Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Some Dungeon Geomorphs

I draw a bunch. It seemed like fun but I'm not really into it. Perhaps I'll make some more later? If I do more, I need to change the grid size so I can add them staggered. Or maybe I should figure out what the 'standard' scale is so you can mix and match with other folks' stuff. We shall see. 

Here are some scans. Perhaps I'll make them into individual images suitable for roll20.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Shady Thicket

The city of Haven is absurdly large. The population density is unreasonable. The idea is ludicrous. However, I'm not going for reality, I'm going for insane fun and maximum opportunity.

Haven is broken down into Districts, each acting like a semi-autonomous city-state within the city. There isn't a central "city government" - the place is endless chaos of guild and noble house politics and schemes. Recently in my game the criminal element was a major focus. There was a gang war in the city the adventuring crew organized to take down someone nasty. It was awesome.

This post is about one district: Shady Thicket. I decided to write up a document for each district to give them distinct flavor and color. Here are some screen shots of that. Let me know if you are interested and I'll happily share the pdf with you.

The idea is to give each neighborhood within a district some tone, which gives the entire district a tone. In addition to the description, some people and places. A series of tables to generate random buildings that apply to everywhere in the district and lean into the feel of the neighborhoods in the three regions of the district.

The people and place tables will always be unique, but as I write up more districts - which I'll do in detail as we actually play in them - I can reuse and tweak the building generators. For example, in Smoldering Wharf  docks I may use something like.

 d6 StateFeeling
Bustling / Active
2 Weather-beaten 
 Shady / Criminal 
3 Precarious / Dilapidated  Warehouse / Storage
4DisreputableFish / Fishermen
5 Leaning Heavily  Repairs / Carpentry 
6 Partially Collapsed  Boatswain /Sailors 

In fact I'll use exactly that. :)

You can map a city, but as soon as you've done that you lock things into position. Also, it is boring. I've got a 2-page spread of the district with the walls and major roads (and Greenwine hill). I've drawn on significant sub-streets and added a few buildings to mark specific locations. Everything else is handled with role playing and random tables. Based on an idea from the lastgaspgrimoire (which has SO MUCH GOOD STUFF), I've written up my "city crawl" mechanics to cover chasing someone down an alley, seeing wtf is going on up on those rooftops when the crew inevitably does that, and poking around the Undercity. So the map is simple and we add to it as we need. As we transition to roll20, I can even share it with the players.

Monday, January 11, 2021

RPG Weather - Haven System

I've complained about it before and made a bunch of tables and all sorts of things, but weather tables in RPGs are rough. Too complicated, not an interesting flow of weather, too random, and so on. Even the ideas I came up with were OK (at best - and I'm biased) ... but not really interesting or even that easy to use. Then I discovered this absolute gem!

Of course I had to abscond with the idea and make some changes to fit my needs. It really is a beautiful system and quite flexible. It is dynamic, gives patterns to recognize, and is really simple to set up!

How To Use these Tables

  1. Start somewhere. For example my game in late spring, so I'm starting in the center hex of the spring table.
  2. Roll a d6 and follow the rules as Daniel wrote. They are simple and fun!

[New Stuff] 

  1. In the last weeks of a season, roll 1d4 instead of 1d6
  2. If during that time a result on the right side of the table is a 2 or 3, transition to the left-most hex on the season table. 
  3. If the next season starts but the weather table is still the previous season, don't freak out. instead roll 1d6 is results of: 1 = up, 2-3= right up, 4-5 = right down, 6 = down
  4. And follow new rule 2 up there. Eventually you'll get to the next season's table

Special Hexes
Then I decided that I could do some sort of special hexes. The top-most and bottom-most hexes are special in that they tend to stick around for a bit. So in the spring the first time one of the top or bottom hexes are encountered they are Spiced Winds. As soon as the weather leaves that hex, they change to Doldrums and the other once becomes Spiced Winds. The winds can stick around for a few days, but don't come about too often. Cool!

