Monday, May 25, 2020

Post-Apocalyptic Chase Rules– Vehicle and Foot Combined

These chase rules are meant to be used with these post-apocalyptic vehicle rules, although they could be adapted to other vehicle rules pretty easily.

They're also meant to be used for foot chases, so they can be used to create awesome parkour chase scenes.

Moreover, they can be used for combined vehicle and foot chases, like if someone on foot is being chased by someone in a car.  Obviously there's an issue there in that vehicles are just plain faster than runners– I'll explain how to deal with that later.

This is very loosely inspired by Spellbound Kingdoms, much like my system for using character bio as skills.

Rolling Initiative

Initiative is side initiative for people on foot, and by vehicle for people in vehicles.

Roll d20 (or 2d10 or whatever your chore mechanic is) plus DEX mod plus maybe a relevant driving mod for each driver.  That is their vehicle's initiative, and everyone in the vehicle goes on that initiative score, including not only passengers but also prisoners or boarders from the other side.

For each side, do the same thing but have whichever character is the most dextrous, best at parkour or whatever, roll for their whole side.  If there's a skill system they can add their athletics skill or whatever is most likely to get used, the same way drivers can add their driving skill.

Break ties by who has the highest skill, highest modifier, or just by rolling dice.

Chase Positions and Range Bands

At the the start of the chase, figure out who is in the lead, who's being chased by everyone else– they're at range zero.  Anyone within like 30 feet or less, or the range of a taser or thrown rock or dagger, is also at range zero.

Anyone within a hundred feet or so, or easy pistol range, is at range one– they're one range band behind the lead.

Anyone within around 500 feet, so fairly easy rifle range or extreme pistol range, is at range two.

Anyone within less than a couple thousand feet, so sniper rifle, heavy machine gun or anti-tank rocket range or extreme rifle range, is at range three.

Anyone within about a mile, or extreme range for sniper rifles and heavy weapons, is at range four.

Anyone within about 3 miles is at range five.  At this range you're still visible assuming no obstructions, but you're out of range of any weapon short of tank cannons or guided missiles.

Anyone at 3-9 miles away is at range six.   At this range you might not be visible even with few or no obstructions, you might be over the horizon, but anyone chasing you has at least a rough idea of where you are.  Also you might be leaving a visible dust cloud even if not visible yourself.  People at this range can keep chasing you but at the referee's discretion might have to make a tracking test or something to make sure they go the right way.

Anyone more than ten miles away is at range seven– they've lost track of the person in the lead.   If someone else is at range six, maybe they could follow that person and hope for the best.

I wrote those ranges mainly with post-apocalyptic car chases in mind; for pure foot chases in a crowded urban environment, keep the same system but maybe re-interpret the range bands as being shorter.

Obviously the logarithmic scaling of these range bands means time is somewhat abstracted; a combat round in a chase represents a rather indeterminate, abstracted amount of time.  If that becomes an issue for spell durations or bard car songs or something, treat each round as being ten seconds if people are at close range, and a minute if the closest chases is out of weapons range.  Or something like that.

Actions During Combat

On their initiative each round, each character takes a movement action, and might also take a non-movement action.  Note that if you're driving or on foot, you have to take a movement action.  Even staying still is an "action" in the sense that it causes you to fall behind and affects your position relative to everyone else.  Only passengers get to not take movement actions.  

Here are the options people have– or at least the ones that need to be codified for this system.

Chase Actions

I'll explain DC's for chase and other movement actions at the end of this section.  

Chase actions can cause you to gain or lose a range band.  If you're not at position zero, this means you get closer or further to position zero.  If you are at position zero and you can a range band, you stay at position zero and everyone else falls a range behind.  If you're at position zero and you fall back a range, you fall to position one if someone else was at position zero with you, or everyone else gains a range if nobody else was at range zero.  

Note that things like ramming and other maneuvers are not considered chase actions, since they don't change your chase position.  

Hold Pace– This is the equivalent of running but not sprinting, or driving fast but not pedal to the floor.  If you do this, you can also take a non-chase action, but it's at disadvantage unless it's something that directly involves movement like ramming, maneuvering, etc.  

Make a driving or athletics check.  On a success you stay in your current range band, on a critical success you either move up a range, or can give one passenger advantage on a non-movement action this round, or ignore your own disadvantage, your choice.  On a failure you fall back one range, on a critical failure, save or crash. 

Push It– Sprint or put the pedal to the metal to try and gain range.  Make a driving or athletics test.  On a success you gain a range band, on a critical success you can gain two if you want.  On a failure you simply don't gain a range band, on a critical failure, save or crash.  

You can't take any non-chase actions if you pick this, other than ramming, dive tackling someone, etc.  

Slow Down or Stop– You deliberately fall back.  This doesn't usually require a test at all, but it might if you're in a vehicle, want to stop altogether and were pushing it last round, or if the terrain makes it especially difficult, like you're on ice.  

You can take a non-chase action without disadvantage this turn.

