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.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Lawmen Of Borlo: Reflections on Gameplay

I just finished a campaign: Lawmen of Borlo. Its an interesting time when you finish a campaign and move on to a new one, and a good time to consider what went well and what didn't. This is also a big learning experience for me, because its only my second roll20 gurps campaign.

The campaign premise was:
The planet of Borlo was a backwater for over 40 years. Then about 3 weeks ago, a citizen found alien ruins-- the first alien ruins to be had in humanities long and lonely search of the stars. Now there is a rush like has not been seen for centuries: men and women are flooding into a formerly barren wasteland in search of wealth.
The PC's were planetary marshals given cases to solve, spread out over the planet. They solved two cases, each with multiple stages of finding suspects. They did pretty well, all things considered: of the 9 criminals they chased, one was left with a warning and remained a police informant, three got comparatively light sentencing (all in exchange for names and  or testimony), one got away, and four got hit hard.

Things the Players Enjoyed

Negotiating with prisoners was a large part of the game, and one the players really seemed to enjoy. A lot of the time you never know if an NPC is going to grab their attention or not, but each time they picked up a batch of crooks, one of them grabbed the attention of the PC's, and they connected with a string of criminals, and actually cared about what happened to them in the end -- even if  'cared' means 'I want to make sure you don't get off with a lite sentence'! A good part of this was how much work they put into figuring out who the NPC was before they ever met them. PC's generally connect with NPC's they remember, and making the goal of the adventure finding someone is a good way to make them memorable.

I insisted that players come up with the questions to ask, rather than just rolling against, say... computer operation and finding out everything they needed to know. This was intentional stylistic choice for a cops game. It really helped to bring the world to life -- players cared about the details, and we had lots of fun extrapolating what WOULD be known in a given science fiction situation.  It also helped to keep players involved -- one player usually had the spotlight, but everyone else was thinking of questions they wanted asked. This isn't for every game, but I highly suggest it for a mystery game.

GMing Lessons

This game saw a bit of player drama. And I finally bit the bullet and realized that my job as a GM is NOT about merely presenting adventures, but about balancing personality issues, ensuring that everyone else speaks up, and generally being the social grease. This is not something that I wanted do. I wish I could just play a character called "The world" and present challenges for the players.

I'm glad I bit that bullet. Its helped with the game a lot, and its helped build that camaraderie between players I've always assumed was natural. If you are trying to GM or looking for a GM, you are there as much to help the players get along as you are to present a world. The good news is that gaming culture gives you the tools to make that easy, and it actually hasn't been that much work. It was just essential for me to realize that its my job, no one else will do it, and when you have a grab bag of players off the internet, it needs to be done.

Why didn't I pick this up before? Well, my prior GM experience is either on PbP, which tends to minimize personal issues in favor of the game (typing is much more expensive than talking), or with my relatives. And with the relatives I played with, I'm pretty much the alpha by dint of age and longstanding relationships. And everyone knows each other really well.

I also started keeping track of time this game. It worked really well, added an aspect of management, and helped in organizing NPC actions. I'll probably continue to do it.

The other big lesson was: Play what you want to play. When I started playing on roll20, I intentionally went with 'popular' (meaning common) options with the intent to switch to something I personally wanted more later. I don't think I got more interest with the generic, and I certainly had a lot more. So I'm going to play what I want to play.

This isn't to say that "bad games" don't exist. Many ideas won't be valid, or will require extra out of your players.  Before you go ahead and play, make sure its a good idea that will be fun for everyone. but that has very little to do with setting, and more to do with making sure the focus is still on the players and they can have fun. So from now on, I'm saying goodby to generic and playing in whatever setting I please! (which is not to say that players don't get a say. I've been vetting multiple ideas and giving them a choice first).

Things I enjoyed

I learned that I get tired of playing in the same setting for too long. Last game I played I was all played out by the end. I still needed to finish the mission, and if you're tired of a game, it can really drag. This time I watched for that effect, and ended the campaign before it got old. This let me do a proper ending, and we had a nice 30 minutes at the end where we talked about what happened to each of the characters after the campaign.

The PC's had lots of decisions, and the combination of "you can do anything" and "you're supposed to be doing this" was fun to watch. They tracked down people out of order, caught me by surprise, and completely missed possibilities. This was entertaining to watch in a way that combat just can't match.

It was also really nice to watch players get immersed in the setting, and understand where they were and what the world was like. I think the key was to make those things matter to the plot.

Last of all, and I'll talk about this in a later post, I ran a game with two minor combats that still remained tense and engaging. I don't enjoy slaughter fests, and I consider doing a non-combat-oriented game in real time with multiple players to be a personal success. Ironically, lives WERE at stake. They just weren't decided by who had fancier gun-play.

Things I Could Have Done Better

We had a player than kept notes. It was in many cases a life-saver: we'd start each session by reading the notes that he took and that would usually be enough to jog my memory. I could have kept my private notes better. A GM has a lot that he's doing, but in this case, I think we would have had a stronger game if I had kept more than the most minimal of notes. This became very apparent when our note-keeper couldn't make a session, and we had to remember what happened earlier.

I also have come to the conclusion that player knowledge of numbers matters. Secret rolls may be ominous, but there is a strength to declaring exactly what a PC needs in order to succeed or fail. In some ways hidden rolls can make GMing easier, but I'm realizing its a crutch. Game-play is about making decisions, and without information, there is no decision.  So I'm going to need to work on that.

In Conclusion

I learned a lot, and I enjoyed the campaign. While I pride myself as a setting builder, I'm a newbie GM. I'll soon be putting up info on setting, and a few more thoughts inspired by the campaign.

I hope you can learn from my mistakes.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Seige Crab

Siege Crabs are massive beasts bred, cursed, enchanted, or who knows what else by some wizard as weapons of war. They're actually a fairly practical design if one wishes to take a castle. They look like your typical great hulking monster with too much armor and too little speed, but adventurers not expecting them are in for a few surprises. The first, and this really shouldn't be a surprise, is that while they move from place to place slowly they're quite agile in hand to hand combat. The second is that they climb walls like a much smaller creature. The third, and nastiest, is the reverse missiles spell they generate. Most adventurers will think "Big Slow Ugly" and start shooting at the thing, only to have their attacks fly back in their face.

Seige crabs  are territorial and generally try to drive intruders off. They'll happily munch on the remains of foe, but for the most part they'll leave fleeing intruders alone. They do have an instinct to get to high ground and to assault heavily fortified positions, so Adventurers who think they're safe for the night may find a crabby monster trying to drive them out.

ST30         HP30          Speed7
Dodge      8Parry12DR10
Slice (14): 3d+3 cutting, -1 to defenses. Is considered a grapple against a foe that it hits.
Pound (14): 3d+3 crushing, -1 to defenses.
Traits: Constriction Attack, Reverse missiles Spell, Extra Attack 1, magic resistance 2, 2 strikers (reach 1,C)
Skills: Brawling - 16, Climbing -18,
Class: Dire Animal
Notes: Not Sapient. Seige Crab carpaces can fetch $200 dollars as raw materials, and they have Prothoratic Mana Organs that power the reverse missiles effect. If you can get these out, they're worth $ 1000, but the thaumatology roll is at -2. Its a tricky job! Siege Crab eggs are worth about $100 a piece, but transporting them back requires precautions not to stunt the magic of the creatures (Thaumatology roll), and odds are that half  or more of them are dead already! A successful Naturalist or Thaumatology roll can identify which ones are good and which ones aren't.

