Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Things About Villains

1 Sweats acid
2 Sweats lysergic acid
3 Cloud of acid surrounds it
4 Desperate for cake
5 Deceives you as to its species
6 Hates and fear numbers
7 Cries and the tears are sentient
8 Screams and the screaming causes nightmares which will make you scream and these screams cause dreams which initiate screams and on and on forever
9 Fire for blood
10 Allergic to oxygen
11 Unidentifiable
12 Murders mice and eats them
13 Flees birds, and flying creatures
14 Has horns and these horns are omens
15 Has thespian ambitions
16 Claws at your helmet and envies your armor
17 Vomits rabbits
18 Cold and cunning, crafty and cruel
19 Corrupt, closeted
20 Called by many names
21 Face frozen and palsied, teeth chipped
22 Iron eyes
23 False fangs of bone and wire
24 Three predictions, one is wrong
25 Three pets, one is a bomb
26 Clueless, courteous, careless, thin
27 Stealer of stones
28 Gnawer of bones
29 Sits high atop a pile of thrones
30 Commands clones, consults crones
31 Thirty teeth embedded in arm
32 Rotting tongue--old curse
33 Keeps a storm in a red bottle
34 One-armed, one-legged, theocratic
35 Ecstatic, emphatic, geriatric
36 Neurotic, necrotic, despotic
37 Twins: Quixotic, idiotic, polyzygotic
38 Prone to outbursts of glee. No ears.
39 No spine
40 Alcoholic, crippled and alone
41 Denied sanctuary by nine gods
42 Worships a single giant black breast
43 Dazed, beaten, bitter, bored, brilliant
44 Crackles with blue electricity
45 Butterfly collector
46 Frogs for friends
47 Elaborate mechanisms perform ordinary functions
48 Frost Breath, uncontrollable. Difficult life.
49 Outcast due to being born with unholy skin pattern
50 Grinning jackanape with asperger's syndrome
51 Bronze-plated
52 Grovelling liar
53 Draws flies
54 Eats only babies
55 Scabies
56 Speaks to the mist, and it listens
57 Worships Tiamat. Glistens.
58 Empty husk. Left eye is actually head of long, thin, opthalmocephalic creature which controls body.
59 Were-Other-Villain
60 A brother to insects
61 Scorns the love of women
62 Wheeled about by tiny men
63 Fries eggs compulsively
64 Eyes you repulsively
65 Two tongues. Says contradictory things simultaneously.
66 Spiky, clothed in oil
67 Fatter than anyone
68 Explodes on a 20
69 Funny
70 Heads on his or her hands
71 Regales you with elaborate plans
72 Dead. Is Weekend-At-Bernied around by former employees.
73 Constantly in pain from boils that will burst when struck, doing d6 damage.
74 Needles for nails
75 Wizard. If already wizard, then part-lizard.
76 Surrounded by null magic zone
77 Surrounded by dinosaurs
78 Surrounded by hatters and enterprising footmen
79 Counselled by nuns
80 Crazed, desperate and capricious
81 Slutty and vicious
82 Young and malicious
83 Yellow and suspicious
84 Delicious
85 Covered in rats
86 Organized, drunk
87 Telepathic and driven by a fear of the dead
88 Bruised from battles half-remembered
89 Partially dismembered
90 Three-gendered
91 Hateful but pious
92 Eats light from the sun
93 Will know your name before you speak it
94 Toys idly with a brass object
95 Is here to purge this ungrateful land
96 Nine hands
97 Is like Ayn Rand
98 Slaughtered your clan
99 3/4ths god and 1/3rd man
00 Has signed a document approving enhanced interrogation techniques

Monday, May 30, 2011

Why Are You So Boring? Oh...

This is the result of OKCupid doing some data-mining on their clients.

You have to love the detail that all the DNDWPS-type-girls are into "grammar" whereas the OMGD&D?WTF???-subset are into "England"......also the phrase "regularly" seems to explain a lot...

In A Pinch? Some Fill-In-The-Blanks Dungeons...

Here are some more generic dungeons using the Donjon Random Generator and the quicky desktop method in case you get caught in a spot.

This one is a sort of tomb set up. Assume the PCs start on the lower left...A and B can be some clever features if you have time to think of any. You'll have to think of a reason that the prisoner is still alive...(click to enlarge)
This one is an abandoned castle, floors 2 and 3 respectively (first floor's boring, I assume). Start on the upper left. The void in the center is the castle's central courtyard. Unless you put in some intelligent monsters, assume many of the locked doors are actually just stuck or rusted shut.
2nd floor...
This one is a heavily fortified factional dungeon with 3 sides fighting it out--pick who the 3 schemers (in pink) are, and then assume the monsters around them are their minions.
Aaaaand I stuck the basic "lair" dungeon (it can be raiders hiding in a cave system or a nest of criminals or whatever) from yesterday just so they'll all be in one place.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Progress is Made By Lazy Men Looking For Easier Ways To Do Things*

At the moment, my players' characters are in a city on an island. So they are neither at the mercy of the random wilderness encounter tables nor of a stocked dungeon. I'll be improvising a lot and I want my toys where I can get to them, but I don't want to have to make up a brand new encounter table for every single environment every single day.

