In Case You Missed it…

Jay Barnson, who has stories with us in issues 4 and 5, was interviewed at Castalia House by Scott Cole on Monday. You can read it here.

The interview largely focuses on Barnson’s work as a game developer, so if you dig vidya, you should definitely check it out!

At some point, I’ll be posting a review of Frayed Knights, an indie FPRPG that Jay made with his Rampant Games collaborators, so be looking forward to that, too.

Dungeon Mechs and Implausible Anime Swords

Random synergy can be a great thing.

Last night, for index card D&D, I created a mech pilot character class whose starting item was a mech. Now, the mech was OP as hell, had ridiculous attack powers and was really hard to destroy. The catch, however, was that being a mech, it could only fit down certain corridors. It pretty much had to be abandoned in the first room of the dungeon. One of the other random items I’d made up for the dungeon deck was a 20 ft. Vibro-blade. It did 4d6+8 damage, except it could only be used by giants, high-level ogres, and mechs; it specifically counted as a “useless item” (certain classes benefited from acquisition or destruction of said useless items) if no one was present who could use it. It was a joke item that couldn’t really be used. Except it was used.

One of the players had written up an item of “Eat Me” Cookies that would triple your size. I found them. Of course the catch was that, much like the mech, you couldn’t leave the room you were in because you were too big and you could only shrink by crying or using the “Drink Me” Potion (which got smashed when it was dropped when people were trying to get the roaches from the Cardboard Garden brushed off of them). But being tripled in size would clearly fulfill the “giant” criteria.

We were experimenting with new boss rules this time, and had a path that specifically led to a “Boss” that was on the other side of a crocodile filled moat. So, we had the whole party carry the 20 ft Vibro-blade, used it to bridge the moat, pulled it across behind us, I ate the cookies and used it to fight the Ogre King, a 15’ tall 70HP badass. I nat 20ed him, and knocked him down almost 50 points.

Except, awesome as that was, in the end, what really did him in was a spell I’d written that someone else had found and cast, Derrik’s Daring Dweomer. It was a high casting cost spell that would either severely hurt the caster, turn enemies into metal, turn enemies into kittens, cause the magic user to explode and do stupid amounts of damage to all enemies (20 dmg for 100), or a couple other weird things. It turned the Ogre King into a 1hp kitten that I had to smash with the Vibro-blade so that I could cry and return to my normal size.

Saving Throws, Pulp Heroes and D&D

Every once in awhile, you’ll hear the complaint that lower level D&D characters don’t feel like the heroic characters from pulp adventures on account of how fragile they are. The low HP means that a couple of good hits will kill those lower level characters, whether in fights or to traps or even something as ignominious as falling down a flight of stairs.

One of my counters to this is that most pulp heroes would be at the lower end of mid-level, contra to what is suggested in many of those old articles where Gary and friends would stat up Cugel or Eric John Stark as being well into double digits with massive pools of HP to prevent low-level PCs from being able to meet and kill these characters just because they were there and they could (though I’m sure they did).

Another bug-bear of oldschool games is the saving throw, particularly in save or die situations. Why should a character with all of that HP be insta-killed?! It’s just not fair! A character who can take 8 full-on sword wounds shouldn’t be able to die just because he was bitten by a snake or had a rock fall on his head!  Besides, that’s entirely unpulpy, right?!

Well, take this from Tarzan at the Earth’s Core, at a point in his career where he’s probably level 27 and has a gorillion hit points:

Tarzan remained very quiet. He did not wish to frighten it away for he realized that one of them must be the prey of the carnivore sneaking upon them, but if he expected the thag to be frightened he soon realized his error in judgment for, uttering low grumblings, the great bull pawed the earth with a front foot, and then, lowering his massive horns, gored it angrily, and the ape-man knew that he was working his short temper up to charging pitch; nor did it seem that this was to take long for already he was advancing menacingly to the accompaniment of thunderous bellowing. His tail was up and his head down as he broke into the trot that precluded the charge.

The ape-man realized that if he was ever struck by those massive horns or that heavy head, his skull would be crushed like an eggshell.

