Posts Tagged With: Verisimilitude

Alignment, Charisma, and Player Role-Playing Behavior

Your character walks into a bar… how does everyone react?

One of the biggest challenges for DM’s is matching the reactions of NPC’s to the characters in an organic fashion that accurately reflects the character’s behavior, appearance, history, etc.

One cheat is to simply peg things to Charisma and related skills. The problem with this method is that it can quickly get bogged down in reductive dice-rolling and skill checks, not to mention that it often seems to result in dice-rolls that result in utterly inane behavior or responses to the character by NPC’s.

The other cheat is simply to use the player’s roleplaying as a guide. The problem with this of course is that not all players are good at role-playing, plus it paradoxically may ignore a very high or low Charisma or lack of character skill if the player is good enough.

Lastly, there is the age old problem of how Alignment interacts with player/character behavior as well as the above two factors. The classic I’m really a good hero but all I do is act like a murder-hobo is a long-standing issue in the various iterations of D&D.

My own solution is a blend of all three factors, as the title of this post indicates.

Charisma is the easiest to explain, it’s simply how likable or unlikable you are. Honestly. we’ve all know people who do the dumbest, most annoying things but everyone still tends to like them? Or that backstabbing frenemy who you can’t quite get over? This is a class high Charisma person that people just can’t help but make excuses for or other wise like on some ineffable personal level. Similarly, some people are just screwed with having low Charisma and get picked on, aren’t trusted, etc. no matter what they do or say.

Included in this is skills, so if a character is skilled in persuasion or deception or whatever and that is filling up a large period of their time, it is factored in. Basically the idea is to not forget the role that the proficiency bonus might play in people’s reaction to the character.

Alignment, and this works even better in 5e than in 1e, is all about the innate ethics (Law-Chaos axis) and morals (Good-Evil axis) of the character. While certainly providing a rough set of guideposts for the players regarding role-playing behavior (though Palladium did a way better job of that with it’s method), what I use it as is a template for how the character acts while on autopilot and during downtime. The time and events that are role-played are actually quite a small percentage of the character’s life, and alignment provides a good measure as to how they behave the rest of the time sans any specific instruction from the player.

Most people are some version of good, selfish folk are often Chaotic Neutral or Neutral, some honorable but morally aberrant folk are Lawful Evil. Very few people are actually Chaotic or Neutral Evil in human and demi-human society. Interestingly this is, apart from possible Radegastian clothing choices, what makes classically neutral Druids so uncomfortable for many people, they often aren’t operating on “normal” human ethical and moral compasses.

Similarly, as folks age, they tend to become more extreme in their beliefs, moving away from Neutrality. Conversely Mages tend to strip away their ethics and morals in the search for arcane power and are likely to become Neutral (much like Druids but with a supernatural rather than a natural focus).

Character behavior by way of player choice (aka role-playing) is the big wild-card. The previous two elements pretty much run in the background, but role-playing can swing things in any direction. Sufficiently intense or long-term roleplaying can change Alignment (aka, no you can’t continually murder innocent people any stay “good”). Player/Character action can produce huge swings in reaction, especially when it seems grossly out of touch with how people expect the character to behave (aka Alignment). High Charisma can help you get away with things that normally wouldn’t be excused, but do it enough or often enough and people will change those expectations and I, as the game master, will also say that you are also (likely unconsciously) changing you day-to-day behavior to meet whatever that new alignment is.

Now, you can still play good characters tortured by their evil deeds and trying to atone, or evil characters who out of enlightened self-interest perform normally good acts, but those are things to be role-played though player and character action. They are not things that “run in the background” and the player is going to have to make sure that this sort of inner conflict or discrepancy is part of how they role-play because these are things that are part of the inner landscape of the character.

Lastly, it is also worth noting that race, class, and background can also impact things. Some races just have unwholesome reputations just the same as others are considered more upright. Almost every class other than Fighter and every race other than Human (Common Man) comes with some baggage – some good, some bad, and it’s more likely bad than good. And that is speaking merely from a human perspective – talk to the elves and they have an entirely different take on things. Background sets a character into some semblance of social class, and depending upon your game this can have a huge impact on how people react and what assumptions they make – my game is one of those where it does.

Anyways, I hope this gives some folks a more helpful way to negotiate what happens when the character’s in their campaigns walk into a bar…

TTFN!

D.

 

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Clothing Maketh The Man

So, no posts for awhile. My apologies, I was caught up in moving into a solo office of my own and it was quite the busy June and July as a result…

Todays post comes from a set of rules that I’ve had for my fantasy game for awhile now, basically how to cost out clothing for the different social classes – along with a basic description of what comes in a basic outfit from the Heartlands. This came up in the last session because Baron Devin Tresendar managed to loose all of his clothing when they were ambushed by one of the dreaded Knights of the Dearth (aka Death Knight) and was wandering around dressed in peasant garb for awhile. They recently arrived at the capitol, and he finally had the time and place to go properly clothes shopping. This was especially important because there is some significant social combat coming up as they try to figure out if the King’s Champion is actually working with the Ebon Triad is being framed by them…

MS, Devin’s player, was quite shocked what it cost to buy a set of brand-new clothing – especially since it made sense to buy three outfits (two “everyday” and one “good suit”)

I simplified this in deciding that any particular piece of clothing costs the same number of coins, it’s merely the a different type and thus different value of coin. The basic idea is that each of the six social classes clothing costs directly correlates to the six basic coin types. So Beggar’s clothing costs Bronze, Commoner’s Copper, Merchant’s Silver, Gentlefolk Electrum, Noble’s Gold, and High Court garb cost’s Platinum.