DC's for Chase Actions and Movement Actions

For any chase action or any non-chase action involving movement like ramming, the DC is determined by terrain.  Drivers will make tests using either their vehicle's speed or handling modifier.  

Runners will usually use dexterity, but very occasionally might use strength.

Encumbered runners, or heavily encumbered runners (whatever the equivalent of having a heavy backpack that would significantly slow you down is called in your system) get disadvantage on all chase actions and other movement actions. Being encumbered in a chase is really, really bad.

Runners from a race that has a lower movement speed, like dwarves, get disadvantage on tests related to raw speed, but not tests relating to agility.  If you have higher than normal speed, you get advantage instead.  

For mostly open terrain, the DC is 10 for speed and you can't rely on handling/agility.

For somewhat cluttered terrain, it's 15 either way.

For very dense terrain, it's 10 for handling/agility and you can't make speed tests; you have to use agility.  

If it seems weird that dense terrain actually makes handling tests easier, remember that what's being measured is not your absolute speed, but your speed relative to everyone else.  

If you're in the lead, you're free to choose which way you want to go, and the people chasing you largely have to follow you.  If you're following, you need to either follow the path of whoever you're chasing, find a shortcut, or potentially take a long way around to cut them off if you're in a car and they're on foot.

Finally, a word about speed differences.  Cars with high speed are faster than cars with low speed, and high-dex people are faster than low-dex people.  Not by enough to automatically outrun each other though; just, they are likely to win contests, but they still have to roll.

Cars vs people, or planes vs cars for that matter, are a different story.  Cars automatically succeed on speed tests vs people, and people automatically fail them vs cars, ditto for cars vs most aircraft.  If you're on foot running from a vehicle, you pretty much have no choice but to go into dense terrain where the chase actions will have to be handling/agility based; you can't win on raw speed.   

Non-Chase Actions

Attack– This works pretty much as normal, with two considerations.  First, you may get disadvantage on an attack if you're at long range, or if the target is moving across your field of vision, fishtailing wildly, etc.  Second, people in cars are likely to get some kind of cover bonus to AC.  

Use an item, cast a spell, etc– Again, this works pretty much as normal.  People might need to make a DEX check to do it while running or in a bumpy car though.  

Full Defense– Usable by drivers or people on foot only, you take some evasive maneuvers.  Make a driving or athletics test; on a success, attacks against you have disadvantage until your next turn, but so do attacks by any of your passengers if you're driving.  Doesn't apply to attacks from the same range band, or to ramming attempts.  

Ram, or dive tackle someone– Make a driving, athletics or grappling test against the target's unarmored AC.  You have disadvantage if you weren't in their range band at the start of your turn, i.e. if you sped up to catch them then tried to ram.  However this doesn't stack with the disadvantage from your chase action, and you can try to do this even if you pushed it.   

A successful dive tackle during a chase does d4 damage on soft ground, or d6 on hard ground, and then you're on the ground grappling.  

A successful ram does damage to both vehicles.  Each vehicle inflicts one die per size, so one die for motorcycles, two for cars, three for large vans, etc.  The die size is d4 if the vehicle's velocities are nearly matched, like you side-swipe or bump someone front to back, and d6 if you come in more from the side.  If two vehicles collide head-on, they both inflict d8, and if you t-bone someone, you inflict d10's and they inflict d6's.

Armor modifies damage.  Reduce damage taken by one for every point of armor.  Increase damage inflicted by one for every two points of armor.  

It is imperative that you do armor this way, even if it otherwise acts as hit avoidance in your system.  Treating armor as hit avoidance would imply that, say, a motorcycle ramming a tank is unlikely to damage either the tank or itself.  

If a car rams a person, treat this as if the person was a size 1 vehicle.  Their armor counts as half– personal armor isn't as substantial as vehicle armor– and only hard armor, like metal not leather, adds to damage inflicted.

Jump onto a vehicle, off a vehicle, or from one vehicle to another– Oh hell yes, you can totally do this, provided you and the vehicle you want to jump to are in the same range band.  

The DC is 10 if the two vehicles are less than 5 feet apart, 5 if they're locked together somehow, 15 if they're 5-10 feet apart, and 20 if they're 10-20 feet apart.  Disadvantage if what you're jumping from and what you're jumping to haven't roughly matched their velocities, including if tiehr vehicle's driver is doing full defense.  

Vehicles are always moving of course, so base this on the most opportune moment you think someone would get within that particular round.  

If you succeed you make it on or off the target vehicle, and you now act on that vehicle's initiative count, or on your side's "on foot" initiative count if you jumped to the ground.  Anyone onboard an enemy-driven vehicle acts just before that vehicle's initiative count, so if you board an enemy vehicle you get the chance to stab someone before they react, unless someone uses a held action or something to hit you as you jump.  

If you critically succeed you land so softly people don't feel/hear you land on the vehicle, though they might still see you.  If you fail you fall, take damage, and lose your next turn; save for half damage and to not lose your next turn.  If you critically fail, you don't get to save.

