Archive for April, 2013

Gith Machine (black but not actually a man)

April 22, 2013 2 comments

Anyone who thinks the Githzerai are like Githyanki only nicer hasn’t paid attention to what they do.
They make machines. Devices that help the Githyanki invade, dominate, and enslave. These machines have a sharp, pointed, monomaniacal intelligence. And inevitably sometimes those machines get free.

A Gith Machine starts from a Seed Device with a single purpose, but it can graft other devices with other purposes onto itself. Once grafted the Machine animates the devices as parts of itself. And the more complex it becomes, the more it starts to think independently. A machine’s prime motivation is to do what it was built to do: a butcher device wants to butcher, a weaving device wants to weave stuff (anything) together, an olive pitter wants to pit olives. But every Gith Machine also wants to murder its creator, which not infrequently means murdering other people along the way. And adding more functions – more purposes – is addictive. Hit Dice are dependent on complexity; greater complexity generally (but not always) means bigger size.

Monster Gith Machines have AC3, variable d8 HD (linked only very loosely to size: bigger tends to be tougher). They attack and save as fighters. A Gith Machine monster may graft a new device to itself after 1 turn of continuous contact. Each new device adds 1HD – devices can include metal or wooden gadgets (anything with mechanical articulation), weapons and tools. Gith Machines can also use magic items, including wands and rings but not scrolls. Very complex devices (battleships, helicopters, mecha) may require multiple turns.
A Gith Machine without articulated limbs may roll around like a Katamari at 20’/HD. One with articulation may use stuff in any way convincing to the DM. They especially enjoy having suits of plate armour to play with.
In order to manipulate (carry, puppeteer, asset strip) living or dead creatures the Gith Machine must have at least 3HD of complexity.

A Gith Machine may appear to be defeated when in fact it has only been reduced to its parts. In order to actually “kill” one you have to find and destroy its Seed part.

PC Gith Machines also fight and save as fighters, start with AC7 and use d8 for Hit Points. They start as two devices, one picked or rolled off the following table. In order to level up they have to meet xp requirements and acquire at least one new device. A critical hit can sever one device from the grafted bundle. Whenever a device is severed, the severed part needs to save vs death or be destroyed. If reduced to 0HP the Machine falls apart: its Seed Device is separated from everything else and stunned for d10 turns, but after that it can graft devices back on, up to the maximum for its level. The Seed Device must suffer one additional hit and fail a save vs death to be destroyed.

To put all this in more-or-less familiar game terms, the Gith Machine has 2 powers, which are always active:
1. animate metal object (may extend to mineral objects at level 3, which is also the level they can “carry” a living passenger and use their senses)
2. control machine (which may require multiple turns to “get a handle on” for very complex machines)
The range of these powers is Touch, with the proviso that it extends to touching an object with another object that is already attached to the Seed Device – as a rule of thumb, if you could conduct electricity from the Seed to the object touched, then that object can be animated/controlled.

Parts Table: roll d100. The player chooses which roll is the seed and which the first attachment. If you roll the same result twice, try inverting the tens and units the second time. Or just reroll.

1: hoverbeam. Makes a really unfriendly sawtooth wave hum, lets you float up to 6′ off the floor, but doesn’t hover over water.
2-10: melee weapon
11-18: missile weapon
19-21: compressor (gas or water siphon) (level up to aerosol)
22-26: loudspeaker
27-30: fast running mechanism
31-33: flippers for swimming
34-36: battering ram
37-40: taser
41-42: pitter/eviscerator
43-44: shearer/flenser
45-46: inert scoop (good for holding/trapping oozes etc)
47-50: drill/digger
51-52: cuisinart
53-55: rocket fist
56-58: directional listener/echolocator
59-61: low-light/infravision viewer
62-63: x-ray/penetrating viewer
64-66: crawler/climber
67-68: illusion projector
69-70: accurate drawing arm/plotter
71-72: expander/stretcher/jack
73: minelayer
74: minesweeper (also detects pressure switch traps)
75: glassmaker (lightbulbs, flasks, similar items)
76-77: carpenter
78: smith
79: cocktail shaker (useful for poisons, potions)
80-81: cargo carrier
82-83: espresso machine
84-85: lock/portal sealant
86: glue
87-89: simple robot arm
90: surgery arm
91: superfine manipulator arm suitable for picking locks etc
92-93: footballer kicking leg
94: acid stomach for digesting small items (up to hobbit-sized)
95: washer/purifier
96: pickler/preserver (useful for bodies you hope to Raise, Pharaoh mummies you want to impress)
97: janitor/cleaner
98: tent/shelter/lifeboat
99: Test Phantom (see below. No functions but Phantom saves vs death at +6)
100: minisafe (see top image). May hold 4lbs or 1 Pokemon. May also be used as a morningstar for 1d10 damage.

