Sunday, December 31, 2023

Case Study: Brother GLoG

 I'm fond of saying that that each campaign should have its own ruleset, even if it's just a couple house rules you tack onto your favorite retroclone or GLoGhack. I also like to say that it's good when the ruleset, setting, and campaign format are enmeshed together. To try to give a practical example, I here attempt to record my thinking for a game I hope to run in the future.

Brother GLoG

Talking to my brother, we decided that it would be neat if we could play some kind of casual tabletop roleplaying game together. It's been a while since it was just us, and I like running dungeoncrawls but don't usually get the chance, while he is interested in playing dungeoncrawls but doesn't usually get the chance. However, there are big constraints on running a duet game any time in the next few years. We're both busy people, and between his job and parenting he can't reliably set aside time to come over and play. So any game we play would be best served by being something I could bring over to his place and run in desperate snatches between child-related interruptions, or while walking around the neighborhood.

The physical constraints of being something that I can carry around are big ones. I'm thinking of trying to fit most of my notes into my phone and sticking any maps or character sheets in a binder. For the dice, I'm imagining one of those hard, transparent plastic deck boxes, sealing inside a d20 and four differently-colored d6s. That way, I can just shake the box and look down it.

I don't want to go towards an ultralight ruleset for this project. I want to track things like dungeon Turns, torch durations, inventory, and other classic dungeoncrawling concerns. That's where a lot of the dungeoncrawling game is for me. For the ease of cultural touchstones, I think I'll focus my worldbuilding concept on a fantastic reimagination of Rennaisance Italy, one of my brother's most beloved historical periods. We can semirandomly generate more of the region in a country-as-dungeon format as we find the need. At first, I'll just put the PC(s) in an area near to the Incandescent Grottos (but Italian), Little Snake's Man's Cave, and the Meal of Oshregaal(io).

In theory, I could use some kind of B/X chassis, but it's been a while since I've run GLoG, and its class design, which features discrete and weighty abilities, appeals to me. (I may soon write a manifesto on the importance of weighty choices.)

Following with this goal, and hoping to eschew extra numbers, I plan to follow in the footsteps of Numbers Aren't Real's G20 and have primary attributes simply be ability modifiers, with no scores numbering 3-18. I'll also cut down the primary attributes into four scores for the same reason:

Fate: to spell saves

Luck: AC, getting picked on by the DM, XP modifiers 

Arete: to hit and damage, languages known  

Bravery: to HP, reaction and loyalty rolls, breaking down doors

To make a character, you roll a d6 for each primary attribute (which I will call ideals from this point on.) On a 1, it's -2. On a 2, it's a -1. On a 3 or 4, it's +0. On a 5, it's +1. On a 6, it's +2. Then, roll a d20 to determine your upbringing:

1-7 Subject: +1 Fate. Cannot ride horses or read 

8-13 Citizen: +1 Luck. Endless rivalries.

14-16 Foreign: +1 Arete. No legal standing. 

17-20 Noble: +1 Bravery. Endless obligations.

You start with 6 HP, 10 AC, equipment based on class, and a number of gold florins equal to what you rolled for your upbringing. All of this, including reaction rolls and saves and so on, are old hat for me and very little cognitive load.

Initiative: each round, the player declares what he wants his party to do, and the DM adjudicates it. Generally, ranged attacks and pikes strike first and spells go off last. Normal weapons deal 1d6 damage.

Combat: Actually, since I want to cut down on unneccessary rolling, screw AC, maybe I should try out oddomatic combat. Maybe all attacks hit outside of extreme circumstances, and you ignore damage rolls equal to your luck bonus or bonus from your armor. Let's go with that. This means that if there are 4 PCs and they all attack, my brother can just shake the plastic dice box once and get all four attacks

Armor: A shield negates damage rolls of 3. Fabric armor negates damage rolls of 4. Chain armor negates damage rolls of 5. Plate armor negates damage rolls of 6. Sometimes monsters or freaks will roll multiple damage dice. Armor negates all matching dice rolled.

Inventory: I kind of want to just say each PC gets 5 "equipped" slots and 15 "stored" stots. That's a lot of items for one person to track, so we will have to see if it works out.

Saves: You add the relevant ideal to a d20 roll, typically vs. 13.

Level up: at the rate of a BX fighter. Get +1 to saves and +1d6+Bravery HP.