Note that while this potentially allows someone to game the initiative system by jumping back and forth, they risk falling every time they do so.  If this isn't enough to discourage people from jumping around constantly, your NPC's aren't maneuvering enough.  

Any other action people can think of– Rule as necessary.  This includes stuff like combat maneuvers to push people out of a vehicle, or called shots to take out a car's tires.

Chase Procedure

The referee will need a notebook and pen or pencil, or maybe some post-it notes.  Each round the referee will tell people what the terrain is like where they're located, giving them an idea what their options are.  i.e. you can speed along the road or try to veer off into the field, you can run down the alley, try to jump a fence, or climb a fire escape, etc.  

The referee will need to keep track of what terrain people have moved through in past rounds, since anyone chasing them and following their route will have the same options.  In essence, the referee only has to come up with new terrain when the person in the lead advances.

If people start taking different routes but still chasing the same person, treat them as being laterally separated by one range band.  i.e. if Mad Max is being chased by two bandit cars, and one car stays on the road Max is on while the other cuts through a canyon, the two bandit cars are one range band apart left-right in addition to any front-back distance.  

If people start veering off in different directions, you've essentially got two or more separate chases at that point.

Chases are over when one side gives up, gets killed, or the range distance between the people running away and the people chasing is seven or more.  Or if the people running find some clever way to hide other than sheer distance.  If the people running stop running, then you're into a standard combat.  

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Ladyhawke as OSR Class

Blade Runner was my favorite movie as a kid and because of it, Rutger Hauer is one of my favorite actors ever.  Ladyhawke sounded like a cool movie so I watched it a few weeks ago.

It actually isn't that good, but the concept is cool. Side note: I wish studios would remake movies that had a great concept but were poorly executed, rather than movies that nailed it the first time.  A pair of lovers are cursed so that every day, the woman turns into a hawk, and every night, the man turns into a wolf.  Also, while in animal form each of them has animal-level intelligence so they can't understand what their human-form partner is saying beyond simple things like "stay."

So, here's a Ladyhawke class where you play as both characters.  Effectively, at any given time you're playing as one of them with the other being like an animal companion.

First, roll ability scores like normal, then pick the ladyhawke class.  Then roll ability scores a second time.  These are your two characters.

Assign them each a class– either fighter or thief.  No spellcasters here.  Each of them will have the saves and abilities of their assigned class.

The two of them share XP, and level as an elf.  If you're using a system where all classes advance at the same rate, they level as if they're one level higher.

Now pick an animal form for each of them– anything at least as big as a cat and no bigger than a bear, and it has to be a mundane animal. The animal form also has whatever abilities it would usually have like night vision or flight.

Also decide which one is human during the day and which one is human at night.  They both shapeshift, in opposite directions, at sunrise and sunset, at the same moment.  There's always a brief second or so where they're both in human form; not long enough to communicate, but long enough to share a look of pained longing for each other.  It looks really sappy.

In human form, each character has the normal hit points for their class.  In animal form, it depends on the animal's size.

If it's a roughly human-sized animal like a wolf, it's the same number of hit points.  If it's bigger like a bear, you get an extra hit point per level when you change into that form, and lose them when you change back.  If it's a smaller form like a hawk, the reverse happens– you lose hit a hit point per level when you change into that form, then regain them when you change back to human.

These extra hit points are lost first if you're wounded, much like temporary HP in later editions of D&D.  Shapechanging to a weaker form when you're wounded can't kill you.

You need to sleep six hours a day, but you can be more flexible than most people about sleep schedules.  You can split that into two shorter blocks of sleep for each character, you can have them sleep one at a time while the other keeps watch, etc.  They each get the benefit of a night's rest whenever they complete their six hours of sleep in one day, and if they don't get that much they'll suffer from sleep deprivation as normal.

Each character needs to eat as much as the average of their human and animal form, regardless of which form they're in when they do their eating.  There's a cost to being able to turn into a bear.

While in animal form, each character has the intelligence of a well-trained dog.  They can recognize friends like the other party members, they can obey simple commands like stay, eat, attack, but they don't understand human languages, not really.  They don't have to check morale because they're perfectly loyal to each other; you can control your animal person as long as you role-play the lack of human-level intelligence properly.

If either of them dies, the other one is soon to be out of the game, life just isn't worth living once your soulmate is dead.  They'll either go insane or sink into an uncurable depression or jump off a bridge or just go berserk.  You can keep playing them for the remainder of that day in order to go out in a blaze of glory, but after that it's time to roll up a new character.

So I published this and then realized I never said anything about actually lifting the curse.  Shit.  Uhhh...let's say the referee secretly defines how to do that, and you start with some idea of who cursed you and where and how you can learn how to lift the curse. If you figure that out and do it, the curse is lifted and you pick one character to be your character from then on, and the other to be their retainer.  From then on they each level separately as their respective class. Also they each gain a level for doing that.  

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

An Abstract Wealth System for OSR Games

I've been trying to figure out how to do this for ages, and I think I've figured out a system that works alright, at least.  Not playtested yet.