So here's what I've done--

First, I made a folder on my computer with one picture for every single monster I like. I just used whatever picture I could find--some I'd already drawn, some I googled up. I didn't worry about whether they were good, just whether I could tell at a glance what the monster was. (Click to enlarge.)Then I made a picture of a big white field with some labels for basic categories of monsters--sorted by behavior. Here's that picture:
Brutes are like big dumb ones--usually animal-intelligence-level predators, Soldiers are mostly intelligent humanoids, Automatics are guardian-types or other automatons that "activate", Vermin are little things that just want to eat and mostly get in your way, Schemers are villain-types, Summoned covers anything that will usually show up just as the result of somebody casting a spell and Weird are creatures which have some other niche and require a little thought to get into an adventure.

Anyway, then I go over to "system preferences" and make the picture with the labels into the background for my desktop...

Then I slide all the stuff on my desktop to the side (those of you groaning at the idea of cleaningup your desktop--I know how you feel. I just threw everything into a folder called "not now, love" which I'll pull open when I'm done with this.)

Last, I go to the monster folder and pull out just the icons for the monsters that might show up in the environment that my PCs are in in the session I am about to run and just move them into their "niches".

Now I can see everything I might want to use in a couple seconds. If the PCs head into (say) the necromancer's palace, I can look over at my laptop and take in all the options for who his guards might be or what might be chained up in his basement and choose something mood-appropriate.
I can take a screengrab of it and say Ok, this is the monster array for The Isle of Oth or whatever.

If I really feel like wasting time I can do it for every single environment in my campaign I can think of. Could be a pip...

Anyway I used this visual "category" method the other day and it worked pretty well. It takes some time, but tracking down all the monster pictures was fun, and it seems like a decent re-usable shortcut. If you don't have a laptop or a computer near where you play you could do a screengrab and print it out.

So I can see this basic idea being good for keeping track of traps or other widgets, too. Like Shiro has pictures of actors and actresses corresponding to NPCs in his Pendragon Campaign--you could have them all lined up by location or power-level or whatever so when you GM you're ready to go.

It might make sense to do it with a dungeon or world map, too, if you had a lot of elements on it that were going to get moved around a lot and re-used...
Telecanter's silhouettes might be a good place to start if you want to put together your own monster collection.

I also made some generic pictures and threw together an all-purpose lair...
...so no matter where the PCs go, if it's somebody's hideout I've got somewhere to start. I can stock it quick using the monster categories picture and roll...

*Robert Heinlein

Friday, May 27, 2011

Fiend Folio J-Corps + Some Session Notes

Despite the fact that the Vornheim contest is at this very moment, in progress, I am still in the process of redoing the Fiend Folio. The J's are a quiet neighborhood, only 2 monsters: Jaculi and Jermlaine. The Jaculi is profoundly Ok, I guess. It's a sort of leaping snake with decent paleocryptozoological cred. It's just, well, hey one more snake-monster. But then since snakes are books then an expedition to the Viridian Jungles to hunt the rare javelin snake for its enlightening flesh is an ok thing to have to do, I suppose. I added little feet things to make the launching-itself-from-trees thing more convincing. The original Jermlaines--little mousemen--look, to be charitable, like melted coneheads. Or, to be accurate, like naked pinhead people. The nicest thing you can say about the later versions is that they made them look less like pinheaded people, but still not less pinheaded. So I just ignored all that. Ok, so they're mouse people. There's nothing wrong with mouse people--Fritz Leiber had mouse people. Warhammer has rat people. D&D already has wererats. The big difference between mice and rats is personality. Mice are cute. Ok, so this guy came out looking like a Mouse Guard mouse, or Desperaux. So the local difference between wererats and jermlaines will be that wererats are as big as people and you feel good about killing them and jermalines are little innnocent wee folk and you feel really bad about killing them. _____________ Notes from Day One on The Isle of Oth: -So after sailing across the sea the PCs finally land on the mysterious Isle of Oth (motive? "I wonder what's on the Isle of Oth?""Yeah, let's go there.") and they are greeted by soldiers who think Connie is their boss. Actually Connie's long lost sister is their boss. They look alike. -Then, because this is always how it goes, the next session Connie couldn't be there. So the whole talking-to-your-long-lost-sister business is pushed to the wayside. -Luckily, the Isle of Oth is a sort of insane urbanized semi-democratic teratocracy generated this way and the PCs quickly get caught up in inter-monster politics. -I remembered, after the fact, that I have 50-odd random "things NPCs want from other characters" cards which I made up and really oughtta use next time. Ever make game stuff and forget you made it a month later? -Mandy's snake-cleric got fucked the fuck up by some new, improved hook horrors and so abandoned her faith, switched religions and got busted back down to first level but now with weird witch-powers, courtesy of her new mistress (for a year-and-a-day) Germanotta. -Satine rolled a new character. Following my "go through enough dead normal characters and you can start creeping into the exotic races" rule, she's a snow-leopardperson. -New method for improvising encounters: just have a picture of every single monster or person in the environment on the laptop desktop. Faster than having a list since seeing is faster than reading. Categorize by monster type next time? Maybe.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Gravity Distortion Effects plus First Contest Entry

