Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Experience Penalties for Quasi-Men Under the Dying Sun

I have wrestled with how to handle Quasi-Men in Dying Sun for a while.  I think my rules for them have improved immensely over time.  But, I just realized that my shiny new, smallinated XP rules create a problem in this area.  I previously had Desert Men suffer a -5% penalty on earned experience and Scorpion Men suffer -15%.  That doesn't work so much when we have reduced the XP awards down to units of 1.

I've never liked level limits and won't use them here.  So, here's an idea I am playing with and I'd love some feedback:

Desert Men need 1 extra points of experience to advance to 2nd level (i.e., need 21 XP to get to 2nd level); thereafter, the required extra experience doubles (i.e., need 42 for 3rd; need 84 for 4th, etc.)

Scorpion Men need 3 extra points of experience per level to advance (i.e., need 23 XP to get to 2nd level; need 46 for 3rd; need 92 for 4th, etc.)

This accurately preserves the -5% and -15% penalties without us needing to have fractions.  I think it's pretty clean.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Places under the Dying Sun: The Floating Garden of Unearthly Delights

The Floating Garden of Unearthly Delights (200 XP on view; 800 XP on entering)
The Floating Garden is a popular traveler’s tale of paradise and horror.  It is rumoured to lie in various places over the centuries, much like the equally fabulous Black Ziggaraut.  That is because the Garden manifests as a hyper-spatial anomaly on this world and can appear literally anywhere.

When it manifests, it appears as an oasis of stunningly large and succulent plants.  This would be recognized as a jungle on our world, but such a thing is unknown under the Dying Sun.  The anomaly appears as a circular manifestation of 1 mile in diameter. Once it appears, it will remain for 1D hours before vanishing.

If the Floating Garden is entered, travelers will immediately note the humid air, filled with the sounds of birds and humming of insects.  The sky is a royal blue with a golden orb hanging there, giving pleasing warmth.  Rivulets of clean water are almost everywhere and even a large party can quickly fill up its water-bags.  The place is home to a vast profusion of animals and plants and the Referee is encouraged to include anything he likes, such as dinosaurs or reptile folk.

As long as the hyper-spatial anomaly persists, travelers may emerge from the Garden as easily as they entered.  However, once this trans-dimensional extrusion vanishes, the traveler will be unable to exit.  Wherever the traveler goes, he will simply find more jungle.  The Garden of Unearthly Delights is, in fact, a closed-loop universe like a globe covering some 100 square miles. There is no edge or end to the Garden; anyone travelling in any one direction for more than 50 miles will simply find himself back where he started, having circled the globe.

At any time, there is a chance (11+) of finding other stranded travelers within the Garden.  These may be human or not, may come from the character’s world or from ultra-terrene realities.  As with the animal inhabitants, the Referee is free to let his imagination run wild here. A  Lord of the Flies scenario is certainly plausible, with the stranded folk having become wild barbarians, as is the classic Lost World set-up, with a colony of antique Mycenaeans, for example, having survived in this pocket-cosmos. The inhabitants may have formed a new society; is it one that welcomes new additions to widen the gene pool or is it homicidally xenophobic?

A new trans-dimensional extrusion is formed every 2D days, although whether or not the trapped travelers are there to see it is up to chance.  This extrusion might appear anywhere and not necessarily under the Dying Sun.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Reactions Under the Dying Sun

I am a late convert to the use of the Reaction Roll.  I never, ever used Reactions Rolls or Morale or the Hireling Reaction roll during my first phase of gaming (aka the 1980’s).  Back then, I scoffed at the idea of having the dice tell me how monsters and npc’s would reaction to things; was I not the Dungeon Master?  I knew what would happen.

It is only recently that I have come to see the usefulness of these things.  And, much more recently, I realized that while Spellcraft & Swordplay does have Morale rules, it does not have Monster or Hireling Reaction rolls.  What appears below is meant to add those back into Under the Dying Sun.

Alert, imaginary readers will note that none of these mechanics are exactly what have been presented in other iterations of the game.  I was, however, guided by the versions that appeared in Tom Moldvay’s Basic Rules. Somewhere (and I can’t recall where; feel free to remind me), I saw the suggestion that if you look at Moldvay’s Monster and Hireling reaction tables, you can see what looks like two specific expressions of an implied, underlying, universal mechanic.  The mechanic is, in essence:

Roll 2d6
  • 2 is terrible
  • 3-5 is bad
  • 6-8 is neutral
  • 9-11 is good
  • 12 is fantastic.

Granted, the Morale rules don’t follow that - being a simple binary mechanic of flight or fight - but nevertheless, that idea struck a chord within me.  I had long played with the idea that Basic/Expert D&D had certain strivings toward being a 2d6 system; a striving I wanted to tease out.  That was, in fact, one of the reasons S&S so appeals to me.

