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.

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.

http://thebonehoard.blogspot.com/2017/03/index-card-d.html

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

https://cirsova.wordpress.com/2016/03/08/index-card-dd/

https://cirsova.wordpress.com/2017/03/06/monster-for-index-card-dd-osr-blogger/

https://cirsova.wordpress.com/2017/03/08/more-index-card-dd/

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

Big Monster Fight

Well, we may have found the solution to the balance issue we’ve begun to encounter in Gutters, Guilds, & Grimoires: bigger monsters.

Most of what we’ve fought has been fairly close to man-sized. Even the bigger things have been between bear and small elephant sized.

Last session, we fought something three stories tall.

Well, okay, some of us fought it, while many of us ran like hell.

We were completing a quest in someplace that was a pocket dimension, a moon, or some other part of the world (we never really figured it out), which meant freeing a celestial or demonic creature we called Jeff. We found Jeff in the middle of an abandoned village located between a fork in a stream surrounded by megalithic wards.

Since Jeff couldn’t talk (he could only sign yes or no), we had a hard time getting a complete picture of what was going on with him and the weird abandoned village. We found that he was trapped, the person who trapped him was nearby, we could free him, the villagers had not trapped him, he had not killed the villagers, he would help us if we freed him, and he would not hurt us if we helped him. We got a nice one point stat boost to luck for freeing him.

We set off to see if we could find the person who’d trapped him and we eventually found a wizard’s cottage. It was locked from the inside, empty, and had a hole in the roof. We dicked around way too long debating whether we should loot the cottage, wait for the person to come back, or decide that Jeff (or someone) had pulled the wizard straight through the roof of his own house.

Then we heard some crashing sounds.

Poking around the village was a thing described as being over 30 feet tall, having a three-eyed Cthulhu head and long spindly Salvador Dali Elephant legs.

Oh, right, I forgot to mention the other complication – the area was filled with obscuring mist and unless you had one of the sage torches with you, you could neither see in the mist nor were you safe from the mist folk who would tear you apart in four rounds tops. We’d left several torches lit along the path back to the mirror, but had only taken three with us. And the bridge across the stream consisted only of a series of rotting logs propped up by piles of rock, and several of the logs had already broken loose on the way over.

When the thing noticed us, we started running like hell. A few of us barely made it across. Others got swept down the stream a bit as the fell in, landing further down the shore out of the light and safety of the torches. Others eventually had to try to jump and swim for it, with most of the bridge gone, losing at least one torch in the process.

The thing used its tendrils to snatch up and try to eat people. Those who couldn’t get away ended up badly mangled and one was eaten. While they figured out that they could hurt it (a couple characters managed to cut off a few of its mouth tendrils and one guy even managed to tie its legs like an AT-AT) the thing was NOT going down easily and there was little indication that it was being more than really annoyed. After it had staggered a bit and fallen into the stream, the characters who’d stayed to fight saw more of them coming –they had just barely managed to convince ONE of the things that they were not worth trying to eat, but there was absolutely nothing they could’ve done once more of them showed up.

Eventually, everyone except for the character who was eaten had either run back or was carried through the mirror portal which we immediately sealed before they could come through. Hoping we don’t have to fight those things again any time soon.

The one really funny thing is that in the big battle against Lord Brinston’s armed guard awhile back, just about everyone in the party ended up with an open-faced helm, so everyone had really good head armor (4); were it not for those helmets doing damage reduction, everyone in the party who did not just run like hell would have had their heads popped off in no more than two hits and been eaten.

Fighting big monsters should be very different than fighting small and medium sized monsters, and it shouldn’t just be reflected in hit points. PCs typically won’t even be able to hit most locations on such creatures (I’ve always thought that if a DM has something like a dragon go toe-to-toe, blow-for-blow, with the PCs he’s running the encounter wrong). A big monster should keep its vital locations out of reach as is reasonable. Really big monsters absolutely should have subparts which could be crippled or destroyed; definitely makes things more interesting than the old Critical Existence Failure at 0HP.

Scaling Issues and Solutions in G3

One of the key features of G3 has been how the difficulty scales and play remains relatively balanced despite discrepancies between PCs’ levels of experience. While it is theoretically possible for a character’s combat potential to top out after 8 sessions or so, the overall fragility of characters in the system has kept things balanced and potentially lethal most of the time. With my latest character, we’re beginning to see a few potential strains on the system, though I think they can be easily addressed.

My current PC is the first true “tank” in the party. We’ve had a few fighter characters before and characters with high (for the system) HP, but my Man-At-Arms is the first time anyone has really tried to make the most of the armor system.

