Thursday, August 18, 2016

Building a Mid-Level “Domain Game”

If there is one lesson I have learned from years of oodling around with domain-level play is that bounded, “lower-level” domain game activity is often way more gratifying and fun in a well-aged D&D-like campaign than playing a game of high-rolling rulers. 

The nature of D&D with its emphasis on micro-site exploration and granular personal advancement just plain makes it better suited and more enjoyable to play a petty wanna-be lordling clearing a fragile hold in a vast and hostile wilderness or the mayfly life of a warband chief than it is to be even a lowly baron stuck with the static play (and bean-counting) of rulership.

And I've found the more you can ratchet down the frame, the easier and more natural a fit it seems. A natural extension of this is creating more avenues for players to carve out power positions inside society well-below name level.

What follows is my first stab at instituting it in the Hill Cantons campaign. As always feedback and yakking about your own best practices appreciated.

Hill Cantons Social Advancement
At fourth level a player is eligible to worm/buy their way into local office broadly speaking: an entry-level position within the Canton government/legal system, a contrada society junior officer, guild journeyman (and this extends to a business such as owning an inn), magical college good standing member, mercenary officer, criminal society officer, etc. See below for a list of current open positions in Revoca Canton (a much larger list coming down the pike for Marlinko).

Co-creation and Creative Down-time. Players are encouraged to co-create details about both their position and the local branch of the institution. Players also have the option of creating elaborate downtime plans though mechanical adjudication/impact is completely at the GM's time/energy level for the week.

Obligations. PCs holding office are assumed to have to rote duty Obligations happening in downtime, see position listing for exact number of days. These obligations are often localized (as in the PC has to be around town). Failure to meet Obligations due to being away for adventuring/travel or incapacitated produce a small cumulative chance of 5% per day (rolled at the moment the PC resumes duty) for a demotion or loss of position. Before the roll is made the player can opt out of the roll by “Throwing Money at the Problem” (a “tax” of 1d6 x 100 gold suns).

Career Opportunity. Once a real world month or upon attainment of a new level, a player holding office may invoke a Career Opportunity (none of them involving opening mailing bombs for you) at the beginning of a session that they the player are in attendance. Opportunities provide the following:
1. The PC must sit out the session (again this must be a session the player is in).

2. The player must play a henchperson or hireling that session. Players lacking a decent henchperson can roll up a backup character at 60% their current exp. Henchmen and hirelings tied to the position (ie your underlings) can be played and gain a 20% bonus on exp in the session with 0-level hirelings earning 1st level at the end of a session.

3. Player invoking a CO rolls on either the Fabulous Prizes or Advancement chart. The die used is dependent on the Position listing. Players can add  +1 on their die by throwing in inducement money at 200 gold suns a pop (up to a +3/600 gold maximum).

Fabulous Prizes Chart
1-2 This Shit was Just Laying Around. Pick up 1d6+1 pieces of mundane equipment for free (value no more than 20 gold suns each).
3-5 Little Bites. Bribe money of 1d4 x 100 gold suns straight into your hot pocket.
6-8 The Clothes Make the Man. You have acquired an extra-ordinary piece of fashion worth 1d8 x 100 gold sun (and half the exp).
9-10 The Corner Office is Open? Player gains personal control of rooms or structure commiserate with position. A position inside a castle thus gaining a suite or a shrine priest is given a small hut. 1D4 x 100 exp for the new digs.
11-12 Rank Does Hath its Privileges. Major graft/bonus chance this time PC level x 300 gold suns.
13-15 My Precious. Magic item “falls off the cart”. Randomly determined or by GM discretion.
16+ Fuck Yeah. Roll Again Twice (ignoring this result).

Advancement Chart
1-2 That Bastard Pavol Out Maneuvered Me. Again. NPC rival (if none, gain one) gets the roll instead, no effect. +1 to you next Advancement roll due to the resentment inducement.
3-5 An Embarrassing Yet Hilarious Faux Pas. Your character is the in the news next week, strangely you still get +2 to your next Advancement roll. Otherwise no effect.
6-9 Missed My Window But Patient I Am. No effect, though add +3 to the next Advancement roll.
10-11 Oh I Suppose I Can Make Do. You are not promoted but you have made your current position much comfier, take a roll on the Fabulous Prizes chart at +2.
12-15 That is Clearly Under My Job Duties. Minor Expansion of an aspect of your character's current position and a +2 on your next Advancement roll. GM and player negotiation, typically this would be something like an extra hireling (or two) or bumping up to the next die for Advancement or Fabulous Prize rolls etc.
16-17 My Obvious Talent is Appropriately Awarded. You are either promoted to higher office (if open) or can take a Major Expansion of your current position.
18-19 How the Mighty Have Fallen. A rival is disgraced/demoted or the office above you is vacated through a death/demotion/promotion.
20+ The Right Place at the Right Time. You can choose any two results from the Advancement chart.

