Posts Tagged ‘characters’

Hattifatteners: a new race/class for Tartary

July 16, 2013 3 comments

Some think the Hattifatteners are wicked, but this is due to their strangeness.
Hattifatteners are found only in groups, and often in swarms. Although they do not possess a hive mind, they agree so thoroughly on the fundamentals of Hattifattener logic that a player may play any size group of them as a single entity. They excel at problems of pure logic and electrical engineering. For Ars Tartary it is sufficient to state that they have no skill at combat but they may strike with a lightning-like attack, for 1d10 per turn spent building up charge, up to as many dice as there are Hattifatteners present. D&D variants will want stuff like their HD and special abilities that unlock as you go up levels: these involve the strength of their lightning attack, their ability to bypass simple obstacles by slipping through narrow gaps and/or quantum tunneling, and at high levels a telepathic mind-link power that extracts information and leaves the target confused and strangely affectless. You can certainly figure out the details there. They save and level as Monks.

The number of Hattifatteners present is indeterminate until it becomes germane, at which juncture roll 1d6 + 2, exploding. This roll may be modified by environmental factors – their numbers are suppressed underground, raised when near big electrical charges. Individual hattifatteners are extremely good at dodging but groups cannot react so quickly – they therefore attack, defend and take damage collectively.

Details of the workings of the Hattifattener “barometer” will not be revealed at this time.

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.

Jo sticks, aviator shades, Slim Jims and Danger Dog

March 17, 2013 1 comment

Some character classes (like the assassin or magic user) are all about what you can do. They’re toolboxes applied to the problem of the dungeon.

Others (paladins, druids) are about the choices you make: they hold you to some ethical position and see what sparks fly when those ethics contact the spinning wheel of the adventure.

And then there are those classes that are all about taking your choices away. Forcing you to engage the game in a way you never normally would – that you could not, in fact, defend if your character weren’t making you do it. For that, I aver, there is no finer class that Chris Kutalik’s Chaos Monk.

The choices-that-are-not-choices-at-all begin at chargen. We learn that the Chaos Monk’s weapons are “bo and jo sticks, nun-chucks (sic), clubs, man catchers, bowie knives, and throwing stars.” Obviously (but not explicitly) if he has the money, the Chaos Monk must buy at least one of each – either from a dodgy mail order ad or from the kind of tourist shop that carries giant swords with half a dozen blades sticking out at odd angles, nestled among C. More Buns trucker caps and novelty bottles of rough hooch. And he must try to use as many of them as possible during play, as though selecting the right golf club for each shot.

No matter what he rolls for starting money, the Chaos Monk is always nearly destitute – not because his riches are spiritual, but because his judgment is terrible: all he ever has is badly made junk that was never meant to be actually used.

Equally obviously, the Chaos Monk is not a schemer. He doesn’t have Conan’s panther-like cunning or Cugel’s persuasive tongue. Instead he has a peculiarly demanding bravado – being Chaotic Stupid means he’s bound by iron laws of conduct.

So who’s first in marching order? The Chaos Monk, every time (fuck yeah!). First through the door? Over the parapet? Into the mystery goop?

If a monster bellows at you, enraged – do you attack or run? The Paladin can choose to retreat, nursing his strength for another opportunity, coolly judging the danger to innocents posed by a tactical withdrawal. The Chaos Monk has to have a go, even if it’s only to come tumbling grinning back a moment later, clutching his greatest treasure – a story to bullshit about later in the pub.

As a player I never have to think or weigh odds or anything. If he’s not in trouble now, he will be soon. And if he realizes he’s in too much trouble to handle… welp, just do something else mullet-headed – it’ll get better or worse.

It’s a total holiday, frankly. I have other characters with complex back-stories, unrequited drives, burning ambitions, ideas above their station and plans to hit the big time.

Not the Chaos Monk. Here’s everything I need to know about him to play him right now:






3 variations on a Monster-in-your Pocket Trainer for LL/BX

March 4, 2013 5 comments

Be warned: long. 1 is a magic item. 2 is a character class (more or less). 3 is… me going off the deep end and kinda writing a spell that demands 17 new character classes.  Ay yi yi yi yi.

1. Bilbil’s Ravenous Phylactery (magic item)

A small handheld magic item that can appear as almost anything but most often takes the form of a clay pot or a bicoloured orb. The holder can use it to capture any non-human through a contested roll between the holder’s CHA vs the monster’s WIS or, in cases where that can’t be determined, its HD+10.  Any attack or other action the capturer undertakes on the monster increases the monster’s save chance by 1, except for SLEEP, CHARM or HYPNOTIZE, which each decrease the monster’s save by 2. If captured the monster goes into the Phylactery. It can be called forth once per game session, and may remain with the caster as a henchman until dismissed. If it fails a morale save or takes more than half its HP in damage, it retreats to the ball. Next session when it can come out again its HP will be healed, but no other status effects will be changed.

Whoever holds the phylactery may command the creature within.

Once a phylactery is filled it cannot be reused for another monster, even if the first one is killed.

2. A monster trainer class, such as Mike F requested lo these many moons ago.

The Monster Trainer is subject to an absolute taboo on violence except through the medium of trained monsters. No armour, nor weapons may be carried – so that the trainer may appear as non-threatening as possible.
Saves are at +4 (like a halfling). Prime attribute is CHA.
Hit points: at first level roll 3d6. Each level thereafter roll d6: an odd result grants +1 HP, and even result adds nothing. Advancing to 2nd level costs 500xp, doubling per level thereafter (but see below regarding monster level advancement). In addition at least 1 monster must be bound each level in order for the trainer to advance to the next level.

Monster trainers interact with the world primarily through monsters they bind to themselves. Binding a monster involves catching it in a specially prepared receptacle: this action takes one combat round, during which the trainer can take no other actions. Receptacles must be prepared ahead of time, and may be made by any trainer at a cost of 10gp. Every attempt to bind a monster uses up a new receptacle. The trainer must be within strike distance of the monster and the monster must be aware of them.

