Sunday, September 15, 2019

Apparitions of Every Shape: Random Location Generation [Wilderlands]

...apparitions of every shape, make, form, fashion, kind and description, that there was not a village in England that had not its own peculiar ghost. Nay, every lone tenement, castle, or mansion-house, which could boast of any antiquity had its bogle, its specter, or its knocker. The churches, churchyards, and crossroads were all haunted. Every green lane had its boulder-stone on which an apparition kept watch at night. Every common had its circle of fairies belonging to it. And there was scarcely a shepherd to be met with who had not seen a spirit!

- The Denham Tracts: A Collection of Folklore : Reprinted from the ..., Volume 2, by Michael Aislabie Denham


I've posted this quote before. It makes a powerful impression on me. 

I've said before that the text of the The Hobbit is QUITE magical and fantastical. Any claim that Tolkien is "low magic" is contradicted by just how much magic is squirming and pulsing on each page.

As you travel across Wilderland, no village, town, or city should lack a fundamentally magical feature. Each location you travel to should have a magic river, a shape-changing mayor, or be built on a lake. 

If you need some fantastic location quickly, use this table.  

The table is a d21 since I use Tarot instead of dice at my table. You can read across or mix and match. 


DrawNearby there is...haunted by...
1A wellA dragon who sleeps on a pile of treasure
2A dolmenA dozen bloody rawbones who will force you to dance with them--to DEATH
3A hillA troll cat who'll suck your breath if you sleep there
4A bridgeA faerie knight who challenges any man with arms who passes, but will allow ladies to pass unmolested.
5A barrowAn enchanted harp made out of a human rib cage that plays a sweet music
6A springRunning with holy water
7A graveyardA wild man of the wood, a wose, who tries his level best to scare you away
8A hermitageA nuckelavee, who is currently causing a drought
9A hengeAn elf woman who prophecies the hour and method of your death
10A boulderA huge, mean toad (seriously, just, so big), currently sitting on a clutch of snake eggs
11A towerRedcaps who burn magical candles and knock on the stones
12A ruined castleA cruel but sleepy giant who owns a goat whose milk is quicksilver
13A crossroadSpectral warriors who reenact their final battle on its anniversary
14A huge and ancient treeA clurican that gives away gold coins if you answer its riddle correctly and curses if you fail
15A monolithA door that opens to an entirely different part of the country
16A waterfallA shellycoat who'll pretend to fall, and then laugh at people's reactions
17A hot springA horrible old hag who can sell a love potion at a tremendous cost
18An innThe ghost of a drowned woman, singing a sad song about the sins of her sister
19A lakeA huldra who'll lure you into the water and drown you, if you let her; it's said she guards a treasure
20A forestA hermit (who's really a king? who's really a pirate?) who can lay on hands and heal any infirmity
21A mineKobolds (little dwarves with hard heads and soft feet) are guarding a vein of mithril


Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Jousting (A Minigame)

With eight-hundred years of history and practice throughout a continent, it's really hard to talk about jousting in general terms. Some SCA nerd is going to yell at me, God bless them.

Let me put some caveats up. These are the jousting conventions for the Kingdom of Yr Hen Ogledd during the reign of the Joyous King. Similar conventions of martial chivalry are shared in Westeros and Arthur's Lloegyr.

These rules are written using Lamentations as a lingua franca, but since it's OSR I hope you can convert them to your weird homebrew easily.

Note to self: Make rules for feathers on your helm increasing your speed
Let's define a few terms.

What is Jousting?

Jousting is a martial sport practiced by knights within the bounds of chivalric law. The whole point is to knock the other guy off the horse in the nicest way possible. 

Who can joust? 

To joust, you must be a knight with:
  • Set of tournament armor
  • Strong oaken shield
  • Worthy warhorse
The organizer of the joust is usually responsible for supplying plenty of tourney lances, which are blunt and designed to splinter.  

What are the in-character rules of the joust?