This is meant for modern and futuristic games, but could work for games set in the past as long as the characters are embedded in society.  Like, they have jobs and money in the bank, they're not hobos whose wealth is all carried.  For futuristic games consider using this with reputation network rules

Treat wealth, mechanically, as working like an ability score.  It has a raw value from zero to twenty (or thirty if your system allows that) and a modifier calculated like any other ability score modifier.  It represents a combination of savings, non-adventuring income from whatever your day job is, and social class.  

A wealth score of 10 roughly represents the average American, so monthly income of around five thousand dollars, net worth of around a hundred thousand.  

However, because it combines income and savings, a person with a decent wealth score could theoretically have negative net worth combined with a good income, maybe.  That happens with abstracted systems.  

Generate a starting wealth score at character creation.  If you want players to start out poor like in most games, they start with something like d4 wealth plus a few items.  If you're fine with them starting out rich– and presumably getting rich isn't the object of the game– you can roll 3d6 like every other ability score.  Or any other method.  Up to you.  

Wealth score goes down (usually temporarily, sometimes permanently) when you buy stuff, and up if you acquire enough money to raise it.  It takes damage just like your ability scores can

Super important note: You need to have guidelines for how many dollars wealth levels and purchases represent, and I provide them.  That doesn't mean you should actually count dollar prices all the time, which defeats the whole point of an abstract wealth mechanic.  Just view all of them as very approximate guidelines.  

Making Purchases

Conceptually, there you can think of all purchases as falling into one of five categories.  

Trivial purchases that will never be significant no matter how many you make.  Putting a few bucks in the parking meter, buying a cheap fast food meal.  

You can generally make as many of these as you want.  If you abuse that, like by buying stiff for the whole group, these start to count as minor purchases instead.

Anything that costs up to (Wealth) dollars is trivial.

Minor purchases that you generally don't think twice about, but that would add up to being significant if you made them routinely.  Eating at somewhat nicer restaurants, going to the movies, stuff like that.  

A minor purchase here and there doesn't cost wealth.  If you make (Wealth) minor purchases in quick succession– like within a week, or an adventuring session– your wealth score suffers one point of temporary damage. 

Anything that is more than trivial and costs up to (Wealth squared) dollars is minor.  

Significant purchases are things you can afford to pay cash for, but they're expensive enough that you do have to budget for them and make up for the cost by being frugal elsewhere.  For middle-class people, electronics like phones, TVs, and laptops generally fall into this category, as do small vacations like a weekend ski trip within driving distance.  

A significant purchase inflicts a point or more of temporary wealth damage.  

Anything up to (Wealth cubed) dollars is significant and causes one point of temporary wealth damage.  

Anything up to twice that much causes three points of temporary wealth damage, anything up to (wealth cubed times three) causes six points of temporary wealth damage, anything up to (wealth cubed times four) causes ten points of temporary wealth damage, and anything up to (wealth cubed times five) causes fifteen points of temporary wealth damage.

Temporary wealth damage means you've dipped into your savings, but not had to go into debt (or at least not serious long-term debt), nor sell of significant assets to finance your purchase.  You just have to live frugally for a while to make up for your purchase.  You can't make a purchase if the temporary wealth damage would take your wealth below zero.

Major purchases are things you can't afford to pay cash for.  You either have to finance them with a loan, or sell off some investments to free up cash for them.  Stuff like cars and homes usually fall into this category, as might a major vacation.  

Major purchases permanently reduce your wealth score by a point.  

Anything up to (Wealth to the fourth power, times five) dollars is a major purchase.  

If you want to purchase something bigger than that, calculate how many dollars the next wealth level down is worth.  Like if you're wealth 10, major purchase is 50k, but wealth nine is 32k, so dropping down from wealth 10 to wealth 8 would let you purchase something costing up to 82k.  

Finally, there are things you just can't afford, period.  

It's okay to be approximate with all of these numbers– the whole point of systems like this is to avoid having to actually count money.  As long as you're not off by more than a factor of two, maybe three, this system works fine.  If you're off by an order of magnitude then it breaks down.  

Restoring Temporary Wealth Damage and Increasing Wealth

Temporary wealth damage "heals" at a rate of one point per month during downtime.  During adventuring, you can heal it by acquiring cash equal to however much a significant purchase would be to you.

Increasing wealth is simply the reverse of making a major purchase.  If you're at wealth 5, then buying your way up to wealth 6 will cost (6^4 x 5) dollars, or $6,480.  Again, you can be very approximate with this and you don't need to make players count money.  "A few thousand dollars" would be good enough in this example.  

If you want your game to be a gritty realistic crime game like The Wire, then money has to be laundered before you can use it to buy up your permanent wealth score– but "dirty" money can still be used to restore temporary wealth damage.  

But What About the Wealth Modifier?

The wealth modifier could get applied to rolls where your social class is important, like a test to get into some exclusive high-class club.  