G3 does not use the same sort of passive defenses as D&D. Characters have a raw attack value that is never modified except by disadvantage or advantage. The point of Armor in G3 is damage reduction. Each point of armor reduces the blow by one, though all attacks (except by smaller creatures) do ping damage. So 4 points damage would be reduced by 4 points of armor to 1. The difference between that and 5 points of damage is that the one damage is seen as having penetrated the armor. In the former case, the one damage is representative of the fatigue/being winded/whatever, while the latter, the thing has actually hit you and probably broken skin or bruised you. It’s in the latter case where effects like poison, rot, or corruption would become an issue. (I.E. 4 damage against 4 armor, the ghoul knocks you back and you take your ping, 5 damage against 4 armor, the ghoul has scratched you and you roll for paralysis, even though you’ve lost the same HP).

With 11 HP and 4 armor on all body parts, my Man-At-Arms can take a lot of hits from just about anything before he’s in real trouble. That’s a huge change from when everyone in the party had 1 armor at most and died in 2 hits.

Overall, I think this has caused less strain on the system than people are expecting, because it’s only one character who’s able to tank like that, and we’re still fighting some things that don’t go down easy and can still hurt us really bad. A couple weeks back, we fought a Moth Knight, who must have had ridiculously high armor, because I put nearly 30 damage on him before he died. Plus, he would’ve killed me if he got more than one hit on me. (The rest of the party had ineptly tried and failed to stop me from killing the monster because I was the only person at the table convinced that it was not going to talk with us once it drew its sword; if they had stopped me from killing it and that wasn’t enough to satisfy it, it absolutely could’ve TPKed us, especially if one of its friends showed up).

Last night, we handled an old task of torching a hornets’ nest. On the way, we kicked the crap out of a werewolf, and the hornets’ nest was something of a pushover, and it got me thinking some about the way the system is balanced and how other GMs can keep their games from going out of whack.

While the werewolf seemed like a pushover, it should be noted that there were a lot of us and one of him; a lot of us are big damage dealers now, even if we are glass cannons in many cases. If my character didn’t end up with silver brass knuckles as a trophy for winning a tournament in the fighting pit against the #1 Seed, a Grizzly Bear, the werewolf may have recovered. Even so, I may have been turned into a werewolf – gonna have to find that out next session.

So, what happens when characters are getting too powerful – too likely to be able to hit for double damage and have armor to soak up most normal sized hits?

-More enemies. As a general rule, economy of action in RPGs means that more weak enemies are a bigger threat than fewer strong enemies. Our last really dire fight where someone died and someone else got maimed was a mass combat and involved a wizard trying to spell snipe getting arrowed.

-Ranged weapons are a major equalizer. A lot of fights where we’ve taken big hits have been ones where enemies had crossbows (which ignore some armor) and got a few shots in before we could close the distance. This allowed them to neutralize characters who could survive one hit but sure as hell weren’t willing to take another, so dived for cover.

-Enemies can make attacks for big damage, too. Attacking at disadvantage for extra damage is a way that characters with high attack stats can regularly do much bigger damage, and it’s this damage that can go way above and beyond normal armor soak. Against enemies with chain or better, the average attack from a weapon that does not ignore armor will ping for one; the average attack for extra damage will hit two over even the best armor. The armor will protect a character from a killing blow in almost all cases, but getting knocked down by half your HP in a single hit while wearing decent armor will really make you question how long you can go toe to toe with something.

-Enemies with Armor can make things a bit of a challenge; even two points of armor will keep most mooks from being cloven in twain by a single hit.

-One thing we’ve started to come up against has been enemies with damage immunity. We fought a lot of demons who just shrugged off our attacks; they had to be destroyed using environmental elements. This also gave us a chance to play with some of the combat tools that are not damage oriented.

Another issue we’ve come up with is that, after a certain point, damn near anything rolled is a hit. Advantage and Disadvantage add a bit of granularity on a situational basis, but sometimes you need a little bit more, so we’ve experimented some with doubling up on disadvantages. For instance, when the archers on the streets below were firing at the sorcerer in the window, who was trying to cast planar bolt in a dark room, the archers rolled at double disadvantage – one for the cover, another for the obscured target in the dark. Most missed, a few hit and killed the sorcerer.

Since you can trade advantage for various results, such as extra damage, called shots, disarming/disabling an opponent or somesuch, you really ought not come across many/any situations with multiple advantages on an attack roll, but additional disadvantages can be given to keep things from being too much of a gimme.

Anyway, we’re still testing and tweaking, and seeing what will and will not break the game. Getting a huge influx of loot didn’t quite blow things up like we thought it would, though most of that loot came in the form of weapons and armor. Taking a few decent swords and helmets to dole out among the party members kept the liquidity down. We’ll still have to see what happens if the party ever gets a giant cash haul.

