Saturday, November 23, 2013

D&D Ouija or RPG Witch-Board

I made this a week or two ago with a bass wood frame from Michael's, wood burner, "fruit wood" stain, and some satin sealer/varnish.  Oh yeah, last night I added some felt on the bottom (sticky on one side) so it wouldn't scratch my gaming table.

What the hell is it for?  Injecting additional random weirdness into my old school fantasy roleplaying!

How does it work?  Infrequently, the GM and players may roll in the dice tray full of infernal sigils.  If dice of a certain denomination, color, or resulting number lands on a particular symbol, then crazy stuff happen.

There's a sigil for sorcery, secrets, bloodshed, fortune, ruin, etc.  Kind of like Tarot cards... you never know exactly what you're going to get, if it's good or bad, or how that archetype/concept will be interpreted by the GM.  Of course, characters will probably have a unique reaction depending on contextual factors like environment, personality, history, class, level, etc.

As the video shows, I've only used it once, but that was enough to know that the D&D Ouija (or RPG Witch-Board, if you prefer) is an absolute game changer.  Folks on youtube have suggested using it for character creation as well.

Another picture...

Thanks for looking, reading, watching, and commenting.  I appreciate your feedback!


p.s.  These aren't too hard to replicate, but if you want your own custom D&D Ouija, let me know.  I make one for $70 plus shipping.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

My Carcosa Review

I didn't expect this to go live until next week, but here's my review of Carcosa published by Lamentations of the Flame Princess.

While not to everyone's taste, this splendiferous tome has a coveted place upon my gaming bookshelf.  I won't let players touch it, won't even allow them to gaze upon my precious for a moment...


p.s.  I found this Carcosa addendum which has some cool stuff like infernal pigment for Bone Men wanting to disguise themselves as other races!

Monday, November 18, 2013

Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea review

Here is my review of AS&SH.

Some old school renaissance fantasy RPGs (at least the core rules) don't include a rich, evocative setting in which to place these fantastic adventures.  AS&SH succeeds on that front.

In fact, I had the opportunity to run a one-shot over the weekend.  I used Swords & Wizardry as the base for character creation and rules, Dungeon Crawl Classics for the mercurial magic (the artwork is also impressive), and Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea as the wintery, alien backdrop.  It worked very well.

I'll be writing/posting more OSR reviews in the near future as I believe they get less attention than deserved, living, as they do, in the shadow of Dungeons & Dragons, Pathfinder, etc.


Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Baleful Sorcerers for Fantasy RPGs

I'm familiar with 20th century sword and sorcery pulp, but there are many holes in my learning... and, alas, there are many stories I've only read once years ago.  Last night, I began a weird tale that gripped me like few others, keeping me in its rapacious grasp until the very end.  This short story was, "The Charnel God" by Clark Ashton Smith.  In all seriousness, it was one of the best dark fantasy stories I've ever read.

It also compelled me to re-think the traditional RPG wizard character class.  The following is what I came up with...

[Check out the finished product here.]

The Baleful Sorcerer of Tsathag'kha character class

Relative to ordinary man, the baleful sorcerer of Tsathag’kha is extremely powerful… but his power comes at a terrible price!  Taught his wicked ways by those who worship the hideous toad god Tsathag’kha, this sorcerer is familiar with the living dead, poison, certain edged weapons, and a concise selection of spells. 

His spells total nine.  They are listed from easiest to hardest in difficulty and potency.  At first level, the sorcerer knows spell #1.  At second level, he understands #2, and so on… each advancement bringing a new fragment of arcane lore.  For example, at 1st level a baleful sorcerer would only be able to cast discern magic.  Upon reaching 3rd level, he would have access to discern magic, sacrosanct, and deception.

Due to the particular nature of certain campaigns, the GM might want to swap the advancement of one spell for another.  For instance, the party’s survival could depend upon offensive magic.  If the baleful sorcerer is the sole magic-user, and of 4th level, the GM can choose to grant Ichorous Inferno to the character upon reaching 5th level, leaving Infernal Trafficking or Communion with Tsathag’kha to 7th.

The baleful sorcerer may attempt a higher level spell than he is currently capable of casting, but there is great risk involved.  Upon each and every pursuit, the sorcerer himself must roll a saving throw.  Failure means the caster takes the constitution drain himself, no matter who was selected for that fate, and is also whisked away by the batrachian servants of Tsathag’kha, whereupon the sorcerer is imperiled for a time (1d4 hours) as his infernal attendants acquire all that the sorcerer knows.  If he doesn’t reveal anything worthwhile, a blood-writ pact must be signed, obligating him to perform ghastly duties in the not too distant future.