The trainer may keep no more than 4 + CHA bonus monsters with them – they may store more in a specially prepared storage facility. Attempts to exceed this total will result in a simple failure to catch/bind further monsters. If a trainer is loaded with too many monsters then interference among the receptacles will result in the excess +1d4 monsters slipping their bindings.

The act of binding is a contested roll between the trainer and monster – the trainer must roll higher than the monster on a d20 to succeed in binding. This roll is modified by:

  • the trainer’s CHA bonus (13-15 = +1, 16-17 = +2, 18= +3)
  • the difference in level/HD between trainer and monster
  • the monster’s current HP: if the monster is on full HP, it gets +3 to the roll. If on half or less, +2, if on 10% or less, no bonus.
  • Any special modifier the DM imposes based on the specific characteristics of the monster – intelligent monsters may get a bonus, or rare ones, or dragons…

Bound monsters are considered “charmed;” they treat the trainer as an ally and follow their instructions, and they will fight for the trainer until half their HP are used up, at which point they retreat to the receptacle and must be healed. Healing can be done by simple rest (heals 20% of HP per day) or by a healing machine (costs 5000gp to make, may be made by trainers of 5th level or above, weighs 400lbs). Each time a monster is forced back to the receptacle through damage it gets a chance to save vs charm. It takes 3 consecutive saves vs charm for the monster to break entirely free of the trainer. With one or two saves the monster can resist the trainer’s commands but cannot do anything actively against the trainer or hurt them.

The trainer may donate xp to their bound monsters to level them up. The leveling table used should depend on the monster in question – a gnoll or other goblinoid might advance on the Cleric table, a dragon on the elf table. Level limits… you decide. The point being here that a trainer with a varied portfolio of monsters is likely to be able to do all sorts of stuff, but they’ll also have to split their xp in many different directions.

3. Find A Strangely Familiar Familiar (1st level MU/Spirit Trainer spell)


The caster may enchant a phylactery at a cost of 200gp/level of the familiar to be summoned. Once a creature has been summoned it must be bound into the phylactery: the caster rolls against their CHA while the monster rolls against its WIS or, in cases where that can’t be determined, its HD+10: the one who succeeds by the greater margin wins. Only one creature may be so bound per level – ie. the caster must level up before they can bind a second creature into another phylactery. If the creature is not bound the phylactery is wasted – but the chance to bind a creature is not, and as long as a summoned creature is not reduced to 0 HP and/or does not flee, the caster may attempt to bind it multiple times, as long as they have phylacteries to use. A new phylactery may be enchanted by paying the cost again and assembling new ingredients.

The HD of the creature summoned may not exceed the caster’s level -1. Summoned, bound creatures (hereafter “pocket-familiars”) may share in xp and level up, using the Fighter table. Pocket-familiars may roam around with the caster or be stored in their phylacteries at will. They heal at the same rate as any PC, whether in or out of their phylactery. The morale of a pocket familiar depends on its caster’s treatment of it: each time it wins a fight it gets +1 to morale, each time it is reduced to 0 HP it gets -3 morale. If a pocket familiar has negative morale, its caster/binder must save vs CHA each time it is deployed in order to command it.

The creature summoned may be determined by rolling on the following table. This roll may be influenced by the kind of ENVIRONMENT in which the summoning takes place (either roll d20 for totally random summoning or d6/d8 on one of the subtables contained within it). All pocket familiars have 3d6 in order for stats. The rest of their stats are below: fight and save as the character class noted [in brackets]. Hit die type comes next, then AC, size/weight in {curly brackets}, natural attack (some pocket-familiars might be able to wear armour or carry weapons: DM’s prerogative), special attacks (each special attack may be used once only per session), the level at which they mutate/develop into another form, that form’s special attacks, and any other special comment. Special attacks are learned one per level.


1. OOPS: the caster is dragged into the phylactery and can subsequently be called forth or dismissed by whoever holds it. The caster cannot touch the phylactery with their bare skin – if they do, they get sucked into it immediately. Equipment is not taken into the phylactery: the caster is naked in there. Although they do keep cyborg implants etc
2. DARK: SABLEYE [thief] HD: d6. AC 5. {size:halfling} Natural attack: 1d6 Shadow sneak (one melee attack from up to level x 10′ away, automatically wins initiative), Knock off (removes an item from opponent), blind (for 1d10 turns), foul play (uses opponent’s special attack against them)
3. GHOST: GASTLY [mu] HD: d4. AC 7. +1 initiative. {size:halfling} Natural attack: 1d4. Each consecutive increases the die one size (d6, d8, d10…)  Confuse (save or be at -3 for d6 rounds), sucker punch (melee attack automatically wins initiative). At level 4 becomes HAUNTER: {size:human} Natural attack: 1d8 (and increase as before). Curse (Haunter reduced to 0hp/returns to ball, target has to save each round for next 8 rounds or lose 20% of their HP that round). Changes to Gengar at level 8. {size:halfling} Natural attack: 1d8 + increase. Shadow punch (Gengar disappears for one round, then melee strikes the next round without chance for retaliation except from targets that can hit ethereal beings. May reappear up to 30’ away).
4. PSYCHIC: MUNNA [mu] d6. AC 9. {size:cat} Natural attack: 1d4. Each consecutive increases the die one size (d6, d8, d10…) Sleep, psybeam (target forgets what they were doing, reroll reaction). At level 4 changes to Musharna, {size:halfling} Natural attack: 1d8 + increase.  Nightmare (save vs paralysis for a sleeping target: lasts until Musharna revokes it), dream eater (reduces sleeping target to 1d6 HP)
5. BUG: SHEDINJA [cleric] 1 hp only. Ever. AC 6. {size:cat} Natural attack: 1d4 + save vs poison or extra 1d4. Totally immune to fire, magic, ice, poisons, electricity. Sand attack (target gets -2 to hit for 2d6 rounds), confuse (save or be at -3 for d6 rounds), heal block, bug buzz (target deaf, takes 1d3 x Shedinja’s level in damage)
6. ICE: SNEASEL [fighter] d6. AC 4 {size:halfling} +2 initiative. Natural attack: 1d8. Quick attack (always wins init), faint attack (as melee attack but guaranteed not to reduce target below 1hp). Changes to Weavile at level 7 {size:human} Natural attack: 1d12. Ice shard (save or freeze + 2d12 damage), night slash (d4 x level damage)


