Monday, October 16, 2017

[CRIT] The Cypher of Old-School Treasure

As much as I love old-school D&D, the thing that pisses me off the most is treasure. There are no specific guidelines for treasure distribution, not in the original materials or the retroclones based on them. Whenever I’d look through forums for some guidance, the answer was always something like “just do what feels good, man,” or an off-hand reference to the Treasure Type tables which have been just about as helpful to me as a fortune cookie. It’s almost like handing out loot is just instinctual to every gamer in the OSR but me. This wouldn’t irk me so much if it weren’t for the fact that treasure and experience points are intrinsically tied (and for the fact that I love gold-for-XP and how it functions in the gamespace so much that I don’t want to use an alternative advancement method).
Well, it took a lot of reading between the lines, but I think I finally get what you all are talking about. And I’m putting it to ink here so that anyone else who has the same trouble can just read it and get on with their game.
Over and over again, I kept coming back to the concept of dungeon levels. That if an adventuring party clears the first floor, then and only then would they be strong enough to attempt the second level. This was the clearest parameter of “who should get what experience when” that I could find. I interpret this to mean that a party of four 1st level Fighting Men should more-or-less reach 2nd level by the time they clear the first floor. You can pepper monsters and treasure throughout the floor however you want – hidden, lumped in big piles, in the form of gold-plated statues, or otherwise – as long as the total experience points for completing that floor advances the party to 2nd level (with the Fighting Man progression being the golden standard). That’s where the “intuition” and the Treasure Tables come in: useful methods for spreading that treasure out. Everything in a dungeon floor is balanced against that floor’s budget, and it’s often randomized so you don’t get the same thing every time.
What really made this revelation slow-coming was that I never made the leap between dungeon levels and adventures of other types. So a 3rd-level adventure would contain enough treasure to get a party of four 3rd-level Fighting Men to 4th level. The increased challenge is reflected in the sheer enormity of the treasure (as opposed to the pocket change and rotting wooden chests of 1st level), which requires either a shitload of low-level monsters or much higher level monsters in order to distribute efficiently, and much nastier traps to protect it.
Since most of the people designing roleplaying games aren’t technical writers – especially Gary Gygax – this concept of a “floor budget” never had more mention than a sentence or two, lost in a sea of graphs and tables. So I passed over that nugget countless times, and I’m sure many of the retroclone writers who had internalized this information over decades of play never saw need to emphasize it. Now that a lot of people from my generation are getting into the OSR – a generation that cut their teeth on Pathfinder and 4th edition – it would be helpful to restructure how that information is presented in future releases. Maybe then I wouldn’t be confused for years on end how an old-school adventure could be rated for “four 3rd-level characters” without discrete encounter building guidelines.
The beauty of gold-for-XP is that there’s no guarantee that the party will get that amount of treasure. They could get less or more, depending on the accessibility and randomness of the treasure, as well as the experience values of the monsters they’re able to kill. This gives adventures like those published by Lamentations of the Flame Princess that much more potency, because you have to overcome various cosmic horrors and grotesqueries in addition to the typical dungeoneering obstacles in order to make the excursion worth it. It’s not a reliable formula the party follows like a trail of breadcrumbs, the burden is on their shoulders to eke out that next level.
I’m honestly sort of embarrassed it took this long for me to figure this out. I plunged headlong into old-school gaming right before I went to university. I feel like I’m knocking off the few remaining rust-knots of modern gaming sensibility that prevented me from fully embracing the OSR. At this rate, I’ll be a grizzled grognard just as I’m getting kicked off my parents’ health insurance.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

[KINK] Ponies in the Park II

The Rocky Mountain Pony Herd (RMPH) convened for its second iteration of Ponies in the Park, a public pony play outing and fierce competition held at a park in Denver. Ponies of all shapes, sizes, disciplines, levels of training, and states of domesticity are not only welcome, they’re celebrated and encouraged to take part. I’ve been with the RMPH since its inception – a tiny munch held at the aptly named Stone Pony, where we still hold munches to this day – and I’ve valued how its largely queer membership has challenged the image and expression of pony play, at least for me.
There were three portions to the contest: hurdles, cart pulling, and cart… going-between-the-cones-ing (I’m no jockey, I don’t need to know what the fuck it’s called). And even though I came in second place – throwing my body over that final giant hurdle and tearing some major ass down the sidewalk (stopping kindly for joggers as a proper showpony would) – I’m pretty sure that I basically took first place, if you account for coordinated tack and raw good looks. My pitifully vain pony is a mega sore loser, but he got his comeuppance after kicking a tree (the tree kicked back, Mother Nature telling him to chill the fuck out).
Regardless, I’m looking forward to the next one, and from what I understand, the growth will be exponential. Get out there, run with the herd, and go for the gold!
Photos from the event were taken by Leather Hearts Photography, and I strongly recommend checking them out. They were able to capture a very special day and the power of our play in ways I couldn’t say! Some photos have been edited to protect identities.