The dizzy spinning that had been caused by the first stretching of the rawhide to his weight had lessened to a gentle turning motion; so that sometimes he faced the thag and sometimes in the opposite direction. The utter helplessness of his position galled the ape-man and gave him more concern than any consideration of impending death. From childhood he had walked hand in hand with the Grim Reaper and he had looked upon death in so many forms that it held no terror for him. He knew that it was the final experience of all created things, that it must as inevitably come to him as to others and while he loved life and did not wish to die, its mere approach induced within him no futile hysteria. But to die without a chance to fight for life was not such an end as Tarzan of the Apes would have chosen. And now, as his body slowly revolved and his eyes were turned away from the charging thag, his heart sank at the thought that he was not even to be vouchsafed the meager satisfaction of meeting death face to face.

Tarzan, with all of his HP was forced to make save-vs-death against some kind of charging inner-earth dire oryx. His saving throw numbers are probably really low at this point, and he probably could’ve made it with anything but a nat 1, but it was still going to be a case of instant-death regardless of how many hit points he has.

This ties back into the game theory that HP doesn’t represent actual wounds but exhaustion and the character’s ability to fight on under pressure in extreme circumstance. Of course, you also might say that it would not be very pulpy to fail your saving throw and be instantly killed, but D&D is a game, and without a genuine sense of risk, your game can end up in a boring slump where everyone knows that everyone is going to live no matter what, so why bother faking the suspense? And in those cases where your life is on the line AND YOU MAKE IT, how much more awesome is it? It makes those times when you could’ve lost your character but didn’t all the more special.

Sexy Minotaur Best Friend – Index Card D&D Character Class

Hit Dice: 1d12 + 8 HP at 1st Level

AC:10 or by armor

Dmg: 1d8 or by weapon

Ability: May block any hit on another PC

Level Up: Blocks number of hits x current level that would otherwise kill the intended target.

+1 ATT, +1HD per level

cry silver bells

This character class was inspired by the title character of Thomas Burnett Swann’s novel Cry Silver Bells. Everyone loves Silver Bells and would do anything for him because they know that he would do anything for them. In Cry Silver Bells, a thief and a courtesan have fled from Egypt to Crete after their parents had been killed by Sphinxes; when the thief is caught stealing, they’re exiled from the Cretan port and have to cross the island’s wilderness, where they’re set upon by vicious Panisci girls; Silver Bells and his dryad friend Zoe save them, but the centaur king Chiron banishes the humans as well. As the thief and courtesan set out from shore, they’re immediately attacked by Tritons-Silver Bells tries to help them, but is captured, too. The three are sold to Cretans for use in their bull games; Zoe takes Silver Bells’ nephew and a cadre of monster girls to Phaistos to rescue them.


Index Card D&D (Now With Rules!)

You may have seen me blog a bit in the past about a game my group occasionally plays that we call “Index Card D&D”. It’s a player-created deck-based dungeon crawl game that is sort of like playing a tabletop version of a roguelike where all of the monsters are out of depth.

Well, my DM friend has put together the written rules for it if you want to try it out for yourself.

Here are a couple previous posts from Cirsova on Index Card D&D:

Also, if you’re going to be at North Texas RPG Con, we’ll be running a table of it.

An Experiment in Adventure Design

Awhile back, I made the bold and audacious claim that the sort of fiction you read in the pulps are the sort of thing that you can easily translate into one off adventures with a couple of stat blocs.

Tomorrow night, I will be running Raiders of the Second Moon by Basil Wells as a one-off adventure using a stripped down version of D&D.

In this post, I’m doing some “Show your work”. I had a couple of stat blocs I threw out in my original post, but I wanted to do a little bit more with the idea, so I’ve cooked up a few things.

Major change is that instead of a lone American astronaut pursuing the Nazi mad scientist, it will be a squadron of soldiers who crash land in the Jungles of Sekk.