7/1. FIRE: CHARMANDER . [fighter] d8. AC 6. {size:halfling} Natural attack: 1d8 + save or flammable stuff catches fire. Ember (1d6 damage, save each round for a number of rounds equal to Charmander’s level or take another d6). Changes to Charmeleon at level 3. {size:human} Natural attack: 1d10. Fire fang (as ember but does 3d6 damage on first attack). Changes to Charizard at level 7 {size:horse} Natural attack: 2d8. Inferno (fireball), Wing Attack (melee attack delivered from up to 50′ away)
8/2. FLYING: STARLY [fighter] d8. AC 5. {size:cat} Natural attack: 1d4. Aerial ace (one attack guaranteed to hit), changes to Staravia {size:human} at level 3. Natural attack: 1d12. Brave bird (5d6 damage, Staravia also takes 1d10 damage) Changes to Staraptor {size:elephant} at level 7. Natural attack: 1d20 .Fly (Staraptor can fly and carry up to 2 human-sized passengers), Endeavour (target must save or have their HP adjusted to equal Staraptor’s HP).
9/3. GRASS: TREECKO D6, AC 5. {size:halfling} +1 initiative. Natural attack: 1d8. Quick attack (automatic win initiative). Changes to Grovyle {size:halfling} at level 5. Natural attack: 1d12. +2 initiative. Mega drain (2d8 damage, half of which is given to Grovyle in healing), Changes to Sceptile {size:human} at level 8. Natural attack: 2d8. Giga drain (2d12 +2 damage, half of which heals Sceptile), Razor leaf (3d8 damage, never misses).
10/4. GLITCH: instead of a creature you bind a spell, which is randomly chosen and takes effect whenever you open the phylactery (once per session only). The spell is any MU, druid, illusionist or cleric spell your level would entitle you to cast if you were the right class.
11/5. WATER: MAGIKARP. [mu but no fighting at all] d12. AC 10. {size:halfling}. No natural attack. At level 6 becomes Gyarados [fighter, levels as an elf but no level limit] d12+2. AC 3 {size:elephant}. Natural attack: 3d6, +3 to hit and damage. May carry up to 2 human-sized passengers across water, tirelessly and indefinitely. Ice fang (double damage, save or be frozen for d6 rounds), surf (d20 damage to all present except Gyarados and caster, location flooded), iron tail (3d6 damage and target must save or be stunned and lose next attack), dragon dance (no attack this round but get +1 to hit and damage for rest of combat. May be done as many times as Gyarados’ current level).
12/6. GROUND: GIBLE [fighter] d10. AC 5{size:human}. Natural attack: 1d10. Sand attack (target gets -1 to hit. May be repeated as many times as Gible’s level), Sand tomb (save or take1d6 damage every round for 5 rounds). Changes to Gabite at level 6. AC 4 {size:horse}. Natural attack: 1d10. Earthquake (all present take 3d6 damage except Gabite and anyone mounted on it – only levitating/flying creatures may act for the rest of the combat round). Changes to Garchomp {size:great white shark} at level 11. AC 3. Natural attack: 2d8. Dig (may carry up to 2 human passengers through level x 10’ of solid earth/rock as passwall)


13/1. POISON: GRIMER  [thief] HD: d8. AC 9 {size:human}. Natural attack: 1d6. Poison (save or take d4 damage the first round. Save again the next round or take d6 damage… continues to increase until a save is made), mud shot (target gets -2 to hit for 3 rounds). Changes to Muk {size:elephant} at 5th level. Natural attack: 1d10. Sludge bomb (2d8 damage + effects of poison), acid armour (if hit in melee, assailant takes damage equal to that taken by Muk).
14/2. STEEL: BRONZOR [cleric] d10. AC 4 {size:hand mirror}.Natural attack: 1d6.  -1 initiative. Immune to poisons. Metal Sound (deafens target, save each round or be incapable of action that round for d6 rounds), iron defense (lower AC by 1, may be repeated d4 times). Changes to Bronzong {size:phone box} at level 6. AC 1. Natural attack: 1d10. Mirror Shot (attacker’s attack rebounds on them, sve or be blinded for d4 rounds), Heavy Slam (2d20 damage, Bronzong must save vs spells or attack random targets for the next 3 turns).
15/3. ROCK: CRANIDOS [fighter] d6. AC 4{size:horse}. Natural attack: 1d12. Rock polish (+1 initiative. May be used d4 times), Zen Headbutt (target must save or – d4: sleep, berserk, be charmed, be stunned ie. lose next action). Changes to Rampardos {size:Allosaurus} at level 7. AC 2. Natural attack: 2d10. Head Smash (3d12 damage and target knocked back an equal number of feet) Fissure (ground opens to swallow one target. Target saves vs spells or is dropped 60’ into the ground which closes over them the next round)
16/4. DRAGON: BAGON [cleric] d10. AC 8 {size:halfling}. Natural attack: 1d4. vulnerable to ice. Dragon rage (does 10+level damage). Changes to Shelgon {size:human} at level 5. AC 4. Natural attack: 1d8. Hoard (provides a useful item from Shelgon’s shell, like a cartoon character’s hammerspace pocket). Changes to Rayquaza (surprise!) at level 11. AC 1 {flying snale 100’ long}. Natural attack: 3d6. Draco Meteor (2d20 damage to all present except Rayquaza and those in physical contact with it. Reduced to 1d10 underground but also causes cave-in of a random neighboring square/hex). Teleport/Gate (may transport up to 20 human-size characters but for each passenger roll once on the Hilarious Teleport Mishaps table (TBD by Jason Sholtis))
17/5. NORMAL: SOLOSIS (yes I know it’s a psychic shut up) [MU] d6. AC 7 {size:cat}. Natural attack: 1d4. Can squeeze through surprisingly narrow gaps like an octopus. Jelly shot (save or be blinded for d4 rounds), lick (as Cure Light Wounds but also causes confusion for d6 turns, will not recognise friends or foes, at -3 to all actions, on a failure does the opposite of what they intended). Changes to Duosion at level 5 {size:halfling}. Natural attack: 1d6. Absorb (save vs paralysis, absorbs stuff as Gelatinous Cube but does not dissolve things absorbed: instead absorbed creatures are kept in state of suspended animation until freed) Changes to Reuniclus at level 9{size:horse}. Natural attack: 1d8. Splatter (cone effect. Save or be blinded, deafened, glued in place with STR 20 glue and intoxicated ie -1to  all actions per round, accumulating, for d8 rounds)
18/6. ELECTRIC: MAREEP (cannot touch the ground: levitates above it) [cleric] d6. AC 7 {size:halfling}. Natural attack: 1d6 (electric). Shocking grasp (or touch, really). Electromagnet (attracts all ferrous objects within 10’ w STR = levelx4 attraction. STR of attraction is doubled for physical contact, halved up to 20’ from Mareep). Flaaffy {size:human} (cannot touch the ground: must be carried). Natural attack: 1d6. Lightning (d3 x level damage). Ampharos (can touch the ground). Natural attack: 2d8 Call lightning (all present must save or be hit by Lightning each round for the next d3 rounds, except those touching Ampharos {size:human}, who take automatic d8/round in contact. Shelter is possible inside a Faraday cage)
19/7. FIGHT: MANKEY [fighter (duh)] d8. AC 7 {size:human}. Natural attack 1d8. protection from evil. 2 attacks per round from level 2. Changes to Vigoroth (surprise!) at level 5 {size:gorilla}. d12. Natural attack 1d12. Immune to sleep, confusion. Focus punch (must go last, cannot be hit during round: if these conditions are met, can cause level x d12 damage), Counter (inflicts double the damage received this round by Vigoroth). Changes to Kong (double surprise!!) at level 9 {size:orca}. d20. Natural attack 1d20. Reversal (does damage equal to the difference between Kong’s current HP and maximum HP x2).


