Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Wyrm of the Old Forest. Seek not for hidden knowledge, lest ye find it.

The Wyrm of the Old Forest.

Dragons ravage, plunder, and devour in accordance with their cruel and avaricious natures. A pox upon the lands they stalk, they are never the less, generally understood to behave in a given manner. They can be fought by those who study and learn their motives, powers, and weaknesses. The same may not be said of the Wyrm of the Old Forest.

A monster of myth and a living fear of the unknown, the Wyrm comes and goes when it will. Sometimes leaving evidence of its passage, and sometimes not. The stories of the Wyrm are often vague and frustratingly contradictory. In some it is described as simply a ravening beast without thought, while in others the Wyrm asks probing and erudite questions of its captives. Various tales paint the Wyrm as a great serpent, as long as three galleys end to end, or as merely horse-sized. Some times it is spined and finned, sometimes with limbs, while others say it has none. Chrueleam the Lame, Boccob ward his soul, held that the Wyrm is more than a material creature, or perhaps less. The true nature of the Wyrm may never be known. Of the many who have sought it over the years, the majority have simply failed to find it at all. Often, decades pass between sightings of the creature. It would seem the Wyrm chooses the time and place, as well as the manner of its rare meetings with those who seek it, as well as those who do not. The Wyrm has been thought slain more than once, only to reappear inexplicably years later. The tales of encounters with the great drakonish serpent span many centuries, and offer conflicting accounts of its weird behavior, changing appearance, and inscrutable motives.

The Old Forest is itself a dread place of a character ancient and fey. The gloomy boles march on for leagues, giant trees which shroud the forest floor in eternal twilight and mute the sound of the wind to an eerie susurrus. This place is tacitly acknowledged by all as the domain of the Wyrm. Even the greatest of dragons respect the territory of the Aulde Serpent. More than one arrogant drake is said to have met its end in the iron coils of the Wyrm. The peasants who till the lands about the periphery of the Old Forest venture within it only in need. They gather what they must have with speed and deference and return to the sunny fields as quickly as they may. Ill sendings sometimes fall upon those who stay beneath the verdant canopy for too long, or who demand too much of the grim greenwood.

The Riff of Lurding Run and four of his men at arms were reportedly slain and devoured when they ventured into the Old forest in pursuit of an outlaw. The surviving armsmen told a wild tale about a monstrous snake with arms like a man and black eyes like pits, which fell on them as they stalked the criminal and which tore the Riff’s head from his shoulders with its clawed hands. A fisherman on the river Qwelling, which flows through the southern corner of the Old Forest, related to his fellows how he was watched from the shore by a beast he could not see for the shadows of the trees, but who’s eyes were large as an ogre’s fists and shone redly from the darkness. It is whispered that the daughter of the Baroness DurJaent was born with a cap of feathery, jewel toned scales adorning her head instead of fine coppery hair. The Baroness had earlier traveled by night through the Old Forest on her way to Kelb. As the child was sequestered, and the midwives killed, only the Baroness herself knows the truth behind the rumors, and no one has thus far been fool enough to ask her.

Procelleus of Nmand claimed that the epiphany which resulted in his Grand Arcanology came to him as a result of an exchange at a crossroads deep within the Old Forest betwixt himself and, “an ancient serpent of tremendous size, frilled and finned, with green-black scales and eyes that shone as like portals to the Hells.” After the words were done with, the Wyrm demanded but one of Procelleus baggage carriers as a toll for passage and wisdom. Said Procelleus on the matter, “as the man was a sluggard and suspected of thievery his fate weighed not so heavily on my mind.”

It was reported by a group of traveling players that they awoke during the night to find an enormous serpentine body encircling them on all sides, a veritable wall of gleaming black scales as thick as a bull just at the periphery of the light cast by their campfire. So large was the snake that they could see neither its head nor its tale. In utter terror, the actors prayed to the gods of the stage for deliverance and finally, as dawn neared, the great serpent moved off into the forest. As all actors are liars, the truth of this is uncertain, though many tales do seem to indicate the Wyrm is drawn to fires in the night.

