within their lair, however, they will fight to the death. They sometimes keep giant frogs or slurks as pets.

Mewlip Lord (CR 2, XP 600)

NE Medium Humanoid (aquatic)
Init +6; Senses Low-Light Vision; Perception +5
AC 18, touch 16, flat-footed 12 (+6 Dex, +2 natural)
hp 22 (4d8+4)
Fort +5, Ref +7, Will +3
Speed 40 ft., Swimming (40 feet)
Melee Claw +5/+5 (1d4+2 plus grab/x2)
Ranged Javelin +7 (1d8+2/x2)
Special Attacks Grab
Abilities Str 15/+2, Dex 22/+6, Con 13/+1, Int 6-2, Wis 10/+0, Cha 7/-2
Base Atk +3; CMB +5 (+9 Grappling); CMD 21
Feats Iron Will, Power Attack -1/+2
Skills Acrobatics +6 (+10 jump), Perception +5, Stealth +8 (+12 in water), Swim +10 Modifiers +4 Stealth in water
SQ Amphibious
+4 Stealth in water (Ex) You gain a bonus to Stealth Checks under the listed conditions.
Amphibious (Ex) You can survive indefinitely on land.
Grab (Medium) (Ex) You can start a grapple as a free action if you hit with the designated weapon.
Low-Light Vision See twice as far as a human in low light, distinguishing color and detail.

Designer’s Note: On Reskinning

These critters are actually reskins of existing creatures. The base mewlip was created from the stats of a grindylow, just changing the tentacle attack to a carried net, and the type from aberration to humanoid. The mewlip lord, on the other hand, is a merrow with the “young” template. Reskinning! It’s the GM’s second-best friend. ;)

-The Gneech

The stat blocks in this post are open content; mewlips and The Adventures of Tom Bombadil are the property of J.R.R. Tolkien and his heirs. Artwork by LoneAnimator.

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Oct 26 2012

For #GhostbustersFriday — Custom Ghostbusters Gaming Minis

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The figures are done! After a few sessions of the Savage World of Ghostbusters using the closest minis I had on hand, I decided I had to have proper GB minis. I took a long look at Carmen’s Fun Painty Time set of Ghostbusters minis, and while I don’t have Carmen’s sculpting chops, I am pretty pleased with the final result. For those interested in the process, I figured I’d write up some details here. You can click through any of the pics to see larger versions.

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Apr 16 2012

Monster Monday: Goblin Wolfrider

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Not as dangerous as a full-blown worg rider, goblin wolfriders are still very effective scouts, infiltrators (thanks to their pass without trace spell) or light cavalry. Wolves are also less likely to get annoyed at their goblin riders, turn on them, and eat them in the middle of combat.

Not that it doesn’t happen. Just not as often.

NOTE: Golarion goblins may (and usually do) take Goblin Dogs in place of wolves as animal companions. The statblock here is for my own game, in which the gobbies stick with wolves.

Somebody save that poor pooch!

Goblin Wolfrider (CR 1/2)

Male Goblin Druid 1/Warrior 1 NE Small Humanoid (Goblinoid)
Init +1; Senses Darkvision (60 feet); Perception +6

AC 17, touch 12, flat-footed 16 (+4 armor, +1 shield, +1 Dex, +1 size)
hp 16 (1d10+1d8+2)
Fort +5, Ref +1, Will +4

Spd 20 ft. (on foot); 50 ft. (mounted)
Melee Lance +3 (1d6+1/20/x3)
Ranged Shortspear +3 (1d4+1/20/x2)
Druid Spells Known (CL 1, 3 melee touch, 3 ranged touch):
1 (2/day) Pass without Trace (DC 13), Jump (DC 13)
0 (at will) Resistance (DC 12), Know Direction (DC 12), Spark (DC 12)

Str 13/+1, Dex 13/+1, Con 12/+1, Int 10, Wis 14/+2, Cha 8/-1
Base Atk +1; CMB +1; CMD 12
Feats Druid Weapon Proficiencies, Mounted Combat
Skills Handle Animal +3, Intimidate +3, Perception +6, Ride +5, Stealth +9, Survival +8
Languages Common, Druidic, Goblin
SQ Animal Companion Link (Ex), Nature Sense (Ex), Share Spells with Companion (Ex), Spontaneous Casting, Wild Empathy +0 (Ex)

Mounted Combat Once per round you can attempt to negate a hit to your mount in combat.
Share Spells with Companion (Ex) Spells cast on you can also affect your Companion, if it’s within 5 feet.
Spontaneous Casting The Druid can convert stored spells into Summon Nature’s Ally spells.