Oh no, you've been hit by a gravity distorting spell or trap or monster or, in the case of our group a couple days ago, a Graviton Distortion Glove.

What happens? Roll d8...

1. Gravity now pulls target up instead of down
2. North is now down
3. South is now down
4. East is now down
5. West is now down
6. Gravity is doubled for target--s/he is effectively twice as heavy but no stronger. S/he is sucked to the floor, initially, and will have trouble pulling away.
7. Target is super-lightweight, as if on the moon.
8. Target is, as far as any object or person in a 20' radius is concerned, the most massive object in the area. S/he does not gain in size or mass, but everything slides/falls toward him/her as if s/he was the floor.

Got the first Vornheim: Hack This Book contest entry from Jason. It's basic, but it gets high marks in the efficiency category, and the odd/even bit is good:

Important People Randomizer
Odd – female, even – male)

1-2 Grandparent
3-4 Distant relations (uncle, aunt, cousin)
5-6 Parent
7-8 Sibling
9-10 Spouse
11-12 Lover
13-14 Child
15-16 Mentor
17-18 Close friend
19-20 Long lost …

Roll once on the table to determine a random significant person; odd numbers always signify a female, even numbers a male. The result “Long lost …” indicates someone the person hasn’t seen in a long time: a childhood friend, a party member from their early years, a nursemaid; or someone else on the list they have not seen in years (in which case, reroll).

This simple table helps the DM when;

· They need an important person from the PCs life. You know, to screw with them.

· The NPC is looking to hire the party to follow-up on the missing/kidnapped/murdered loved-one.

· An NPC is being manipulated by/looking to have killed off/looking for the perfect gift for a loved-one.

When a result seems unusual you can always reroll or use it to delve deeper into an NPC. When the table indicates that Ott Orben, a celibate clergy member, is looking for the perfect gift for his daughter, it could be a child from before he took his vows, the evidence of a one-time affair or a secret family. Likewise, the motives of someone who has kidnapped a child might be really different from someone who has captured a grandparent.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Vornheim: All Games Considered

See, I did this D&D book and, judging from the links I've been getting, people like it...

"It is inspirational reading; the most so I have seen in maybe 25 years for any sort of RPG. "
Dragonsfoot Forum

"It’s probably the most-bang-for-the-buck RPG product I’ve ever bought in my life. "
Lost Papers of Tsojcanth 1 and 2

"This is quite simply one of the best and most useful RPG products that I have every purchased and read through in my entire gaming career." WrathofZombie'a Blog

"[Vornheim] is like the first crash of Johnny Ramone's guitar across the bow of fantasy arena rock.
Vornheim is, as I have said elsewhere, like the Sex Pistols covering Ptolus."
Hite, Kenneth

"I can't recommend it enough. No matter what edition you use, or retro-clone, this is going to help any campaign you make. Not just for the city games either."
RPG: Rants and Raves

"I can pretty much guarantee you that if you have any interest in running urban-based fantasy at any point in your campaign, then you, too, will find it worth every penny." Alexandrian, The 1 and 2 and 3

"The stated goal of the book is not only to allow a GM to create a city on the fly, but to make it interesting, memorable and fun, and I would argue that it more than succeeds in that task." Brighton Role-Players

"So the real magic of the book, like I said before, is how it becomes easy to create textural elements, randomly or semi-randomly, with very little effort"
Drawings and Dragons

"This compact book does contain enough genuinely useful material for detailing a fantasy city on the fly to make it indispensable to any referee whose campaign involves regular urban forays outside the dungeon."

"Smart and yet playful. A bold kick up the arse to other setting books."
Haque in Black

"For me, Vornheim - The City Complete Kit is the most innovative role-playing product for a long time and is a hot candidate for an Ennie."
LeckerTHAC0! (English Translation)

"And it's all a very inspiring and stylish package"
Metagame (English Translation)

"I have to admit I am rather impressed... 5 out of 5 stars"
Other Side, The

"It's inspiring and I want to skip work, press gang my players or co-workers and use it right now."
Places to Go, People to Be

Planet Algol 1 and 2 " It's an innovative product, but it shouldn't be; that not an indictment of Vornheim but of what RPG products are generally produced."

