Star Apocalypse

Image by NASA via Wikipedia

The universe (or should that be Universe) is going to die someday. Well, maybe – I’m no physicist – I don’t even play one on TV. But let’s assume that all the stars in the sky will someday cool or collapse, and leave a universe very short on energy. All the star empires and rogue traders will be left to scavenge what they can from self-sufficient star bases and colonies, plundering once fertile planets that are now cold and almost lifeless, etc.

In other words – Star Apocalypse.

The idea here is to combine the two gaming genres of Traveler-style sci-fi and Gamma World-style post-apocalyptic gaming. The main point would not be the gathering of power, but of just keeping ahead of the cold, entropic embrace of Death. Every alien species and human star empire and god-like superbeing in the universe is dying, and the players are just trying to outlast them.

The best rules for such a campaign would probably sci-fi rules modified to allow for scarcity and the idea that the best and brightest are gone and those who remain maybe do not understand the technology they use quite as well as they should.

Where would the adventures take place? Isolated colonies (under glass domes, of course) and star bases eager for trade, but wary of strangers (think in terms of isolated towns in Westerns), ruins of ancient civilizations, and drifting hulks (as in spaceships) in deep space. The play would often be dungeon-style – exploring a physical space and battling monsters and traps, but the drivers would be the need for supplies – energy, fuel, food and water, replacement parts for the spaceship. Of course, there could also be a meta-driver – the belief that some super-scientist somewhere built a portal that allows one to leave the dying universe for a parallel universe that remains young and vital. This Shangri-la could be the overall focus of the campaign – something akin to Battlestar Galactica‘s plot of a caravan of spaceships seeking Earth.

Just a thought – and probably not an original one at that.

Nodian Grimoire – Four New Spells

Image found HERE

I don’t invent all that many new spells – there are already so many of them, and I find that new ones often go unprepared because they’re a bit too niche – in other words, players don’t know what’s coming, so they tend to prepare the most tried and true spells for their clerics and magic-users.

That being said, a few ideas recently popped into my head, so I figured I would write them up.

ANIMATE ROOM

Level: Cleric 8
Range: Immediate area
Duration: 1 hour

This spell works much as animate object, except that it animates an entire room as a single monster. The room has the statistics of a huge animated object, and can use the objects within it as weapons to attack.

GODLY VISAGE

Level: Cleric 6
Range: Personal
Duration: 1 minute

The cleric takes on the physical form of his or her patron deity for one minute. Their equipment might change its form, but not its properties, magical or mundane (i.e. chainmail may look like +3 platemail, but it still acts like normal chainmail). Followers and enemies of the god or goddess must pass a Will saving throw or be stunned. This state lasts until the “deity” is hit in combat and damaged, or the “deity” or any of the “deity’s” allies attack the stunned creatures.

In addition to looking like their deity, the cleric gains the following special abilities: Suffer half damage from non-magical weapons and attacks, enjoys 5% spell resistance, and gains one special attack associated with their deity. This special attack should be no more powerful than a 3rd level spell, and can be used once.

QUID PRO QUO

Level: Magic-User 6
Range: Personal
Duration: 24 hours

By casting this spell, a magic-user declares a trigger spell, and the spell that will be triggered when that spell is cast in the magic-user’s presence, but not by the magic-user herself. Once this spell is cast, the effect lasts for 24 hours. If during that time any creature casts the trigger spell (hereafter known as the triggerer), instead of the trigger spell’s effect, a different spell is cast, with quid pro quo’s caster as the origin of the spell and the triggerer as the target (if applicable).

THIN AIR

Level: Magic-User 3
Area: One 3-ft. x 3-ft. x 3-ft. cube per level (max 30-ft. cube)
Duration: 1 minute

You rob the air within the area of effect of oxygen. You can move the area of effect while the spell lasts by concentrating on it – this concentration precludes other actions. Creatures within the thin air that engage in strenuous activity (running, climbing, fighting, etc.) must pass a Fortitude saving throw each round or become fatigued. A fatigued creature must continue to attempt Fortitude saving throws to avoid becoming dazed. Dazes creatures must continue to attempt Fortitude saving throws to avoid becoming unconscious. This unconscious state lasts for as long as the creature remains in the thin air, and 1d6 rounds thereafter.

Dragging It Out for Drama

I was thinking about disease in 3rd edition D&D, and how it involves losing a few ability score points each day until you either roll two successful saves in a row and recover, receive magical healing, or die.

A mechanic like this could be useful for other effects as well – a dramatic countdown to destruction that forces the character and his or her allies to “find a cure” before time runs out.