But bigger. Much Bigger

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Thoughs on Realm Magic

Realm magic promises simplicity. But requires some GM work. It sometimes feels like a different game. Does it deliver? Is it balanced?

I'm looking at a number of different ways to use realm magic, and comparing it with some of the other systems gurps has.  I have the thought process behind very small magic system I built using the stub of a realm system (phage magic), the skeleton of a much larger system I've used in the past, and thoughts on realm magic on the wing. I also compare realm magic with the standard system and look at how 'Gurpsy' the whole thing is, and how its really at the root of RPM.

Phage Magic

When I built phage magic for Stornuso, I had a very small subset of magic I needed a price for.  In the post I 'estimated the number of realms at 12' and moved on. Here is the actual thought process I used in the estimation:

All of my realms so far were energy based: light, heat, and motion. Rather than come up with every single realm, I figured I'd do the realm of energy and then figure just as many categories in each 'sister' category of energy. I divided up into Energy, Matter, and Mind/knowledge. I felt confident I could put any effect into one of these. Then I tried to think of other categories in energy. At the time, All I came up with was electromagnetism. I debated using life energy, but threw that out. Looking back, I would have done it the other way around, but the point is we had four energy realms, and then two more categories (presumably) the same size gives us a total of 12 realms.

Then I had to decide on levels. I noticed the limits I had placed where that the magic took time, had to happen right next to the mage, and no creation of energy was allowed. That was 3 upgrades that theoretical future levels could give, for a total of four levels. So I decided my 40 point total would be split up into four pieces, and assigned each ability the cost of 10 points each.

Did it deliver? well, it gave me a number, and all things told, the number wasn't that hard to get and it doesn't look unbalanced 

Standard Magic

An interesting comparison is comparing standard magic to realm magic. The standard magic system is divided up into colleges -- 24 of them to be exact. This is well over 12, which means we use 60 x 1/2 = 30 points for each category. 30 points to know every spell in a standard magic college, plus any that may be made up.

That's... actually not too bad. Particularly if we're using the 6 level system the book provides. Its probably a little more expensive than buying all of the spells you actually want individually, but you get the benefit of the doubt on what you can do. And at 5 points per level per realm, character building is looking pretty simple. It also provides us with what is probably better balance than the standard system, with cherry picking spells no longer on the table. Spell energy cost, the primary balancing component of the standard system, remains pretty much the same or exactly the same if you use that option.

Is Realm Magic Still Gurps?

In some ways, realm magic feels like a cop-out to many (including sometimes to me). Gurps has traditionally been about being able to both do everything and retain concrete effects and prices. Gurps is good at the blow by blow detail oriented aspect of gaming. In matters when someone gets punched in the face as opposed kicked in the stomach. So does realm magic betray us with its fluffy 'any effect within this range'?

I'm going to have to say that its very much gurps.  Realm magic still requires discrete, distinct effects. You still pay energy for those effects, and it still takes a distinct amount of time. In fact, RPM, which feels like a gurps-like system, is based in part on realm magic. Actually, the crunchiest part, the building of the cost of a ritual, is the part that takes the most from the rules for realm magic. Does it still sound wimpy and fluffy and narrative-based? It certainly earns its way back.

No, its not as developed as RPM. RPM is a worked example with the realms per-chosen, a lot of options toggled, and with a more robust pricing system, but it still has as one of two main roots realm magic. The great difference between RPM and proper realm magic using energy gathering is that you don't pay for the realms, but the skills are harder than you'd expect and quite difficult to raise. Which means that RPM is generally more finicky about balance than proper realm magic. So if you love RPM, at least go back, look at the realms, and see if it doesn't change the way you feel about one system or the other.

As for whether crunch means gurps, no it doesn't. Its not the powers system, but only one powers system really is, or two if you count sorcery seperate from magic as powers. And realms gives you all you need to build a much more complex system.

Techno Magic

When I first got Thaumatology, I was exploring gurps and I somehow got the feeling that the technomancer setting should use the standard magic system. Yes, I know, I maligned the poor system and tried to replace in in an area where it was literally the base of the setting. And I got my hands on realm magic.  Actually, I was pointed towards it by Faolyn on the GURPS Forum.

I had three types of realms:
Energy: Heat, Motion, Electromagnetism, Fuel, Mana, Life
Matter: Animal, Vegetable, Mineral, Metal, Synthetic, Elemental
Thought: Mind, Computer, Demon, Measurement, Meta-Magic

I forbade prediction of the future and creation, added magery ability that decreased distance costs, built some tables for converting between various forms of energy and the various difficulties of doing different things, and so forth. I ended up with the following costs:

magery (raw power): [5/level]
energy : [4/level]
matter : [4/level]
Intellect Magic: [3/level]
Measurement Magic: [3/level]
Meta Magic: [7.5/level]

I've used it in various places, and it feels modern, complex, and reasonably balanced. The thread where I did it is here, though I may do a proper write up in the future.

Just Winging It

Recently I saw a thread on how to stat up stone-age gods without everything getting too complicated. It was suggested to just use realm magic. My first thought was 'that sounds perfect'! The person actually running the game shied away from using it, but its still worth considering realm magic when building fast and loose characters.

I've never actually run or played a game where that happened. But it sounds like something that would work really well. The biggest problem is figuring out the right point cost for realms. You don't have time to figure out the entirety of the realm system, because you're winging it. Estimate the size of the realm, and then think about how forgiving the realm is. In some cases its helpful to think in terms of colleges from magic. Is the realm bigger than a college? how about 4 colleges? remember that colleges usually overlap. If the realm includes transmutations or effects that would be cross college, you may need to expand your estimate. When you have your estimate, divide 24 by that number and you have a number of realms to base the price on.

Did it Deliver?

We've looked at 4 different ways realm magic can be done. Were they simple? I would say they're simple enough. More to the point, they did things no other system let us do. Just as they give flexible effects, they also give a flexible set of parameters to work with. At the same time, they're at least as balanced as standard magic or RPM ... and probably more so. These aren't exactly the Gold standard for balance in gurps, but they are "good enough". And when you get down to the details, yes! this is gurps. Stats in real numbers, point costs, and oodles of customization.

So Why Don't People Use it More?

I would say simply because its in the least accessible part of a very dense (but awesome book). I did not pick up on realm magic the first time I read it. I was too excited about threshold magic, book/path magic, and ritual magic and too disinterested in noun-verb magic to really soak in this system. Which is really a gem. Its rules are worth getting to know, quite simple, and quite flexible. Most interestingly, its generic. The only system that comes as close in customization to it is the powers system.

Another reason it doesn't get used as much is because its a terrible source of inspiration: it needs an idea before it becomes useful. While it adapts well to source material, its poor source material itself. This is in contrast many of the per-existing flavor-rich systems gurps can offer. This is a feature -- because of this it can handle lot more source material, but be aware going in that you need to provide fluff and setting. 

So next time you need a magic system, ask your self if realm magic will work. You may be pleasantly surprised by the answer.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Monster Hunters: Between Man and Wolf

While the classic werewolf of legend is a man that turns into a wolf, there is another tradition: that of a monstrous creature that is neither a man nor a wolf, but the animalistic features of a wolf framed on hunched, powerful frame of what's mostly a man. This is a modern take, but no less of a legitimate one.  Monster Hunters provides us with  several animal templates, but not much in the way of wolf-men. Or rat-men. We technically have the feline template in basic, but lets do a proper monster Hunters template as well.

