Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Whose Gods are These

When I began work on my Holy Selmat setting, I felt strongly that religion and gods would be central to the campaign, and I've tried to take the method forward with me. It prominently featured three major religions, including over a dozen relevant splinter groups. I don't like the idea of a god who is a mascot for a very strict domain. I like the idea that gods will mean a lot, as represented in complex mythologies. Would you call Odin a "fate god?" Would you call the Christian god a "weather god?" In the interest of showing my work, this is how I do it:

  1. Make a name. It doesn't need to be a good one. Example: Xapt, a bad name that I'm going to roll with.
  2. Start coming up epithets and titles. Think of how many names Christians or Jewish people have for their deity. Since this is fantasy, we should focus on evocative names that characterize this new god. Like with step one, these names don't need to be clever. Evocative positive words work: Renewal, Comfort. Titles that indicate favor: The Hopeful Pilgrim, Sanctifier of Wombs. some great and specific boast: the Endless Chorus, the God of Excess, One Who Hopes. Some allusion to not-yet existing metaphor: the Ploughshare, Of Leaves Born.
  3. From this, we stew and think a bit about what this god seems to be about. I'm getting a utopian vibe and also a sensory one. Once we have better idea about this god, we come up with holy symbols. These aren't just what clerics wave around, they're the imagery that sets out the faithful and marks their shrines and temples. Symbols of Xapt include a bell, tea, boxes, constructed languages, bricks, and ants. Mix the specific with the general. Let the symbols have multiple possible uses and meanings. A bell is a summoning and a warning. A box is a home to the lowly and a stage for the zealous. An ant is an ant.
  4. Establish how hierarchical or distributed worship is. What is the most important holy site of this god, and how does its proximity or distance affect how people worship here.
Once you have an idea of what this god is like, you need at least one group to act as their face in the area where the game is taking place. There should be a conception that many people have different conceptions of how to assuage and serve this god, and rivalries of various sorts. As a rule, you should pick some detail that only matters to members of this faith (the nature of the trinity, minutiae about eating restrictions,) and give it a bazillion spin-offs. There could be:

d20 Religious Sects
  1. a central church that claims general authority
  2. a populist movement
  3. a group within the existing framework that has some kind of political agenda
  4. an isolationist movement that emphasizes fundamentals
  5. a revitalizing movement that wants to return to ancient ways
  6. an exclusionary movement that wants to license and restrict converts
  7. a missionary group, aiming to gather new converts
  8. a group representing aristocratic or elite members
  9. an itinerant group, seeking to do good works
  10. a crusading force
  11. a literary retreat, debating philosophy
  12. an apocalyptic cult
  13. an apocalyptic cult, but with bake sales
  14. a group with a mission against ghosts, demons, and the like
  15. a group with a secular aim, like healing or the production of art
  16. a group that exalts a prophet or saint above all others
  17. a sect that dismisses certain traditional rites as pagan
  18. a spin-off that seeks to merge the faith with another
  19. a cargo cult, idolatrous sect, or other cut-off spin-off
  20. the baseline faith, but more esoteric and with kaballah

Monday, May 25, 2020

Jojiro's Hot 20: Mesomergos

Answering these questions for Mesomergos.

