Tuesday 27 November 2012

Desktop Books Meme!

It seems I'm something of a purist compared to the other people who've posted photos in this meme. The photo to the right  is what's on my desk... very minimal. Labyrinth Lord, the Advanced Edition Companion, Mutant Future and Theorems & Thaumaturgy. Those are what I refer to 90% of the time when writing RPG stuff.

Oh, and you can also see London and its Environs 1900 in the background, which I sometimes use for my on-going Victorian era horror campaign.

And a bag of dice.

One metre to the right of the desk I have another shelf which houses my RPG library proper. I guess I don't really consider myself to be a collector particularly, so I don't think my collection is particularly extensive. Most of the core AD&D books, likewise for 2nd edition AD&D (and, thankfully, splatbookless), the complete Wizard's Spell Compendium, the B/X and Holmes basic D&D sets, a couple of Savage Worlds books, and a few miscellaneous items like Carcosa, Vornheim, Call of Cthulhu, The Dungeon Alphabet.

Wild Magic: Light!

I surmised a possible system for wild magic recently, and made up a table for odd results of casting hold portal. I've been thinking along these lines a bit more, and decided, following smiler's suggestion, to tackle light, one of the least "sexy" spells of all time.

I'm quite pleased with the resulting table.

(See the previous post on wild magic for an explanation of the rough system I have in mind.)

01 The caster's eyes are targeted by the spell.
03 - Darkness manifests instead.
05 - The caster's hair or clothing sets on fire.
07 - A raging 8HD fire elemental is summoned.
09 + Spooky shadows of hooks, clawed hands and sinister spirits flit around the edge of the light's extent. One of them is a shadow (the monster) and will attack at an inopportune moment.
11 The light produced can be perceived by everyone except the caster.
13 - The caster is affected by faerie fire.
15 A sickening strobe light manifests, causing a -1 penalty to hit within its radius.
17 - The caster's eyes emit beams with equivalent intensity to the normal result, but highly directional.
19 - The light produced by the spell's whole normal duration is gathered and emitted instantaneously. All within 60' must save versus spells or be blinded for 1d6 turns. If the save fails by more than 4 the blindness is permanent.
21 + Spooky shadows of hooks, clawed hands and sinister spirits flit around the edge of the light's extent.
23 - A floating silver lantern appears, burning with an ethereal light. The caster can move the lantern telekinetically.
25 - The caster is covered with a thin film of luminescent ectoplasm. Everything he touches gains a glowing residue. This includes his footprints as he walks around.
27 - No light is produced, but objects and creatures in shadows within 60' of the caster are annotated with neon signs denoting their identities. This effect moves with the caster.
29 - A hundred candles appear at the specified location. They burn for the normal duration, but can be blown out.
31 + The created light has an unusual additional property – it absorbs other nearby light sources. Any light source within 30' is extinguished. Each time this happens the radius of the magical light increases by 5'.
33 - The caster is transformed into a globe of light, having the normal effects of the spell.
35 + The light sends off small sparks which gradually form streams leading towards the centre. This attracts wandering monsters (chances double).
37 - A defective light manifests, which is “on” every two rounds, and produces darkness instead every other round.
39 - A brief flash is emitted and a photograph of the scene drops at the caster's feet.
41 - Sound within 60' of the caster is silenced and instead manifests as glowing shapes, colours and images. This includes the caster's own voice. Spell casting is still possible, but speech must be interpreted visually.
43 - A backwards light is produced, which reverses the apparent location of objects. Things which are behind the caster appear to be in front of him, and vice versa.
45 + The light produced is completely invisible from outside its radius.
47 - All living creatures within 60' of the caster are illuminated as if by a spotlight. The effect follows them as they move.
49 - A color spray shoots in all directions from the caster.
51 The light only illuminates the edges of things, revealing outlines without colour or texture.
53 - If underground, the caster and companions are teleported to the surface. If above ground, a meteorite (as per meteor swarm) plummets from the sky and hits a random target within 60'.
55 - The light forms a wide beam 60' long, which rotates around the subject like a lighthouse beacon.
57 The light produced is of an unusual colour such as sickly violet, gloomy red, electric blue, etc.
58 - A torch-bearer (1HD, AC9, unarmed) is summoned, complete with torch which burns magically for the normal duration.
61 + A switch appears floating in front of the caster, and following him as he moves. The switch can be used to instantaneously switch the light effect on and off.
63 The light produced can only be perceived by the caster.
65 - A swarm of fireflies is summoned. A reaction roll determines if they fly off in random direction, swarm around the caster, or obey the caster's commands. The swarm sheds light as the normal spell effect.
67 - The caster is transformed into a holographic being made of pure light. He can no longer directly interact with the physical world, and is unable to speak, but can only be harmed by magic, and can pass through tiny cracks and holes.
69 - An odd light is produced which only illuminates certain things: 1. living beings, 2. invisible things, 3. magic and enchanted items, 4. evil intent, 5. treasure, 6. undead.
71 + The light is augmented by flashing neon-style arrows and slogans of an encouraging, whimsical or helpful nature. (“This way!”, “You're doing great!”, “Look out!”, etc.)
73 - A will-o'-wisp appears.
75 + The light is centred on the caster, who is also affected by invisibility. The caster thus becomes a walking light source.
77 - The spell conjures an elegant standard lamp, with electric cable plugged in in another dimension. The caster can carry the lamp around.
79 - All creatures within range are affected by faerie fire.
81 + The light flashes briefly whenever a creature crosses its boundary.
83 Ultraviolet light only, just like at a rave. Anyone staying in the area of effect for more than an hour will get a tan.
85 + The light is also very hot, causing anyone in its area of effect to start sweating within 1 turn. Heavily armoured characters suffer -1 to hit, due to the heat.
87 - The caster gains the ability to see in darkness.
89 + The light produced has the unusual property of exerting a physical force which can push away objects and creatures. A save vs paralysis is required per round to remain within the illuminated area.
91 + Twisted images of the caster's face dance at the edge of the light's extent.
93 - All creatures within 30' gain the ability to see in darkness.
95 - A scintillating array of blue laser beams emanates from the target, illuminating the normal area. If the target is an object which the caster holds, he can command it to fire intensified beams of laser energy, causing 1d8 damage on a successful hit roll.
97 - Spell's effect replaced by continual light.
99 - The eyes of all beings within range are targeted by a normal light spell.