Ars Magica hack for Tartary (Chargen)

November 18, 2012 5 comments

So because I’m a lunatic I decided to try running Tartary in Ars Magica rather than the more obvious DnD route (also because I don’t want to deal with levels, at least for now). And then I hacked AM to look as much like DnD as possible.* Idiot.

Anyway: simplified Ars Magica chargen for Tartary.

1. roll characteristics,
2. choose a “class” – this is your major skill. Add 2 minor skills,
3. roll equipment.

Core Mechanic ie what you’re rolling against: 

D10 + relevant characteristic + situational modifiers against a target difficulty number. 1 is a botch (roll again – 1 confirms the botch, but there may be mods on that second roll depending on how risky the thing was you were doing). 0 is exploding – roll again, add to the previous result. (note this is the inverse of AM. Crazy huh?)

You can take “extra risk” and add +n to your die roll, but then you have to roll over n to avoid a botch.

AM has needlessly complex initiative and combat rolls. Here you just roll D10 + skill + sneaky roleplaying mods you fast talk me into, and try to get higher than the enemy. All combat is simultaneous except where there’s surprise.

Attributes (different from AM, sorry):
roll 1d6 -3 for each of these, yielding a range of -2 to +3. In order, natch.

Phy(sique = Str and Con combined), Dex, Int, Per(ception), Wis, Cha.

If you are not happy with your whole suite of rolls you can change the sign of all of them at once – all negatives become positives and vice versa. Attributes actually matter, so it might be worth it. Or just cheat completely: how would I know?

Hit Points

I do not use Ars Magica’s Body Levels. Instead there are hit points (which represent luck pure and simple and which recover after a night’s sleep) and a death and dismemberment table adapted from Trollsmyth, for when the hp run out.

To calculate HP: D6 + Wis + Phy + 4. Because wisdom is the art of doing what turned out to be the right thing after all (which sounds a lot like luck to me) and being big and beefy at least looks like it matters when you’re shrugging off minor damage.

If you take enough damage to reduce you to 0 hp, then roll on the The Death and Dismemberment Table (via Trollsmyth and Carjacked Seraphim). Roll 1d10 minus whatever negative hp you might be on.

1 confirmed by rerolling 1: Instant death (decapitated or other grievous wound).
1 but unconfirmed: Incapacitated/maimed. Die in 1d6 minutes unless medics beat difficulty target 9. Medics will be working on you for hours. Weak for 2d6 weeks, some lasting impairment.
2: Severed limb (DM’s choice or roll randomly) will die in 3d6 minutes unless tourniquet applied, cauterized etc. Then will die in 3d6 hours unless medics beat difficulty 6. Out for min. 1 hour.
3: lose something fragile – an eye, an ear, a finger, your memory/sense of self-identity. You’ll die in 3d10 hours unless medics beat difficulty 6. Beat 6 on d10+Wis or be stunned for rest of combat
4-5: broken bones, punctured lungs: roll over blow-through damage to stay conscious. You need medical aid or you will never be the same again. Also will die in d10 hours if you don’t stop the bleeding. With proper care you can recover completely. Meanwhile beat 6 on D10+Wis every time you try to do something strenuous or you’ll black out. And if you do, then beat 6 on d10+CHA or roll again on this table.
6: Knocked out and concussed. At -3 to do everything for 2d12 hours. Also you’re still on 0 hp. Beat 6 on D10 or you’ll black out. And if you do, then beat 6 on d10+Cha or roll again on this table.
7: Beat 6 on d10+Wis of be knocked out for d10 minutes.
8: Stunned and confused until someone snaps you out of it.
9: drop weapon, stunned for 1 round.
10: Adrenaline Surge. get back 1d3 HP. These go away again at the end of combat, at which point reroll. Another 10? permanently get +1 hp.