The most important thing to remember here is that the points should total up to 125. Its also worth noting that unlike a wolf, bear, or eagle, this creature is monstrous, and will be reacted to as such -- a wolf may draw calls to animal control, but a monster will generate even more extreme reactions.

Basic Man-Monster [125]
ST +2, DX +2, HT +2, Speed +.5, Teeth (sharp), Claws (sharp),  Night vision 5,  Damage Resistance 4 (tough skin), fur, Social Stigma (Monster), Ham-fisted, spoken language drops to accented, 32 point animal lens

were-men tend to have a lot of similarities: Teeth, claws, fur, and an animalistic fury. They're bodies are pretty much in a monster shape rather than an animal form, and the focus is really on building a monster, not an animal. The spoken language at accented reflects an appropriate animal voice, and while it doesn't drive people away (your looks already do that, and you can turn it off whenever they want) it can make it difficult to communicate with teammates.

Because we retain the human shape, a lot of the statistics are lower. But we keep fine manual dexterity, which means the character can use weapons and open doors freely. These types of monsters are made to use weapons, be they guns, blades, or something more exotic, and that can make these things terrifying. Night vision 5 is the higher than any of the natural animal templates. Once again, this is because this creature really isn't half-man half-animal, but a monster.

The remaining points spent on a combination of senses and movement abilities, flavored for the appropriate animal. While these abilities are only about a quarter of the point total, they keep the monster tied to its animal roots.

Animal Lenses [32]
Wolf-man: Acute hearing 3, Enhanced Move (ground) .5, Discriminatory Smell, Penetrating voice
Cat-man: Acute Smell 1 , Perfect Balance, Discriminatory Hearing
Rat-man: Discriminatory smell,  Perfect Balance, Night vision raised to 7

Other animals are quite possible, and should be appropriately themed. Smaller animals are particularly appropriate, as they can be made into a monster capable of making up for the animals natural small size.

More than one Template
Adding another template to a were is an additional 27 points. This is a big investment, but its also a very powerful one, giving a very different set of capabilities to the lycanthrope. The template taken should almost always be an intermediate or completed form of the creature. The lycanthrope should also specify which form is reverted to during the full moon.

As a Monster

ST 20       HP 20        Speed: 8.25
DX 15      Will  12     Move: 8
IQ 5          Per 13       Weight: 150-200
HT 16       FP 16        SM: 0

Dodge: 12    DR 6 (tough skin)

bite (15): 2d-2 cut, reach C, -1 to defense
claw (15): 2d-2 cut, reach C, -1 to defense
Improvised Club (14) 4d+1/2d+1 cr, reach 1

Its worth noting this sort of Lycanthrope is weaker than the classic forms -- unless it can get its hands on something. This monster is more dangerous in an urban or semi-urban enviroment than in the wilderness proper. Although the IQ is low, these monsters are quite willing to pick up an object and beat their foe with it.

This sort of were is most dangerous as the semi-rational or rational head of a larger pack -- one with multiple forms, and who has combined human and animal into a single monstrous form using the benefits of both. While all weres are more dangerous in this form, half-men get particularly more dangerous, as they are able to take full advantage of weapons.

 Last Howl

I hope you find this useful ... I certainly wished someone else had done this for me on occasion!

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

What is my TL anyways?

What's the TL on a full-auto crossbow?
First of all, ask yourself why you need to know the tech level. Tech level has a few pretty different purposes: setting starting wealth, letting players know what kind of tech to expect, and pricing people with a different tech level. If you don't need any of those, or can settle them without using the number, you don't need to figure out what the actual Tech Level is. Of course, you frequently need to do all three of those, and in that case Tech Levels provide a framework for you to work with.

Tech levels are a tool, not a limitation. If you find them getting in the way of what you want to do, you should either throw them completely out, or you should figure out why they aren't letting you do what you want to -- and that can help you to better understand your setting. I hope that this article can help you view and use Tech Levels as a tool and not a troublesome number you have to set.

What Tech is Important?

When looking at technology, there are lots of things that are good to look at, but it can be worrisome to wonder if you're looking at enough technology and if you've looked at too much. I use the following list when I'm comparing technology: you should probably know how each of these work.
  • Weapons and Armor
  • Transportation and Communication
  • Medicine
  • Survival Gear
  • Spy Gear
  • Economic Robustness
Each category represents something that adventurers use. There are certainly other categories of Technology, but they aren't as important to adventurers! If you're spending an extra amount of time on a category, be sure its interesting to the players.

Weapons and Armor: The ability to kill and stop killing. This is very important to most adventurers, and includes not only automatics and armor, but tanks and tactics. Consider law enforcement situations, military situations, and fights in the wilderness.
Transportation and Communication: This includes getting silk from china, sending messages from London to Baghdad, and the written word. Some adventurers spend an awful lot of time delivering messages, exploring far off places, and trying to read ancient tomes. Transportation and communication also go a long ways to setting a feel for a setting. Consider not only how the rich and powerful communicate, but also how the common man communicates, and both how grain gets to town and how silk crosses the world.
Medicine: Medicine isn't just about undoing weapons and armor, but also about combating plagues -- a necessary part of exploring foreign lands. A smaller category than most, its also the most likely to be more advanced than reality. Be sure to remember both injuries and illness.
Survival Gear: Artificial lights. Tents. Water skins. Scuba Gear. Winter Clothing. Food preservation. Adventurers are constantly going inconvenient places, and this gear keeps them alive. This type of gear is easy to forget, so be sure that you include it! Consider typical camping gear, winter gear, cave exploration, swimming in water, climbing cliffs, and other tasks that may come up while adventuring.
Spy Gear: Finding out things people don't want you to, and ways to stop that. Most of the obvious cases are high tech gear: hidden microphones, cryptography, and alarm system count. but don't forget locks, primitive ciphers, and signet rings. Telescopes and radar also count. This tech can be very important for adventurers!
Economic Robustness: This is about how rich a society is, and its certainly part of the tech level. Its about how hard it is to make something, and how rich the average man (and more importantly soldier) is. The things to watch are food, shelter, clothing, pottery, and tools. How long does it take to make one of them. It is very possible to spend too much time here, but its worth at least stopping in to check.

What Tech to Expect

The most important part of a tech level is setting player expectations. It can be frustrating for a player to think that something is available, only to have them realize it isn't. Even moreso when it happens again and again. The converse is no better: the NPC's constantly one-uping the heroes through superior understanding of their technology.

So for scifi, are we using this....
Most GM's have better things to do with their time than make lists of every single item of gear in a campaign. This is one of the places where the TL number becomes a tool: you can give the number and a set of expectations are made. Its a fantastic starting point, and for a lot of games, its sufficient.

But you probably didn't come here looking for advice on a run of the mill game. The TL number can still help. You give the TL number and then you modify it. In historical games this isn't too hard. You can also say things like "TL 4 without gunpowder". This is particuarly true for Ultra-tech games.
....or this?

And then you have crazy settings with a large amount of tech described in no other book. This includes settings like star wars (which doesn't seem to have all the tech we do), Magitech, and glowing Atlantean crystals. So what do we do here? Sit down with the list of categories and specify what's available and what's not. If you struggle with one, think about it for just a moment and then come up with something or be sure it won't come up. Economic Robustness... lines up pretty well with starting wealth. And we'll cover that in a lower section.

Pricing Primitives

This is at once the hardest and easiest part to do: +/-[5] points per tech level different from the campaign standard.  If the campaign standard is TL 8 and you are TL 7+1 -- don't pay anything, it all adds up to eight. Of course, this requires a number for you to compare to... kind of.