Think about undead attacks, for example. Level loss is a great mechanic (I know, some people hate it) because it makes the undead frightening to the player as well as to his or her character. Imagine using almost irreversible constitution loss instead. The idea would be to allow maybe one initial saving throw against the effect. If it fails, the character’s life begins to ebb away. Maybe it would be one point per day, maybe one per hour. Slowly, though, the transformation is taking place. Maybe after two or three lost Con points, it becomes noticeable. When half the Con is gone, the character’s skin looks pale or grey, and their personality begins to change. Clearly, something must be done – a cure must be found! At what point do the other players give up on stopping the transformation and instead make plans to destroy their pal or imprison them somewhere?

Disease can work the same way, especially if there’s an exotic or magical cure for it. Obviously, if there are cure disease spells floating around, there’s little point in doing this, so it probably needs to be something like mummy rot that is not so easy to get rid off.

You could also use this to slowly model a person losing their mind, shifting in alignment, etc. Just pick the most appropriate stat, and let the effects show up slowly – first there will be suspicions (“Grak seems a little more irritable than usual”), then grave concerns (“I tell you, something is terribly wrong with Grak”) and then confirmation (“All the signs are there – Grak is being possessed by a demon!), and then the race is on to cure Grak before he goes full demon.

Key to a thing like this, of course, is the cure. It should be something within reach of the characters, but not easily reached. If you know the victim has ten days left to live, make sure the cure is about seven to eight days away – they can get there, and they have a little leeway, but it will be tough going, and the closer they get, the weaker (or weirder, or more evil) their pal gets, making the final push particularly hard.

Of course, dramatic stuff like this loses its potency (and becomes downright annoying) when it is overused. If the party has to stop what they’re doing and go on a side quest every five minutes because somebody was bitten by a giant rat, they’re not going to be happy. You probably don’t want to do something like this often, and probably don’t want to use the same exact situation more than once. Keep it special and unique – magical or exotic diseases, not every sniffle – keep the spawning undead and lycanthropes rare in the campaign, etc.

Just a random notion – could be useful as a way to make even a dungeon crawl game about more than just XP collection. Monsters and treasures come and go – it’s the dramatic stuff like this that will forge fond memories of a campaign.

Fight Like a Greek Hero … In the Buff!

A while back, I tossed out the idea of modeling variant samurai in Ruins & Ronin by swapping out access to armor in exchange for extra special abilities.

Today, I was looking at some classical art, wherein all the great heroes fight in the buff. Now, you could swap out the fighter’s normal access to armor with the monk’s ability to improve AC by level if you wanted to run a campaign set in classical Greece – in fact, I would suggest it. But what if you wanted to award fighters (and other character classes that normally have access to very good armor) if they want to throw down their metal suits and fight like Hercules?

My idea would be to grant an XP bonus whenever a warrior goes into battle unarmored. You can actually tie the size of the bonus to the amount of armor the warrior forgoes. This can get tricky at lower levels though, when fighters and clerics cannot necessarily afford better armor. You don’t necessarily want to hand the fighters and clerics a big XP bonus over the thieves and magic-users when they’re opting not to use armor they couldn’t get access to anyways.

Maybe the way to do it is this: If a character that normally has access to any armor decides to wear nothing more than leather armor (nonmagical), they get a +10% bonus to earned XP. If they decide to wear nothing more than padded, they get a +15% bonus. If they go around unarmored, but clothed, they get a +20% bonus. If they go virtually naked, they get a +25% bonus to earned XP.

You can reduce these bonuses for characters with more restrictive armor choices; you might decide that thieves who decide to go around virtually naked earn no more than a +10% bonus to earned XP, since they’re really only forgoing a couple points of AC bonus.

Shields don’t figure into this – the classical heroes often fought with shields. If the armor mentioned above is magical, reduce the XP bonus by 5% per magical plus (so wearing +1 leather armor translates into a +5% bonus to XP).

This could be a fun option for players with fighters who want to challenge common sense, and show off a bit in the process. It could also be a way to model the Xena’s and Red Sonja’s running around in less-than-optimal armor.

You might also give fighters with impressive physiques an additional bonus to reaction checks if they walk around virtually naked – i.e. permit them to add their Strength bonus in place of their Charisma bonus to reaction checks.