"In terms of art and graphic design, Vornheim looks like no other RPG book ever."
RPG.net Forum Discussion

"This is definitely not your daddy's Greyhawk or 2e Renfaire Realms anymore."
RPGSite Forum Discussion

"This is really my cup or tea."
Savage Swords of Athanor

It gave me a whole lot of flexibility that I've never really experienced in a game before. Seriously, if you haven't bought Vornheim yet, you really need to. Even if Zak's game isn't your style, use the format and concepts and fill in the tables with things that meet your style. It's that useful."
Gaming All Over The Place

"Everything you've read about it is true. Including and especially the talk about changing how people make stuff for their games."
Seeking Wing, The

"I want something that will make it easier for me to run sessions in cities with little or no prep, and I really want this Kit to do that for me; so, first impressions, does it do the job it sets out to do? My quick answer: yes!"
Sky is Full of Dust, The

"HOLY **** IT'S **** AWESOME!"
UK Roleplayers Forum Discussion

"I will definitely use the book at the table."
Apprentice of Old School (English Translation)

(the Underdark Gazette liked it, too)

"I think this is probably the best product I think I've ever come across." This guy did a video review (cue up to 7:29)(and even though it's from "Scary Hair Studios" I swear I had nothing to do with this video)

"It's exactly what it says on the tin: a thunk-provoking tool kit that'll probably be great fun to unleash on the players."
Vaults of Nagoh

"In some urban RPG’s, an unexpected player decision might be disastrously time consuming; not so with the aid of Vornheim. Vornheim provides the referee tools to handle any number of circumstances that might occur within a city adventure."
Vorpal Dice
"It crawls with cunning charts & maps"
"The biggest problem I have with Vornheim: The Complete City Kit is that it's going to make all other city sourcebooks seem dull by comparison."

"It is a beautifully illustrated and very well constructed book."

"...Vornheim is an amazing approach to doing a city sourcebook which, although intended for old-school D&D, has plenty of utility for story gaming."

"...felt like a breath of fresh air after all these colorful, overproduced RPGs"

Looking over Vornheim. Wow. this is really, really good."

"Infinite *s out of 5...The book is almost insidious in nature as it seeps into your own creativity and basically challenges you to be more creative, to raise your game to another level, and to be better at running your games."

"Zak dribbles more creativity and inspiration on page 3 (territories surrounding Vornheim) than most books manage in their entirety. And that's a pale shadow of page 7..."

too valuable not to have in you DM arsenal."

"I read Vornheim during my vacation and was amazed. Zak's really got something great here. I'd say award-winning."

"Random tables and charts, strange characters and locales, and snakes as books. Brilliant."
"The quality of the book is exceptional in every way."

"This totally raises the bar, you realize."

"Where Ptolus is a huge, whopping, incredibly detailed city book, this is stripped down the the very basics, the bare minimum, so that all that’s left is the raw rock and roll. It has exactly as much as you really need, leaving the gamemaster to play around and flesh out the rest..."

Vornheim is Byzantine, brilliant, and exhilarating..."

"Vornheim is, in my opinion, one of the most innovative RPG products I've seen in years. It is exactly what it claims to be, a city building toolkit designed to make life easier for the DM and provide a vast and interesting urban sprawl for your players. If you are even remotely entertaining the possibility of a city-based campaign, you need this book."

It's a damn good book, full of useful stuff."
"If you are planning urban adventures, Vornheim is AWESOME for it. I ran adventures in a small town of 1300 and it was very useful."

I honestly can’t find anything negative to write about this book, it really is a slice of fantastic RPG creativity and I urge anyone who enjoys fantasy city gaming to pick up this gem before the print-run of 2000 copies disappears.

"Good ideas, great tables!"

"It is an amazing toolkit and wonderful aid."

"It is a work of art, brilliant in how useful it is."
"I have to give you props sir, your experience and insight into city play made for a better night for me and my friends."

"The book is crammed with quirky and imaginative ideas."

Once I next run a game set in a fantasy metropolis, I will most certainly have my Vornheim by my side, whether it be set in Sigil or Kaer Maga or the City of Greyhawk."

"Actually at last count I have read this think five times. Each time I read it, I realize more and more, this is the perfect city book."

Lot's of goodies to use for any city-based adventuring. "

"I have to say that thus far it’s really changing the way I look at city campaigns and the build of a fantasy city in general. Zak really is an amazing wellspring of ideas; he’s sort of the Grant Morrison of D&D..."

"It is awesome."

It's official...Vornheim is freakin' amazing. Best city supplement ever."

"It's quite inspiring...I can't believe that anyone would not be able to take some creative inspiration from it."

...a beautifully produced handbook for running city adventures."


"...mind-blowingly awesome and original..."

I would like smaller books that take an approach kind of like what Zak S. did with his Vornheim book: give me the means to make and use good content on the fly for a specific adventure type"

"Vornheim is an amazingly cool supplement. I've been using mine (PDF) almost since the day it came out." (down in the comments)

Vornheim is awesome; I'm still getting used to it, but there are so many tables in there that allow me to generate interesting things on the fly."