  1. What is something that players can interact with that inspires wonder in your setting? The capital city, flying around on a cloud of cicadas, is a random encounter. So are bronze birds that launch their feathers like knives. 
  2. How does one religion in the world work? What rituals and observances are involved, and how does this religion play with other religions out there? Are gods real? Gods are real. One of several faiths in the area is called Noryism, and it is dedicated to a god exiled from his previous pantheon when he slew his wife. He is associated with laws, vengeance, creation, fire, and eroticism. It is at odds with the worshippers of Fisochol, a member of the aforementioned pantheon that rejected Noryawes.
  3. How does one get access to goods and services in the setting? Will items always be available, will trade routes be jammed up by bandits, are their commissions for things, are magic items sold in regular stores, are hirelings available for hire or do we have to find them in the world? The land is cursed and you never know what will be available beyond the very basics. Palaces are almost always stocked with what you need, but the wilderness between cities is just stuffed with weird nonsense. A city will always have some goods on offer, and a couple hirelings eager to find their fortune.
  4. What are some examples of people and creatures a commoner would be wary of in-setting? What are some examples of people and creatures a commoner could trounce without worry? What are some examples of people and creatures a commoner would trust? Commoners are wary of goblins, eunuchs, Pulphogamanian "barbarians," donkeys, and foreign partisans. They could handle a literal gnome, a two-headed snake, and most birds easily. They would likely trust a sworn, a priest, or a member of their local partisan group.
  5. Name a heroically slain dragon, or something comparable in threat. How was the creature slain, according to stories? How was it actually done? Was it a fluke or a well-executed slaying of a monster? It is said that Mesomergos was the ground of the slaying of a great Aurochs by the god Pigudix in a wrestling match. The horror LoraŹ’al was slain by a fellowship of seven sworn who managed to overcome its kleptomaniacal aura. Neither of these things could have happened on accident.
  6. How do people who adventure (if there are even such people) get jobs and contracts in this setting? If you are sworn, you answer to an oathkeeper and are expected to Right Wrongs as they come up. If you are part of the Brotherhood of Messengers, letters are distributed to you by your chapter brothers. If you are just stumbling through the wilderness, weird things will find you. Most common people have plenty of problems requiring help, but cannot pay in money.
  7. How do people convey their station/caste if such things exist? In particular, what intersections do station/caste have with the adventuring lifestyle (whatever the players are in the setting…guards, tomb raiders, bounty hunters, etc.)? Fineness of clothing. The use of a weapon more bougie than a spear. The exquisite painting of a sigil on a shield or armor. The giving of gifts and the sharing of wine.
  8. How does the world view LGBTQ relationships and race relations? What privileges or prejudices exist? Mesomergans have novel ideas about what things like a "man" or a "woman" are, but they are pretty inflexible. Marriages are usually heteronormative and of the same species, but more casual relationship are accepted. Gnolls face minor enmity for their ancestors' service in wars against mesomergans. Eunuchs are looked down upon. Various disabilities are looked down upon. It's kind of a mess.
  9. What is the distal view of the political system? Is it feudal, is there a suzerainty, do we have a triumvirate, etc. This is a primitive, precarious palatial feudal system. 
  10. What is a more proximal view of the political system? Who are local nobles or leaders that should be known about, and what are their reputations? Most people interact with their local chieftain and revere the emperor's memory. You should know the reputation of the nearest oathkeeper.
  11. Do your players even need their rations and torches? Usually just torches.
  12. How do you become a ruler of many? The easiest way is to use your personal charisma to take over the local partisan group and go from there. You can also marry into an important family if you're clever.
  13. Are there social consequences for necromancy or other forms of forbidden magic? Do these consequences differ in the view of the common man vs. other people? The deceased are revered, so animating the dead is gauche. There are otherwise many specific taboos, but they do not universally apply and you will hear about them as they come up. 
  14. What is the common man’s capability to distinguish the following things: a werewolf’s tracks vs. wolf tracks, a manticore attack vs. a lion attack, a demon attack vs. a gargoyle attack? Estimated 50%, 20%, 75%.
  15. What is the social position of rogues, within both history and in the current day? Within both thieves’ guilds and within the world at large? People with the lot of the thief can be found in all levels of society. If you are a literal thief, you can access discrete black markets in major cities, learn thieves' cant, and one day meet the king of thieves. If a community at large knows you as a thief, the standing order will be to detain you on sight.
  16. What is the role of dungeons within the world – are they a place where MacGuffins have been hidden, ruins of lost civilizations, unexplored caverns extending deep into the earth, Zelda-like puzzle dungeons that are more a player challenge than something that makes sense in-world, or something else entirely? Dungeons are likely to be mostly sensical archeologically significant locations that strangers and strange things have a penchant for inhabiting. Puzzles are few, but expect a riddle or two.
  17. How common are dungeons, how deep or large are they, and how much treasure might be expected within their depths? There's usually one within five day's walk. They are usually less than 30 interesting rooms, and there is usually enough treasure to make one person filthy rich, plus some significant artifact or magical item.
  18. Explain, if you could, the differences between magic-users in the world. For instance, how would wizards, sorcerers, miracle-workers, warlocks, witches, medicine-men, stage magicians, and the like differ from each other? Do all of those categories even exist? Everyone is trying to do their own thing. Ventriloquists, augurs, necromancers, baboonists, hermits, etc. The two major magical disciplines are dreaming and drugcrafting.
  19. What are two examples of food culture in the world? Even if food isn’t a part of play, what dishes are people consuming in the world around the players, and what messages can be conveyed through food and drink? Bread and beer are super important staples, and sharing beer means you are promising not to harm each other. Non-fish meat is a rare treat. Non-pomace wine is a foreign delicacy.
  20. What is the internal logic of the game world you are running, as far as players are concerned? When the players act and the world reacts, what principles do you hold to? I am dungeon master and referee both in this game of chance and skill. I want to help keep things interesting and challenging without negating your actions. I want to let your characters fail and fail hard. I will introduce themes and opportunities to advance.