In Yr Hen Ogledd, each joust consists of two knights and three passes of the tilt. Each pass consists of three separate phases, terminating in a CLASH! After three CLASHES!, whichever knight has the most points and is not disqualified is declared the winner of the joust. 
  • You gain 1 point for striking your opponent's shield. 
  • You gain 1 point for shattering (dealing 5+ damage with) your lance. 
  • You are disqualified if you are knocked from your horse and your opponent is not. 
  • You are disqualified if you kill your opponent's horse. 
  • You are disqualified if you are no longer strong enough to fight. 
Sidenote: Hang on. Can we talk about jousting for a second? Sometimes we abstract things in RPGs so far away from the real world that they seem mathematical to us--sterile, unreal, abstract. Jousting is fucking scary. You're perched on top of an animal that's way stronger than you. It obeys you. You're hurtling way faster than you can run towards another dude. You both are wrapped in armor that weighs half your bodyweight. They have a fourteen foot shaft of wood pointed at your head. If it hits you, it might kill you. Your only hope is that you hit them first. God damn.
Look out, Checker Boy. Axe Head gotcha. Your highschool crush is watching. She laughs.

What are the "mechanics" of the joust?

So, the basic gimmick is that the knights have three passes (three chances) to knock the other one off the horse while not being unseated. Each separate pass has three distinct phrases: the canter, the gallop, and the CLASH! Whoever has the most points at the end of the three passes wins the joust. 

1. The Canter

You enter the lists at a canter. 

Each player chooses one jousting action to perform in secret (see below). 

At the end of the canter phase, each player reveals what choice of jousting action they made to the other player. 

Play continues to the gallop phase. 

2. The Gallop

You reach the mid-point of the lists at a gallop. 

Each player chooses one jousting action to perform in secret (see below). 

At the end of the gallop phase, each player reveals what choice of jousting action they made to the other player. However, at this point, it is too late for your opponent to react to your actions--they must meet you at the CLASH!

Play continues to the CLASH! phase. 

3. The CLASH!

Each player throws one d10 onto their jousting die drop sheet. This happens simultaneously.

Download it here

I don't really care where you throw from, but both players need to throw from the same place. 

Wherever the d10 rolls, that's where your lance hit. 

  • If your die rolled off the paper doll, you miss your target. 
  • If you hit your opponent's helm, they take damage equal to the number shown on the d10. They succeed in a Save vs Breath to remain a-horse. 
  • If you hit your opponent's body, they take damage equal to the number shown on the d10. They must succeed in a Save vs Device to remain a-horse. 
  • If you hit your opponent's shield, they take damage equal to half the number shown on the d10. They must succeed in a Save vs Paralyze to remain a-horse. 
  • If you hit your opponent's horse, the horse takes damage equal to the number shown on the d10. Your opponent falls under the horse and takes twice the amount of damage. You are disqualified and victory passes to your opponent (no matter his health). 
If you deal 5+ damage, your tourney lance splinters. (This earns you a point.) 

Assuming no one was disqualified during the CLASH!, both contestants return to the top of the lists and play resumes at the canter phase until three passes have been completed.

Ties

In the event of the tie, a group of four judges (two per knight) advocate for one knight or the other to the master of the games based on their behavior during the joust. Assuming you have at least four other people at your table, I encourage you to make the players speak for the judges.

Did one knight put himself at a disadvantage to make the joust more equal? Was one knight more eloquent in speech? Was one knight more pious?

The tied knights should make a Charisma check (or equivalent). For each salient chivalric detail that the judges can come up with, that knight gains +2 to their check. Whoever wins the Charisma check wins the joust. 


CLASH!
From the Dunk and Egg comic

Jousting Actions

As you charge towards your opponent, you have two chances to take certain attitudes, positions, or maneuvers--jousting actions--to put yourself at an advantage during the CLASH! 

You can use the same jousting action during the first two phases of a pass and gain their cumulative bonus during the CLASH! 

It should go without saying you don't gain the benefits of last pass's actions on your subsequent passes. 

Aim: During the CLASH! phase, you may throw an additional d10 onto the die drop sheet. You choose which of your die "hit." (Even if this action is used multiple times, you may only choose one "blow" to hit.) 