So, taking the idea of an underlying, universal reaction mechanic based on 2d6, I present the following:

Players usually have full control over their reactions and behavior.  But, the attitudes of non-player characters may be more randomly determined. Whenever the characters encounter someone else, human or otherwise, the Referee may wish to make a Reaction Roll.  If the creature met is mindless or would obviously be disposed in some way toward the characters, the Reaction Roll can be eliminated.

The Referee may add modifiers as seem appropriate. The lead character’s CHA is the most common modifier. The Reaction Roll is compared to the table below: find the Difficulty Condition modifier required to make the roll a success (11+). This gives the nature of the reaction. A roll of boxcars is automatically an “Extremely Positive” result.

The interpretation of the Reaction Result is made by the Referee based upon the circumstances. Some guidelines are given below.

Encountering Hostiles
If the encounter is between potential hostiles, including predatory beasts, the following results:

Non-player characters will usually make morale rolls at two points in combat: first, when they suffer their first casualty; second, when the force is reduced to half it’s initial strength. Retainers make Morale Rolls just as any other non-player character.

Hiring Retainers
The players may wish to hire the services of mercenaries, porters, guides, and so on. Once such individuals are found, the player may make an offer and roll:

Friday, September 24, 2010

Gedankenexperiment: Treble the Price of Everything

Over on Geoffrey McKinney's blog, I've been part of a discussion on the role of money and equipment in the game.  The starting point was Geoffrey's statement that the equipment list, so important at 1st level, becomes irrelevant soon thereafter.  You agonize over whether or not to to take the sword, knowing that won't leave you enough for chain-mail, or to just accept the mace for now.  But once you come back from your first expedition, that's pretty much over - when you have a bulging bag of silver and gold, the difference between 8 gp and 10 gp is meaningless.

I really feel Geoffrey's point.  Scrimping and saving - heck, debating whether or not to try and steal that nice sword - scream D&D to me.  The problem is that since you need cash to level up, most games don't work if the players only make it out alive with a brass farthing and two subway tokens.

This idea ties in to my proposed experience rules for Dying Sun, which, notably, do not include XP for treasure.  The idea for me is that treasure is it's own reward in a game where the characters are cash-poor.  I've compounded this by reducing starting monies to 20-120 rather than 30-180.  But this still isn't enough!  I don't want to get bogged down by "reality", but in the real world, a sword was, until recently, a great treasure in and of itself.  That's the real reason that it was a sign of rank; it was friggin' expensive.  And plate armour?  Plate armour was like a Lamborghini or something.  Medieval knights essentially made a living off of taking the arms and armor of their foes (or ransoming them back to their families).

With that in mind, play this little game: treble the price of everything in the book.  I'm looking at Labyrinth Lord because it's right in front of me, but use any iteration you like.  That standard-issue sword now costs 30 gp.  With a bad roll, that might be the only thing you can afford.  Why would anybody ever take the much-crummier spear?  Because at 9 gp, it's value for money.  Chain mail now costs 210 gp - well out of reach of any starting character.  So, your typical 1st level Fighter goes from a hauberk-clad swordsman to a guy with a spear and studded leather.

Does that suck?  Well, maybe.  But it also gives you a damn good reason to go risk life and limb crawling down holes in the dirt; a guy's gotta make the rent somehow.  What it also does is give a real zest to ordinary items.  The 1st level Fighter is dying to get ahold of chain-mail and a sword.  Yeah, a plain old sword.  Even one that a dirty orc was using.  D&D characters can't be choosers.  Of course, he probably won't be able to scavenge that mail-coat that he just tore up to kill the orc; damn!  But he can loot every pocket for every last copper piece and try and save up for the day when he can afford a shiny new coat of mail for his own.  And, off on the horizon, the day when he might be able to buy an actual suit of plate, which at 1,350 gp is truly something only the great champions of the realm could ever have.

Gedankenexperiment: Recasting B/X Demi-Humans as Human Classes

Seems as if a lot of folks out there are interested in running their version of Ye Auld Game with a more Sword & Sorcery flavour.  S&S is a relentlessly humanistic genre; if you want to try and extract some theme from an entire genre, you could do worse than this for S&S: "people are venal and petty, but they are, ultimately all we have."  Or, as a famous hill-man has it, Crom helps those who help themselves.

Theology aside, the multi-species Fellowship of the Ring model implied by the rules is fairly contrary to the humanocentric nature of S&S.  So sitting awake the other night with a fever, I decided to engage in a little thought-experiment in using the B/X version of demi-humans as human classes.  I'll list the basic recasting (using the class as written with no changes other than the flavour text), followed by an option or two which might make a slightly better fit (alert, imaginary readers know that I can't resist fiddling with rules).

* The Elf becomes the Dabbler (aka the Picaro): The Dabbler is a man of many talents who learns swordplay as easily as spell-casting.  The sacrifice is that he will quickly be outstripped in those fields by those who concentrate in them (the Fighter and the Magic-User).  Still, the Dabbler has an admirable breadth of skills to bring to any situation; in addition to fighting and sorcery, he is also a linguist (the extra languages), a man with a keen eye for secrets (Detect Secret Doors), and, perhaps most usefully, a fellow who knows how to get out of the way of danger (Saving Throws).