"Flipping thru my copy of Vornheim. I'm pretty sure I want ZakSmith/Sabbath's brain..."

That thing is a friggin' work of art."

" is excellent. Atmospheric, great spur for creativity. Can't wait to use it!"

This is a damned good game book. Even the first part of the book, which presents Vornheim itself, is full of material that can be directly incorporated into any city campaign. The whole book lives up to the subtitle ("The Complete City Kit"), not just the ingenious shortcuts and excellent tables."

"This little book by Zak S, best known for I Hit It With My Axe, and the D&D with Porn Stars blog, is pretty damned awesome."

Oh, and PS, here's me and Satine and Mandy and Kimberly and James Raggi on the All Games Considered podcast.

Monday, May 23, 2011

More Dark Heresy Starbox Notes

-There's a lot of things to keep track of in the middle of a fight in Dark Heresy--fatigue points, different armor on different body parts, et cetera, plus if it's something grotesque you've got fear and corruption points going on. Could use some counters/visual aids for this shit.

-Combat so far is slow and crunchy but still less tactical than Rolemaster or Type IV (or even, in a weird way, arguably, older D&D). There's generally only one or two good ideas about what to do, (generally: shoot the guy) however the armor system, "layered" damage effect created by the crits, and fate points gives getting hit a satisfying level of detail about what gets done to you. Every PC feels like Wolverine--you keep coming back from getting your ass kicked full of complex damage to deliver some final blow. It's effective for creating a specific genre of combat.

-...however, if both sides are fatigued or otherwise anti-buffed, combat seems like it'd just turn stupid-slow (you-miss-I-miss-you-miss-I-miss), so-- first conscious hack: if both sides are at -10 to everything, they cancel out for purposes of fucking each other up.

-Mandy likes the combat system more than Viv, probably because:

a) Mandy is more experienced and more Old School so is used to dying and avoiding combat
b) Mandy rolled better than Viv this session, or
c) both

Though, to be fair, hormonally-speaking, Viv was in no kinda mood to sneak around last night.

-Too many environmental things in the combat system are expressed as simple plusses and minuses. Feels like there should be some more "lateral" ways to hurt opponents, use equipment, etc.

-I'd like to find a way to trade penalties for some kind of situation-altering disadvantage. Like, ok, you take less damage but you end up 20 feet away or dropping your weapon--something like that. If the system is going to give you all that combat detail, I want a way to translate the detail from the combat system from just arithmetic into situational complexity.

-Related idea: anything done on the GM's part to make the firefights more weird (gravity-distortion glove, device that divides zapped foes into 2 midget foes, etc.) is effort well spent since otherwise it's just: "Hey, slug it out--roll, roll, roll, roll".

-1d5? Really? Fuck.

-The rulebook is poorly organized and has way too much fucking padding. Though there is some of the old Games Workshop black magic and blacker humor buried under all those sanitarium walls.

-I confess to honestly needing fucking help dealing with the gun fetishism going on here. In order to play this game as it was meant to be played you need to care way more about remembering the differences between guns than I ever will. This all makes perfect sense when playing wargame 40k because you'll know your units and their weapons (and their weapons are largely the only thing you use to tell them apart), but in an RPG it effectively means every foe has a magic weapon with special dice properties to memorize. Some rules I just discovered 3 seconds ago: Las carbines can shoot twice per round, pistol weapons can be shot in melee (a la original WH40k so I guess I should've realized), flamers automatically hit but people in their path need to make an agility test, you can be "pinned" by attack fire and have to make a willpower test to get past it. Fuck that last one, I'm ignoring it. Is there any disadvantage to firing on full auto besides chewing up ammo faster? Can't figure it out...

-Rulebook designwise I think they should've gone for a "complete description of every rule about a given weapon in a little box" system rather than a 3.5-style "each weapon fits arguably into 900 different categories and the categories are described somewhere other than where the info on the gun itself is described and the place where the gun is described has actually nothing other than a paragraph of gunfluff in it so really just look at the tables which are spread over about like 30 pages interspersed with crap about hailing the god-emperor".

-The Random Spacemonster Generator ably served doubly duty as a what's-this-plant-in-the-lobby table, just replace the last d6 table with things like -dendron or -rose.

-The instadungeon served pretty well as a Gigastructure level generator, though I should make a full-on sci-fi version, it'd probably take less than an hour. Though I should also probably write some proper dungeon for that area, too.

-The magic effect table from Vornheim did ok as a random chaotech grenade generator, though if I'm gonna keep doing that I'll need to write a sci-fi hack since half the things on the original are too fairy-taley for space.

-The techroom and Kirbyweapon generators worked absolutely ace.

-As far as setting hacks: there's an empress instead of an emperor, I am assuming the PCs are lost in the White Sun Sector, and the rest is Yet To Be Discovered.