Abilities and Skills:

Everyone has 3 fields of ability: your class (a broad but ill-defined suite of skills, on which you get +6); your minor (a more limited skill area, like “bargain” or “athletics (ie run, jump, climb)” on which you get +4) and your hobby (same as minor but you only get +3).

If you want to specialise like crazy you can ditch your +4 minor and make ONE of your class’s core skills +7.
Everyone also gets Fight at +3 (unless they already have it at +6 because of their class, obviously. Sheesh.) – if you want you can trade this out for a different skill at +3 and be the one person around who can’t fight. Fight, by the way, covers all kinds of melee, brawling and dirty tricks bound up together.
Everyone can also at minimum ride a horse or camel well enough not to fall off on the trail, erect a tent, build a fire, climb easy rocky cliffs, walk quietly etc. without needing points in those things. BUT literacy, driving, repairing machines, swimming, medicine and shooting straight are not assumed.

Sample Classes (some extra class flavour here) – or suggest your own, natch.

Athletic/fighting classes – these guys all Fight, Shoot and Ride professionally (+5), but they have different societies, priorities and other skills.
Mamluk (Mamluk/pilot/ordnance officer) used to formal command systems, respectability and driving and field maintenance of heavy equipment, sapping etc.
Nomad (Turkmen horseclansman, pirate, steppe bandit, Mongol, barbarian) adds survival, tracking, animal handling and slaving contacts.
Green man (or Thark for the layman) unrivalled marksmen (automatically get +6 to shooting but no familiarity with bows), 4 arms allows multiple attacks, but almost universally outcast as rage-prone lunatics, stand out in a crowd, too big to usefully ride anything smaller than a thoat. May not have Wis above 0.

Sneaky, techie classes – in Tartary technology is always secret and academics need con-man skills, so there’s a large liaison between magic, tech and thief type skills.
Grease Monkey (hack-it-together mechanic, repairman and saboteur)
Scholar (or Apprentice Technomage/archaeologist – part Stalker, part Repo Man, and a large part knowledgable thief)
Merchant, Smuggler, Ambassador, Spy (same skillsets, reasons to keep moving on),

Charismatic classes – not clerics, but rabble-rousing talkers. Cha, obviously, but also Int, Dex, Phy can be important.
Lawgiver (respectable traveling Qadi or Mufti – eg ibn Battuta – more a Solomonic judge than a sheriff but both ideas are applicable)
Prophet, mystic or saint (shaggy-haired bushman or resplendently caparisoned spirit medium, the point is you have a strange hypnotic authority for some people)
Entertainer (be a bard if you like but you could be a veiled dancer, acrobat, or fakir)
Bollymecha Gladiator/Jockey (there are lots of ways you could’ve had a shot at the big time and fallen by the wayside. Now it’s comeback time. You have hands-on experience of surfing the dragon, but not necessarily any idea of what to do when it goes wrong. Somewhere you have a gaggle of die-hard fans. And sworn enemies. Note that to perform at the top you gotta be a triple threat – singing, dancing and whoopin’ ass in a giant fighting machine – but street brawling ain’t for stars)

NOTE: I am always interested in new classes that trade on Perception or Wisdom, or trades that favour less-traveled mixes of talents, like strong/wise or strong/charismatic: if you have an idea you’re excited about I’m unlikely to say no.

Sample minor skills. Where there’s a slash you get the combo: I just couldn’t think of an elegant name for it.

acrobatics/escapology (circus work, includes multi-person stunts)
athletics (parkour – climb, run, jump)
evaluate goods/bargain
etiquette/savoir faire
folk ken (applied psychology/empathy)
animal handling/whispering
direction sense (track, find your way in the dark etc)
radiation sense (aka detect magic)
concentration/iron will (useful for rocket surgeons, lookouts)
jimmy (pick locks, also fix machines with a kick or whisper)
read lips/gesture
weather sense
shoot – bow or guns or artillery
sleight of hand, 
law, beliefs
sail, drive, or fly vehicle

Experience and Character Advancement

is handed out at DM’s will and whim, but often comes down to 1xp per session of active participation, and sometimes an extra 1 if you do something awesome.

An xp is a skill point plain and simple. The cost to improve a skill by 1 point = the resulting bonus. SO to improve a skill of 3 to 4 costs 4 points. Then to improve that to 5 costs 5 points. In short, it’s a triangular number system.

Attributes can also be improved, but the cost is triple that for skills. So to improve DEXterity from 0 to 1 costs 3xp. From 1 to 2 costs 6xp, from 2 to 3 costs 9xp. It’s the same with negatives: -1 to 0 costs 3xp. -2 to -1 costs 6xp etc.

Equipment (reproduced from here)

First roll to see how desperate and starving you are – or talk me into agreeing to a specific social stratum via a really great character concept story.

Level of Destitution (d6)

1. naked and alone. You have exactly nothing. Save vs. INT or you’re also suffering from amnesia
2. where’d you get that? roll d6+14 twice on Table A and 1d12 on Table B
3. one good friend. You have the basic tool of your trade** plus 3d8 on Table A and 1d12 on Table B
4. practically minded. You have the basic tool of your trade** plus 4d12 on Table A and 1d6 on Table B
5. expert skip-dipper. You have the basic tool of your trade** plus 4d20 on Table A
6. Favoured urbanite with social contacts: roll 6d20 on table A, 2d12 on table B

** a melee weapon or a grease monkey’s spannerwrench or a grapnel/multitool or a primus stove and glassware or whatever.

Table A
1. crowbar
2. dagger
3. shield
4. food, drink and backpack
5. lamp and flasks of oil (3)
6. melee weapon
7. armour: leather or improvised equivalent
8. bow or crossbow with 10 arrows/bolts
9. handcart – doubles as a small raft
10. mirror
11. rope (50′)
12. grappling hook
13. pouch with 20 silver dirhams
14. musical instrument
15. hammer, chisel, pick + 8 iron spikes
16. writing box and seal
17. jezzail or blunderbuss + 10 shots
18. 10 radium shells for a jezzail/blunderbuss.
19. grease monkey’s spanner-wrench
20. 3 detonator charges, with timers

Table B
1 lucky medallion (re-roll 1 failed saving throw)
2 potion of healing (2d6 hp)
3 lockable iron-bound chest
4 guard animal (dog, calot or similar)
5 riding or pack animal (camel, pony, small thoat)
6 yurt or similar packable shelter
7 armor: chain or exotic
8 book – holy text or instruction manual or blueprints
9 map
10 loyal family retainer – a standard grog with a couple of charming quirks.
11 holy symbol or badge of office
12 radio

Also check out these name lists right here.

