Posts Tagged ‘random tables’

50 feet of curses (a Gygaxian Democracy post)

May 3, 2013 4 comments

Some less commonly cursed items, courtesy of Reynaldo, Joey, R S Tilson, Ed Hackett, Trent B, Jeremy Duncan, Jason K, Joe Vilas, John Williams, Roger Giner-Sorolla, James Young, Scrap Princess, and Gus L.

Roll 1d53:

  1. 50′ of rope: entangles itself, everything else in your possession so it takes multiple rounds to prepare anything. Cuts your hands, snags on everything, abominably heavy when wet, unties itself only at the worst moment, creaks when used, slippery, sings silently to your reptile brain so you can’t throw it away. Only 47′ long.
  2. Iron spikes: invariably trip; bend when hammered for any purpose except spiking a door. Attract wandering monsters who then track the party’s scent. Fiercely magnetic. Punch holes in bags, sacks etc. Tetanus.
  3. Bastard sword: impregnates women. Nobody knows how.
  4. Torch: Will stay lit eternally, and extinguish when you get into a fight.
  5. Lamp oil that takes a minute or two to really catch fire. Also, when it does burn, it smells like an abbatoir.
  6. Iron Rations that give you diarrhea.
  7. Ornate hard-bronze knife. Anything it cuts repairs itself d6 rounds later. (Potentially useful as a torture device or for cutting holes in sacks etc and then putting them over things knowing they’ll seal up later. Like monsters’ heads)
  8. Polish crossbow. Shoots in the opposite direction intended.
  9. Polished crossbow (I made it in shop class!) – for some reason, the stain never dried completely, making the weapon alternately sticky and slick to the touch.  Critical range to drop the weapon is 1-3.  Anyone handling the weapon for more than a round gets russet-colored wood finish stains all over their hands and clothing.
  10. Ring of normalcy: does nothing, but won’t come off your finger. Maybe glows in the dark when you don’t want it to, but that wouldn’t be very normal.
  11. Anti-chastity belt: comes off at the first opportunity.
  12. Sword of dulling: Found dull. Won’t sharpen. Ruins sharpening stones. Won’t be re-smithed into anything sharp.  Dulls other items in owner’s possession.
  13. Assholehol- A small of liquor that smells and if sipped tastes like whiskey. If the bottle is fully drank the PC will become hostile and pick a fight w/ the player directly to their left. This hostility will only end after they have successfully defeated this person or they have been subdued and 8 hours have past. The cursed PC has no memories of this happening.
  14. Cowardly Cuirass:  as normal plate armor, but is deathly afraid of a particular type of weapon– swords, axes, arrows, etc., and will subtly twist and shift around the wearer’s body to expose gaps and joints, giving the wearer an adjusted AC of 11 (assuming ascending AC) whenever that weapon is wielded against them.
  15. Patel’s Scintillating Robe- User gains +3 CHA while wearing it. AC same as Leather Armor. Every time the attempts to speak must save vs spell or break into dance number. Everyone w/in hearing range of a cursed individual must save vs paralysis or join in. Lasts 1d4+user level rounds. Wearer cannot hide in shadows.
  16. Vial of infinite interest – This standard potion vial contains a thick reddish silvery liquid that when shaken produces strange rhythmic contortions. Anyone who studies it for more than 2 rounds will find it hopelessly alluring and sit staring, avoiding any useful or productive activity for 1d12 hours. If the vial is taken from the afflicted, they will rant and rave for 1d8 hours about “the man (the king)”, “the system (probably feudalism)” or how one day the peasants are going to revolt. The effect is amplified by the use of intoxicants or by listening to whatever your worlds equivalent of the Grateful Dead is.
  17. bag of molding
  18. hag of scolding
  19. dog of gelding
  20. gold of sagging (ruins the line of your suit)
  21. Mustache of understanding- fake mustache that gives the player 25% more gold earned per session than is truly earned. -2INT and -2WIS. The PC is compelled to talk about inn owners,or taxi drivers (or game similar concepts). Their opinions will always mirror the PC but he always expresses his opinion through them. Will always foment for war and act as if he is helping the non-lazy lower classes. The extra gold is gotten from the PCs wife but this is never mentioned.
  22. assholehole: anything dropped in is lost (though not destroyed – it shows up somewhere else in the setting). Infects other containers, causing them to lose 1 item/day.
  23. Tantalus’ Tome of Turpitude: a spellbook that contains the most intriguing charms, ingredients and quest seeds, which can’t be found if you subsequently look them up to show someone else or to copy them.
  24. Dog- It follows you around and you like it. You have to feed it regularly and sometimes it pees on your armor when you are not wearing it for no reason. Also, it will bark at the worst times.
  25. Key of missing
  26. bag of wetting
  27. tinder of spontaneous combustion
  28. KNITTED BAG OF CALTROPS – renders contents poisonous but requires a critical save vs dex to deploy in one round (…have you noticed how nobody ever has trouble deploying caltrops? It’s like caltrop bags are lined with teflon).