In some campaigns its possible to just wing a TL difference based on 'better tech'. This is particuarly applicable in space opera where a more advanced race is better only in terms of smaller gear that does more damage with better armor on faster ships, but is otherwise pretty much the same. This is almost never more than two TL's worth of advancements.  A tool, not a limitation.

Starting Wealth

Starting Wealth is an interesting concept. It controls how much gear a character has access to. Which is a big deal. Part of what makes DF use a 'fantasy TL' is the cost assumptions in the genre. Starting wealth is normally not a big deal: most of the time you know about what TL you are at and you can just use that number -- or tweak it to your taste. TL is a tool, and this is never truer than with starting wealth. Occasionally though, you need to know what the proper starting wealth for a character in a totally alien technology paradigm is. For that-- figure out the number, and then use the normal tools.

Coming Up With a Number for Magic Carpets and Zombie Farmers

Ok, now we need to come up with our number. This can feel nervewracking, but is actually not that hard to get right. The most important thing before you start is to know what the tech level you are trying to set is capable of. If you don't know that, you can't figure out the TL.

The trickiest part in all of this is often taking magic into account. When I say magic in this context, I don't mean 'anything that breaks the laws of physics'. I mean 'abilities restricted to a small portion of the population'. When working out what technology requiring specialized mages is like, ask yourself: "how does a middling merchant do it?" In the end, it all comes down to access: if merlin and al'Hazin use crystal balls to talk in london and baghdad, but everyone else uses couriers with a long a dangerous journey, you don't have instant communication. On the other hand, if a middling merchant can find a local witch to bridge the distance with her own crystal ball, you should count the technology.

Pick a TL you think your own compares to (I suspect 6 or 7 is best for you), and compare each of the technological categories of the historical TL to the TL you choose. If one aspect is lots better in one setting (often communication or medicine) that's fine, but if one setting routinely outclasses the other, move the 'equivalent TL guess' up or down and compare again. Don't worry about this being exact. If you can't decide if a setting is better or worse than another in a given aspect, just declare them equal and move on.

You can certainly compare the TL's yourself and by ear, but I have a list. Its nothing new, but it puts the technologies into categories so that its  easy to compare and so all the information is in one place. Once you have the list and know what the TL can do, matching them up is fairly simple.

when the balances are even, you have your TL equivalent! This doesn't mean you have that TL, only that your TL is 'about as good' as that TL. If it seems like a lot of stuff seems to fall between TL 5 and TL 6 --- that's not a coincidence. The industrial revolution saw huge changes in what mankind could do. In some cases one technological area will be more advanced. While this doesn't matter on the small scale, it can be worth it to say that a setting is TL6, but TL7 in weapons technology. Use this sparingly though -- once you have a split tech, everything is fairly fuzzy. Slight advances (or primitive fields) work best when fairly close to a core TL -- or if they are close to a TL that exists elsewhere in the setting.

Making the Number Look Fancy

 The numeric equivalent is good for most purposes, but a lot of people will want to go even further and come up with one of those fancy TL3+2^ names for their TL. We can do that too.

Once you have your TL equivalent, figure out the last standard TL where most of the technologies exist. For example, If you don't have coal power you probably don't have TL 5, but you might have TL 4 -- particularly if you do have gun powder and clockwork. This tends to be easier than the first comparison, but once again, don't get stuck over thinking it.

Now take the two numbers and build the TL X+Y. So if the first number was 7 and the second number was 4, you have TL 4 +3 (=7). And if you have supernatural aspects add a ^ to the end of the whole thing.

The ^ is kind of a funny thing. It represents breaks from the laws of reality as we know them. If it is put on a TL without a '+', as in TL7^, it means that you have TL 7 plus some extra things, be that broadcast power or   psionic mind reading tech. The ^ will always indicate raised technology. But if you've got a TL X+Y^, the ^ doesn't indicate addition, just that the alternate tech isn't of the normal variety. In some ways its redundant, but its always good to have, because it tells the players to beware of tech.

Don't be Discouraged

Remember, this is a game. Its supposed to be fun! If you don't think figuring out your TL is fun, or doable, just use TL 5. Actually, use the alternative number than popped into your head when I suggested using what's obviously the wrong TL. But if you really like this sort of stuff (like I do), then read over the article and start thinking beyond flintstones level technology. Think up alternate ways of running a civilization, and set your players loose in the results -- assured that you can give this place a number.

Friday, August 5, 2016

The Hawfax (Species)

The Hawfax are a six legged arboreal species with a stiff covering closer to feathers than hair, large, forward facing eyes, a prehensile tail, and four toothed tongues in an otherwise jawless mouth. They are about suited for life in the trees as a human is suited for life on the ground: most wild animals can outperform them. They have remarkably strong grips. The entire creature is the length of a man's arm, not including the prehensile tail, and they weigh 40-60 lbs.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

The Refuges: Stornuso (stars in an ocean)

Miruso paddled his kayak through the ice in darkness. The last great star, Friend, had dimmed and then disapeared. The sound of the waves and his paddle in the open ocean were a strong contrast to the darkness of the long night around him. He pulled his fur parka tight -- this was a long trip, and there was no need to waste his heat reserves. He shifted his weight to balance his supplies -- mostly fishing equipment and dried fish.

Off in the distance, Miruso saw a twinkle of light on the water. The familiar light of another traveler! He strengthened the light coming from the skin of his face, hoping that the other traveler would see the increased glow and they could meet up. 

welcome to Stornuso, a dark world of water, ice, fire, and stars.  Its one of the Refuges: one world among many. Its designed for a specific setting, but the geography, cultures, magic and other aspects are free to be used where seen fit.

The World

 Stornuso is a cold world covered almost entirely by water, sheet ice, and iceburgs, and dominated by long periods of darkness. The sky is always black, lacking a proper sun, but studded with a variety of stars that wax and wane in their places. Sometimes they are bright enough to see by, but at other times they are as dark as any night. As the sky is studded with stars, the ocean is studded with volcanic islands. These flare up periodically, belching out light, smoke, and most particularly heat. A hardy folk with their own strange breed of magic ply the seas between islands, following the marine life and the heat.

Human life on Stornuso is made possible by phage magic -- the magic of storing energy for later. Phage magic focuses on Light, Heat, and Motion. The magic always happens at the skin. Light can be absorbed by the skin and released at a later time. Stornusoan mages can slow down ice burgs if only they can stand to touch them with their fingertips ... and later propel their boats with that same power. 

Monday, July 25, 2016

On Making Immortal Characters Seem Old

I was perusing Mailanka's Musings , trying to find something, and run across an interesting (and old) article. It was specifically about vampires being really old, and how we often just throw out the numbers without really thinking about it. And it got me thinking about how you would make a seriously old character feel real without too much effort. And it occurred to me to use some random NPC generating tools multiple times, and then to stack them all together.