Setting Introduction: Mesomergos

I've written a bit here about the setting I'm currently running a game in, called Mesomergos. For my own reference and to set out the setting more fully, this post will describe that society. Like Skerples in his notes on Albion's Seed, I will be copying that book's folkways to cover the people here holistically. This guide attempts to make the setting tractable, and to provide as much aid to running in the setting as possible, while still supplying a full view of Mesomergan society. After covering these folkways, I will list some potential plot hooks embedded in the mores and rules of the society.

Consider this a content warning. I've used this setting to explore questions of identity and misery. It is not especially grim, but there are Terrors To Be Hopeful In Spite Of. In addition to standard fantasy violence, expect sex and gender norms not our own, tyranny, castration, political madness, truly alien minds, provincialism, and gods.

Introduction to Mesomergos

This is a setting inspired by the Unetice Culture,  the Urnfield Culture, the Shang and Zhou Dynasties, and Arthuriana. It is a bronze age country, settled between two greater empires which have not gone through the trouble of conquering it because there is little of value in Mesomergos save the rivers connecting the empires. At the time that the campaign takes place, the figurehead emperor is missing and the country is cursed to churn in chaos.

Speech ways
One of the most notable mores of Mesomergans is that they do not say "no." It is still possible to refuse or negate directly, but it is considered refined to get more creative. If a lowly peasant asks the lord for his daughter's hand in marriage, after the lord stops laughing his is supposed to say something like "yes, if you can stitch me a shirt made of water," or "sure, if you can defeat the army coming here to sack the city." Other than "no," popular crude language includes "fie," "beggar," and "fire." The polite term for fire is simply light.
Oaths, curses, and vows are taken seriously. The ruler of a city is called an Oathkeeper, and their oaths, curses, and vows are taken extra-seriously.
Most people can read and write (typically on stone tablet,) but there is an ongoing anti-literacy movement.

Building ways
Mesomergans are not impressive architects. The basis of their economy is the palace, and these are large if not beautiful. These have cyclopean or ashlar masonry, supplemented by columns and post-and beam construction. Common folk usually live in wood homes with gabled straw roofs, wattle-and-daub walls, and storage pits beneath; or in pile dwellings. Mesomergans are dutiful canal-diggers. Their roads are poor.
In ancient times, subterranean construction was common. Many so-called dungeons have a definite history and justification.