Secrets of the Shadowend – A Review

Nathan Irving was kind enough to send me a copy of his new Secrets #1 – Omens & Artifacts to check out, and I was very impressed. It’s a great compilation of spells, monsters, and magic items for Swords & Wizardry (hallowed be its name) that you can fit into your long-running campaign to throw your players a curve, or use to launch a new campaign for old timers who already know the best way to skin a gnoll. Since it’s OSR, of course, you can use the book for just about any OSR style rules you happen to use.

The book is illustrated with public domain art that is well selected to reflect the feel of the material – you can’t go wrong with the likes of Batten and Rackham. The layout is nice and clean – very easy to read and it won’t cost a fortune to print if you opt for the PDF rather than the print version.

Best of all – the book won’t cost you an arm and a leg. You can CLICK HERE to see Nathan’s blog post about the book and learn how to get a copy into your hot little hands.

So, what were my favorite bits?

I dig the Profane Stare spell – awesome opening move for a chaos cultist. The Carpenter’s Rod is like a practical version of the Rod of Lordly Might, and every character intending to delve into a dungeon should be on the lookout for one. The magic cloaks, that give people access to race and class abilities, were nice as well. The cockerel horse (alektrequus) is definitely going to make an appearance in NOD – in the lands of the philosopher kings. The vouivre has an excellent write-up – lots of fodder for adventures.

It’s a great book, and only the first in a series. The next will cover fantasy races. So go order the book already!

Bedevil Your Players with NPCs

OMG – Did you hear what the magic-user said about the illusionist?

While city-based adventures can be a nice change of pace in RPG games that spend most of their time in dungeons, I think that cities and towns should usually be safe places for adventurers to visit. After all, of the three setting types in most fantasy games – settlements, wilderness and dungeons – two of those three are supposed to be geared towards killing the players. Settlements should be a place where adventurers can heal, resupply and prepare for the next delve into danger (well, except at night, when the vampires, assassins, chaos cultists and thieves are stalking the streets). Without the chance to recover and build, how are they going to do what the game intends them to do?

That being said, there is no reason why settlements cannot present new and interesting challenges to the players. Challenges is the key word here , not dangers. Challenging NPCs can make a visit more interesting without killing or harming the characters physically.

Here are a few ideas for obstreperous NPC’s to bedevil the player characters …

Obstreperous NPCs

1. The Spy – Always nosing into the adventurer’s business, and selling their secrets to interested parties (i.e. the man in the shadows). Spies can help move an overarching plot that develops slowly, and eventually become a source of adventures.

2. The Gossip – Spreads rumors and gossip around town concerning the adventurers, and not always that accurately. The gossip can tip off rivals* and piss off neutrals and allies, making life more difficult and expensive for the adventurers.

* Rival adventurers, of course – I strongly suggest rolling up one or two rival adventuring parties. They use the same town as their base of operations, and thus bump into the adventurers in the local tavern and compete for hirelings. More importantly, when adventurers are trying to clear out a dungeon, the rivals might get to key rooms first, or even run into the adventurers as a wandering monster.

3. The Buffoon – An idiot who wants to help the party, but his help always turns out to hinder (e.g. Gilligan or Joxer the Mighty). The idiot really does mean well, so non-evil characters may have a hard time getting rid of him.

4. The Braggart – A loud-mouth braggart who challenges the PCs at every turn, but couldn’t possibly handle him- or herself in a duel. Unfortunately, the braggart can make things tough on the PCs if they fight back – perhaps their father is wealthy or powerful.

5. The Nemesis – Counts one or all of the PCs as her enemies, to be crushed, destroyed, demoralized or generally messed with. The reason lies in the past, and may be an event so minor the PCs don’t remember doing it. Naturally, the nemesis does not attack openly, and may even appear as a friend and ally. The nemesis attacks through others, and has friends in high places.

6. The Fanatic – The PCs biggest fan, a person with no life of his or her own who has latched onto the PCs, living vicariously through their adventures. The fanatic brags about them, which can create problems with rivals, and begs for chances to adventure with them. If the fanatic’s illusions are shattered, they will turn quickly against their former idols.

7. The Mixer – Likes to start trouble, especially between the adventurers and their allies or retainers, or within the ranks of the party itself. The mixer is cunning and seemingly harmless and innocent, and almost always poses as a concerned advisor and friend.

8. The Schmuck – The schmuck is genuinely likeable and good … and completely hopeless. They are always in need of money or help because they bit off more than they can chew (gambling debts, a fight with a bully, trouble with the tax man or loyal aristocracy, etc.). No matter how much the adventurers help, the schmuck will always screw it up or require more help.

Think about introducing one or two of these annoyances in your next city adventure, and spend enough time on them to make them worthy of being reoccurring NPCs in your game.