Sunday, July 26, 2020

Blog Update

I still exist, I swear.

I haven't updated at all this year due to four major reasons.

- COVID Year. Nuff said, really. It's completely messed with my ability to concentrate. I also mostly read blogs at work, so working from home has resulted in me not following the blogs at all.

- Lack of Games. Until recently, I haven't been running anything, in large part due to the OSR turning out to more or less be incompatible with my main group, who are happy to play Fifth Edition D&D, and that's fine, but I can't stand DMing 5E for various reasons. Without play, ideas are not tested and everything I write will be shallow theorycrafting.

-OSR Handwringing: The OSR as a whole is going through a rough patch right now, to say the least. Pillar after pillar of the OSR turns out to be kinda shitty, causing other pillars to drift away. That's all I'll say about drama, but it definitely affects enthusiasm. For myself, I've come to the conclusion that the OSR is a very good style of play- yet it is but one style, and we sometimes act as if very good rules of thumb for OSR games are in fact rules of thumb for All Of Roleplaying. I've done this in the past, probably on this blog. It's hard to avoid, sometimes, when enthusiastic, but I think it's useful to try to recognize. In the future I might try to write not only about old school roleplaying, but other types of games too. 

-Writing Style: I ramble too much. Even when I trying very hard not to. I'm just not good at blog writing yet. Only way to get better is practice, but until then... it is difficult, lol.

The good news is that I *have* been running games a bit more, and it's gotten me a bit more fired up. Hopefully that will translate into more blog posts soon. If not... see you next year!

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Thoughts on Spell Lists

Spell lists should be designed around the needs of a campaign instead of a system.

A campaign where you fight evil creatures can have detect evil, but such a spell is actively harmful if you're going for a more realistic campaign with moral ambiguity; on the other hand, a campaign where you fight insane robots could have detect robot (or detect electric signature), something you'll never find in any D&D supplement (except maybe Spelljammer?). A campaign where entire dungeons will be underwater should have access to water breathing spells. A campaign where water is used mostly as a dungeon obstacle should not have water breathing spells. If the campaign takes place inland and there isn't likely to be much water at all, you also shouldn't have water breathing spells, especially as a player option that they can spend resources to take. There is only disappointment if you let the player actively choose an option you know will be useless.

Plane Shift is a classic example of a spell that can ruin campaigns. In a planar campaign it is super helpful, maybe even a virtual requirement. In another campaign, where the planes exist but most of the action is concentrated on earth, it's a "nice to have". On the other hand, on a campaign where the players are trapped in the Underdark, or supposed to be exploring the ruins of lost cities, Plane Shift can actively get in the way of the focus of the game. Or maybe the GM just doesn't want to design planar environments. In that case, the spell shouldn't be presented as an option. It's better GMing to get rid of the option entirely than come up with ways to artificially keep your players from using the option. The latter approach tends to feel like railroading.

On the other hand, maybe I, the GM, do like the idea of a our reality bordering an elemental plane of fire, and only that plane of fire. I could see a custom spell like "Travel to Plane of Fire", or perhaps a more fun name like "Hell Bound". So instead of dropping Plane Shift entirely, you can customize the nature of the spell. This ISN'T railroading, but world design.

So far this is nothing that can't be solved with some house rules. But if you're doing a lot of changes to the base D&D assumptions, house rules get over-complicated quickly. And really, that requires that you know what you'll need and what you won't early on. House rules presented before the game starts are often better received than house rules presented afterwards. But this isn't practical. I'm not arguing for you to figure out which spells are best suited for your campaign and which ones aren't before you've even started it! That way lies madness and wasted prep.

My favored ruleset, Knave, solves this problem quite elegantly.  Because spells are items, the GM has near total control over what spells exist in the world, and can add spells to the world as needed.  You can also take advantage of Guildhall systems- that is, requiring magic users to stop by at the local guild to learn spells-  to get the same effect with traditional Vancian magic- a guildhall may only be capable of teaching a limited set of spells, but different guildhalls teach different spells. This requires you not allow the player to get free spells per level, though.This is how B/X D&D actually works, but rarely how it's actually played. ... I think.