But, for those that are interested, here is a description of what each social tends to wear both in terms of items, as well as in terms of materials, colors and decoration. It is also worth nothing a couple of potential price modifiers. Out of Fashion clothing (only applicable to Merchant, Gentlefolk, Noble, and High Court garb) is half-price but may impose Disadvantage in some social situations, and similarly Cheap or Poor Quality clothing has the same price modifier and the same potential detriment. New Fashion costs double the normal amount and may grant Advantage in some situations, and Exotic Fashion (either truly haute couture)  costs triple the normal cost and has a greater chance to grant Advantage (though it may also impose Disadvantage in some cases as well, some plebeians are unable to appreciate true genius after all… Clothing of Superior Quality costs five-times normal, but grants a +1 bonus to applicable rolls, and Masterwork clothing costs ten-times normal and grants a +2 to similar rolls.

Often times there are some various sumptuary laws in effect, but they are often there to be flouted to a degree.

Clothing is expensive enough that it is often handed down for as long as it can be worn, patched and mended as often as needed.

It is also worth noting that weapons and armor are also be subjected to the same price modifiers. For example, while a normal, serviceable broadsword costs 30 Silver, one suitable for Gentlefolk would cost 30 Electrum (with chasing of precious metals, engraving, etc), and one suitable for a Noble would cost 30 Gold. This doesn’t include the potential of gems or jewels being mounted in them either which would of course raise the value and the status of the bearer.

For those who wish to be truly extravagant, there are also a whole series of minor enchantments for clothing that can be purchased in the proper places to ensure proper fit, self-repair, always dry, etc.

 

BEGGAR’S GARB:

So Beggars tend to wear the threadbare and patchworked cast-offs of the higher social classes, most commonly that of Commoners and Merchants. Often undyed (beige and off-white), when they are colored it is in the more basic and drab hues (dun, browns, mustard, muddy blues and greens, etc), often quite faded and invariably stained. Mostly commonly of coarse wool, leathers, and cast-off linen and are often relatively ill-fitting. Beggar’s often only own the clothes on their back.

Men– Tunic (8), Pants (6), Bandanna (1), Belt (1) – 16 Bronze

  • Outerwear: Cap (3), Mittens (1) – 4 Bronze
  • Riding Wear: None
  • Sleepwear: None
  • Accessories: Beltpouch (2) – 2 Bronze

Women– Blouse (6), Long Skirt (6), Headscarf (1), Girdle (4)- 17 Bronze

  • Outerwear: Cap (3), Mittens (1) – 4 Bronze
  • Riding Wear: None
  • Sleepwear: None
  • Accessories: Beltpouch (2) – 2 Bronze

 

COMMONER’S GARB:

Commoners can generally afford their own clothes, but will also wear the cast-offs of the higher social classes, most commonly that of Merchants and occasionally Gentlefolk. Those commoners that are direct servants of Nobles will occasionally be gifted with an old piece of lesser clothing to wear. Often undyed (beige and off-white) or blue (from woad), when they are colored it is in the most basic hues (dun, browns, mustard, greens, dull red, etc).  Commonly of wool, leathers, linen, and occasionally hemp, furs are reserved for cold-weather clothing and not common at all save among rural folk. Superior Quality tends to include elaborate embroidery around the hems and the buttons tend to be copper or bronze. Clothing for Commoners tends to be less than social statement and is more utilitarian in nature, though most commoner’s own not just the clothes on their back, but a set of “festival clothes” that they wear to celebrations and religious observances.

Men– Shirt (6) with Two Cufflinks (1 each), Vest (4) with Five Buttons (1 each), Breeches (6) with three Buttons (1 Each), Leggings (4), Socks (1), Shoes (1), Belt (1) – 27 Copper

  • Outerwear: Cloak (8) with Pin (3), Cap (3), Mittens (1) – 15 Copper
  • Riding Wear: None
  • Sleepwear: None
  • Accessories: Beltpouch (2), Coinpurse (1) – 3 Copper

Women– Blouse (6) with One Button (1), Long Skirt (6), Hairpin (3), Shoes (1), Hose (8), Hosiery Belt (2) Bodice (4), Belt (1), Chemise (3) – 35 Copper

  • =Outerwear: Cloak (8) with Pin (3), Cap (3), Mittens (1) – 15 Copper
  • =Riding Wear: None
  • =Sleepwear: None
  • =Accessories: Beltpouch (2), Coinpurse (1) – 3 Copper

 

MERCHANT’S GARB:

As a point of pride many Merchant refuse to wear cast-offs from Gentlefolk or Nobles, unless of course the fabric can repurposed in such as way as to obscure that fact. Similarly, Merchant garb is often dyed in a variety of colors with several gradients of shades evident from across the spectrum. Commonly of finer wools and linens, you will see cotton garments as well, along with leathers and some furs among those that travel regularly. Superior Quality tends to include elaborate embroidery, fine furs and leather around the hems, as well as more elaborate dyes and patterns – among the richest you will very occasionally see Cloth-of-Silver. The buttons tend to be silver, though these are expensive enough that one set of buttons is often owned and transferred between sets of clothing as needed. Clothing for Merchants tends to be both utilitarian in nature but also a social statement, especially the richer the merchant. Merchant’s tend to own three or more sets of clothing, two sets for everyday wear and a set of “festival clothes.” Some guilds may require a special set of clothing (or outerwear) for use in special guild functions and those Merchant’s who ride extensively will also own a set of Riding Wear (see Gentlefolk for the details).