  29. Peacock fan- renders the user’s AC 17/3 which is worse. Anyone who views the PC using the item gets a save versus paralysis at -1. Failures equals paralysis so long as the PC continues to dance. The Max dance is is 1/4 CON (rounded up) + Level rounds. The PC must be in their knickers while doing so. It will take Dex-levels to put their armor back on. PC can never hide in shadows w/ this item.
  30. Tarquin’s Ravishing Strides: trousers of confidence, +2 cha, but excite envy and suspicion; -4 on reaction rolls, 5% chance per day the wearer will be accused of sexual misconduct.
  31. Cursed bag of flour. Creates invisible monsters when thrown in the air.
  32. socks of skipping – only effective when wearer’s attention is focused elsewhere. Save or have your stealth rolls ruined. Crit fail leads to riverdancing.
  33. Crown of mentoring- Gain an underling from a powerful group in your setting, roll 2d6-1 for stats. This is your new henchperson. Must keep them alive upon pain of death from a more powerful clan. They are at your side until an agreed upon level by the clan but for sake of argument it is 2d3
  34. Hard lard: takes so long to apply to steps that you’re bound to attract a wandering monster before you’ve made them slippery.
  35. Petard: always goes off before you can get to a safe distance, but if you have enough hit points you can use it to hoist you 50′ straight up instantly.
  36. anti-poison dart- gives whoever it hits 2d8+PC level HP.
  37. Cheap shit amulet of stealth – Grants +10 sneakiness, loudly chimes and flashes once your past the guards.
  38. Innocuous Stone of Infuriation, it’s a small rock that gets stuck in your shoe, but is never there when you look for it. After marching for 8 hours your charisma (or equivalent stat/skill) drops to minimum, anyone getting in an argument with you risks triggering Rage
  39. Innocuous Stone of Restlessness, another small cursed rock, this one attaches to your bedroll, preventing full night’s rest.
  40. Ring of Death, You put it on, save versus death. 10% of these rings are Rings of Undeath, turning the wearer into a mindless undead which immediately attacks the party.
  41. Ever-oozing Rainbow Flask of Oozes: This appears to be a simple magic flask filled with a shimmering potion… “It could be a healing potion!” It actually only dispenses different coloured oozes. Oozes dispensed will always attempt to attack the holder of the flask.
  42. Tattoo of Deception – If someone has changed their actions due to a complete lie you have told them (or other deception you created) in the past 24 hours, your AC is improved by 1. If not, it is penalized by 2.
  43. The Hand of Doom – whoever you touch while wearing this glove will die in front of you within a month.
  44. Target shield: unfailingly redirects all missile attacks aimed at you toward the nearest other friendly person. Note: the curse works on the current state of their friendship, so if they notice this is happening, then the targeting may change. If the owner of the target shield is alone then they get 1 AC worse from having the shield, not 1 better.
  45. Reenactor’s Sash – You cannot die from combat, but after 1 hit, you must lay on the ground and be still until the fight is over. If you talk, all present (friend and foe) will stop fighting and mock you for 1 round. You also sweat a lot.
  46. Lipstick of Confusion – anyone kissed while wearing will be alternately taken aback and obsessed with you. A guard may let you pass, but (s)he’s going to track you down sooner or later and want to talk, but then not really have much to say and ask you to coffee but not specify a time or place.
  47. Goggles of Ulfravision – Two halves of separate goggles glued together with sovereign glue. On lens grants Infravision, the other Ultravision, however looking through both gives a splitting headache (-2 to all actions for an hour.) Looking through one means you have no depth perception, (-4 to attacks and skills involved in distance, like jumping a chasm). The sovereign glue is still tacky, so it sticks pretty badly; removing them causes “longsword equivalent” damage based upon system.
  48. Short Sword of Camaro – It appears to be a Bastard- or Two-Handed Sword, but those who have been struck by it once see it for what it is – a rusty short sword.
  49. Wine of suspicion – a powerful intoxicant, unless used to curry favor or inebriate as a form of treachery. When used for unfriendly purposes the drinker instantly becomes sober and will realize the wine giver’s intent. Appears as a high quality bottle of a common intoxicant.
  50. The Great Zonko’s Ring of Spell Deflection: deflects a spell onto nearest ally. If the ally saves vs spell, the spell deflects back at the original caster. If the ally fails, the spell deflects back to the original target with -2 to the save roll.
  51. Additionally, beneficial spells will bounce to the nearest target (friend OR foe).
  52. The Great Zonko was a clown wizard who performed feats of deflection magic as a popular/comical part of his act.
  53. Forger’s Folly, ornate quill that makes perfect forgeries, which last for 24 hours, after which all the ink from the document forms into an image of the forger.