Defend: You may cover another "zone" on your paper doll with your shield. For example, you may declare you are guarding your helm. If your opponent hits your helm during the CLASH!, you treat it as a shield hit. 

Grip Lance: You grip your lance and lean into your attack. You deal +2 damage during your CLASH! 
Note: A destrier gives +3 damage with this action.

Sit High in the Saddle: You stand in your saddle, ready to leap at a moment's notice. If your horse goes down for any reason, you can make a Save vs. Poison with a +2 to leap free of the horse. You don't take any damage from the horse's fall, but are still unhorsed. You cannot sit both high and low in the saddle. 
Note: A charger gives +3 bonus with this action. 

Sit Low in the Saddle: You straddle your horse, holding fast with your knees. You gain a +2 bonus to any save to stay in the saddle. You cannot sit both high and low in the saddle. 
Note: A charger gives +3 bonus with this action.

Wheel Horse: During the CLASH!, if you have taken this action you may choose to wheel your horse instead of throwing damage dice. You may attempt to Save vs Poison (or "Animalis" skill throw, or similar) to pull your horse away from the blow. If you fail, your opponent's blow connects but you do not strike back. This action is not disqualifying, but it is considered bad form. It accumulates a -1 point total each time taken after the first. 

Monday, September 2, 2019

"Social Combat" - How I run social challenges

As I said in my very first (?) post on this blog, I'm into out-of-character challenges. The "you wouldn't make the fighter's player do push ups so you shouldn't make the wizard's player solve puzzles" argument is a false dichotomy that's so far up D&D's butt that WotC should press charges. 

Conversation is one of the things you do not need an in-game system to model because you are already talking. Having systems to handle jousting make sense because I don't have a suit of plate, a destrier, or a lance. I do have a mouth and the ability to suss out context. Finding a way to convince a powerful NPC to do what you want them to do is, essentially, what role-playing is about. It's puzzle solving in the same way that dungeon exploration is. 

I have put good faith effort to get into "social combat" subsystems. I played the crap out of Exalted and have dug into Burning Wheel's "Duel of Wits." Frankly, nothing with abstractions around conversation-as-combat has worked for me. It hasn't felt fun. Players would come up with amazing arguments only to have them fall flat with bad rolls. The exchange of arguments quickly became tedious and repetitive. 

Similarly, I remember once being frustrated at a particular ST's insistence that he "wasn't convinced by my arguments." I had 5s in all my social stats. Shouldn't that have counted for something? 

I put the following system together for my homebrew game His Majesty the Worm (which you see me talk about sometimes on this blog).

  • It is more free form and less bounded by timing than combat. It does, however, provide structure that the GM can use to think about their NPCs. 
  • It is designed to help the GM role-play more effectively and clearly. 
  • It lets the GM telegraph an NPCs mood, needs, and interests. 
  • Players use this information to solve the "puzzle" of a social encounter. 
  • It does not ignore a character's charisma, but it doesn't make everything dependent on a single persuasion roll either. 
  • Everybody has fun. 

I have been playtesting this for the past three years (!) and have found that it works really well. 


Bargaining and Disposition 
In the Underworld, you’ll encounter the bizarre denizens that live in dungeons and other adventurers trying their best to slay them (or you). A character’s attitude and their goals are referred to as their Disposition 

All intelligent creatures can be negotiated with (assuming a shared language). Clearly roleplaying a character’s Disposition is one of the GM’s many jobs. The Disposition informs the GM how he how that creature should act, how hostile or friendly it is to the guild, and what the creature would demand in a parlay. 

Disposition is imagined using the Wheel of Disposition. There are seven basic Dispositions: anger, distaste, sadness, joy, surprise, trust, and fear. They each have three steps of severity: mild, basic, and intense. Mild emotions are in the inside of the circle; intense emotions at in the outside of the circle. Related emotions are grouped near each other.  



Players who offer or provide bargaining chips that appeal to the Disposition of the creatures should be allowed to test Wands (or other "Charisma" stat). Depending on the test’s results, the Disposition will either increase, decrease, or step to a related emotion.  