This incremental adding to the spells available in the world is a pretty stress free way to both limit spells that would cause problems as well as allow for thematic spell choices. Consider a guild made of descendants of a crashed spaceship- such a guild could teach unique science fantasy themed spells, like "Black Hole", "Invert Gravity", or the aforementioned "Detect Robot". Or if using Knave, you could place spell items with this theme inside a "Barrier Peaks" type science fantasy dungeon- if the players interact with the science fantasy elements of the world, their spell list will echo this, and if they don't, they'll never know those spells existed. Not all campaigns will need this particular example, in fact, most probably won't. But when using this style, you can build your spell list organically, to suit YOUR needs. As well as the needs of your players. Listen to your players, what they're interested in. You don't need to give them exactly what they want, but if you have a player trying to become a druid, it might be a good idea to start sketching up some nature spells.

Naturally, this also allows for third party spells to integrate into the game much better than having to add them to a game with a core spell list. When there's a core spell list, the extra spells picked up from blogs, modules, or even secondary canon material (such as Xanather's in 5E D&D) will always feel extra. If the chief way to get spells is by a player choosing them, the core spells will feel right in a way that the extra spells don't. But if the spells are all in a jumble being introduced via interaction with the world, then secondary source spells basically get to be on equal footing where the players are concerned.

- - -

To be clear, I'm not saying this is the only way to manage magic, or the best way. If the game you want to run happens to align with the D&D core assumptions (or the core assumptions of whatever game you're running), then you can use that spell list without problems. A lot of games are fine with this. Some people use magic word systems, which allow players to have a ton of power in creating spells- if you want that to be the feel of the campaign, where magic can truly do just about anything, that's fine, though it's not my preferred style.

There's also the GLOG, where you can pick the spell list of the world by picking the Wizard Schools available. It helps that GLOG spells are often very flavorful. Going with a flavorful spell list and seeing what that does to influence your worldbuilding is a perfectly valid approach, as long as you are willing to deal with the consequences.

And that speaks to a cost of the approach I have been suggesting here. A good spell list presented to the players is a marketing point. It gets players excited, which can help start your game on the right foot. In fact, when you're new to D&D, even the basic spells us veterans are tired of seem really cool and magical. But there's a cost to that as well. The excitement will fade. If you want players to be excited whenever they find a new spell, you need to hide the spell list. If you want them to be more excited at the beginning of the game, to give it more starting kinetic energy, you need to display your spell list from the start. Just don't be surprised if that enthusiasm lags. There is no right answer here.

So, to sum up:
  • Pick a normal D&D spell list if you want a normal D&D game and don't need as much room to deviate later.
  • If you want room to deviate from those norms and have include more unusual ideas, building a custom spell list is a good idea.
  • The easiest way to do this is by NOT giving the players access to all the spells in the game at the start but building the list organically as the players earn their spells.
  • Alternatively, coming up with a cool spell list and presenting it up front, like GLOG spells, can be a great marketing tool. 
  • Or you can just let players collect magic words and create spells from scratch if you're ok with a more chaotic game. 
And I'm sure there's other methods that I'm not thinking about. For one thing, this assumes specific spells doing specific things. Open ended magic users like Skerple's Sorcerer, for example, are a different ball game entirely.

But I really do find the hidden spell list, organically built up over the course of the game, to be the most intriguing and useful of these options, at least for my own purposes. It's something I will explore further.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Blog Redesign

I changed the name of my blog to Wyvern Moon. I already like it better than the generic "Lizards and Wizards".   Also changed the design, just to, y'know, completely disorient people. Of course, this blog hopefully hasn't been in existence long enough to cause anyone problems- if I have regular readers I'll be astonished..

This is definitely a blog in search of a purpose. I've had a hard time playing D&D recently as my usual group has basically dissolved. Finding new groups is tough because people are so prickly. Including myself.

Still. It's useful just for brainstorming, and I do feel my few theory posts have been solid enough. . Eventually maybe I'll complete one of my 30 or so half-completed blog entries.

Friday, September 27, 2019

Merchant Management, and their Weird Wares (d12 table included, free of charge!)

Warning, incoming "Dark Souls Is Pretty OSR" comment approaching. It'll be quick, I promise.

Today I want to talk about merchants, and I happen to have been playing a lot of Dark Souls recently- my first playthrough, in 2019, I am late to the party, yes. I'm enjoying the game, even if I dislike the abrasive "git good" gaming culture around Dark Souls, it's better than I thought. However, the most fascinating part to me has been how the game handles merchants, and I find it to be relevant to tabletop gaming:

- You have to find the merchants. Some of them are in the dungeons. Some of them will go back to safety, others have permanently set up their shop in these dangerous places.
- They have limited inventories, and they often sell unique gear, or at least limited gear. The rarer it is, the more it costs.
 - Some of these prices are outrageous because they know you're in the middle of the dungeon and are willing to pay a premium, because who else is going to sell you this stuff?
- They can die. They can be killed. They can fall, into insanity or worse.
- Some of them sell magic, and this is the primary way magic is acquired in the game. 
- Some of them even update their stock as the game progresses. Others don't.