Friday, October 13, 2017

[CRIT] Trackmarks: Humans & Demihumans

This article references concepts that may be discussed in yet-to-be-released articles about Trackmarks. If you’re confused about something, either check out other Trackmarks articles, just roll with it, or ask me on G+.
It has been brought to my attention by an individual who pretends to be an animal online (a notion which – as a real actual horse – I find just silly) that in my original writeup for Trackmarks I said it presents four new races, when I actually listed a fifth: Humans.
It should come as no shock to you lot that I did not make Humans up. But I might as well have put down “Human” five times because as far as you all know one race is just a human with wings, another with tusks, and another with an unhealthy obsession with leather.
And oddly enough, that’s pretty close to the truth. The races in Trackmarks are demihuman, in this case meaning that they were once human, but for some reason or another became something more. Like that one cousin who you know is technically related to you, but if you’re being frank, you just don’t see it.

We All Bleed Red

All races are considered, in some sense, to be Human, even though their writeups make it clear that most are considered less-than. In this article, the term “demihuman” is intended to be read much more othering than it might be in other contexts.
In basic edition, all races take human (as in, non-demihuman) classes. In fifth edition, all races use the Variant Human traits, but if you pick a demihuman race, you don’t get the bonus feat. I recommend that fifth edition players use “4d6 drop lowest” to enforce some racial variance (and thus some juicy conflict) within the party.

Human

Privilege. You don’t have the same dependence on Clyster that demihumans do. But if anyone was to ask you, you’d say it was their fault for getting hooked in the first place. Just sayin’. You clear your drugs track after a long rest.
The Default. You may be a Blackguard, but you’re Human, which means you’re typically considered to be better civilized than your demihuman partners. You can apply Probable Cause to the general membership of a faction you choose at character creation.

Automaton

Mental Capacity. 90% of brains are fried when the vast network is installed in them. You must have an Intelligence of 13+ to play an Automaton.
Rare Parts. The Hartoban higher-ups who stationed you here invested quite a pretty penny, so they’re willing to withhold essential repairs if you get out of line. When you overdose, you don’t mark your drugs track. Instead, you roll a hit die and reduce your maximum hit points by that amount. If you’re in a Station or the Ramparts, you can roll a hit die to restore these hit points for each Clyster you spend in a barter.
Artificial Being. You may be a consciousness trapped in a metal exoskeleton, but everybody else thinks you’re a state-of-the-art robot powered by a dead brain. If you had a mouth, you’d scream. You do not need to eat, drink, sleep, or breathe, though you can consume food and drink for if you want. Additionally, you are immune to diseases and poisons.
The Network. You and everyone else like you belong to a hivemind, wirelessly exchanging information and keeping a finger to the pulse of the city. If you could sleep, the constant feed of information wouldn’t let you. You get the following Clyster boons:
  • You set an alarm. If a creature that fits a profile you designate passes within 10 feet of it, you get a notification. The alarm is invisible. You can only have one alarm at once; if you set a new one, the previous alarm disappears.
  • You mentally send a creature you can see text, video, images, and any other form of data that can be captured by your onboard recording suite.
  • You know the location of a specific creature or object that you’ve seen before.
  • Spend: You get a live visual and audio feed of a specific object, location, or creature and its surroundings as long as you are concentrating only on the feed.

Dark Elf

It’s Hard and it’s Cold on These Rough-Ass Streets. You must have a Constitution of 13+ to play a Dark Elf.
Tolerance. If there was no Clyster, there would be no you. Luckily, your ancestors melted their brains on regimens of Clyster so you don’t have to! You only lose Clyster on a 1. Additionally, you can clear your drugs track by spending Clyster and being unable to perform complex tasks until your next overdose. You do not overdose when you spend Clyster in this way.
Like a Glove. Since the Blackguard’s founding regiment was mainly conscripted Dark Elves, they had the privilege of designing the uniform, a banner they use for reclaiming their identity. You gain the following Clyster boons:
  • You pad your footsteps; they make no sound and leave no scuff no matter what terrain you are traversing.
  • You obscure your identity, shrouding your face in aberrant shadow, filtering your voice to sound like nobody’s.
Fae Child. Humans say that Dark Elves are destined to cause trouble, and Dark Elf kids hear that so much, the prophecy becomes self-fulfilling. You gain the following Clyster boons:
  • Spend: You can teleport up to 30’ to a spot you can see.

