Tuesday, November 28, 2017

The Big Yellow d30 and The Law of Equivalent Exchange

Available at thediceshoponline for like $5 shipped.

I play a lot of 5e. It’s not my favorite system, but it runs pretty well out-of-the-box and, for most players, it's what they expect when I say “wanna play D&D?"

To that end, I’ve gotten pretty good at figuring out what I can change about the system without drastically affecting the rest of the game. One such mechanic is Inspiration, which in 5e is supposed to be given out by the DM as a reward for good roleplaying. Once given, it can be used by the player as a mulligan on any d20 roll by or targeted by them, rolling twice and taking the preferred result.

I disagree with a few of these preconceptions; namely, that players should be rewarded solely for roleplaying and that doing so once can help them at an indeterminate time going forward. I’m of the opinion that all PC action is roleplaying — by definition, the player is playing a role that is not indicative of real life, even if that role is as simple as “haggling over armor." Roleplaying does not need to mean adopting an entirely new persona, and I can't really see how one type of roleplaying could be seen as “better" than any other. And rewarding players for clever solutions to problems is a mechanic already built into the game: it’s called advantage, and it functions much the same way as Inspiration but only for the roll the DM gives it for. A much more elegant solution, DM fiat notwithstanding.

That being said, I do like the basic function of Inspiration once it’s been given, which is why I’ve gotten in the habit of awarding each player a single point at the beginning of every session, to be spent whenever they like. This adds a new layer of tension and choice to every roll — does the player (possibly) avoid the trolls nat 20 attack now, or wait to (possibly) ensure their hold monster spell goes off without a hitch later? I’ve had players blow their Inspiration on the first roll, or go the entire session without using it. Lately, however, I’ve started thinking that there might be an even more interesting system.

Note: +Ryan MacKenzie informed me that this idea was first put forth by Jeff Rients nearly 10 years ago and later expanded upon by James Young. Thank you all! 

The Big Yellow d30 sits in the middle of the table, twice the size of even my biggest d20. And it is powerful.

At any time, a player may choose to replace any roll (barring Hit Die on level up or while resting) with a roll of the Big Yellow d30. Attack, damage, skill check, saving throw — it doesn’t matter. Roll the dice, and I’ll deal with the consequences. But so will you, because for every time a player rolls the Big Yellow d30, I get to roll it as well. Whenever I want.

What are you gonna do with that big sword? Gonna hit me? Better make it count. Better make it hurt. Better kill me in one shot.

This leads to some VERY interesting situations. Is it worth it to blitz this small encounter, knowing full well a dangerous one could be made even more so you by your hubris? Is it really that vital that you get 20% off your plate mail this session, right before the big battle? DO YOU WANT ME TO HAVE THIS KIND OF POWER?

The Big Yellow d30 encourages caution, promotes foresight and game sense, and lets my players know that my campaign world is filled with danger and opportunity in equal measure. The Tomb of Annihilation demands nothing less.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Real Medical Problems I Have Encountered, Interpreted as Fantasy Ailments: HPIT

Healing Potion-Induced Thrombocytopenia (HPIT)

Welcome to the first entry in a series I'm calling "Real Medical Problems I Have Encountered, Interpreted as Fantasy Ailments" or RMPIHEIAFA (rumpy-HAY-fah). Each entry will cover a real-life medical condition I have encountered in the American health system, adapted to suit the world of your fantasy RPG campaign.

In this episode, we'll be dealing with Healing Potion-Induced Thrombocytopenia, or HPIT.

Your standard Potion of Healing works by way of over-stimulating the body's natural ability to recover from minor wounds and illnesses. Tissue growth in particular improves exponentially: minor-to-moderate surface wounds are visibly observed to heal and close mere seconds after ingesting the elixir.

However, this overstimulation comes at a price. For all the popular talk of "natural magic," the forces of sorcery are still not widely understood, and their methods of interaction with living tissue are, at best, harmless only in small doses. With regards to HPIT, cases have shown that consuming multiple healing potions in a short period of time (most incidents seem to involve adventurers, whose natural rests are often interrupted by violent dungeon inhabitants) can cause the body to actively reject the curative as if it were a magic attack.

This rejection progresses through several stages. At first, the patient may feel uncharacteristically vigorous, as though the potion was working well beyond its intents. This is a deception of the foulest degree investigation of the wounds will show they are, in fact, bleeding more profusely than before!

The second stage is more mercifully apparent. The patient will begin to feel lightheaded, and possibly nauseous. A fever may be present as the body attempts to fight off what it believes is an attempt at magical possession. The patients reflexes slow, halving their usual movement speed and imposing a +/-2 disadvantage on AC.

It has been recorded that particularly wizened patients scholars, clerics, and the like appear to be less susceptible to this stage of illness. The link is tenuous, however, as heavy potion use, and by extension HPIT, is most often found in individuals of lesser intelligence.

