Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Burn the Dark Lord!

So, our heroes face a Dark Lord, an evil and vile sorcerer (usually. Why are so many bad guys magic users?)... Cool. A bit cliche, but cliche for a reason - evil and vile sorcerers are excellent villains to face. They've got class.

And by class, I mean a hat with horns on it. 

But say you're in a bit of a rush. Well, allow me to present a set of tables for creating a dastardly magic user quickly.

First, he or she needs a name - there are various random generators out there, but none I personally particularly like. I'm sure you can work out something. Maybe name him after a disease? I've always loved "Anthrax" as an evil name.

Now, assuming that your villain is a wizard (a pretty safe assumption), then they'll need spells. I heartily recommend Zak's method of quick spell selection (the battle oracle in the same post is kinda neat too, especially if the PCs consult an oracle before facing the dark lord).

What other dastardly tricks can the dark lord do? One of these, mostly likely. (WARNING, annoying use of bad punctuation and CAPS LOCK. Probably for irony purposes or something).

As an optional third step, what's stopping the PCs from just killing the dark lord? Roll a d20. First 12 results are off this table here, the remainder are below (subtract 12 from result). If you don't like any of these, just do your darndest to make sure they stay out of the PCs' combat reach until a suitably dramatic moment.
  1. Lich. Hey, it's a classic. Can't be killed unless you find the little box holding his soul. 
  2. Annoyingly complex lich - soul split into several bits, each stored in different objects in different places. Can only die when they've ALL been destroyed.
  3. Dead man switch - if the bad guy is killed, then something even worse gets to use his dead body as a portal to access the world.
  4. Soul-bound siblings - somebody the PCs like is actually the twin of this guy, and if one dies, so does the other. 
  5. Minor God - like Thor or Loki from the Avengers, not entirely immortal, but really damned tough. In D&D terms, probably has several times the HP of the entire party put together, and recovers very quickly.
  6. Baldur-dash - made deals with the spirits/gods of every inanimate material, bar one type of tree (Holly? Oak? Palm-trees?). Can only be hurt by weapons made out of that kind of tree. 
  7. I Think I'm a Clone Now - is actually one of several duplicate copies, all equally skilled. If you kill one, another will arise from the shadows to take over his schemes. 
  8. Was never born in the first place - how he exists in defiance of the laws of causality is a mystery, but he can't actually be killed until targeted with a reincarnate spell. 