What My Weather Types Mean
  • Clear: normal uninteresting day, reasonable season temperature, winds, etc.
  • Cloudy: overcast and cloudy. when this hex comes immediate roll for the next day to see what kind of clouds - if rain or storm is 'on the horizon' they look like 'rain clouds' or 'storm clouds' rather than just 'grey shitty day clouds'.
  • Cool / Warm: lower or higher temperatures than normal, but not out of the question
  • Cold: not just cool but cold!
  • Cold Snap: indicates cold, but a sudden drop in temperature when it happens
  • Heat Wave: it is way too hot and will linger, the next day's weather not even kicking in until later in the day
  • Oddly Warm: it is way too warm for winter. not crazy hot, but a really warm day.
  • Rain: it rains!
  • Sleet: is it rain? is it snow? It sucks no matter what, freezer over if next day is snow
  • Storm: it rains really hard and is probably windy. If in the winder it is a snow storm. if the previous day was sleet it might be snow for a bit.
  • Windy: it is hella windy. Haven is by the sea, so this isn't too weird
  • Fog: big heavy fog rolls in off the sea. pea-soup stuff. a good time to do crimes.
  • Light Snow: some snow falls. it is pretty.
  • Thunder Snow: snowfall with thunder and lightning
  • Silent Snow: sound is dampened, snow cover is heavy
  • Wet Snow: nasty bsuiness. roll another 1d6. On a 1-4 it ices over. Gross
  • Howling Wind: just really intense gale that seems to have a bit of howling coming from the wind itself
  • Warm Wind: it is warm, which is nice in the winter
  • Doldrums: totally calm day, no wind, magnify previous day's weather (ignoring wind)
  • Spiced Wind: winds that carry the scent of spices and far-off places. usually considered an omen (50/50 good or bad) depending on when they arrive.
  • Blood Rain: the rainwater is reddish and leaves a film on things. it is a type of reds algae that lives in the clouds
  • Ashy: The sky gets smudgey clouds and a a bit of ash, like a light rain, falls from the sky. nobody knows where this comes from 
  • The Calm: The weather is fantastic and a perfect temperature - everything seems calmer on these days, including the people and creatures of Haven. usually a good pop-up market day
  • Black Tides: the weather from the previous day continues and the tides are particularly high and low - the water is dark, a dangerous time to be in the ocean and the mouth of the rivers
  • Wendigo Snow Storm: this happens at most once a winter (then it becomes Howling Winds). Incredible winds, heavy stinging snow fall, and wendigo stalk the streets at night.
And now for some tables:


In Action!
My calendar has 12 months, each with 28 days (because fuck it - why make it complicated like real life?). Spring is March - May, 3 months per season. Starting on May 7th in the center spring hex, here is an example of the daily weather.

DateSeason Die  Roll Weather
May 7Springd6xclear
May 8Springd64warm
May 9Springd64windy
May 10Springd61warm
May 11Springd63rain
May 12Springd61clear
May 13Springd61clear
May 14Springd64clear
May 15Springd62warm
May 16Springd63ahsy
May 17Springd66warm
May 18Springd65clear
May 19Springd63storm
May 20Springd61warm
May 21Springd63ashy
May 22 Spring (transition) d42Storm
May 23Spring (summer)d64rain
 May 24 Spring (summer)d66storm
May 25Spring (summer)d64rain
May 26Spring (summer)d66storm
May 27Spring (summer)d61cold snap
May 28Spring (summer)d64storm
June 1Summerd64rain
June 2Summerd62The Calm
June 3Summerd63clear
June 4Summerd64warm
June 5Summerd61clear
June 6Summerd65warm
June 7Summerd62clear
June 8Summerd64warm
June 9Summerd63Black Tides
June 10Summerd64Black Tides
June 11Summerd63Black Tides
June 12Summerd66Warm
June 13Summerd66Warm
June 14Summerd61The Calm
June 15Summerd62Clear
June 16Summerd63Cloudy
June 17Summerd63Spiced Wind
June 18Summerd65Storm
June 19Summerd64Black Tides
June 20Summerd65Black Tides
June 21Summerd64Black Tides
June 22Summerd64Black Tides
June 23Summerd63Black Tides
June 24Summerd61Storm
June 25Summerd64 Black Tides 
June 26Summerd61Storm
June 27Summerd64Black Tides
June 28Summerd61Storm
July 1Summerd65warm
July 2Summerd66warm
July 3Summerd62clear
July 4Summerd62cloudy
July 5Summerd65clear
July 6Summerd66The Calm
July 7Summerd61Cool

Additional Thoughts
This simple idea is so rad - it could be used to chart the course of anything dynamic. What about how the forces in a war are doing, or the relationships between factions, or the unrest in a nation? All of these are possible. It really may be one of the best things I've found on the internet.

