Category Archives: Game Design

Shield Feats for PF 2E

Okay I’m at Gen Con, but I can’t help but want to play with some of the most interesting new rules of the  Pathfinder Second Edition Core Rulebook. Shields!

Here are some new shield-focused feats. I am still trying to decide how I want to present some of the new information PF2 feats need in my blog format, so here’s a first try.

Angle Shield[General][Feat 1]

Prerequisites Shield Block
You can angle your shield to deflect part of the force of a powerful blow. When you use the Shield Block feat, your shield takes 5 points less damage than normal (minimum 0).

Duck Down[General][Feat 3]

[Reaction]
Trigger: When you have your shield raised and are forced to make a saving throw.
You can duck down behind your shield, making it more difficult for spells and special abilities to target and effect you. You gain a +1 bonus to the triggering saving throw. You are no longer considered to have your shield raised.

Knock Aside [General][Feat 1]

When you are wielding a shield, you gain a +2 bonus to the Disarm, Force Open, Shove, and Trip actions of Athletics.

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Ouroboros & Oubliettes RPG

This is barely a game. It’s more a way to track cooperative storytelling than a tactical exercise. It works only if everyone playing wants it to work, and is willing to overlook when it doesn’t work well.

Oroborous & Oubliettes

The Ouroboros is the dragon that encircles the world, unseen but everpresent, and survives by consuming itself. Agents of the Ouroboros wish to unleash it to consume the world, which will destroy everything with a few generations, but give those who release it vast power until that time.

This has been tried many times before, often by those who cannot be killed, or using objects that cannot be destroyed. In desperation, these things are placed in oubliettes, dark holes that go deep into the world’s crush, and thus deep into Oroboros itself, in the hopes of burying them forever.

But nothing is buried forever. When a new threat arises, the player characters must seek to stop it, often by delving into an oubliette to recover some lore or object that can aid them, or to beat some group of Ouroboros cultists from getting it first.

Making a Character

Describe your character in 2-3 sentences, between 10-40 total words.

Write down one thing you are good at.

Write down one thing you’re bad at.

Write down one important thing you have.

Write down one thing you want to accomplish.

Mechanics

The Game master sets a scene, the players say what their characters do, in order they are sitting at the table, and then th GM tells them if their actions automatically succeed (so extremely simple things), automatically fail (for impossible things), or are handled by a test.

Each scene is clearly defined as casual or dangerous when introduced. Casual scenes have no consequences. A casual scene can become dangerous, in which case the GM says so.

In a dangerous scene, there were normally 3 chances for each character to take an action. Actions aren’t blow-by blow things like “I stab a scorpion bandit,” but more like “I attack the bandits, trying to drive them back out of the mine shaft.”

A number of successful actions equal to the number of players but less than double that number is a draw–players ended up neither better off nor worse at the end of the scene.

A number of successful actions equal to at least double the number of players but less than x2.5 that number is a win. The players make progress on the adventure without any major setbacks.

Successes at least equal to x2.5 the number of players is a BIG win. The players proceed, and get some kind of permanent improvement.

Successes less than the number of players is a failure. A number of players equal to the difference between the successes they needed for a draw and those they got must take a wound. A wounded character must either give up one of their bonuses until she healed, or write down a new thing you are bad at (which the player got to pick) as a scar that is kept kept until the character succeeds at a task using that trial.

BIG wins might give special equipment (standard equipment is assumed), or new allies, or new abilities, or anything else the GM and players agree on.

For each action that needs a trial, a player rolls 1d6, and a result of 4, 5, or 6 is a success and 1, 2, or 3 is a failure. If the trial involves something you are good at or have an important thing for you get to roll two dice and succeed if either is 4, 5, or 6, while if it’s a thing you are bad at you have to roll two dice and get 4, 5, or 6 for both to succeed.

The Campaign

A typical campaign is 9-14 scenes. If all the characters end up with wounds, and at least one has two or more wounds, the campaign is a failure. Every 2-3 scenes, there should be a way for one player to make progress on the thing they want to accomplish.

For now, that’s it.

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“Three If By Air”

Okay, this is one run at “Three if By Air, the Game of Revolutionary War Air Combat.”
Written by Owen K.C. Stephens, Illustrated by Stan!