Option: Drop the resistance to ghoul paralyzation, which never made any sense to me for actual Elves, much less a Gray Mouseresque Dabbler.

Option: Drop infravision.  One might replace it with better night vision.

Option: Get rid of the Detect Secret Doors ability (I'd give it to the Delver class below).  One might exchange it for unlimited level advancement.

Option: If you are going full S&S on this, then you probably won't want humanoids any more than demi-humans.  Replace the humanoid languages with other human languages, or ancient eldritch scripts, or something more S&S in tone. 

[I was originally thinking of making this class more of a Jedi Knight - a mystic warrior.  And, of course, Jedi are cool.  But that's a little too campaign specific and isn't very S&S anyway.  Still, it might be a cool option for another type of game]

 * The Dwarf becomes the Delver (aka the Dungeoneer aka the Tomb Raider): The Delver is a specialist in plundering ancient tombs and ruins for profit.  He brings with him an expertise in stonework and masonry; he can spot the tricks and traps the ancients built into their dungeons and, if he can't spot them, he's good at dodging them.  To that end, he's made a study of the languages of those who dwell underground (Kobolds, Gnomes).  But don't call him just a thief; he's a trained warrior because the most dangerous trap can be a monster.  He isn't proficient with two-handed weapons - too bulky when raiding a dungeon - but he's a match for any Fighter otherwise.

Option: Drop the infra-vision.  As with the Dabbler, maybe replace with better dark vision.

Option: Give the Elf's Detect Secret Door ability to the Delver.

Option: As with the Dabbler, drop the humanoid languages, since there won't be any humanoids.

Option: I could see reducing Hit Dice to D6 to make the delver more in line with the Cleric as a limited warrior.  Again, the trade-off could be the unlimited advancement.  If that doesn't seem enough, I could see reducing the XP requirements to match the Fighters.

* The Halfling becomes the Ranger (aka the Scout): The Ranger is the wilderness warrior we all know and love.  He isn't proficient with the bulky greatsword, which isn't much use in the forests, but he can use pretty much anything and is especially good with missiles.  In the wilds, his wood-lore makes him is virtually invisible and even in the dungeon, he can stand so still as to be unnoticed much of the time.  The Ranger is particularly trained in the endless war against the gigantic marauders which haunt the wastes and has learned how to avoid their clumsy blows to an amazing degree (-2 AC vs. giant-class).

Option: Change the -2 AC to a +2 to hit.  This makes him more like the AD&D Ranger and makes a little more sense.

Option: As before, humanoids aren't that S&S.  Replace the -2 AC to apply only against animals, as the Ranger has learned how to stave off the attacks of wild beasts.  Yeah, yeah: animals don't sound that cool.  But animals in B/X are pretty damn tough.  And I would let in apply to something like an Owlbear, which is, after all, just two natural animals combined.  It might apply to other things like Displacer Beasts and so on.

Option: If you see the class as less of a horse-mounted scout and more of a woodland hunter, then you gotta let them use the longbow .  If that seems unfair, you might disallow plate armour or weapons  designed only for war (like the sword).

Option: Give them a tracking ability.  Maybe in exchange for the -2 AC if it seems too much to you.

Option: I would, for free, give them an improved ability to hunt.  Unlike other characters, they only need take half a day to hunt; if they do take a whole day, they get twice of many supplies.

I could totally see playing a game with these classes.  I actually could see playing a Delver as fun, even though I have never, ever wanted to play a Dwarf.  As always, let me know what you think.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Smallinating Experience

(Yeah, I've been watching too much Phineas and Ferb with my kids lately)

Looking back at yesterday's post, something occurred to me.  In the standard version of Ye Auld Game, 1 gp = 1 XP, which requires you to collect an awful lot of XP to level up.  Thousands and tens of thousands and hundreds of thousands.  I must confess to never being crazy about the scale of the numbers.  I'm also not thrilled with the bean-counting on the preferred XP award scheme for monsters.

Now, I solved that later problem by going back to the original scheme of 100 XP/HD. And now I realize that if I keep all the XP awards in nice round numbers like that, I can smallinate (i.e. decrease) the awards and the requires by a factor of of 100!  It just requires one change to yesterday's scheme, which I was considering anyway:

Encountering a Monster for the 1st Time: 100 XP (instead of 50XP/HD + 50/special ability).

With that, and my already nicely-rounded advancement table from Empire of the Petal Throne, I can divide everything by 100.

Surviving in the Wilderness: 1 XP/day
Visiting A New Place: 1-10 XP depending upon difficulty and strangeness
Deciphering Artifacts: 1 XP base + additional 1 XP/difficulty modifier
Encountering a Monster for the 1st Time: 1 XP
Defeating Opponents: 1 XP/Hit Die + 1 XP/special ability
Defeating Sorcerous Item in Ego Struggle: 1 XP/item CHA
Mind-Altering Experience: 1-10 XP depending upon extent of alteration.