Friday, January 8, 2021

Phantasmagoricon Volume 1

Everyone loves a monster book! More monsters! More ideas! But you know what no one likes? The same fucking monsters over and over and over. How many monster books have zombies and ghouls and whatever is in the SRD of whatever game is popular right now? Oh - and let's not forget about the wolf, the dire wolf, the ice wolf, the fire wolf, the undead wolf, the water wolf, and myriad variations on the same thing that are only exciting once or twice (think reskinning monsters in video games).

I'm in the writing details of the first Phantasmagorican - the monster books for Sorrow in Haven. This is the general layout (please ignore typos I'm not into editing right now). The blank space is for yet-to-be-determine stuff. Some artwork definitely, but perhaps also random tables to spice things up. For example everyone knows what the cherub looks like and the sticks to that general image, so perhaps a table of "what are they guarding" or "variations of weapons and look". Some might just get some additonal text describing tactics or variants or something. I'm focused on getting the main guts all done before going down the rabbit hole that is details.

Once I've got everything written up, I'm going to go back through and clean up the langue. Get rid of "seems to be" or "may be" and things like that. Make the words definite. Replace dumb words (big) with interesting words (towering) - generally make the short blurb evocative. If a GM reads a description and doesn't immediately imagine the thing and where they could use it, it isn't a good description.

Timeline Notes

  • Descriptions (about 25% done right now) - finish by end of Jan 
  • Description review/editing - end of Feb
  • make some choices on art and extra tables - mid March
  • get art - May
  • write tables - start mid-March, done by May
  • add the introduction - June
  • add an appendix or two as needed - June/July
  • cover artwork! - august
  • final proof - September

The Sorrow in Haven rules are all done - we are just doing some playtesting at the moment. At this point rules tweaks are very minor, a few wording choices get updated from time to time. Ultimately I'd like to make the whole thing less wordy (I do tend to go on) but I'd rather have a product in hand than backpedal that much. 

The rules are 8.5 x 7 , but the monster books layout is 8.5 x 5.5. I think I'm going to stick with that for the moment. perhaps the next rules iteration will get the 8.5 x x5.5 treatment and be less wordy. we'll see...

Monday, January 4, 2021

Restock the Dungeon

I really hate adventurers exploring a dungeon, then leaving, then coming back and nothing has changed. Obviously things have changed, but rarely are there any rules for what has happened.  Here are the rules that I use.

When the PCs leave a dungeon every room they have explored gets a restock roll. But what die to roll? If the dungeon is particularly active, roll 1d8. Regular dungeons roll 1d12. Slow/dying/quiet dungeons roll 1d20 or the higher of 2d12 (if you hate d20s for some reason)

 1dX  Restock with ...
 1 - 2 
 Monster + Treasure
 Trap + Treasure
 Unguarded Treasure
 Special Event
 No change, but show signs of activity
 No change, no signs of activity of any kind 


If there is a lair nearby (and nearby is relative) expand that lair and move some of the monsters. Only add more if they would be spread too thin. If the lair is of something with just 1 monster, then add some minions of that nasty.

If there are nearby monsters that aren't from a lair, add a few more of those. If there is a faction that has a reasonable presence, add some of them. These two are interchangeable and just depend on the map and the dungeon and all that.

Finally if there isn't anything that jumps out at you, add a random monster. Shit moves into dungeons. They spawn monsters from their very walls. Whatever works for you here.

If these are new monsters, add some new treasure. Otherwise split up some other treasure from where the monsters came from. If it is a trap room them move something from a nearby cache that the dungeon mooks would reasonably hide and trap. 

If unguarded, add something new. I always look at this last one as something another adventurer may have dropped.

Special Events
If there are some sort of things going on add a special bit to the dungeon. For example, if there are cultists trying to summon a demon then add some evidence of summoning, maybe some imps that have joined in the fun, or perhaps they've tweaked up this location to aid in their summoning making the whole thing move along faster ... or maybe they have SUCCEEDED and the thing is here. Whatever happens, make this room special and interesting (hence special event).