Wolf Goblin Mount (Animal Companion) (CR –)

Male Wolf N Medium Animal
Init +2; Senses Low-Light Vision, Scent; Perception +5

AC 14, touch 12, flat-footed 12 (+2 Dex, +2 natural)
hp 13 (+4)
Fort +5, Ref +5, Will +1

Spd 50 ft.
Melee Bite +3 (1d6+1/20/x2) plus Trip

Str 13/+1, Dex 15/+2, Con 15/+2, Int 2/-4, Wis 12/+1, Cha 6/-2
Base Atk +1; CMB +2; CMD 14 (18 vs. Trip)
Feats Weapon Focus: Bite
Tricks Attack, Combat Riding, Come, Defend, Down, Guard, Heel, Track
Skills Perception +5, Stealth +6
SQ Combat Riding, Track

Scent (Ex) Detect opponents within 15+ feet by sense of smell.
Track The animal will track a scent. +4 to Survival when tracking by Scent.
Trip (Ex) You can make a trip attempt on a successful attack.

-The Gneech

The text is open content using the OGL. “Goblin Wolfrider” was created by John “The Gneech” Robey. The illustration is from Paizo Publishing’s Rise of the Runelords and belongs to them. Stat blocks created by Hero Lab®.

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Apr 12 2012

When the Dice Hit the Mat

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Well it looks like my new campaign is going to start this weekend. I spent most of last weekend working up the first scenario (hanging out at the in-laws’ place with no internet to speak of makes for lots of focused time with a notebook and pen), and having received the campaign “handbook” the players are tossing character ideas around (so far 2/4 on halflings, which is strangely appropriate).

I mentioned before that this game isn’t like the others I’ve done recently, but is a “dig in, make lots of lore and background, go heavy on plot” type of game. This is fine and dandy as a mental exercise when putting the background together, but at some point it all has to become “real” and the character party has to inhabit the world. When the dice hit the mat, will all that pre-work make it awesome, or will the whole thing just go thud?

By a peculiar coincidence, Gnome Stew once again posts a blog entry that meshes up with the issues at hand nicely, this time about “Campaign Greatness.”

Some campaigns are not that good, some are fine, and some are ones we never forget. In my last article I talked about my Elhal campaign, and how it was one of the great ones. In a discussion on G+ (btw, Circle +Gnome Stew), some Plussers asked me what made Elhal so great. So I did some soul searching, as well as asked some of my players and we came up with some factors that not only made Elhal great, but could make any game achieve greatness.

Why Did It Work?

On the surface there is nothing about Elhal that was different from a hundred other fantasy stories. What then made it stand out? Here are some of the conclusions my players and I came up with:

Clear Sense of Purpose – From the initial pitch for the campaign, it was clear that the goal of the campaign was to de-throne the Demon King. Other things would happen along the way, but everyone knew where the game was going. This purpose was a beacon for the players. No matter what was going on, they knew what they were working towards.

Epic Feel – Elhal was an epic story, and thus it was clear that the fate of humanity was at stake. Likewise, it was clear that the characters were not just adventurers but people of purpose. That was conveyed through the tone of the game especially in the way NPC’s regarded the players.

Characters Tied To the Setting – The players did a great job of making characters who were tied directly into the setting. There were no Weirdos and no lone wolves. One character was the son of one of the Kings who fell to the Demon King, the other was the grandson of the King’s assassin. The third initially had a mysterious background with hints of the divine, but I would add some elements to that and fully embed him into the core of the game.

Say “Yes, And…” – There was a lot of saying Yes on my part. I worked very hard not to stifle any of the players enthusiasm, so when a player asked for something, I tried very hard to make that happen within the game, and the characters would have to earn the thing they wanted. When the players said that they would need a base of operations to mount their rebellion, I worked up an arc that would lead them to liberating a city under a terrible curse.

Outside Communication – The players were so excited that discussions of the game would spill into email between sessions. These discussions were almost always in first person and often represented in depth discussions about the situations the characters faced. Those metagame moments reinforced the game and added great depth to the campaign, and growth to the characters.

These are all elements that I’ve looked at with this game. Not all of them directly apply yet– there isn’t a single obvious “Demon King” for the players to rally against at this stage for instance, aside from an obvious Sauron-esque[1] Lord of Darkness too remote and powerful to be confronted directly any time soon.

The “Weirdos” points vs. “Say ‘Yes And…’” is an interesting balance that needs to be juggled. (And the linked article about the Weirdo Card is a very interesting one as well.) The players need to be able to create characters and situations that will interest them in order to get (and stay) invested in the game, but those things have to be woven into the setting and campaign in a way that works. Figuring out what to do when you are trying for a string quartet and half the players bring kazoos is part of the Gamemaster gig.