Sample Character: Armağan the Vagrant is a some time scholar and part-time bandit. Allegedly he has a prestigious apprenticeship waiting for him among the Seers of Otrar, but that’s conditional on him bringing something back from his “fieldwork” to form the focus of his research.
Phy -1, Dex 0, Int +2, Per +1, Wis -2, Cha 0. Scholar/archaeologist 5, smuggler 3, liar 2
Chemistry set and ancient mysterious instruction manual, crowbar (counts as club), lamp and oil. One flask of something he hopes is a potion of healing.

General statements about the setting:
Tartary has “technomagic” – a lot of stuff in Tartary obeys peculiar physical laws, functions unpredictably, is misunderstood and has some kind of superstitious traditions built around it.
Doing technomagic means building and using equipment or stuff in the environment. Nobody starts with magic on hand, it must be found through play – though scholars may recognise it when they see it and know where to learn more about it. There is most of all no equivalent to DnD’s one-spell-a-day magic user or cleric – there are guilds of scholars and mad archmages with plenty of mystique around them, but they mostly fight over physical resources. Even the great choreomancers, who clearly do honest-to-whizbang magic, work with physical tools.

All new characters are generated as “companions:” competent non-magic folk. Also, by default everyone can fight – but just being a fighter is boring, so folks are mostly distinguished by being able to do other things.

Common belief says there is an “overworld,” but that’s where consensus ends. Tartary has a hard time distinguishing between magic and engineering – it certainly does not draw any clear line between magic and religion. In place of clerics there are Those Who Hold The Law. There are various kinds of uncanny spirits, sprites and parasites, but whether they are undead or not is a philosophical matter: anyway nobody can turn them.

Tartary has no “home tech level” (like DnD’s home tech level is roughly 14th century but you might run across stuff that’s anachronistic/out of place), it’s the whole history of Turkestan, ancient to post-Soviet, simultaneously – flattened into a brick – plus “magic” and post-apocalyptic bits and Girl Genius and Arabian Nights shout-outs.
But real high-tech is rare: production quality is generally low – stuff is improvised, home-made. Bows are no more common than guns or slings or atlatls, but the guns are what you could cook up in the desert with simple tools: more like unreliable muskets than modern assault rifles. You use what you can. Technologies that have dependencies (like cars that need fuel and spare parts) are rarer and less reliable than those that don’t (like rocks and hide shelters). Real manufactured goods are the stuff of legend – and are to be found in dangerous, Roadside Picnic type zones.

Tartary also has no widespread cash economy – individual cities and some confederations exist that have common money, and the Armenian and Chinese trade networks have paper letters of credit that work something like cash (but must be certified), but most trade is barter and exchange rates for metals, rare stones, spices and other common cash equivalents are wildly variable.

Language is a mish-mash of Turkic/Uighur/Persian/Arabic/Pashto forming a pidgin “common” tongue – most people also have their “native” language spoken only by a small population in the local area, so kin/neighbours often have a kind of secret code among themselves. This effect is doubled for incoming flailsnailers, who are definitely gringos/farangs in a foreign land, but can communicate well enough to get by, when everyone wants to be understood.

Colour-coded Carcosans dropped in some years ago and have their own communities out in the wastes, but they’re a minority. If you play a Carcosan then you can speak Carcosan and bad common, you’ll be tolerated by most non-Carcosans, and you may be hunted by sorcerers or paint suppliers, but in recompense you get some natural radiation/magic resistance. Prejudice is so universal and works in so many directions that it’s hardly worth mentioning anti-Orange or -Teal* feeling. The exception, of course, is Bone men, who creep out the superstitious (ie most folks but not everyone) and Yellow men, whom the Mongols have decided are their natural enemies. Barsoomian Green Men are another matter altogether – they’re actively feared by many and the Turkmens, in particular, hate them. There are some places where Green Men are welcomed and they have powerful sponsors who use them as mercenaries, but on picaresque adventures they’re going to face general flak.

Tartary is supposed to be a flailsnails setting, but Ars Magica and Tartary don’t have levels. Weird, huh? BUT there is a  Reputation stat (REP) that records your fame and badassery on Tartary, useful in social combat and when asking for favours, recruiting redshirts etc. Tartary gets television from across the flailsnailoverse; when bringing a character from elsewhere, let me know about their greatest career highs and lows to date – there’s a fair chance someone out there has seen them on TV based on their fame.
Rep = your DnD level +/- a modifier based on your glorious pratfalls so far.

For more and confusing information, follow the Baikonur and Carcosa tags.

* changes from Ars Magica: no more “communication” – that’s up to you, player. Also no more Qikness (aka “initiative bonus”), Sta, pairing of stats. Pfeh. I like differentiating Int and Wis so there you are. Also allows me to give you common sense saves vs doing something stupid.

Also Virtues and Flaws are not included here. We may add these later but for session one don’t worry about it UNLESS there is something vital to your character concept.

The sorcerer Bakchkan

October 3, 2012 1 comment

Bakchkan stalks Tartary, often in disguise, always causing trouble. He may appear as an Emir or vizier, a visiting merchant loaded with Cathay silks, an angel or a genie or a corner fruit seller (and very, very rarely as a beggar).

Like The Doctor or Gandalf he’s a player of the long game, maneuvering in a dance that began in untold ages past. His actions therefore frequently appear mysterious or nonsensical. Why does he elevate a loser on the street to the royal court? Why does he lift up one prince and cast down another? He is evidently among the very few classical magicians of Tartary, so why does he so rarely use those lightning-throwing powers to get what he wants more directly?