So... what's the evil plot? Roll a d30, or pick.
Obviously, these are all cribbed from movies, books, or games, and still need some fleshing out. Try not to assuming that the PCs will do anything in particular, just make sure they're in the Villain's path.
  1. He has kidnapped the princess and transformed her into a swan (or other beast), and will only lift the curse if she agrees to marry him, giving him legitimate claim to the crown.
  2. Plans to sacrifice a prophetically-picked virgin on the night of the eclipse, after which he will be able to transform into a dragon. 
  3. Has captured the prince and replaced him with a polymorphed lacky. Now living the high-life at the grace of the strangely-acting "prince". Must regularly get blood samples from the prince to maintain the spell. 
  4. Has sent vile minions (orcs are traditional) to retrieve the artifact forged by an even greater and more evil sorcerer in the depths of time. If she gets it, it will greatly magnify his arcane powers. 
  5. Leads army of vile minions (again, probably orcs. Undead are good for this as well, though) on devastating rampage through the kingdom for shits and giggles.
  6. Seeks to kill the boy whom prophecy says will kill him, so that he can concentrate on world domination scheme without worry.
  7. His immortality is actually the result of a power possessed by a girl he has had imprisoned for many years. She just escaped, and now he desperately wants her back. 
  8. Trying to get samples/plans of the powers of all the most mighty threats in the world (that alchemist's strength potion, that thief's invisibility enchantment, that inventor's submersible), so he can replicate them for himself.
  9. As #8 above, but actually just wants the powers to sell to the highest bidder.
  10. Has been sealed away in a prison deep underground for millenia... and still is. However, has managed to reach out and recruit minions to free him. They've nearly dug through to him, and when they do free him, he's going to be VERY hard to stop. 
  11. Is the subject of an unpleasant curse which prevents him from enjoying food, drink, or the pleasures of intimate company. Breaking the curse requires spilling the blood of the governor's son on a hidden island. 
  12. Already has VAST arcane power, and uses it willy-nilly. Unfortunately, this is more than local reality can stand, and if she keeps it up, the universe is going to fall apart. 
  13. Is releasing a plague to cripple every other magic-user on the planet, so that he will be unopposed. 
  14. Has built a moving fortress that can level whole cities that don't wish to bow to him. Now chasing the princess who managed to get her hands on the designs showing the fortress's one weak spot. 
  15. Loathes new music, and has ruled that only certain specific tunes may be played in her domain. Has awful taste in music.  
  16. Seeks to open a portal to another realm, to allow an extradimensional army access to the world. Once they've pillaged what they want, they will let him rule the remains, or so he believes. 
  17. He has outfitted her army with weapons of frightening power, all in turn powered by a great artifact left behind by the gods, and intends to burn the cities of the world to the ground if not stopped. 
  18. Seeks to eat the heart of a star given human form to renew his youth and power. 
  19. Wants the other two parts of the crown that, when re-formed, will let her command an army of unkillable clockwork golems. 
  20. Has stolen the Book of Peace that protects the great city from constant terrible weather and bad luck. Probably, again, for shits and giggles.
  21. Is having a mighty monument built in his honor, out of pure vanity, using slave labor. 
  22. Seeks the key to unlock the gate that will allow his overly-tentacled patron access to the world. Actually summoned the key many years ago, but lost track of it since. 
  23. When the stars align, will unleash titans to battle and defeat the gods so that she can take their place. The mortal world probably won't survive being a godly battlefield. 
  24. Trying to hunt down the Orb of Ultimate Knowledge, a device allowing access to every bit of information that will ever be known to mortal kind, if the user has the willpower to command it. She kidnaps the descendants of those who hid the orb, intending to use ancestral memories to find it. 
  25. Is propagating monsters of a particular type (some kind of contagious undead?) so that when they're killed by the heroes, she can collect the energy they release when they are destroyed. With enough energy, will be able to get her soul back. Doesn't really care how many people die along the way. 
  26. Previously a member of an order of monster-hunters, she got sick of the order making compromises, and decided to join the monsters, leading them to hunt down the order, and anybody else nearby. 
  27. He leads a cult of fanatically loyal followers on a mission to activate a series of ancient weapon emplacements. While he's told them that activating the weapons will pave the way to heaven, he hasn't told them that it will do so by killing everything on the planet. 
  28. She is ruler of an area due to monopoly on something that the local populace needs - food, water, air. But now somebody knows where the thing that will break that monopoly is hidden, and she's going to try to capture them before they can reveal all. 
  29. He is trying to capture the oracle who can lead him to the rune-bound iron cauldron that can raise an army of unstoppable undead. 
  30. She seeks the sacrificial victims and ancient tome required to resurrect her dead lover. Plans on doing a little romantic civilization-toppling when she has him back. 
Visual details - roll two or three times. For conflicting results either re-roll, or work out some way that the Dark Lord is BOTH, such as having a combat form, or concealing her appearance with illusions. 
  1. Bald
  2. Intricately styled hair
  3. Has only one eye
  4. Rubbish beard
  5. Young and handsome looking
  6. Terrible teeth
  7. Very fat
  8. Quite old, but still handsome-looking
  9. No nose
  10. Peculiar skin tone - pasty white, ashen grey, etc. 
  11. Large nose
  12. Horned helmet
  13. Black armour
  14. Very tall and well muscled
  15. Gaunt
  16. Impeccably well-dressed
  17. Significant portions of body replaced with golem components (clockwork? Stone? wood?).
  18. Actually exudes smoke or fire. 
  19. Really severe makeup. 
  20. Tall, even by evil villain standards. 

There you have it, some terribly haphazard tables for making bad guys. I realize they're unlikely to be overly useful to anybody, but writing them was fun and interesting. 

Monday, 16 July 2012

[Dungeon World] Kung-Fu Moves

I'm looking at running a Dungeon World game soon that's inspired in equal parts by Avatar, Planescape, and Perdido Street Station. My instinct is to remove the idea of non-human races from the setting - or at least the idea of mechanically differentiated races - but that leaves a hole in the game where the current race moves are.

Inspired by some retro-clone I came across a while ago, and have completely forgotten, my solution is to give everyone "kung-fu" moves instead. The idea is that any adventurer in this setting will know at least the basics of one martial art, even the least physically inclined wizard. Essentially, it gives everyone access to a few "spells" they can use to impact the fiction automatically, without rolling - but as a strictly limited resource.

I'm also looking for a better name than "kung-fu moves".


When you spend time practising your forms and meditating, roll +WIS. On a 10+, hold 3-breath. On a 7-9, hold 2-breath. On a 6-, hold 1-breath, but the DM holds 1 over you to inflict your school’s weakness at some point. Spend your breath to use your kung-fu moves.

When you spend time practising with a kung-fu master, you can add another kung-fu move to your list.

When you create a character, choose which style of kung-fu that your character has trained in:

Drunken Monkey

  • Appear totally harmless.
  • Taunt an enemy into moving into an advantageous position.
  • Trick someone into attacking an ally.

Weakness: Incautious

Flowing Water

  • Redirect an enemy’s attack into another foe.
  • Move swiftly out of the path of danger.
  • Use an enemy’s momentum against them.

Weakness: Softness

Immovable Mountain

  • Shrug off the damage from a single attack.
  • Resist being pushed or forced to move.
  • Deliver an unstoppable blow.

Weakness: Inflexibility

Celestial Fist

  • Smite an unholy opponent with your fists.
  • Strike an incorporeal or invulnerable being.
  • Fly free from gravity for a few moments.