One thing I’m thinking of doing on that score is implementing a “Goals” and “Wishlists” system once the campaign has a good start. The “Goals” part (lifted from the old WEG Ghostbusters RPG) would be fairly simple: each character has a broad goal they wish to accomplish, and each session they get an XP bonus if they achieve it. Using the Lord of the Rings characters as examples, Aragorn might have a goal of “Lead Well,” Pippin would have a goal of “Get Into Trouble” or something similar, and Sam Gamgee would have a goal of “Serve Frodo.”

The “Wishlists” is even more straightforward: the players get together periodically and give me a list of things they’d like in upcoming sessions, both as a group and individually. Party wishes might be things like “a party mentor” or “to fight a dragon,” whereas individual wishes could be anything from “a magic spear” to “an NPC romance.”

Since the character creation process has been a bit more curtailed for this game than it usually is for my games, and there are limited options for things like buying gear upgrades over time, the idea is that these things will give players some extra control over the long-term story to compensate.

-The Gneech

[1] Strictly speaking, more Morgoth-esque, actually. Point is: definitely not an immediate concern.

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Apr 02 2012

Monday Monster: Mother, Maiden, and Crone, Pt 3 — The Keening Crone

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The last member of our wicked covey of hags, the Keening Crone is that most horrible of things, a bard. It’s highly recommended that you use her with several minions she can buff and heal (or with at least one of the other hags). Her ability is to make other monsters stronger, rather than to be a major foe on her own.

The Keening Crone (CR 9)

Female Green Hag Bard 4
CE Medium Monstrous Humanoid
Init +7; Senses Darkvision (90 feet); Perception +19

AC 27, touch 14, flat-footed 23 (+3 Dex, +13 natural, +1 dodge)
hp 109 (9d10+4d8+39)
Fort +7, Ref +15, Will +13
SR 16

Spd 30 ft., Swimming (30 feet)
Melee Sickle +18/+13/+8 (1d6+6/20/x2) or
Melee Claw x2 +13 (1d4+3/20/x2)
Special Attacks Bardic Performance (standard action) (14 rounds/da, Bardic Performance: Countersong, Bardic Performance: Distraction, Bardic Performance: Fascinate (DC 16), Bardic Performance: Inspire Competence +2, Bardic Performance: Inspire Courage +1
Spell-Like Abilities Alter Self (At will), Dancing Lights (At will), Ghost Sound (At will), Invisibility (At will), Pass without Trace (Constant), Pyrotechnics (At will), Tongues (Constant), Tree Shape (At will), Water Breathing (Constant), Whispering Wind (At will)
Bard Spells Known (CL 4, +18 melee touch, +15 ranged touch):
2 (2/day) Cure Moderate Wounds (DC 16), Hold Person (DC 16)
1 (4/day) Expeditious Retreat (DC 15), Disguise Self (DC 15), Hideous Laughter (DC 15), Cure Light Wounds (DC 15)
0 (at will) Open/Close (DC 14), Read Magic (DC 14), Mage Hand, Light, Prestidigitation (DC 14), Ghost Sound (DC 14)

Abilities Str 22, Dex 16, Con 16, Int 18, Wis 16, Cha 19
Base Atk +12; CMB +18; CMD 32
Feats Bard Weapon Proficiencies, Combat Casting, Dodge, Improved Initiative, Improved Natural Armor (x3), Lightning Reflexes
Skills Acrobatics +13, Appraise +8, Bluff +20, Climb +15, Diplomacy +15, Intimidate +17, Knowledge (Arcana) +22, Linguistics +10, Perception +19, Perform (Sing) +20, Sense Motive +20, Spellcraft +20, Stealth +19, Swim +14, Use Magic Device +20
Languages Abyssal, Common, Draconic, Giant, Infernal
SQ Bardic Knowledge +2 (Ex), Mimicry (Ex), Versatile Singing +20 (Ex), Weakness (DC 20) (Su), Well Versed (Ex)
Combat Gear Sickle; Other Gear Boots of the Winterlands

Mimicry (Ex) A green hag can imitate the sounds of almost any animal found near its lair.
Weakness (DC 20) (Su) A green hag’s claws sap strength from those she strikes. Each time a green hag hits a foe with her claw attack, the victim takes 2 points of Strength damage unless he resists the weakness with a DC 20 Fortitude save.
Well Versed (Ex) +4 save vs. bardic performance, sonic, and language-dependent effects.

That’s it for Mother, Maiden, and Crone! Have some creepy fun with them. ;)

-The Gneech

The text is open content using the OGL. “The Keening Crone” was created by John “The Gneech” Robey. Stat blocks created by Hero Lab®.

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