Men– Shirt (6) with Two Cufflinks (1 each) and Two Buttons (1 Each), Vest (4) with Five Buttons (1 each), Breeches (6) with three Buttons (1 each), Leggings (4), Socks (1), Shoes (1), Broadbelt (4) with Buckle (3) , Codpiece (2) – 43 Silver

  • =Outerwear: Cloak (8) with Pin (3), Hat (4), Gloves (2), Gaiters (2) – 19 Silver
  • =Sleepwear: Nightshirt (6) – 6 Silver
  • =Riding Wear: None
  • =Accessories: Beltpouch (2), Coinpurse (1) – 3 Silver

Women– Full Dress (10), Hairpin (3), Shoes (1), Hose (8), Hosiery Belt (2), Bodice (4), Belt (1) with Buckle (3), Brassiere (4), Chemise (3), Petticoats (4) – 40 Silver

  • =Outerwear: Cloak (8) with Pin (3), Hat (4), Gloves (2) – 17 Silver
  • =Sleepwear: Nightshirt (6) – 6 Silver
  • =Riding Wear: None
  • =Accessories: Beltpouch (2), Coinpurse (1) – 3 Silver

 

GENTLEFOLK’S GARB:

Gentlefolk as a social class covers a certain level of semi-idle wealth that comes a variety of sources. Many Gentlefolk are minor nobles or very rich merchants and guildsmen, but it also covers wealthy adventurers, bards and skalds, courtesans and tantrics, and those who rub elbows with the most powerful. Generally made of fine wools, linens, cottons, leathers, etc. you will occasionally see some silk, velvet, and velour in the most expensive garb, along with elaborate embroidery, fines furs and leathers, and truly amazing dyes and patterns as well as Cloth-of-Electrum. The structural design still tends to wards the practical, though more layers and additional accoutrements and accessories are common. As with merchants, buttons are traded between sets of clothing to reduce costs. Gentlefolk often own at least three sets of clothing, two sets of everyday wear and an additional set of festival garb for special occasions. Those who travel considerably will often own an additional set of clothing for travel. Those who are going to attend court regularly will often invest in either an outfit of Noble’s garb (if they are a Noble) or Superior or Masterwork Gentlefolk garb. This is often the everyday wear of nobles from the countryside who nonetheless wish to remain fashionable and dress as befits their station.

Men– Shirt (6) with Four Cufflinks (1 each) and Two Buttons (1 Each), Doublet (12) with Five Buttons (1 each) and Sleeves (4), Breeches (6) with 3 Buttons (1 Each), Codpiece (2), Leggings (4), Socks (1), Shoes (1), Broadbelt (4) with Buckle (3), Collar (4) – 61 Electrum

  • =Outerwear: Cloak (8) with Pin (3), Hat (4), Gloves (2), Gaiters (2) – 19 Electrum
  • =Riding Wear: High Boots (6), Gauntlets (4) – 10 Electrum
  • =Sleepwear: Nightshirt (6), Robe (12) – 18 Electrum
  • =Accessories: Beltpouch (2), Coinpurse (1), Pomander (3) – 6 Electrum

Women– Full Dress (10) with 4 Cufflinks (1 Each) and 10 Buttons (1 Each), Hairpin (3), Shoes (1), Hose (8), Hosiery Belt (2), Corset (8), Bodice (4), Belt (1) with Buckle (3), Chemise (3), Petticoats (4) – 61 Electrum

  • =Outerwear: Cloak (8) with Pin (3), Hat (4), Gloves (2) – 17 Electrum
  • = Sleepwear: Nightshirt (8), Robe (12) – 18 Electrum
  • =Riding Wear: Soft Boots (2), Riding Skirt with Six Buttons (14), Gauntlets (4) – 20 Electrum
  • =Accessories: Beltpouch (2), Coinpurse (1), Pomander (3) – 6 Electrum

 

NOBLE’S GARB:

Noble Garb is less about practicality and more about the display or power, wealth, and privilege (it is also generally about one-and-half times more encumbering than other clothing dues to it’s extravagant nature). Suitable for wear at court functions it is made of the finest wools, linens, cottons, leathers. Silks, velvets, velours, damasks are also found in the most expensive garb, along with elaborate embroidery, fines furs and leathers, and truly amazing dyes and patterns as well as Cloth-of-Gold. As with merchants and gentlefolk, buttons are often traded between sets of clothing, though many nobles do have multiple sets of buttons for different occasions. Nobles often own at least three sets of clothing, two sets of everyday wear and an additional set of festival garb for special occasions. Those who travel considerably will often own an additional set of clothing for travel, though save for the richest nobles this is commonly Gentlefolk Garb.

Men– Shirt (6) with Six Cufflinks (1 each) and Three Buttons (1 Each), Doublet (12) with Five Buttons (1 each) and Sleeves (4), Breeches (6) with 5 Buttons (1 Each), Codpiece (2), Leggings (4), Socks (1), Shoes (1), Broadbelt (4) with Buckle (3), Collar (4) – 67 Gold

  • =Outerwear: Cloak (8) with Pin (3), Hat (4), Fine Gloves (8), Gaiters (2) – 25 Gold
  • =Sleepwear: Nightshirt (6), Robe (12) – 18 Gold
  • =Riding Wear: Soft Boots (2), Gauntlets (4) – 6 Gold
  • =Accessories: Beltpouch (2), Coinpurse (1), Pomander (3) – 6 Gold

Women– Full Dress (10) with 8 Cufflinks (1 Each) and 15 Buttons (1 Each), Hairpin (3), Shoes (1), Hose (8), Hosiery Belt (2), Corset (8), Bodice (4), Belt (1) with Buckle (3), Chemise (3), Petticoats (4) – 70 Gold

  • =Outerwear: Cloak (8) with Pin (3), Hat (4), Fine Gloves (8), Gaiters (2) – 25 Gold
  • =Sleepwear: Nightshirt (6), Robe (12) – 18 Gold
  • =Riding Wear: Soft Boots (2), Riding Skirt with Ten Buttons (18), Gauntlets (4) – 24 Gold
  • =Accessories: Beltpouch (2), Coinpurse (1), Pomander (3) – 6 Gold

 

HIGH COURT GARB:

This sort of clothing is rare, used and generally worn only by the very richest of nobles for the most formal of occasions (the royal court, the highest of religious ceremonies, etc). The clothing is uniformly costly and ostentations, often being twice as bulky as a normal. It is made of the most expensive fabrics and trim, Silk, Velvet, Velour, Damask, Exotic leathers and furs, Cloth-of-Platinum, etc. Save for royalty or the most powerful peers of the realm rarely does anyone own more than one set of this garb. Such nobles would commonly wear Noble’s garb for everyday wear, and New or Exotic fashions for festivals.

