Wednesday, May 3, 2017

What I wish I knew as an Online GM 18 Months ago

In December of 2015, I moved from a college town where I knew lots of people and had a gaming group to a rural location where I knew almost no-one. As a result, I moved from gaming face to face with an established group to gaming online with complete strangers. Looking back over those 18 months, there are a few things I wish I had known.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Vanishing Scout Bush

Vanishing Scout Bushes are a strange breed of creature used as scouts and spies. When they're not fighting, they appear pretty much like a large bush a little bigger than a person, all told. They can even stand up to a little investigation, though it will quickly become apparent that this is no ordinary bush: they have nasty spikes and the woody core of the creature is much thicker than it needs to be.

When they stand up for combat, they have a roughly humanoid shape, but covered in thick vegetation. Their fists are tipped in long wooden spikes, and getting hit by one tends to hurt a lot. That said, they really don't like fair fights. They can retreat quite rapidly, and they will do so if faced with serious danger: they're scouts, not warriors. They are cunning enough to appear directly behind foes to strike from behind though.

Vanishing Bushes are designed as servitors for some villain. They work well as Fae or as the creation of a wizard. They can also be used as demons or as forest servitors, all with minor adjustments.

ST25         HP25          Speed6.5
DX14Will14Move6
IQ8Per14
HT12FP12SM0
Dodge      9(12)Parry10DR8 (hardened 1)

Thorny Fist (14): 2d+3 impaling

Teleportation (12): Vanishing Bushes can simply leave their locations, appearing at another. This is utterly silent, and they can do so quickly. They can ignore up to -5 in range or time penalties. They cannot, however, leave an area within 10 yards of any part of a fir tree. A handful of dry needles or a branch of the tree will suffice, but a single needle or old twig will not. If one attempts to teleport into an area with a branch, it will be stunned until it can make an IQ check (yes, that's going to take a while), and then the dread will effect it.

Camoflauge: Vanishing Bushes look pretty much like bushes: motionless and quiet. A bystander who isn't on the lookout for non-human foes is at -5 to spot them, and even a wary adventurer looking for general trouble gets a -2 for potentially over looking bushes. Conversely, +2 can be gained by a successful Biology, Naturalist, Gardening, or appropriate hidden lore roll. If the onlooker is familiar with the area, an Per check will reveal the additional bush. A Typical example would be the neighbor's front porch.

Traits:  360 degree vision, Chameleon 2 (effects sight and sound), Dark Vision, Doesn't Breath, Doesn't Eat or Drink, Doesn't Sleep, Dread (fir trees), Immunity to Metabolic Hazards, Injury Tolerance (Homogeneous, No Blood), Social Stigma (monster), Warp (blink, weakness: fir trees, no signature, penalty cancelling 5, reliable)

Skills: Brawling - 14, Stealth - 16*, teleport - 12, body sense -14, observation -15
*includes +2 from chameleon. If the bush is not moving, this bonus is doubled, and the bush has stealth -18. See the camoflague entry.

Build Notes

This monster was created using the Monster Hunters Foe Generator, off the seat of my pants. Most of the time I take a bunch of time when using the generator. On Tuesday I needed a monster off the seat of my pants, and built the monster pretty much during play. Its based on the weak demon from monster hunters 3, plus the special abilities given. I don't think any of the players noticed, because they were busy looking through the park for the demons. I really like the way it turned out.

I beefed up the warp a lot, uncapping range, adding blink, and emphasizing the silence. I also dropped the leech (standard) I got in the roll, because it didn't really fit -- though blood sucking plants are a staple of dungeon fantasy.

The penalty cancelling 5 is the reliable enhancement, with the condition that it can't actually raise skill. I did this because I didn't want their blink defense to be sky high.

I kind of bent the rules with Chameleon. Chameleon has an "extended" enhancement that's normally supposed to apply to infravision, not sound. There is an almost identical advantage called "Silence" that applies to sound. But I wanted both Chameleon and Silence without actually stacking their bonus, so I used the extended enhancement. I'm still looking at how that worked, but I'm feeling happy with it at the moment.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

RPM: Object Grimoires

Who says an RPM Grimoire has to be a book? an item that gives a bonus to a spell being cast is an item that gives a bonus to a spell being cast, but that a book or a banner. Books are a classic way to store magical power, but magical artifacts come in all shapes and sizes. The wheel of time features crystal swords, statues, and bowls. Harry Dresden is always using his bracelet or blasting rod to cast specific effects. And many magic items strengthen specific spells but still require a caster behind them.