Languages: I'll make my brother name and describe nearby countries as they come up, and say what monsters are famous for originating there. Thus a language is born. Quantum languages will be in play.

Format: as a frequently-interrupted dungeoncrawl, I don't want to plan too much for long downtimes except what can be done over discord between sessions. This is why I think I can probably manage something as complicated as B/X-style XP distribution can be-- it won't be reckoned during the face-to-face interaction. The classes will be designed with ease of memory in mind, and won't have a lot of dice pool mechanics. For simplicity, the only extra resource to track should be spells. I'll precommit that the mage class(es) will just have a number of spells per day, and magic dice will be absent. As cool as they are, and as central to GLoG, we won't remember how many dice were spent after weeks between sessions. We're more likely to be able to just tally spells as they are cast.

Starting Character Types

Magic weapons will only bear a mercenary, knight, slayer, augur, or angel to wield them, unless specifically for another type or something. No armor for mages or augurs. Dogs need armor that suits them. Multiclass freely, but you can only have four templates unless you do something crazy.

Try to infer why I went with some abilities and not others.

Mercenary (start with colorful leather armor, three torches, and a sword OR a pike and knife.)
A: +1 damage with weapons. You can treat your Fate as your Luck for saves, and vice-versa.
B: Appraise item value on sight. May break your weapon or armor to negate a d6 of damage.
C: When you lay low a foe, you may use an unused d6 in the dice box to attack someone else.
D: Determine an ethos. Your hirelings and retainers fall back on this ethos if they fail morale saves, and you can make a Luck or Fate save to get a hint, a feeling of certainty, along the lines of that ethos.

Knight (start with chain armor, a shield [with your arms], a lance, a charger, a misericorde, and a code)
A: +1 damage with melee weapons. When you charge or run someone down, roll an extra d6 of damage.
B: Even monstrous foes will try to treat with you, take you hostage rather than kill you, etc.
C: Your lance deals 4d6 damage on the charge.
D: You may take attacks meant for others nearby after seeing the results of the dice.

Slayer (start with a knife, a knife, a dagger, a swordbreaker, a theatre mask, a hood, and rope)
A: When you stab someone in the back, they make a Luck save or die.
B: When you wear a ceramic or wooden mask, no one can tell who you are. Climb silently and capably.
C: Climb at running speed. When you stab a monster in a vulnerable area, it must make a Fate save or suffer a dismemberment.
D: When you make a creature's face into a mask, it serves as a good disguise. If they weren't a humanoid you may need to add prostheses to be convincing.

Mage (start with a polearm, a signet ring, a crowbar, a lamp, and a mirror)
A: Cast 1 spell per day.
B: Cast 3 spells per day. Make scrolls.
C: Cast 6 spells per day.
D: Cast 10 spells per day.

Augur (start with three torches, a sharp knife, a drill, fabric regalia armor, and a holy symbol)
A: You can interpret horoscopes, predict the weather, assuage the undead (opposed 2d6 Fate saves), and slaughter kine for omens.
B: Cast 1 spell per day.
C: Cast 3 spells per day. Make curse tablets.
D: Cast 6 spells per day. Meditate for prophecies.

Angel (start with a charred scimitar, a flower, wine, and a harp)
A: Speak with plants and ark-descended animals. +1 damage with weapons.
B: Cast 1 spell per day. Immune to paralysis. Eyes like searchlights in the darkness. 
C: Cast 3 spells per day. You may attack a foe in melee twice, but they simultaneously get to attack you once.
D: Cast 6 spells per day. By meditating, you open your first eye and see through hidden corners, revealing hidden doors and secret passages.

Genius (start with a book on three topics of your choice, a telescope, a crossbow, bolts, hammer and chisel, a vial of acid, and a shield)
A: Detect construction tricks and understand art by scrutinizing an area. Sense your way in the dark.
B: Can direct labor to take half the time. Reduce the chance that the party is surprised by 1-in-6.
C: In combat, coach an ally to give them +1d6 damage.
D: Construct war machines of incredible potential. Discern between a room that is empty and one where the inhabitants are silent.