Sunday 25 November 2012

The Moon of the Dreamlands

Players in my dreamlands campaign, here be dragons! Look ye not further.

After my recent experiment with a google drawing, which was a lot of fun, I've just started another. This time it's something entirely fictional -- a map of the moon in the dreamlands.

I've just started running my dreamlands campaign, which is very loosely inspired by H.P. Lovecraft's concept of the world of dream (but with the usual assortment of D&D weirdness mixed in for good measure). One of my favourite parts of the Lovecraft dreamlands is the idea that it's possible to travel to the moon, and that all sorts of weird and wonderful (and horrible, of course -- this is Lovecraft) things may be encountered there. So I've had in mind that the PCs might come across means to make the lunar transit during the course of the campaign.

This google document is, then, the beginnings of a sketch of what lies on the surface of the moon.

Have a look.

It's pretty basic at the moment, but I plan to add more stuff to it as the mood takes me. Anyone else who feels inspired, also please feel free to make your own additions!

Thursday 22 November 2012

My Visual Map of D&D History

I had a chargen session last night with two players, one of whom has never played an RPG before. (Though he has played computer RPGs, which I found to be of great help, as he was already familiar with concepts such as class, level, hit points, and so on -- not something I'd ever considered before!)

I explained to the new player which game we're playing (Labyrinth Lord), and why it's a clone of another, older game. The conversation developed into a mini history of D&D and its various versions.

Afterwards I had the urge to make a diagram to show the game's history in a nicely understandable visual form. Here's what I came up with.

It's not completely comprehensive, no doubt lacking quite a few clones and sub-versions. Basically I just included stuff I know of. I think it's a fun diagram though :)

Tuesday 20 November 2012

Lulu Staple-Bound Softcovers: My New Love

After receiving a softcover version of Theorems & Thaumaturgy, and a copy of Realms of Crawling Chaos (which is, by the way, excellent), I am in love with this format! I've always been a staunch defender of hardbacks in the past, but I now realise this is purely down to my distrust of so-called "perfect" binding (where all the pages are glued to the spine... just waiting to unglue themselves in a gradual, disappointing decay).

The staple-bound books remind me of the old B/X and BECMI books from the 80s, which is great!

Now I can't stop daydreaming about a 2-book edition of Labyrinth Lord in this format -- one players' book, with all the classes, spells and the basic rules, and one DM's book, with the monsters, magic items and more advanced rules. How awesome would that be?