-Oh yeah: Mandy reminded me to tell you they named their ship The Absolution which I thought was pretty 40k of them. Mandy's idea and I think Viv went along with it on grounds of Depeche Mode.


Ran our first Warhammer40k: Dark Heresy session today with Mandy and Viv.

Here's a map of the system our unfortunate Mechanicus and Psyker found themselves marooned in, 40,000 light years from the Empress and Sector: Throne...(click to enlarge)
And yes, all the names mean what you think they mean.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Vornheim Is Hollywood


It's a mistake to believe that the first generation of moguls, who escaped the cruelty and poverty and tyranny of life under the czar or king or emperor, left that world behind. Rather, they brought that system to the new world and cast themselves - at last, the dream realized - as the monarch, Mr Big. In the land of the free, they fashioned a city-state where medieval powers existed, and to go with it they invented a cult that was close to the idolatrous nature of religions before the age of reason and science. So their Hollywood was intensely un-American, if you're thinking Jefferson and the Bill of Rights and the code of independent intellect. Hollywood was a harkening back to despotism, slavery, and a belief in the divinity of supernatural monsters. Every fourth year a Dole and a Clinton* feel the need to woo, warm and co-opt Hollywood, while any halfway intelligent politician must realize that the movies are - in their appeal to unreason and unreality, in their excitation of desire and instability, in their worship of power and glamour - the most abiding, virulent virus in the American organism.

-from "20 Things People Like To Forget About Hollywood" by David Thomson

(I have edited it to include some material that was cut from the original book--"Beneath Mulholland", one of the best books written about the city I live in).

I should've included it in the "Appendix N" to Vornheim. Sorry, forgot. To me, these games and stories aren't about wish-fulfillment or escapism, they're an expressionism. They're a fiction that uses impossible and rare weirdness to point out nuances in the possible and common weirdness that is always here now in real life with us.


*Obviously out of date, this would now say "A Bush and a Clinton". My how things have changed.

WhyIsThereNoDeadSpaceInVornheim? + More Fiend Folio

Consider the following 3 Fiend Folio do-overs for monsters beginning with the letter "I" a Joesky's rule payment for the stuff in red at the end.

The original Fiend Folio ice lizard is just a baby white dragon. Which you don't need since you can just make a baby white dragon. I made it into a sort of komodo dragon that can walk on water by freezing the surfaces it touches.
The original Imorph is not plastic-surgery software from microsoft, it's a sort of changeling that slowly copies you in combat. Which would be clever if there wasn't already the enveloper and changeling. So this one imitates everybody in the area simultaneously:As should be clear from my picture, while waiting to strike, it hides on the bottom of skateboard decks from the early 1980s.

And, finally, The Iron Cobra needs neither introduction nor renovation:
And now, I talk about to some people about graphic design:

Hey layout nerds: You know why there's no empty space in Vornheim? Because then you can fit more stuff in. You know why everything else you don't like? Because I do like it.

I didn't write it for The Public, I wrote it for me so I could use it and so people as smart as me could use it. If LOTFP calls me up and says "Hey, even though this book is our best-seller, I feel we could be making more money if we could sell it to dumb people used to reading Wired instead of novels who can't see letters when they're near other letters, so let's change it", then I just hang up the phone and Mandy and Viv can just cam for 15 minutes and we make all that money we just lost back.

This isn't my job or how I earn a living, so, paradoxically, I have the unusual freedom to make something good rather than full of WhatAGraphicDesignTextbookTellsUsMakesTheMajorityOfConsumersWantToBuyABook. If I'm lucky enough to have that freedom, why not use it?

Everybody in this cash-starved niche has had to sit through endless bullshit and bloat and bad taste because commercial pressure forced this, that and the otherfuck on products, designers rules, magazines, artists, and whole companies. In Vornheim, you at least have the comfort of knowing that the only reason you're sitting through anything is because it worked better that way for the actual human being who wrote it. Vornheim is only as stupid as I am, not as stupid as the average graphic designer thinks the average consumer is. Be happy for that small favor, if nothing else.

I'd rather make a gorgeous little book that I like that works and that (because it all fits in 64 pages) you can get at a reasonable price than "grow the hobby". Or do what some guy in emo glasses tells me will grow the hobby.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Fixing The Fiend Folio--Department H

H in the Fiend Folio is for "Ha ha! You bought this book? Choad." No flail snail or githyanki to raise the curtain of gloom. Just some dumb animals and a dead guy. Let's tackle it...