Weakness: Arrogance.

Shadow Dancer

  • Hide in plain sight.
  • Strike without warning.
  • Move swiftly out of the path of danger.

Weakness: Fragility

Thursday, 5 July 2012

[To Coin a World] Underworld Portal

"Well, obviously, travelling to the underworlds, the myriad lands of the dead, is very easy. Grab a knife, pick a vital organ, insert, and you're there. Travelling there in such as way that you can travel back again, that's a bit harder.

I do know of a spell that will let you do that, open a portal to the beyond. While the spell itself is not that hard, barely more difficult than a good old fireball incantation, it does have some... challenges associated with it. For starters, the spell won't work anywhere on this world. Thankfully, you can get around that by sailing to the very edge of the Coin, casting the spell so that the portal appears off the edge. Best to make sure you're going at a fair clip when you do it though. You don't want to come up short and fall into open space. 

Oh, and if you think sailing a ship off the very edge of the world is difficult, just wait till you try coming back..."

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

The Seclusium of Orphone & Other Mad Adventures

In what is sure to go down as the crazed work of a mad genius, Jim Raggi over at Lamentations of the Flame Princess has started up 19 separate crowdfunding campaigns for adventures from myriad writers across the planar spheres. Amongst the list of writers are brilliant voices like Jeff Rients, Kevin Crawford, and Anna Kreider. I hope all the adventures fund; I know a few of them will be taking money out of my wallet.

The first adventure to catch my eye was the work of Vincent Baker, designer of my favourite game in the universe, Apocalypse World: The Seclusium of Orphone. Here's the opening pitch:

The Seclusium of Orphone of the Three Visions, in which are perils and treasure both material and obscure, made vulnerable to incursion by her imprisonment in the subrealm Paume

Orphone of the Three Visions is a wizardess of restless and fitful ambition, so often seen in city market and bazaar, paced always by her velvet half-human servant and bodyguard Ioma. For decades she has kept her seclusium unassailable upon an island of three concentric gardens in the Cove of Bar's Toll, working her magics, pursuing her grandizement and mastery, forbidding all to come. Now she has ventured into the subrealm Paume, for reasons of curiosity, provocation or entrapment, and has neither returned nor left any remnant impulse of her will. Even loyal Ioma has departed for other employment.

So her seclusium stands, not vacant, but vulnerable. The wise have not yet approached it, but cast greedy and speculative looks. Who will be the first to venture an incursion? What will they find within?

The Seclusium of Orphone of the Three Visions: a system for creating an original wizard's seclusium to fit into your own game's world, campaign and level, inspired by the iconic work of Jack Vance, with notes on tone and technique, including Orphone's Seclusium itself as a complete and playable example.

And here's Vincent's initial notes on the Seclusium:

Later scholars will identify seven phases in the cycle of development and decline of a wizard's seclusium. It is the fifth phase, the "vulnerable," that interests us here.

Even in its "vulnerable" phase, a wizard's seclusium consists of:
- The physical structure of its seclusium proper;
- The quasi-real footprint of its magical existence;
- Its grounds, gardens, and picturesque vistas;
- Outbuildings for various purposes, both obvious and obscure;
- Passways, checkpoints, and baffles to entry, like walls, gates, paths, and vestibules;
- A position in the countryside and landscape, both physical and customary.

In its "vulnerable" phase, a wizard's seclusium nevertheless has:
- A wizard, but he or she is in some form absent;
- Guardians, but they are no longer intent;
- Portals to other wizards' seclusia;
- Portals to alternate spaces or other modes of being;
- Portals to other places of wizardly significance;
- Long term guests or prisoners of the wizard, whose needs have now gone unattended;
- Evidence or remains of previous treasure-seekers and interlopers;
- Remains of the wizard's endeavors, including dangerous failures and promising experiments;
- The wizard's trappings and treasures.
- Under some circumstances, remnants of the wizard him- or herself, embodied or dis-.

In its "vulnerable" phase, a wizard's seclusium has the attention of:
- Rival wizards hoping for spoils;
- Friendly and allied wizards, concerned for their fellow's wellbeing;
- Local kings, lords, churches, and scholars;
- Treasure seekers;
- Otherworldly entities.

When a wizard's seclusium is in its "vulnerable" phase, it shows as:
- Long inaction with an air of finality;
- Magically communicated calls for help or attention from its guests and prisoners;
- The departure of its notable guardians or servants;
- Unheeded communications, and neglected associations and obligations;
- Successful incursions.

- The grotesque: horrific, comedic, pathetic, fantastic;
- Relativism, self-justification, delicacy, understatement, putting the best light on a bad deal;
- There are no status quos. There are catastrophes that unfold at different rates;
- Play to find out what happens.

Pretty much everything Mr. Baker sets to paper is like imaginary cocaine to me, so he's already got my money. I can't wait for this to be on my table.