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Jim Lad and Tin Knocker: Classes for a Romantic Cornwall campaign

July 30, 2012 2 comments

so +Stuart Robertson (of Strange Magic) piped up on the old “how to refigure demi-humans for a humanocentric game” concertina again, and I loves me a rollicking sea tune.

Here’s your basic 7 classes for a Treasure Island/Jamaica Inn/Smuggler’s Cove game. Adjust seasoning to taste for Pirates of the Caribbean, Hardy, Melville etc:

Dwarf = Miner: functionally the same as ever but no immunity to arsenic poisoning. Bluff exterior probably covers up an abused and abusive interior with moments of secret, solitary poetry.
Thief = Smuggler: actually a respected profession among the lower/adventuring orders, though with “fisherman” as inevitable legit cover.
MU = Engineer: for a Stevenson’s Rocket type steampunk feel. Real world examples include Humphry Davey and Isambard Brunel. My first thought was “parson” because of the bookish, useless-in-a-fight angle, but they have no magic in this setting.
Cleric = Fishwife: handy with a (blunt) rolling pin, a bandage and a hearty scolding.
Halfling = Preventive Man: These are the King’s Men who try to stop the smugglers. They’re not all hapless redcoats; some are sneaky spies and/or gamekeepers – Johnny Law in general, and they’re no shorter than anyone else.
Fighter = Haybaler: a big, burly farmhand with drinking capacity to match his fists. Alternatively Navvy, Gunner’s Mate, Dock Worker
Elf = Whippersnapper (whether ‘prentice boy or cabin boy or plucky orphan or maid is pure window dressing). The Jim lad class, knows more than he should, listens in while the parsons and engineers are jawing in the pub, but still yearns to grow up into a “proper” profession.

I like the purity of the basic 4 or 7, but if you wanted to expand this:
Bard = Parson of the fulminating fire’n’brimstone persuasion, or Agitator/rabble rouser, to borrow a leaf from the Hill Cantons. John Wesley was arguably both;
Assassin = Pirate and Ranger = Highwayman, or vice versa – maybe you never quite know what you’re up against there;
Paladin = Musketeer (I thought we were in Cornwall? Yup, all paladins are foreigners on a mission of some kind);
Druid = Moonshiner. Eh? What’s Dust doing over here? Well, I’m using it for “crazy old coot who lives off in the woods doing something the law wouldn’t like.” And although there’s plenty of those in Cornwall, there’s no professional archetype, so I’m reaching for a spiritual cousin. Actually in Cornwall this would probably be “gypsy,” but there’s the old racism card.

This would be better if the classes really mapped onto ways of dealing with problems in the world, but they don’t in DnD either, really, once you get into the demi-humans.

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On the ship as megadungeon

July 11, 2012 4 comments

So now everyone’s on the science fantasy tip, I’m going Atlantean. Here, have some ghost ship encounters, underwater weapons and similar trouble.

Edited to add: +Brendan Strejcek of Untimately kindly pointed me to this awesome other ship-as-megadungeon post. Metamorphosis Alpha on the Styx sounds like my kinda nightmare.

Microwave guns: requires two emitters carried by different characters: where you cross the beams, the water gets locally boiled (leading to battlefield “smoke” of a cascade of bubbles). Range: up to 100 yards, damage: 1d8 per round, doubling every round you fail to move.
Bubble gun: blasts air bubbles at the target, but these ones are sticky: if they attach they lift you up. If you can form a big bubble around your enemy’s gills you can suffocate them. Anyway they totally destroy battlefield visibility and sonar.
Concussion Grenades: does what it says on the tin. 4d6 damage over a 10′ radius sphere, 2d6 for the next 10′
Depth charge: or shallow charge, for the benthically inclined
Phosphor flares: cause burns, blindness (or light up the depths, depending on your orientation)

Ghost ships: a survey of sources (in French)
giant ships
(big as kingdoms) such as La Grande Chasse Foudre, from 1917
Another
French survey, including derelicts.

naive map from a round the horn oceancrawl

Charlatan has of course been on this kick for a while. He got me to say this:

Encounters: what about the classic siren call and/or illusory voluptuous form concealing the dead thing below?
Or the illusory ship, that lures greedy characters into the deep (but maybe only after they take something off it, echoing those stories of mutineers who loaded their pockets so with stolen gold that when they made to swim away they sank instead)?