Hit Die: D6

Proficiencies:  No armor may be worn.  Sorcerers may use daggers, short swords, sickles, and scimitars without penalty.  A baleful sorcerer may use poison as a thief of same level.

Progression:  Attack, saving throws, and all other progressions as the standard magic-user or wizard class.

Special Abilities:  The baleful sorcerer has the power to rebuke or command undead as a cleric of same level. 

Drawbacks and Other Considerations:  The sorcerer can never acquire a familiar,  nor can he multi-class.  Upon death, the baleful sorcerer’s soul is promised to Tsathag’kha.  Furthermore, there’s a 23% chance that the inert husk of a sorcerer-corpse assumes the semblance of life shortly after interment (1d4 days), rising of its own accord as a Lich.
Because a sorcerer is granted his dominion by the hideous grace of the toad god himself, spell books are unnecessary.  He doesn't forget his spells, and is able to cast and keep casting until physically spent.  This mitigates the drawback of spell limitation. 

Points of constitution drain/damage can either occur per spell level (1 point for a level one spell, 2 points for a level two spell, etc.) or as noted in each spell’s description, depending on the GM’s wishes.  The constitution drain affects a character's stamina, modifying his hit points.  However, this drain does not necessarily affect the sorcerer himself.  Either willing or unwilling victims may share the fatigue instead of, or in addition to, the baleful sorcerer, as long as, the victim is either physically touched at the time of casting or blood was drawn in preparation. 

Constitution recharges at a rate of 2 points per hour of uninterrupted rest and meditation; after six hours of such quietude, an individual’s constitution is fully restored.  However, those who fall between 1 - 3 points of constitution must roll a successful saving throw or they are instantly killed by the systemic shock.

Spell List

1.  Discern Magic - essentially detect magic, read magic, identify, and use magical device all rolled up into a single spell.  Constitution drain:  1 point.

2.  Sacrosanct - the culmination of mage armor, shield, and protection from arrows, spells, good, evil, etc.  Constitution drain:  1d3 points.

3.  Deception - for creating illusions and disguising the sorcerer or an intended subject.  Constitution drain:  1d4 points.  The observer must have familiar knowledge of a person, object, place, culture, and so forth in order to have a chance of seeing through the deception.

4.  Compel - command; forcing weak-willed individuals to do the sorcerer's bidding.  Constitution drain:  1d6 points.  Victim gets a saving throw to resist initially and then once per day to break free of the sorcerer’s will.

5.  Infernal Trafficking - communicating with, summoning, and binding all manner of Devils, Demons, and Outsiders.  Alternatively, the sorcerer may learn Communion with Tsathag’kha instead, which puts him into direct psychic contact with the hideous toad god, as well as, allowing the sorcerer to summon a spawn of Tsathag’kha.  Constitution drain:  1d8 points.

6.  Blackish Purple Tentacles of Abnon-Tha - horrid tendrils rise out of the ground and flail around, squeezing the life out of the sorcerer's foes.  Constitution drain:  2d4 points.  Each tentacle does 2d8 of constricting damage per round to those grasped (save each round to avoid).  Up to thirteen man-sized individuals within a 30’ radius are affected.

7.  Ichorous Inferno - streams of liquid green fire spraying out in various directions, incinerating those in the sorcerer's way.  Constitution drain:  1d4 and 1d6 points.  Save to avoid being roasted alive for 5d6 damage in a cone up to 50’ from the sorcerer, 7d6 at tenth level.

8.  Necromancy - speak with dead, causing the dead to rise and do as the sorcerer instructs for one night (24 hour period) per level of sorcerer.  Constitution drain:  1d10 points. 

9.  Extinguish Life - the act of murder via sorcery.  Constitution drain:  1d12 points.  Save versus death; a successful saving throw means victim only takes 2d6 damage (unless a natural 20 is rolled whereupon no damage is taken).  Intended victim must be within 100’ of the sorcerer when the spell is cast.  


Special Thanks goes out to Clark Ashton Smith, Robert E. Howard, H.P. Lovecraft, Lin Carter, the hideous toad god Tsathag’kha, Brendan S., Matt Finch, Michael Prescott, Anthony Emmel, Todd Rokely, Shane Ward, Christian Sturke, and Tristram Evans, Thorswulf for inspiration and helpful suggestions. 