Patel never stood a chance



Carcosa Wacky Races Signup

April 11, 2012 11 comments

So Giant Evil Wizard and I stormed a brain and this is what fell out:

Carcosa [is about] riding a triceratops hell-for-leather into a field of soon-to-be-dead robots … using robot blood to warpaint your Triceratops like the side of a mid-70’s conversion van. Carcosa is the weird uncle transdimensional neighbour of Mad Max World. It’s like Wacky Races on PCP. Plus, all the best hot rods run on high octane sorcerer blood.

Then Jeff Rients said The prospect of racing a Mad Max style dune buggy across an electroradiant hellscape makes me giddy.

You can bring whatever lunacy you’ve invented because flailsnails, but at minimum the home setting will have Carcosan dinosaur riders, Mad Max desert buggies, Tharks on Thoats and carnival floats. Race, fight and dirty trick your way into the lead, try not to become food for the hemogoblins. The track will run across the radioactive Plain of Glass, through Mike D’s Desert of Dead Gods and up and down canyons that just might be monster gullets/cloacas.

– the race will be over in 6-8 turns and the prize will be Grand Yet Mystifying;

– your character may die, mutate, get incorporated in the landscape and or reified/deified along the way. Really, it’s gonna be potentially deadly regardless of your level. If you want to roll up a character just for this, may I suggest:

Carcosans who have nothing to lose, per Jeff’s incomparable What Went Wrong chargen
Barsoomian Green Men, like this.  In all cases, for all characters, 3D6 in order, punk.

What else you will need:

Roll up a vehicle (below). All vehicles can take at least 3 people, big ones can carry up to 6.

You automatically get one henchman if you don’t bring your own – a grease monkey who builds your ride (chargen right at the end of this post).

You can also choose to take a local Sky Man guide** along with you to keep you from getting lost and warn you about what’s coming up on the track. The downside: he comes with a kerosene-powered backpack radio, which bypasses all armour if it blows up. The upside: he can use that radio to contact his buddies further up the track, if you ask nicely.


Roll on the following tables, or make up your own craziness* and I’ll assign you bonuses and penalties by return of email.

Where do you ride? D10

1: A sweet black Zil or Caddie chassis, or if you want everyone to know you’re the good guy, then a Ford Mustang. +1 AC, +1 speed on smooth track or -1 in the rough, 8 HP
2: classic Mad Max dune buggy, with pipework spaghetti all over. +1 speed on the smooth, -1 in the rough, 10 HP
3: an ekranoplan nose-cone or hammered-together rocket booster +1 AC, +1 mishap, 12 HP
4: a coracle. Or a wickerwork howdah or open-top Baba Yaga hut. +1 speed, -2 AC. Counts as “stripped down.” 4 HP
5: a throne mounted on a titanium pipe and bamboo gantry, held together by hope. +1 speed, -2 AC, +1 to hit, +1 mishap. Counts as “stripped down.” 2 HP
6: the bony carapace of some giant creature – zaratan skull? Upturned Anklyosaurus back? Turtle shell? You choose. +1 AC, -1 to hit, 12 HP
7: a Vincent Black Lightning. Or if that doesn’t stir your juice, one of these motorbikes right here. +2 speed on smooth, -2 on rough, 4HP
8: The Bone Wagon. Or hell train. You choose, either way it’s clearly possessed by some really angry spirit. +2 AC, +2 mishap 14 HP
9: big, black altar stone. Looks like a Styrofoam movie prop but really hurts if it hits you in the shin. You cling to it for dear life, ironically. 16 HP
10: giant robot controlled by jumper cables sticking out of its trepanation hole. +1 AC, +1 to hit, +2 mishap, save on crit mishaps or it gets control over its own limbs again and you’d better watch out. 10 HP

Sure, the Aztecs were the Henry Ford of sacrificial altar makers, but the Inca were the Enzo Ferrari

What makes it go? D10

1: wheels and gas-o-line. In a poorly-sealed container, so bad mishaps can yield pretty orange fireballs +1 speed on smooth, -1 on rough
2: thoat. You choose if you sit atop or behind, but be warned, they kick +4 HP
3: skids and a giant everglades propeller, powered by compressed gas. See 1 above: save vs blender on bad mishaps.
4: Cameltrain – a giant 10-legged mutated camel with no head. Creepy. +2 HP
5: Soulburner: safe, clean, eerily silent energy that requires one sacrifice every 1d4 turns or it stops. Sacrificial process is your call.
6: Dinosaur. Can bite at ramming distance, but can also go wild on a bad mishap. Good luck. +6 HP
7: Giant spider crab. Skittery. Prone to attacking other vehicles for food +5 HP
8: gas-powered hovercraft – inferior to the soulburner in almost every way. +1 mishap, -1 to hit and pretty orange fireballs – but -2 damage from ramming.
9: wheels and rocket juice! Once during the game you can jump! Leaving a big black smudge on the track. During that jump you get +8 speed, +6 mishap, -2 AC (exposed underbelly). At the end you have to save or leave a big red smudge.
10: old-fashioned Mongolian ponies that won’t mess up your home campaign. With razor-sharp teeth. +3 HP – or giant landshrimp/trilobites that do exactly the same job.

What keeps the sun off? D10

1: Buddha brolly. Delightfully cool and colourful.
2: nothing at all. If you think you should have a roof, it’s missing.
3: Viking shields. +2 HP
4: gull-wing doors torn off defunct 80s sportcars +2 HP
5: tailfins torn off MiG fighters. +1 AC, -1 to hit +2 HP
6: an upside down boat. Rusty but solid. And hard to see around. +1 AC, +1 mishap (cannot increase AC over +2) +4 HP
7: pintle mount: you can target multiple other vehicles in a turn, but -1 to hit and +1 mishap for every target after the first.
8: fluttering ribbons. They’re supposed to bring good luck.
9: war banners. Double as lances in a ram, for +2 damage
10: hang-glider. Can try to use it as a last-ditch save vs death for one character, but that’s about it.