Men– Shirt (6) with Eight Cufflinks (1 each) and Three Buttons (1 Each), Doublet (12) with Five Buttons (1 each) and Sleeves (4) with 2 Cufflinks (1 each), Breeches (6) with 7 Buttons (1 Each), Codpiece (2), Leggings (4), Socks (1), Shoes (1), Broadbelt (4) with Buckle (3), Collar (4) – 72 Platinum

  • =Outerwear: Mantle (6) with Pin (3), Cape (8) with Pin (3), Fine Gloves (8) – 28 Platinum

Women– Full Dress (10) with 10 Cufflinks (1 Each) and 20 Buttons (1 Each), Hairpin (3), Shoes (1), Hose (8), Hosiery Belt (2), Corset (8), Bodice (4), Belt (1) with Buckle (3), Chemise (3), Petticoats (4) – 77 Gold

  • =Outerwear: Mantle (6) with Pin (3), Cape (8) with Pin (3), Fine Gloves (8) – 28 Platinum
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The Heroic Character

This post started out with the germ of an idea to compare, contrast, and the adjust the slimes and fungi of 1e vs. 5e. I’ll still probably do that, but that idea itself was rooted in disbelief that (evidently) some people consider 5e more lethal that previous editions…

Clearly they never played 1e.

But it started me thinking about the “heroic character” as the model of the D&D adventure (even if, say, the characters are evil anti-heroes). In 1e, all character race NPC’s either map to “0-level” (of a single d8 HD, save for humans which are d6) or function as character class-leveled NPC’s. In 2e there was a development of non-adventuring NPC classes IIRC like Noble, or Craftsman, or whatever – and this was part at least of where I just simply washed my hand of the game. In 3e this was evidently taken to the logical extreme and there was at least some version of all humanoid and demi-human monsters being leveled in character classes.

I can’t make much sense of the couple of things I have for 4e when it comes to deciphering this.

In 5e there is, for me at least, a relatively radical switch to NPC’s being (largely) non-character class leveled, even if they are “powerful class types”. By this I mean that while a NPC might be a 9th spell-caster or warrior they do not have all the class features of their nominal class. The old-style 0-level characters, might actually have a couple of HD now, and usually have some type of feature (“Parry” for Nobles, “Keen Hearing and Sight” for Scouts, etc.) or they might not have anything at all (see Guards & Bandits).

In 1e, Player Characters were part of an “ecosystem” in that if they looked around, they could see examples of themselves at various levels of power to aspire to. There was a clear “endgame” (and a Domain-game at that) for everyone, it was baked into both the RAW and the demographics of the encounter tables and the Monster Manual. While the Player Characters were heroes, it was because they stood above the 1d6 HP (not HD), 0-level NPC’s and represented people with some better training and/or experience. For example you could easily explain part of the backstory of a basic Fighter as having been a Mercenary Sergeant (all of whom are 1st level Fighters) who was now striking out on their own. When you look through the various adventure modules of the edition this is born out – there are 0-levels, and the scattering of leveled NPC’s in various special roles.

In 5e, the Player Characters – even a first level Player Character – are manifestly different than NPC’s – by the time they reach 3rd level and have chosen a subclass (if it takes them that long) they are  fundamentally beyond the ken of normal folk. More HD, multiple class features at this point, and perhaps they most significant (even at 1st level) they are especially lucky or divinely blessed because they get proficiency bonus on two saves – making them significantly more hardy than “normal folks”. It’s not that you can’t have a character-class leveled NPC, but they are far from the norm. They are as much of a stand out as the Player Characters themselves.

Some of this is rambling, my own game has hit a stage where the Player Characters are quite powerful (the top end of Tier 2 or start of Tier 3) and I’ve been working at bringing my campaign world forward into 5e. It is this fundamental difference that, I believe, has been a hidden piece of grit in the system. It’s not bad, I actually like it, but it changes the ways NPC’s function in the campaign setting and it changes how people view the Player Characters once their special status becomes apparent.

To wit, the most whitebread of PC’s is a 1st Level Fighter – who has both a Fighting Style and Second Wind, plus a Hit Die that puts them on par with a Large Creature! At second level they get Action Surge, and finally at 3rd they pick up the start of their Martial Archtype class features. All compared to a 1HD Commoner or a 2HD Guard/Bandit with no special features even a 2HD Noble simply gets a ‘Parry’ (which is basically a Fighting Style).

Wow!

Pound for Pound, Player Characters are simply more effective than NPCs. They are going to inspirational (good or ill) depending on the viewer and their actions. This came up somewhat a few sessions ago in my game when the 9th Level Fighter (Battlemaster) and local Baron tried to pass off the dangerous threat the party discovered to “whatever the king’s ‘special forces’ would be” and I laughed and said “You’re it!” and explained that he was close to being one of the most powerful warriors in the kingdom. In retrospect, I might have to change that and say that he might very well be the most powerful warrior in the kingdom when you figure on all his class features.

In the past, in AD&D, I used to be pretty generous in handing out extra’s and freebies in the way of weird abilities and bonues as a way to show that the Player Character’s were often special and blessed (or cursed) but if I use 5e the way that the RAW is written up then that is not generally needed. You simply have to use (or create) the stat blocks provided – the already heady advantages the Player Characters have given the action economy and difficulty in actually dying become even more stark.

TTFN!

D.

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Do dwarves take baths…?