On one hand Test Phantom here can't do anything on its own. On the other, it's nearly indestructible.

On one hand Test Phantom here can’t do anything on its own. On the other, it’s nearly indestructible.

Whether you require the Gith Machine to get a loudspeaker in order to speak with other players at the table, or an arm to draw simple instructions with, or eyes to see, I guess depends on how patient/sadistic you are as a DM. I would assume that you’d have eyes, ears, some means of communicating and getting around – wheels, tracks, legs (mismatched, multiple, stolen), something I haven’t thought of. You can figure that out.


Men in Black 2: Priests of Ming

April 22, 2013 Leave a comment

While their sardonic cardinal gets all the best lines, the whole Priesthood of Ming shares a sense of humour perhaps best appreciated from a safe place very far away. Priests of Ming are the hands and eyes of the Emperor’s divine will. They’re also utterly alien creatures, which have learned to conceal their true natures by mimicking the shapes of men – or of a hundred other objects. Outside the public gaze they set down their golden masks and rubber eyes and relax into puddles of black glup. When they return from their missions they merge with the Ur-pool and share their individual experiences in a communion only dreamed of by other creatures, to emerge again on demand with strength, memories and skills drawn from the collective pool.

At least that’s the idea. Recently a growing number of “budlets” have been postponing their reintegration, perhaps under the influence of the mighty Klytus, perhaps corrupted by the collective’s long but uneasy partnership with The Ming.

As monsters the Priests are commanders of Ming’s soldiers (reskinned orcs), palace guards (reskinned kobolds) and secret police (assassins, levels 1-4). They are also highly mobile and dextrous mimics, their hit dice (but no other stats) dependent on their size. Man-sized Priests usually have 4HD (ie 4d4). Natural AC is 8, but Priests often go armoured – partly because it makes maintaining form easier. They may have spells, psionics or divine magics, but they uniformly have poor grip: they cannot use bows apart from crossbows. Melee weapons must be adapted to their bodies, with wide, non-slip handles. On the other hand they can attack without artificial weapons, stabbing with spikes for 1d6, constricting with ropey tentacles for 1d3 per round (break with a str vs str contest), or smothering/choking by intruding into the airways of their victims (dex vs dex contest to avoid, 1d4 damage and save vs CON of lose consciousness each round, -1 per round of intrusion. Damage increases by 1 die size each round of continuous occupation). Other attacks are left to the ingenuity of the DM.

As PCs, Priests develop their powers slowly. In order to level up a Priest must rejoin the Collective, which rewards their successes (xp) with skills. Priests fight and save as thieves, but level up on the Magic User table.  They have access to the unarmed attacks detailed above. They get D4 hit dice and may use any weapons and armour, provided it is adapted for their use (fitted with non-slip grips, padding under chain or ring mail). They conduct electricity cheerfully and are immune to electrical attacks. On the downside they can also be deformed against their will by electromagnetic fields.
Although most Priests leave the Collective with 3-4 cubic feet of glup body, they may elect to be anywhere from half to double that volume without any change in game mechanics.

