Friday, August 24, 2012

The Greenskins Get Official

Look at this character sheet one of my players made for the Orc class I designed:

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Race, Class, and Genre

When I first saw the beta for DCC RPG I wrinkled my nose at the concept of race as class. I am accustomed to allowing any combination of the two with obvious synergies between certain mixtures. I fought my tendency to change this rule and have been running DCC RPG rules-as-written (mostly) since then. Having spent the last few months with this game, I realize race as class is a key part of the pulp fantasy world.

In pulp fantasy, the wider world, its denizens and dimensions, are not known. Common townsfolk rarely travel far from their village and, seldom know more than rumors of their neighbors. The adventurer, by comparison, risks life and limb to travel to those unknown places. Humans, who are always represented as varied creatures in these settings, have so many options to reflect this multitudinous nature. Demi-humans are not given as many options. The implication is that these societies are not nearly as numerous as humans and those who take up a life of adventure are even rarer.

Recent editions of the world's most popular roleplaying game, which do not have these restrictions, are not pulp fantasy. High fantasy implies a world with much more stability and where knowledge is not so scarce. Each civilization is thriving to some degree, and, though adventurers are rare, they are not so rare that you cannot find representatives of every class archetype for most races.

Really, that's what this whole issue comes down to: archetypes. Humans in a pulp fantasy world have no archetype, which is why they have more class options available (though often less than their high fantasy counterparts). The other demi-human societies do have archetypes though, which is why they fewer or no options in regards to their class.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Clawing Your Way Back From the Grave

I have never been a fan of spells like Raise Dead or True Resurrection. In the past, I removed these from my games because I thought they minimized death's impact. How do players fear character death if they know they can cart their corpse down to the local temple and be up and walking again within a few hours? They don't. Removing simple magical means of resurrection presents its own problem: how does one return to the land of the living?

The DCC RPG recommends handling this matter with a quest. I think this is the right method. I've also been reading up on the megadungeon and am looking to combine these two ideas. I can't say too much right now because I'm still in the very early stages of figuring out what I want to do, but I will be working on this a lot in the coming weeks as one of my players lost his favorite character last session.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Weird NPC: The Old Mountain Kings

Set in a forked path in the stone are three ornately carved rock-faces. Upon approaching, the stones begin to shift and these faces speak in loud, booming voices, asking "Who dare disturb my kingdom?"

After the party answers, the stones begin bickering with each other over exactly who is the one true king. This will go on as long as the players let it, though if they try to leave they will be reproached for not being respectful of the Old Mountain King, whoever that may be. Each rock face is distinct from the others.

Karn: He has large, exaggerated features including a prominent, bald forehead and nose. Karn loves to boast, insult others, and claim undue credit. He is Chaotic.

Valerius: He has sharp features and is well groomed. Valerius like to make decisions for the others and will often begin any claim with "We think/We decide/We know", which leads to disagreement immediately. He is Lawful.

Orrin: This rock face has hair that runs all the way down to the path and a beard to match. He acts as the mediator of the others, pointing out the blatant falsehoods that Karn and Valerius tell. He is Neutral.

These NPCs are full of lots of information about the history of the world as they have spent aeons demanding boons from travelers, misdirecting them, and telling riddles. If asked a question, each one will provide a different answer making it impossible to discern which one is reliable. In truth, none of them are. They are all stubborn and wish to be recognized more than the others. 

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Economics of RPGs

Tabletop roleplaying games are one of the cheapest hobbies around. While the cost is going to be relative to the game you purchase, all you really need are books and dice. The Pathfinder Beginner box will give you everything you need for less than $40. The DCC RPG book is $40, and you can find sets of dice for less than $10. Add another $10 if you want the Zocchi shapes. D&D offers a beginner box for about the same price as the Pathfinder box. The Burning Wheel book is $25. No matter where you start, the cost of entry is not high.

Even better, these games often return huge dividends for these very modest investments. Who can even begin to count the hours they burned slaying Orcs, crawling through muck-filled tubes, or greedily coveting each and every gold piece to fall into their character's hands? There is no /played command for pencil & paper gaming to tell us, but I suspect that those who have stayed with the hobby for a few years have logged the same number of hours that many World of Warcraft players have in that same time period.