The advancement then goes:

Level 2: 20 XP
Level 3: 40 XP
Level 4: 80 XP
Level 5: 160 XP

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Experience Under the Dying Sun

Towards the end of last year, I began to think hard about how I wanted to award experience in Under the Dying Sun.  When I left it, I had a lot of ideas, but nothing concrete.  I've made a lot of progress on this though recently.  Alert, imaginary readers no doubt picked up on this in my recent posting of some locales, such as the Ruined City of Thanjivar and the City of the Crocodile God, which included XP awards for visiting them.  This idea was cheerfully stolen from Jeff Rients, who has entirely too many cool ideas and therefore won't miss it.   I find the idea of giving experience for exploration just so mind-blowingly right that I can't believe it never occurred to me.  And the idea is so expandable; after all, exploration need not be geographical.  I love the idea of giving XP for reading ancient tomes, for instance.

So, here's the current draft of the Experiences Rules for Dying Sun.  I expect that most will find their way into my more usual D&D games as well.

Characters earn experience somewhat differently in than in the Spellcraft & Swordplay core rules. There is comparatively little treasure to be garnered under the Dying Sun and victory in such a world is accounted for by living another day. In addition, character’s progress by visiting new places and expanding the boundaries of their rapidly contracting world.

Surviving in the Wilderness: 100 XP/day
Visiting A New Place: 100-1,000 XP depending upon difficulty and strangeness
Deciphering Artifacts: 100 XP base + additional 100 XP/difficulty modifier
Encountering a Monster for the 1st Time: 50 XP/Hit Die + 50 XP/special ability
Defeating Opponents: 100 XP/Hit Die + 100 XP/special ability
Defeating Sorcerous Item in Ego Struggle: 100 XP/item CHA
Mind-Altering Experience: 100-1,000 XP depending upon extent of alteration.

Surviving in the Wilderness is one of the key ideas of the setting - the struggle of Man vs. a brutal Nature.

Visiting A New Place relies on Referee fiat to determine how difficult the journey and strange the locale. A truly notable locale, such as the Ruined City of Thanjivar or Devil Lake are worth 1,000 XP. A new village never before seen is worth 100 XP. As the wording implies, this XP award can only come once, the first time the place is visited.

Encountering a Monster for the 1st Time reflects the strangeness that the word “monster” is supposed to imply. Unlike other iterations of the game, “monster” is not equivalent to “non-player character”.

Defeating Opponents is not restricted to killing them; any time the character denies the opponent his goal in a dangerous conflict, the experience is earned. Thus, knocking them out, getting them trapped, or cleverly avoiding them are all viable means of earning XP in all fight. But this award goes further: defeating an opponent in a duel of wits, foiling their plot to assassinate someone else, denying then the appointment of general are all examples of defeating an opponent.

The Referee will determine what constitutes a “dangerous conflict”, but essentially any contest in which substantial harm could accrue to the character or allies if he loses qualifies. For example, winning game of chess is not usually a dangerous conflict; however, if the character is playing a game of human chess in order to save his companions lives would count.

A final note: defeating an opponent should never be decided upon a simple die roll, but should, instead, involve some player choice. In the above-example of the chess game, if the player wins the game because the Referee lets him make an INT Throw to play better than his foe, no experience is earned. On the other hand, while combat is resolved through the process of rolling dice, it usually involves more than one throw and definitely involves choices on the player’s part as to strategy. That is an acceptable case of defeating an opponent.

Mind-Altering Experience is a catch-all category for anything that might change the character beyond than the previous categories. Reading a technical manual of the ancients, finding an army of cryogenically-preserve True Men, telepathically touching the Universal Mind, discovering the truth about the Grand Tyrant of Hajal - all of these would be candidates for experience awards.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Places Under the Dying Sun: The City of the Crocodile God

The City of the Crocodile God (1,000 XP)
Nestled within the grasslands of the Valley of the Mariners is the City of the Crocodile God. It is a weird city of metal enclosed within the remains of a great dome, composed of some unknown glass-like substance of sea-blue. Presumably built by the Senex at some point, it is now inhabited by a tribe of Wildmen who must have stumbled upon it at some point and decided to settle therein. The Wildmen, however much they may realize the ridiculousness of it, will brook no talk of the city’s “founders”; they staunchly maintain that they built the domed city upon the instructions of the eponymous tutelary deity.

The inhabitants have no idea what the city was originally called and they have not given it a proper name themselves. “The City of the Crocodile God” is the only term they will use for it. They regard it as a holy place, for it houses their patron god, a similarly nameless being called only “the Crocodile God”. The People of the Crocodile God believe that this being is the oldest living thing in the world and, at the end of time, he will eat the world itself. They regard it is as their divine mission to keep the god’s hunger appeased as long as possible and, in so doing, prolong the dying of the world. Any talk of a “dying sun” is considered rank heresy and immediately consigns one to the only penal sentence which exists in the city: feeding the appetite of the Crocodile God.