Beginning at 1st level, Priests can transform at will between their “native” blob of glup form and one other form per level, which is selected while the Priest is leveling up in the Collective. The Priest’s glup form is highly deformable but cannot squeeze through gaps narrower than 6 inches (size of a CD), -1”/level (so at 1st level that’s 5″).* If human-sized it occupied 3-4 cubic feet. The glup form can move 1’/round/level on a flat surface, but it may roll, slide or flow faster down inclined surfaces. In glup form a Priest takes half damage from falling. Other forms can move at the speed you’d expect for the thing being mimicked, although winged forms cannot fly.
Maintaining form is exhausting: Priests must rest for 13 hours a day – 1 hour/level or lose 1HP for each hour of rest missed.
At 3rd level Priests can act as one other character class of 2 levels lower, casting spells, picking locks etc (may change class on leveling up). This class is chosen while the Priest is in the Collective and may be changed each time the Priest rejoins the Collective (ie at each level up). Priests can also get skills off whatever weird-ass table you found on someone’s blog, such as Zak Smith’s Alternative Classes.
At 5th level Priests may divide themselves into 2 or more parts, which may act independently. When they do so they divide their attributes and stats among the parts as they wish, but each part must have at least 1 in everything.
At 7th level a Priest may improvise novel forms that are not on their transformation list. Doing so requires a save vs magic – if the save is failed the novel form fails and cannot be attempted again until the next level. On a natural 20 the priest forgets one of their usual forms until the next level-up. 7th level Priests can also demand up to 8x the usual volume of glup for their bodies (ie 32 cubic feet**). If they have over 16 cubic feet of glup, hit points are doubled.
A 9th level Priest attracts 1d12 Priest followers or wannabes. It may Collectivize with other Priests to create a giant-sized creature with the sum of all Hit Dice and damage capabilities, reflected either as multiple attacks or a single attack with the total damage potential of all the Priests in the Collective.

In order to have authority over Ming’s forces, a Priest must have a golden Mask of Office. Ming’s forces are surprisingly ill-informed and have no idea of what lurks behind those masks, so merely doing your mimic trick may scare them but won’t command loyalty.

* we may conclude from Klytus’ complete liquefaction in the City of the Hawkmen that he was at least 5th level. He of course escaped death at the hands of Voltan and the Imperial Navy by dribbling into the bilges of the city and then hailing fellow priests aboard War-rocket Ajax from a dangling aerial, Luke Skywalker style.
** what would you do with so much glup? Maintaining multiple person-sized forms is one obvious and popular option, being impressively huge is another (a Priest could pose as a Hutt or an unusually corpulent Thark). There are rumours of some Priests posing as entire buildings, with hollow interior spaces and working doors.

Men in Black 1: The Industrial Druid

April 22, 2013 3 comments

Roger’s Red Sword Wizard and –C’s Blue Mage set me thinking about what great monsters they would make. So here’s a series of monsters/classes all this week. #1: the Industrial Druid


…he whose sable arms,
Black as his purpose, did the night resemble
When he lay couched in the ominous horse,
Hath now this dread and black complexion smear’d
With heraldry more dismal; head to foot
Now is he total gules; horridly trick’d
With blood of fathers, mothers, daughters, sons,
Baked and impasted with the parching streets,
That lend a tyrannous and damned light
To their lord’s murder

The Industrial Druid is like those Wild Men of Europe, only all about the savage annihilating splendour of the machine. Where the common or garden Druid works to preserve balance and stuff, the Industrial Druid is a perpetrator of atrocities: it marks the land with its technological lusts. The Industrial versions of Druids’ leveling-up fights are full-scale wars, in which the dehumanizing of minions helps to power the Industrialist’s apotheosis.

Encountered as monsters, Industrial Druids have 4-9 Hit Dice (d6s), AC 1, and d12 followers (a mix of lower level disciples and wage-slaves). Their treasure consists of machines, parts and raw materials. There is a 10% chance of exotic metals, suitable for working into +1 swords by a master smith, and 20% chance of a “magic” item that replicates the effect of some spell (e.g. hypodermics that induce Sleep, tasers for Magic Missile) with 1d6 charges remaining.

As a PC class, Industrial Druids are mechanically identical to regular LL Druids (fighting as clerics, benefiting from +2 on saves vs fire and electricity), with the following exceptions:

1. They must wear metal armour and a full-face helm: being stripped of armour strips them of their powers, which are replenished after a full day encased in iron (shackles don’t count). They cannot sneak: at first level this is merely because of their armour, but at 3rd level and above they wheeze and clank at all times and at 5th level they leave oily footprints by which they may be tracked. They can only use complex mechanical or chemical weapons, such as crossbows, composite bows, guns and fire, or those weapons developed for domination: flails, whips and pizzles.