The main thing you'll notice about the Hellcat other than it's indistingushability from other cat monsters is it's size L. I figure: Hell is inside these cats. You have to crawl into their hellmouths to get there.
The hoar fox has one of those names like Jonson the Hammer that probably sounded real flash in 1292 but now just sounds like some troglodyte troll blogger's attempt at a bad pun. Not a bad monster though--icy fox monster. Sure, why not? To distinguish it mechanically from a winter wolf and things like that I feel like it needs a better thing than frost breath, though.
(The scale is goofy: little animal, big cone of cold. Too Looney Tunes.) Starting with how that guy said a fox hunt is supposed to be "The unspeakable in pursuit of the inedible" let's say the White Fox tricks polar bears and giant lynxes and other polar megafauna into eating it. These animals then freeze to death from the inside out because of the iciness of the fox, and then the clever fox eats them. Suck it, borealan apex predators.

The Hook Horror?
I think they meant to call it the Hook Fucking Seriously Fucking Really Why? Fuck You We're Not Trying. Like idiots, they keep using it even now:
Not only have they made hook horror minis, they have made more than one kind of hook horror mini. And I still can't get a flail snail mini. And Jeffrey C. Jones is dead and Grover Norquist is alive. ANYWAY, here--I will show you horror in a handful of hooks:
The secret horror technique I have ingeniously employed here is to not make the monster look like the fucking buzzard from Woody Woodpecker.

Necromancers take note: How you make a hook horror is you tie up a victim, dip them in various hermetic herbs and spices, replace his or her hands with hooks, hang him or her by said hooks, and leave them like that for a million years. Then they slowly stretch out, then you re-animate them and voila: a horror.

Now the Hornet, Giant...I have a scale issue with giant flying bugs. Somehow those papery wings all gigantic and flapping at helicopter speed just doesn't work for me. Maybe it just seems too technological. Or too Ferngully. Anyway, new crawly giant hornet:The Hound of Ill Omen is another goddamn dog monster, though, to be fair, it just shows up and portends doom and leaves, so it's not just another demon dog/hellhound/barghest. The mechanics could be handled better than in the Folio, plus it doesn't give a compelling reason the hound is there in the first place, but this is all doable: tie the appearance of the hound to the PC actually doing something and tie the doom power to an ill fate. I -no plug intended but it's unavoidable here- suggest using a variant on the Fortune system in Vornheim for the dog's curse.

As for the Hound itself, it should definitely look more fucked than the one in the Folio...
Now the Huecuva as presented in the Folio is just Another Fucking Skeleton. But thanks to this Dragonsfoot thread I know it's supposed to be some kind of MesoAmerican monster. Which is fine because there aren't really many good D&D monsters in this semiTecumelian vein. So I sent it to Pre-Columbian Ecuador for some redesign work...
...as for mechanics, it'll need something better than just "hey, maybe you got a disease". I'm thinking a curse where every time you kill something it comes back to life as a zombie and keeps trying to kill you and you can only stop it by destroying the huecuva.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Die-Drop Instadungeon + Continuing Adventures of Mandy, Zak & Raggi

Quick generator for when you need a dungeon now...

1. Print out a copy of this chart:(click to enlarge)2. Grab a number of dice (any standard dice) approximately equal to the number of interesting rooms you need in your dungeon.

3. Drop them on the chart:3. Grab a red marker and make a box around every square a die landed on, like so. Also: draw lines connecting these rooms.

4. For each place a die landed, that's a room (the lines you drew between them are empty corridors. If a die landed on a line, you may include both rooms or just pick one). To find out what's in a room, read what's under each die and then, using this table...
...read what came up on the die sitting in that square.

(The chart with the squares is mostly environmental factors, the table with the dice is mostly inhabitants and encounters.)

So , for example, a d8 showing a 4 landed in the square that says "corpse in here" that would indicate there was a wizard and a corpse in that room.

Obviously: assume some standard corridor width, room shape, etc. since you are being lazy and generating this dungeon on the fly.

The results have not been designed to be too terribly creative--they were designed to be generic enough that they would fit a large number of need-a-dungeon-now situations yet specific enough not to leave you scratching your head trying to think of a situation or monster that'd fit a given result.

Untested. Playtest results welcome. I made the stuff for my own use so if you don't understand some of the shorthand on it, go ahead and ask. Or just write your own.


In other news, here's Me and Mandy Morbid and James Raggi talking on the radio about (first) Vornheim (second) LOTFP:Weird Fantasy and (Third) story games and story gamers and hedgehogs. James feels like he did a pretty good job saying what his game is about on there, if you're curious. Also, there's a promo code for a discount to buy our game stuff buried somewhere in all that audio.

"Burning cookies don't smell like elves""How do you know?"

Me and Mandy and James Raggi talk about games on this here podcast for, jesus, 2 hours.

Guide for the impatient:

-First half is mostly James (including a fun bit of everybody comparing notes on how Death Frost Doom went when they ran it) and LOTFP:WFRP, second half is me and Mandy and Vornheim.

-Both halves start with us doing a lot of talking like responsible business people about our respective products that just came out and then, happily, degenerate rather pleasantly into everyone telling funny RPG stories, which is nice because then it's fun.