During this second phase, IT IS IMPERATIVE that the patient does not mistakenly consume another potion. Doing so will cause them to become violently ill, to the degree of 2d4+2 damage.

Barring further intervention, HPIT will usually resolve itself over the course of a long rest. If dizziness and bleeding persist, a chirurgeon or cleric may be consulted. If you feel that you or a loved one may be at risk for HPIT, send a scrying message to RMPIHEIAFA headquarters, Saviors Rest, Lithica. Our sages are standing by.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Answers to 40 Campaign Questions

This one requires a bit of backstory.

Over at coins and scrolls, Skerples has set forth answering Jeff Rients (of Broodmother Skyfortress renown) twenty quick questions for your campaign setting. Not content to stop there, he also answered an additional twenty not-questions for your campaign from the eminent Scrap Princess.

Now Skerples -- gentleman and scholar, fine judge of whiskey -- has some good answers. Were it MY campaign, however, it would go a bit more like this:
  1. What is the deal with my cleric's religion?

Clerics praise the sun. Milla, in her infinite kindness, has graced the world with divine magic. This magic, taking the form of photo/electro/pyromancy, is the only truly effective weapon against the bubbling chaos.
  1. Where can we go to buy standard equipment?

This here hamlet has a fine assortment of farming implements and cutlery for sale. Oh, you want battle-tested weaponry? Well, the local abbey's been quartering soldiers for a while, but I've heard the captain's a bit bloodthirsty.
  1. Where can we go to get platemail custom fitted for this monster I just befriended?

That depends, will it bite while it’s being fitted? If not, the smiths over at Varnhold are adept at fitting lycanthropes, so they may be able to help.
  1. Who is the mightiest wizard in the land?

  1. Who is the greatest warrior in the land?

Ah, that would be old Raja the Red. He's retired now, but in his prime it's said nobody could stand against him for more than 6 seconds. 10 seconds, in the early days.
  1. Who is the richest person in the land?

Palisade Lecardt, leader of the Archeologists. You see that walled city up on the mountain? That's his. Damn if I know what they do up there, though.
  1. Where can we go to get some magical healing?

If you head on out to the woods, you might stumble upon a fairy hill. The gentry there will cure most minor ailments in exchange for stories from your childhood; don't ask them why they want that. No matter what they say or do, don't stay overnight, and make sure you've got some salt or iron on you for if things go south.
  1. Where can we go to get cures for the following conditions: poison, disease, curse, level drain, lycanthropy, polymorph, alignment change, death, undeath?

A proper cleric can deal with most of those problems, but you may not like their solution to undeath.
  1. Is there a magic guild my MU belongs to or that I can join in order to get more spells?

Ah, Feyfield is a lovely school. I thought of sending my youngest there once, when I caught her dancing in the pale moonlight. They're always looking for new teachers, and their library is the best around.
  1. Where can I find an alchemist, sage or other expert NPC?

Once again, Feyfield Academy is your best option -- though they won't come cheap, its one of the few areas where knowledge and mystical secrets trade as easy as coin.
  1. Where can I hire mercenaries?

How much are you paying?
  1. Is there any place on the map where swords are illegal, magic is outlawed or any other notable hassles from Johnny Law?

Well, I wouldn’t go swinging your axe or setting off fireballs in the village square.  Aside from that, most places are pretty tolerant, though some clerical orders have started barring sorcerers and wizards from their churches.
  1. Which way to the nearest tavern?

You're standing in it, boy-o. I've got homemade ale on tap, smallbeer for the wee'uns, and a few casks of Bitterblue for the more... discerning palette.
  1. What monsters are terrorizing the countryside sufficiently that if I kill them I will become famous?

We try to clear out areas as they get bad. There's a great red dragon that's taken up roost under Redcliff, but I wouldn't try plundering her hoard if you've got any sense in you.
  1. Are there any wars brewing I could go fight?

Remember those soldiers I was talking about? They’re marching on Varnhold to deal with Astera’s Uprising in a week.
  1. How about gladiatorial arenas complete with hard-won glory and fabulous cash prizes?

We’re not much for bloodsport here. Some of the bigger cities may have underground fighting pits, but if you’re looking for lots of cash you’re better off joining a mercenary company.
  1. Are there any secret societies with sinister agendas I could join and/or fight?

The Archeologists are certainly secretive, but whether they’re the sinister ones or the ones fighting them is up for debate.
  1. What is there to eat around here?

We serve fresh stew and bread twice daily. Meat when we can get it, usually twice a week or so.
  1. Any legendary lost treasures I could be looking for?