How do you recognise it in the parking lot? D10

1: live opera singer hood ornament. Knows the Deus Irae from Verdi’s Requiem, sneers at you if you ask for Ride of the Valkyries. Bellows and bites when you ram.
2: stripped down like a hot rod: +1speed, -1 AC overall
3: Bulked up like a tank: -1 speed, +1 AC
4: hard to look at. Maybe it’s the blinding mirror finish, or the op-art spiral paintjob, or the giant sloth skulls or the hypnotically-swaying fuel leads. -1 to hit, +1 AC
5: wildly bouncy shocks. -1 to hit, -1 speed
6: stringpunk jury-rigged trash-heap. +2 mishap, but also +2 on critical saves.
7: loaded with extras – like Scrap Princess’ “useful devices:” can be used as your wild hallucinatory visions demand, or as weapons for +1 in a ram.
8: Bronze trireme ram. Because they’re badass. +3 when ramming.
9: Nasty spiky bits, like Roman chariot wheels, or circular saws or Alien mouths-in-mouths. +1 when ramming
10: varmints – could be anything from rats to grasshoppers to seed shoggoths. 1 in 6 chance of +2 mishap each round.

Verminous infestation? Your co-pilot? It’s really a matter of perspective


The following weapons can be found lying around the junkyard:

Radium guns and gatling guns
Paint/chemical/acid sprayer
Metal chomper

Then there’s the weapons pit. This is guarded by a ferocious, giant dino-dog, sneaky glassworms and a robot snake. You can try your luck up to 3 times, risking your grease monkey’s neck, and in full cognizance of the fact that you won’t always get what you want… Tell me how many times you’re trying and how much risk you’re taking, I’ll tell you what you bring back. Roll a D20 for the “I’m going in but I’m not losing sight of the exit” table, or D12 for “I am in so far over my head and I don’t even know what these metal abortions might have been back when they worked” table.


Everyone gets the old favourites – oil spray and smoke out the back, shooting while doing bootlegger turns, kicking up dirt, thumbtacks – but beyond that you should invent these yourself. Email me with your ideas of misleading roadsigns or explosive hitchhikers or collapsing bailey bridges. All tricks come at a cost, usually of raised mishap risk. No you don’t get to know what that is ahead of time.

* inspiration for your craziness here. If this goes well I’ll do a water-borne version next.
** but you can’t roll up a Sky Man on account of they’re all Special and Mysterious like.

And last of all: the Grease Monkey, a race-as-class special to Carcosa Wacky Races

Full rules for these denizens of the junkyard are over here. For chargen purposes what you need to know is: write “grease monkey” on your charsheet. And a name. 3D6 in order as usual. d4 HP, specify whatever fetid covering you want up to chainmail. You get a free spanner/wrench and screwdriver and can also roll on Jeff’s What Went Wrong for equipment, background and sexual orientation, should you so desire.

If you’re worried about balance it’s because you’re not having enough fun

March 16, 2012 3 comments

+Trent B said: everyone should need the same xp to level up – fighters, mages, whatever.

And a light went on in my head. I’ve worried about balance – especially between PCs – pretty much my entire gaming life. But I’ve also long disliked stuff that gets in the way of troupe play – like having one character lag far behind the others on the leveling ladder, or character classes that might have a useful schtick but nobody wants to play them because they have some other feature that turns everybody off.

And then I read Jeff‘s and Scrap Princess‘s and Arcadian‘s character generation documents and I realised something: they made characters I wanted to play, with absolutely no regard for their mechanical effectiveness. I discovered that I only worried about balance when I felt like my character wasn’t awesome enough to make me smile even if – maybe especially if – it was kind of inept. I’m talking about gems like No Signal!’s Doxy (sexy green alien dancer) and Luchador classes – one’s crazy overpowered with limited teleport baked right in, the other’s a kind of cut-price paladin with the monk’s restrictions on effectiveness at low level. Both are funny, inspiring and will operate at an intriguingly oblique angle to the dungeon. I’d choose either in a heartbeat over some boring old cleric.

Actually, that’s how I want to learn about your setting – not from pages and pages of lore or even necessarily from rules and table contents, but from the characters I can play in it. Because if I want to play your characters then I want to play in your game, and we’ll figure out the plot and challenges at the table.

So here’s a stupid idea: exploded classes, no regard for balance, hot rod style. Everyone’s an ordinary fighting man, except for what happens on the following tables. Roll once on each table, or as many times as you like, and go with whatever you get. Or cheat and use adjacent results or swap the percentiles around if you think you can have more fun with something else. Reroll obvious conflicts (eg sneaky and not-sneaky) or invent some clever way they could work together. Maybe, just maybe, then you get the option to arrange your attributes to fit rather than 3d6 in order.

No, it doesn’t make iconic archetypes, and for any specific setting (in my case Carcosoid Turkestan or Spice Island Poke-Pirates) you’d want to lean on evocative cultural references, but this is my vanilla DnD pre-first-draft:

Fight table

01-05: no metal armour or weapons (it chafes! It smells! I’m allergic!)
06-10: only metal armour/weapons (my clan spits on your leather, bows and spears)
——— I don’t need no steenkeeng armour because:
11-15: naturally armored, or amazing dodge – anyway, hard to hit – base AC 6
16-20: I’m not made of meat! (ie robot, golem, brass jackalman, lucked out with the mi-go braincase): either AC 3 or mad damage reduction as appropriate. But you clank: no sneaking.
21-25: it gets in the way of mah sexay (AC 10 but enemies vulnerable to your sexay fight you at -2 attack and defense)
26-30: it would stop me stretching all around like a some crazy putty demon (half damage from blunt weapons, stretchy squeezy  feats like reaching very high shelves or slipping between bars)
———-end no steenkeeng armour section————-
31-35: ambidextrous! May get one attack for each hand (how many arms you got?) but every attack after the first is at cumulative -3
36-40: sword saint (or whatever: make up an awesome style name): +2 with preferred weapon
41-45: only improvised weapons or bare hands – damage depends on what you can find, hands is d4
46-50: may not draw blood. At all, so no smashing weapons neither. Burning’s OK, though
51-55: dirty fighter: may reduce your own AC by 2 to try a sneaky trick – it if hits, automatic crit
56-60: Summer Glau type berserk: you keep total, icy control but you can’t talk or work in a team during your fugue. +3 to hit/damage, but cannot retreat once in berserker state
61-70: You Are All My Children! You will not fight some common monster type (choose goblins or undead or whatever) for some reason
71-75: Just a sec, let me do my war-dance! At -2 to all fighting unless you’ve done your specific pre-fight ritual
76-80: physics-defying preternatural throwing ability: chuck anything up to 5lbs x your strength, up to 3 feet x strength, damage by DM fiat
81-85: danger sense: you don’t know what the danger is (trap, monster, betrayal, whatever) but you know it’s imminent. Unless it has some kind of awesome sneaky ability in which case it gets a saving throw to strike without warning
81-85: concealed/natural weapons. Claws are all very well, but what about constrictor legs? D6 damage
86-90: venomous bite/scratch/hair swipe/rasp: immediate -2 to all the victim’s rolls, victim emits a smell you can track them by later
91-95: unhealing – you need to be repaired by a smith/woodworker/farrier/whatever, using spare parts
96-00: run like a maniac: -2 to hit you with projectile weapons, cross dramatically important distances in 1 round

Schtick table

01-04: Cast cleric spells like the class^
(^ OK, maybe I went a bit nuts with the balance is for schmucks thing here. Let’s say that casting a spell costs 1d3 HP and you must have as many HP donors pooling their luck/strength/moxie as the level of the spell (each donating d3 to make the spell work), so now everything’s a co-operative ritual)
05-08: cast MU spells like the class^
09-12: cast illusionist spells like the class^
13-16: cast druid spells like the class^
17-20: cast random spells off any list, like a Vancian MU but you have no idea what’s coming each day; your demonic helper/passenger doesn’t tell you
21-24: cast spells from some other game altogether – Ars Magica, Nephilim, CoC: talk with the DM
22-28: Sneaky like the night – get a decent chance to hide and sneak and so on, right from 1st level.
29-32: Toblerone/boisterous brawler – you can’t sneak or talk below a shout but once a day you get the power of suggestion, to bully or browbeat or inspire someone to do what you tell them
33-36: blind albino cave-dweller: there’s no infravision here, but you can “see” in the dark through echolocation, smell, whatever – and torches don’t cancel it. Alas, you’re weak above ground (-4 to surprise etc outside your nice, echoey hole in the ground)
37-40: Sherlock Holmes attentiveness – you get Trail of Cthulhu-like clue-finding and trap detection Figuring out what to do about it all is still your problem
41-44: animal whisperer: can calm, tame and talk with animals – or vegetables or minerals if you like, and you get +2 on the reaction roll
45-48: built-in GPS: gives you absolute position sense and a big bonus to mapping, but beware those GPS-leggers
49-52: scholarly knowledge OR barbarian insight: prod the DM for extra clues when things get slow
53-56: astral projection (takes an hour to set up, you can wander as far as you like, spying on the material plane, but face astral hazards), once per day
57-60: possess someone else, once per day. Your own body falls limp to the ground, or trails around after the rest of the gang like a zombie, or maybe the possessee gets ejected into it! Invent your own saving throws and psychic combat and whatnot mechanics or steal them from Nephilim or the Magic Jar spell
61-64: One spell effect as a fixed natural ability, once per day (randomly select from all lists up to level 3)
65-68: useful devices: either you McGyver them out of the environment or you have a cartoony pouch/cyberwear. 1d4 damage when used as weapons
69-72: change appearance, gender, status or other ascriptive characteristic once per day (good for spies! Inconveniently you can’t change right back!)
73-76: Wuxia style cloud- jumping or glide like a flying squirrel (your choice)
77-80: acrobatics and climbing. You only have to roll for any circus-type feat when it makes for more fun
81-84: wild sorcery! You get one random spell a day and you must use/express/vent it
85-88: psionics, per Zak’s simple, brilliant system*
89-92: cracksman – good with any manual dexterity task – lock pick, lift wallets, forge documents, mend clocks
93-96: medic – heal others’ injuries. Is it magic? Is it ultratech? Dunno, but roll a D30: you can restore that percentage of their hit points/heal one severe injury, 5 times until you have to go somewhere secret to get fresh supplies/charged up again
97-00: inspire others (with your goodness or intimidating scowl or sexy wiles or whatever) – improve morale, other paladin-like effects: +20% HP to everyone around you, while you’re around