The peasants and serfs who live near to the edges of the Old Forest will on occasion drive a sheep or goat into the woods to appease the Wyrm, should the signs indicate the wisdom of such action. Many such customs have grown up in the areas about the Old Forest. Travelers will notice shrines with serpentine motifs beside trails and roads. The rustics leave gifts meant to placate the Wyrm and earn its disregard, if not its favor. Wards against the serpent are carved on door lintels and gates. More than a few of the villages and thorps nearby the Old Forest hold annual rites believed to mollify the Wyrm, some of these rituals are darker than others. The Wyrm seems rarely to roam far from the forest, but appears not to be bound to it in any way. In a few tales the Wyrm has been seen many leagues from the borders of the Old Forest. It was the Wyrm which legend says brought down the bridge of Cusrus and toppled the Tower of Nul.

Ahriplagupulus, the Master Tanner of Glumn, is said to have stuck to his tale of meeting the Wyrm even when put to the question by the Enlighteners. The tanner insisted that he was not so very drunk when he found the Wyrm half inside his sheep barn and engaged in devouring some of his choicest ewes. With spirituous, if not spirited, courage, he demanded payment for his losses from the ancient serpent. It is the testimony of Ahriplagupulus that the Wyrm regarded him coldly for thirty heartbeats, and then vomited up the corpse of Ahd the Rivener. The Wyrm bade the tanner strip the bejeweled armor from the dead man as compensation for the sheep, and then, when he had done so, again swallowed up the body and simply faded from view and was gone. To test the truth of his assertions, the tanner was bound to a board and dunked in a well until he drowned. There was some understandable unrest, as the tanner was well liked by those who knew him. The Enlighteners were unmoved by the peoples protests, maintaining that mankind is perpetually at war with the unknown terrors of the night, and in this war against the terrors, innocents must sometimes, unfortunately, be sacrificed.

One rarely told tale tells of a place in the Old Forest where it is sometimes possible to converse with the Wyrm in relative safety. A huge drum of fluted stone, called the Plinth of Terrible Wisdom, lies half buried in the loam of the forest floor. It would seem to once have been a part of an enormous building column, but no other evidence of a structure remains nearby. The Plinth is 20 feet across, and 12 feet of it projects above the ground. Atop the stone cylinder, the surface is inscribed with the image of a serpent which encircles the stone and grips its tail in its mouth. The legend states that if a person stands upon the Plinth in the dark of the moon and calls to the Wyrm with its true name, it will slither forth from the night and willingly speak with the caller. So long as the caller does not leave the Plinth, the Wyrm will not attack. So the tale goes. None who now live can confirm the facts, so those who would speak with the Wyrm in this manner risk their lives and dare the Fates.

The Wyrm of the Old Forest.

AC: -2, HD: 16, (128 hps), MV: 12”, (120 feet per round), No. of Attacks/Damage: 2/2D6, (bite), 2D12, (Constriction), Special: Venom/Breath Weapon/Charm

The Wrym is a titanic serpent over 140 feet in length. Along its back, spiny fins or sails project at irregular intervals. Its scales are a deep greenish black, and its eyes reveal an intellect ancient and malign.

The Wyrm takes no damage from non-magical weapons. It is immune to Charm and Hold spells.

The Wyrm possesses a power of fascination. Anyone who listens to the Wyrm speak for more than 3 rounds must Save VS Magic or be entranced by it. The Wyrm may then lay a Geas upon the victim, commanding them to perform a service, or bring it an item or sometimes a person.

The Wyrm possesses a dragon-like breath weapon, but may use it only once per day. The Wyrm may breathe forth a billowing cloud of scintillant mist. The mist fills a cone shaped area 60 feet wide and 60 feet long. All things exposed to the mist, living or not, age 16d10 years if they fail to Save VS Breath Weapon.

There is a 50% chance of spell failure which affects any casting performed within 300 feet of the Wyrm. This chance of failure is lessened by 10% for every level over the tenth of the caster. This is something which is inherent in the Wyrm and not a power which it may direct.

The Wyrm’s great fangs inject a powerful venom which requires the victim to Save Vs Poison at -2 or die immediately. Those who manage to evade death must still suffer the venom’s secondary effects. There is a 25% chance of madness, of the variety which results in terrible hallucinations and violence. There is also a 25% chance of Enfeeblement, as the spell, and a 50% chance of a reoccurring transformation. Roll 2d10 to determine which of the secondary effects the victim incurs.