Current Entry-Level Offices in Revoca Canton
A number of mostly ceremonial and not-particularly lucrative--though relatively prestigious and open to quick advancement—positions with the Revoca Cantonal Rada (council) or Lady Draga's household retinue (the line being blurry since by right the Lady holds five of the Rada's nine seats) are currently open. 

Rada Prestidigitatior
Entry: Fourth level magic user or white wizard. Purchase of new tea set and party clothes, 400 gold suns.
Income: 5 gold suns per week stipend
Superior: Rada Thaumaturgist, Princess Zuzu
Hirelings: Buc, a talking honey-badger and scribe.
Obligation Days (per week): 1 (tea-party and discussion of agenda)
Fabulous Prizes Die: d8
Advancement Die: d8
Perks: A musty sigiled night-blue robe and pointy hat. Learning new spells from Zuzu at half rate. Access to the cantonal library (such as it is)

Brevet Lord-Consort
Entry: Fifth level and at least gentry pedigree (1,500 gold suns forgery). And the Lady must take at least a minimal shine to you. Gender strangely unspecific.
Income: 40 gold suns per week, spending money for baubles.
Superior: the Lady Draga (duh)
Hirelings: Himek your personal valet who might be stealing from you.
Obligation Days (per week): 2 (date night and ceremonial duties)
Fabulous Prizes Die: 1d6
Advancement Die: 1d12 (promotion to official engagement and Lord-Consort if male)
Perks: fancy velvet doublet with the Lady's monogram, signet ring with small container of snuff. Sugar (though of a platonic and proper sort).

Haruspex of the Leshy Contra-Movements
Entry: Fourth level and a spell caster. 500 gold suns worth of slop bucket contents to your immediate supervisor.
Income: 5 gold suns per week stipend
Superior: Cantonal Patriarch, Father Hog/Sister Sow
Hirelings: Mu'u [whistle-whistle noise] the Xom (old, inscrutable yet unpleasant like much of his race).
Obligation Days (per week): 1 (entrails reading at Rada meeting)
Fabulous Prizes Die: d8
Advancement Die: d8
Perks: pile of salt, sacrificial animals, the Vertz blade (a wicked, flanged copper-hilted dagger, +2 vs. Old Pahr spirits of the forest)

Friday, August 12, 2016

Contest and Video Review of Fever-Dreaming Marlinko

A rather nice and thorough video review of Fever-Dreaming Marlinko by Talking About Games. Here's the fun part, the host is doing a contest based on my dumb Robo-Dwarf class presented in Marlinko  with a chance to win a copy of the book.  Contest deadline is August 12th (later today, so get entries in.)

Here are the contest particulars: "Send me a youtube message or write a comment below saying why it's a good thing and a bad thing to be a Robo-Dwarf."

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Reviews and News of the Hill Cantons

There have been a number of interesting reviews of things Hill Cantons popping up here and there as I finish up the last pages of the last installment in the SUD series, What Ho Frog Demons. John Bell of Retired Adventurer blog fame did a rather nice (and first) overview of all of the published products and the context of the Hill Cantons as a setting. Needles of Swords & Stitchery ran through some interesting usages of the recently released Misty Isles of theEld. And here's a nice, long video review of the Dunes themselves.

And Now the News from the Hill Cantons...
The ritual words have been intoned this most dolorous of days:
Cover the sun dials, cut off the herald, prevent the pelgranes from hooting with a juicy bone. Silence the balalaika and with muffled drum, bring out the golden coffin, let the mourners come.”

Our dear Overking, Raginmud LVII “the Effervescent”, alas has been called to the all-consuming fiery orgasm of the Sun Lord. For the next month all residents of our realm – on pain of spoken poetry and mutilation – are required to follow the sumptuary dictates of the Orichalcum Bull: the dyeing of all exposed skin black, the donning of mustard-yellow sackcloth robes and the wearing of the four-cornered hat of mourning (tassels optional).