It would also apply when you're trying to use your money to accomplish something, but simply having money is necessary but not sufficient to succeed.  Like if you want to systematically bribe a lot of people, it helps to have more money but it's still not guaranteed that you can find people to bribe or that they'll take a bribe.  

Overall though, the modifier maybe won't get used much, but it's there if you need it.

But What About Billionaires?  

If you've done the math then you've realized that even a wealth 20 individual has a net worth of only a few million dollars, and a wealth 30 individual has somewhere in the low tens of millions.  There are two ways to portray higher wealth.

First, you could just let wealth get as high as it needs to, but stop increasing the modifier, or increase it more slowly, beyond a certain point.

Second, you could not use this system, and instead use a domain game mechanic to represent larger amounts of wealth.  Beyond a certain point, a rich person's wealth is basically an organization unto itself.  I prefer this method, and I'm working on a system for representing organizations that I'll share someday.  

That said, this method is more than enough to get your party beyond the point where they'd either retire or move their focus to domain-level play.  

Sunday, May 17, 2020

What Monster Stalks This City?

Traditionally cities are usually places to rest and resupply between adventures, rather than places to have adventures.  As someone who cut his teeth playing Shadowrun, I don't like this– I think the potential for cities to be adventure locations has been sorely under-appreciated.

The obvious adventure hooks for cities involve gangs, political intrigue, burglary, business espionage/sabotage, and other human-centric plots.  But cities can have monsters too; you just have to think about what kinds of monsters could plausibly hide in a city.

1– Vampire

Stats as per the monster manual of your choice, but this has to be the human-looking kind of vampire.  Has to feed either every night (not dangerous to victims), every other night (dangerous but probably not lethal for victims), or once a week (if completely draining victims of blood).  Probably has a consistent M.O., like it almost always feeds on prostitutes, or drunkards, or muggers, or sailors.  Will have 1d4 mind-controlled slaves to watch over it and do its errands during the day.

2– Ghost

Haunts a whole neighborhood, not a single house.  Incorporeal and immune to normal weapons, and very tough overall because it can vanish into the ethereal if wounded.  Getting rid of it requires either very powerful magic or figuring out why it is a ghost and fulfilling some specific condition, such as bringing its killer to justice.

3– Serial Killer

Just a normal human, physically anyway.  Likely has a consistent M.O., and almost certainly has a specific "type" that they go for.  Like, Ted Bundy always picked women who parted their hair down the middle.  Has no physical need to kill, so the time between murders is more a matter of willpower and convenience.  Will tend to become more brazen over time.

4– Abhorrer

As per Fire on the Velvet Horizon.  Since that book doesn't provide stats, try this: It has 4 HD to begin with.  It gains one HD every (current HD squared) weeks, assuming nothing happens to help or hinder it; gaining HD is a matter of accumulating wealth and social and political influence, mainly, but it also grows a bit bigger as its HD go up.

Its "no breaking laws of social conventions" effect works on anyone within line of sight, and also passes through barriers within a radius of HD squared times 20 feet.  After a few years, its power can effectively prevent anyone from committing a crime anywhere in the city.

Assuming the abhorrer becomes well-known throughout the entire city before it dies, its death will trigger a sudden, massive city-wide crime wave, particularly if it is killed via a scheduled execution. Everyone who wants to commit a crime will simply wait for the moment of its death to do so.  Hopefully the party will be smart enough to foresee this.

5– False Hydra

As per this article.

6– Pack of Morlocks

They live underground, in the sewer, caverns or old mines beneath the city.  There are 3d10 of them.  They venture to the surface to scavenge for supplies, killing only when they need to, either to get supplies or prevent someone who saw them from telling people about them.

I've seen a few versions or morlocks; I like the ones in Esoteric Enterprises best, although you may have to adjust the way they work a bit to match your game's setting and mechanics.

7– A Cult

Maybe it's kidnapping people to sacrifice them, or maybe the leader is just luring vulnerable young people into his orbit so he can build some dumb harem.  Probably a bit of both, like the Manson Family. Then again, maybe their god is real.  Maybe it's a serious Great Old One cult masquerading as a rather frivolous sex cult.

The party could learn about this by investigating a ritual murder, a person who's been kidnapped, or a person who simply disappeared when they joined the cult.

8– Dopplegangers

They're moving in slowly, one or two at a time, replacing established locals.  They started out at the bottom of society, taking the places of a few bums and laborers with few social ties.  From there they worked their way up, killing and replacing servants and craftsmen, then minor merchants.  Now they're moving on to wealthy merchants and minor nobles.  Their ultimate goal is to completely replace the city's ruling class.

The party will most likely learn about this from a merchant or noble who notices that a friend of theirs no longer seems to remember people or events they should be familiar with, and hires the party to investigate.  Plot twist: while they're investigating, the person who originally hired them gets replaced by a doppleganger too.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Text Adventures Should Make A Comeback

A year ago I played a full-motion video text adventure called The Infectious Madness of Doctor Dekker.  As a full-motion video adventure, it's not the kind of game I usually play, but I loved it and I think I just figured out why.  