Gender Ways
Mesomergans are notable for their understanding of gender. Men cover their face; women never do. Children are considered to have grown up when they either embrace or fully set aside the veil (or cowl or battoulah or what have you). This custom has some correlation with real-life gender markers, but would displease most people in real life. There is no custom for transitioning after attaining adulthood and no recognition of genders outside of the binary.
The one exception to this is the role of the eunuch, who signify their unique role by weaing a crown of stems. Whether by literal castration or some more symbolic change, eunuchs are frequently found in administrative roles and forgo family tie and succession. Because of their perceived violation of gender norms and association with bureaucratic power, eunuchs encounter perceptions as eerie and untrustworthy.
The actual norms around gender are somewhat permeable, and while many harbor a prejudice in favor of male leadership there is not sufficient social force make this uniform. Strange groups, orders, and commandments frequently bolster or proscribe either men or women.
It should go without saying that customs regarding gender in Mesomergos fall short of the true human breadth of these people. Many who feel alienated lack the vocabulary to express this, and plenty of people have privately braved the road to the next city over, starting wearing or forgoing facial coverings, and gone by new names. Society at large assumes this is basically impossible. Fey have a very fluid view of these things.

Family Ways
Family structure is considered a matter of life and death. Among commoners, having children is the sole retirement plan they can attempt. Since many married couples do not have children, almost all orphans are adopted by a pair in their community. Older child orphans sometimes live off the charity of their community. The eldest of a household is usually the head. Among nobility, succession is by selection since there is no authority to enforce any other method.

Marriage Ways
The custom of marriage in its modern form is based in the Noryist faith, though it has since been partially secularized. Two people (typically this is heteronormative, but see Gender Ways above) meet before the oathkeeper, ritually exchange gifts, then leave together to consummate their marriage. Marriage as a custom is seen as an oath between the couple and their society, as represented by the oathkeeper, to ensure that they will not cause strife with conspiracy, infidelity, or becoming burdensome to the community at large. This is considered too much of a downer to get mentioned at the actual ceremony.
At present, when the emperor is missing, oathkeepers are the most important figures in Mesomergos, yet they spend much of their time officiating weddings and doing other ceremonies to cement their legitimacy. When an oathkeeper cannot be spared, or when they are getting married themselves, a priest in good standing with the community can stand in.

Sex Ways
When the boogeyman of infidelity is not at stake, Mesomergans are less puritanical. Relationships with partners not "suitable" for marriage are not considered taboo. They retain the classic trap-standard that virginity is important for women, but not for men. Common punishments for sexual dishonor include shunning, locking in towers, and entry into the academies of eunuchs.
The parasitic species called Serset do not have particular sexes, melding together with two others, then bursting into a cloud of hundreds of newborn. Their perception of gender is also strange to outsiders.

Naming Ways
Most names are mononyms. (Whenever possible I've tried to find names in common between Mandarin and German but those are pretty scant.) Titles and epithets are common. Elite servants of oathkeepers are called "sworn," as in "Han, Sworn of Hometown."

Religious Ways
Most deities in this setting are tutelary deities, but Mesomergos is too unimportant to have one. A Greek-like pantheon of about a dozen foreign gods are prayed to, assuaged, and invoked. Each home is likely to have a humble shrine, and a city will have multiple larger shrines as landmarks. There might be one true temple in a city, where urbane priests are educated about the fine points of a doctrine a century out of step with their originators. Holy days and sabbaths are usually set by these temples. In daily life, many things are thought to be the direct work of gods. (This is correct.) People offer prayers constantly.
Hermits and hermitages dot the countryside, and itinerant priests are common. Amid civil chaos a dozen revolutions in understanding are underway.
Prior to the arrival of foreign gods, it is said that Mesomergans worshipped the stars themselves.

Magic Ways
There is no strong disconnect between religion, daily life, and magic. A charm protects equally well against goblins, bears, and evil spirits. An astrally-empowered Dreamer makes an excellent addition to the court of an Oathkeeper, and divination through bonecasting, astrology, or augury is enshrined in the customs of the lowliest town.

Food Ways
The Mesomergan diet is a cereal diet. Bread is the main course of every meal, supplemented by fruit, nuts, cheese, fish, and the occasional red meat. Beer is ubiquitous and pomace wine is a treat to all. Foreign imports like rice wine are treasured by those with means. Sharing alcohol with someone is a wonderful bond. The gods disown whoso breaks this bond.