So, the other day a picture of a chinchilla came up on my Tumblr, and I was struck for a moment by the image of one taking a dust bath. I immediately wondered if dwarves took dust baths? Do dwarves bathe? They don’t like deep water, they pretty much can’t swim (too dense), and the big reason to take a bath is because of sweat and I didn’t even know (because I’d never thought of it) if dwarves even sweat…

I kind of liked the idea though, the idea of dust baths and maybe filing away callouses and the like – or just a really good pumice scraping. So I took the idea to my dwarf player, KT, and talked it over with her. She kind of liked the idea as well, and after some discussion of physiological issues involved (no sweating means different ways of shedding heat, etc) we decided that it was a fine idea and added to it. Dwarves take dust baths, as well as baths with sand or some other coarse abrasive when they need to get rid of stains or caked on whatever. They have generally use pumice or a file to remove calluses and trim nails, and occasionally will slake themselves in oil and scrape themselves down – plus they’ll use oils on their beards occasionally to help shaped them and otherwise keep them healthy after being soaked in water to avoid lighting on fire at the forge.

Dwarves tend to keep their beards tucked into pouches, soaked in water, when they work at the forge in order to keep them safe. I can’t remember if that’s an old Ed Greenwood detail, or one that came from some old Tolkien illustration, but I distinctly remember liking it from somewhere, somewhen.

In fact, the only dwarves who are ever likely to actually wash with water are Hill Dwarves, because they are travelling so often. They don’t like it, and are likely to look a bit dirtier than the average Mountain Dwarf or Dwimmervolk for that reason – which of course adds to their reputation as being the “poor relatives” and vagrants who are at least (thankfully) better then those filthy, clanless and honorbroken Druegar…

We also decided that whatever the temperature regulation mechanism was for dwarven physiology, they just weren’t as bothered by temperature ranges from an comfort level. They aren’t resistant to heat or cold, but their “comfort zone” was far broader than that of a human.

TTFN!

D.

 

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Casting spells and wearing armor (5e)

So, as I go through the list of things that I like about 5e as compared to 1e, and things I like much, much better in 1e the whole concept of wearing armor and casting spells comes up. In 5e, this is simply a matter of proficiency – if you are proficient in the armor, then it doesn’t interfere in your spell-casting. Now, in 1e spell-casting and armor was severely limited and was one of the great balancers for non-human races, fundamentally for Arcane Magic.

Now, truthfully, there are all sorts of different flavors of Arcane Magic now (and we’ll ignore my “historical game” switched all sorts of things up, like Druids using Arcane Magic, blah, blah, blah…) but, in the quest to nerf the idea of level-dipping, and continue to add back at least some of the verisimilitude that made my campaign world make sense…

Divine Magic has no inherent limits on armor (just like 1e), it is simply a matter of the armor training you get from your class. A character Deity is happy to pump divine energy into you, whatever you’re wearing, as long as you’re doing “the right stuff”!

Arcane Magic is where it gets wonky…

Wizards, Eldritch Knights, Arcane Tricksters, and Sorcerers may only wear only wear Ultralight Armor.

Bards and Warlocks may wear Ultralight and Light Armor.

Elves, High Men, Half-Elves, Sh’dai, Dwarrow, the Old Race, and Gnomes (this could expand as additional races are detailed) may wear non-metallic Light and Medium Armor and cast Arcane Magic, they may also wear enchanted metallic armor of the same types.

This gets us back to the image of locking wizards into specially-made suits of armor as a way to neutralize them without having to cut their tongues out or cut off their fingers and hands… It’s also the reason why these races are likely to get targeted first by tactically knowledgeable opponents, they are going to be assumed to be spell-casters, no matter what they actually are, and are perceived as mysterious, dangerous, and the most significant threat sans any more obvious target.

D.

 

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Death and the Player Character (5E DnD)

So, as I study for the EPPP, part of my brain recovery (or cushioning more likely) has been watching Matthew Colville’s Running the Game series and the odd video or three from Web DM. I strongly recommend both sets of videos, for a variety of reasons – you can decide on your own. Now, that said, this has more to do with the recent release of Matt Mercer’s Resurrection rules from Critical Whatever. I don’t watch it, but the rules came across my feed.

It force me to think about this in my game, as well as reflecting on some of the differences between 1E and 5E. In the old 1E games, things were much more lethal, and characters were a bit more careful as result. In 5E, healing is much more available, dying is much harder (mechanically), and there are none of the limitations or costs on Raising that previously existed (System Shocks, Con loss, racial limitations). We are finally at the level where Raise Dead is available (or will be soon) and while I like the idea of Matt Mercer’s rules they are just way to fiddly in some ways. 5E DnD has done a lot to get rid of fiddly in some ways and his rules actually seem more fiddly than 1E AD&D was.

I’ve also been thinking about simply how easy it is to bring back people from death or it’s brink in 5E. I like this flavor to tell the truth, but the Gentle Repose and Revivify combo is a, um, “killer” on top of the normal magical curing, healing kits, and Spare the Dying cantrip. It is really pretty darn hard to die and they’ve made it pretty darn easy to come back from it…

Perhaps too easy for my evolved campaign setting.

Now, one suggestion is to make diamonds (the material component for Revivify, Raise Dead, Resurrection, and True Resurrection) much less common and very difficult to find. Truthfully, I already know exactly had rare they are and they already aren’t that common. But I also don’t exactly mind Revivify given the time limitations involved. I do miss the System Shock rolls of the old Raise Dead spells, as well as the racial limitations – these are huge social and cultural limiting factors in my campaign.

Note, this is also all in my search to re-humanize my world a bit. It is intended to be humanocentric world, and there is no mechanical reason for this in 5E unlike the reasons why this would be in 1E.

So, normal rules of dealing with near death still apply. Dropping to 0HP is just like the rules. Healing from that works as normal and Revivify works as normal. A Saving Throw on the part of the character being brought back from death is required for Gentle Repose + Revivify, Raise Dead, and Resurrection. There is no Saving Throw needed for True Resurrection or Reincarnate. For purposes of effects, any time you are Revivified outside of the base timing of the spell because of some other spell or magic item in the mix, you need to make the Ability Check.