If this test is successful, the GM should slide the character’s Disposition up a category (e.g., from intense to basic, or from basic to mild). Great successes might step the Disposition to an adjacent petal and to a related and more-beneficial emotion (e.g., from anger to boredom). 

If this test fails, the GM will slide the character’s Disposition down a category as the player hero annoys or angers the creature with his paltry offerings. Great failures might cause a slide in Disposition level as well as a step to a more negative petal.  

If a character is afflicted with a severe negative Disposition (e.g., rage, terror, loathing), they’ll bring the conversation to an end. They no longer have any interest in exchanging goods or services with the guild. If the encounter continues at all, it will be in a combative capacity.  

GMs should consider the relative positions of the guild and the encountered character when applying favor or disfavor to this test. Major size differences or displays of strength or power will obviously influence how the creature feels about the guild’s ability to threaten or aid them.  

Sidebar: Put up or shut up 
Note that adventurers must offer or provide something substantive to GM characters to even qualify for a test of Wands. Nobody gives anything away for free. If the players want GM characters to scratch their back, they have to be willing to provide actual evidence that they’ll scratch back. 

You’ll also notice that the Disposition subsystem requires players to make judgments and decisions about the social situation before their stats are called upon. In this way, the social encounter relies on a mix of role-playing and the adventurer’s personal “charisma” (as represented by their Wands).  
[END SIDEBAR]  

Starting Disposition 
Usually, a creature’s starting Disposition will be obvious based on the scenario in which the guild encounters it. If there is a question, or if randomness is desired, the GM should look at the top card in the discard pile of the minor arcana: 
Draw from the Minor Arcana 
Disposition 
1-2 
Anger 
3-4 
Distaste 
5-6 
Sadness 
7-8 
Joy 
9-10 
Surprise 
Page-Knight 
Trust 
Queen-King 
Fear 

The Seven Dispositions 
The seven Disposition are listed below, with the core emotional state being flanked by its mild and severe states. A list of emotional synonyms are also given, as one of those terms might be more appropriate and might aid in the GM appropriately role-playing the Disposition. Some notes are given as to how a creature with that Disposition might act in a combat encounter.  

Acceptance / Trust / Admiration 
Trust is a measure of belief in the general honesty, fairness, or capability of the other party. A base level of trust is a common starting Disposition for many benevolent creatures. Creatures who accept or trust the guild will generally negotiate in good faith, but will still cautious ensure the exchanges are fair. Betraying the trust of a creature is a good way to change its Disposition to sad or angry.  
Synonyms: confident, hopeful, optimistic, playful, interested, inquisitive, curious 
In combat: Typically, creatures with this Disposition are not inclined to fight. If the situation obligates a fight without changing the trust Disposition, the creature might attempt to learn more about the guild’s prowess through non-lethal methods.   

Pensiveness / Sadness / Grief 
Sadness is emotional pain associated with loss, despair, helplessness, or disappointment. Sad creatures often have obvious needs to be alleviated, which might change their Disposition for the better. However, sadness often causes creatures to lose interest in activities they once enjoyed, and sadness can create a significant barrier to influence.  
Synonyms: anxious, empty, helpless, hopeless, depressed, irritable, guilty, lonely, abandoned 
In combat: In battle, those afflicted with deep sadness fight with abandon. They take chances they might otherwise not take. Often, they attempt to move first in initiative, recklessly charging into battle, but exposing themselves to danger.   

Boredom / Distaste / Loathing 
Disgust is a reaction to something offensive, distasteful, or unpleasant. This revulsion is often a product of breaking hygiene norms or moral codes. It is a common starting Disposition for potentially antagonistic creatures. Remember, it’s a dirty, dirty business being an adventurer.  
Synonyms: disapproving, repelled, judgmental, appalled, nauseated, horrified, hesitant 
In combat: Creatures full of loathing delight in violence against the targets of its distaste. The creature’s main desire is to cause harm or pain. This harm might be centered on a particular creature type (e.g., a witch-hunter pursuing a witch), or perhaps it’s more general (e.g., a vampire’s general disdain for all mortal life). 