How to Use Object Grimoires

Grimoires come with instructions on how to use. Actually, thematically speaking, they are instructions on how to use. Which means that an object grimoire is going to be harder to use... at least until you know what its for and how to use it. Sure this bowl is enchanted... but does it control the winds, the waves, merely predict the weather, aid a comprehensive weather control spell, or aid something completely different like summon a delicious clam chowder?

Figuring out what a grimoire object does should be as interesting as translating a dead-language or encrypted grimoire. Hidden Lore and Research have a bigger role to play in doing so. In fact, most of the time, a Hidden Lore or Research role should be followed up by a Thaumatology roll. As a general rule, the Hidden Lore roll should be penalized, but be at +2 or more when compared with a plain research roll. Higher bonuses tend to be easier to find out about (research and hidden lore) but make the Thaumatology roll harder: a +1 amulet of inflicting diarrhea is hardly worth recording in the ancient books of lore, but isn't that hard to figure out, while a +8 change to frog statue is likely to be easy to find out about but hard to figure out the exact magical use.

Of course, these are all just suggestions. When purchasing such an item its likely the dealer will know exactly how to use it, or at least be able to point you in the right direction. This will probably effect the price of the item though!

Form and Decoration

If you're not going to get creative with the form of the item, there is little point in not leaving it as an arcane volume. Object grimoires usually are decorated with hints to their purpose and the form is part of the magic. Common forms include  jewelry, decorated sticks (staffs, wands), statues,  masks, bowls and tools.  Its also common for such items to be made out of an expected material: a metal broom or a glass sword.

Pay attention to size. While the range of weights given in the RPM book are fine, some grimoire objects can be much bigger or smaller. Of particular interest is great big ones: you may be able to get a 7 foot iron statue grimoire for a great deal, but anytime you want to use it, you have to be at the statue.

Buying Object Grimoires

These grimoires shouldn't cost the same as the standard "I-have-all-the-instructions" book. If the exact function isn't known, that's probably a discount (20%? 40%?). Great big ones will reduce the cost as well, and some GM's may say that the form is more conducive to that kind of magic, giving a bonus.

Of course, much of the time an object grimoire will be found when you're searching for a book. One way to use this is as ways to mix up the results of a grimore search. You can choose between the book in akkadian or the silver monkey necklace that puts an awkward 4 lbs hanging from your neck

Using Object Grimoires

This is meant to help you mix up your grimoires, NOT to replace magic items in a campaign. These items still require a mage to use them, and the more powerful the caster, the more powerful the results. They are meant to shake up buying book after book, and to let some of that bizarre crap decorating the witch's shop actually be useful.

They're also very useful for magical traditions where writing isn't central. I actually came up with the idea when trying to work out a TL 3 society using RPM and relying heavily on grimoires. I hope you find this idea useful.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

RPM: Path of Machines

I was thinking about RPM in a TL11 setting, and I thought to myself: the path of matter is sure powerful there. It covers nanobots, computers, vehicle transmissions, robotic arms and many other things. Then I asked myself what I would say if one of my players tried to use control matter to hack into computer and get passwords out of it. Or transform matter to change what nanobots did. And what is the proper way to 'awaken' a computer? My solution is the path of machines.

The path of Machines is all about complexity. The old definition of a machine may include levers, but the path of machines needs more complexity than that. The path of machines thrives best on computers, engines, speaker systems. One interesting effect of the path of machines is that by default, it works on computer data but not on the written word -- which means written secrets are safer.

Machines that are characters in and of themselves (like an AI) resist spells normally. An active caretaker can resist many effects with the appropriate repair or use skill. Signature gear always gets a save. But for the most part, machines don't get resistance rolls.