If the victim suffers the reoccurring transformation, then at each dark of the moon hence, he will transform into a man-serpent in all respects identical to an Abomination of the Yuan-Ti. In this form, the victim will be filled with insensate rage and bloodlust, and until dawn breaks, will attempt to kill all creatures that it encounters. A Remove Curse may, 40% chance, end the cycle of transformations. If this fails to stop the changes, the only option remaining is to convince the Wyrm itself to lift the curse. It may well be willing to do this; its motivations are convoluted and veiled. It has been said that bathing in the blood of the Wyrm will also end the transformations, but as no one has ever succeeded in doing so, the truth is uncertain.

If it successfully hits with its bite, the Wyrm may coil about and constrict an opponent if it chooses. This it generally only does with Larger than Man-Sized opponents. A victim ensnared in the coils of the Wyrm must have strength equal to that of a Frost Giant to have any chance of breaking free.

The Wyrm is one of my Monsters, capital M, a unique creature that does not necessarily have to abide by the rules of monster, little m, creation. These stats are not set in stone,and if you'd like to use a version in your own game, by all means do so.
You can use the Wyrm as a simple monster for combat, but the idea is to replicate the vague fear of the unknown that the Monsters of fairy tale and myth inspire because no one agrees on their definitions or limits.
Players should be unsettled by dealing with a thing which may not follow the expected rules, but you can't do this sort of thing all the time, or they'll accuse you of being arbitrary and unfair.
Monsters like this are best used in campaigns with players who relish the feeling of danger and immersion that mythic backgrounds create. The fun of a creature like the Wyrm is not just in fighting it, but in the connection it makes with the past history of the game world. It make the players feel their characters are a part of the world they inhabit to have them interact with features, such as a legendary Monster, that existed before them, and will exist after they've gone to that great character folder in the sky.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Space Nazis control the Moon!

" Hoagland recently told the listeners of Coast2Coast AM that the Norway Spiral incident that occurred in December, right before President Obama journeyed to Norway to accept the Nobel Peace Prize, was a demonstration of the power of the "Space Nazis" that warned the president not to return Americans to the Moon. The Moon, as Hoagland also told the audience of the Conscious Life Expo in Los Angeles over the weekend, is where a group of Nazis fled at the end of World War II. And the "Space Nazis" are warring with the "secret space program" to keep Americans, and apparently any other country wanting to exceed low Earth orbit, from going to the Moon. "

This is a quote I lifted from todays round up of weird news at The Anomalist, a site I enjoy very much.

Here are a few more links to sites I like that are also likely to provide you with some excellent gaming ideas.

Cliff Pickover's RealityCarnival

Cryptomundo, Bigfoot, loch Ness and more.

Cryptozoology online.

The Charles Fort Institute. Grandmaster of Damned Data.

Keep a weather eye out for the Space Nazis ladies and gentlemen, the blackguards must not be allowed to deny us the Moon!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Once and Future Game. Old Guard Gaming isn't going anywhere.

I know a lot of old gamers worry about the future of The Game, but I’m confident it’s not going to die off anytime soon.

When we’re discussing the future of Old Guard gaming, I think we’re discussing three different, but closely related things. The future of Dungeons & Dragons, (OD&D, AD&D, and the Retro-clones), the future of Old School gaming style and philosophy, and also the future of table top Role Playing Games themselves.

Each of these is seen as under threat from the same sources. You’ve got computer role playing games and shooters, the merchandising mentality that tries to insert the need for continual purchases of add-ons like cards, minis, splatbooks and new editions, which fractures the hobby and creates factions, and the disinterest of the kids who are creating their own diceless and freeform types of role playing over the internet. I think each of these things will have its day, but I don’t think any of them are a lasting threat to Old Guard D&D, or table top role playing in general.

This is why.

Original Dungeons & Dragons is the foundation of role playing games. Love it or hate it, there is no going around that. All following RPGs are efforts to copy it, improve it, or defy it, and those that seek to repudiate its assumptions still owe their creation to the prior example of OD&D.