Saturday 17 November 2012

Wild Magic and the Humble Hold Portal

For a long time now I've been thinking about wild magic (as introduced in the Tome of Magic for AD&D 2nd Edition). I've always found the idea of it super appealing -- I love random tables and elements in RPGs, so a whole class which centres around randomness sounds like a winning idea! However I wasn't that impressed with how the concept was implemented in the Tome of Magic. Two flaws with it which stand out to me are:
  1. There's not enough randomness. When a wild mage casts a spell there's only a 5% chance of getting to roll on that awesome table of random magical happenings (which is what it's all about, as far as I'm concerned, for a player who's chosen to play a wild mage). Otherwise the only "wild" element is that the spell might manifest as if it was cast by a magic-user of a level or two higher or lower. For a lot of spells this makes no difference.
  2. It's too complicated and not fun. Who wants to spend time working out fiddly things which change due to a spell being cast as if by a 3rd level instead of a 2nd level magic-user?
Admittedly, both those complaints are from the perspective of someone who's never seen a wild mage in play. Perhaps it works out great, but I doubt it somehow. (If anyone reading has actually played a wild mage, I'd be very interested to hear how it was!)

Another aspect to consider is that if one wanted more random results more often (as I do), then a single d100 table is going to wear thin pretty soon. Of course there are huge d10,000 (I think?) tables of random magical happenings out there on the internet, which could be used instead. I've been thinking of something else, however.

What about if (a bit like in DCC RPG I suppose) each spell had its own table of results? A table with a few dozen random results for each spell would probably be enough.

So here's how I thought it could work:
  1. Wild mages can memorize twice the number of spells normally allowed. (Crazy optimisational techniques allow them to stuff extra spells into their brains, at the expense of accuracy.)
  2. Each spell has a 49% chance of working "as written", and a 50% chance of coming out warped in some way.
  3. There's also a 1% chance of something just totally weird and unrelated happening (see your handy d100 / d10,000 / whatever table of random magical happenings).
  4. So, when a wild mage casts a spell the player rolls d100. If it comes up 00 then something weird happens. All other even results mean the spell works as normal. All odd results mean that something, well, odd happens.
 Sounds like a pretty simple, fun system. (Albeit very table heavy!)

To test out this idea, to see if it feels even feasible, I thought I'd have a go at writing a table of random results for a single spell. To that end I chose one of the least "sexy" spells on the 1st level list: the humble hold portal.

(Entries marked with a - mean that the spell's normal effect does not occur, and is completely replaced by the described effect. Entries marked with a + mean that the listed effect occurs in addition to the spell's normal effect. Unless otherwise specified, the normal duration of the spell applies.)