It's not revolutionary, really, but it is *interesting*, and it feels like you actually have to pay attention to npcs and where they are located. More brain activity is required on the part of the player than in most games. In a few cases, you can even learn something about the merchants based on what they sell.

There. I'm done talking about Dark Souls. Now let's talk about how to implement a similar vibe in your games.

A sentient hat that sells you spells.

Specialty Stores

So, back to D&D. The ideal D&D merchant, in my mind, has very specialized wares, has a low number of items in stock, and can be found in unusual locations.  I want to emphasize this: Your merchants should have a theme to the type of goods they carry, a very specific theme- not just "blacksmith", but "Blacksmith focused on making Heavy Armor" or "Blacksmith that makes Bludgeoning Weapons". They should have 4-6, maybe 10 items max, these don't all have to fit the theme- maybe the blacksmith also has some magical ores to sell, or a crest he picked up in the nearby forest. But the products he's really pushing are part of that theme.

Sure, you can have Ye Olde' Adventuring Gear Shop back in town that can cover basic supplying, in fact, I encourage that, but beyond that, define your merchants. A merchant with 4 specific magic items (or weird items...) is much more interesting than a merchant with "any +1 weapon or armor", or "any basic potion found in the guidebook".

Worse, those merchants that sell basic potions will drown out more specialized vendors. Why would you go see the potion vendor with 6-10 types of potions when you can see the potion vendor back in town who carries everything? So don't have those in your world. I don't hate Magic Item Shops because they make magic feel less magical or lead to min-maxing play, I hate them because they restrict the options you have for interesting encounters. 

And that's what this is about. Encounters. Having more merchants in your world, and giving players a reason to pay attention to them, this allows you to have a wider variety of interesting encounters. 

Just with our example of potion vendor, you can have multiple NPCs selling potions in your world- one might specialize in healing potions, one might specialize in transmutation potions, one might sell potent stat boosters with hefty drawbacks. These three can be different NPCs, found in different places, and when your players find these NPCs, they gain access to these new resources. But only if you have scrapped and scuttled your generic vendors. Realistically, you might have the healing potion specialists found in every town, as reliable healing is useful to have, even if it's expensive. But that still leaves room for all kinds of other potion sellers, because even the "generic" potion sellers are only carrying healing..

Now do that sort of division for everything. Keep a master list of your merchants and their specialties and locations. Don't necessarily list prices, but maybe list the key magic items they're selling.  THAT SAID, leave some room to develop other merchants. If the party befriends the morlock underdwellers, maybe they have a merchant who sells weird trinkets in exchange for *meat*. Just because you didn't prepare it on your list doesn't mean you can't improvise it. But add that merchant to the list.

Here's an example of what I might prepare.

Sword Saleswoman(Traveling, Safe)
(1) Fire Sword, (1) Sword that Glows When Orcs Are Near, (2) Silver Swords, (1) Two Hander Sword, (2)  Jagged Longswords (fragile, deal extra damage on crits).

Notice that I have a complete lack of any truly creative ideas in this example (I'm saving those for loot), yet I did not have to resort to +1 magic weapons and these are all items that can be explained in character ("this sword sets things on fire. And this puppy has notches built into the blade, if you catch the enemy right it'll really mess them up, but be careful because they won't last long" instead of "uh, it's magical and hits harder")

No prices, because I know what my gear is worth... and I'm pretty arbitrary about it.

Merchant Mobility

As far as merchant's movements, there's Stable merchants and Traveling merchants, and Safe merchants and Risky merchants.  Stable merchants have shops set up and stay in or around them. Traveling merchants move from place to place selling their goods. Safe merchants are found in a town or other relatively easy to access location, while Risky merchants are found in the dungeon, or the middle of the wilderness.

How I organize this: 

- Stable merchants are keyed, whether in town or dungeon. Easy enough.
- Traveling merchants in Safe locations can show up as random encounters in town, or while traveling along roads.
- Traveling risky merchants can show up on random encounters in the dungeon or in non-road wilderness.