Because The Game is at the root of all the various forms that contemporary role playing has taken, it is the most broadly applicable. This is important because it’s not the super specialized form that survives over time, it’s the adaptable generalist. This applies to just about everything, not just rpgs. Music, art, science, work and technology etc... More and more complex forms of what ever you care to look at specialize in a smaller and smaller niches until the conditions that supported that specialization end and the super specialized form is no longer viable. Then the generalist fills the gap again, OD&D can be tweaked, modified, amalgamated, and kit-bashed to serve just about any style of play or genre of fiction.

Original D&D laid out the basis of role playing games. Imagination, negotiation, discussion, and adjudication hung on a framework of rules as guidelines, and the results of actions determined by the dice. The fashion pendulum of rpgs has swung over time, giving priority to different parts of this structure at different times. From story telling and the narrative approach which exalts imagination and down plays rules and dice mechanics, to the rules oriented near-wargame which disregards both story and the randomness of dice in favor of iron clad system. OD&D is the center point where the swing of the pendulum begins, and the appearance of the OSR is the first return to that point.

In my view, Old Guard gaming allows the DM to draw on each of these facets of good design as appropriate for his game. Rules, imagination, and dice driven randomness are a mutually supporting triumvirate which make for the best gaming experience when given equal weight at the table. This is what I mean when I say OD&D is a generalist system. Being small, open to interpretation, and without an assumed style of play that the rules enforce, it will always be able to provide a satisfying game experience when players become disenchanted with the play style du jour.
All subsequent rpgs distort this three-fold structure to some extent, in one direction or another. Doing this emphasizes one facet at the expense of the others, and may deliver a more sharply defined theme to the players, but it does so by limiting the greater utility of the game. Soon enough, some new fad of gaming will seize the attention of the larger population of gamerdom and draw their attention away, but it’s only a matter of time before the pendulum swings back through Old Guard territory again.

And it always will.
Table top role playing provides an experience that no other media can. It is active, uncertain, and collaborative in real time. With a crew of the sort of mad visionary weirdos that role playing games attract sitting around a table together, there is just no telling what’s going to happen. Movies, books and tv provide experiences that people may passively observe, and imagine themselves in, but have no ability to affect the outcome of. Channeling this same imagination through a game with rules and other players whose actions affect the events of the game creates a far more real and exciting experience.

I’ve often heard people say that the graphics of computer games are better than their imagination. I honestly find that a bit frustrating, they’re not better than mine. I find crpgs to be the poor cousins of table top games, confining and quickly drained of possibility. I doubt that the fans of crpgs are expecting the same things from them that the fans of table top are looking for. The utter unpredictability of face to face role playing games is the thing I most enjoy, and this is also the thing that other media cannot provide. This unpredictability is also the thing which Old Guard gaming excels at, while most contemporary game styles attempt to suppress randomness in favor of story, or system. That’s probably the reason that’s at the heart of why I think table top rpgs, OD&D, and Old Guard gaming are not going anywhere any time soon.

As far as its relevance to future generations of role players goes, OD&D is just as much the core idea of the role playing game as it is a specific set of rules for playing it. No matter what form the dominate style of role playing takes in the future, there will be a percentage of those players who have an interest in the origins of their hobby. These will be the players who keep The Game from fading into obscurity in between the swings of the pendulum of fashion after the last of the Grognards has gone to sit at Gary’s table in the sky.

The real dangers I see to table top role playing come more from Hasbro than from shifts in cultural tastes. WOTC largely gave up its ability to make decisions about how the game would be presented once it whored itself to big business. Hasbro is no more of a friend to the rpg hobby than Walmart is to Mom&Pop stores. By repeatedly altering the game with new editions that seek to capitalize on the perceived tastes of each successive generation of possible gamers, the current owners of the name move the game further and further from its origin. Each edition amounts to increasing specialization, in effect painting the game into a corner from which, at some point, it will not be able to escape.

Now, I pay little attention, generally, to WOTC editions of D&D, they do not provide what I desire. The thing that can’t be ignored however is that they control the public perception of what the name means and what is to be expected from playing Dungeons & Dragons. They will continue to publish new editions every few years in an attempt to keep the revenue stream steady, and each of these future editions will cater to whatever market research indicates is Trend of the Day. The game bearing the name, Dungeons & Dragons could become unrecognizable in a fairly short time.
This could still be circumvented by determined young students of the history of rpgs so long as copies of original systems are available. Of course, acquiring such materials was made that much more difficult when WOTC stopped sales of out of print edition materials in PDF. The retro-clones are the best that can be done at the moment, and I’m grateful for them. I just wish that their progenitors could once again be published directly.