I’ve rolled up several pre-gens, given them a full fighter’s Hit Die +/- con mods, and written down range and melee bonuses. I’ve also unified saving throws to Reflex, Endurance, and Psych. Everyone will have AC 12 (7) to represent basic gear, though I’ve thrown in a couple pieces of medium body army that will give a slight bonus. I’m actually going to be using the Charisma stat in this – it will represent the soldier’s rank and spot in the chain of command. Captain of the expedition will be the Caller and can also veto particularly bad choices his soldiers suggest. If he dies, a lieutenant will take over and become the new Caller.

I’ve set up a hex-crawl of about 30 hexes (using sticky notes; most of them are just jungle, but I have one for the crash site, the ape-man village, the skull temple, etc.).

Here’s the fun part. I wanted to give the part a small supply of world war 2 weaponry plus a Banning ray (the large semi-portable stun weapons from Brackett that could be used as defensive anti-infantry weaponry) that will dwindle away as they spend up ammo and may eventually have to rely on bows and spears.

So, I statted up some gear that the Captain will be able to dole out to players.

Colt M1911 3 7 round clips. May shoot twice to add +2 to attack roll. 1d6. A couple of players will have extra magazines, but most who have these pistols will only have one magazine. Players can’t reload a partially spent clip or a magazine in the middle of melee, but they can quickly switch out a spent magazine for a full one and reload a spent magazine with clip. If they have few minutes, they can thumb-jam in some bullets into a partially spent magazine, but none of that vidya game reloading after every shot.

Smith & Wesson Revolver 20 bullets (6 chambers)/ can reload 2 bullets per round. 1d6+1.  The advantage and disadvantage of the revolver is its reload speed.  You can pop in a couple bullets and fire them off without having to deal with the magazine, but it’ll take you a couple seconds to fully reload.

Browning Auto Rifle 200 rounds (10 20 round magazines). (may attack multiple targets, -2 per target). 2d4+1 Each attack uses up a full magazine.

Thompson Gun (3 50-round drum magazines) – fires at a 45 degree arc, hitting all targets in area. Save for half damage. (3d4+1 secret) Each attack uses up a full magazine. Basically, this will be treated like a breath weapon. They won’t know how effective they were until they see the bodies; and there will be bodies!

M1917 scoped Enfield (1 6 round magazine) – Sniping: spend one round aiming or during a surprise round. Moving Target, roll under dexterity at disadvantage, stationary target, roll under dex. Instant kill. 1d8 normal.

Grenades – 2d6 blast save for half damage.

Bottles of whiskey – Restore a character’s HP to full

Packs of government issued Lucky Strikes – Restore an Earthman’s HP to full/ +1 dex in next encounter. Ape-men will not smoke the human’s fire sticks!

Emergency medkits – Restore a character’s HP to full/Recover character with no less than -2HP

Once they burn through their bullets, they’ll still have some trench knives, but the idea is that they’ll run out of ammo after a few big encounters with monsters and cultists and it will be a near run thing when the Nazi mad scientist shows up; hopefully they will have secured the friendship of the Ape-men who can help them.

All I have left to do is give the story one last refresher read and stat up a Spotted Narl!

More Index Card D&D

Last night may have been our worst Index Card D&D dungeon dive ever.

In the first room of the dungeon, the Bakers Guildhall, a fire-breathing frog that splits off another fire-breathing frog showed up along with a giant block of ice that kept us from moving forward. One of the party members had an ability that let him try to possess monsters, so he possessed the frog to melt the ice cube. We finished searching the room, and Feyd-Rautha popped out of a cupboard and challenged the guy possessing the frog in a one-on-one fight to the death. The guy possessing the frog tried and failed to possess Feyd, and the next thing you know, the room is full of drunk, fire-breathing frogs and a belligerent Harkonnen.

We fled deeper into the dungeon, and after taking care of the first group of weaker monsters, Zargon showed up, with his 12 hit dice and seven attacks. We ran deeper still, losing half the party to free attacks.

I had to leave right after the party ran smack into an evil cleric/anti-paladin lady with the silver hammer and two harpy body guards, but I’ll bet at least one more person died!