What about the ship that sails right up over land to exact its revenge, like in the legend of Cruel Copinger, carried off from his bedroom ashore by a revenant flying ship?
Fire ships that conceal their flames below decks or which burn down from the mast-tops in mockery of earthly gravity (and St. Elmo’s fire, either a ward against undead or in the hands of the damned as a weapon).
Or ships that constantly re-enact their wrecking – in which case the hazard is immediate if you’re on board, or may come from an unexpected angle if you’re still on your own vessel, and the ghost ship drives you onto the rocks.

Monsters: Davy Jones’ shellfish crew was one of the things I liked most about the PotC films. In a similar spirit, how about:
– multiple-amputee undead like the man-of-wounds but adapted to the perils of the sea – with hooks and peglegs and whales’ teeth and sharkbites?
– poltergeists armed with a chandlery of shipboard stuff – handspikes and blocks and strangling ropes and sail-darning needles and boathooks and flensing spades and, worst of all, anchors? The poltergeist could operate in creepy-everywhere mode or could cobble together a walking, wheezing form out of on-deck junk to wave the characters off.

And finally, I promised you a ship as megadungeon. Apart from the decidedly Miyazakiesque Grande Chasse Foudre (great lightning chaser, that is), what about:

The hollow iceberg: up top it’s just a hollow in the floating ice that keeps going down. Below it’s an ice-crab warren of passages, all transparent and refracting like a hall of mirrors, that keeps getting darker as you descend. Your torches, alas, will get extinguished by meltwater if you don’t keep moving them.


The Marie Celeste as dungeon – first there’s sheer scale: the giant deserted ship represents a massive treasure, but only if you can bring it to shore. But what about the wood-bound world of the ship that reveals a mythic underworld below decks? Mysteriously much larger than it should be, leading into a stinking orlop dungeon, with gardens of valuable plants and arks of animals and everything else you find in bottled worlds – including collectors.

Sometimes the cargo is not just the treasure, it’s also the monster – the most famous example I guess is Alien, but ships often carry dangerous goods that shore kingdoms won’t tolerate (plagues and vermin and other causes for quarantine, to say nothing of political prisoners, weapons or pharmaceuticals). So your adventurers break into a barrel and they see this strange hairy blue fruit inside, and they don’t realise until too late that it requires sunlight to activate it, and before you know it the deck’s awash with these:

thanks, Original Edition Fantasy. When’s this coming out?!?!?

You know how ripening bananas release a hormone that ripens all the other bananas (and everything else) nearby – an exothermic process that leads sometimes to ripening room fires? In 6 hours the smell and heat become overpowering – sweet, alcoholic, headachy. In 12 hours you have a temporary army – they run amok, then fall down after 2 days and seed themselves in the ground…

But it’s maybe best simply to multiply the number of decks below the waterline, for a slow-release cumulative horror realisation that the players are getting in too deep – every level is just as claustrophobic as the last (say, 150′ long by 36′ wide), but they get progressively stranger as you keep going down.

It could go all psychological like Bluebeard’s castle* (after all, if the house is a map of the mind, the ship is, as Foucault said, both a womb and a psychopomp for going beyond the horizon), with rooms of bizarre purpose. Bartok’s version starts simply with a torture room and armory, but goes on to reveal a “sea of tears” and chambers of mysteries too terrible to be sung about.

Or it could simply be unreliable – the bottom planks so rotten that when you step on them they break and let the sea in, the ladders twisted and rat gnawed, so you risk falling down them, the spars and rigging just waiting to fall on your head, every cask and box in the cargo hold a trapped chest containing god knows what.

* the Blackbeard/Bluebeard clash suggests a Battle of the Beards that I find irresistible: legendary devil pirate vs. psychological suppressed violence auto-horror – FIGHT!

burning brains

July 10, 2012 4 comments

Ever wondered how the mi-go do so much, even though McKinney says they’re not all that smart?