The Basic Example

I'm using Collaborative Gamer's tables for making memorable NPC's. I'm not actually going to roll all of the entries. Each iteration will use a role in society, an interesting fact, and a hope/fear.  Just three items, but we'll see what they suggest.  for the first trial we'll just use four-- and leave his modern situation open.
  • Religion- Highly social: knows everyone, - Hope/Fear:The Past
  • Underworld - Surprisingly open-minded - Hope/Fear:The Past
  • Nobility - Weighs things carefully before deciding -  Hope/Fear:Love
  • Travler/Tansit - Richer than they seem - Hope/Fear:Sex
Ok, this is only four lives, but we already have a lot going on.  I originally got 'Knows you by reputation' for the last category, but that seemed to specific to PC's, and so rerolled it. A few more details are really needed here: how does this immortality work? a vampire will color these arcs differently than an elf, a highlander, or a wizard. We also could use a lot of detail about the history of the world, to give us a backdrop, and its good to know about how long each phases should last. For this first test, lets use a vampire who goes through phases every 20 years or so, and use the modern world. We're ending in 2016, so we start in 1936. 

in 1936, our Vampire (lets name him Victor) was a priest or preacher of some sort. He knew everyone around, but even then he worried about his past. We have our first sticky situation: Vampires and religion don't mix. As in the vampires can't stick around it. Does this mean he was turned later in life? Or does it mean he fullfilled some dark religious function for the local supernatural community. Or that he tried to hide himself in plain site in his position and found a work around for the religious issue? All of these work, but I'm going to go with the turned later in life option. He was a prominent preacher in the depression who knew everyone. But he had secrets, and a past. I'm not going to do much with that. Perhaps he had no great desires at this point: starting him off as a fairly satisfied preacher has appeal in light of who he will become.

In 1956, he's somehow turned to a life a crime: presumably he was turned into a vampire during that time. His wife, children, and congregation are behind him. They know something happened to him, and being a former preacher isn't going to get him a lot of respect among his own kind. Perhaps he's even wanted for murder. He's trying to find a new life, skulking in the shadows of St. Louis and other cities, just trying to start a new life. His friends are other vampires and scum of the earth. He is exploring lots of options though, and is willing to try new things ... comes of turning a man of the cloth into a creature of darkness.

When we see Victor in the 70's,  He's nobility -- which is another way of saying he's rich. He was underworld last time we saw him, so he's probably a crime lord of some sort, probably minor. He's a cautious sort, seemingly having learned wisdom. He seems to have entered an existential phase: he's looking for love. He has everything a vampire could get, at least in small scale, but wants more. His wife is old and decrepit, his kids have moved on from what their father was, and in his home town he's just a ghost story now. His street acquaintances are either dead, moved on, or part of his new empire.

In the 96, we find him traveling around sating his lusts. He presumably didn't find the love he sought, indicating a sad story. He's liquefied his wealth, and his old crime buddies don't know where he is, just that he 'retired'. He is a simple creature, but no less dangerous than before.

And then we have the modern day. Victor won't be a traveling menace anymore, just as he wasn't a crime lord in 96. We do have a history for him though. It gives us a simple idea of who he was. It also lets us know what he can and can't do. He has a decent spread of skills, but not an absolutely massive one. He actually hasn't lived that long of a life, as vampires go.

How Big a Gap

This is a very important question when rolling up an immortal: how static are they? How long do they go between phases? An elf that hangs around other immortals could have much longer phases than the result of a curse in a land with few other people. How stable the character is is really a matter of taste and situation. In fact, you don't even have to make them all the same size. You could say that the wizard of the red tower had a phase where he ran the barony for 4 years and afterwards spent 66 years researching mind control.

Of course, when playing with the length remember than everyone else is turning over every 20 years. The red mage may have spent 66 years poring over musty books, but in that time his lands didn't stay static, and his stewards probably changed three or four times, each with a different opinion of their master. walk through the 20 year chunks, even when they're part of a single phase.

Tricks and Troubles

No random table will be perfect for this -- not even the ones I just used. Feel free to tweak the tables, and reroll results that make no sense at all. Don't shy away from rethinking what a given response means. And don't take too long getting things perfect: this is a NPC generation process, after all.


I don't think this gives perfect results by any means. But it does give decent results, and for a truly deep NPC, its worth the effort.  I hope you find this useful for your games, and that it inspires you to use an immortal in your game sometime.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Magic As Technology

I'm quite fond of the 'Magic as Technology' paradigm. But Why? today I examine why I love this paradigm so much, and what its strengths are.

Magic as technology takes the focus off of character points and places it on the character. When I introduce magic as technology, I don't have people asking "If I take a  rules exemption perk can I take ritual adept (connection) anyways?". Instead they say "can I have this cool device that your description made me think of that isn't in the setting but totally should be?" But shouldn't the focus be on the characters and how cool they are? Yes, the GM's focus should be on the characters. Conversely, the player's focus should be on the plot and on the setting (and on the other players). Everyone should work together, and I love how magic as technology helps focus the players on the setting even before the game starts.

I love how magic as technology simplifies point concerns. In campaigns that use supernatural powers, balancing who has how much of each power and how that's effected by guns being around can be a huge headache. You pay for the skill to use the magic, and that's that.  It also pushes players towards having at least a little skill in magic.

Speaking of point values, I also like settings where everyone or most everyone has access to magic. I world build in part for the sake of world building, and alternate technologies fascinate me. What happens if flying ships as heavy as land ships show up at TL 6? What if mind control is something you just pay for? Exploring these questions become easier when you present the supernatural as technology, rather than as something that might change with every character.

Magic as technology does have a few conditions for it to work well.It needs to be universally or near universally available. Magic as technology is only balanced when everyone has access to it. That isn't to say no-one can be excluded, rather that they are the exception rather than the rule. In the refuges setting many characters will have access only one flavor of magical technology, with a mixed group being possible (and indeed likely). Magic as technology also struggles with 'open-ended' magic systems -- magic that does 'everything'. Probably because of the first rule: if anyone can do anything you get very unwieldy settings.

I love magic as technology. I use other paradigms as well, but I feel this approach is underappreciated. I hope you find place to use it.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Invasion of the Hawfax: The Jungle War

It seems that every nation is born in fire and blood. This was never more true than at the end of the 19th century, when the Hawfax arrived in the amazon. The fighting was savage and showed many of the Hawfax weaknesses -- it also showed many of their strengths and just how badly humanity was outgunned.

The Combatants

 The Hawfax brought few guns with them -- they considered themselves an enlightened people with no need for more than cursory violence. When they arrived on earth, building up a military that could face humans became a necessity. A necessity that all Hawfax regretted and many Hawfax denied. At the start of the war the Hawfax had very few troops, and those that they had were mostly glorified policemen.

 The Jungle war was fought fairly informally-- no nation officially sent troops to the amazon, and even the government of Brazil dragged its feet on actually doing anything to hinder one side or the other. The human forces were a ragtag coalition of opportunists. The derivation was mostly from Brazil, the United States, Latin America, and Europe. The attackers were rounded up only after the Hawfax had demonstrated clear military superiority, at which point official opinion came down severely.

The attackers were poorly organized, and their were really two separate forces. Raul Carvalho led a force of mostly local men speaking Portuguese and Spanish. Most of them had immediate grievances against the Hawfax, mainly the end of the rubber-trade. Sam Cade lead a mostly foreign band of adventures and mercenaries, who largely spoke english, but many languages could be found throughout his men. They sought to take back the earth from the aliens and demons that had arrived to conquer mankind.  There was a fair amount of military experience in Cade's army, but it was poorly distributed. Of course, no Hawfax had seen previous military action.


The Hawfax mostly fought the war under equipped -- the typical fighter was designed for law enforcement rather than large scale action. Their weapons were largely made of plastics, and had a strong tendency to jam and break after a few hundred shots. Of particularly shoddy quality were the large number of guns printed after the emergency started. Hawfax body armor was also largely ineffective against the large slugs human forces favored, and their own bullets tended to merely injure human combatants.