The game consists entirely of conversations that take place in your psychotherapy office, where you've taken over for the titular doctor.  It quickly becomes apparent that there's some seriously Lovecraftian stuff going on, which is awesome but not what make this game incredible.  

You see, I enjoy first-person action-RPG's like the new Fallout and Elder Scrolls games, and immersive sims like Deus Ex.  But I've never found a computer RPG whose dialog wasn't boring as hell, no matter how good the story and characters were.  You just click through all of your options, here every single response programmed into the NPC, and move on.  

Conversation in computer RPGs isn't challenging.  It's not even really a game most of the time; more like a cutscene with a veneer of interactivity.  

What makes Dr. Dekker so incredible is that all the conversations are done text adventure style.  That means you don't get shown a list of things you can say to the other person; instead there's a massive number of pre-determined things you can say, but they're hidden from you.  You type something in, and if what you typed is close to one of those secret lines (mainly if it contains a keyword, I think) you say that thing and get a response.  

There's a massive number of dialogue options programmed into the game, but you have to figure them out.  There's an option to give you hints for the main ones that you need to advance through the game, but that's it.  I ended up finding maybe 70% of them.  

All of a sudden, dialogue actually feels like I'm playing a game rather than being walked through a story.  

It brings me back to the days of playing games like Zork and The Lurking Horror, (when I discovered them in the 2000's that is; I'm not that old) having to figure out what my options were rather than picking from a limited menu.  Can I jump off the roof?  Oh shit, guess I can; time to start a new game.  

After text adventures gave way to more graphically-impressive formats, computer games lost a lot of their flexibility.  With regards to physical actions, a lot of that flexibility has com back over the years, at least in immersive sims like System Shock and Deus Ex.

But dialogue?  The conversation mechanics of computer games are still stuck in the dark ages.  And they don't need to be.  Here's how they can get better.

First, if you've never played text adventures before, try The Infectious Madness of Doctor Dekker, or try Zork or Spider and Web for free in your browser.  For how low-tech they are, it's pretty amazing what you can do in them.

As for modern RPGs...they could incorporate this style of interaction, at least on their conversation subsystems.  Imagine if, in the next Fallout game, conversation worked like this:

You start a conversation with a shopkeeper.  The only options shown are "What do you have in stock" and "Goodbye."  But you know there's more to talk about– this town has been getting raided by bandits.  So you hold down a button on your controller and say into your microphone "What's going on with the bandits?"  

That's not exactly what's programmed into the game, but the voice recognition software recognizes that it's close to something that is.  A new conversation option appears for you to select: "What can you tell me about the bandits?"  

Now imagine if every NPC you could talk to had secret dialogue options like that– sometimes dozen of them.  The only options you'd be given would be super obvious ones like ending the conversation, and maybe asking shopkeepers what they're selling.  Everything else you'd have to figure out.  

Tabletop RPGs have the same issue a lot of the time.  Take 5E for instance– it touts "social" as one of the three pillars of the game, alongside exploration and combat.'re almost never allowed to fail at social challenges.  You role-play them, but mostly just for fun, and the outcomes only vary within a small range.  Just like computer RPGs.

Social interaction should be important, in both computer and tabletop games.  But that means it has to be challenging, there have to be options that you might either miss or fail to execute properly when you do uncover them, and it has to be possible to fail.  

A lot of the OSR– if not the mainstream RPG scene– is pretty good at doing this already.  But computer games?  They don't even try, and they should.  

Monday, May 11, 2020

Some Rituals

A a few things I came up with for a ritual magic system I'm working on. 

The "ritual kit" referenced below is a simple toolkit consisting of candles, magical paints, dyes, paintbrushes and small chisels/awls for engraving runes, incense, fetishes, and other occult paraphernelia.  It's not "magical" in itself, and costs twice as much as thieves tools.   

Illuminate The Things That Should Not Be

Petty ritual.  Casting time: 10 minutes Requirements: a torch, a ritual kit.

The ritualist engraves a few runes into the handle of the torch and sprinkles incense onto the head of the torch while chanting an arcane liturgy.  After the ritual is complete, the torch ignites.  The magic of the ritual remains active until the torch is extinguished or burns out, typically 2 hours later. 

While the torch remains lit, its light causes all extradimensional beings– substantial or not, disguised or not– to glow the color ulfire, which does not normally exist in this dimension. 

Anyone who views the color ulfire must save vs magic or suffer d4 temporary wisdom/perception damage.  Each person only needs to make this safe once per use of the ritual. 

The Conjoined Dreaming of Distant Planes

Potent ritual.  Casting time: 4 hours.  Requirements: ritual kit, a sapient subject, somewhere comfortable for them to sleep.  A relic or body part of a dead person who had contact with the same type of entity you're trying to contact. 

Before performing this ritual, the subject of the ritual must spend a day neither speaking, reading, writing nor hearing any language in order to cleanse the mind of human (or humanoid) thought patterns.  Once the ritual begins, they must not be spoken to, other than the chants that are actually part of the ritual. 

