Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Free: Midsummer Wood

It's midsummer and in the darkest, weirdest wood the fairies meet in mask to feast and fĂȘte. Of mortals, the canniest and most wary can dare to join them. The rewards are wealth and poetry, pleasure, love and magic. The risks are sanity and soul. One of you is just such, a mortal man or mortal woman cunning, lovely and bold. Can you move uncaught among these, the perilous and subtle, shapechangers, elementals, embodiments of the oldest fears? Can you rob them of their treasures and escape, or will they discover you, bind you, and make you theirs?

Midsummer Wood is a competitive single-session rpg for 4 or 5 players designed by D. Vincent Baker. Get it for free here

Friday, April 25, 2014

Kickstarter: Metamorphosis Alpha

I am very late to this party, but you still have two days to get in on the reprint of Metamorphosis Alpha, the original sci-fi RPG by the folks who brought you DCC.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Monday, April 21, 2014

Monstrous Workshop: Putting It All Together

Now that we've gone through all of the elements of a monster in Torchbearer, it's time to actually make one. For some reason this idea didn't occur to me until after I began this series of posts. No matter, I think handling it all in one shot will make clear some steps that were not evident in my breakdown of monsters.

Before even thinking about how to represent your creature within the framework of the rules, you need a concept. Given that we have 40 years worth of roleplaying game materials to serve as inspiration, I won't waste any time on where to turn for ideas. The only thing that is necessary is that turning the concept into a creature excites you.

The Torchbearer rulebook covers a lot of the classic monsters, but is missing marine-based monsters. For this reason, I'm building a variant of a Giant Crab. Only, that's kind of boring. I want this creature to be just as feared as a Dragon. I'm thinking it lays dormant in its caves for years at a time before emerging from the deeps to hunt and feast. For the time being, let's call this thing the Cragon.

Might: While I want it to be as feared as a Dragon, I don't want it to be quite as powerful. Might 6 seems a little steep for this creature. If I were building an average Giant Crab Might 4 would be appropriate, similar to a Stone Spider, but I want this thing to be a little stronger. Might 5 feels perfect. Without the aid of magic, players cannot Kill or Capture the Cragon, but they can drive it off each time it wakes from its slumber to feed. Or they can do what most people do, and run at the first sight of it.

Nature: Since the Cragon isn't quite as powerful as a Dragon I'm going to assign it Nature 6 for the moment, right in between keeping it equal and within two steps of its Order of Might. Depending on the kinds of weapons it has, it will reliably be able to throw 3-4 successes, enough to challenge players but not overwhelm them.

Nature Descriptors: The first thing that pops into my head is Scuttling. Looking at Merriam Webster, I am delighted to find that this word has an additional meaning of which I was unaware.

to cut a hole through the bottom, deck, or side of (a ship); specifically :  to sink or attempt to sink by making holes through the bottom

This is perfect.

Feasting seems appropriate as well, but it's a little flat given that this thing basically feeds on an entire village once every few years. I'm remembering the Nature question I wrote, "Does the sun fill your wings as you rule your from kingdom high above the clouds or do you wear a crown fashioned from the bones of dead sailors, commanding the waves that crash on every shore?" The Cragon doesn't wear a crown, but it certainly feasts on the bones of dead sailors. That's two.

I'm a little stumped for the third descriptor. I didn't realize what I found boring about just making a Giant Crab, but I think it has to do with its anatomy. Once you get beyond the claw, there is not much there. Crushing would probably be the appropriate descriptor, but I'm not sure that I want something that plain. Let's think more about this.

The name Cragon, originally just a playful portmanteau meant to sum up my concept, seems to suggest something a little different. It definitely doesn't have wings or a breath weapon, but maybe it has a tail? The creature I'm imagining now looks something closer to a giant lobster or maybe a marine-based scorpion, even. Crushing seems a lot more interesting in this context. Let's leave it here knowing that it might change.