The death and break up of Hasbro is one happy possibility I see in the near future. At the same time that escapism in all its forms becomes more popular as the economy deteriorates, Giants like Hasbro will become less able to capitalize on it. Toys are their major market, not rpgs, and they may well sell off underperformers like WOTC. Whether or not they would hang onto D&D, I don’t know. In the best possible scenario, a competent small company, run by someone who loves and understands The Game would acquire it.

Now that the feckless morons in Washington and the economic illiterates who advise them have committed us to facing a thing that will make the Great Depression look like a minor inconvenience, we’ll be able to test this theory of mine.

Won’t that be interesting kids?!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Considering Class Design Theories.

I had a short, but thought provoking exchange with Zak S of Playing D&D with Porn Stars a few days ago in the comments of one of his recent posts. It started me considering just what it was I was doing when I think about a potential new class for The Game.
Everyone has basic assumptions about The Game that they absorbed when they first started to play. Depending on which edition you were first exposed to, you internalize views about D&D, how it’s played, what it’s about, how the rules are to be applied, etc… This really applies to everything, music, cars, whatever, first impressions set the standard and are difficult to overcome.

My first edition was the Holmes basic box, and then on to AD&D, where I’ve been happy to stay ever since, occasionally venturing out to plunder other systems and drag their choice bits back to my lair to see if they may be assimilated.

Resistance is futile.

Anyway, I think that when you are designing a character class for The Game, the degree of definition of the class will depend on what your vision of the game world entails, as much as which edition of the rules you are playing by, and what view you have about how those rules are to be applied. In my mind the notion of classes of people in the game world reflects the archetypes of the sorts of figures and characters in the fiction and literature that the game world is made of.
I think there is a sliding scale here that describes the degree of resolution you’re comfortable with in your version of The Game. The scale moves from very broad character types in OD&D, (a fighter class character can be anything from a pikeman to a cavalier to a gladiator to a goat herder with a rock), to the extremely and tightly defined classes of the newest edition, which run like Swiss watches, but are rigid and inflexible.

In the medieval world, society was seen as divided into three parts. Those who pray, those who fight, and those who work. These are broad, archetypal classes, similar to OD&D classes. You could add to this, those who use magic, and those who steal, and delete the workers and you’d have the standard line up of Cleric, Fighter, Magic-user, and Thief. Subclasses and refinements of these basic classes cover just about all the types of characters that make sense, to me, in the game. From this point, further character types, and increased definition of the abilities of those characters are more a matter of increasing the flavor and depth of the game world than they are of increasing player choice. Of course I’m not against that; I do it all the time. I see it as a matter of detailing and embellishing the game though, rather than fixing something that is, “broken.”

I think for a class to be fitting in the game, it should in fact simulate a group of people who appear in significant numbers in the game world. To actually rate a character class, there should be an actual occupational or social class of people to support the archetype. That’s where I’m coming from when I consider character classes; I’m trying to simulate in game terms a given archetype from what ever media, generally fantasy or science fiction, that has caught my eye, and that I think can be made to fit my game world.

This means that though I give the class advantages and disadvantages, whether or not it’s balanced against the other classes in the game isn’t really my top priority. The idea that all classes must be equal in effectiveness in all situations strikes me as bit creepily Marxist. I suppose it’s the spirit of the age infecting The Game. Though a PC is also a playing piece, I suppose the gamist point of view is not my primary one. It’s one of my assumptions that you play the game to simulate being a certain type of character and experience fantastic situations, more than to dominate or attempt to “win the game”. This may or may not be one assumption you share, but I expect good sportsmanship in my players and a co-operative spirit amongst them, as players if not as characters.

Any character class that leaves details open to interpretation, leaves them open to player abuse. That’s an acceptable risk to me as that’s something I can deal with. Openness in the rules is what makes them flexible enough to accommodate any eventuality. Bad faith players will face the iron gauntlet of retributive DM fiat. Like I’ve said, I was a ruthless min/maxer as a kid, but now I want a sense of immersion in the character and the world.