Long ago, a battle-weary paladin used his last breath to consecrate the area that the abbey would eventually be built upon. They say his sword, still shining, lays under the foundation, but all efforts to find it have met with failure. In fact, I can’t think of a single expedition that’s gone under the old church that’s ever come back…(I used this as a hook for “The God that Crawls”)
  1. Where is the nearest dragon or other monster with Type H treasure?

That’d definitely be the Malice Miser, the one under Redcliff. She fancies herself as a bit of an art collector, and the whole town’s so desperate to please her that they’ve invited artists, musicians, and sculptors for miles around to vie for her favor.

As for SP's not-questions:
  1. Is there weaponized squid?

Absolutely. They’re giant, and outfitted by fish-people to be used as underwater siege weapons.
    1. Can I start with one?

Only if you’re a fish-person who made off with it Imperator Furiosa-style.
    1. How much are they?

Fish-people use murder as an pseudo-barter system. So, a successful raid on an enemy settlement in which you kill 4 people would allow you to live comfortably for about a month. In order to buy a warsquid, you would have to have been instrumental in the death of hundreds, if not thousands.
    1. Can I have one as a pet/horse/best friend?

See subquestion 1 above.
    1. Can I play one?

Warsquids are fiercely loyal. An owned one is like an extension of its owner (so yes, in a sense).
    1. Can I dual wield them?

Your foolish pride will damn us all!
  1. Is there undead robots?

Ah, the dreaded Technonomicon. Long thought lost, but pages detailing rituals to bind souls to machinery show up from time to time in the hands of deranged collectors.
    1. follow up questions involve the nature of consciousness and the existence of the soul in your campaign and can I play one?

Absolutely, but be warned I will work in a lucid dream of electric sheep somewhere in the campaign.
    1. or have one as a pet or a gun that shoots them?

Are you a deranged collector? Serious question.
  1. Do icebergs walk across the land?

Absolutely not while people are watching.
    1. Can I be from one?

I am incredibly lenient with character backstory, so yes.
    1. Is Godzilla frozen in one?

    1. Can I play a Godzilla?

Bring good beer to the first session and I’ll let you play as baby godzilla.
  1. What do birds know? (no further questions)

Way more than you think. I’m glad you thought to ask!
  1. Does medicine work like it does here but no-one knows CPR or does it work like a cartoon so I cure amnesia with more head injuries or does it work like medieval euro people thought it did with demons in your teeth?

Lets just say that Robert Liston would be considered an incredibly talented doctor here.
    1. Do I start with demons in my teeth?

Did you dump Wisdom? If so, you’re probably possessed by something, so yes.
    1. Do I know CPR?

Rudimentarily, yes. Though, only in that most people’s reaction to seeing a friend drop dead is to furtively pound on their chest.
    1. Can I invent CPR?

If you can describe how your character independently discovered the exact workings of pulmonary circulation, yes.
    1. Can I give myself powers with additionally organs?

Well, that depends upon the organs. A 2nd set of lungs or stomach, expertly grafted? Absolutely so.
    1. What planet is in ascension in my spleen midmorning?

Carcosa. Always Carcosa.
  1. I want to play a hobbit but really I'm the fleas controlling the hobbit. Where is that in the book?

My players don’t read the books.
    1. Could I take over a new guy with my fleas? Or another players guy?

As long as it doesn’t overstep the boundaries of “Charm Person/Monster,” go wild.
  1. How much could I rent my body out to spirits before I lost control of my character?

I’d let you roll under WIS every level up to maintain control, with the associated level being added to the roll.
    1. What are the names of the spirits? Are they cool?

There’s a lot of different names, depending upon the area, your past lives, and particular vices. Regardless, experience has proven that the spirits are always cooler than the original players.
  1. What level do I have to get my character to before I am the GM?

Name level. Around that time I get the hankering to play again, so I usually give up the reins.
    1. Can I half be the GM at an early level?

Only if you agree to obey the law of equivalent exchange: to obtain, something of equal value must be lost.
    1. What about when you leave the room?

No! That’s when you’re supposed to be looking at my notes and trying to outsmart me.
  1. What is the dumbest thing I can spend my money on?

The barkeep will be more than willing to sell you an anti-air elemental rock. Since he’s owned it, he’s never been attacked by an air elemental.
    1. No dumber than that but cool. Like a pet with a pet with a weapon? Can pets dual wield?

Intelligent pets can totally dual wield. Unintelligent pets can too, but only accidentally by way of strapping weapons to them. I’m not sure which is funnier.
  1. How ugly can my guy be? Like Can I basically be a walking fish?

I encourage it, I’m really liking the warsquid idea.
    1. No wait I wanna be a walking fish. What is the reverse scuba technology like in this world?

Well, first you’d need to invent CPR. Now that you have an adequate understanding of the respiratory system, you can reverse-engineer the “Water Breathing” spell.
  1. The lamp oil? Is that like cooking oil, kerosene, white spirits or napalm?