And so the great political succession game of the Bull begins. Leading heirs to be considered by the 27 Elector-Lords Temporal, Spiritual and Arcane are reported to be:
1. Uberduke Heimlic of Popradu, the Ragimund's 11th (legtimized) son and leader of the Steeplejacker royal party whose program includes aggressive expansion of the corelands, heavy regulation/taxation of the casting of spells greater than that of the second rank, returning to the platinum standard and a moderately liberal social policy on inter-species amorous activity (with a sub-plank recognizing dirt-gnome life-partnership).

2. Wildgraf Bodegast the Teal, Ragimund's youngest brother and now presumptive head of the Grimbibber party whose program is ostensibly secret but said to include strict fiscal discipline and an ambitious program entitled An End to All Things.

3. Under-Prince Yohann-Pavol Legitimus, the sole issue of Ragimund and his Queen-Consort. The decadent and quite aged prince has been reportedly press-ganged into service as head of the of the ad hoc Lisping Norker noble coalition whose stated policy seeks to change “nothing about the world but the sheets on the royal bed.”

4. Koza the Regimental Goat of the Great Nemec Company of the Black Army. It is unclear what this seemingly immortal goat's political positions are—and which group of Elector-Lords sponsored him. A clear favorite among the common class.

Meanwhile in lesser news, 49,000 residents of eastern Maarb were said to have been killed in a earthquake in that Southlands country yesterday.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Reverse Centaur: Another Dumb Hill Cantons Class

The Revoca Canton party (the junior varsity team of the campaign) have found a solid, if dim-witted group of allies out in the mythic woods in a tribe of Reverse Centaurs. Rescuing the horseheaded humanoids a couple weeks back from the ravages of a two-headed giant (admittedly one that the party themselves released into the world) allowed them in time-honored campaign tradition to “unlock” a new dumb Hill Cantons class. Big thanks to Gus L for co-writing the class. 
On the Making of Horselings
Long ago in the Land of Ostpahr dwelt Kůň and Otokar, brothers two. Fair of head and long in leg the two so loved horses as to eschew the company of their own wives. All morn and to the eve, the brothers mounted and rode their corral of mares. They mounted and rode them in the tall green waves of the steppe grass and mounted and rode them on swelling ridges high. Mounted...why does thou giggle so? In that day they were sedulous and attentive and use to the practice of daily equestrian drill...

One day in the summer high First Pavol, a trader of horseflesh, came to them with a comely named Hrebec. Shining and black the steed stood tall in shoulder and wide in breadth, his eyes were as two flashing rubies and his mane tassels of purest gold. 

Said the humble horse merchant: “Great and mighty lords of the pastures, king of kings Svat the Four-Faced called on me in my slumber and spoke to me saying that I will have his divine favor if I make a free gift of that I hold most dear. This horse I hold most dear, more to me than my own wife, who helpeth me not in the mounting. I give him unto thee.”

The brothers praised Pavol for his piety and each other for their good fortune and made ready to mount Hrebec. But neither could allow the other to be the first to ride the horse. Both Kůň and Otokar drew ire. Hard words came forth from their mouths and the two drew forth their long blades. With mighty twinned swings they were both cleaved in two. 

Their life spilling from them on the rocky soil, great and likable Radhost took pity on the dying brothers and working deftly split Hrebec. With skillful hands the god bound the torso and head of Kůň to the body of the horse and Hrebec's stately head to the body of Otokar and the two were made whole and wholly other.

And so it was that the two ancient races, the centaurs and reverse centaurs, came to live in the world of Zem...

Reverse Centaur
Requirements: STR 13, INT 11 or less
Prime Requisite: STR
Hit Dice: 1d10
Maximum Level: 9

Proudly sporting the heads of horse-kind on their chiseled wide-shouldered otherwise human bodies, stand the proud, strong (though somewhat thick) children of Otokar, the Reverse Centaur.

Reverse Centaurs can carry on their strong backs an abnormally large amount of gear, gaining +3 STR in carrying weight (up to 19) in systems that use STR for encumbrance. Reverse Centaurs move at 120' round unless they are at heavy encumbrances. Reverse centaurs possess an innate “horse sense” allowing them to move vegetation finding trails and hidden paths and will always safely find way home after flight with no memory of escape route.

