Saturday, 31 July 2010

One-on-One Combats, and getting spectators involved

Today I got to thinking about having battles (in D&D, but the same general principles should apply to other games) between two PCs, or a single PC and a single bad guy, while the rest of the party look on.

Such things are really boring. I've seen a few myself, and they've never really been satisfying. Where a multi-person combat gets all the players involved, and means that teamwork is an important and fun part of the fight, duels tend to be lacking in such elements, and tactics tend to go out on the window in favour of "let's see who can roll higher".

My thoughts on solutions for the lack of tactics/prevalence of "who can roll higher?":

  • Everybody has to move at least one square (or whatever) every round, and the terrain on which the duel takes place should be at the very least, varied in elevation, if not studded with things that can be used for cover. Sword fights in movies are never static
  • Raising the stakes should be used.
And now getting the other players involved:

Each player, at the start of every turn, gets to assign a small bonus to his favoured fighter. If you like an in-game explanation for this, it could represent cheering him on. Pick one of the following:
  • +1 damage on all attacks
  • +2 AC
  • +3 temporary HP
Obviously, this works best if either the non-combatant PCs are divided in their allegiance, or they're all cheering on a single heavily out-matched fighter. If, however, you want a more fair fight, even with all the player spectators backing the one warrior, then have each boost picked for one warrior apply the next boost down the list to the other (eg. giving Sir Applegate +1 damage gives Blargwin the Black +2 AC, while giving Sir Applegate +3 HP gives Blargwin the Black +1 damage).

I suspect the list above could do with expanding, but I think it's a good start.

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Campaign Promises

If re-elected to position of DM, in the coming games I promise to...

  1. Put statues in every dungeon. With sufficient mundane statuary, the players will cease to think about animating or trapped statues... until it's too late.
  2. Relatedly, all traps will either be visible before they're activated, or will give the players time to react before they complete their process, allowing people to actually interact and disarm them without them becoming a boring series of search/disable device/damage rolls.
  3. Use an absolute minimum of magic items that give a passive bonus to something the PCs do. Items will primarily be there to do something that nobody else can (for example - a Frost sword doesn't deal extra damage, but it can freeze water into ice...), and those that DO just give a bonus will have a distinct decision-making process attached (for example, an item that takes a month to recharge, or which will give a boost to your armour but destroy it in the process).
  4. I will say Yes more often (although I'm still saying there are NO cacti on my campaign world, thank you very much).
  5. I will do my utmost to avoid boring combats. If you get ambushed by bandits, they will be interesting bandits (possibly mutant cyborg interesting bandits).

Sunday, 18 July 2010

[Trouble Caster] Agenda, Principles, and Moves

TC Agenda
  • Let the players shine.
  • Breathe life into the world.
  • Watch mayhem ensue.
TC Principles
  • Gush forth gonzo fantasy. It's not just a temple, it's the Jeweled Temple of Jazarduan the Jaguar Goddess. He's not just a pirate captain, he's a half-djinn sky pirate lord. Cultivate the craziness and throw in plenty of fantastic imagery.
  • Showcase the sights. Be the player's eyes and ears. They can't see the world, so you have to sell it to them. Be descriptive and flowery, and give them the clues and cues they need to build the world inside their own heads.
  • Things happen offscreen. Don't freeze the unobserved world. Things keep moving once put in motion.
  • Respect the rights of NPCs. Just because they're not personified by another human being sitting at the table doesn't mean they don't have agency. NPCs have plans, motivations, and agendas too. Push for your NPCs, and make them real threats to the characters.
  • Welcome wanderings. Give the players the power to move off the beaten track, and suddenly fly north instead of east. Don't push one course of action over another. Let them digress and dig themselves into holes.
  • Make maps like crazy. Nothing beats physical artifacts for conveying relationships of space and time. Make maps of dungeons, maps of cities, maps of castles, maps of relationships and maps of time. Show the players where their characters stand.
TC Moves
  • Open a dungeon.
  • Drop wandering monsters.
  • Roll on a random table.
  • Terrify with traps and trouble.
  • Call for the guards.
  • Pray for divine intervention.
  • Set forth a journey.
  • Offer an opportunity, with a cost.
  • Make your monsters act.
  • Demand payment in gold or blood.
  • Surround them.
  • Capture them.
  • Feed them rumours of treasure and trouble.
  • Terrorise the villagers.
  • Bar fight!
  • The Kraken wakes!

Friday, 16 July 2010

New Spell: Old Spice

Old Spice
Level: Wizard 5
Duration: 1 round/level
Range: 10 feet/level

Look at me. Now look at your hand. Now look at the oyster in your hand. Now look at me. Now look at the oyster. The oyster is now diamonds.

[Coin] Peculiar Player-Made Spells

I require that all wizards must learn a new spell before they can advance a level. While they could just buy a scroll of a spell they don't know off somebody, I actively encourage them to make up entire new spells. Here are a few that have appeared in my game.

Summon Angry Psychedelic Cat
Level: Wizard 1
Duration: 1 round/level
Range: 10 feet/level

A strangely-coloured cat appears above the head of a single target within range and immediately attacks it. The cat will continue to maul the target until forcibly removed, at which point it will attack the closest living being. If killed, the cat vanishes in a puff of smoke.