The ability that the Ability Check is rolled on is chosen by the player of the character being brought back as long as they can justify it. The Ability Check is Medium (15), using Bywater-grade diamonds (basically industrial quality) incurs Disadvantage, while 1st Water diamonds grant Advantage. For what it is worth, Bywater is pretty much all that is available in Towns (and probably only enough for one casting of Revivify) while 2nd and 3rd Water are available Cities, and 1st Water diamonds are generally only available (at normal price) in Great Cities.

Things that normally affect Ability Checks will also affect this one – meaning that a group of companions pleading with their deities, cleansing the area spiritually, calling out psychically to help the spirit find it’s way to the body, whatever, can potentially help this roll (see p175 “Working Together” in the Player’s Handbook).

Jewelry with an appropriately-sized diamond in it is very “fashionable” for many adventurers and usually able to be found in most cities.

In the realm of verisimilitude and Gygaxian Naturalism, these sorts of spells also incurs a significant bit of interest in a divine caster’s deity, even if unconscious. So bringing character back from death that do not worship the same deity, are of significant different alignments, etc., etc., etc. can have significant repercussions for everyone involved. Geasa, religious conversion, spell refusal/failure, and the like are all possible and should be expected. This is beyond how some cultures and races view and deal with death. For example, Dwarves can be Raised, but culturally are loath to come back and see it as a curse rather than a blessing. There is also, invariably, some other cost to coming back from the dead – ability score penalty, insanity, whatever. It really depends upon the situation and context – hacked to death by swords is a bit more traumatic than a quiet backstab that killed someone instantly, but assume that dying is troubling to the emotional well-being of a character and even their spiritual health.

I’m slowly updating the write-ups of the character races with their relationship with death.

TTFN!

D.

Categories: Game Design, Game Play, House Rules, Magic Spell | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Player Knowledge vs. Character Knowledge

Also, closely related, is Player Intelligence/Wisdom vs. Character Intelligence/Wisdom (and, for that matter, Charisma).

While this usually couched in terms of things that the players know that the characters don’t, everything from simple Out-Of-Character knowledge based on listening to other players to a real-world doctor playing a character with no medical knowledge, I want to talk about this from the perspective of things the players don’t know that their characters do – many of these notable because I have done them so the disparity can be glaring when I try explain how something does or doesn’t work.

The short list I’ve run into in my games over the years:

  • What it is like to hike with a full pack for anything from short daytrips, to extended multiday backpacking trips.
  • Related to the above, but what it is really like to travel “overland” when there is no trail.
  • Also related to the above, but travelling or simply living in radically different climates. Forest is different from plains is different from jungle (not me, but my husband served during Operation Just Cause in Panama and my father served in Vietnam, so plenty of 1st Person data there) is different from badlands, is different from desert (husband also served in Desert Storm), etc.
  • What combat is actually like. Ok, so I have a couple of vets in my group, but most people have never even been in a serious fight as an adult. They’ve never studied martial arts, never thrown a kick or a punch or received one either (let alone a throw or taken a fall).
  • Related to the above. Guns. Never fired them, never handled them, no idea of what it takes to conceal one, etc. etc. etc.
  • Knives and swords follow – FWIW I’d almost rather be shot rather than stabbed…
  • Ok, wearing armor – and just how much it can mess with movement and comfort (and how much it doesn’t, depending on training and design)
  • Hunting and dressing game – I have players who would prefer to think that meat came in plastic packages on trees. The nuts and bolts of draining blood, gut removal, etc. is beyond them.
  • Amusingly, since I started doing rock climbing again last year (indoor only, this summer should see us grabbing rock again) the number of people who’ve never done rock climbing or any sort of technical (aka, with a rope and/or harness) climbing is pretty small.
  • Can we say the same thing about canoes?

Now, none of this is a problem exactly, the problem is when a player’s entire corpus on knowledge of this sort of thing comes from RPG’s, CRPG’s, movies, documentaries, and the occasional Reality TV show (though those latter two can be pretty illuminating for some topics). It’s been awhile since I’ve had a player who argued some point of detail, at this point my players have all pretty much established their areas-of-knowledge and expertise and we use them all to our advantage.

D.

Categories: FYI, Game Design | Tags: | 2 Comments

A Letter to Frater Nikolai

Nikolai,

I trust this letter finds you well and that you have found what you needed during your time spent in contemplation. I wish that I could say that that I am sorry to be writing you, and in one way I am for I would not bother you unless there was the direst need for both your dedication and your skills. At the same time, I must admit that I happy that you will be actively bringing the Light to the world once again.

A situation in the Kingdom of Llyr has come up that requires your special insights as I am sure the following letter will explain.

You may have heard, even in your isolation of the young Lord Devin Tresendar? Well, the rumors are true, he is Touched by the Lord Sc. Michael and has been blessed with a series of miracles as he brings Light in Darkness. He and his companions have even travelled to the Shadowlands in the pursuit of a series of threads regarding a prophecy of an upcoming Age of Worms – I have arranged to have more details gathered and awaiting for you upon your arrival and this is perhaps the greatest reason for choosing you to attend to this matter.

Fighting against the Vanguard of Sertrous which seeks to bring about this coming Age, Tresendar confronted them and thwarted their plan to summon forth their long-dead commander. If this was not miracle enough he recovered the great sword Merthuvial, the Kingmaker, and confirmed as its rightful wielder.

Returning home, it became become apparent that there is old rot within the lands of his family and Tresendar discovered a cult deeply entrenched in fabric of Diamond Lake, a prominent mining town of the kingdom, and one that was part of his family lands for generations – though mismanagement and misfortune had passed control to the Consortium in his grandfather’s time. Investigating and striking quickly, Tresendar and his companions discovered a long buried fane – one older than anything that you can imagine or even guess.