1    - The caster's mouth is magically held shut.
3    - The caster's eyes are magically held shut.
5    - The portal is blasted by magic and destroyed.
7    - The portal is magically held open.
9    - The portal momentarily becomes a dimensional gate and releases a hostile monster of 1d8 HD.
11    - The portal is covered in cobwebs.
13    - The portal transmutes into a gelatinous cube.
15    - All portals within 30' fly open and a blasting wind and insane cackling laughter fill the area for the duration.
17    + A tiny golden key appears in a random location within 20'. It can open the portal.
19    - A wooden bar appears, nailed across the portal. It is painted with red and yellow stripes, and the phrase “ACCESS DENIED”.
21    - A face manifests on the portal and will attempt to discourage anyone from passing through.
23    + Each creature attempting to open the portal may make a save vs spells to be successful.
25    + The portal is affected by a probabilistic instability – its existence varies for each creature viewing it (50% chance of either existing or not existing). Creatures for which the portal does not exist can pass through it freely. Those for whom it exists are barred, as per the normal effects of the spell.
27    + A letterbox (marked “MAIL”) appears in the portal. It can be opened normally.
29    + Glowing writing appears on the portal, stating that only a certain type of creature may enter (1. elves, 2. goblins, 3. undead, 4. dwarves, 5. wizards, 6. lizards). This is true.
31    - The portal is locked by a mechanical lock, which appears in its construction for the duration. It can be picked normally by a thief.
33    - The portal is overgrown with thorny plants. Can be cleared in 1 turn.
35    + A face manifests on the portal and will grant access to anyone who can solve a riddle it poses.
37    + The portal belches forth a vomit of slime and debris, covering all within 20'. It then closes and is held as normal.
39    - The portal is concealed by a phantasm which makes all who see it ignore it. Any creatures which already knew of the portal's existence may save vs spells.
41    - A phantasmal door appears next to the targeted portal.
43    + A skull appears, chained onto the portal. It pronounces the doom of any who approach the portal.
45    - Two guards (1HD, AC 5, long sword) are summoned for the duration. They will attempt to prevent anyone from passing through the portal.
47    - Anyone passing through the portal is overcome with: 1. cosmic ecstasy, 2. terror, 3. sorrow, 4. existential angst, 5. carnal lust, 6. blood lust.
49    - The portal leads into an illusionary meadow.
51    + For the duration, the portal's surface changes into a mirror which reveals invisible or ethereal objects/creatures.
53    - The portal acts as a dimension door to a random location within 360'.
55    - The portal screams when opened or closed.
57    - The portal is held open, but a sheet of magical flame appears, filling its aperture. Passing through causes 1d6 damage.
58    + The portal flickers with (harmless) arcane fire of odd colours.
61    + The portal shudders and vibrates.
63    - The portal vanishes entirely and permanently. It is replaced by a section of blank wall.
65    + When the duration ends the portal acts as a dimension door to a random location within 360'. This effect lasts for 6 turns.
67    - The portal becomes a gateway to another world.
69    - The portal is concealed by an illusionary wall.
71    + The portal flickers with arcane fire of odd colours. The fire causes 1d3 damage to anyone touching it.
73    - The portal is blasted by magic and destroyed. In its place appears a wall of force.
75    + The words “TRY YOUR LUCK” appear on the portal. Anyone attempting to open it must roll 1d6: 1. the portal opens, 2. affected by sleep, 3. affected by cure light wounds, 4. affected by confusion, 5. teleport to the other side of the portal (which remains held), 6. blinded for 1d6 turns.
77    - A dimensional loop manifests, causing anything which moves through the portal to end up where it came from.
79    - The portal is consumed by a howling dimensional void, which remains for the duration. Anything put into it is irrevocably destroyed.
81    + Anyone touching the portal is electrocuted for 1d4 damage.
83    - The portal metamorphoses into a mimic.
85    - The portal is covered in sticky strands, as per the web spell.
87    + Sturdy iron bars manifest to augment the spell. The bars are permanent.
89    - The words “DEATH TO ALL WHO PASS” hang above the portal in sinister glowing script. Any who pass through must save vs death or die.
91    + All portals within 30' are held.
93    + A symbol of fear manifests on the warded portal.
95    + A monster of 1d8 HD is summoned and guards the portal.
97    - The targeted portal is affected by arcane lock.
99    - All portals within 30' vanish entirely and permanently. They are replaced by blank walls.

I conclude that it does feel like a feasible system, though would be very time-consuming to write the required tables for all 105 basic Labyrinth Lord spells! Who knows, maybe something I'll work on slowly.

Tuesday 13 November 2012

Is Writing for D&D the Ultimate in Short Story Writing?

The new campaign I've just started running (the Dreamlands campaign) is taking the form of a hex-crawl. So I have a hex map with loads of dungeons placed on it, and a list of descriptions of interesting things in some (eventually all, I hope!) of the hexes.

As I was writing a hex description last night, it occurred to me that writing for D&D is perhaps the perfect occupation for someone who loves to create sketches of scenes, locations, characters, stories; but who has no desire to flesh them out into a traditional "literature" form as full or short stories. I am such a person.

Thinking about it some more, this principle can be seen in many aspects of D&D writing: hex descriptions, dungeon room descriptions, new monsters, new spells, magic items, etc. All these things (at least in OSR circles) take the form of a sketch, with many details deliberately left vague and intriguing -- to be fleshed out during play, as needed.

Not being versed in any theories of literature, cultural studies or suchlike, these thoughts don't really lead me anywhere in particular. But I found it to be an interesting observation.

Here's the hex description which inspired these thoughts:

Players in the Dreamlands campaign, you might want to stop reading at this point!

Valley of hands -- giant stone hands lying in the forest. At the top of the valley, an ancient stair leads up to a hill where stand the remnants of a stone tower. The tower is completely overgrown, but a magically sealed trapdoor leads down to a cellar. In the cellar is: a large chest full of purple/green rugs & silks (600gp), shelves full of books -- how to animate the stone hands of the valley for one night, plus the spells command construct and inhabit figurine. A fey warlock "Malthus" trapped in a cube of green ice. He is chaotic and treacherous, hates Queen Malithandria. A PC can trade his or her soul with Malthus in return for fey powers.

Monday 12 November 2012

Within the Radiant Dome: My First Published Adventure!

Sitting proudly alongside Alex Fotinakes' Beneath the Ruins, my new adventure Within the Radiant Dome is the second module in Geoffrey McKinney's awesome PSYCHEDELIC FANTASIES line.

16 pages of weird D&D fun ready to place in any campaign. Everything in the module is a new creation -- new monsters, new magic items, new spells.

Great for a grab-the-loot one-shot, or to be explored over a longer period in a campaign.