Dress Ways
Clothing is typically fur or fabric. Robes and tunics are common, and armorers dream of the bronze panoply foreign artificers craft. Wealth is often carried in jewelry: torcs, bracelets, earrings made of bronze, brass, silver, and reefstone. Silk is seen in many colors, and, anachronistically, the great array themselves in samite and ciclatoun. It is considered polite for those of high social station to adopt a serious and haughty demeanor to avoid putting their servants in the position of having to discern levity from actual commands.

Sport Ways
The undisputed national pastime is Lalon, a betting game played with a a board and pieces, with several popular variations. Music, dance, and verse are common diversions, as are races, wrestling matches, and weaving.

Wealth Ways
Mesomergos follows a palatial model of economy. Those in power rely on the import of resources from elsewhere, and distribute most of these to their chieftains, setting aside some swag for their sworn and themselves. In return, the oathkeeper takes most of the harvest, the lumber, and reefstone in trade to acquire more diverse wealth. Wealth is seen as a very close brother to political legitimacy, and economic success entitles you to marry "above your station." When wealth is liquid it is distrusted by many. Wealth invested in the area means responsibility in the eyes of many.
There is a paradoxical wealth that the rough feudal system brings. Oathkeepers personally control almost the entire economy, yet they have to spend it out, give it out as gifts, and arrange lavish celebrations, ceremonies, and public works. Their sworn often go entirely unpaid in actual currency.

Rank Ways
In principle, the (divinely appointed and inherited) emperor appoints oathkeepers to enforce his laws and keep order. They appoint chieftains and sworn and bureaucrats to help do this. In reality, oathkeepers are the highest law, surrounded by ad hoc organizations of commoners with self-appointed leaders and Demands. Social place, public face, and provincial race all establish a rank in Mesomergan society.

Social Ways
Now more than ever, people are cut off from the rest of the world. Knowledge of how to survive in the wild is not common, and the ability to create light on the road is vanishingly rare outside of the ranks of the sworn or the Brotherhood of Messengers. Add to that the high probability of meeting your death on the road, even walking along the river for a week can be deadly. There is almost no migration. Settlement is a dream for another age. You can reliably send a letter or an army, with little in between.

Mesomergos Plot hooks

A good way to create a plot is to create a dilemma of social mores, two conflicting impossible standards that the PCs cannot satisfy.
d8 Plot Hooks:

  1. Your lord has done a dishonorable deed, and demands you help him to keep it hidden.
  2. While in a foreign oathkeeper’s court, they demand you swear yourself to them, or else be put to death
  3. Your lord has offended the gods, and they afflict the land in obvious punishment. Many push to replace him.
  4. You gave up your maidenhood to your lad, who disappeared. He may have been taken by fey? In any case, your parents are trying to marry you off soon, and if any but your lad discovers you are not a maid, you will be shamed and ostracized.
  5. Your lover promised their firstborn to a goblin many years ago, and now the time to make good nears.
  6. In this part of the country, women cannot conduct surgery. One you cannot afford to lose desperately requires an expert surgeon, but the only one near enough is the bandit blade-runner of Bijou Bluff.
  7. No person of your sex may profane the grounds of a holy enclave, but you desperately require something deep within that cannot or will not be brought out to you.
  8. Two lovers are forcibly parted, one coerced into taking a vow of chastity. How can the lovers be rightly reunited?

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Eat a Book

A system should be designed so that all of its material will be used; a game should be designed to maximize how much of the system is used. If you have wizards, they should expect to be able to learn new spells and cast them and sometimes not know the spell they really really need. If you have thieves in the game, being a thief should be useful sometimes and not-being-a-thief should be inconvenient sometimes. A ring of "being immune to fire" should be at least a little bit better than a mundane ring.