In Sorrow, there is an ever-present danger that the dungeon continues to grow. Dungeons are like living things and are pushing into the World of Light, they are a mold growing on the underside of reality. When this event pops up, I roll on this handy chart:

 1d20  Dungeon Growth Event
1 - 4
 1d4 chambers of this level
4 - 7
 1d8 chambers of this level
8 - 11
 2d4 chambers as a sub-level of the same dungeon type
12 - 14
 2d4 chambers as a sublevel of an adjacent dungeon type
 15 - 17 
 3d6 chambers as a sublevel of this dungeon
18 - 19
 1d3 chambers, temporary, Dust type, connect to other level 
 1d6+1 chambers, new point of egress to/from Sorrow

Been Gone a While
In the case where characters fuck off and do something else for a while, or get otherwise engaged/stuck/in jail/healing/leveling up I usually roll a few times or lower the die. Sometimes I just organically decide what happens. 

They killed most of faction 1 but faction 2 is still ok? Well fuck you faction 1 - faction 2 is here to take this dungeon over! Now that the Cult of Summoning Satan is dead the Sisterhood of Ruined Flesh is going to make this whole place a temple to Rot.

Big monster is killed off? That seems to open a new path of exploration for the other denizens. With that stupid gorgon eliminated (no one liked her anyway) the Callowpest have moved in from the north and started hunting a Sick Jack tribe. The Jacks don't like that are are setting traps.

Last Words
It is 2021. Finally. FIrst printing of Sorrow in Haven (revised edition) should become a physical thing this year. Monster book(s) are on their way - lots of writing and layout still to do - I am struggling a bit to make a layout I like. GM handbook is in its infancy. Also working on layout (focused on usability) of Sorrow itself. 

I'm also working on some geomorphs - a little daily exercise. If that actually becomes something I'll see about making them into a pdf or something. Most of the "365 day" projects don't make it a month (forget about a year), so who knows?

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Class-based damage & endurance + 2020 mini-rant

Characters in Sorrow in Haven have two die types set by their class - Endurance and Damage.

The Endurance Die
This is pretty common - different character classes have different amounts of hp. Endurance in SiH is a bit different. It is like hit points, but only represents stamina and stress. Vitality (another stat) actually represents the amount of physical damage one can take before getting killed.  Endurance is also a resource that characters can spend to increase their chances of success.

At 1st level a character gets a roll of their END die to determine stating END (15+END die roll), but after that every character gets 5 END when they level up. Early on it became obvious that characters with a big END die were just more capable then those with smaller END die - at everything (because you can spend END). So an initial bump, but long term END is fairly even across the classes. Adventurers are adventurers. 

So why still have it? Because the END die represents how effective the characters are at recovering END when they rest. Fighters recover from activity (which is usually physical in nature) faster than wizards. Vitality recovery still sucks for everyone, as intended. So if HP aren't the measure of combat prowess any more (and they definitely aren't in my game), it has to be ....

The Damage Die
I never liked classic D&D where characters couldn't use certain weapons. I understand why (game balance reasons) - a fighter is awesome at fighting so they get the best weapons. This was somewhat mitigated over time with proficiencies and whatnot, but it is still hella clunky. I also totally hate the idea that a dagger is less dangerous than a sword in the hands of a capable opponent. Hence, class-based damage. Fighters do 1d8 when they attack, wizards 1d4. Why? Fighters know how to fuck enemies up with anything in their hands, wizards not so much (they get spells, so you know, compensate in other ways).

This also allowed weapons to not be an endless list of stats, but rather descriptive items items that further the character idea. All "medium close combat" weapons are identical for stat purposes, just describe it however you want. Mace? Fine. longsword? Fine. Chain covered in salt-crusted thorns? Sweet. Gear, at least at a basic level, is then just an extension of the vision a player has for their character. 

I'm not the first (by a long shot) to use or even suggest class-based damage. I did it decades ago with the BX D&D game I ran as well. It works. It is fun. Arguments against it are boring.

"Game" Balance / Multiclassing
Both a character END die and Damage die can be improved. For all classes. If there isn't a specific advance within the class itself, there is always the option of the alternate "Broaden Your Horizons" advances. They have a level requirement and cause your XP totals required to advance to increase. Why? because the character is deviating from the archetype.

I hate "multiclassing". If a fighter 6, warlock 2, rogue 1 ... fucking Christ! You aren't anything coherent at that point. Your character is a collection of abilities and not an in-game concept. But having some options isn't unreasonable. A Dr. of Physics can also be awesome at singing, so why can't a wizard also deal some heft sword damage? The "broaden your horizons" advances don't change your class, your archetype, your focus, they just open some possibilities. Besides, there are tons of alternate powers and advances that anyone can choose.