Conflict Dispositions: This creature is definitely geared towards the martial Conflicts and its dispositions are going to reflect this. Still, I tried to make this thing more than just a killing machine.
  • Kill: Those foolish enough to go to blows with this thing will have a hard time taking this thing down. 
  • Capture: Capturing this thing isn't going to be any easier.
  • Drive-Off: Most people are going to go for this option when taking it on. The Cragon definitely feeds down the food chain, and if its prey makes a stand they could potentially drive it off. Lose, however, and you'll likely find yourself on its dinner plate.
  • Pursue: The Cragon has a lot of things going for it, but speed is not one of them. Those with the good sense to run will likely live to see another day as this thing scurries frantically and clumsily after its prey.
Conflict Weapons: There are really three things that jump out to me about the Cragon: the claw, the tail, and it's shell. Looking at it's Scuttling Nature, I remember that crabs often dig/burrow into the sea floor, as well. I'm going to assign the names as I assign them to the conflict below:
  • Kill
    • Attack: +2D Claw Vice
    • Defend: +1D Parry and Scuttle
    • Maneuver: +1D Burrow
    • Feint: +1D Tail Sweep
  • Capture
    • Attack: +2D Claw Vice
    • Maneuver: +1D Burrow
    • Feint: +1D Tail Sweep
  • Drive Off
    • Attack: +2D Claw Vice
    • Defend: +1D Parry and Scuttle
    • Maneuver: +1D Burrow
    • Feint: +1D Tail Sweep
  • Pursue
    • Attack: -1D Frantic Scuttle
    • Maneuver: +1D Burrow
    • Feint: +1D Claw Vice
Instinct: I want something that speaks to its feasting ritual--Always feast in my lair.

Special: The Cragon's carapace functions like plate armor in Kill, Capture, and Drive Off conflicts. While the Cragon is burrowed, change its bonus for any Feint action to +1s. Additionally, all character actions taken while the Cragon is burrowed suffer  a -1D penalty. If the Cragon scripts Attack, it leaves its burrow removing these bonuses and penalties.

Finally, let's put the whole thing together!

The Cragon

Deep beneath the black waters of the sea, the Cragon sleeps for years at a time. Upon waking, it swims to the surface, attacking ships and coastal towns, capturing as much food as possible before returning to its lair to feast. While it only wakes once every 10 years or so, its reign of terror often lasts weeks and The Cragon has completely destroyed entire towns. No one has ever seen its lair, but it is rumored to be full of the sunken treasure of a dozen fleet of ships by now.

Might: 5
Nature: 6
Descriptors: Scuttling, Feasting on the Bones of Dead Sailors, Crushing


  • Kill: 14
    • Attack: +2D Claw Vice
    • Defend: +1D Parry and Scuttle
    • Maneuver: +1D Burrow
    • Feint: +1D Tail Sweep
  • Capture: 9
    • Attack: +2D Claw Vice
    • Maneuver: +1D Burrow
    • Feint: +1D Tail Sweep
  • Drive Off: 6
    • Attack: +2D Claw Vice
    • Defend: +1D Parry and Scuttle
    • Maneuver: +1D Burrow
    • Feint: +1D Tail Sweep
  • Pursue: 3
    • Attack: -1D Frantic Scuttle
    • Maneuver: +1D Burrow
    • Feint: +1D Claw Vice
Instinct: Always feast in my lair.

Special: The Cragon's carapace functions like plate armor in Kill, Capture, and Drive Off conflicts. While the Cragon is burrowed, change its bonus for any Feint action to +1s. Additionally, all character actions taken while the Cragon is burrowed suffer  a -1D penalty. If the Cragon scripts Attack, it leaves its burrow removing these bonuses and penalties.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Monstrous Workshop: Special

Flipping through the "Denizens" chapter of the Torchbearer rulebook, you'll notice most creatures have a "Special" category in their statblock. These entries detail any special advantages the creatures have, ways in which they break break the rules, and further define their behavior. With few exceptions, any creature you make should have a "Special" entry. The book is rife with examples to steal or model your ideas upon, which I've catalogued below.