The Crocodile God resides in a tremendous amphitheatre, approximately 2 miles in circumference, which was filled with water at some point and which has become a swamp. It seems likely that this was once a stadium for the builders of the city and only later became a divine abode. Steps of the ubiquitous metal of which the city is built descend into the swamp, whose waterline is some 30 feet above the ground-level of the city; whether or not the swamp is deeper than that, nobody knows.

The Crocodile God himself appears to be a massive Magara, adapted (or re-adapted perhaps) to an amphibious life. He is at least 30 feet long; possibly longer as he is never seen in his entirety. In general only his lambent, yellow eyes, a good half-foot in diameter, are seen above the water’s surface. Sacrifices to this deity are tied up and tossed into the swamp with much barbaric ritual; the god often watches the proceedings (with how much interest is anybody’s guess), but does not attack the victim who swiftly sinks under the water’s slimy surface. It is assumed that the sacrifice is then swallowed by the great beast at his leisure. Since Magara continue to grow through-out their lives, it must be assumed that Crocodile God is a tremendously old animal, even if he is not quite as ancient as the Wildmen believe.

The folk of the City of the Crocodile God, numbering about 100 in all, have an undying hatred for Hajal, which diverted the Shavathi from the Valley of the Mariners centuries ago and thus deprived them of their natural water-source. How the brutes recall this is unclear. Their chief, who styles himself “Amdrut, Emperor of all Mariners, Beloved of the Crocodile God, and Sword of the Faith” constantly schemes to march upon Hajal and burn it to the ground. This seems rather unlikely.

It would be easy enough to ignore this strange city, save for the store of Senex artifacts which surely still lie within. Parts of the city have artificial lighting, which seems to turn on and off at irregular intervals. Several cylindrical tubes which bear cursory resemblance to those flying platforms known as “vimana” have been found, although no one has yet deciphered their use. On the other hand, the antique slug-throwers found therein have been readily put to their intended use by treasure-hunters, usually upon the Crocodile People.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Continuing what seems to be Old Home Week:

A year ago, I posted the beginning of an idea for Sorcerous Items.  These are one version of magic weapons for Dying Sun (the other version is an Artifact).  I've added a few things to the mix since then, so I thought I'd post the update.  One major addition I just came up with is "Increasing the Psychic Shadow".  I'm rather tickled by this idea right now.  It solves the old "trade-up" issue with magic weapons by having the weapon grow in power with the character.  Which seems much more appropriate to my setting.  Plus, it has a nice, creepy, double-edge to it that also feels right.  Let me know what you think.

All sentient beings constantly emit low levels of psionic energy (“psions”) which are absorbed by inanimate matter. In this fashion, some psychic sorcerers “read” items through the use of psychometry. The psychic residue of immensely powerful individuals may permeate objects to which they have a long or extremely emotional relationship in such a fashion as to create a psychic imprint of themselves. From this, sorcerous items are brought into existence.

The most usual method of imprinting a sorcerous item is by using an object to kill a being with an exceptional sense of self (CHA 10+); the murderer being’s “psychic shadow” clings tentatively to that which ended its physical life. In other cases, the exceptional individual will establish such a long term and volatile relationship with the object (such as a conqueror who uses the same sword in all his battles), that his psychic shadow will be imprinted on the item. In either case, it can be seen that all such items are unique; there is no such thing as a “generic” sorcerous item.

For reasons given above, the majority of sorcerous items are tools of war and this category of objects is also called “psychic weapons”. There are other examples, how-ever. The regalia of an Archwizard will become imprinted after centuries of use; these crowns, scepters, and jewels are powerful objects able to bend men’s mind with ease.

The Psychic Shadow
All sorcerous items reflect the personality of their original. Some are but pale reflections of the former being while others are virtual copies. The strength of the psychic shadow is measured by the item’s CHA score. Although only beings with exceptional (10+) CHA may serve as the basis of the sorcerous item, not all sorcerous items imprint the full degree of the creator’s essence.

Item Charisma
When a sorcerous item is found, the Referee should roll 2D to determine the CHA of the item. A low CHA item will have only the barest hints of the original left, usually a vague emotion of some sort. Such an item will also have very little in the way of power. The higher CHA item’s will have progressively more coherent personalities, emotions, thoughts, goals, and powers.

Item Goals
Since sorcerous items feel themselves to be alive, they adopt goals. These may range from a yearning to kill for low CHA items to complex plots to control the world by high CHA items. The Referee may assign a goal to any sorcerous items or may roll on the following table:

The Referee may find it helpful to determine the INT and/or WIS of sorcerous items as well as the CHA. A highly intelligent item will likely have a more complex Goal than a low intelligence one; or, perhaps, a more complex means of achieving that Goal. An item with a high WIS may be more obsessed with it’s Goal than one with a low WIS.

Ego Struggle
Because sorcerous items are the residue of strong egos, they will not simply accept being someone else’s tool. Whenever a sorcerous item is touched, an Ego Struggle occurs. The person touching the item must make a CHA Throw, with the object’s CHA modifiers effecting the roll (thus, an object with CHA 12, will levy a -2 to the person’s Throw).