Half-Dragon

Neurotypical-Presenting. Due to your incompatible biology, you must have a Wisdom of 13+ to play a Half-Dragon. If you can’t keep it together, you won’t outlast childhood.
Consumer. Taking 10 minutes to devour a corpse clears your drugs track, but covers you in a suspicious amount of blood. Being covered in a suspicious amount of blood negates Probable Cause for you and the people you’re with (especially Humans). Additionally, when you drop a creature to 0 hit points, you cannot knock them out, and are covered in a suspicious amount of blood.
My Dad’s Side. Your draconic ancestors would consider your features a gift. But they’re all dead, so the only perspective that matters is that of your human ancestors. And they think you’re a mutant reminder of the worst atrocity in Viscerian history. You have a fly speed of 30 feet, +1 Armor Class (due to your scales), a d10 bite weapon, and two d6 claw weapons.
It feels good to let go, to feel whole for once. And although you’ll never quite feel normal, at least you’ll be able to demand the respect you’re owed. Dad would be proud. You get the following Clyster boon:
  • Spend: For 10 minutes, your fly speed increases to 60 feet, you have 120 feet of darkvision, you have a bite/claw/claw attack, and all damage from mundane weaponry is halved. When you use this boon, all creatures who can see you (except Half-Dragons, Abominations, and Thralls) check morale.

Orc

Cult Leader. When you rise out of the rotted soil, you’re either a mindless monster or a prophet of a dead God. Everyone will assume you’re the former. You must have a Charisma of 13+ to play an Orc.
God’s Sword Arm. From the soil you came, and to the soil you will return, taking other bastardizations of God’s image with you. When you deal damage to a thrall or abomination, you roll an extra damage die. Additionally, when you drop an abomination or thrall to 0 hit points, you clear your drugs track.
Piety. You bring light to the world, in some form. Whether this light is cleansing or curative, however, it always ends with you nailed to a cross. You gain the following Clyster boons:
  • A weapon you are holding emanates blinding light for 10 feet, bright light for 120 feet, and dim light for 120 feet.
  • Spend: When a creature you can see falls to 0 hit points, they regain 1 hit point.
  • Spend: You create a 30’ radius around you. When a friendly creature in your aura is attacked, the attacker has to make a saving throw or their attack automatically misses. If the attacker makes this saving throw, they don’t have to make the saving throw until you create a new instance of this boon. For fifth edition, this is a Wisdom save against a DC equal to your Wisdom score; for basic edition, this is a save versus magic.

Monday, October 9, 2017

[CRIT] LotFP Redux

Last Updated 10/16/17
Ditto to my D&D 5e Redux post, but with my LotFP House Rules instead. Waste not, want not.

Classes

Clerics

  • Swapping Spells: You can use a holy symbol to swap a spell you have prepared for one of equal or lower level. The time it takes to do this depends on the material of your holy symbol.
    • Wood: Once per hour
    • Steel: Spend an exploration turn
    • Silver: Use your whole combat round, or at will outside of combat

Demihumans

Demihuman classes are not used.

Magic Users

  • Cantrips: Minor magical effects can be manifested at will based on the spells you have prepared. For example, a prepared sleep spell lets you make people yawn for free. If you keep a spell prepared for more than one day, cantrips will manifest spontaneously and sporadically.

Combat

Initiative

At the beginning of each round of combat, each player rolls a d6. 1-3 means you go after the opposing party; 4-6 means you go before the opposing party.
For every encumbrance point you have, roll an additional d6, and use the lowest roll.

Attack Rolls

Instead of melee and ranged attack bonuses, you have hard and Fast attack bonuses.
  • Hard uses your Strength modifier. Use this for bows, throwing big weapons, and for melee weapons that deal d8+ damage.
  • Fast uses your Dexterity modifier. Use this for other ranged weapons, throwing small weapons, and for melee weapons that deal d6 or less damage.