Our aid was requested by Tresendar to deal with the guardianship of the fane, so I have arranged for a company of troops to be at your disposal, under your good Watch and Judgement. I also think that Lord Tresendar would benefit from some advice and counsel, as well as he has done so far he is surrounded by a curious set of companions – please see the attached letter for details.

But, the Community of the town has not only lost its leader, it has seemingly lost its way as well. The former Lightbringer of the town, one Jierian Wierus, was a fanatic and by all reports unhinged. Perhaps it was the dire influence of the cult or the close proximity of the fane, or perhaps he was simply weak, but in any case he has left the community there in dire straits with his death in the fane. While many in the town are of the Faith, the recent events have shaken them and it is important that they know that the Church has not forgotten them.

Also, given the chaos involved in the discovery of the cult, the entire leadership of the town itself is uncertain. I have dispatched this letter before word has come from the King as to how he is handling the disposal of the town.

I will commit no more to paper on this subject my friend. You must witness it for yourself. Grace in Light, Strength in Darkness.

 

Sancta Loren

The Most Reverend Gregorius Sc. Thiede, by the Lords of Light and Proclamation of the Sarim under the Lord Sc. Metatron, Lord High Archon and Primate of the Rite of the Congregation of Loren.

Categories: Campaign, Campaign Development, Fiction, Game Play | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Song of Samael

Of course, the other joy (and Lovecraftian tradition) of Call of Cthulhu is making up your own eldritch tomes full of mind-shattering cosmic horror. The following is what I came up with as an alternative to the Necronomicon for a multivalent “ultimate tome of horror” – I generally prefer a game that is more focused on the Elder Gods rather than the Great Old Ones, and even when I focus on the GOO’s I shy away from Cthulhu because he tends to be done to death.  In any case, as with the Oer Linda Book, part of the fun with doing this sort of thing is detailing out the various versions of the book through the ages. With a Necronomicon-like book this is (as you see below) much more than the simple editions (which is essentially what the Oer Linda Book was written up as). This is a collection of closely related tomes which all deal with the same eldritch mystery across both time and cultures. I actually have notes on three or four more related texts (including at least two more modern ones, this was originally written for a Classic Era campaign) that I haven’t detailed yet, those will form a new post in the future.

 

The Song of Samael

Song of Samael is a complex allegory poem that is considered one of the great lost Gnostic source materials. It discusses the great song of creation and destruction that the Demiurge, the great blind God, sings as surrounded by his servants at the center of Creation – in the chaos that comes without awareness or wisdom. Portions deal with the place of humanity in creation, the nature of the four-fold world, and the multiple emanations of the Demiuge that both plague and inspire humanity, through the Fall of Man as well as the hope of his Apotheosis. Some scholars have recently questioned a possible connection between the Song of Samael and the Massa di Requiem per Shuggay though no definitive proof has ever been unearthed. Similar relationships have been posited with the Dhol Chants.

Singing Across the Centuries: A Historical Analysis of the Song of Samael.

Produced shortly before the Great War in 1911, this text was derived from the doctoral thesis of Dr. Samuel J. Wight, who is currently associated with the newly created Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago. Obscure in nature, it is generally only found on the shelves of university libraries, though a few have found their way into private hands.

  • (English: Sanity: -1d3, Unnatural: +1/+2, Occult, Anthropology, & History Checks, 3 Weeks – Mythos Rating: 9)
  • No Spells

Joachim Feery’s Notes on the Canticum Yaldabaoth:

One of Mr. Feery’s last pamphlets, this was published in English in 1903. Similar to his Notes on the Necronomnicon, this consists primarily of translated portions of the Latin text with a series of annotations and footnotes.

  • (English: Sanity: -1d6, Unnatural: +1/+3, Occult: +2, 6 Weeks – Mythos Rating: 12)
  • No Spells

The Song of the Creator

Translated in 1900 from the Greek Āisma Dēmiourgos by Dr. W. J. Spencer-Knowles, it was the culmination of a twenty project on his part at the end of his career. Considered a brilliant and accurate translation, though often disturbing due to bleak projections on the nature of the universe, a freak fire destroyed most of the copies at the printers and there has been little demand for another printing run. Thirteen copies are thought to have survived, which are found in university libraries for the most part.

  • (English: Sanity: -2d6, Unnatural: +2/+3, Occult: +2, 12 Weeks – Mythos Rating: 15)
  • Spells: Call/Dismiss Daoloth, Contact Azathoth, Contact Daoloth, Contact Vorvados, Summon/Bind Dimensional Shambler, Dread Curse of Azathoth, Shrivelling

The Song of Bind God Sammael – Hear the Roar of the Lion-Faced Serpent

Privately published in London in 1898, the author remains unknown. The run of one-hundred and one volumes bound in black leather and printed in a curious silver ink is difficult to read and a comparison of the different volumes shows subtle differences. It is unknown if this is purposeful or if it is a printing error. Given the generally high quality of the printing it is thought that there is some meaning to the differences though no-one has ever managed to gather to enough of different volumes together to manage viable a textual analysis. This translation seems to derive from a combination of the Greek and Latin texts, and there is little else in the text other than a somewhat terse introduction and some fragmentary footnotes.

  • (English: Sanity: -1d6, Unnatural: +2/+6, Occult: +5, 12 Weeks – Mythos Rating: 24)
  • Spells: Contact Azathoth, Contact Daoloth, Contact Nyarlathotep, Contact Vorvados, Dread Curse of Azathoth, Shrivelling, Elder Sign, Voorish Sign

Ballade du Dieu Aveugle

Transcribed in 1354 by the Comte de Montange, the “Ballad of the Blind God” during the terrible times of the Black Death after listening to cries of the dying in the rural regions around Langeudoc. This octavo was barely published before being denounced by the church, with all copies banned and then many burned. A significant number survived however in the hands of the Inquisition as they searched out similar sources of heresy, and a similar number remained in private hands as well.