Being-in-the-world table

01-05: environment-type specialist: eg woodsman, miner/spelunker, architect, sailor, mountaineer, desert-dweller – you know the secrets of this place and how to survive here like a ranger or druid or dwarf or whatever. Not very flavourful? Get creative! What, you want a big jobs list here?
06-10: mandatory poverty – must give away all treasure you can’t justify to your mother superior/directly use yourself
11-15: mandatory ostentation – must wear all your wealth on your body, or sell it for jewelry
16-20: iron stomach – immune to ingested poisons, but also most potions
21-25: strong smell – delicious to some monsters, terrifying to others: reaction rolls always go extreme
26-30: secret – you know something important about the game world but can’t talk about it
31-35: must obey some entity and act according to its precepts (law, a god, your mum, a guild, another PC…)
36-40: must work to annoy/hamper/discredit some entity, as above
41-45: soulless automaton – immune to any kind of mind or spirit magic, charm etc, but also to cheering effects
46-50: spiritual entity – immune to elemental magical damage and impersonal accidents, but not immune to the intent to harm expressed in an axe swing or bow shot or poison dart trap
51-55: visitor from another dimension: weirdly affected by some common thing in our world, like strawberries make you shrink or you can pull duplicates of yourself out of mirrors (but they’ll turn against you after d6 minutes)… goatee and angry eyebrows optional.
56-60: terrifying/unhinging appearance/nature – must stay hidden/disguised somehow (like you’re a shoggoth or walking corpse or something) or unfortunate, taboo-breaking appearance (like you have sex organs where your mouth should be or look exactly like the devil). Veil around friends, or reveal your shocking truth to get automatic surprise
61-65: communicate with anything once per day – like Vulcan mind-meld but you can use it to get psychic vibes off dirt floors or pools of water, as well.
66-70: involuntary mirroring – you look to others exactly like the last thing you killed. Unless they make a save, maybe.
71-75: nine lives: if reduced to negative HP you get stunned for that many hours but then you wake up again on 1HP, unless someone deliberately makes sure you’re dead or you fall in acid or something. Only works 8 times (inspired by Leps the Indestructible, in Thomas Funderburk’s brilliantly entertaining The Fighters – the men and machines of the first air war)
76-80: Wait, I know this guy who… one useful contact, once per session. You tell me how he’ll help
81-85: repulsive/overbearing/awesome to some class of monster (acts like turn undead but you specify the brood – goblins, beastmen, ghosts, whatever, and maybe you can charm them or freeze them or something else)
86-90: were-whatever (shapeshift only to that thing, according to whatever crazy rules you make up. Only no wolves, bears or eagles: wereshoggoth is encouraged, weremeerkat doubly so)
91-95: it just so happens… you can keep this side of your character in reserve until that exact moment you need it. But once you make something up, the slot is gone
96-00: sidekick – an unfailingly loyal companion, played by someone else at the table in addition to whatever else they’re doing**

* So I asked Zak for a non-sucky psionics system that also wasn’t just another magic system, and he said:
1. Once per day, period.
2. If you want to be a psionic PC you are distracted and fucked up, -1 to con and dex.
3. You must concentrate for 3 rounds in combat or 20 seconds. No physical interruptions allowed but you can hear noises or be in the presence of combat.
4. After the 3 rounds you can “hold” the release of the power up to 2 rounds if you like.
5. Psi power is based on traumas and horrors your PCs has witnessed. To wit: the power consists of the PC being able to manifest the effect of any natural power of a living being (or undead or whatever demons are) s/he has seen used to date. The effect of a ghoul’s paralysis, a medusa’s stare, a sorcerer’s intelligence, an ogre’s strength, a hydra’s regeneration etc.
6. If the ability in question can normally affect another creature it can be projected up to levelx5 feet. So like if your PC had seen a giant, the PC could telekinese with the giant’s strength up to 5 feet at 1st level and at 200 feet at 20th level.
6. Spells do not count as powers, but the spell-like abilities of demons and devils do.
7. Feedback: after manifesting the power, the PC must make a wisdom check (roll-under-wisdom-minus-the -monster-level-of-the-creature-being-mentally-evoked) or will save (at a DC of 10+monster CR) depending on system
8. A failed feedback save/check causes hp damage equal to the level of the creature evoked. A botched feedback save causes that much damage to everyone in a creature-level x 10′ radius including the psion.
9. If the psion is ever knocked unconscious by feedback (alone), this is a traumatic experience that will cause him/her to gain one minor insanity.
10. At the GM’s discretion this may also extend to natural phenomena such as lightning discharges, etc. If there are described dreams in the game, any supernatural ability observed in the dream may be used. If the effective level of the phenomenon is unclear, roll 2d4
11. Instead of the normal botch rules you can use the Dark Heresy weird phenomena psychic phenomena chart which is pretty cool.

** if you roll a crappy character then that can be the sidekick – create a second character with the pre-determined attribute “sidekick.” If a sidekick loses their main character (the side they kick off?) then they can charm one (only one) other character in the game world into becoming their new main character. That character gets a DM fiat save, in case the DM doesn’t want Lolth or the Vampire Lord of Gibbons to join the party right now.

Phew. Going to lie down now.

Zak’s questions prompt confession. Plus – what’s missing from Carcosa

January 19, 2012 8 comments

So first, Zak’s 23 questions – and noisms’ responses – provoked some deep soul-searching in me. I find I can conceal the truth from you no longer. You see, I’m really not so much a gamer as an ex-gamer. Worse, this here blog is what James Maliszewski has called the most decadent activity imaginable: it’s me talking about games rather than gaming. With all the attendant implications that I really don’t know what I’m talking about, I’m just blowing hot air, and so on.