 I use nested encounter tables when it comes to Wandering NPCs. I put add a chance to meet a Wandering NPC to just about every encounter table, at which point I refer to a generic table for rival parties and merchants that I have roaming the world.

I don't usually use random encounters in most towns, outside of City-State of the Invincible Overlord and it's kin, instead I usually roll when the players arrive in town to see if any interesting people have showed up, or during downtime phases. .  

Note: Another technique I use is having "meeting spot" locations which automatically generate meetings with traveling NPCs. These include campgrounds, safe rooms, or just memorable locations that would otherwise be quickly moved through if there wasn't someone to talk to there. The first time you come to a place is an automatic encounter, determined randomly by going back to my Wandering NPC charts, the second time onward there is, say, a 2 in 6 chance that someone else has arrived, and a 4 in 6 chance that the previous npc has moved on. These numbers are fairly arbitrary but convey the probabilities I prefer. I really, really like meeting spot locations. They keep even keyed locations from being predictable.

Why go through all this trouble? Why not key everything, or fiat everything? Well, the end result of all this is a robust world that should, hopefully feel alive. It also allows players to glean the habits of merchants- some are simply more reliable than others, and some consistently end up in dangerous places.

This is really it, but the rest of the post will be exploring the details.

Skill Trainers

Not like this. Probably.

Never use the term "skill trainer" in-game, but that's what they are. These are the type of merchants that don't actually sell gear, but teach you new spells or combat moves and stances. Or skills, if you have a skill system. Anything that gives a character new tricks or strengthens them, but not buying new gear pieces. The chief limiter here is not the merchants stock of goods, but training time. I still consider these to be merchants, and include them on my master merchant list.

Magic as Goods

I like the idea of spells being items that can be bought and sold, if only to spice up merchant wares. When spells are items, you can do an awful lot with them. They can be found as rewards. Or they can be carried as merchant wares. I've had some merchants carry explicitly random spellbooks, with the understanding that the merchant lacks the knowledge to identify the writings, so the shopkeeper has no idea what spell they contain. So even in universe the characters do not know what they are getting, and I can roll on a table then and there. The advantage here is that generally I sell most spells as consumables, but the randomized spellbooks are 1/day items, and they're cheaper than most. This also preserves the mystery of magic a bit, when even the merchants don't 100% know what they're selling.

While Knave, one of the games I run the most, suggests spells should be itemized as spellbooks, I find giving them flavor as Orbs (arcane) or Relics (divine) lends itself to a more active mental image of casting. Instead of thumbing through a book, you're waving an orb around. I also have a lot of Potions, Scrolls, and Charms floating around- the Charms are small magical items that work similar to a scroll, but you don't have to be able to read, and some provide a passive effect instead of a spell. Anything can potentially be a spell item, of course. This isn't anything new, there's always been swords that cast spells, random charms you can find that replicate spells. Now it's the rule, rather than the exception.

An aside: I find running a game with randomized spells as loot instead of being picked causes the game to have a certain vibe, a certain frantic energy. I don't want to say "roguelike", because that's too easy, but yeah it's kinda like a roguelike. Or like raccoons, sifting through trash for anything they can get their hands on. Or possums. Yes, Knave is a game with strong Possum Energy. I'm still trying to figure out how to tap into that possum energy in more traditional B/X games.

Death of a Merchant
 A benefit of Merchants only having a small number of notable items at any given time means that if the players decide to murder (or rob) them, they get less for their troubles. Some gold (merchants don't carry that much fluid gold on them), a few items, and a missed opportunity for more items in the future, plus any other consequences- bounties and the like, or a battle with their bodyguards. This pleases me, because I have to rely less on players buying into an artificial agreement not to be assholes and disrupt my fragile fiction for profit. The fiction is not fragile. 

That said, most merchants should have at least one bodyguard. Or be the bodyguard, so to speak.

Other Miscellaneous Notes

- Merchants make great faction rewards, especially if the faction has a home base that you can check in at. By faction, I mean any significant world organization that has a motivation that makes them likely to hire adventurers. This is where your potent magic item sellers should be. You know, the ones that sell enchanted heavy armor, or belts of be stronger +2. If that type of item gets sold at all, it should be an in-universe reward.

- My prices are super arbitrary and often very inflated, with potions in the 100-500 gp range and non consumable items easily being thousands of gold. This is one of the ways I get rid of all that excess wealth characters end up accumulating. The other being downtime activities like investment and construction and carousing. 