If the Throw is failed, the character suffers Domination by the item (as per the 2nd level Discipline). The dominated individual will be controlled by the item to further it’s goal—whatever that might be. Items with CHA 4- will have no articulated goal and their domination will manifest more as strange moods.

As with the 2nd level Discipline, a dominated being is entitled to a new CHA Throw whenever commanded to something which he finds repugnant. If a subsequent Throw succeeds, the character may toss the sorcerous item aside (or keep it and fight another Ego Struggle).

If the character wins the initial Ego Struggle, it is he who dominates the item, bend-ing it’s psychic shadow to his will. Whenever the item is forced to do something drastically opposed to it’s goal, the character must struggle again to maintain control. If the item wins this subsequent Ego Struggle, it breaks free of its owner. The owner may discard the item or attempt to dominate it again on the subsequent round.

And so it goes. Wielding a Sorcerous Item is a constant struggle, just like everything else under the Dying Sun.

Increasing the Psychic Shadow
The relationship between a sorcerous item and its possessor is a symbiotic one: the possessor gets the use of the item’s abilities, while the item’s psychic shadow feeds off of the psychic energy of the possessor. This leeching is minute and not generally harmful to the wielder. But over time, it may result in the strengthening of the psychic shadow.

Every time that the possessor of a sorcerous item goes up in level, the item gains 1 point of CHACHA means that the item’s personality will become more distinct and the item will acquire new abilities. It also means that the Ego Struggles become more difficult. Therefore, a character who possesses a psychic weapon faces a choice: the longer he keeps the item, the more powerful it is likely to become, but the stronger the pull of its ego.

Considering Alignment Anew

Yes, I have debated whether or not to use Ye Auld's Lawful-Neutral-Chaotic alignment system before.  I more-or-less dismissed it here and brought it back here, both over a year ago.  Sigh.  But I'm back with renewed vigour on the project and I find myself going back to my original rejection of Alignment as-is.  I'd stress that this is purely in regards to Under the Dying Sun and not Ye Auld Game in general; as I posted before, the triune alignment system works very well for most of the straight-up fantasy settings I can imagine.  But, as I said in the first post on the subject: 

...grand cosmic conceptions of Chaos and Order seem a bit alien to my vision of Athas [obviously not Athas anymore]. This is an intellectually impoverished world where people are mostly just trying to not die from dehydration, falling into silt lakes, or being eaten by Men.

And mechanically,  it seems useless as there is no Protection from Evil Discipline or alignment-bearing magic swords.

I find myself going back to the idea of what might be called "Basic Instinct" (although I'm of an age where I don't think I could actually use that name without making a beaver joke).  The idea was for the player to define one elemental urge around which the character operates: Food, Love, Sex, Power, Knowledge, Freedom, and so on.  It won't have any mechanical meaning, but it would serve as a kind of one word resume of back-story and motivation and all those other role-playing concepts that are cool and all, but which take up a lot of time to create and which seem to have really been a waste of time when you die five minutes into the game, having been eaten by an ill-tempered weed or a crafty, psychic octopus.

Still, even a one-word thing might be more work than you want to demand from a player.  Maybe the concept isn't worth keeping at all.  I'm struggling on this one.

Mutation Table: Take Two

The first stab was here.  This version has more potions and more details.  A No-Prize to anyone who sees where the Muse left me (hint: look at Minor Cosmetic, No. 6); suggestions welcome (maybe Hair Quantity - either hairless or hirsute?)

Monday, September 13, 2010

A Thought on Starting Funds

Just had a random thought about starting monies.  This thought was in context of Under the Dying Sun, but could apply to any iteration of Ye Auld Game.  It's simply this: starting monies equal CHAx10.  I find the idea very appealing as A)it reduces the number of rolls at chargen and B)makes CHA a bit more obviously useful at the beginning of the game.  Oh, well, and it kind of makes sense.  It means the guys with more money are necessarily the guys better able to obtain hirelings, whether simply because of filthy lucre, or because they are better class, or whatever.

Mutants Under the Dying Sun

Following up from this post about playable races.  I'm convinced, I'm convinced: the species presented in earlier drafts are too indebted to Dark Sun.  I'm definitely keeping Desert Men and Scorpion Men.  I'm dropping Helots and Wild Men.  But I also realized that I was being silly (read: stupid) in mentioning and then dismissing mutants.  Mutants should be a go.  I think that I shied away from them because I didn't want to add in complex rules for mutations and whatnot.  I still don't, but I no longer believe that I need to. 

I do not want crazy, Gamma World mutants (note: I like crazy Gamma World, but not for this game).  In my mind, mutants under the Dying Sun are the kind of guys you would see in the Den and Taarna segments of Heavy Metal or wandering the streets of Cynosure in Grimjack (the Tim Truman Grimjack).

So, what follows is a first draft.  Let me know what you think. 