I was thinking about all of this as I picked up DCC RPG #71 The 13th Skull at The Compleat Strategist yesterday. Modules are the one thing that don't have quite as high of a return investment, though, again, it really matters what you purchase. A Pathfinder Adventure Path, which consists of 6 softcover books and will give you an entire campaign, are going to set you back $120 and give you roughly 400 pages of material to work through. That might seem like a lot of money, but if you run it as-is, that's a lot of hours of your back as a DM. DCC RPG modules are $10, a little more than the price of three comic books and about thick as one, but each one will give you 1-2 sessions of fun.

I don't have much to offer today. I've just been thinking about how great this hobby is and how consistently I get excited every time it's game night, a cool new book comes out, or one of my players does something inspiring. Cheers.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Do You Scale Difficulty to the Party?

Modern roleplaying games have a surfeit of rules for balancing encounters. It wasn't until recently that I realized these rules are near-useless. After years of planning encounters following these guidelines I can say that they are seldom accurate. Two monsters of equal challenge rarely pose the same threat. That's all beside the point, really. The question I want to ask is: as a DM, do you scale your encounters to your party level?

To some extent, everyone should be answering yes to that question. After all, we do want our players to have a fighting chance. What we don't want to do is design a world that scales with the levels of the players. Just because your party reaches level 3 doesn't mean they should suddenly encounter monsters of appropriate challenge. They need to look for them.

That's the reason I force my players deep into the wilderness if they want really tough fights: powerful monsters simply don't lurk within the bounds of civilized borders. In the few cases that they do wander within the bounds of a kingdom, it is usually to challenge that authority.

That's the long view of things. Within an adventure, however, the answer becomes a little more complex. Each adventure should, in my opinion, have several encounters below the party's level. It should have a fair number that are adequate challenges and even a couple that are very, very hard.

All of this is on mind because one of my groups is getting ready to venture deep beyond the bounds of civilization and they're going to see the difficulty of encounters spike almost immediately. I hope they have the good sense when to hold their ground and when to run.

Friday, August 10, 2012

The Emerald Enchanter is Dead

. . .and so is one of our characters. I finally was able to rotate this module into one of my ongoing campaigns and all I can say is that Goodman Games continues to offer some of the best modules on the market. The Emerald Enchanter has all of the classics trappings we've come to expect. Missing Villagers? Check. Weird monsters that will have your players cursing and running? Check. A mysterious dungeon inhabited by an evil wizard? It's all here.

I ditched the whole premise of the adventure because this group  is more likely to enslave, torture, or murder the innocent than save them. Instead, I pitched it as a good opportunity to acquire some serious loot. Depending upon how much of the dungeons your players see, they could emerge from the Emerald Enchanter's citadel with a pretty heft pile of magical items. DMs may want to tone this aspect of the adventure down if they use these sparingly.

I want to highlight the second encounter in this adventure. DCC RPG stresses the unknown and the unique when it comes to monsters. DMs scratching their heads on how to accomplish this should run to their FLGS immediately and pick up The Emerald Enchanter. This encounter shows how a little twist on something familiar is all it really takes to make "just another monster" memorable for years to come.

The Emerald Enchanter nails the spirit of Appendix N adventuring and continues to prove that Goodman Games Dungeon Crawl Classics line of modules is the best on the market. DMs looking for a challenging, easy-to-insert adventure need to look no further.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Mighty Deed of Arms: Volley of Arrows

A Warrior using a shortbow or longbow can attempt to fire a volley of arrows as their mighty deed. A Warrior may fire one additional arrow per attack per action die. The success of whether both arrows hit or not is determined with a single attack roll. A skilled Marksman may even try to split their shots between two or more enemies.

If the deed fails but the attack succeeds, roll damage normally for the arrow that hit; the other fell short or went long. If the deed succeeds, apply results as appropriate:

Deed Result
Roll 1d3 damage for each arrow that hit.
Roll 1d4 damage for each arrow that hit.
Roll 1d5 damage for each arrow that hit.
Roll 1d6 damage for each arrow that hit.
Roll 1d7 damage for each arrow that hit.
*These effects are not added to the damage roll, but replace the normal dice used.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Crawl! #3 Arrives!