- I suppose this all is fairly capitalist in nature. Well, no worries. If you're sick of capitalism even in games, then instead of positioning all of this as gear to make yourselves stronger or weirder, come up with gear that can make your communities stronger (or weirder!).  Also, implicit in all this is the suggestion that some merchants aren't necessarily interested in gold. Rumors, Favors, or just plain old Bartering can serve as currency.

Weird Merchants, Weird Wares

So, you have all these merchants selling stuff, and your players are going to learn to jot down who sells what pretty quick, but it'll be a lot easier if your merchants are memorable. A couple of generic medieval merchants are ok, especially for your boring town folk, but in general this is a place where I like to focus my npc creativity. Truth be told, though,My NPCs aren't super creative as a whole, even when I focus on them, so an easier way to do this is just to make sure you're selling interesting things, that way they can at least remember the merchants via "that one guy that sells beam guns".

I can't give you a magic formula for making sure your merchants are weird. One thing that helps though is to start compiling a list of interesting item types, and of course any interesting item sellers you think of, as you think of them. Jot down interesting merchants in modules or even video games. I have a huge document entitled "Cool Loot" which I use to record my favorite stuff. It's an organized mess, but a great first reference document because I know everything in there is my style. Eventually you'll get to the point where this is second nature and you can think up weird effects on the spot.

Finally: A baseline normal is required to make the weird stuff stand out. Having a normal merchant selling swords makes the guy selling beam guns stand out. Never go full gonzo. Even Slumbering Ursine Dunes had a relatively normal farmstead at the entrance to it's bear and space elf filled sand dunes.

Anyway, here's some ideas. A couple of them are explicit pulls from Dark Souls. In fact, assume all of these have some basis somewhere else and have merely been filtered throguh my brain.

D12 Weird Merchants And/Or Wares

1. A scrap merchant near a "Barrier Peaks" type retro-futuristic dungeon. Really has no idea what he is selling, but among the junk you can find some useful futuristic items and the energy cells to power them.

2. A exotic pet salesman. My vote: Baby Drakes- Young drakes and wyverns, about the size of a hawk. Trained to do basic tasks like scout or retrieve items or distract enemies. Have been stolen from their parents, and their parents may come looking for them. If you really want to be explicit with the foreshadowing of doom for the party,  Baby Dragons, sold cheap.

3. A witch, living deep in the woods, knows how to prepare more... unusual potions. They can even teach you the recipes, though it'll cost you. This could be your transmutation potion specialist, for example.Could also teach you strange occult spells- not evil spells, mind you, but different, unconventional magic.

4. A sorcerer with an oversized hat is found wasting away in a cage. If you rescue him, he'll accompany you to the nearest safe location and stay there for awhile, selling magic utensils and spells. Probably will go insane by the end. IDK for sure I haven't gotten there yet.

5. A somber knight wishes to sell you the belongings of a deceased traveling companion, in order to pay for the funeral. It's mostly odds and ends, but there are a few notable magic items. This is a one time deal, not a reoccurring merchant, and if you don't bite he will have found another buyer by the next time you meet him.

6. A complete scoundrel possibly named  something like Cugel the Clever, is willing to sell you a mismatched assortment of magical trinkets. Absolutely sketchy as hell. Items may be defective or not work quite as marketed. Can be found both in town and in dungeons, trying to get easy loot from adventurer corpses while staying out of danger. Also sells maps that may or may not lead to treasure. The prices are dirt cheap, but you get what you pay for.

7. A Ranger selling preserved monster parts. Nothing more, nothing less, but some of them are quite exotic! Use for all your alchemy needs, or maybe just eat them. Delicious Wyvern Jerky, mmm-mmm.

8. A noblewoman from a forgotten era is trapped in a glass golem. Destroying the golem without injuring the lady inside can result in her teaching you some unusual spells that are otherwise lost to time.

9. A smuggler type with an explosives specialty. Willing to sell smoke bombs, shrapnel bombs, flashbangs, and good old fashioned dynamite. Will give you a discount if you're a member of the local thieves' organization.

10. A traveling priestess is willing to cast simple spells for the party, like cure light wounds, and also sells a variety of charms to ward off evil and maintain good health. These charms are legitimately effective. .

11. A Monster of The Dungeon. Is quite friendly, and genuine in it's friendliness, though it definitely wants to get all your money too. Sells items found off the corpses of other adventurers. Could be a talking giant spider, a clever bugbear, anything really. This is a trope that will never get old.