Check it out!

Sunday 4 November 2012

First Review of Theorems & Thaumaturgy!

And it's a good one!

Brendan's review on Untimately

Snake-man Class for Basic Labyrinth Lord

As promised yesterday, my snake-man class for basic Labyrinth Lord.

The rest of this post is designated Open Gaming Content according to the Open Gaming License.

Requirements: STR 9, DEX 9
Prime Requisites: STR & INT or STR & WIS
Hit Dice: 1d6
Maximum Level: 8

Snake-men are an ancient and reviled race of semi-humanoid serpents. They have the long body and tail of a giant snake (up to 10' in length), a snake's head, and human-like arms and torso.

Snake-men are notorious among others races for their depraved religious cults, which often enslave and sacrifice intelligent beings. All snake-men adventurers are trained in both fighting and magic, though they may choose whether to use clerical or magic-user spells. Clerical snake-men have STR and WIS as prime requisites, whereas magic-user snake-men have STR and INT. Note that clerical snake-men do not have the ability to turn undead.

Snake-men may use any weapons and armour, and use the elf combat, saving throw, experience and spell progression tables.

A snake-man must have a 13 or greater in both prime requisites to gain a +5% experience bonus, and a 16 or greater in both attributes is required for the +10% bonus.

In melee, a snake-man can choose to attack with his bite instead of a weapon. The bite inflicts 1d6 hit points' damage. Furthermore, a snake-man can make a poisoned bite attack once per day. The intention must be declared before the to-hit roll is made, and the poison is wasted if the attack misses. The poisoned bite inflicts additional damage equal to the snake-man's current hit points, with a successful save indicating half damage.

Snake-men may also choose to attack with their tail in melee, attempting to coil around an opponent. Constricted opponents suffer 1d3 damage per round and -2 to-hit. A snake-man's tail also allows him to coil around pillars and such.

Due to their unusual form, snake-men cannot wear normal humanoid armour, and must pay double when purchasing armour. Magical armour designed for snake-man physiology is extremely rare.

Snake-man Backgrounds
  1. Slaver
  2. Temple guardian
  3. Magus
  4. Astrologer
  5. Tomb raider
  6. Death priest
  7. Embalmer
  8. Historian

Saturday 3 November 2012

Reptiloid Class for Basic Labyrinth Lord

I previously posted a reptiloid race for Advanced Labyrinth Lord, but I've since then decided to run basic LL instead for my next campaign (which will starting next week, hopefully!). So here's a basic style race-class conversion of the reptiloids.

The eagle-eyed may note the absence of the snakeman variant... Snakemen have become a class in their own right, which I shall post soon.

The rest of this post is designated Open Gaming Content according to the Open Gaming License.

Requirements: STR 9, DEX 9
Prime Requisites: STR, DEX
Hit Dice: 1d8
Maximum Level: 9

Reptiloids are a race of scaly lizard-like humanoids. They are typically of average human height and build, with scaly skin of varying hue (often greenish).

Reptiloids are strictly carnivorous, and have a natural bite attack which causes 1d8 damage. They have a very powerful sense of smell, which means that they are only surprised on a roll of 1.

Due to their scales, reptiloids have a natural armour class of 7. They are able to use any weapons and armour, and use the same saving throw and experience tables as dwarves. A reptiloid with a 13 in one of the two prime requisites gains a +5% XP bonus. A reptiloid with STR and DEX both above 12 gains a +10% bonus.

Reptiloid Variations
Two variant reptiloids are described below. They have weaker bite attacks, inflicting only 1d6 damage, no natural armour, and do not have the normal reptiloid's refined olfactory senses, instead having other abilities.

Gullygug: Gullygugs are a race of amphibious frog-men. When lightly encumbered they can swim at their full movement rate. They can make a hop attack, jumping up to 15' forwards and gaining +1 to-hit and +2 damage if using an impaling weapon. Gullygugs can breathe underwater for 10 minutes. In dry environments gullygugs suffer -2 to-hit unless they have a source of water available to wet their skin.

Troglodyte: A slimy subterranean race. When unclothed, their chameleon skin enables them to surprise on a 1-4. They can also choose to exude a stench which causes sickness (-2 to attack rolls) in other humanoid races within 30', unless a save versus poison is made. Note that a troglodyte's stench affects all humanoids (except other troglodytes) within range, including allies.

Reptiloid Backgrounds
  1. Slaver
  2. Hunter
  3. Spawn guardian
  4. Escaped slave
  5. Man-slayer
  6. Beast rider
  7. Cannibal
  8. Headhunter