Rendered animal fat.
    1. How much can I buy of it?

To quote a friend, “as much as your gay little hands can carry.”
  1. How does physics work in this world?

The sun is a literal god. Light is intrinsically linked with clerical magic, which suffers in the darkness. A non-insignificant portion of clerics work to spread light across the planet by way of an elaborate system of mirrors and portals.
    1. What makes the planets stay up? Are there planets? Is it elves?

There are many planets, held in place by Milla’s love. She might actually be an elf, it’s never come up.
    1. Can I play an elf from another planet?

I hate Spelljammer. So no.
    1. Does everything work like how we though it did in the past?

People thought a lot of things in the past. I would say that, barring magic, global scientific knowledge is on par with the early renaissance: a lot of the general stuff has been hashed out, but specific details are being unearthed all the time.
    1. Can I discover stuff and pass it off as a magic?

    1. Is possible to use the scientific process to organise the concepts of magic?

That’s how it’s been done so far. Archwizards in my setting are far closer to Paracelsus and Agrippa than they are to Gandalf and Prospero.
  1. Can I start with weapon hands?

I encourage and recommend it. The harder it is to disarm you.
    1. What about crab claws?

I actually have a huge interest in the history of prosthetics, so that sounds awesome!
    1. Can I play a crab with human hands?

A disfigured, escaped fish-person slave sounds like a great character idea.
    1. Can I have one as a pet?

A warlord with a disfigured fish-person slave sounds like a great character idea.
    1. Do they live on a different planet?

Nope, they’re right here.
    1. Can we go there?

  1. What cultures approve of cannibalism?

The hungry ones.
    1. What about if we are super rich? Aren't rich cannibals be default, I mean if you think about it?

The rich are ABSOLUTELY cannibals. Listen, I’ve got some books here you should check out...
    1. How is the class struggle here anyway? Is there a Karl Marx?

Ophelia Astera, leader of the revolution, seeks to overthrow the aristocracy with a rag-tag band of farmers, laborers, and mercenaries. She’s proven to be significantly more resilient than the crown expected.
    1. How receptive are people to the ideas of anarcho-syndicalism here?

Cornbread communism is alive and well in most minor towns.
  1. Can my character not be real, but a hallucination of another character?

Sure thing.
    1. But I still wanna be able to do stuff. What are the stats for that?

Okay, lets get freaky. For the most part, they will be the ones performing your actions. They just don’t know it yet. Actions that require you two to be in different places can be explained by coincidence: if you scout ahead and kill two enemies before the rest of the party gets there, it turns out they actually killed each other in a minor squabble. In the event that the other player is knocked unconscious or killed while you still live, you’re birthed from their dying consciousness like a beholder.
  1. Which is the rome but with lava fire country in this world?  

The paladins of the Church of Eternal Vigilance. Their citadel is situated on and around a gaping maw called the Cataract, which pours forth demons and chaos at an astonishing rate. Every day they mount expeditions down, and every night they fight what comes back up.
    1. What about the ice circus country? Can I have a pet from there?

The northern pole, known as Lolatea, is as close as you’d get. It’s a hub where merchants from the surface and hollow world trade. If you’re looking for strange fun, there’s no better place. And yes, they do sell pets.
  1. Can I invent an insect?

Magic solves a lot of these problems.
    1. As a player like right now I tell you an insect and you put it in the game?

    1. Or as a character?

It’s not unlikely that the insect already exists. There are a LOT of bugs in the world.
    1. Can my spells be insects that then exist in this world after I cast them?

An entomancer? Come aside with me, let’s hash this out in more detail.
    1. Can I play an insect who is actually a spell cast in this world?

I allow all manner of failed experiments, botched summonings, and cast-off abominations in my game.
    1. What about as a pet?

See above.
  1. Is there reverse fire?

Gross oversimplification: fire converts material into heat and light. So we’re looking at something that converts heat and light into materials, also known as a cleric.
    1. What about reverse water or earth?

Reverse water is Chaos: it eats away at all life and nurtures nothing. Reverse Earth is the hollow world of Halfenrir, accessible by deep tunnels at either pole.
    1. What do they wear there?

Because the smaller sun is always held in the dead center of the hollow world, mostly light and breezy clothing that doesn’t overheat much.
  1. How much money can I make inventing siege engines?

In a warzone? A killing.
    1. Can I play a siege engine? In what ways are animals used in siege engines?

I’ve already answered this.
  1. What is the most significant tree to the economy of the starting place?

Ash, because it doesn’t burn. Houses made of ash are a rare and valuable commodity.
    1. Is it really a tree or maidens stitched together?

It is a tree.
    1. If I play a maiden do I get spells or do people that worship me get spells but only if I'm mad at them?

Virginal magic is inherently misogynistic and has no place in my world! Unicorns will still flock to you though.