The new image is a sketch of an upcoming full-color cover for the PDF by artist Paul Allen.  The sorcerer is modeled upon Zentar from LotDS.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Inalienable Rights & the Prison of Numbers

There's a lot of talk about old school on RPG blogs and forums.  What is it?  How is it defined?  Does it actually exist?  Can it be utilized today?  This post might just be more talking, I don't know... Hopefully, it's not too all over the place.

Old School D&D gives players the expectation that their character can do more than what is written on the character sheet.  A PC's rights are implied.  Modern D&D assumes (at least how the rules are written and the game is generally played) that a PC is only as resourceful as the paper his abilities are written on.

I'm not saying limit character optimization.  Optimize all you want, but not the paint-by-numbers kind of "balance fetishization" and "numberswank" (yes, the internet has taught me many wondrous things!) you might find in 3rd, 4th, and Pathfinder.  Instead of point buy/build or specialization kits which come with their own limitations, why not have each player describe his character - appearance, mannerisms, favorite sayings, personality, prior experiences, proficiencies, specialties, and whatever aesthetic considerations the player is going for.  Then, at long last, we could minimize the numbers which will inevitably strangle all the fun out of our game.

What Old School gamers realize is that the game is not the rules... the game is something far grander and deeper, containing all the nuanced complexities of a realistic fantasy world.  Imagine feats and prestige classes  without all those numbers attached to them.  There's a lot of cool stuff in there.  Of course, it's all too unnecessarily cumbersome and bloated for most OSR gamers.  But take away most of the numbers, and everything becomes possible.  Words alone are fine, but when they're combined with too many numbers, they become a prison.  Take cleave, for example.  A great idea.  Then add the prerequisites, 5' step, once per round, cleave as requirement for additional maneuvers, etc.  It's almost not worth bothering with.  What if you, as a gamer, stripped feats and niche classes of the superfluous?

When you have a 60 page rulebook, a lot of stuff has to be implied.  If a character wants to pin an Orc to a dungeon wall with his polearm or fire multiple arrows in one round but with less accuracy or cast a spell with increased intensity to the point where he's physically exhausted after the effort, they should be able to attempt it.  In fact, that sort of thing should be encouraged.  Imagination is key and must be communicated effectively.  Let the GM decide on a modifier, complication, or unexpected twist before a die is rolled.

Which brings me to my next point.  Dice decide general outcomes, GMs narrate the specifics!  The dice have a tale to tell, but it's a vague, big-picture, macro kind of story.  A GM has to interpret those dice depending on all sorts of relevant details... the character's class, race, ability scores, instrument used, spell components, momentum, darkness, emotional state, and what the GM knows about the antagonists.  He also has to mind the story's pacing, mood, difficulty, obviousness, etc.  His micro-vision, detail-oriented retelling is the game's reality.  What the GM says goes... and yet, players have the right to question or petition him for an alternative interpretation or ruling.


P.S.  Shane Ward's anecdote reminded me of something that happened to me last week...

If it seems straightforward, then just a simple d20 roll is good enough for me.  If it's really outside the box and seems like it might be a really cool long-shot, then I give the concept a 33% chance of success. 

There was a stalagmite creature in a cave below Clear Meadows (this is for Liberation of the Demon Slayer if anyone's curious).  The party was seven 1st level character's strong, so I made the whole cave full of these Roper-esque things.  The thief who was busy dislodging a luminous green crystal from a cavern wall got hit.  In LotDS all damage is exploding.  Also, these were brand new convention dice I purchased a half hour before the last LotDS game I was running at the Game Hole con.  I kept rolling natural 4's and ended up with something like 19 points of damage!  That player's ex-thief was impaled upon the creature. 

Earlier in the session, one of the wizards rolled an "age stone" mercurial magic effect when casting a certain spell a la Dungeon Crawl Classics.  Basically, it smoothed and weathered stone within a 20' radius of the wizard.  He banked on damaging the stalagmite creatures with the magical side-effects from that particular spell, so he cast it.

It sounded awesome as hell, but potentially inadequate unto the need.  I rolled my percentile dice (keep in mind that low is better).  I rolled a natural 01.  Hoody-hoo!

I told the player that all the stone things writhed in agony and then were eroded away to nothing.  Yes, he took them all out with an ingenious idea and a lucky roll of the dice.  That's the kind of unscripted, anything-can-happen, old school game I love.  It was a fantastic moment in the session, and one that we'll both remember for years to come.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Best RPG Descriptive Words & Phrases!

Roleplaying is essentially storytelling.  We imagine what's going on based upon verbal and non-verbal communication; the most important being verbal (feel free to argue that point, if you must).