Dog (start with a collar. You're a special canine humanoid creature with clumsy hands and speech, like a mole in Redwall.)
A: Your bite deals damage like a weapon. You have impeccable smell out to 60'.
B: Detect air currents. Dig at crawling speed.
C: May enter a barking frenzy. Foes get -1 morale and you get +1 to all ideals. On a damage roll of 6, knock a target prone. If you get a 6 on a prone target, tear their throat out-- they must make an Arete save or die.
D: Track by smell at an arbitrary distance. Attain an instant canine spy network in any city or town you visit.

Tuesday, December 26, 2023

Some Spells, Mostly Summons

 Mostly summons, as a discussion in the glog discord server reminded me that I think summoning spells are cool and easy to write, but they so seldom appear in the blogosphere.

These spells are written in a hybrid form. Parenthetical details are for old-school leveled spell systems and bracketed details are for glog-style MD spell systems.

  • Johannes's Promise (3rd) summons (2d4)/[sum] goblins, who arrive in 1d10 minutes. They will assume you are the wizard Johannes, a goblin-friend who devised this spell and died centuries ago.They will assist you as befits a great friend until midnight, when they must march home to the moon, until you violate their friendship, or until they learn that you are not Johannes. New goblins arrive each time you cast the spell, so messing up won't ruin the spell in later castings.
  • Inner Fire (1st) Burns both ends of your life's wick, causing you to explode in a 20' radius blast of flames dealing (6+1d6 per caster level)/[sum+6] damage to every other creature, save for half. Flammable items are ignited, but some might get a save. This expenditure of energy reduces you to 1 hit point, permanently costs 1 point of a random attribute, and incurs a -3 penalty to all d20 rolls until you rest in the warmth and eat a double ration.
  • Giant Beetle (2nd) summons a 6' long giant beetle, shell a deep gossamer blue and with evil-looking eyes. Horns like a forklift. (4 HD)/[sum HP], chitin as chain, fluttering wings. Cannot safely carry rider or cargo, but you can be creative about it. Serves until it feels it has fulfilled its debt to you, then flies off.
  • Crab Battle (2nd) Point at a foe who truly wants to kill you, then utter an invocation to the muse of deep-sea gladiators and Atlantean bloodsport. Both of you rise from the ground, lifted up by giant crabs that carry you forward and fight on your behalf. Each of you can easily keep your footing atop your crab mounts. Lasts until the end of the combat [or after sum rounds].
  • Manifest Tree Spirit (3rd) Sing to a tree to charm out its dryad. She will be positively disposed to you until you do something to annoy her[, and will do you sum favors].
  • Create Graveyard (6th) Breaking through walls from out of nowhere come (1d20)/[1dsum] furiously angry elephants. They'll try to avoid hurting you, but no promises.
  • Grave Curse (6th) Target deserving, unwilling victim must save or turn into a medusa, dracula, thatcher, or other pathetic creature of the night.
  • Termagants (5th) Summons (2d4)/[sum/2] harpies to torment and degrade a person you name. They won't intentionally kill this person, and will mostly just heckle them if they get into a deadly fight. Caster beware! If they encounter servants of Kanil, the god and mockery, born from ill-informed morality plays, praised in poorly-remembered rumors, and worshiped in the hearts of every zealot, the harpies will betray the caster to them.
  • Cry Havoc (5th) Go to a graveyard or a crossroads when it's too dark to see. Wave an article of clothing or similar item belonging to your enemy in the air in front of you. After the massive hound has gotten their scent, it will open its coal-red eyes and unerringly hunt them. Has (4 HD)/[Sum HP]. If the hound is slain, another will take its place the next midnight until (2d4)/[highest] have hunted. Hides and waits on Sundays, and cannot enter hallowed ground.
  • Locate Treasure (4th) While underground, lay a fire on a fresh corpse. Charging through a nearby corridor will come a massive monster with the front half of a bull, the back half of a man, hands, and a massive labras. He is lonely, bright, and flesh-mad. After messily devouring the corpse (taking 1 Turn), he will lead you through the underground area, wandering until some kind of treasure is discovered, all avenues of exploration are exhausted, [sum Turns have elapsed] or he is slain. In any of those cases, he leans against a wall and melts into shadow. If led out of a dungeon into the warm light of day he will immediately renege on the terms of the spell and run for the hills to smell flowers, draw shapes in the dirt, and gore shepherds. Has a flawless sense of direction.
  • Commission Guard (2nd) Wave around a sack full of coins and call out for an ogre, who you must give an ignominious name like Grim Bug, Shitlips, or Cheese Rind, and utter a riddle. They pop out of nowhere and answer the riddle with your intended answer. If the riddle is good enough, they will guard a bridge, door, or other spot for you, using it as a password. For this privilege they demand (1d6x100 gp)/[lowestx100 gp]
  • Ouza's Proper Delegation (6th) Flick your shadow off your body. It will ripple out to undertake a mission of your choosing. Stats as a shadow, but with your HP maximum and any other relevant changes. [You must cast this with all of your normal MD.] After its mission is complete, you must sew your shadow back on or it will shrivel up and get weak, and will complain like a peckish housecat. Any shadows created by yours will serve you if you can sew them to some other person or object, but any third-generation shadows serve them. If your shadow is slain in this form, you can't cast the spell again until you get a new one.
  • Summon the First King (5th) Find an ancient bone, so old it is hard like stone. Kill 20 HD of humanoids with the bone. With terror and slaughter, a T. Rex roars forth from your shrieking mouth. It is 20 blood-soaked HD of scale and muscle, and it is in a mood to reward you, its first servant in many millenia. [You have a sum hour grace period.]
  • Flesh-Ripping Beam (5th) Fires a blast of furry fluid at a target, resolving into an 8 foot long [sum hp] giant weasel. It makes an immediate attack roll, and on a hit begins sucking blood. It can only be removed if it or its victim is slain. On a miss, the weasel ricochets and skips its next turn. [The weasel gets +dice to hit and drains 1d4 HP each round for every 2 MD invested.] After all potential victims have fled, it disintegrates into old paper pulp.