I hang my head. If you want to just go, now, I’ll understand. I actually haven’t gamed at all since, um, 2002? The last time I ran anything at all was 2000 and the last time I ran anything semi-regularly… 1995 or so.

The good news is, I should be playing again for the first time in a decade tomorrow, provided the internet gods permit. I don’t know what’s going to happen. I barely remember any rules from anything, having always been pretty much a free-forming improv queen.

Noisms wrote about gaming being his secret shame. It’s mine, too, but not gaming was also my secret shame. Phew, feels good to get that cleared up… ahem…

Still here? I appreciate it. I’ll try to do better, promise.

So. I bought Carcosa! And I was surprised and confused by what it contained and did not contain! But among all the startling do-it-yourself, slacker! omissions, one stood out for me:
why and how would you choose a colour for your character?

So here, in direct contravention of SOPA and PIPEWEED and all they stand for, is my answer: the Men and Monsters Type Matchup Table.

Our familiar 13 types of Men are joined by their not-so-good buddies, the Amphibious Ones (or “frogs” for short), Deep Ones, Space Aliens (in trad. grey) and Mi-Go (who are strangely not so smart in this iteration of their story – strap on those brain cases, guys!). The table tells you how much damage each of these types will do to the others using sorcery, psionics, contests of raw will or any other means that doesn’t come in ultratech or battleaxe form. So for instance jale men can pretty much laugh at purple men with impunity, since they’ll only suffer half damage from their attacks, but they’d better be careful around blues, greens and whites, who all inflict double damage. And thus we have a reason for some folks to team up with others, or tolerate them around the old watering hole, and maybe some basis either for genocidal colour-wars or a new era of mutual understanding… against the oranges (misspelled oranj here, because the font didn’t work any smaller).

But what happens in the black squares? Glad you asked. Any time an attack of this type hits, roll 2d6:

2 – not only the particular creature attacked but also all other creatures of the same type in 3d6 yards radius receive the same effect (good or bad)
3 – the attack rebounds upon the attacker, at double strength
4 – the attack goes through at triple strength
5 – no effect
6-8 – attack goes through as normal
9 – defender becomes preternaturally slippery – AC and dodge improved radically. Attacker moves as if in treacle. Lasts 1d3 rounds
10 – bizarre weather effect (tornado of feathers, eyeballs) sweeps attacker and defender up and deposits them 2d6 yards away, or on a 2 or 12, that many yards straight up
11 – attacker and defender exchange bodies. Nobody else notices
12 – attacker suddenly realises defender is his long-lost soul brother. Defender unaffected

DIY D&D resources courtesy of Tom Gauld, Edward Kelley and others

August 8, 2011 Leave a comment

I assume you read strange maps and therefore know all about Gauld’s map of a holiday in hell (which looks exactly how I imagine chicagowiz’s wilderness game – a single point of light campaign), but have you seen his Zakesque roll-on-the-chart random encounter table, or his “what’s that coming up the corridor?” table?

Also, a megadungeon. Reminds me of Tony Dowler’s brilliant microdungeons project. Some day I will put together a page of artists inspired by Edward Gorey.

And courtesy of Dowler, a link to Tim Denee’s better-than-NYT infographic art of how it went down in Dwarven Fortress (Oilfurnace, that is).

I’ve loved emblem books ever since I stumbled across Kelley’s Terrestrial Astronomy – the three retellings of the same point in different media struck me then as beautifully perverse. Now I get a kind of “what I tell you three times is true” ritual sense from it (although I still have no idea what it means when the green dragon is biting the face of the sun). The images, intentionally fraught with hidden meanings, are the ideal kind of player handout. Use them as an alternative in-game Tarot (cf. Mantegna Tarocchi).

More accidental dungeon creation:

scroll down here for a set of alchemetic circuit diagrams or metaphysical troubleshooters flowcharts suitable for an inescapable, Telecanterian 4d tumbling dungeonverse.*

Magical alphabets for use as circuit diagram elements. My all time favourite.

A sort of maze: or, missed connections.

* Gives me an idea for a Klein bottle dungeon: you can’t get into it! You can’t get out of it!

What’s the weather on Mongo?

April 5, 2011 1 comment

My version of Mongo is straight out of the de Laurentiis film: a bunch of floating cup realms, drifting around on mysterious currents. Except there’s lots and lots and lots of them. And if you happen to be close to the top of the stack you get majestic unimpeded sunsets but if you happen to be closer to the bottom you may get more unexpected… stuff.

So, with apologies to the Brunching Shuttlecocks’ (now defunct) What’s the weather in hell? and in response to 9and30’s weather post, here’s the weather on Mongo. Roll 3 different colored d20s and consult the following table:

Die 1 die 2 die 3
1 drifting fog  but clearing rapidly
2 fresh frog  with intermittent… (reroll)
3 silver flower  tornadoes
4 unidentifiable chipping  showers
5 suspicious crystal  growths rising from the ground
6 belligerent lump -s
7 staining fruit -s
8 heavy ape -s
9 sweet spore -s
10 intermittent barnacle -s
11 evil-smelling fish -s
12 scratchy eye -s
13 frozen mushroom -clouds
14 warm bird clusters
15 robotic iceberg -liquid
16 tiny lobster packaging
17 giant slug bits
18 hot hail -coins
19 dirty laundry -effigies
20 rusty tack -men

* Update: currected from Mungo per St_Rev’s observation. Which makes me wonder if I’ve never seen it written down before. Unlikely, but not impossible, I think. I certainly never ran across the old FGU title back when it was in print and I was never a comics reader.