2. What sets the Industrial Druid apart from a mad scientist is its ability to elevate relatively simple siege engines and winches into self-aware agents of exploitation.
From 1st level all Industrial Druids can Command a machine once per day, for 1 round/level, during which they enter a Deep Thinking fugue state and can take no other actions. Machines so commanded tend toward murderous destruction: the Industrial Druid must save vs. WIS each round it requires the machine to conduct a non-violent act, to prevent the temporarily uplifted device from going off on a bloody rampage.
At 3rd level they may poison or purify water but only if paid to do so (at least 1gp/level).
At 5th level they may summon an environmentally-unfriendly mount.
At 7th level they may adopt a giant robot form for 1 round/level/day: twice human sized but weighing 4 tons, this form need not breathe, is resistant to fire and cold, has 20 STR and AC-1, and does 3d6 damage with its fists. While in Robot form the Industrial Druid’s HP are reset to maximum, but when the form’s time runs out any previous wounds take full effect again, adding to any damage taken while a Robot.
Beginning with 7th level, in order to level up an Industrial Druid must destroy another Industrial Druid of higher level and take their stuff.
At 8th level and each level thereafter the Industrial Druid attracts d6 followers – roll d20 -13 for each follower’s level. If the result is 0 or lower the follower is a 0-level wage-slave with no special abilities. Results of 1 or higher are Industrial Druids (50%), Grease Monkeys (20%), Chaos Monks (20%) or toadying Clerics (10%).
At 9th level the Industrial Druid must construct a fortress/lab/lair.
3. Most Druid spells work fine as is. Wherever a Druid spell affects animals or plants, reskin it to apply to machines and urban life – hence Machine Growth (5); Commune with City (5); Sparking Doom (7); Find Device (2) etc.
In place of Barkskin (2) use Iron Cage (+4 AC but not higher than AC 18. -2 move)
Call Lightning (3) requires some mechanism or power supply nearby – this includes machines summoned with Machine Companion. If the latter is used, the Companion takes damage equal to that dealt by the lightning bolt.
Charm Machine (2) can extend the Command Machine ability for up to a day at a time. One WIS save is required on casting the spell to avoid rampages for the whole day.

Additional spells:
Create Familiar (by Frankensteinian or Rotwangian means) (1) (allows creation of machine familiars),
Strict Timekeeping (2) (dictates everyone’s initiative for 1 round/level, costs everyone 1HP/round),
Worker’s Riot (3) provokes violent rage in d30 HD of humanoids (they get to save vs magic),
Charge Me Up (3) (steals 4d6 HP from characters nearby, starting with the weakest. PCs reduced to 0 are unconscious but do not require first aid),
Army of Drones (4) (possesses 1 level 0/1 character per level of the Industrial Druid, makes them work like zombies for 1 day/level, but if you don’t remember to command them to eat and rest then they die in CON-3 days),
Blight Land (5) prevents anything growing and putrefies water within a 1 mile radius.

Back to the bad old 6-mile hex

April 8, 2013 1 comment

So the topic of the enormous howling waste of the 6 mile hex has come up again. Here Steamtunnel remarks that all of Bethsoft’s Oblivion fits in a 4 mile square. Commenters note that verisimilitude for computer games is different from what you’d expect in an RPG.

Anyway, it is true: settlements and incident are distributed very unevenly across the land. Monsters and Manuals made this point cogently with some one-mile rectangles around Britain.

Behold Brielle. I know I’ve mentioned it before but that’s because it’s such a great little DnD one-horse town, with room for a blacksmith and a chemist’s and a mill and not much else. We can see from the still-standing 17th century fortifications exactly how big the place was 400 years ago. It’s about a third of a mile long by a fifth of a mile wide. It could probably support itself on… 2 square miles of good farmland? (that would provide 640 people with 2 acres each, which J. P. Sommerville thinks is reasonable and right now I’m too lazy to disagree). So it occupies one small corner of a 6 mile hex.