In particular, ask the stage-manager-sorcerers who work the mecharena circuit of Baluchistan, 

why does he insist on making a great show of “dropping the ball” and letting the people see behind the illusory-magical curtain? It’s like he wants to sabotage the trade or something.

For all his inscrutability, Bakchkan has a soft spot for neerdowell adventurers and rarely upsets their schemes – unless there’s some deeper plot afoot (so if he mucks up the PCs’ action it’s a fair bet that something’s going on they don’t know about yet… and watching the sorcerer might be a key to finding out about it). As a patron, he tends to offer the moon at the price of the world. And he’s always gone before the fallout hits.

One thing about Bakchkan, at least, is not a mystery – once an enterprising your engineer snatched brief notoriety by stealing The Big B’s aftershave and demonstrating that it had an uncanny effect on all around him – like a mass charm spell, it caused everyone who smelled it to misrecognize the wearer as a friend, a patron, a master or a king.

It was while the young engineer was exploiting its effects to be seen as a lover that the scent abruptly wore off, leading to the engineer’s execution and a thorough reshuffling of the palace staff in the Qaghanate of Herat.

You Know Me (5th level MU spell, available as a potion)

The caster or imbiber can convince all around them that they are a friend, a lover, a trusted confidant or any other role they choose. All who can see the caster or are within smelling range of the imbiber must save vs spells or misrecognize the caster/imbiber as the persona they have adopted. The caster/imbiber must act out their chosen persona in words, manner and gestures, but may otherwise do whatever they wish. Most often the effect is used to infiltrate palaces or sneak past guard trolls but it is known that Bakchkan once spent an entire month living in the harem of the Sultan of Bishkek as one of the Sultan’s most senior and favoured wives – a role in which he was accepted by the Sultan, the guards and, more surprisingly, the previous senior wife.

The effect does not work on machines or optical devices: a photograph would show the caster clearly, although it would not dispel the illusion that clings to the caster’s person – it would merely show that somebody was around that could not be seen normally.

By the way, if you’ve been wondering what all Jason Kielbasa’s recent dance-off posts have to do with my mecha/carcosa wacky races setting, well (a) you haven’t been paying attention and (b) this.

And if you’d really like that done to death, here.

Ridicule kills: scattered notes toward a reputation system for Bollymecha Tartary

September 27, 2012 6 comments

A one-eighth scale test maquette for the Sultan of Mawarannahr’s “Bone-cruncher II”

So first Jason Kielbasa tweaked my nose about the effects of reputation on the princely Bollymecha pilots of Tartary – I’m looking forward to hosting his list of spells reworked for a set-piece singing and dancing + battletech fighting social wrestling game – and that made me think seriously about what’s going to happen when the players finally get into the giant Bollymecha wrestling ring for fame, fortune and the attention of scantily clad royals of whatever orientation. Jason’s idea, which I’m stealing shamelessly, is that reputation is the fundamental coin of political Tartary, and that it can be won or lost as easily on the palace dance floor as on the battlefield or the arena. In fact (of course), the greatest prince must be a triple threat.

Then Erik Jensen blogged about “it gets worse” – his ingenious alternative to the hard reset of PC death, where if the whole party is overcome by ogres, the next step is to wake up in the cook pot, not roll up a successor party.

And then I remembered the GURPS Goblins rules that Chris Hogan swiped for Small But Vicious Dog, and Zzarchov‘s social combat rules and Chris Kutalik’s CHA rules, and it all seems great but just not quite right for me. But I don’t have anything like a complete system, so I thought I’d just share my thinking and see if it sparks anything…

1. There may not be clean water, basic hygiene or reliable cure light wounds but Tartary gets television, piped straight from the Flailsnails multiverse. So your exploits, wherever they may happen, under whatever circumstances, are being watched on primetime across the smoking wastes and teeming souks of my setting. And so when you bring an FPC to Tartary I want to know their greatest high and lowest low to date, and you can be sure that somebody somewhere has seen them both. Especially if they’re above 1st level. How is this achieved? You’ll have to come to Tartary to find out.

2. Your level is basically a quick-and-dirty number for your reputation, but there’s also a separate reputation score, called REP. If you would’ve died but you get saved by It Gets Worse, you immediately take a cut in your REP. If you do something amazing (and I’m thinking here of rescuing princesses and achieving goals, not just rolling massive crits) then your REP goes up.

3. REP directly affects all your rolls for charisma and charisma-based magic. It also affects how people react to you in general, whether they’ll be willing to lend you stuff should you find yourself momentarily without weapons, an entourage, or clothes, or whether they’ll cower in a properly abject manner should you threaten to lose your patience with their cheering or jeering.

4. REP also acts as a cap on your level – you can come in with a higher level than your REP, or you can lose REP and have it be lower than your current level, but then (a) you can’t level up until you increase your REP accordingly, and (b) you wear the mark of a doomed man – you’re seen as “mouthy” – a sin beyond the pale of the wrestling morality of faces and heels; someone who pretends to a better station than they deserve. This means (somehow) you are cursed by a tragic arc (which is probably just a penalty on saving throws or something) UNTIL you can fix your REP, at which point the crowd will love or hate you properly again (and no more curse).

5. Outrageous REP is the only mechanically-encoded method in my rules through which you can break through the hard cap of 8th level. All other methods involve some sort of cheating.

What I totally was not looking for while writing this post: Giant scantily clad dancing robots.