One final thing we realized last session was, since the standard of living rules were implemented, all of the nobles in the city will probably be slightly tougher than us in a fight on account of being better rested. No normal professions offer enough daily income to get players into a bonus HP per day range, but a rich noble who can afford lavish living and wears full plate could theoretically take a couple more really big hits than the average joe. We’ve only fought one guy who that may have been an issue for, and he got ridden down by lancers in the street, so we never found out ourselves just how much that would’ve altered combat.

I can’t say when G3 will see public playtesting, since it’s not my game, but I’ll keep folks aware of any significant developments regarding it.

A Special Message to the OSR & Gaming Community

Kickstarters have been a staple in the OSR and Game Blogging community since well before I became a member. Crowdfunding has been used as a platform for countless bloggers and game devs to get everything from their latest module & supplements to their complete fantasy heartbreakers off the ground and into people’s hands. Even big name publishers have been using it as a tool to get new projects and new printings funded with quick investment capital.

There is, however, a downside that has been seen all too often in our community. It seems like much of the content at Tenkar’s Tavern over the years I’ve been following him has been a litany of failed and delayed Kickstarters. Sometimes life got in the way, other times dishonest folks took the money and ran. Even great companies with established track-records for success sometimes bite off more than they can chew, resulting in some pretty significant delays. The Skinny DM had an excellent article on the situation with Goodman Game’s DCC 4th printing Kickstarter which, despite my fondness for Goodman Games, I absolutely agree with.

So, why do I think you should back our Kickstarter?

A Proven Track Records – In 2016, Cirsova ran 3 successful Kickstarters – one for our first issue, one for our second issue, and one for our third and fourth issues. In all three cases, backers received their rewards almost immediately* after the money cleared through Kickstarter and Amazon Payments. There may have been one or two individual hiccups or items lost or damaged in the post, but I am confident that anyone you’d ask would say that we resolved all issues as quickly and satisfactorily as possible.

We Are Gamers – Before we started the magazine, Cirsova  was a gaming blog. We came out of the RPG Blog Alliance and the OSR community. Many of our contributors are fellow gamers, and the stories we all love and that shape our content are the same stories that shaped our games. Many of the stories we publish are the kind that could be run as a one-off adventure with nothing more than a couple of stat blocs; in fact, that’s almost an unspoken acceptance criteria!

We Exist to Support Writers – More than anything else, Cirsova exists as a Semi-Pro Market to support writers of exciting fiction. There are people out there still writing stories in the vein of Burroughs, Brackett, and Vance, but they need places to sell and publish their stories. Many of the big-name magazines and publishing houses are simply not interested in the kind of adventure fiction that inspired the games so beloved in the OSR. By supporting Cirsova, you allow us to stay open as a market for these writers and to continue paying in the $75-$100 range for short fiction.

Please consider checking out our Kickstarter. It costs only $1 to get both of our 2017 issues**, if you’re just curious. You have to admit, that’s hard to beat. We also offer softcover and hardcover editions of our magazine.

If you have a gamebook, module or other product coming out, or even if you just want to get word out about your blog, consider supporting us with some advertising space. In 2016, we had over a hundred subscribers and ended up selling over 500 copies of our magazine.

*:Needless to say, they received the winter issue when it came out, rather than in September when the money cleared and we sent the fall issue.

**:PDF and eBook.

both-covers-small

Gutters, Guilds and Grimoires

We’ve finally got a “rulebook” for Gutters, Guilds & Grimoires, with a few tweaks and a few things which had existed but weren’t written down anywhere so never got used all that much, and the playtesting continues!

I dare say, our last session may have been one of our most awesomepic yet.

We didn’t really have any major storyline quests going on, since our last session not only resolved a major arc, it also cut off a handful of other plots because of certain PCs dying. But we did still have a favor we could do for the Rat King. When he’d said, though, that there were rats who weren’t obeisant to his authority, we hadn’t been thinking heavily armed rat-men…

The party lost two PCs, an arm and a leg.

We cleared out the nest of rats, but one PC died and another almost died, getting his arm cut off at the shoulder by a ratman with a Zweihander.

::ratman crit succeeds on his attack:: “Wait a sec, we’re fighting in a 5-foot corridor, surely the rat can’t use a Zweihander to maximum efficiency in these circumstances!”