I got my  copy of Crawl! #3 on Saturday morning and finally had a chance to go through it this morning on the subway. As you can see, this issue's theme is the magic and features rules for NPC magic, Patron Spells for Van Den Danderclanden, Familiars and more. Building each issue around a theme is a smart decision, and there are some real treats in here to make either your adventuring or party-killing lives easier.

As you know, magic in DCC RPG is very different from most other FRPGs on the market. Success is never guaranteed, failure is catastrophic, and, should you be so lucky so cast a spell, the effects will wreak havoc on your targets. While these rules are a blast to use, it can be quite time-consuming to fully implement them for NPCs. Reverend Dak has given us simple rules for handling NPC magic that I will be adopting for my future games. You still make spell checks, but it the effects are static and the spell check is handled similar to a skill check. Also included are rules for critical hits.

The real highlight of this issue are the patron spells for Van Den Danderclanden, the patron that one of Dak's players made and introduced to the world from Craw! #1. If you have spent any time on the Goodman Games forum, one of the most common requests is rules for creating patrons. While you'll find no how-to rules here, these are an excellent example to model yours after. Now that we have the full rules for Van Den Danderclanden, he will beshowing up in my game as soon as a Wizard shows up in the party.

I also really appreciate Raven Crowking's Magic Wand spell, as the rules for doing so were not present in the DCC RPG book. At the same time, you may wish to disallow players access to rules for creating every type of magic item available and just offer them as rare loot. No matter how you approach Wands, these rules will be useful. 

I can't stress this enough: if you're playing DCC RPG and not getting Crawl!, you're really missing out. While your mileage is going to vary from issue to issue, it's a steal at $3.50 (that includes postage!). Besides, if you're not finding the kinds of things you want to see, you could always submit.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Thursday Night Group Session Highlight Reel #1

  • The Thief backstabbing two enemies in a row rolling the same result on the critical table each time. His new title, as he reached level 2, is fitting: murderer
  • Watching the Cleric roll five failures in a row gaining permanent disapproval until a holy quest is completed
  • The Rage mechanic for my Orc class working as intended! Seriously, I think the class is this close to having all of the kinks worked out
  • The look on the players faces after seeing the bandits they just bested in combat rise from the dead with dregs of flesh falling away from their bodies
  • In the final battle, when all of the characters were in inches of their life, the Orc threw a Scimitar, scored a hit, and dropped the final monster of the night
  • The party behaving as a party should! Disagreements based on differing ideology, pooling resources to increase longevity, and thinking things through
  • The Cleric suggesting they plug their ears upon hearing the siren's song. They went through an entire dungeon making plans only by using hand gestures

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Minor Magic Item: Asmodeus' Coin

Minted on one of the seven levels of Hell, this coin is both a boon and a curse to anyone who comes upon it. Anyone who looks at it can see it is different immediately. Slightly larger, it seems to emit its golden sheen like a torch casts light. A player who spends their time examining it will be surprised to see the faces change as they flip it back and forth. In total, there are three faces: a snake, a fox, and a lion.

A character may flip this coin once per day. If they do so, roll 1d3 in secret and apply the results as follows:

1) The Snake: The coins luck has run out for you! Treat the next action a character takes as if the player had rolled a natural 1.

2) The Lion: You feel uncharacteristically confident! Increase the dice rolled by +1d on the dice chain for the next action your character takes.

3) The Fox: You feel lucky! The next time a character burns luck, add +1 for each point burned.

The coin has a mind of its own and often betrays its owner, leaving them unusually irritable and unable to focus for a time. A DM should track how often a players relies on Asmodeus' Coin. Should the player ever lose this item, have their character make a Will save (DC = the number of times the player has used the coin, maximum 20).

If the player fails their save, reduce all actions on the dice chain by -1d for a number of days equal to the DC (20 days at the maximum DC). During this period, the coin is a constant presence on the character's mind. Should they ever recover it, they will be furious to see that the powers it once granted no longer work.

For these reasons, no one in possession of the coin ever willingly relinquishes ownership. Ownership is established by flipping it.