I don’t do voices though, and no singing.

In building a PC, I see two routes to creating an interesting character. You can go with the bare bones OD&D archetypal classes, fighter, Magic-user, cleric, and then create secondary rules to further flesh them out, or rely on negotiation between the player and the DM to determine what the PC can do, other than what is explicitly spelled out in the rules. This is the least restrictive and most free form method, at least as far as D&D goes.

I’m a Holmes/AD&D baby though, so I’m not adverse to skill systems like that introduced with the Thief class. I still think that role-playing by the players and description of the actions they want to perform and how, plus negotiation are the “best” way to run The Game, but, there will be times when it’s necessary to have a written skill system to fall back on. If the players encounter a problem they can’t solve that’s killing the game’s momentum and stalling play, if they are a shy or retiring group and don’t want to speak up, or the problem is trivial and holding up progress, I just default to rolling for it.

Just where it is on the character class creation scale that your preferences lie depends on your personal gaming philosophy and which edition of the rules formed the foundation of your assumptions about The Game. Of course, the edition you started with may not be the one you are philosophically predisposed to prefer. I think the rapid success and expansion of the OSR indicates that quite a few younger gamers are finding the earlier editions more to their taste than the newer ones. You don’t have to be old to be Old Guard.

Friday, February 5, 2010

The Spy character class; "The name is Bond, Fantastic-medieval Bond".

The Spy Character Class.

The Spy is a character class specializing in information gathering, the theft or recovery of objects, and assassination. A spy may be an agent of a government body or a given Lord, a religious Leader or church, or a powerful mage or organization of magic-users. A spy may also be a free agent, offering his skills and services to those willing to pay for them. A spy may also work purely for his own immediate gain, without the direction of a patron if he so chooses.

A spy will never admit to his profession. Instead, a spy will employ a Cover Class, acting as though he were in fact, a fighter, thief, magic-user or cleric. Thief, fighter, or else merchant, tradesman, or courtier are the cover classes preferred by spies. Pretending to be a magic-user or cleric may put the spy in the position of being expected to perform magic of which he is not capable. Even the spy’s close companions and adventuring partners are unlikely to be privy to his true class status.

A spy always starts his career in the service of a given power. The training in espionage a spy requires can be taught by very few mentors and is even more hidden and esoteric than that of most schools of magic use. A first level spy will likely still be in the influence of the spy master who mentored him, if not in direct service to him. As a parting, or graduation gift, a spy master will often bestow upon his apprentice a list of contacts and bolt holes. These contacts will be people of various levels of social status who are allies of the spy master, or at least owe him a debt. They will aid the spy at need, to a degree.

In addition to the abilities he learns that directly involve spy craft, a spy learns a wide range of skills which are used to blend into the populations through which he must move unnoticed in the practice of his art. A spy may learn art appraisal, mercantile sense, horse breeding, iron working, or any other field of knowledge needed to support the guises he may work under. These skills and whether or not a dice mechanism is to be attached to them are left to the preferences of the Dungeon Master.

A spy is a competent combatant, attacking on the fighter matrix, but primarily operates by misdirection, stealth, and subterfuge. A spy will avoid melee unless reasonably certain of victory.

A spy can be of any alignment. Spies who are both Lawful and Good are, however, few and far between.

The spy class is open to all races.

A spy rolls D8 for hit points.

A spy may use any melee weapon without penalty. A spy may acquire weapon proficiencies in the same manner as would a fighter.

A spy who attacks with Surprise may assassinate his target as would an assassin class character of equal level.

A spy is always on the look-out for concealed or secret doors or hiding places and has been trained to find them. A spy has a 2 out of 6 chance of noticing such things upon entering a room. This increases to a 3 out of 6 chance if exclusively and actively searching.

Intelligence is the primary attribute of the spy. A spy must have an intelligence score no lower than 10. An intelligence score greater than 15 will give the spy a 10% bonus to experience points earned. A spy with a 15 or better intelligence will, at 9th level, have a 50% chance to learn an alignment language that is within two steps removed from his own.