12. A traveling mask salesman. Honestly... enough said.

Not my art, duh.

Like, again, none of these are revolutionary, but that's part of the point: they don't have to be revolutionary as long as they are presented as a unique opportunity to be engaged with.  Every new merchant should be a potential new resource, a memorable encounter, or just open new gameplay possibilities.

tl;dr: Have merchants selling limited stocks of items. Seed them throughout your world, and your random encounter tables. Make them weird. Harness them as encounters, not dull busy work.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Still Alive

Starting up a blog then going silent for weeks. Excellent start. I have an excuse- I moved out last month. As it turns out, moving out is a fairly stressful and time consuming process.

I have some content, hopefully fun and/or useful, coming soon, but "soon" is a vague word. It'll happen when it happens, no worries. : )

I... don't know if anyone is actually following this blog yet. Probably not! But if you are, this post is for you!

Keep on playing tabletop games!

- PK

Monday, June 3, 2019

Into the BLAME! (WIP Name)- session 1

As far as campaign names go, Into the Blame! is probably about as bad as they get. I put this game together in the span of an hour before the game, though I had the general concept floating in my head for awhile.

I used Into the Odd on a whim, having never played it before.The setting is basically just Tsutomu Nihei's BLAME! manga, but adapted ever so slightly to OSR gaming.  Players will have to navigate a post-post-apocalyptic cyberpunk urban hellscape where earth is but a legend and the sky has never been seen, because everyone is trapped in an endless metal megastructure. The world is the dungeon. 

Of course, Into the Odd is more steampunk weirdness and isn't quite a perfect mix with what I was trying to do, but that's ok, because I started it out with the characters waking up in the middle of the dungeon with no idea what was going on, having been abducted from Bastionland.

The Party
  • Kryle, the Rocket Man (level 1)
  • Lailah, the one with the Mule (level 1) 
    • A Mule, the beast of burden (level 1 follower)

 So the two characters, Lailah and Kryle, both woke up on an uncomfortable bed, wearing nothing. They had been cryogenically frozen. Thankfully, they quickly found a closet of generic uniforms similar to that worn by the Vault-dwellers of Fallout, as well as a few things they owned. Lailah owned a Mule, which also had it's own cold sleep bed. Kryle owned a rocket, no rocket launcher included. The player was absolutely thrilled at this chargen result. 

Leaving the Bay of the Sleepers, the characters stepped through an automatically opening door into the next room. The walls were made of featureless white plastic, and the room was mostly unadorned, it would have been quite boring if not for the corpse in the middle of it, wearing a generic uniform, being eaten by a robotic wolf. The canine immediately ran down a hallway to the west, and the duo paused only to check the corpse for gear- they found a knife. As both had started with pistols, the melee weapon was a reasonable find, and Kryle kept it. They followed the dog cautiously as it ran around the corner, checking doors in the hallway as they went. 

In one room they encountered a man, just standing there with his back to them. Lailah shot him in the back of the head, an action that Kryle did not appreciate, at least until the man turned around, revealing that his skin was melting off a half-cyborg head. At this point both Lailah AND Kryle unloaded into the man,  and he went down. It wasn't until they had searched his corpse that they realized he had not actually done anything hostile, but shrugged this off. 

Following around the corner, Lailah used an Arcanum she had started with- the Heart Locket- to find the location of the wolf, which had disappeared. While Kryle was dragging the mule around the corner, Lailah entered the door the wolf was hiding behind, and found three of it's friends. They jumped her and dragged her to the ground, but she made her pistol explode, destroying one... and killing herself in the process.

Kryle rode the mule into the group of four wolves, intending to suicide with his rocket, jumping down onto the ground with the rocket. Unfortunately, it turned out to be a bit of a dud, not having nearly the destructive potential it should have had (only 5 damage on that delicious d12), and Kryle avoided taking lethal injuries from the blast. The robots avoided destruction as well, but they retreated from combat, to the south. 

The Life and Death of a "Wall"
While investigating the lair of the wolves (finding a few cred-sticks, the currency of this world), Kryle was joined by another woman, who burst out from a wall. She didn't explain herself,  but said that "she had already had a very long day". They moved south, where the wolves had fled- only to hear the sound of bullets tearing into metal. Glancing around the corner of the hallway, they saw a turret, smoke rising from the machine gun attached to it, and the destroyed remains of three robot wolves. The new arrival, known only as "Wall", tossed a grenade at the turret, blowing it up. They discovered that the turret had been guarding a nice cache of explosives and gear, including body armor that was similar to SWAT gear, and another rocket(!).