Uncounted millennia of radiation, atmospheric pollution, and weird science-sorceries have had a notable impact upon the make-up of those beneath the Dying Sun. This is no less true for Men than any other beast. Mutants abound beneath the Dying Sun. They sport odd features; although most are minor, such as unusual coloration of skin, hair, or eyes, some mutants are truly monstrous in appearance.

True Men tend to view Mutants with contempt and distaste. Those settlements controlled by True Men will make Mutants second-class citizens or slaves. Despite the True Man’s term of “Quasi- Man”, mutants are not actually aspirate species and those which are not born sterile are able to breed with True Men. In more mixed populations, mutants may pass without comment and the products of mixed unions not uncommon.

At character creation, after assigning Ability Scores, roll once on the Mutation Table

Abilities may be raised as high 13 (super-human) due to bonuses and as low as 2 (sub-human) due to penalties.  But note that bonuses must be equivalent to penalties; if a cap is reached then both bonus and penalty are reduced to the fullest extent that they can reach.  For example, a Mutant with a STR 10 and CHA 4 rolls 2 on the Table and then rolls a modifier of "3".  It is possible to raise the STR to 13 (10+3), but it isn't possible to lower CHA to 1 (4-3).  The lowest CHA possible is 3, which is a modifier of 2.  Therefore, STR is only raised to 12 (10+2) in this case.

Friday, September 10, 2010

A Thought About Psychic Combat

I'm pretty satisfied with my treatment of psychic sorcery aka psionics in Dying Sun.  I'm especially pleased with making Psychic Combat mirror physical combat, as that keeps a lot of the cool, tactical nature of Ye Auld Game's system, while making it cleaner too.  But one thing bugs me: it's asymmetrical.  What I mean is that with 5 Modes of each type (Attack and Defense) and three relevant Abilities (INT, WIS, and CHA), you can't match things up neatly.

See, only 1 Attack Mode damages CHA, as opposed to 2 each for INT and WIS.  Because of that, only 1 Defense Mode is good at protecting CHA.  Is this a dumb concern?  Probably.  But you know how I love symmetry in design.  If I were to follow that impulse, I would have to change the whole basis of the thing, by adding another Mode in each category.

Which broaches the larger question: is it worthwhile to keep those names from YEG?  Crikey, is it even legal to use those names?  I never even thought about that.  Hmn.

Playable Races under the Dying Sun

For a long time now, I've been working on the idea that the races in Dying Sun would all be analogous to those in Dark Sun.  This wasn't really a conscious decision; it just resulted from the idea having begun as a Dark Sun hack that changed so much that I decided to make it my own.  Of course, the races are all changed: Elves to Desert Men, Halflings to Wild Men, Muls to Helots, and Mantis Men to Scorpion Men (with Half-Giants entirely dropped).  But still, not to hard to work out the analogies.

Almost a year later, the always -clever Tim Kirk asks me, "Why have all those Dark Sun races?"  And I don't really have a good answer.  Which makes me wonder if I shouldn't take a design axe to the races.  On the one hand, I like humanocentric games and regard race-bloat as a bad sign in Ye Auld Game.  Scorpion Men have to stay, of course, because you gotta have Tharks.  But it would be pretty darn easy to turn Desert Men and Wild Men into purely cultural categories and drop Helots in favour of the NPC Infra-Men (although that's always like a dare to see who's the first to want to make a PC out of them).

On the other hand, I know that other folks really like having those choices.  And I kinda think I did a pretty good job on mine.  Well, the Helots are pretty bland really.  But I like the Desert Men a lot, I must say: copper-skinned, hairless, ectomorphs with nictating membranes.  Hmn.

Still, I'd love to hear what any hypothetical readers think about this.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Places Under the Dying Sun: The Ruined City of Thanjivar

Hex 16.01—The Ruined City of Thanjivar (1,000 XP when first entered)
Thanjivar is an ancient city; far older than Hajal (the dominant power in the Kahira region. It was once a mighty port that resisted the loss of the seas as best it could. The docks, and indeed other parts of the city, progress downward for some length as the city was extended over the centuries following the lowering waterline. Thus, the older parts of the city lie on what is now the Kahira Plain, while the newest parts reach nearly to the floor of the Valley of Mariners.

Thanjivar presents a tempting target for treasure-hunters of all kinds. Its the walls of the Old City are of a unique, pink marble that fetch high prices; unfortunately little is left of them after centuries of architectural pillaging. It is well-known (and possibly even true) that the ancient Kings of Thanjivar were ritually preserved after death by gilding; covered in a layer of pure gold that was then worked to resemble them perfectly. The Hall of Golden Kings is virtually a by-word for a fabulous treasure. Although no one has ever found the Hall, many other riches have been removed from the ruined city, whose people clearly enjoyed a high-level of material wealth.

As tempting a locale as Thanjivar is for fortune-hunters, it is no less a tempting site for  spawning Scorpion Men. During the egg-laying season, bands of Akrab from the Lost Sea migrate into the Valley of Mariners and then ascend to the lower levels of the city to brood. During this time, the males will frequently raid out upon the Kahira Plain in search of food. More than one adventurer with dreams of gold has ended up as supper for a nest of young Scorpion broodlings.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Let's Roll Up A Heroes Character!