The subject of the ritual lies down and closes their eyes.  The ritualist paints a third eye on their forehead, drugs them and lights incense, then recites an occult chant to lull the subject to sleep.  The ritualist must declare what being or type of being they wish to contact, from what plane– an elemental from the plane of fire, the demon Bal-Korok, etc. 

While the subject sleeps, the ritualist speaks to the, using subliminal messages to guide their mind to a distant plan where the dreamer makes contact with the desired being– or at least, something like it.  The ritualist then chants the questions or type of information he wants to know.  The contacted being provides answers in the form of dreams– these dreams are always abstract and symbolic, conveying the desired information through metaphor and allegory rather than plan language.

Upon waking, the dreamer suffers d10 damage to a random mental attribute, but can save for half damage.  They must then write down everything they dreamt before they forget it.  After that, the dreams must be analyzed and deciphered to figure out their meaning.

Cast Down the Reaching Arms of the Earth

Mighty ritual.  Casting time: 3 days  Requirements: ritual kit, an isolated location within 6 miles of the target area, stones taken from the perimeter of the target area, and a person who lives in the targeted area.  That person must either be sacrificed as part of the ritual, or participate in it without knowing its true purpose.  Before performing the ritual, all participants must spend a week consuming only food from the targeted area. 

This ritual lowers the elevation of a region of several square miles– up to one square mile times the level of the ritual leader.  At the end of the ritual, the land within the target area is lowered.  Mountains may be flattened, valleys created, but the land may only be lowered as low as the elevation at which the ritual is being conducted, and it may be lowered by no more than the ritual leader's level times 50 meters. 

The ritual may be conducted underground, however. Mighty mountain fortresses have been pulled below sea level with this ritual, vibrant ecosystems destroyed by the heat and pressure of low altitudes.

The lowering takes the better part of a day– it causes an earthquake, but it's slow enough that well-built edifices won't be toppled.  Just lowered. Usually. 

Steal the Fortune of the Summer Court

Casting time: ten minutes.  Requirement: ritual kit, one live fae.

The ritualist sacrifices a fae creature and gains some small portion of the luck of faerie.  She gains a pool of three re-rolls which can be used whenever she fails a roll.  These re-rolls must be used within one lunar cycle.   

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

80 Florida Man Headlines From Fantasy Worlds

Credit for this idea comes to the people on the OSR Discord channel who thought of doing fantasy Florida Man headlines.  I like the idea so I decided to do a few for every kind of RPG setting I'm into  that I can think of. 

1.  High Fantasy

1.  Gondor man mistakenly throws wedding ring into Mordor.  One ring still unaccounted for.  

2.  Paladin sought for murder of beloved local goblin.

3.  23rd Zhentarim agent this year killed trying to infiltrate Shadowdale.  This is just tedious, says Elminster.

4.  2 adventurers dead, 3 in critical condition, after taking bag of holding through portable hole.

5.  Couple having sex in owlbear costumes killed by adventurers. 

6.  1 dead, 4 injured after snorting alchemist's powder.

7.  Extensive property damage after dog drinks potion of growth. 

8.  Thayan turned into zombie by Szass Tam after saying "It's great to be alive."  Being dead is cool too, say local newspaper editors.  

9.  Waterdeep man arrested for selling "potions of heroism" that were actually just cocaine. 

10.  Candlekeep man assaults identical twins, claiming they're dopplegangers. 

2. Sword and Sorcery

1.  Man-ape goes on rampage after being referred to as ape-man. 

2.  Barbarian arrested in fight over local store's "no shoes, no shirt, no service" policy.

3.  Local snake cult realizes it's actually been worshipping a giant skink.

4.  Kal'thun man wanted for sacrifice after sacrificing friend in argument over human sacrifice. 

5.  Atlaia sorcerer dragged to hell after sacrificing father to goddess of kinship.

6.  Tower of the Elephant evacuated due to mouse infestation.

7.  Savages from Mt. Zar'kul eaten by feathered dragon after offering rabbit as sacrifice.

8.  Lankhmar man found dead after trying to swordfight while running across clothesline. 

9.  Pirate dragged into depths after taunting kraken with piece of fish. 

10.  Human sacrifice fails after sacred pyramid turns out to be rhomboid in shape

3.  Post-Apocalyptic

1. Florida town vaporized after trying to strip copper wire from unexploded Chinese nuke. 

2. Vagrant in one-armed leather jacket sought for murder of beloved local warlord.  Believed to be former police officer.

3.  New Mexico man dies of thirst after locking keys in spike-covered monster truck

4.  Florida Man dead after attempting to breed human-radgator hybrids.  

5.  California man dead after drinking 5 gallons of irradiated water.  Unclear if death caused by radiation or hyponatremia, says local meat-man.   