Beyond this guard station, they found a heavy duty shut door that would not open. They considered using the mule to deliver all their explosives and destroy the door, but found a side passage, which contained odd tubes with chairs in them. The tubes led out of the room, into a dark tunnel. After much deliberation, Wall sat in one of the chairs, and with a zooming noise, she was gone. Kryle panicked, and waited for her return. She did not. 

Wall had entered a network of fast transport tubes that zipped over a vast cavern. Unfortunately, they were very badly maintained, and had a giant hole in them. The chair flew out of the tube, and Wall was not dexterous enough to grab onto anything before becoming a stain upon the ground. 

Like this, but with a chair, and more ruined, and more bodies at the bottom of it.

Kryle eventually returned the way he came, all the way back to the room where they had first encountered the robot dog. He went south this time, and found himself in a room with plastic tables and three machines along the wall. Here he was met by yet another cold-sleeper who had awoken, with the name of Jai. They examined the machines, and found one was a vending machine- it only had a few items left, and demanded obscene amounts of credits for the purchases. The new arrival remembered her handy dandy bolt-cutters, and broke open the machine, getting several medical syringes filled with healing serum, a few grenades, and a can of lemonade (perfect for bribing security guards!). 

They moved onto the next machine, which, long story short, was essentially an ATM. They broke into this machine as well, and coins came falling out, more coins than they could ever carry.

The final machine was built into the wall, and materialized food, Star Trek style. Unfortunately, the food was rotten. 

Kryle searched for something adhesive, and actually found it! On the underside of one of the tables, was another healing syringe duct taped to the table. He used this tape to attach coins to a grenade, creating a poor man's fragmentation grenade. 

Jai and Kryle proceeded south, and found two paths. One led to a room flooded with a silvery liquid on the floor (the players could not resist labeling this room as, uh, "jizz".) They did not touch it. The other path led to a small spiral staircase, that led downwards, into the lower floor(s?) of the facility. What would they find there? What secrets would they discover? How many more characters would the player known as "N" burn through? Find out next time, should this game continue beyond session 1!

Kryle by the end of the session, equipped with machine gun and body armor. Not sure of the source, the player found it, not me.

Lailah, level 1, death by robot dogs
Wall, level 1, death by falling out of a fast transport tube

This worked out very remarkably well, given how little time I had to prepare it. There was a distinct lack of random encounters thanks to me forgetting that bit of prep, but the session was still eventful... and lethal. One of my players is very happy to treat characters as game pieces to be used recklessly and discarded easily. The robot wolves were foreshadowed hard and the players had no excuse. The death via transportation tube was a result of a critical failure on a save- if it weren't for that, she would have just taken some damage from a fall. We both agreed this was how it should turn out.

I allowed the players to destroy a turret without even rolling damage. I felt the grenade was the perfect solution to the problem. Because of this, they were able to get a very nice set of loot early. The actual loot was a bit of a mess - I don't have a full set of items for this world yet, so there was lots of healing syringes, grenades, and credsticks.

The mule survived to the end of the session, and that makes me happy. It is the single most out of place element, all thanks to Into the Odd random starting item tables!

As a system, Into the Odd was simple. A little too simple. Despite having a higher page count than Knave, it ended up being even more simple in practice- three saves + hp, limited starting inventory, and that's pretty much it. The starting kits are a lot of fun, lots of flavor to the starting items, but otherwise there's very little fuel to be used for key details about the characters themselves, unlike Knave. There's no backgrounds, no classes, and no real statistical different besides HP and saves.

See, with no attack rolls being made, character's attributes no longer inform their effectiveness at melee vs ranged damage. Higher will characters are better at using arcanum in unconventional ways, but that's the only difference as far as spells are concerned. The game, then, is not only classless, it's also practically statless, at least when it comes to determing who is better than other people at tasks. Knave is classless but still has some texture when it comes to attributes- some characters lean in certain directions.This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it does mean characters are very samey, even on a mechanical level.

I'm all for building characters via play, and Kryle in particular became a fairly interesting guy, due to his love of rockets and trauma from witnessing two deaths. But overall, I can see why Chris McDowall is working on the sequel to Into the Odd, Electric Bastionland, which has evocative backgrounds as a core feature. That should at least give players something to grab onto.