If you want to eat a book over the course of a campaign, the AD&D player's handbook is a good book to eat. The classes will be referenced non-stop, and the races have abilities and contexts totally relevant to a conventional AD&D game. "Detect grade or slope in passage" is a useless ability in many games, but not in a modal game of AD&D

What parts of the PHB go uneaten? All the rules you never touch. All the fiddly bits you ignore and the high-level abilities neither the players nor the NPCs fall short of. All the weird weapons the DM eschews for swords and long swords and bastard swords. Bards. This is still a pretty good rate.
The bard, an undigested lump
The principle that a book should be eaten in its entirety is not a judgement on how people choose to play it. It is a way of looking at the quality of the book. What's the point of all the gristle and stem that people will just have to pick through to get at the good stuff?

Things like short stories, example adventures, maps, and flavor gets eaten when it helps people to run their games. They go uneaten when the don't grab attention, or when they are irrelevant to the kind of game the system lends itself towards. I have read rulebooks which seem promising, but which I had no clue how to run. An example adventure in the back, written as a careful model which cashed all the checks written in the rest of the book, can be totally nutritious. Of course, the adventure needs to be relevant. "Tomb of the Serpent Kings" helps people understand how to run, for instance, Many Rats on Sticks. "Tomb of Horrors" would be a miserable example scenario for D&D 3.5.

My GLOG hack Vain the Sword tries to be as edible as possible, and the rules as I've written them are my earnest attempt to suggest what kind of stories the ruleset is good for. Just as AD&D player characters should expect to encounter locked doors, spell scrolls, and orcs bearing becs de corbin, VtS player characters should expect narcoleptic monsters, gigre recipes, and morally corrupt bats. The example dungeon at the back of the book features battle cries, eunuchs, visions, and drugs because that is what the rest of the book promised. I want players to be able to say "Wait, since I'm a dreamer, can I--" and "If we survive, I want to learn how to--" and "So these guys have the same ability as me?"

Not everything will be relevant to every campaign. Someone might run an AD&D game without monks and bards and polearms, or run a VtS game without dreamers and eunuchs and battle cries, and enjoy themselves all the more. The goal of the person writing the book, however, should be to make each part appealing and relevant. If there's a feature that players routinely ignore without affecting how they play the game, why not spare them the trouble and debone the book before you serve it to them?

This is a different concept from conceptual density. The principle of conceptual density is about making the ideas found in your book better. The principle of eating a book is about making the ideas found in your book relevant. A book can have a great concept that it makes difficult to eat, and it can also have a generic idea that is totally apropos. The warrior class in VtS is an example. It is a totally boring GLOG fighter, similar to other generic GLOG fighters. But hopefully it is still relevant. My players make warrior PCs because they are fun to play even if they are generic, and because it enables the concept they pursue. Players encounter warrior NPCs, and the generic abilities they possess are enough to keep the threat of those NPCs interesting. It does this while taking up very little space.

To restate:

  1. books should be relevant
  2. they should not be irrelevant
  3. relevance can be broadly applied
  4. Not every campaign will use content designed to be use

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Full GLOG Hack: Vain the Sword

click for link
Click for the link!

Thanks as ever to Arnold K., Skerples, and all the rest. I will try to attentively update this document as mistakes become apparent.
Read a review by SunderedWorldDM here, or thoughts from others (including Arnold K.) in the comments below.

  • Functioning table of contents with links
  • renaming anything in the game that sounds like it's for nerd accountants
  • Roll-under stats
  • Separate dodge-and-block defense
  • a collection of classic and strange base classes, each up to level 4
  • strange languages
  • skills are perhaps magic?
  • charisma as godly grace, charisma-based "battle cry" initiative
  • light-based critical fumble chance
  • Gods! Arcana! Gigre!
  • advice on exploration and hexcrawling
  • an appendix N
  • An example dungeon adventure, "Brenton's Bride."
June 28, 2020 Update
  • Renamed "race" to "folk."
  • Added more description for each folk.
  • Changed how dodge and HP works to simplify math.
  • Cleaned up headers and similar things.
  • Rather than saying you get one ken from your lot and one of your choice, I just wrote every lot to give you an additional ken.
  • Dreamer's dream hunting now more concrete. Introduced nightmare injuries.
  • Replaced dreamer spell "speak with birds" with "argue with birds," since speaking with birds is available to anyone who wants to learn the language.
  • Modified talismans.
  • Reformated death and dismemberment table. Made minor edits.
  • Updated acolyte dictates.
July 15, 2020 Update
  • Replaced ordena with talking animals. They were fine, but playing an ordena is not a sufficiently dramatic change. Also, talking animals keep showing up as NPCs anyway.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Towards Less Violent Violence