The effects

Sense Machine: lesser sense machine can detect machines, identify a machine,  or diagnose a technical problem. Greater sense machine  can reveal a machine's purpose or get a password from a computer.
Strengthen Machine: Most commonly, this is used to increase the power of a machine, whether it be strengthening a car to get up a hill, increasing the CPU speed on a processor, making a speaker louder, or causing nanobots to act like there are twice as many of them. The difference between greater and lesser strengthen machine is one of magnitude.
Restore Machine: can perform complex repairs. Lesser effects require some nods to physically fixing the object and require all the parts and information to be present in some form. Greater effects can repair objects that are missing parts or have had the information on them completely destroyed, and do so instantly.
Control Machine: Lesser Control Machine makes the machine do something it could do with the right inputs. It can hijack the output of computers, speakers, and other media, (the resulting output has to come from somewhere though!), steer cars, and open locks. Greater Control Machine can allow a machine to move or act in ways it normally wouldn't be able to. Examples include a car walking on its wheels and a computer delivering an electric shock. Control Machine also works as Control Mind vs. AI's.
Destroy Machine: Lesser Destroy machine breaks machines in subtle and believable ways, causing fuel lines to come loose, random computer crashes, and other normal wear and tear (if faster and much more convenient). Greater Destroy machine can erase information from a computer so thoroughly it can't be gotten back or cause mechanical errors that require taking the machine completely apart before putting it back together.
Create Machine: Lesser create machine can grant a bonus to assembling or inventing a machine, or copy a machine's effects that the caster has all the information for. For example, lesser create machine could be combined with sense machine to open a lock. Greater create can awaken a computer to sentience, or assemble a machine on its own out of spare parts. It can also emulate a machine
Transform Machine: Transforms one machine into another, causing it to do something it was not designed to do. Lesser effects are subtle and still somewhat related to the machine's design, while greater effects can restructure the entire machine into something else.

In the Campaign

This path is very much designed for a high tech game, and isn't recommended for TL's less than 6. Though it could be used in a TL4 world to create clockwork constructs (effectively TL4+2^ or even higher!) It will shine best in world with lots of computers, vehicles, and machine-type weapons (like guns).

I hope you find this idea useful!

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Blog or Treat: Remembrance Thief


Perhaps one of my favorite posts on this blog is also my oldest: Demons and Fae. It examines the demon variety chart in Monster Hunters 3 (page 19) and talks about how it can  expanded and used to create Fae. It also talks about how a single monster concept can be used for multiple monster types, and it inspired me to actually write an expanded table and build a generator so you don't have to roll 50 dice to get answers.

This monster was generated using those tools and posts, but this time I'm not picking a monster type: I'm showing how the monster can a demon, an evil fae, or a type of vampire. I hope you find the monster evocative.

The monster is focused on Monster Hunters, as the original posts and the book that inspired the creature are focused there, but it can fit in variety of campaigns, particularly standard horror.

Monday, October 17, 2016

10 Points of Flavor

In my recent games I've started giving out '10 points of flavor'. These are to be spent on things the player doesn't expect the character to use. I view them as a tool for fleshing out a character, and hopefully for reducing the tension between building a realistic character and working with a low point budget.

 What people buy with these points varies. Area knowledge (home) is a common choice. Its only valid if the action doesn't take place their, but it lends a fair amount of flavor. I've seen an awful lot of people buy games. The specialization is usually video games, table top games, or chess. High Academic skills often get thrown in: I had one guy buy History (Occidental magical traditions), and musical skills are common. Animal handling (dogs) is another favorite, used by dog lovers. Cooking and housekeeping show up as day to day skills. I've also seen things like driving in a campaign where the planet is covered in ice (and thus snow mobiles are used). I think the weirdest one I've seen has been Professional Skill (Fire extinguisher maintenance).

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Lawmen Of Borlo: Reflections on Setting Choices

I just finished my "Lawmen of Borlo" game, and last post I talked about how gameplay went. Today I'm going to look at the setting decisions and work I put into it, and how they turned out.

The things that went best were the way I handled races (which was a trick to get right), and the FTL system (which never got used). The books I actually ended up using were interesting, and there were some places where I did too much work, or too little. I also let the standard adventure be something I didn't plan. In this case, it worked well, but that fact is worth being cautious of in the future.