A simple way to decide what your creature's Special should be is to think what a Lore Master/Hunter roll would reveal about this creature. Sure, we know a red dragon has a breath weapon, but that's rather obvious and doesn't really get to the unique thing about the creature. However, saying, "Red Dragons are the most covetous of all--they sleep with one eye open so they can count their gold in their dreams and watch for thieves who would try to sneak into their lair," does get at this. A simpler example is Trolls. It's hard not to think about the Troll's weakness to fire and their regenerative abilities first and foremost.
  • Undead Traits 
    • Barrow Wights, page 151
  • Disease Transmission 
    • Barrow Wights, page 151
    • Giant Rats, page 154
    • Wererat, page 158
  • Corrosive Effects 
    • Black Dragon, page 152
  • Terrain Advantages 
    • Bugbears, page 152
  • Anatomical Advantages 
    • Creeping Ooze, page 152
  • Weapons that paralyze 
    • Ghoul, page 153
  • Weapons that poison 
    • Stone Spider, page 157
  • Variant Species 
    • Giant Bats, page 154
  • Animal Companions 
    • Gnolls, page 154
  • Racial Advantage/Disadvantages 
    • Goblins, page 154
    • Orc, page 156
    • Red Dragons, page 156
  • Natural Armor 
    • Guardian Statue, page 155
  • Conflict Immunities 
    • Guardian Statue, page 155
    • Tomb Guardian, page 157
  • Charm Effects 
    • Harpy, page 155
  • Weapon Preferences 
    • Hobgoblin, page 155
    • Tomb Guardians, page 157
    • Wererat, page 158
  • Cultural Hierarchies 
    • Lizardman, page 156
  • Magic Immunities 
    • Tomb Guardians, page 157
  • Regeneration 
    • Troll, page 158
  • Weaknesses 
    • Troll, page 158
  • Lycanthrope 
    • Wererat, page 158

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Monstrous Workshop: Instincts

Unlike a character's instincts, monster instincts are not for making mundane tests or causing drama. They are simply there to better explain how a creature behaves. This post will (hopefully) provide some insight on how to effectively write them for that purpose. I'm going to begin by quoting the rulebook, a passage which has already (partially) appeared in this series of posts.

"Give every single creature in your adventure a want. Some will want something from the adventurers: their flesh, their souls, their help, etc. Some will want something from the adventure area: a lonely ghost wandering around trying to find his lost boots, kobolds who covet the dragon’s hoard, a giant spider waiting for orcs to blunder into its web."

Instincts are a fantastic way to express those wants. If you've built all of the other aspects of your creature already (and I recommend you do before thinking about instincts), you should see how the various parts add up to your concept. Figuring out what your creature wants may be as simple as putting those pieces together or focusing on one or two. It may also be more complicated than that. In those situations, I find it's best to just start asking questions.
  • What does this creature want?
  • If threatened, what does this creature do?
  • Does this creature have a natural enemy? If so, how do they deal with them?
  • What is this creature doing on an average day?
. . .and so on. Remember, these are instincts. If you ask the question above and you've still got nothing, the issue may be a lack of clarity of concept. Take a step back and think about your creature outside of the realm of rules for a game and then try again.

Let's end on some examples, using the passage above as inspiration.

Always skin your victims.

Always carry an empty soul gem. 

If I can convince others to help me, I can finally succeed at this task.

Never leave a piece of gear behind, in this life or the next one.

Never break camp before counting the gold. 

Always let your food come to you.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Monstrous Workshop: Conflict Weapons

Whereas Nature Descriptors lay out your creature's concept in broad strokes, the weapons you assign it often provide the most flavorful details. At this point, nothing should be a surprise to you. If your creature has Flying as a descriptor and Pursue as one of it's dispositions, it should be fairly obvious that its wings are going to be one of its weapons. If you get stuck, reevaluate your Nature Descriptors to make sure they accurately reflect your concept.