They use their (stolen) brains. Herewith, a shell of a psionics system, from the original psionic men:

Brains are useless until you get them wired into a case: 100gp for a “wet case” (glass jar full of evil-smelling liquid: fragile and sloppy), 400gp for a nice hard “dry” ultrametal case that looks like a film can, 800gp for a rotating 5-brain changer with hotswapping.

Getting a brain into a case takes a d20 skill roll – over 10 for a human, over 13 for a demi-human, over 15 for a monster, over 7 for a Carcosan (the manuals and fittings are all adapted for Carcosan brains is why) unless it’s a bone man brain in which case over 11 (transparent = fiddly). The mi-go gets a bonus on this roll of half its HD/level. Brains are rated by the higher of their INT or WIS: they automatically lose 1d6 on transfer into a case unless the lucky mi-go/sorcerer rolls 20+ (modified). A cased brain is good for:

1. Tanks For The Memory: can play back donor’s memories as instructional videos on special mi-go feely-monitors (requires head-cilia to operate): provides the donor’s skills at penalty -1 (-10%) per point of INT/WIS lost, as long as the mi-go has unlimited time. If time is limited (eg during combat) it’s -5 (-50%).

2. Fill’r Up: brains can be used to store data like a computer but to access it you have to mind-meld with them and explore their memory theatre – like a dream-dungeon-inside-the-brain, governed by associations of the donor when alive.  In multi-brain changers the form of the dungeon is determined by the highest CHA donor (hah! remember when I said just INT and WIS mattered?).

3. What’s This Button Do? Stored spells can be tickled into firing, select randomly from any the donor might have had. Vancian one use per spell only.

4. Wisdom of Crowds. Brains can be networked together into reasoning-enhancers, but the user has to be hooked into the network too. Every 10 points of INT/WIS networked can boost the user’s INT by 1, but for every 10 minutes spent networked the user must save vs spells or get stuck permanently in the loop (and become a candidate for encasing). And every +1 to INT/WIS gives a corresponding penalty of 1 on the roll.

5. Neuroincendry. Every point of INT/WIS burned up  allows the user one of the following psionic gifts:
1 turn of telepathic communication with any being on the same plane. Targeting that being is the hard part: it takes a save vs magic, if you fail you can try again, but every turn spent targeting also costs a point. Line of sight = automatic, within 100 yards = +2, farther than a mile = -2, don’t know the target = -3, never even seen the target = -5. Or you can just grab anyone randomly = no bonus/penalty.
1 turn of telekinetic control of an object/person, like a poltergeist. A single point controls 10lbs of stuff. Weight controlled doubles for every extra point spent, so to lift a 200lb man (+up to 120lbs of his equipment) you’d have to burn 6 points.
teleport costs the same as telekinesis by weight multiplied by distance: multiplier of 1 allows up to 1 foot displacement, 2 = up to 1 yard, 3 = up to 1 fathom (6′), 4 = up to 1 shackle (90′), 5 = up to 1 cable (608′), 6 = up to 1 nautical mile (6080′), 7 = up to 60 nautical miles OR one degree of latitude or longitude (turns out psionic displacement is latitude-dependent, maybe because of the constraining influence of the Van Allen belts), 8 = global, 9 = inter-dimensional/outerspacical, 10 = outer planes/intergalactic. So if you wanted to teleport your 200lb adventurer dude plus his 80lb sidekick and 40lbs of expensive brandy to Fomalhaut it would cost you 6 x 9 = 54 INT/WIS. Moving the same gang 500 yards out to sea for a prank = 6 x 6 = 36 INT/WIS.

Possible “fun” complications:
Every time you burn INT/WIS there’s a chance of the whole apparatus catching fire. Roll over 4 on d20 to save vs combustion, -1 for every 10 points of INT/WIS burned at once, or part thereof.
You don’t know how much INT/WIS a brain contains – although you do know when a brain is all used up, because it shrivels into a grey walnut. Any time you’re burning brains, your own brain is hooked into the system, and if you ask more than the system can give, it takes from you, WIS first. And what do you save vs. to detect this happening? WIS, of course. So keep careful records of where those brains came from and what you’ve already used them for. And, y’know, be careful using second hand brains.

Glass jar hat tip to +Claytonian JP for the source idea.

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