Combat Options

  • Gambit: If you want your attack to target a specific area or to cause a specific effect, you make two attack rolls and take the lower roll.
  • Splinter: If you are hit by a melee or ranged attack, after damage is rolled, you can choose to expend your shield in order to ignore all damage from that attack. Helmets have the same effect, but only with ranged attacks. You must have your shield or helmet equipped.

Equipment

Helmets

Helmets cost half as much as shields, and take up one encumbrance slot. Helmets do not add anything to Armor Class.

Weapons

  • Great (d10): Uses Hard attack bonus. Must be used two-handed. Halflings cannot use these.
  • Medium (d8): Uses Hard attack bonus. Halflings must use these weapons two-handed.
  • Small (d6): Uses Fast attack bonus. Concealable. Can use two-weapon fighting.
  • Minor (d4): Uses Fast attack bonus. Concealable. Can be used while wrestling. Can use two-weapon fighting.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

[CRIT] Trackmarks Character Sheet

I guess this is the official announcement for my first published product under the Kinks & Crits banner, though I’m probably going to push out an official official announcement once I have something tangible to show off. Said product is called Trackmarks, a fantasy-noir setting for Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition. Cynicism, fatalism, moral ambiguity… it’s a DMCA notice away from being Blade Runner, except there’s Elves and shit too.
You’ll probably start seeing posts about the world’s history, its races, the city it takes place in, the drug that’s rotting it from the inside, and the conscripted police force tasked with getting it off the streets. All this post is doing is wrenching open the sluice.
When I’m looking at a new system, I always look at the character sheet first. You can learn a lot about a system that way. Trackmarks uses an established setting, but I made changes to the character sheet that reflect a shift in tone and a few tweaks in the mechanics. I’m posting it here so you can get your first taste, so you can get hooked and start coming back for more.

Click the picture to enlarge. Download the PDF here.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

[CRIT] Burning Wheel Bible Plus

I wrote a one-page reference for The Burning Wheel that consolidates the core of the game (or the Hub of the Wheel, if you will) into a menu of actions you can select from to drive the game forward. It’s perfect for newbies and grognards alike, since it gives everyone at the table a unified approach to the game to work from.
The problem with the whole “one-page” thing is that I posted it as a wall of text on a webpage, which has a pretty low usability factor, and getting it printed out for use at the table would be a major headache. So at the request of some folks who dig my Burning Wheel Bible, I worked my InDesign magic and produced a clean, logically structured version that can be printed on one page. For real this time.
Click the picture below to expand it. Click here to download the PDF!


Monday, September 11, 2017

[CRIT] D&D 5e Redux


Last Updated 10/09/17
Like I said back in my original D&D 5e House Rules post, I don’t use house rules much anymore, just a couple here and there to sand off those rough edges. I’ve come to believe that having a massive host of house rules means one of two things: you’re either using the wrong system for the game you want to play, or you don’t know how to effectively utilize the system you’re playing.
So here’s a pared-down list of the house rules I use when playing D&D 5e. I may toss a few more back on here if I find myself reverting to them often enough!

Character Creation

Ability Score Generation

Roll 4d6 and drop the lowest. Do this six times. Arrange the scores to taste. If you want to reroll one score, you have to reroll them all.

Alignment

Alignment is dumb.

Classes

Use the Revised Ranger from Unearthed Arcana.

Combat

Attacks of Opportunity

Attacks of opportunity only occur when a creature who has been targeted or targeted another creature with a melee weapon attack spends movement without using the Disengage action.

Cover

There is no differentiation between types of cover; you have it, or you don’t. Ranged attacks against you have disadvantage. You have advantage on Dexterity saving throws.
If you are using a creature as cover, ranged attacks that would target you target your cover instead.

Initiative

At the beginning of each round of combat, each player makes an initiative roll against a DC set by the lowest Dexterity score in the opposing party. Characters who succeed go before the NPCs, while players who fail go afterwards.

Equipment

You are always considered to be carrying the tools you are proficient with, besides Vehicles (Land) and Vehicles (Sea). You are also always considered to be carrying an appropriate focus for your class.
You start with a kit of your choice. When you take a long rest in a civilized area, you can either choose a different kit, or refill your current selection.
When you attempt to perform a task related to the type of kit that you have, you add your proficiency bonus to that task (for example, consecrating a shrine while you have a priest’s kit selected).

Experience Points

Use the milestone advancement variant on DMG 261.

Spell Points

Use the spell points variant on DMG 288.

Vision

Playable races that have darkvision also have sunlight sensitivity unless they forego their darkvision at character creation.