Defining your creature's features, both descriptively and mechanically, is probably my favorite part of this entire process. Let's begin with the former. While we could just call them Wings, it's important to remember that the abstract nature of the conflict system relies heavily on narration and description to provide the dramatic action lest you find yourself playing a complicated game of rock-paper-scissors. To this end, I'm often amazed at how suggestive a single word can be. Always Skeletal Wings, Angelic Wings, Scaled Wings. Never just Wings.

A monster should typically have about 2-3 weapons, though the more fantastical and mythical ones could very well have more. Once you know what they are, it's time to figure out what they do. This will vary depending on the conflict. Continuing our Wings example, it makes sense that they would apply to the Maneuver action during most martial conflicts. However, for Pursue and Flee Conflicts, it also seems like they could apply to the Attack action, too. Rather than just slap the same weapon on both actions, maybe the Attack action is Diving from the Clouds and the Maneuver is Skeletal Wings. When you find a weapon has multiple uses it may merit creating additional weapons to further define the creature's behavior.

The final step in this process is assigning these weapons dice values. In most all cases, a weapon should be +1D. If the character does something exceptionally well or this weapon is particularly suited for the kind of conflict, +2D is appropriate. Weapons with a +1s (or more) bonus should generally be rare, reserved for supernatural ability. Don't forget that weapons or features may be hindrances in some contexts as well, receiving a -1D/-2D/-1s following the guidelines above.

Lastly, avoid "doubling up" the bonuses on a monster. If you break a feature down into multiple weapons as above, don't assign them high dice bonuses, too. Choose either versatility or raw power.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Monstrous Workshop: Conflict Dispositions

This will be a shorter entry in this series, mostly due to the fact that the book lays out the procedure for determining the exact values of each entry. What I will focus on instead is choosing the kinds of conflicts your creature will have disposition values for. As with Nature, we want a mix of dispositions that support the concept of the creature.

I find the easiest way to achieve this is to look at the creature's Nature Descriptors. In fact, I would caution that this step in building your monster cannot be completed until those have been assigned. Each descriptor should point towards one or more potential types of conflict. If they don't, or you find that you're only getting a few types of conflict out of those descriptors, this is a good indicator that your concept needs some tweaking. The book reminds us, "Creatures who want something become puzzles to explore and solve. Creatures who only want to fight rapidly become tiresome."

Finally, be conscious of how many dispositions you assign your creature. For most creatures, I find that three is the perfect number, as it allows you to assign it a strength,a competency, and a weakness. For the more difficult creatures, absolutely assign more, but just note that this will increase the difficulty of the encounter

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Monstrous Workshop: Descriptors

Assigning Nature Descriptors is probably the hardest part of creating monsters in Torchbearer. Whereas other games represent the monster through a series of numbers and abilities, the core of your creature is expressed in as few as three words. These descriptors will also likely suggest the kinds of conflicts it excels at as well as any weapons it possesses, making choosing the right three descriptors a little daunting.

If you're converting monsters from other games or working with a clear concept (a new kind of dragon, for example), you can just start selecting descriptors from this list, making up your own where necessary. Should you end up with more than three (which is easy to do using this method), just ask: does this describe every single creature of this type? If the answer is no, it probably shouldn't be one of the descriptors. Still, note that you considered it for later, as it may come in handy when assigning weapons, conflicts, and instincts.

You could also approach that list without a concept and put triads of descriptors together until they evoke a creature of interest. This is great for making things up on the fly or when you want to throw something new at the party. The thing to be cautious of (and this is true in general) is to avoid putting too many like descriptors together. You want a variety that suggests how the creature defends itself, travels about the world, what purpose it may serve rather than three ways it kills all humans.