-Buried in there is Mandy calling herself a genius, calling me obnoxious, everyone having in-depth discussions of Keebler elves, James admitting to playing Dogs In The Vineyard, and the host giving out a 20% off LOTFP promo code.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Fiend Folio Do-Over: G

The G's in the Folio are really really depressing. The ideas are bad, the names are worse...oh I need a doctor...not even "flumph" funnybad but more like "oh-I-don't-remember-that-one-huh-oh-well-go-back-to-my-knitting" bad but, hey, we're making lemonade here. (clicking these will generally enlarge them far beyond the original size they were drawn at.)

So, the G's, renovated...

The Galltrit is a little generic gremlin that flies up to you, drains your blood, and flies away, often undetected. It's just a very dull form of GM fiat with stats. I re-did it as this guy who creates an artificial center of gravity (kinda strong) in the room and is called a Gauntlet. It usually appears in the midst of other monsters and is fairly inactive, but any hit not directed at it is likely to get pulled toward it slightly and therefore miss. Missiles at -6, melee at -4, dropped items always hit the Gauntlet (who usually then eats them).

Oh, the Gambado...shoot me and eat my eyes, it's so lame. And the name is lame. It's a skull that's actually a springy jack-in-the-box only no box just the ground. It's so fucked. I re-did it as a thing called an Inhabiter, it's a small demon with oracular abilities and hermit-crab-like habits only instead of using shells it uses heads.
Garbug. Garbug? Fuck you Fiend Folio "G" authors. Galltrit, Gambado, Garbug? Oh no! The Garbug! Fear it! Fuck. Goddam egg-sucking soccer hooligan waterheads wrote this thing. Anyway: half bug! half lobster! The black variety does something lame and the violet variety does something also lame.It is now called a Gurgler and it's a foot long and it's like a little Igor and it helps evil wizards and alchemists carry out experiments by like taking measurements and handing them shit. "Clawing" I guess. Its unique attack is if you put a substance into the glass jar fused to its back then its saliva can replicate the effects of said substance.
Giant, Fog and Giant, Mountain are lazy re-treads of the already-suspicious Giant, Cloud and Giant, Hill, respectively. A giant is a giant, ok? That's pretty exciting right there. If you want to get fancy with the concept you need to do a lot better than say "And it lives in Colorado!"

So: Fog Giant...Mountain Giant...I'll be the first to admit the Mountain Giant looks like a big Galeb Duhr but there's only so much that can be done with these "G" Fiends.

Giant strider. Stop me if you've heard this one before: Fire-breathing repti...oh, you have. Ok, new giant strider:Gibberling these are like some grubby humanoids with some hit dice and stuff. They make some noises, I guess, which is supposed to make me forget I need more gross subhumans with clubs like I need a hole in my...AAAAH! I'm doing it too, the cliches the CLICHES!!!! fuck. My brain. Ok, calm...The Gibberling is now this:It is an intelligent relative of the Shrieker, it speaks most local languages, is saprophytic and telepathic. It reads the PCs thought and--rather than shrieking--simply tells passing monsters everything it knows about the PCs so that they'll kill them and the gibberling can eat their rotting flesh. Occasionally a gibberling can be convinced by PCs to give them info on monsters so, y'know, vice versa...

I am so happy there's a semi-decent monster here I'm gonna not talk about how lame some of the mechanics associated with them are...Their less-interesting-cousins the Githzerai need a redesign. They're supposed to be kind of like monks, ok...The goldbug is a poison bug that looks like a coin. Let's make it a bug that eats coins.....or we could make a version of it that's inspired by the Edgar Allen Poe story and make it a bug that's really fucking racist.

Gorbel. Fuck. Fuuuuck. Jesus fucking fuck on a fuck. It grabs and won't let you go. Also, it is a sphere. With 3 eyestalks. And little grabby claws. How I yearn for the green grass of home...What am I on about? That made as little sense as this monster. Ok. It's now a Grasping One and it does the same thing--grabs and won't let go, only it does so over your face. And it has a face:Gorillabear. I lack the energies of disgust the gorillabear deserves here. I'm calling it Grendel and redrawing it slightly and moving on...The Grell just needs its stupid beak removed:Now the Grimlock. The original grimlocks were indistinguishable from gibberlings only quieter and blind. They should never have been invented. However, the word "grimlock" is good. Here's a new one:The original Gryph is just a crow with a lot of legs with a laying-eggs-in-you trick stolen from Alien and the giant bluebottle fly in this very folio. Reeeeeplaced:It's hard to argue with the concept of Guardian Demon though the mechanics they give it are some dumb fire powers. Here's a new picture, the rest I bet you can handle. It asks riddles or curses you or makes your entrails try to crawl out of your nose or something:Last up we got the Guardian Familiar which (good news) is a cat with nine lives, each a hit die scarier than the last, but which (bad news) is just a cat, really. I decided that each cat is inside one of those Russian dolls and inside each cat is another Russian doll with another cat in it.