RCs are sadly also prone to severe panics and must roll 3d6 (or more if circumstance warrant) vs. INT to avoid fleeing if an ally dies, take half hp in damage, or of exposed to lightning to avoid stampeding in sheer terror. They make another check after one turn of flight to return to adventure or will wander to camp/home.

Reverse Centaurs fight and save as fighters of the same level. Their cumbersome tops and proneness to an affliction they call “saddle sore” leads them to only be able to wear leather armor. They can use all weapons other than lassos, a weapon profoundly and irrationally hated by the creatures.

Reverse Centaur Level Progression
Hit Dice (1d10)

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

High Summer in the Hill Cantons

And now the News from the Hill Cantons...
Prepare the ebon-black skin dyes and four-cornered hats of mourning dear listeners. For it has come to pass that our dear Overking lies mute and gravely ill in The Great Chamber. Now is the time to put away treasonous borderlands talk that His August Majesty failed to acquire a single level in that arbitrary system of personal power gauging popular in the Cantons and unite to help the Lords Temporal, Spiritual and Arcane in their sacred roles as Electors should Raginmud LVIII be called to the fiery orgasm of the Sun Lord.

High Summer has opened a wave of occurrences large and small in Revoca Canton. Strange lights and whoops have been heard from the great mesa in the southwestern hills. Rogue Vlkodlaks have begun spurning the comforts of the “strategic hamlet” they have been generously provided by cantonal authorities and even taken to raiding outlying farmsteads. Lady Draga "Twitterlight's" recent 18th birthday has dredged up the usual round of greatly begrudged suitors. And visibly shaken reverse centaurs have even been seen at the weekly town fair begging for scraps and mumbling about a “dangerous snake giant ” up in the hills.

Pelgrane trappers in the hills north of Marlinko speak of a bizarre encounter with what appears to be a mutant variation of the sweet-tongued and terrifying deodand. Arrows were fired at a lavender-skinned humanoid in a plain harness who had apparently consumed one of their party members (albeit one not beloved due to his pugilistic and tedious theories about aesthetics). The creature was able to freeze the trappers for a full minute with a cerebral monologue before it made its escape, stating: “I am about a humble creature of thought of the great tribe of Zenodads. Yon arrows that you fired at me. What is the nature of its flight? Surely they failed to strike at me because all objects when they occupy an equal space are at rest. But yet when they are in motion are still occupying such a space at any moment. Therefore those flying arrow are motionless and failed to strike me.”

Mulmak the Unnicknamed, the wildly successful and seemingly unkillable local man-at-arms who has risen to a captaincy in the Feral Shore colony, was in Marlinko last week tersely and briefly speaking at a gala celebrating the opening of his new charity, The Beneficant [sic] Mutual Aid League for the Mild. The new charity house will help aid those afflicted and stigmatized by excessive modesty, a little known yet troublingly tenacious malady in self-aggrandizing Marlinko cultural life.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Pursuit Rules for D&D

Given the frequency (and wisdom) of player-characters deciding in D&D games to run the fuck away, the game's IGO/UGO movement kind of falls down on having a satisfying way to adjudicate a foot chase. With the previous Hill Cantons session on “pause” with a dual snake-headed giant in hot pursuit of the party as it madly ran out of a lush pocket dimension behind a dungeon mural, I found myself scrambling to come up with something that would spice it up.

Fortunately my Hydra partner, Robert Parker had come up with some pretty nifty and suspenseful ones for his Savage World of Krul campaign and with the help of fellow-player Cole we hammered out a set of rules to use for the session. So here's the amended set of Robert's Rules.

Pursuit Rules
Each round of pursuit is considered to be an abstracted partial normal round. All movement is random (see chart below) and simultaneous.

1. Movement during a Pursuit. A character or creature rolls 1d6 for each 30' of normal movement. Each pip thrown is worth five feet of movement (rounding up to the next 10 foot increment if using a 10-foot gridded map). That's the total maximum distance covered in the round.

Normal Movement Number of Dice

A pursuer ending a round five feet away or less may make an attack.

2. Fighting or Other Actions During Pursuit. Making an attack, closing a door or other similarly lengthy action reduces the above movement die roll by two dice (making 60' foot movement impossible, 90' one die only and so on). Spellcasting, mapping and other action taking concentration is not permitted unless the character opts to end fleeing or pursing.

3. Monster Gives Up. A monster chasing must make a morale check for each 60' increment it falls behind after the first round. If the morale check is failed the creature makes a doleful or bored noise and gives up the chase.