Anxiety / Fear / Terror 
Fear is an emotional response to a perceived danger or threat. Fear is one half of the flight or fight response. Creatures responding with fear often want to just end the social encounter and might make any concessions necessary to accomplish this. Or, if they think they can do so successfully, frightened creatures will try and abandon the encounter altogether.  
Synonyms: weak, rejected, threatened, exposed, nervous, persecuted, inferior, worried, helpless 
In combat: A fearful creature will attempt to flee the source of its fear. These creatures will try and avoid combat, unless combat is necessary to escape. They prioritize high value cards for their Initiative.  

Annoyance / Anger / Rage 
Anger is an intense emotional response that arises from a perceived provocation, threat, or hurt. Displays of anger are very aggressive and intimidating, and might quickly devolve to violence. It is a common emotional response for creatures with bestial intelligence–or even certain maladjusted humans. Anger is one half of the fight or flight response. Anger can impair the creature’s ability to take in information or make wise decisions during the encounter.  
Synonyms: hurt, humiliated, threatened, hateful, violated, furious, provoked, hostile, ridiculed  
In combat: Anger makes people stupid and clumsy. The angry creature will try and focus on the source of their anger. An angry creature will attack recklessly, with little regard to the environment.  

Distraction / Surprise / Awe 
When there is a disconnect between expectations and reality, a creature reacts with surprise. Surprise might come when the guild interacts with more “normal” society of the City—not everyone is accustomed to the adventurer’s life. Surprise might also occur during confusing or bewildering encounters in the Underworld.  
Synonyms: startled, confused, amazed, shocked, dismayed, perplexed, excited 
In combat: A surprised creature wasn’t planning on fighting today. It will fight if it believes itself threatened, but won’t pursue combat for their own purposes. They will try and disengage as early as possible.   

Contentment / Joy / Ecstasy  
When their needs are met, creatures feel a sense of joy or happiness. Like anger, feelings of joy can cloud judgment. This is the ideal state for influencing a creature, as they are well-disposed to entreaties and exchanges.  
Synonyms: happy, peaceful, intimate, aroused, proud, thankful, powerful, respected 
In combat: Creatures who are joyful will not usually start or desire to engage in conflict. However, if the situation calls for it, joyful creatures might be cocky or overbold, perceiving the combat as a “game.” Cocky creatures might toy with, taunt, or tease the player heroes during combat.   

Likes and Dislikes, Wants and Needs 
Dispositions are transitory and change during the bargaining process. A GM character’s personality is defined by more permanent features: their likes and dislikes, and their wants and needs.  

Dislikes are gates around the castle of the character’s heart. 
Likes are the key.  


Wants are the queen of the castle.  
Needs are the king.  

  • Dislikes trigger negative emotions like distaste or anger.  These triggers can be behaviors (“lying”) or traits (“all elves”). GM characters won’t bargain with adventurers that they dislike. 
  • Likes trigger positive emotions like trust or joy.  These triggers can be behaviors (“sharing alcohol”) or traits (“good at music”).  GM characters will bargain fairly with adventurers that they like. 
  • Wants fulfill the character’s wishes.  Wants are discrete. These can be items (“enough money for a dowry”) or events (“marry the widow Prescott”).  If you give a GM character what they want as a bargaining chip, make your Wands test with favor.  
  • Needs represent the status quo Needs are abstract and essential (“as long as Baron von Nas is in power, my peasants will pay their taxes to me”).  If you threaten a GM character’s needs as a bargaining chip, make your Wands test with favor but their Disposition is hostile. They won’t bargain with you again.  

When designing a character, the GM must ensure that their personalities are evocative, strange, conflicting, and well-broadcast. This is true for all creatures, no matter how monstrous! An encounter with a wolfpack that howls and attacks to the death is lame. An encounter with a wolfpack that calls itself the Corpse Mothers (in their own lupine speech), respects the bonds of family, seeks vengeance against a werewolf that devoured a litter of their pups, and is afraid of medusae can be memorable and fun.