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.