Some "From Play" Examples
One of my players has gone all-in with a concept of a gun-slinger. He is playing a fighter that has deviated and chosen the alternate power "Black Powder Enthusiast". This guy is fast and deadly when it comes to shooting people with guns. Like seemingly way over-powered at 2nd level. However, the moment the tide turns and melee is upon him, things don't go as well. The character is so hyper focused on shooting pistols that anything else is mechanically wanting. 

In the previous campaign, we had a wizard that was all about causing damage. Massive damage. Destructive spells, physical damage, etc. In addition to being a war mage (increased damage die on spell effects) he also advnaced his general damage die. He was a fucking destruction machine, but when it came to interacting with people he was awful (and this was played oh so very well). 

Are these flaws? Nope. I say they are strengths. You can craft a character that excels in one thing at the cost of other things. And it is obvious from the get-go. He knew in the last session that once those gang thugs closed in on him, things were about to go fucking sour, and they did. That wizard was shit at everything except blasting monsters apart and the player really leaded into it. The whole things was awesome.

My Point
I don't have one. I like making END growth fairly flat as it makes every combat dangerous, even at higher levels. I like class-based damage because it opens up character concepts without gimping them with abstract game rules. I like character classes as archetypes, hate multi-classing, but love customization options. Done rambling. 

In Conclusions
I hope everyone is having a happy (or at least reasonable) holiday season. Stay Safe. Trump & his cronies & supporters are pieces of shit. Black Lives Matter. RPGs are awesome. Keep playing and doing awesome stuff. Don't be gate-keeping assholes. Orcs can just be orcs. Free Healthcare for Americans. Fuck you, 2020. 

Sunday, November 29, 2020

Special Ability: Level Level Drain - HELL YEA

I love it. I said it. Level drain the the SINGLER MOST TERRIFYING THING to old school players (Turn to Stone being a close #2). It probably doesn't kill you, but it makes you less than you were before. It is awesomely frightening. Players don't like it? too bad - they also don't like creatures that do 3d6 damage per hit or vomit gouts of acid that do 50hp of damage, but they don't whine about those as much.

However ... it never seems to make sense in the setting. Player characters have levels, but Zoff the Thief is only as good as his reputation and most recent score. Players know that vampires drain levels, but Helena is terrified of them because ... well .. because they drain levels?

I also am not a huge fan of the level loss itself as an actual game mechanic. It can be a huge pain in the ass from a book keeping standpoint in any edition, really.

My Solution, Part I

Monsters don't drain levels, they drain experience points. 

For OSR games, a monster drains 500XP per HD (or 1000 if they drain 2 levels). Using BECMI a vampire would drain 7000 - 9000 XP (based on HD), while a wraith would drain 2000 per hit.

For Sorrow in Haven, they drain some amount of XP - the more dangerous they are the more they drain. A Degenerate Wight sucks out 10x the XP as it does damage on a hit (1d6 damage). A shard mite eats 1d100 XP each day.

In any case, characters do NOT lose a level, it is now just that much harder to get to the next level. If a character is dropped to 0XP, they are just dead ass dead as the last of their life is drained out.

My Solution, Part II

When XP is drained, the character makes a Save (Death for OSR, monster-specific for Sorrow in Haven). If they fail, the GM makes a note. Do this each time they lose XP.

Once everything is said and done with the current encounter the GM rolls once on the Memories of the Past Table for each failed save. Then a little flashback happens between the player and the GM ... in the scene their character must learn something. When the flashback is over, that something is gone. The memory is has been dragged out of them. Loss of XP represents a loss of self, and what is the self if not memories? Or maybe they don't get a save - up to the GM.

I've had characters lose their fear of the unknown - making them wildly overconfident; lose their trust - making them turn on their own crew members; lose their ability to understand love - that one got really dark...

When the character next gains a level, or after some worthwhile session where the PC learned a valuable life lesson (the more you know!) they can choose to lose the problem they've picked up.


So Level Drain still rules, just replaced with XP Drain.

Something awful is still awful, but now opens an opportunity for more role playing (if you are into that sort of thing).

Monsters that suck out your memories and sense self now feel more like actual monsters and less shitty. Also: verisimilitude!