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

Signature Moves for Humanoid Combatants

 A simple generator for an ability to give a group of combatants an extra tactical feature, maybe even something to hang a hat on. Thanks as always to Spwack for his generator generator.

Tuesday, December 12, 2023

Location: the Grail of Fangs

 At the request of George Michael and Semiurge, this is another entry in my Deltora Quest locations after the Poison Woods.


1. The Grail is so cramped and poor that imperial guards do not patrol there (T)

2. The guildmaster of dog breeders, deep in the Grail, is on the payroll of the Dark Lord (F)

3. Leaving a shop without paying for anything has a fee in Silvertown (T)

4. Don't drink water in the Grail without boiling it! (T)

5. Neighborhood councils meet up at night and decide how to resist the Shadow (F)

6. The dog breeder's guild has taken down crime boss Dirk Gutslitter and captured the respected Keystone Staff (T)

Random Encounters in Silvertown

1. Candor the Dogcatcher. A bureaucrat with a big boxy black hat. Never actually catches the dogs himself. A spy for the resistance, but a double agent for the Shadow. Pitiful.

2. Traveling merchant. Gives bad deals, but not as extortionate as the locals. Happily trade rulers.

3. Swarm of Upscars (stats as flying wolves)

4. Roll a d8 on the Horrible Dogs table

5. Patrol of 2d4 Imperial Goons (as orcs, with special +1 blistering slingstones that lose their potency in a day)

6. Roll a d4 on the Grail encounter table.

Random Encounters in the Grail

1. Poesy the urchin. Plucky and chummy. A spy for the Shadow, selling out rebels to the imperial goons for a hot meal.

2. Flooded streets

3. Clam-gatherers wading through water, guarded by a pair of heavily armed stewards. (stats as bugbears)

4. Standing water or public fountain, infested with parasites. Drinking unboiled is a save vs infestation

5. Patrol of 3d4 bravos (as bandits with duel-madness, entering a sort of rage that only applies in one-on-one sword fights. Armed with epees and swordbreakers)

6. Roll a d10+2 on the Horrible Dogs table

Horrible Dogs

1. Coiffet. Floofy, playful, toadlike proportions.

2. Skamil Barker. Trained to repeat phrases like a parrot and set outside of shops and stalls. Shout nonsense conversations when the moon is new.

3. Brickworm Retriever. Small, fast, dark-furred. Trained as thieves.

4. Lucene Spaniel. Stout, attentive, guard dog. Eyes glow in the dark. Goes blind early in life.

5. Cadit. Long-faced terriers. Instinctively lunge for rats and errant urchin hands.

6. Pithodex Sniffer. Bloodhound whose cunning sense of smell is not foiled by its incredible B.O. 

7. Hairless Clampsome. Broad, slow, pissy. Squared frame makes them passable porters.

8. Bunjung. Quick, intelligent, and good leapers. Employed as messengers. It is a crime punished with mutilation to kill a Bunjung.