6.  Cannibal breaks tooth after attempting to eat pre-war mannequin.  

7.  Ex-con dead after drunk-driving Landmaster off cliff during rad-storm.

8. Kentucky man dead after running out of water, living off whiskey for 6 days.

9.   Warboy dies in private duel, forgets to bring witnesses.  

10.  Bartertown man killed for unauthorized bartering.  Master Blaster: I run Bartertown, remember?

4.  Urban Fantasy

1.  "Monster in the sewers" turns out to be local homeless man.

2.  Florida man kicked out of Arby's for homophobic comments about sparkling vampires.  

3.  West Virginia man arrested after killing "morlock" who just turned out to be black man.

4.  Tennessee woman dead after throwing taser at bog-beast, yelling "go back to your country."  

5.  Local teen dead after trying flight spell from "The Anarchist's Grimoire."  

6.  Florida woman dead after stabbing self with bogus "dagger of youthfulness."

7.  New Mexico town overrun by "meth chupacabras."  

8.  Wyoming werewolf freezes to death after refusing to wear shirt.

9.  15 witches arrested in brawl over whether magic(k) should be spelled with a k.

10.  Florida fortune teller commits suicide after losing fortune on stock market.

5.  Horror

1.  Fox News anchor apologizes after mocking appearance of Innsmouth locals

2.  Haunted house owner kills self in order to become ghost, beat up ghost haunting his house.

3.  Welshman lost after entering abandoned castle to search for other lost locals.  

4.  Missing "golem" statue mysteriously re-appears inside local Jewish Art Museum. 

Separate headline on same page: Local ex-con beaten to death by unknown assailant.  Previously arrested for anti-semitic hate crimes.  

5.  Croydon man challenges devil to chess match; doesn't know how to play chess.  

6.  Wannabe DJ trades soul to devil in return for "skill" of playing electronic music.  

7.  Woman with poor math skills sacrifices 18 dogs to Satan; arrested for animal cruelty after ritual fails.  "Six plus six plus six dogs is 666, why didn't it work?" says confused felon.

8.  Florida man sells soul to Santa after failing to spell-check contract.  

9. Burbank man, kicked out of museum for spitting on mummy, found mysteriously dead.

10. Mississippi man cursed with buckteeth after disturbing local mausoleum.  

6.  Cyberpunk

1.  Florida man arrested after trying to "hack" computers with hacksaw.  

2.  Texas man shot with anti-tank rifle after trying to rob convenience store.  

3.  Local man electrocuted, after trying to have sex with girlfriend's datajack.  

4.  Would-be shadowrunner dies after plotting heist against Renraku over Renraku-owned messaging service.  

5.  Would-be burglar gets stuck in air vents while trying to enter Mitsuhama Tower.  It worked in that Shadowrunner trid show, he reportedly says to police.  

6.  Man with new cyberarm rips off penis during meth-fueled porn marathon.  Got cyberarm installed after ride-on mower accident.  

7.  Florida man beaten, arrested after trying to strip police robot for parts.  

8.  New killer robot police recalled after statistical analysis shows persistent pattern of racial discrimination.  

9.  Fugitive recaptured after "disguising" self with black trench coat, mirrorshades.

10.  Florida man bleeds to death after cutting off legs to install home-made cyberlegs.

7.  Space Opera

1.  Antares man loses legs after holding lightsaber backwards.  

2.  Two men from Rigel 7 arrested after argument over whether stars are literally "without number" escalates to fistfight.

3.  Spice smuggler falls into black hole after trying to break Kessel Run record.  Will be visible forever near event horizon.  

4.  Imperial admiral threatens lawsuit after finding out star destroyers don't destroy stars.  

5.  Sirius man shoots comedian after being offended by joke.  See what we did there?

6.  Local woman vaporized after stealing space yacht, engaging hyperdrive inside gravity well.  

7.  Florida destroyed after Florida man steals gold-rich asteroid, tries to take it home.

8.  Unemployed space trucker dead after playing Rigelian Roulette with plasma pistol.

9.  Local vagrant dies after swallowing nuclear fuel he was siphoning out of starship.  

10.  Sith lord found dead, naked in hotel room after presumed autoerotic force-choking incident.

8.  Gonzo Science Fantasy

1.  Twk-man goes on rampage after being called twink-man.  No injuries reported.  

2.  Very confused car chase breaks out after bard car plays Flagpole Sitta.  

3.  Nebraska man brings Knife of Unerring Precision to gunfight, wins.  

4.  Mountebank ambles off escarpment after misconstruing guidance to Mizifelain's Magnificent Mansion.  

5.  Ascalais man transported into future after garbling words to Vance's Vituperative Voodoo.

6.  Woman tries to shoot husband with Profane Pistol of the Betrayer, dies when it backfires.

7.  Perverted hedge mage arrested after groping women with "Maramar's magic hand" cantrap

8.  Ascalais man clones self with stolen cloning vat, killed by clone in argument over ownership of Ever-Scintillating Hat.  

9. Neo-Florida wizard eaten by illegal pet cyber-tiger.  

10. Florida woman injured after psy-meth lab grows chicken legs in wake of botched ritual.