What I’m delighted by but which SO IS NOT Tartary-style Bollymecha: Kabutom Beetle Mech; Suiobashi basher. I’m slowly coming round to the fact that if I want art to show people what these mecha are supposed to be, I’m probably going to have to draw it myself (and I vowed never to go back there). For now, the Authentick Spirit of Bollymechs is somewhere inside this triangle:

and here, have some more Theyyam dancers just because:

Brendan’s 20 questions for Tartary, plus starting equipment

September 11, 2012 1 comment

So Brendan’s wonderful system list is going around again. Here’s Tartary’s system, such as it is:

Ability scores generation method? 3d6 in order, punk. Now re-reading Ars Magica since I’m thinking of using it just to get away from stupid levels even though I’m shooting myself in the flailsnailing foot.
How are death and dying handled? At 0hp you roll on the complicated dismemberment table. It’s actually surprisingly non-lethal, but can give you lasting headaches. Pious men do not demand markers for their graves, but if you go the whole pyramidal tomb tower route then it’s just possible that through years of strange adventures someone might be able to bring you back from a toenail.
What about raising the dead? There are many stories, most of them unpleasant. You have to ask yourself if you really want to get the Mad Archmages of Ashgabat all up in your business.
How are replacement PCs handled?  bring some friends, sassy kid sidekicks or hired help along on dangerous business. You can keep them as retainers or go the whole Ars Magica troupe route. The alternative is to wait for me to weave your new PC into the story, which might be as a rescued captive or sole survivor of an airship wreck.
Initiative: individual, group, or something else? All combat is simultaneous, when I can be bothered. Otherwise, it’s group.
Are there critical hits and fumbles? How do they work? 20 or 6 over the to hit number is a crit, 1 or to hit -10 is a fumble. Or Ars Magica equivalent let me check… anyway I’m thinking of adopting something like Zak’s called shot mechanic
Do I get any benefits for wearing a helmet? on the dismemberment table, yes.
Can I hurt my friends if I fire into melee or do something similarly silly? If you fumble, you hit your friend.
Will we need to run from some encounters, or will we be able to kill everything? Try not to tackle anything head-on. Never assume you have surprise. When you run, run around corners, not in a straight line.
Level-draining monsters: yes or no? Maybe. Also permanent HP draining, stat draining, whatever makes your skin crawl.
Are there going to be cases where a failed save results in PC death? Saves are your second chance, your “but I’m a hero” special pleading, so yes.
How strictly are encumbrance & resources tracked? Only when it’s funny or if I get suspicious. If I go waitiaminute can I see everything you’re carrying? then chances are you don’t have all that with you and we have to decide what stayed home. But otherwise, no I won’t make you account for your matches.* But I will make you count your bullets.
What’s required when my PC gains a level? Training? Do I get new spells automatically? Can it happen in the middle of an adventure, or do I have to wait for down time? Magic always has to be found in game, and any other new feats need explanations. But mere incremental changes just happen.
What do I get experience for? Surviving (especially only just), style/smarts, acts of renown and, alas, filthy moolah spent.
How are traps located? Description, dice rolling, or some combination? They’re usually written right in – seldom randomly – and often thematic. PCs finding them? Description, sometimes perception rolls. Actually if I ask for a perception roll, that’s me giving you a 6th sense heads up.
Are retainers encouraged and how does morale work? Most of Tartary has no cash economy, so extras are encouraged but the details of partnership are up to you. Morale is a contested roll between the PC’s CHA and the demi-PC’s WIS, with modifiers. Number of retainers is not mechanically limited, but they won’t follow you unless there’s something in it for them.
How do I identify magic items? You can try asking sages and mages in the cities if you trust those weirdos, or try to get into a library. The world abounds in strange little boxes with an antenna and a button, and much of the time the quickest, surest answer is to press it. Or get someone else to do so.
Can I buy magic items? Oh, come on: how about just potions? You can buy all kinds of crazy junk. No refunds, no guarantees. Small probability of it doing exactly what you wanted. No, you can’t buy +n weapons, but you can go shopping for explosive bullets etc.
Can I create magic items? When and how? Play a grease monkey, a sage or an alchemist. Sneak into libraries, find ingredient lists, and go hunting. Play it out, negotiate, and take risks. That’s really what the whole game is about.
What about splitting the party? How would I stop you?

* but don’t I have to calculate encumbrance at chargen? Together with starting money and equipment costs and so on? Not if you use this handy starting equipment table (hat tip to Stuart Robinson of Strange Magic). First roll to see how desperate and starving you are – or talk me into agreeing to a specific social stratum via a really great character concept story.

Level of Destitution (d6)

1. naked and alone. You have exactly nothing. Save vs. INT or you’re also suffering from amnesia
2. where’d you get that? roll d6+14 twice on Table A and 1d12 on Table B
3. one good friend. You have the basic tool of your trade** plus 3d8 on Table A and 1d12 on Table B
4. practically minded. You have the basic tool of your trade** plus 4d12 on Table A and 1d6 on Table B
5. expert skip-dipper. You have the basic tool of your trade** plus 4d20 on Table A
6. Favoured urbanite with social contacts: roll 6d20 on table A, 2d12 on table B

** a melee weapon or a grease monkey’s spannerwrench or a grapnel/multitool or a primus stove and glassware or whatever.

Table A
1. crowbar
2. dagger
3. shield
4. food, drink and backpack
5. lamp and flasks of oil (3)
6. melee weapon
7. armour: leather or improvised equivalent
8. bow or crossbow with 10 arrows/bolts
9. handcart – doubles as a small raft
10. mirror
11. rope (50′)
12. grappling hook
13. pouch with 20 silver dirhams
14. musical instrument
15. hammer, chisel, pick + 8 iron spikes
16. writing box and seal
17. jezzail or blunderbuss + 10 shots
18. 10 radium shells for a jezzail/blunderbuss.
19. grease monkey’s spanner-wrench
20. 3 detonator charges, with timers

Table B
1 lucky medallion (re-roll 1 failed saving throw)
2 potion of healing (2d6 hp)
3 lockable iron-bound chest
4 guard animal (dog, calot or similar)
5 riding or pack animal (camel, pony, small thoat)
6 yurt or similar packable shelter
7 armor: chain or exotic
8 book – holy text or instruction manual or blueprints
9 map
10 loyal family retainer (HP:5, AC:6, Dmg d6, +4 Morale) a standard grog with a couple of charming quirks.
11 holy symbol or badge of office
12 radio