I will likely continue using Into the Odd for the next session as they explore the abandoned Cryosleep Facility, but intend to eventually develop my own system, probably based on either B/X or Knave, that will allow for characters native to this world, instead of Bastionland rejects that somehow woke up here. A central theme of the system will be cybernetic augmentation and biological mutation. Fun times ahead!

Wednesday, May 15, 2019


Quite a few retroclones make use of the idea that you can identify potions by sipping them, allowing quick identification at the cost of potentially exposing yourself to poison or worse. I like this idea, though in practice my players have not bit- they're genre savvy enough to know what happens.

I was playing a roguelike called Dungeon Crawl, and the mechanic sort of clicked for me- in that game, you accumulate unknown potions with very specific colors- the colors are randomized at the beginning of a game. So when you have 10 potions of one color, it suddenly becomes an ok deal to risk the atrophication of your limbs in order to have a very common potion known. Indeed, in that game you build a collection of known colors. Consistency is key- if you're being consistent with your potion descriptions, sipping should become slightly less of a fool's deal.

So, I put together a quick set of tables to roll on for basic descriptions. And, since I'm in dire need of content for this blog, I'm posting it here. You don't need to completely randomize your potions- indeed, it may make sense to have a potion of water breathing blue and smell like the sea, so do that. This is more for when you draw up a potion as loot and need a quick prompt to describe it. These are not, generally speaking, evocative descriptions, like the kind you might get from Patrick Stuart. They are short and to the point.

Roll on as many of the tables as you want to. Roll a d10 to confine yourself to what I arbitrarily considered "basic" colors, or a d20 to have a larger variety.

Just, write down what you get for each potion, so you can be consistent in the future.

Basic Potion Colors (d10)
1. Red
2. Blue
3. Yellow
4. Green
5. Orange
6. Purple
7. White
8. Black
9. Grey
10. Clear

Advanced Potion Colors (d20)
11. Brown
12. Teal
13. Pink
14. Gold
15. Silver
16. Bronze
17. Magenta
18. Rust
19. Crimson
20. Rainbow 

Modifications (d8)
1. Gold/ Silver Flecks
2. Contains tooth/bone/rat tail/toenail/ other gross detail
3. Light [Color]
4. Dark [Color]
5. Smokey or Faded
6. Two Basic Colors Swirled together
7. Fizzy
8. Thick, like the consistency of Yogurt

Smells (d12)
1. Like fresh water
2. Completely Odorless
3. Acidic or Sulfuric
4. Delicious
5. Absolutely Nasty, like a toilet or something.
6. Like Perfume
7. Flowers or Pine
8. Like Alcohol
9. Like Smoke
10. Nostalgic
11. Like Tree Sap
12. Like the Sea

Not a huge fan of the smells in their current state, but they'll do. 

Taste (d6)
1. Tasteless
2. Hearty, like soup broth
3. Bitter / Sour
4. Sweet
5. Spicy, like drinking tabasco
6. Like Alcohol.

By the time they taste it, it's too late to identify. So this last table is just for if they ask.

Other Identification Methods
Here is what I allow.

- Someone with an alchemist class or background should automatically know most basic types of potions, and should be able to make an INT check for more niche potions. I love rewarding backgrounds.

- Paying an Alchemist or Wizard for their identification. Be arbitrary with prices, drain your player's gold away!

- Looking at an alchemist's wares to figure out the colors of potions being sold. 25% chance the item is mislabeled, by accident or malice- such mislabeling would naturally be corrected at purchase, but an alchemist isn't going to do much for window shopping.

-Spending valuable downtime doing research. Maybe a week per potion?

- Spells of Identification, if they exist. I limit these most of the time. 

- Test on hirelings. Hirelings are not PCs, and may not know exactly what it does from a sip, but they can provide hints. If they don't drop dead.

- Test on animals. Animals cannot talk in most cases, but this test will at least determine if it is lethal or not. This is not something good, well adjusted adventurers do.

- For basic potions of healing, skip this whole song and dance. The characters are competent and know what healing potions look like.

So ultimately, I doubt anyone is going to sip unknown potions... but there should be a lot of pressure to do so. It should be really tempting. Especially if you get one in the middle of the dungeon while your resources are running dry.. Maybe someone will break. And it'll turn out fine, because most potions are fine. So they'll taste test more and more... until one day, their luck runs out.


One last note: I am sure I am not the first person to create something like this. If you know of similar pages, please let me know!