Alternatively, you can generate or further define a rough concept by answering some questions. These were heavily inspired by the Nature question in the rulebook, and are by no means exhaustive. Ignore any that don't apply and make up your own!
  • When humans invade your home with fire and steel, do you guard it fiercely or retreat further into the wilderness and start over?
  • Do your roars of victory echo through the night, frightening the dead awake or do you brood silently, plotting your next raid in the shadows?
  • Were you born in the volcanic forges of smoke-plumed mountains or hatched from the icy hearts of glaciers? Somewhere in between? 
  • Are you the only one of your kind, the likes of which the world has never seen or one in a rising tide set to swallow the mountains?
  • Do you take comfort in your trinkets and treasure deep underground or do you stalk the world constantly searching for more to covet?
  • Is your skin harder than stone or does it bruise like an apple?
  • When the Elves sing of the end of our age, is it your name that brings the darkness or do you too cower in fear of another's shadow?
  • Does the sun fill your wings as you rule your from kingdom high above the clouds or do you wear a crown fashioned from the bones of dead sailors, commanding the waves that crash on every shore?
  • Did you you witness the first nights before any stars opened their eyes or do you still measure time in the passing of winter?

Monday, April 7, 2014

Monstrous Workshop: Nature

If Order of Might is important for determining how players can deal with a monster, Nature is doubly so because it dictates how difficult that's going to be. This score sets the strengths, weaknesses, and the overall amount of dice the monster will be able to roll for all of its actions. As with Might, the examples in the book should be followed closely for guidance.

One thing that may not be clear looking at those examples right away is how close Nature often is to the Order of Might score. With few exceptions, every example is equal to or within 1-2 steps of Might. The creatures that deviate from this formula are few and tend to be iconic and notoriously difficult: dragons, trolls, etc. A last observation: no creature has a Nature below their Order of Might. I recommend following these guidelines when determining Nature.

Finally, one thing to be cautious of is slapping a high Nature score on a creature that will be in a large group. While I won't say it should never be done, it will drastically increase the difficulty of a fight and should be considered carefully. More often than not, Nature for a creature that players encounter in groups should equal their Order of Might. It makes sense narratively, too--their strength is in their number, not their Nature.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Monstrous Workshop: Order of Might

One of the most important decisions you will make while building a monster is setting its Might score.
Not only are you choosing its place within the natural (and unnatural) order of things, but you're effectively choosing the methods by which the players will dispatch of them. Choosing the right fit for this means having a clear concept, both of the creature's abilities as well as how they exist within their respective ecosystems. While the book provides ample examples, it's definitely more art than science.

The obvious first step is to compare your monster to one of those examples. Alternatively, ask yourself if it would win a fight against any of the the monsters at that Order of Might. If the answer is yes, go to the next level. If it could go either way, you're probably at the right number. If the answer is unequivocally no, you've gone too high.

Should nothing jump out at you, consider how supernatural this creature is. Generally, the more mundane stuff (for a fantasy world) falls at 4 or below. At 5 we start getting into the larger predators--dragons, ogre, trolls and the like. If your monster is similar to one of the examples but, due to something extraordinary, simply increase their Might by 1. Tieflings and Aasimar, for example, would be Might 4 as they are natural adventurers from the planes.

Finally, don't feel like you have to answer this question right away. If nothing jumps out at you right away, start by filling in the other details first. Once you're done, take a step back and see how it compares to other creatures. The best advice I can give is to trust your instincts here.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Diseases in Torchbearer

The Sick condition is a great default for most diseases. However, for those situations when you want to add a little flavor (see: make your player's lives more miserable), I've cooked up a few specific diseases:

Blinding Sickness: Apply the sick condition as normal, but the character is also in complete darkness until recovery. If they fail their roll, remove the condition, but add a trait at level one to reflect their time without sight. 

Infernal Fever: This disease has a long incubation period. As part of a Twist, the character may:
  • Speak in the parasite's language
  • Lose control of the body as the parasite asserts dominance (often to kill the other party members)
During one of these spells, the players can force the parasite back into hiding with a Banish conflict. If you lose, the character is lost forever to the parasite.

Recovery: Increase the Ob by 1. Normal failure effects and the disease remains. If Nature is ever brought to 0, the parasite consumes the body.

Mummy Rot: The character's body begins decaying. If the player fails, subtract the margin of failure from their Nature. If they succeed, they lose one point of Nature.