The Hawfax's greatest equipment advantage was their radios and their sensors. Throughout the war, the Hawfax remained aware of the movements of the enemy forces through a combination of cheap cameras, night vision technology, and ubiquitous radio. Another prominent advantage was the medical advantage: disease stalked many of the men who'd come to fight the Hawfax, including infection, while the Hawfax were able to essentially ignore both wound infection and local illness. Its estimated that a over 70% of the humans who died in the war did so from infection well after they'd been shot.

The hawfax relied on rails to travel throughout their settlement, which were easily cut. Their more independent means of travel-- ATV's, helicopters, and boats, were quite vulnerable to human fire arms. Troops moved largely on foot throughout the conflict.

Both Cade's and Carvalho's armies were armed with a variety of bolt action riffles, shotguns, and pistols. Almost as an effective as a weapon were saws, which were essential in any attempt to deal with high roosting foes. Some soldiers but not many brought armor. notably lacking was artillery and there were very few machine guns. Hand to hand combat heavily favors humans -- a simple blow can seriously injure a hawfax.

The nature of the combatants is another place of strong contrast. The invader's forces are made of men comfortable with violence who have come a long way from home in search of fame and fortune. The Hawfax have a small group of professional men and the remainder of their population is deeply uncomfortable with the concept of violence.


Hawfax strategists dreamed of the effect that radio, automatic fire, and superior sensors would have on human forces. Before the war the hawfax felt that as long as they were in a group, they were largely impervious to human attacks. They had an especially dovish set of politics and the military they had was viewed unfavorably as peacekeepers and a possible threat to their own security. This will make it difficult for the military to do things like beef up security or abandon unfeasible positions until they have been defeated at least once.

After the conflict starts the hawfax will rapidly start equipping their populace, which is uniquely unsuited for combat. Even after public opinion silences the doves, individuals often will refuse conscription for ethical reasons, or freeze in the face of combat. Their will also be widespread resistance to things like forced relocations, curfews, or using gas against the enemy (not that they have produced any such weapons or even know the best chemicals for use on humans).

Governor Pires Ferreira of the state of Amazonas had minimal troops and while he is on good terms with the hawfax, finds himself reduced to a figure head against the forces moving in his own state. The military will refuse to act until the battles were decided, at which point they will support the winner.

This conflict was unusual in that not only telegraph updates but footage was sent back to the capitals of the world in virtually real time. The hawfax pressed the governments to condemn the actions, but official leaders largely followed the lead of Governor Ferreira in being cautious and timid until they knew how the conflict would end. Some of the democratic nations at least had the excuse that the situation put their militaries and legislatures into bickering upheavals, and that it was clear from the start the action would be over quickly. A strong exception to this was Bolivia, Peru, and Chile, who were very vocal in their condemnation of the attacks, and particularly in blaming Brazil.


When playing out the jungle war, time lines are of necessity fragile things. The PC's ideally should be able to change the execution of the war through clever ideas, convincing authority figures, and general heroics. That said, certain battles are quite likely to happen, and to happen in a general order. A GM can use these as marker posts in the conflict, and change the timing and results in accordance with PC actions.

The Capture of Landing

The first battle of the war will be an assault on the city of landing. Either Cade or Carvalho can make the assault, or they can make it together. Landing is built to human scale, allowing human infantry to rush freely through its streets. This battle is a fairly open battle, with humans on big barges on the river, and the Hawfax making full use of helicopters, boats, and other vehicles-- vehicles likely to go down on their first shot. Guided Rockets may be used by the Hawfax against people in the barges, but they aren't likely to have enough ammo to have a large enough effect. The barge walls will provide a good deal of protection against hawfax bullets until the invaders are close enough to charge. Only the core of the Hawfax miltary will be here, and without large changes in the setup, the battle will end with the humans charging and over-running the place.

The Capture of Landing is costly for the hawfax, and perhaps the best way to minimize causulties is to abandon it later on. 

The Siege of Hawfax

Unless the hawfax are spurred to action before the initial assault or some clever PC intervenes, human forces will quickly make it to the park region. Or rather, the base of the park region -- the charges that carry humans this far will not help them to get into the heights of the capital. At this point things turn into a siege of a sort. The humans will start cutting down trees they think Hawfax might be in, while trying to keep a look out for Hawfax counterattacks (particularly at night).

Chopping the trees will in fact cause a lot of damage to the hawfax infrastructure, and the amount of damage in this period is highly variable. A well prepared attack will have lots of saws, lots of electric lights and the generators to run them, and have the men construct shelters that will stop hawfax bullets and dropped objects. A poorly prepared attack will lack all three of these things, greatly reducing the amount of damage done during the day and giving the hawfax a large advantage at night. Also key is which trees get chopped down. Some areas are much more important than others, and if the loggers can identify which trees are most important, they will do an order of magnitude more damage.

Large portions of the area under the main areas of attack will be evacuated by the hawfax. While not many will die, there will be a large loss of property. This time is probably dominated by quickly printing large number of weapons and trying to teach its citizenry how to fight.

The attackers will certainly light fires to attempt to burn down the forest. While this is a valid tactic, the hawfax are actually much better prepared to fight fires than people. How well fire will work is in large part based on what time of year its is (September is driest, January the wettest). Wild fires in the jungle work best in the undergrowth of the canopy -- the exact place that the hawfax occupy (and defend). Rain is quite likely to interrupt this: it rains 70% of days in January and 15% of days in July. Still, a GM wishing to turn the battle one way can easily tinker with the weather to give one side or the other an advantage.

The Victory of Night

At certain point, enough of the Hawfax citizenry will be equipped with night vision and firearms to launch a counter attack large enough to overwhelm the remaining human forces. This is entirely reliant on rapidly creating large numbers of weapons.

As its name suggests, the victory of the night will turn out in favor of the hawfax. The question is just how one sided the battle is. Many things can increase Hawfax causalities. Not having enough of the hawfax armed when the battle starts will result in more damage. Choosing the wrong hawfax as  soldiers and poor organization can also have detrimental results: conscripts will freeze in combat, disregard orders, attack mindlessly, and other costly behaviors if not properly chosen, trained, and lead. A large scale engagement between the two forces will also be deadly (to both sides). Most of the options that save lives take time though, and all the while the humans are sawing away at the foundations of the city.

One of the biggest factors in this stage of the war is how the attacking humans leave. Do the Hawfax capture them in a surrender? Do they shoot them all where they stand? Do the attackers leave as a group? Do they scatter into the jungle? These options are important, not in the least to the attackers themselves, but also in terms of public relations and cleanup after the war.

Campaigns in the Jungle War

The Jungle war is a great time and place to set a campaign. Almost everyone was caught unprepared, and its a great place for heroes to shine. The classic  miscalculations of PC's and GM's working with new equipment in a new setting is appropriate and 'in-genre'.

Care should be taken in choosing from what angle the players approach the war-- play is very different depending on where the players stand. A foot soldier's campaign is in many ways about survival. Playing humans attackers may not be the most tasteful to all groups, but it is certainly among the most challenging scenarios, while hawfax soldiers are well equipped forces with an interesting resource set who start out outnumbered and in large part outgunned. However, as with most military games, the PC's probably are most effective and most gameable on the outskirts of the action. The classic campaign is human observers (with perhaps an friendly hawfax or two) trying to stop the attacks, by political wrangling, sabotage, and any other tactic the PC's can come up with.  They can also be voices of warning in the hawfax community, trying to mobilize the reluctant population for war, and coming up with strategies for winning quickly.

The Jungle war can also serve as background for other campaigns -- it was a defining moment for all involved, which include most if not all of the Hawfax. Vigorously anti-human demagogues will bring up the incident again and again. Military leaders study it extensively. Characters may have fought in the war on either side, giving them history (and in the case of the hawfax, badly needed combat skills).