9. Bucros Hound. Luminous white. Good sense of smell. Drinks blood.

10. Soluderm. Soft, loam-like flesh with tufty saffron fur. The indigent plant garden vegetables in their backs.

11. Synego. Big and quick, with bluish mouths, tear ducts, and bellies. Loyal, but never run back to their owner when chased. Trained as assassins.

12. Marrow-Gnawer. Too big. Deeply miserable. Trained to crash through doors and tear up strangers

Hex XXXZ - Silvertown and the Grail

Silvertown, on the coast, is surrounded by depleted quarries and mines, home alike to robbers, dangerous animals, and billeting imperial goons. In the remote inland sections stand ancient forests, forbidden to all but servants of the Dark Lord. Signs on the road are contradictory and confusing.

Silvertown, in kinder days, flourished under the special status afforded to it by the goodly kings. Those who sought their fortune came to Silvertown and learned new trades, and in the councils that directed each neighborhood they learned to direct their own fate. When the Dark Lord ascended, he saw the burg as a source only of silver, masons, and trained hounds— for no canine will permit a direct servant of the shadow to train it. Silvertowners are uniquely inhospitable, and charge a fee for everything. Unfortunately, surrounding hexes are so miserable as to deplete a party traveling overland's supplies, all but forcing them to Silvertown.

When royals started taking an interest in Silvertown, not everyone was happy. Riverpads, parochial feudmen, kidnappers, and dog thieves retreated down into the Grail, the ruins of the former ground floor of the city, covered over after decades of wicked and destructive floods. Since then, levees and filling in of riverside sloughs have made the Grail barely habitable. When the Shadow fell on the land, the scoundrels were joined by rebels and refugees. As hostile as Silvertown is, the Grail is worse. It's like a dungeon to strangers such as the PCs despite the likelihood that they have the Dark Lord as a common enemy. They take on dysphemistic names, like Swindler, Heap, and Tite Barnacle

In the drier seasons, Silvertown is beset by Upscars, wolf-sized insects with dusty wings that leave discoloring slime everywhere they land. The market square is covered and well-guarded, but burghers walking home are sitting ducks. No one on the surface knows where they come from.

So, in the Grail they use "clams" for currency, tough white eggs which appear in standing water. Some clams inevitably find their way to the surface, and after a few weeks deprived of the humid air of the undercity they hatch into young Upscars. This fact is obscure to most Grailers, but the guildmaster of the dog breeders has come to understand it.

Half-sunk into the gunkiest muck is the guildhall of dog breeders. There, the wealthy guildmaster Aria Turncoot makes demands and commands and generally bullies her way into displacing the Grail where she wants it to be. Something about wading through bogwater makes men and beasts pliable, biddable, eager to do as she demands, and so the seat of power in the Grail is the worst place to be. The guildhall has stewards and guards, as well as patrolling dogs, but it also has stranger guardians. Aggressive pike swim through the halls, and mongrels too horrible to sell are kept in the yard. Among other residents, the rebel spy Frannek spends his days trying to move Turncoot against the Dark Lord. He is gruff and fierce, and rumored to have been a knight in the good old days.

Turncoot wears fine silks and gold bands, carrying begemmed cups and fancy display weapons. She carries a staff of polished cottonwood topped by the Keystone, a tree agate seen as the symbol of office for the meanest boss in the Grail. She does not know that the tree agate is one of the magic stones said by prophecy to be needed to defeat the Dark Lord. It lends clarity of mind to those who touch it, and the ability to communicate their thoughts clearly. Thus it improves their skill as a leader and general, and when held they charm and are charmed by people roughly as decent as they are. When she isn't carrying the staff, she hides in in a vault sealed by six dials surrounded by seemingly random numbers. When each dial is pointed towards the only prime number in its circle, the vault opens.

As Frannek grows more and more frustrated, he makes plans with other rebels, paying for the aid of roustabouts and brutes as they stockpile weapons. One day soon they will overthrow the imperial forces in the city. This could do much good in the short term, but if the Dark Lord isn't already on his last legs he will send a legion to destroy the town, and there will be much misery, and he shall come onto the tree agate.