Leiden’s a more respectable candidate for a “hex of city.” That jagged square of canal-moat gives you an idea (though the boundaries of the city are less certain in fact, since successful towns always break their enceintes). At the time of its great ditch digging, Leiden was a successful linen-weaving town and trade hub, big enough to support some organized crime and intrigue with nearby cities – an ideal place for a major expedition to set off from. It’s about a mile on its long axis by 2/3 of a mile across. Not very different from burgeoning powerhouse Amsterdam in 1600, which would grow to about 4 times that area by virtue of becoming NW Europe’s major entrepot in the first era of global trade.

And between the two, if we were to lay a 6 mile hex grid down, what would we find in the roughly 5 hexes that separate them, during the 17th century (for which we actually have good maps, even if they do show west as up)?

Screen Shot 2013-04-08 at 11.45.38 AM

On a fairly straight line, representing a reasonable route of travel, 11 noteworthy communities (let’s call them Brielle-sized, more or less) including the regionally important city of Delft. And within convenient reach, two cities of comparable size with Leiden but greater importance: the shipping center of Rotterdam and The Hague, seat of power for the entire Dutch Republic.

My choice of the Dutch Republic is not accidental for this experiment, since it was one of the most densely populated territories in Europe at the time under consideration – it’s a good upper limit for your pseudowhatever.

Now check out the fortified palace district of the Khiva, in Khorasan (Islamdom’s Northeast Frontier province in the 10th century). You can make out the jagged line of the wall fairly clearly there: it’s a more or less N-S rectangle, about the same size as Brielle but with a totally different population profile since it represents the ruling class’s bolthole, surrounded by the unprotected city of the lower classes.

Alas we don’t have any particularly good idea of how big the whole of Khiva was in the 10th century, nor how much (far from good) farmland was required to support it. But check out the density of settlements around it. The much smaller town of Qoshkopir is about 2 hexes away (10 miles), the comparably-large Urgench rejoices in its control of the Oxus river trade route about 3 hexes away. But once you’re out of that oasis and you’ve said farewell to the meagre orchards of Hazorasp, you’re in for a 33 hex journey through friendless desert to Bukhara (more like 36 of you follow the river) or 42 hexes to the Abode of the Mad Archmage at Ashgabad. Or, for that matter, 40 hexes to Merv. Here you have to use your imagination a bit more, since the city is buried under desert scrub. But take my word for it – well over 6 square miles of dense, Ankh-Morporkian/Vornheimian urban life, with a wall around it and a separate fortified ruling quarter within (and another within that), home to (maybe) more than a million people – one of the 12th century’s premier destinations, graced by the astronomer and sometime poet Omar Khayyam, seat of the (latter, diminished) Great Seljuk sultans – it’s truly a hex full of city. On its own oasis, with a whole lot of desert around it in every direction.

What’s my point? Maybe that the 6 mile hex encourages a certain uniformity that’s not very naturalistic – or, rather, that the real world is not always very obliging in providing regular encounters. But also I think the size of hexes isn’t really important in itself: it’s really what that size implies about the world that I find interesting. Hexes tend to represent one unit of interesting stuff, for which it’s worth dropping out of fast-forward travel mode. As such they represent the degree of compression of the narrative (and the overall dangerousness of the region, since hexes also represent repetitive risk of random encounters). In the garden of the Netherlands perhaps a village is hardly worth mentioning – you could trip over a dozen on a day’s hard march. In the open steppe/desert of Khorasan, however, a string of hexes represents a logistical challenge. And one lonely watchtower is worth a playable detour.

I guess I’m saying make your hexes the size you want dramatically. And if you don’t have much to say about a certain tract of country… well, hexes are useful for tracking all sorts of stuff: gun ranges, use of supplies, visibility. I don’t advocate ditching a uniform scale to speed up desert or sea travel. But how about this: when you roll for random encounters, the number you get is the number of hexes until you have to roll again (minus one, so if you roll a 1 it’s an encounter right here). Then the density of encounters can be represented by the size of the die you roll: d4 along the river, d6 across country, d10 across the desert, d20 across the sea.

ETA: oh yeah, some other stuff I wrote about 6 mile hexes: how far you can see across the Greek Islands, and a correction to that post, which shows you can actually see pretty much the whole of the Minoan saltbox from a couple of places.

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