A spy may wear armor which is consistent with that available to his Cover Class. Generally, a spy will prefer light, non-metallic armor, or depend upon magical protections rather than be encumbered by the heavy metal armor of the fighting man. A spy will be unable to employ either his thieving abilities, or perform an assassination if wearing armor other than leather, or studded leather.

A spy may Open Locks, Find/Remove Traps, Move Silently, Hide in Shadows, Listen at Doors, and Ascend/Descend Vertical Surfaces as would a thief of equal level. As with thieves, the spy’s chance to succeed in these endeavors is considered to be over and above that of a non-spy or unclassed character.

A spy may also Read Person. By observation of a given person, and/or directly engaging that person in conversation, a spy may be able to discern something of that person’s character or motivation. A spy has a base chance of 10% to Read Person at first level. This chance increases by 10% per level of experience, and a 1% bonus per point of intelligence over 10 is also accrued. It is wholly up to the Dungeon Master’s discretion what insights into the read person’s character or motivations the spy may gain by success.

A spy may also Disguise himself and/or Pose as another person in the pursuit of his goals. Disguise refers to physical changes in the spy’s appearance achieved by the use of wigs, clothing, prosthesis, or cosmetics. Pose refers to the spy’s ability to impersonate a given personage successfully. Ordinary NPCs that have no reason to suspect the spy is other than he presents himself will automatically be taken in by the disguise or pose. NPCs with class abilities who are wary, or have reason to be suspicious have a base 2% chance, cumulative per day of interaction with the spy, of realizing that the spy is not who he purports to be. Guardsmen, Shire-riffs, moneychangers, Lords and military officers are of the sorts of NPCs which would be wary of spies.

A spy’s class advancement follows the same numerical progression as the Thief’s.

A spy may contract hirelings, but will not attract henchmen. Rather, a spy will cultivate contacts. These persons are often of dubious nature, but may largely be counted on to help the spy in a pinch, providing information, victuals, a hiding place, or equipment.

At 10th level a spy becomes a spy master and if he wishes, may found a safe-hold and gather his own circle of spies. A spy master will create safe-holds in multiple locations. A safe-hold will always be hidden from common knowledge behind a front, such as a tavern, a school, or a bath house. Apprentice spies, properly vetted, may be sent to the safe-hold for training by contacts or former clients of the spy master. A high level Spy Master will not rule a demesne directly, as might a Fighter-Lord, but through his network of contacts, spies, and associates, is likely to have far greater influence on the course of events.

The spy is a reprioritization of the assassin, blended with the thief, plus some additions of my own to more closely simulate the sort of character you see in modern espionage fiction, but reshaped to fit a fantastic medieval game world. I think the class would fit in well in a setting or campaign that indulged in intrigue or the "Game of Houses" scenario.
The spy class abilities I've left fairly open ended as far as the mechanics go. I of course think that role playing out the read person, disguise, and pose abilities is the best way to go. You will have situations where the player, or DM may not feel up to it, or don't want to spend the game time on it though, so the mechanics are there as a back stop.
I also think it would be fun in a standard adventuring type of campaign. That PC that wears leather armor and claims to be a fighter, whom the party assumes to be a theif, might actually be a spy wearing a double cover class. Maybe he's a freelancer, maybe he reports to the Local Lord, maybe it goes higher than that.
Throw some rival NPC adventurers, the Tax-Monger, The Slave Merchants Guild, and the Unlicensed Purveyors of black lotus juice into the mix, and an honest, hard plundering party of adventurers may have a more difficult time in fencing their haul than they did in acquiring it.


I'll be interested to hear any feedback, additions or changes that occur to you. This is my first draft of the idea, and I expect to make some changes.

Art wise, we've got some Mead Scheaffer(sp?), a Jeff Jones piece for Red Shadows, and a wood cut illustration I found somewhere.

Monday, February 1, 2010

The Universal Tarentino Game Mechanic.

A couple of days ago, Trollsmyth put up an interesting post concerning rules design.