Certain words have more impact than others.  A few are so impactful they can affect the potency of an encounter, if not the entire session.  These are the most stimulating and immersive.  They not only get the point across but add another layer or two of reality [no, not reality exactly, but some kind of hyper-stylized aesthetic which artfully replaces reality], expanding and deepening the story in a satisfactory way.  Those are the best descriptive words in a roleplaying context.

My point is that they should be used with greater frequency.  Of course, first they have to be identified.

Short words, long words, seldom-used words, compound words, and phrases.  They are the little bytes, puzzle pieces, moments which hold the entire story together, driving points home, building atmosphere, creating worlds!  Some have resonance because they are fresh or innovative or strange or classic with nostalgia or some combination of these.

Ideally, this blog post will be a list of 100 best RPG descriptive words and phrases.  However, I don't want to build it alone.  Suggest one and I'll put it down below.  Feel free to include your reasoning for why you think it's awesome... did you use it in one of your games, did you hear someone else use it, etc.? Or simply comment on words/phrases mentioned that you either love or hate.  Any feedback is cool.

I'll start...

1.  Sickly as in "sickly purple death ray".  Sickly alone is cool, and can be used in various ways.  Incidentally, "sickly purple death ray" is the name of an OSR blog, but it probably came from somewhere (anyone know the source?).  In fact, I like the whole phrase so much that I used it verbatim in tonight's LotDS game at the Game Hole convention.  I thought it had more pulp pizzazz than "lightning bolt".

2.  Eldritch

3.  Cyclopean

4.  Cosmic

5.  Gargantuan or colossal

6.  Antediluvian technology

7.  Batracian

8.  Resplendent

9.  Dweomer

10.  Ruinous or ruined

11.  Ravenous

12.  Ethereal

13.  Bestial

14.  Searing (as in searing light, pain or heat)

15.  Gibbous

16.  Rugose

17.  Abhorrent

18.  Sanguine

19.  Lurid

20.  Esoteric

21.  Membranous

22.  Blasphemous

23.  Iridescent (I would also include viridescent and nigrescent)

24.  Irascible

25.  Incandescent

26. Transcend and transcendent

27.  Stagnant

28.  Dripping with slime

29.  Holocaust

30.  Nameless citadels

31.  Gluttonous

32.  Baleful

33.  Dread (also dreadful or dread-filled and filled with dread... how about dread-infused?)

34.  Grimoire

35.  Preternatural

36.  Abattoir

37.  Swarthy

39.  Catacombs

40.  Grotto

41.  Labyrinth and labyrinthine

42.  Sepulcher

43.  Decrepitude

44.  Inconceivably precious tablets of star-quarried stone

45.  Venereal

46.  Don't worry about it. (From the GM)

47.  Vomitous

48.  Foulness beyond the black leprosies of hell

49.  Spanless gulfs of time

50.  Miasmal vapors of the tomb

51.  Noxious

52.  Permeating

53.  Gygaxian  (sure, why not?)

54.  Dank

55.  Bilious

56.  Tenebrous

57.  Mucilaginous or muculent

58.  Corpulent

59.  Putrescence

60.  Hecatomb

61.  Gloom

62.  Unctuous

63.  Otherworldly atmosphere

64.  Vile or villainous

65.  Writhing

66.  Glistening

67.  Seething

68.  Tumorous

69.  Streaming ooze of charnel pollution

70.  Deliquescent

71.  Pulsating

72.  Malodorous

73.  Mephitic

74.  Noisome

75.  Seething

76.  Ichorous

77.  Viscid, viscous, or slick

78.  Visceral

79.  Tentacular or tentacled

80.  Moist

81.  Mellifluous

82.  Unspeakable

83.  Tumescent

84.  Susurration

85.  Bloated, blood-drenched fiends

86.  Swollen, alien, egg-sacs

87.  Witch-haunted

88.  Melange

89.  Cronenbergian or Cronenberg-esque

90.  Lovecraftian (this one probably gets overused a lot, but still worthy of placing here)

91.  Ultra-telluric

92.  Atlantean

93.  Decadent

94.  Degenerate

95.  Under the scarlet light of a bloated, dying sun (that's from AS&SH)

96.  Disharmonious or harmonious

97.  Unrelenting

98.  Incongruent or congruent

99.  Crystaline

100.  Kaleidoscopic

I think we (as GMs) should consider tailoring our adventures to fit these transcendent words. What if those gaming sessions suddenly became more to our liking and individual aesthetic because we used blasphemous, lurid, and batracian?  Let those Lovecraftian words be our damnable guide!


p.s.  Thanks for the help, everyone!  Feel free to use this as your d100 random descriptive table.