I'm not even going to discuss how many times I've redone the Body Powers Table since I posted my corrected Take Three.  Lord.    I mean, improvement and all, but...lordy, lordy.  Anyway, I'm so sick of revising that damn Table that I've decided to just roll up some characters today using the the whole Random Roll method as it currently stands, which is "not at all finalized".  But who cares?

OK, here's the Table as it stands:

Just like the previous rounds, I've made 20 rolls of 2d6 at Invisible Castle.  I'll use the results in order, dropping the second die if I only need to roll 1.  So here we go.  

I get 6 ranks of Powers.  My first roll on Table 1 is 4:5, which gives me the Object Category.  An Object can duplicate any other Power, so I roll again on Table 1, re-rolling if I get Object again.  My re-roll is 6:2 which gives me the Sensory Category.  So I have some kind of sensing device.  Going to Table 7, I roll 1:2, giving me the Cosmic Awareness Power.  Well, now, that's not something you usually see as coming from a device.  Hmn, I'm thinking that this guy has some kind of amazing  computer-thing that pulls information from the Cosmic Record (whatever that might be).  Kind of a Kirby Mother Box.  I've been fond of the Cosmic Awareness power since I first played Villains & Vigilantes (even though I never, ever rolled it).  I give it Excellent +2.

My next roll is 6:5, putting me on the Intense Training Category.  This gives me the Intense Training power to convert some number of Ranks in Powers into double that many Quality Ranks as I see fit.  I'm going to give this Excellent +2, so that I get 4 Ranks in Qualities.  The Mother Box idea has me thinking this guy may be from the future or a highly advanced alternate-world.  I'll give him something like "Good +1 Cosmic Scientist" and "Remarkable +3 Hyper-Evolved Human".

I have 2 ranks left to go.  My roll is 1:3, which is the Energy Power Category.  A 2:6 gives me Exotic Energy.  Oh man, that's too right.  That Power requires me to roll on Table 9 to determine whether this is a focused Power (with 1 Effect) or a Meta-Power.  The roll of 1:4 added is 5, so I get the focused version which is Energy Blast.  Can you say "the Power Cosmic"?  I think I'll give this power the Object Limitation, since this guy doesn't feel like a super-powered being to me.  It could be some kind of blaster, but that doesn't feel suitably Kirbyesque.  Instead, I give him a mace-thingy, crackling with dots, and call it "The Ion Rod".  I only have 2 ranks left so it gets Excellent +2.

I could discard 1 Power and add those ranks to another Power, but I don't think I will.

I move on to Qualities, of which I get 10 Ranks.  My first roll is 6:4, which gets me a Vehicle.  I'm going to give him some kind of Air Chariot.  I think I'll plug quite a few ranks into that.  It can fly and maybe shoot out some kind of entangling thing.  Gee, maybe even teleport.  Anyway, I give it Incredible +4.

6 Ranks left.  I get 3:4, which is Iconic Description.  I love that one.  Whatever my hero is called, his sub-title (if you will) is "The Ultimate Man!" (exclamation point included).  I give this Remarkable +3.  There's all sorts of times I can see that Quality being pertinent.

3 ranks left.  I roll 1:2, a Motivation.  With the Iconic Description in mind, the idea immediately occurs to me that my hero comes from a future where a hyper-evolved humanity allows itself to be destroyed somehow.  Traveling to the past, my Motivation is "To Save Humanity From it's Own Worst Instincts".  I'm not a crime-fighter per se, but someone who feels the need to inspire people to be their better selves.  Let's give this one Good +1 Rank.

2 Ranks left and I get 1:5, which is Iconic Description.  I don't see him as having another Iconic Description, so I drop this one and give the 2 ranks to my vehicle, bringing it up to Monstrous +6.  This is one, sweet Air Chariot.

I get 1 Signature Stunt.  I'll have him able to use the power blast from the Ion Rod as a defense; otherwise, the Ultimate Man is going to get splatted rather quickly against any super-scale attacks.  It costs 1 Hero Point to do that.

I've pretty much already got my background already: last survivor from a doomed future, hurled back in time to prevent his own tragic reality from occurring.  I need a good name now.  Hmn.  Let's just go ahead and lay the Kirby cards on the table and call him "Apocalypse, the Ultimate Man!".  I even have the title of his debut story: "The Man Who Murdered Tomorrow!"

Name: Apocalypse
Other Names: The Ultimate Man!
Fight: 18
Hyper-Evolved Human (Remarkable)
Cosmic Scientist (Good)
"The Ultimate Man!" (Remarkable)
Motivation: To save Humanity from it's own, worst instincts
The Air Chariot (Monstrous Vehicle)

Intense Training (Excellent)
The Cosmic Computer (Excellent Cosmic Awareness)
Ion Rod (Excellent Energy Blast)
- Ion Shield (Signature Stunt, Excellent Force Field, 1 HP)