Let me quote from the post here where he quotes JB 's post from B/X Blackrazor.
"Good game design rewards behavior meeting the objectives of play. "

"By which he means, an effective game rewards the sort of play that the game is intended to create. To whit, if you make the Tarantino Cinematic RPG, it should involve lots of people sitting around and communicating who they are as people by using pop culture references when discussing matters of morality and psychology, or invoking the creative process, punctuated by periods of horrendous and blood-spattering violence. "

This, of Course, sounds wonderful to me. I'd love a Tarentino themed game. The first time I saw Reservoir Dogs, I thought, "Hey, these characters talk like the guys and I do in real life". It's just that Tarentino characters get to shoot people while philosophizing instead of just drinking coffee.

Trollsmyth suggests an interesting mechanic to facilitate the Tarentino game experience, which I also like.

"So in our Tarantino game, maybe every character starts with an artistic obsession and a secret existential crisis that is referenced by those obsessions and a pile of poker chips. Getting another character (that is, the player, in this case) to agree with your argument as to the worthiness of your obsession earns you a poker chip, and two if you can turn their argument towards promoting the worth of one of your obsessions. However, if they guess your existential crisis, you have to surrender most of your chips to them, and those chips are the only things that will keep you alive in the extremely brutal combat that is always threatening to erupt."

This is a good thought, and applicable to a story oriented game. However, I avoid anything that feels like a "story reward" type mechanic. That way lies narrativism and story games, Ewwwww.
My preference is for creating a series of potential events in a game scenario that may or may not occur and may or may not influence each other. I don't plot out any over arching story line that leads to a climactic confrontation. Sure It'll probably happen, but the player characters determine by their actions just how the game will play out, not me.
Tarentino's movies feel like Old School gaming to me anyway. There's lots of competing characters, each with their own motivations, all crashing into each other and spinning off crazy situations that nobody could have planned. That's D&D to me.

So, how to bring the Cinematic Tarentino theme to the Old School game I like? This is what I'm thinking.

Every player picks a theme song for their character at the character generation phase of start up. Tarentino movies are chock full of atmospheric music that accompanies those brutal gun battles and combats along with the philosophical bone gnawing, without it his movies would lose alot of their impact, I think. Consider the use of Stealers Wheel in Reservior Dogs, you're not going to forget that bit with the straight razor and the gasoline any time soon.

Every player then rolls a 1d4 to determine the number of times per game that they can play their theme song. You'd have to have a stereo, or maybe and mp3 or other sound file player, with the chosen theme songs keyed up on it. A nice sounding system would be necessary, tiny tinny speakers would make the whole thing seem silly instead of funky grim and groovy.

PCs would have to have initiative, or surprise in order to declare a theme song action. So long as the song plays, that particular PC receives bonuses to his actions. Pluses to hit, increases in skill level, etc. Once the song comes to an end, the bonuses vanish. The power of the theme song bonus could increase with level, should any PC survive the game. I would sort of expect a Tarentino theme game to end in a TPK most of the time, that's part of the idiom.

The length of the song would be a real time limit on the duration of the theme song bonus. Most songs only last 3 or 4 minutes of real time, and that's not a lot in an RPG combat situation. Also, since the PC can only use the theme song a limited number of times per game, they aren't likely to waste it on frivolous events.

If more than one Player wants to employ the theme song bonus at the same time, I think I'd make them dice for it. Or maybe create some sort of character coolness index chart which would determine which character has more Tarentino in his veins. Yah, dig it, Daddy-O?

You could bolt this on to just about any RPG and make it work without too much trouble, I think.
Getting the music system set up satisfactorily and keeping the players from squabbling over songs would be the tougher part.
I think this would be a good way to inject some of that Pulp Fiction spirit into any game without having to work out a complete rule set just for it.

I was really thinking of this as applicable to modern gritty pulp and crime type gaming at first, but I think you could Tarentino just about any genre.
Basil Polidourus's Conan soundtrack has lots of great stuff for Sword & Sorcery type D&D gaming. I guess you could use just about anything that fit with the theme of your game
I'd use Johnny Cash for an Aces & Eights or other western character theme. "God'll cut you down", would be great tune for that. Or some of those spaghetti western themes like "the Ecstasy of Gold".
I think I'd like a little Monster Magnet for a Weird Planet type game.
In any case, this would be a way of incorporating the background music a lot of people like to play during games as an actual part of the game. I haven't tried this myself yet, but I'm sure the guys would be willing to give it a spin.