::DM relents, rolls again to give the ratman disadvantage on his attack and crit succeeds again::

Despite being somewhat tanky, my character still had kinda lame armor and a crossbow bolt to the leg from the rat sentry forced me to play it cautiously – I’d just lost a nearly 4000 XP character, I wasn’t going to lose a 400 XP character on his second session. Ranged attacks are a bitch in this system, as at least one person is bound to get hit while closing the distance, and crossbows, the most common weapon, ignore a point or two of damage reduction from armor. So, after killing all of the ratmen except for the one with the Zweihander, I sold most of my belongings and begged 10 silver off two other characters so I could get a chain hauberk, upping my armor/damage reduction to 4. That means that Jonthony, newly promoted Corporal of the Watch on Special Detachment, is going to be only susceptible to ping damage except against the heaviest hitters. My tank is finally tanky, and it’s gonna be awesome.

Confident from our victory over the ratmen, we roped two other newly rolled up rubes to go back into the sewer with us to look for that last ratman (we wanted his sword, damnit!) Ratman was long gone, though we busted down the door he’d locked himself behind the day before. We sent in one of the new PCs first; just a friendly hazing, “don’t worry, we’ve got your back!” New guy was nearly killed by a ghoul-thing, and one of our other heavies got paralyzed. Luckily, my new armor kept me safe and I was able to slice it to bits.

We spent a little too long playing Morrowind with the crates hoping to find precious liquor or other vendor trash, and we ended up having to fight a sewer mutant chimera. It proved pretty damn nasty and bit the leg off one of our other fighters, but we managed to kill it, too.

Low HP Fights

Because this is such a low HP system, all of these fights were incredibly skin-of-the-teeth. But, just as my guy getting taken out a bit early put a real damper on our combat strength, the same can and has happened to enemies we’ve fought. Unless you can secure some sort of real tactical advantage, there’s a very real chance in every fight that you’re getting a broken nose, a lopped off limb, or outright killed. I’d say we were closely matched against the ratmen: 3 fighters, a magic user, and a rogue against 6 ratmen (2 pikers, 3 xbow, & zweihander). The magic user in our party was probably the equalizing factor, and he’s the one who got his arm cut off and very well could still die from it (it happened in a sewer, so I would not be surprised if he dies of sepsis).

Armor as soak

The very low player HP in this system (Grit), represents not actual wounds, but minor dings, bruises, and stamina lost in a fight. Most characters who’ve died or been permanently maimed have been done in by fewer than 4 hits. Getting chainmail for my character was a big deal – with damage reduction of 4, I was able to take 3 hits and still have more than half of my grit. It’ll be interesting to see how finally having a heavily armored character in this system will change the combat dynamics.

Regaining HP/grit vs Healing

While there are “healers” and magical healing in the system, they have more to do with reducing the number of weeks it takes for broken bones to heal or keeping severe wounds from getting infected. Fun tidbit: the character who got an arm lopped off was just about to have his leg, which had been broken in one of our first sessions, finally all healed up. No amount of magical healing will let the character regrow his arm, but there’s a chance that diabolists can grow him a new one for some exorbitant fee.

Part of the incredibly low HP/grit is somewhat mitigated by the ease in which it can be recovered. Consumable vice goods restore half of one’s missing points rounded up – it is not entirely unlike Popeye and his spinach, where the fighter can pull out a flask of bourbon, take a couple swallows and get a second wind. This has given my character a chance to develop his identity – after a fight he can smoke a victory cigar to regain a chunk of his missing HP. His “Hearten Ally” ability he got when he upgraded from Watch Recruit to Man-At-Arms also means that after a fight he can slap somebody on the shoulder, tell em they did a good job, and go get back into the trenches, so they can recover 2 points of grit. At this point, he’s going to basically turn into ‘the Old Sergeant’ character from every WW2 movie ever, which is gonna be awesome.

Economy

One thing I’ve noticed is that part of the glue that holds the system together is keeping the characters in perpetual penury. It’s a silver based system, but unlike many silver based systems, copper is not only common, it’s the primary coinage one will earn and spend on everyday items. Weapons and armor costs are silver, while food, lodging, and most simple amenities cost a few coppers. There are mechanisms in place that keep characters from jumping straight from poverty into the middle class from one or two successful adventures, but a DM would have to use them. We haven’t really seen the effect yet of a massive influx of treasure, so there’s no telling how a Monty Haul DM could break the system.

We’ve played for months, and our party has amassed power enough to be an influential part of our city’s ecosystem, but no one has freewheeling cash spending money. The 5 SP each the other two fighters loaned me for armor was no small sum, and only a fraction of the 75 SP I needed for my chainmail. I think that the way we’ll need to test the system next is to see what happens if we are able to actually sell every scrap of equipment and vendor trash we come across. Too bad we’re getting out of the organized crime business, because a single hit on a merchant or noble with more than a few hundred silver could be game-breaking. We’ve just never been in a situation to find out.