I have noticed that the threat of death in role-playing games is motivating, but not always interesting. The stakes are too absolute. A player knows that if they fall in combat, their story ends. Worse, if they know a given DM won't actually kill a PC, it can feel like there is no stake at all. Add to that the learned player behavior of responding to aggression with lethal reprisal, and a game can miss out on the many plot points between extermination of Us and extermination of Them.

The regulation of violence in a setting helps to characterize the PCs and their place in the world. When they act wantonly, they might be treated as a wanton outlaw. This is an interesting trade-off if there is some other social role they could aspire to, as trusted and respectable agents of an authority or friends to some kind of society. When PCs feel bound by social customs about violence, it presents all sorts of problems requiring creativity:

  1. How do we transport this captive back to the lord' palace?
  2. How do we draw our foe away from sanctified grounds so the gods will not protect them?
  3. Since we believe this promise from a foe at our mercy, do we accept their promise to take us to their buried loot?
  4. How do we arrange the death of someone we absolutely cannot kill?

Obviously, if you want to establish a cultural code around violence, NPCs need to cleave to it more often than not. If you want a setting where honor and reputation are important, you need to get in the mindset of not-quite-lies and working around the tenets of that setting. This models appropriate rules-lawyering for players. It also helps to have potential enemies respond to strangers in less immediately-homicial manners, showcased with something like False Machine's Ghibli-esque Monster Reaction Roll.

(I like to do a single, simple roll for reactions and morale. Something like:

D6 Reaction Roll

  1. Aggressive. If outmatched, will scatter if possible.
  2. Hunting. Hostile, but won't start an outright fight. If attacked, will give a fighting retreat.
  3. Mixed. Upset, incensed, or worried. If a group, some are aggressive.
  4. Flighty. Will retreat at first sign of trouble.
  5. Curious. Inquisitive, but ready to fight. If attacked, will give a fighting retreat.
  6. Friendly. If outmatched, will scatter if possible.)

Players famously have a problem with surrendering or running. I think this is due in part to failure being inconceivable. There should be stakes. Are the players servants of anyone high status? An enemy might want to capture them for ransom. Are they rich, (like almost every third level character, relative to a peasant?) They can be ransomed or else kept captive until they consent to marry their keeper (in a G-rated mustache-twirling way, unless your game is quite adult.) Even if the PC in question is just a serf, farmers and shepherds are very valuable commodities.

In a land of surrenders, yields, and promises, a foe might not even take someone captive if they swear an oath to leave and not come back. If you really fear someone's revenge, you can always just cut off their sword hand (only for that to be avenged a few sessions later.) I'm just saying, there's a range of outcomes for characters to negotiate, and this ties PCs to the world through the actions they observe in NPCs, in the reputation they have to consider, and ultimately in the feeling of obligation their characters may come to develop, even when no one is watching.

Part of why I enjoy rolling for death and dismembering after reaching 0 HP is that it delineates a point for duels "to the yield." It also means there's one roll on the dismemberment table, which keeps risk present.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Mesomergos Dungeon Prompts

Inspired by several different resources, this is my current generator for inspiring medium-sized dungeons. It owes the most thanks to Spwack's generators, Arnold K.'s Dungeon Checklist, the community-curated list of GLOG spells, and others.
See also: GoblinPunch's Dungeon Checklist and 1d124 OSR-Style Challenges
Papers and Pencils's 20 Architectural Features for Memorable Dungeons
My Testing Equipment
Courtney Campbell's Tricks, Empty Rooms, and Basic Trap Design
Throne of Salt's Road-Weary Wanderers
MeanderingBanter's Haunted Crypt Generator and Scrambled Race Table
The Diceblade's Total Improv: Dungeon