GM's wishing for a very different game can set their adventures in a world where the hawfax lost the jungle war -- likely due to key buildings being targeted, a dry season letting a forest fire burn the whole thing down, or a nuclear reactor going critical. The hawfax would then be scattered throughout the forest without much infrastructure. The old ruins would make a fitting set for a pulpish plot.

More on the hawfax is coming! I hope you enjoy what you've seen so far!

Friday, May 6, 2016

On Sea Monsters

What is a sea monster? Why is it so horrible? and how do I avoid just letting my players hack it to death?

There are three notable features of a sea monster. First, its aquatic nature. Second, its predatory savagery. Third, its immense girth. For some reason tales of sea monster result in totally massive creatures more often than purely land based tales.

On Bulk

So just how big is it? This is one of the biggest questions when making your sea monster. A great place to start out is "how big is the boat?" Sea monsters are rarely compared to the size of a person: they are compared to the size of the boat. Some sea monsters will attack the people on a vessel much larger (but those tend to be fish people and tangential to our real topic), and sometimes you throw a monster against the ship that's much smaller than it, but as a general rule, the boat and the monster should be evenly matched in size. This is especially true of monsters you want to drag the ship down.

One of the monsters shown is an appropriate encounter. The others? Not so much
Gurps suggests adding HP and ST in accordance with the cube of weight. This is the scientificly correct way to do things, due to something called the square cube law. Of course, most giant monsters are flagrant offenders of the square cube law, and so I (and many others) suggest raising ST with the cube for most giant monsters. A third option is to use the damage from Cubic Strength and the HP from Square ST: this will give monsters that require lots of hacking away at but don't kill ships with a single blow.

The table below matches stats to sizes, with three entries for each SM. Note that individual monsters are likely to vary from the numbers given. Not that it really matters if a ST 120 monster hits your boat or a ST 125. The examples given to the side are conservative weights: Record holders, Boasting Anglers, and Film directors usually move the creature up a level or two, when they don't create another creature that looks like the original but is much bigger.

WeightSMShort LengthLong LengthCube STSquare ST
100 lbs01.5m2.1mST 90d+2ST 8.50d+1
150 lbs01.7m2.4mST 100d+2ST 100d+2
200 lbs01.8m2.7mST 111d+-1ST 121d+-1
300 lbs12.1m3.1mST 131d+0ST 151d+1
500 lbs12.5m3.7mST 151d+1ST 192d+-1
700 lbs12.8m4.1mST 171d+2ST 222d+0
1000 lbs23.1m4.6mST 192d+-1ST 273d+-1Big Bottlenose
1500 lbs23.6m5.3mST 222d+0ST 333d+2
1 tons24m5.8mST 242d+1ST 384d+0Record Squid
1.5 tons34.5m6.6mST 283d+-1ST 475d+1
2 tons35m7.3mST 313d+1ST 546d+0Great White
3 tons35.7m8.4mST 354d+-1ST 667d+2Orca
5 tons46.8m9.9mST 424d+2ST 859d+2Mausosaur
7 tons47.6m11mST 475d+1ST 10011d+0
10 tons48.6m12mST 536d+0ST 12013d+0
15 tons59.8m14mST 607d-1ST 15016d+0
20 tons511m16mST 677d+2ST 17018d+0
30 tons512m18mST 768d+2ST 21022d+0Humpback
50 tons615m21mST 9010d+0ST 27028d+0Moby Dick
70 tons616m24mST 10011d+0ST 32033d+0Megaladon
100 tons618m27mST 11012d+0ST 38039d+0
150 tons721m31mST 13014d+0ST 47048d+0Blue Whale
200 tons723m34mST 14015d+0ST 54055d+0
300 tons727m39mST 16017d+0ST 66067d+0Kraken
500 tons831m46mST 19020d+0ST 85086d+0
700 tons835m51mST 22023d+0ST 1000101d+0
1000 tons840m58mST 24025d+0ST 1200121d+0
1500 tons945m66mST 28029d+0ST 1500151d+0
2000 tons950m73mST 31032d+0ST 1700171d+0
3000 tons957m84mST 35036d+0ST 2100211d+0
5000 tons1068m99mST 42043d+0ST 2700271d+0
7000 tons1076m110mST 47048d+0ST 3200321d+0

Bulk is a defense in and of itself. Even if a creature has no natural armor, large animals can take a lot of damage by the simple fact that their vital organs are deep within them. Even an animal without natural armor should have DR at 1/10th of its HP. Additionally, targeting the vitals of such a creature is not trivial. Those wishing to target the heart, brain, or kidneys will need either a lot of penetration from their missile or a  sufficiently ridiculous stick to put a blade on. Adding another DR at 1/10th to attacks vs the vitals is appropriate.

On Aquatics

 One of the trickiest difficulties of a sea monster is that its in the water and you're stuck on a boat -- if you're lucky. Being alone in the water is even worse, unless you have some powerful technology or magic to back you up. Don't let the characters attack the monster whenever they feel like it, and most attacks can't be blocked or parried.

Sea monsters are generally more maneuverable than ships. They may also be faster, but that's true less often -- though you may have to run with the wind to outrun the thing. Most of the time, you don't go to the sea monster: the sea monster comes to you.

The water often forms an additional barrier against injuring the creature. The diffraction in the water gives a -4 to hitting something across the water barrier. Not a problem if you're a aiming for the main body, but if you're aiming for a place that you can actually hurt the thing, like an eye, it can be tricky element to add. And if launch the weapon in the water itself your arm will be impeded! Ranged weapons have greatly reduced ranges, and firearm projectiles will actually bounce off of water.

nothing visible underwater
Of course, That's once you spot the thing. The water forms a reflective barrier that makes it near impossible to see things far away. The angle is important.. you actually have a chance to see things coming up from under you -- but the distance is very reduced. Most of the time, you have to rely on spotting momentary surfacing  (which is usually not complete) or bubbles coming up from a surface creature. Fortunately, most of the time you just want the monster to go a way, and a lot are pretty obliging about displaying before they attack or coming to you to latch strait onto your ship. But exceptions do exist, particularly among leviathans, and a smart monster can use hit and run to great effect.

If you're serious about running a fight in the water, gurps pyramid 26 -underwater adventures, contains the rules for underwater fights.

On Being Monstrous

There are a number of shapes that show up in sea monster lore again and again.  The serpent, the kraken, and the leviathan (ie, really big fish shaped creature). There is a curious dearth of arthropods, probably because arthropods aren't open water creatures and don't get as big as the others.

Sea Serpents tend to be smaller than the ship. They also tend to either have main bodies impervious to most hand weapons, or to display only their head during an attack. 

One signature mark of the sea serpent is the head. Unlike the other two classic forms, The serpent can stick his ugly head up on board the ship and look you in the eye before he eats you. The head of a serpent moves across the deck of the ship monstrously fast -- it should have enough reach that it can strike most of the crew with them striking it. Attacking the serpents head requires ranged weapons, a sufficiently long stick, or acrobatics in the rigging.

The other signature of the sea serpent are its coils. In fiction, sea serpents are always coiling around the ships they attack. Their goal may be to crush the ship, it may be to drag it under, or it may be to just get a firm grip on the thing its attacking (which would actually a tactically sound idea if it was dealing with a leviathan).