Handful of Bees
Level: Wizard 1
Range: 25 feet + 5 feet/2 levels
Duration: 1 round/level

A small mass of bees flies from the caster's hand to attack one target within range. Each round, the target takes 1d3 damage, and must make a fortitude save or take a -2 penalty on all attacks rolls, skill checks and AC for 1 round. Creatures with damage reduction are immune to the bees.

Summon Slightly Annoyed Baby Crocodile
Level: Wizard 1
Duration: 1 round/level
Range: 10 feet/level

A small crocodile (HD 1d8+2; AC 14; Bite +1 [1d4+1 damage]) appears within range and attacks a target of the caster's choice. Once the target or the crocodile is dead, it vanishes in a puff of smoke.

Summon Angry Normal-Sized Crocodile
Level: Wizard 3
Duration: 1 round/level
Range: 10 feet/level

A crocodile appears within range and attacks a target or targets of the caster's choice. Once the targets or the crocodile is dead, it vanishes in a puff of smoke.

The following spell has been theorized, but not yet developed:

Summon Berserk Giant Crocodile
Level: Wizard 5
Duration: 1 round/level
Range: 10 feet/level

A giant crocodile appears within range and attacks a target or targets of the caster's choice, with a +2 bonus because of how angry it is. Once the targets or the crocodile is dead, it vanishes in a puff of smoke.

Fertile Channels
Level: Wizard 2
Duration: instantaneous

When cast on a nearby pool or stream of water, this spell imbues it a little positive energy and a whole heap of fertilizer, and in an arid environment, will actually call up more water. The water is not drinkable (see aforementioned fertilizer), but is great for growing plants, and affects undead as if it was holy water.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Setting Riffs: The Best of

Transhumanist Kung-Fu: Punch Me With The Future

FTL Y'all: Rednecks in Space

FTL Y'all 2: Jump-Punk Diaspora

Counting to Infinity: Very human transhumans in a future without a future

The Long Stair: Reality, meet Gygaxia

Flamepunk: The *punk's new clothes

Twin Cities of Glass: Fantasy gets weird in a world of glass.

Saturday, 3 July 2010

Friday, 2 July 2010

[The Corpse Star] Characters

The Elf, Wandering
She forsakes the tomb her sisters take.
She has the chance to follow still.
And yet she cannot walk away.

The Wizard, Dying
He will not live to see the end.
He has power still, might to spare.
And yet he cannot save himself.

The Sword, Unsheathed
She solves it all with blood and steel.
She fights demons, orcs, and creatures unknown.
And yet her might is no match for the darkness.

The Wheel, Turning
He deals in chance, a difficult dance.
He hopes that he can buy off his final breath.
And yet he has a final fate.

The Dragon, Grieving
She knows the end will come too soon.
She longs for life, for love without strife.
And yet her wings have fallen still.

The Dwarf, Smiling
He happily ignores the sky.
He quests and fights and drinks.
And yet he knows it all is true.

The Seer, Blinded
She once saw light and futures bright.
She now sees nothing, not even shadows.
And yet she knows that there is a chance.

The Baron, Wearied
He has served his people for so long.
He is tired - so tired it's hard to stand.
And yet he cannot rest - not yet.

[To Coin a World] Ecology: The Narheti Plains


Known for its distinctive black-and-white stripes, herds of zebras are one of the most common sights on the Narheti Plains. Highly adaptable grazers with a powerful digestive system, they can subsist on almost any vegetation. As hardly plains dwellers with numerous predators, most zebra breeds are deeply ill-tempered and easily panicked. However, the Darkmane Zebra of the spinmost Narheti is a calmer breed, and is used as a beast of burden and mount by the nomadic people of that region.
A common plains zebra


The scattered scrubs and uplands of the Narheti often are home to family-based tribes of raboons. These dangerous and aggressive omnivores generally subsist on scavenged kills from larger predators, but they will opportunistically take down wounded prey themselves and feast. A number of different species inhabit the plains - most common is the Vulgar Raboon, but the Grand Raboon, Mountain Raboon, Hopping Raboon and tiny Piper Raboons are all found in wide-ranging areas of the Narheti.

Raboons and their close baboon relatives

Elands and other antelopes

The various breeds of antelope make up the largest family of grazers to be found on the Narheti, from the gracile gazelle to the enormous eland, the intrepid impala and the razor-quick reebok. Common to all species are the impressive horns of both genders, slender yet powerful legs that propel them at high speed when escaping predators, and extremely acute senses that serve them well in the open plains.
The eland - the largest breed of antelope

The enormous size and diversity of the Narheti means that it is home to a vast variety of grazing animals, from antelopes to zebras to rabbucks. There are two main families of rabbucks - the hopping rabbucks, more closely related to their lagomorph ancestors, and the running rabbucks who dominate the open plains. Hopping rabbucks are most often found in the more forested regions of Zwuyala, where their ability to rise up on their haunches opens up a wide variety of food sources.

The beatrix - a common hopping rabbuck breed, found not only in Zwuyala but parts of Spindlwick
The strank - typical of the running rabbucks of the Narheti


One of the more curious inhabitants of the Narheti is the lank - a flightless grazer descended from the pterosaurs that soar above Zwuyala's jungles. With their elongated necks, lanks are able to subsist on both the tallest leaves of trees and the lowest grasses of the Narheti. Their eyes, placed high on the head, are adept at detecting movement from a distance, allowing the flock to flee at a moment's notice when a predator is spotted.

Two lanks grazing - note the vestigal claws on the upper front legs

With thanks to: Dougal Dixon's New Dinosaurs and After Man, Wikipedia