Update 2: loosely inspired by the venerable Brunching Shuttlecocks’ Weather in Hell:

 The Weather in Hell

Shift work

April 5, 2011 Leave a comment

Why should vowels have all the fun? Beware the great _____ shift (D20):

1: zeal:
it’s like a mid-life crisis for everyone at once: suddenly everyone wants to change job, find meaning, write a novel instead of getting on with their lives. Lasts 1-3 days, worst for the elderly.
2: yowl/howl:
a plague of wolves at the city gates coincides with itinerants being abruptly blown from one town to another by the cold north wind. Xenophobia and superstition do the rest.
3: wool:
there’s not a strand of it to be had – merchants, shepherds and piece-workers are desperate. Rumours abound that the rat-king has stolen it all for some gigantic project in the sewers.
4: vowel:
you wake up one morning and can’t understand a word the kids are saying. Get used to it, it’s going to keep happening.
5: towel:
you put it down just a moment ago, and now it’s gone. On the beach, all markers of your presence are effaced. Especially annoying for Germans.
6: soul:
this isn’t quite the rapture you were looking for. Suddenly you’re Mrs. Miggs from number 12. God knows who she is. General pandemonium for 1-6 months. The neighbours seem happier, though.
7: Raul:
mambo is back in style, everything’s gone pencil moustaches and flicknives and women’s dresses out of Asterix.
8: pool:
swimming pools sprout up all over the poor parts of town while crumbling into dirt in the palaces of the rich and famous. Only the magic 10-ball knows how to reverse this.
9: owl.
They’re everywhere. Watching. What do they want?
10: newel:
spiral staircases switch places all over town. None of them fit properly in their new locations. Letters burned into their steps spell out hadiths promising doom to the unclean.
11: maul:
clerics are enraged as their ceremonial and jewel-studded weapons-of-office are either exchanged against their will or simply go missing. What started as a prank or an attempt to spark inter-faith dialogue is likely to go sour quickly.
12: Lowell:
in a twinkling you are transported to Mars, where cruel red and green men rule and humans are enslaved to dig the endless canals. It looked more charming through a bad telescope.
13: jowl:
incredible news for those who consider themselves too fat, too thin, too young or too old: that’s now fixed. Bad news for whoever was happy with their previous body image.
14: gavel:
judge not, lest ye be judged. Specifically this morning, when horsehair wigs and black bonnets are sprouting on the heads of the poor and downtrodden.
15: fowl:
devastating just before Christmas or if you happen to be a poultry-herder, this is merely annoying if what you really fancied for dinner was coq au vin. Go with the lamb instead.
16: earl:
you are secretly descended from the nobility! Also, you may be entitled to Sir Francis Drake’s fortune! Unfortunately so is everyone else. Although for most people this one’s likely to lead only to a brief carnival atmosphere followed by a brisk return to work when it turns out there’s no actual fortune coming, for the real nobles it will have a lasting impact, on their legitimacy, their rules of succession and their heraldry.
17: dowel:
wooden fasteners suddenly throw themselves 3 feet in the direction of their fatter ends. The effect on ships is obvious (except those that are sewn together); consider also battlement walkways, well-heads, carts, market stalls and pub benches.
18: caul:
monks forget their orders and the way back to their monasteries. Magical protections against drowning abruptly fail.
19: bowel.
You knew we’d get here. So did the Cathars, who’ve been telling us about the base nature of the world for hundreds of years. On the other hand, good for the roses.
20: awl:
you can no longer tell a hawk from a handsaw; the equipment in your Heideggerian workroom is thrown into disarray, you have no idea what’s near or far, how to use basic objects or what anything should be called. Effects are similar to aphasia and advanced dementia or reading Heidegger, although you might be able to retrain using the fort/da game. Hope somebody who can still function helps you out with a Remove Curse and/or that you don’t end up in a sideshow/psychologist’s curiosity cabinet/feral child experiment.

Bring your body to work (not altogether an OSR post)

April 5, 2011 Leave a comment

Nice near death experience table: another example of what I’m starting to call “speculative philosophy in tabular form.”

Also, practical philosophy in powerpoint: steal like an artist has a bunch of well-worn truisms but there’s some value in seeing them all in one place. But bring your body into your work is excellent advice you don’t often see. I reckon it should work for nearly everyone. Even though I’m not a wild-eyed phenomenologist.

Jess Nevins’ summary of Ely & Meyerson’s study of re-gendering oil rigs is genius and is going straight in the permanent file and in the dissertation (which is all about the hyper-masculine environment of East India ships). Thanks, Jess! Now I’m feeling stupid for not keeping up to date on all the maritime message boards because I’m too busy writing: the writing I need is probably being written right now by someone else.

Creativity is subtraction. I have to learn this.

So do these guys. It’s the 3 musketeers only steampunked, with that elf chick and, erm, flying ninja queens? My question is not “will it be stupid enough?” but “will it exceed the stupidity of all previous attempts?” (Van Helsing, Sherlock Holmes etc.) Alas, I fear the answer will be “no.”