The Kraken is a squid shaped monster. That is to say, it has lots of arms. It is common for fiction to not even bother giving a proper count on the arms. Battles with Krakens on the big screen often depict a lot of tentacle chopping. Realistically, this will end the battle pretty quickly -- unless you have the kraken with the improper arm count or a cinematic kraken. Of course, its usually only heroes who can cut through a tentacle. Be sure you know a kraken's goals -- If its trying to just grab the crew for a quick snack, it can be terrifying as it sweeps around tentacles, grabs three or four of them, and then disappears into the deep. Of course, Krakens in fiction usually try to sink the ship, presumably because they want to eat it.

The leviathan is at once the tamest and the trickiest of the forms. Its the truest to life, as evidenced by classics like Moby Dick (Ok, Jaws can also be considered a leviathan). A battle with a leviathan is a very impersonal thing. There is no eye contact, and the leviathan makes good use of the protection of the sea -- most attacks can be made without leaving the water. Of course, Leviathans don't usually float right under the boat and chew until their is a hole: Leviathan combat is about movement. They charge their targets, and its not uncommon for them to launch themselves right out of the air after an attack.

And sometimes the craziest monsters combine multiple forms. Such is fiction, nightmares, and crazy GMs. When I was a kid I gave a serpent a tentacled end, a shark head, and crab claws. When you do this, step back, and ask yourself what the thing is going to behave like. In retrospect, the thing acted much like a serpent -- a personal, face to face conflict based on picking off specific crew. So when you run into something really crazy, just ask yourself what it acts like. And its entirely possible for that kind of crazy monster to act like different monsters at different times.

There is actually a fourth archetype that may play into some sea monsters: the Dragon. which deserves its own article (and got its own book). In some ways, its an extension of the personal and armored serpent, but in other ways, its an extension of a land dwelling monster to the ocean. A similar thing can be said about the giant crab -- essentially a land monster in an aquatic environment.

Facing Down a Ship

A sea monster attacking a ship generally has one of three goals:
  • It wants to eat the ship
  • It wants to drive the ship out of its territory
  • It wants to eat the people
These motivations effect the way the monster fights.

It also important to remember that most monsters are dumb brutes that don't realize the advantages they have. The smart ones generally only have a few tricks that make them one step above animalistic, and don't tend to come up with new tricks. Of course, truly intelligent monsters are possible. Just don't be surprised when they become much tougher to defeat. 

Dragging it down:

So often in fiction, the goal of the monster appears to drag the ship down into the water with it. Ships are remarkably buoyant, up until the point where they start taking water on the inside. It takes a great deal of strength to drag the ship all the way down, but merely tipping the ship over can be just as bad. Of course, most boats are built to intentionally be difficult to capsize. In most cases, the crew can do little to help the ship beyond clever tricks to give small penalties to the contest (likely -2 at the most), and fighting off the monster.

To drag down a ship, a monster needs a way to grasp it -- so serpents and krakens tend to do this the most. The point at which the monster grips the ship is important, as that's where the heroes need to focus their attack.

Ships are remarkably buoyant and stable -- those are pretty much the qualities they are designed for. They also won't fight back being tipped over with more than brute force -- which means you need a reasonable way to roll strength. B349 has rules on how to adjust the scores. You can resolves a monster trying to tip over or pull down a ship however you want, but remember the following:
  • Treating it as a grapple where sinking is a take-down takes a mere 1 second
  • Treating it as a grapple where tipping or pulling down is a pin will still be over within 10 seconds.
  • Ships are big. Even a monster capable of simply pulling it down will need time to move the ship the requisite distance.
  •  Attempting to pull a ship down is a great way to cause it damage. 
  • Attempting to pull down a ship may result in inadvertent tipping. 
  • The time to capsize is effectively a time bomb for your players -- it forces them to confront and defeat the monster quickly. Time the capsize accordingly
This is completely made up, but the following should be playable.
  • Find the effective strengths of the ship and the monster. 
  • Each round roll a contest of strength.
  • Each margin of success by the monster sinks/tips the ship by 5%.
  • If the ship is being pulled down, it returns to its place at a rate of 10% per margin of success. Its also appropriate to add the ships stability to this roll -- and to tip the ship if the stability bonus gives the ship the victory. Don't add the two numbers together -- track them seperately
  • Once 100% is reached, a tipped ship is on its side, and starts taking on water. It takes 5 minutes of work and a successful shiphandling roll at -4 (this may be a good place for a technique) to right the ship. The monster may attempt to just keep rolling the ship, which doesn't really change its
  • Once 100% is reached on a ship being pulled down, the ship starts taking on water. It keeps on resisting the monster's pull, though as water fills the ship, it will resist less and less. 

Is this a tip or a pull under?
The rate at which water enters the ship is highly dependent on the design of the ship -- the GM should decide on a rate.This method can and should be modified when need be -- changing the rates at which the contests of strength happen and 'percent capsized' can slow, speed up, or make more swingy the rate at which the boat goes down. Smaller boats should tip or pull down faster than large ones.

Sometimes a Leviathan will attempt to capsize a vessel (classically a smaller boat). This is not an attempt to drag down or tip the ship via grappling rules. The leviathan needs either a large ST advantage or persistence and a clever mind to pull this off. Model a single attempt like a fluke sending a wave or bumping the ship with the head as a take down attempt using half the ST score. A more involved attempt like amplifying the rocking motion of the boat takes longer (probably 20 seconds), but may be able to use the full ST score at the GM's option. Unlike a physical grapple, these actions DO give the crew a chance to react and fight back, but they will need to be aware of what's going on and ready to counter it to avoid massive (-4?) penalties to their rolls.

Breaking the Ship:

Leaks can happen through punching through the hull, but they can also happen due to internal stress. And sea monsters don't generally punch small holes in the ship: they squeeze it, ram it, or otherwise attack the grand structure. Monsters generally don't bite ships -- boats they might, but not ships. 

Despite the cannon ball problem  and the fact I often have problems with how slam and constricting damage work, this is probably one time when the rules on those three topics come out nicely. Alternatively, have the ship make HT rolls after each slam or 5 seconds of constriction or take an appropriate amount (10 percent?) of damage. Its worth noting that most underwater ramming attacks will take place with fairly long intervals as the creature rams, pulls away, and then builds up speed again. Impact velocity for leviathans is generally between moves 10 and 15. Additional DR should be given to a creature that intentionally rams, and especially one thats designed to do so (Orcas come to mind).

Using Sea Monsters

The sea monster fight is interesting because its almost obligatory to throw in once and boring to do it twice. Voyage of the Dawn Treader -- many monsters, only one serpent. 20 Thousand Leagues Under the Sea -- one giant squid. Dreamwork's Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas. Several different monsters, but only one counts as a sea monster as treated in this work. In Odysseus, we have two sea monsters-- who show up at the exact same time. Order of the Stick talks about fighting every aquatic monster in the book (literally, as befits order of the stick), but so far only ever shows one fight with a big aquatic monster (a summoned giant squid). There is a lot of precedence for fighting a giant monster once and only once. And if the campaign (or campaign leg) consists of nothing but fighting massive aquatic beasts, you run the risk of being boring.

Unless! your characters go into the game knowing that sea monsters are main foe and specialize as hunters of them. A crew of larger than life whalers hunting down killers that ravage shipping lanes, or  hunters of exotic creatures. This is because sea monsters by nature don't bring a lot of plot with them. They show up, terrorize a ship, and then go away. Additionally, it takes an odd set of skills to fight a monster correctly and most characters won't have that set.

But lots and lots of campaigns can use sea monsters as an added element. I hope this article gives you lots of ideas of what to add and how to handle the fight.