  • (French: Sanity: -2d4, Unnatural: +1/+2, Occult: +3, 20 Weeks – Mythos Rating: 9)
  • Spells: Contact Azathoth, Contact Daoloth, Contact Nyarlathotep, Summon/Bind Servitor of the Outer Gods, Dread Curse of Azathoth, Shrivelling

Testament des Zeichens der Löwe-Gesicht Schlange

This 917 version is a handmade copy of a now lost version that dated from the time of Charlemagne. The “Testament of the Sign of the Lion-Face Serpent” was ordered by the Holy Roman Emperor himself. It records the tale of the destruction of a pagan cult of blind singers by the warriors of Charlemagne and the interrogation of the few survivors. Replete with details of human sacrifice, sexual perversity, and bestiality it has always had an unsavory reputation. Only three copies are known to exist, one in private hands and one each in library of the University of Munich and Heidelberg. Rumors persist that the original is contained within the Z Collection of the Vatican Library.

  • (Old High German: Sanity: -2d4 Unnatural: +2/+4, Occult +6, 30 Weeks – Mythos Rating: 18)
  • Spells: Call/Dismiss Nyarlathotep, Contact Azathoth, Contact Daoloth, Contact Nyarlathotep, Contact Tzulscha, Contact Yog-Sothoth, Summon/Bind Dimensional Shambler, Summon/Bind Servitor of the Outer Gods, Dread Curse of Azathoth, Shrivelling

Canticum Yaldabaoth

This version, the “Song of the Son of Chaos” dates to the Crisis of the Third century, and was recorded by members of Imperial Cult who saw the changes and chaos of Imperial Rome and its court as endemic of the Emperors. It’s authorship is attributed to Vibius Lartius Priscus, a black magician and sorcerer of that time period. The earliest known manuscript has been dated to the reign of Philip the Arab (244-249 C.E.), and is usually dated to 248. Speculation remains rampant among scholars as to the possible association of the Philip the Arab in the establishment of the Yaldabaoth Cult. Secret and hidden, some scholars suggest that it is a resurgence or survivor of the Imperial Cults associated with Caligula and Nero while others insist that Philip brought it to Rome from Persia. The British Museum and the Huntington Library in California are known to have copies, as does the Z Collection of the Vatican. At least two copies are known to be held in private collections. There was an excellent copy at the University of Prague prior to the Great War but it disappeared during the conflict.

  • (Latin: Sanity: -2d6, Unnatural: +3/+6, Occult: +4, 36 Weeks – Mythos Rating: 27)
  • Spells: Call/Dismiss Daoloth, Call/Dismiss Nyarlathotep, Call/, Contact Azathoth, Contact Daoloth, Contact Nyarlathotep, Contact Tzulscha, Contact Yog-Sothoth, Summon/Bind Dimensional Shambler, Summon/Bind Servitor of the Outer Gods, Dread Curse of Azathoth, Shrivelling

Āisma Dēmiourgos

Fragments of this version, which translates as the “Song of the Demiurge” date to the chaos of the Persian invasions around 500 B.C.E. Contemporary accounts speak of the hymns of damned priests from Persia in the vanguard of some of the Persian armies, as well as their unholy rites and orgiastic frenzies that they indulged in. Written and recorded by scholar Argyros the Delian with a series of commentaries on the Greco-Persian Wars, this work is a gigantic and complex text that includes a significant alternate history of the Delian League and elements of the Persian Court. Hints at terrible alliances within the Greeks and foul bloodlines among the Persians run concurrent with the Argyros’ rendition of the Song of the Demiurge. Copes of this are exceedingly rare, the only complete one known being held at the British Museum.

  • (Ancient Greek: Sanity: -2d6, Unnatural: +3/+7, Occult: +5, 52 Weeks, History Check – Mythos Rating: 30)
  • Spells: Call/Dismiss Daoloth, Call/Dismiss Nyarlathotep, Call Vorvados, Call/Dismiss Yog-Sothoth, Contact Azathoth, Contact Daoloth, Contact Nyarlathotep, Contact Tzulscha, Contact Vorvados, Contact Yog-Sothoth, Summon/Bind Dimensional Shambler, Summon/Bind Servitor of the Outer Gods, Dread Curse of Azathoth, Shrivelling, Elder Sign, Eye of Light and Darkness, Vach-Viraj Incantation, Voorish Sign

Shir Ha-Samael

The original and lost version of the Song of Samael, there are several scholars who are positive that this version is forever lost though fragments have been found that confirm its existence. There are obscure references to this song throughout many obscure texts and it scholars believe that the original Shir Ha Samael dates to roughly 1000 B.C.E. Abd al-Azrad mentions in the Kitab Al-Azif to listening to a choir of 666 blind monks and nuns who sang “hymns to the daemon sultan” accompanied by unseen flautists who piped with maddening monotony in the nights of the Empty Quarter. Knowledgeable occultists agree that this is a reference to the dreaded Song of Samael.

  • (Ancient Aramaic: Sanity: -2d8, Unnatural: +4/+9, Occult: +6, 64 Weeks – Mythos Rating: 42)
  • Spells: Call/Dismiss Azathoth, Call/Dismiss Daoloth, Call/Dismiss Nyarlathotep, Call/Dismiss Tulzscha, Call/Dismiss Yog-Sothoth, Contact Azathoth, Contact Daoloth, Contact Nyarlathotep, Contact Tzulscha, Contact Yog-Sothoth, Summon/Bind Dimensional Shambler, Summon/Bind Servitor of the Outer Gods, Dread Curse of Azathoth, Shrivelling
Categories: Campaign Development, Game Design, House Rules, Magic Item | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Jeff’s “Twenty Questions”

I can’t believe that I never posted a link to this.

Twenty Quick Questions For Your Campaign Setting

TTFN!

D.

Categories: Campaign Development, FYI | Tags: | Leave a comment

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