The final may play nothing like this.

MAP

Play on a hex grid at least 22 x 36. Each player sprinkles a handful of coins (no more than 20, no less than 5) across the grid for terrain. These represent things sticking up into the air–steeples, treetops, flagpoles, and so on. (Look it’s the 1700s, You are fighting HIGH in the air!) Center each coin in a hex. If an attack you be traced through a hex with a coin, you can’t make that attack unless an ability says otherwise.

PLAYERS

Players — 2          Units — 6 each
Players — 3          Units — 4 each
Players — 4          Units — 3 each
Players — 5 or 6  Units — 2 each

Each player is British, or American. In 2, 4, and 6 player games, make teams of an even number of players. In 3 or 5 player games, it’s a free-for all (fog of war, and all that — the final game may include more factions such as Canadian Moose Dirigibles, Tidewater Steam Gliders, and Pogo-Armed Yetis, for all I know).

British players may have British or Hessian troops. American players may have American or French troops, but cannot have more French than American.

Make your units before play. You get 10 points. Divide them among these 5 attributes, which are used with combat characteristics, no more than 4 in any one attribute.

Attributes
Offense: Used with ATTACK.
Defense: Used with EVADE.
Toughness: Used with HEALTH.
Speed: Used with MOVE.
Accuracy: Used with RANGE.
.
COMBAT CHARACTERISTICS
ATTACK: For each attack, roll 1d6 and add your Offense. If the value exceeds your target’s Evade, the difference is the damage you do.
EVADE: Each time you are attacked, roll 1d6 an add your Defense to see if you are damaged.
HEALTH: You can take damage equal to 2 + double your Toughness value. If damage would reduce you below this number, that unit is removed from play.
MOVE: Determines both movement order and how far you can go. Each round you can move a number of hexes equal to 1d6 + your Speed, to a maximum of 7. If you choose not to ATTACK, you may move an additional 1d6 hexes in phase 2. You can always move less than your maximum (including moving 0).
RANGE: Each round at the beginning of Phase 2 you roll 1d6 -3, and add your Accuracy. On that Phase you can attack foes a number of hexes away equal to this number, to a minimum RANGE of 1.

UNITS

If you are AMERICAN, your units are Lightingrod Class War Kites. If on your first attack against a target your attack roll is a natural 6 (a 6 shows on the d6), you may also attack a second unit if it is within 6 hexes.

If you are BRITISH, your units as Beefeater Rocket Cavalry. You gain a +1 to attacks made against a target in an adjacent hex.

If you are FRENCH, your units are Hot Air Balloon Dragoons. When one of your units takes damage, it moves 1 hex in a direction of your choice.

If you are Hessian, your units are Trebuchet Infantry, lobbed into the air by ground forces each round. You may only move in a straight line each turn, and gain +1 ATTACk and +1 EVADE.

PLACEMENT

Each player picks one side of the map to begin on, in secret. All sides are then all revealed. If two or players pick the same side, and there is a side with fewer players having picked it, the players each roll a d6 (rerolling ties) and the one who rolls highest decides to stay or move 1 side clockwise to the nearest side with fewer players. After that, each other player in descending order of die rolls must  move 1 side clockwise to the nearest side with fewer players until there is not a side of the map with fewer players assigned to it.

The each player rolls 3d6 and totals them. In descending order of those die rolls, each player places 1 unit within 3 inches of their side of the map. Proceed through this order until all units are placed.

PLAY
Phase 1.
Everyone rolls their MOVE. The unit with the highest move may choose to go first, or wait and go last. If two units have a tied MOVE, they may defer to one another, or write down their movement and reveal them simultaneously to move simultaneously.

The unit with the next highest MOVE then decides to go immediately, or go last (or next-to-last if the highest MOVE is going last).
Proceed until everyone has moved.

Phase 2.

In order of MOVE, each unit rolls its RANGE, then attacks or moves another 1d6 hexes.
Proceed through all units, then the round is over, and go to Phase 1 of the next round.

RETREAT

If a player ever goes 3 rounds in a row without any unit making an ATTACK against a target in range, that player’s units are considered to have no taste for battle and retreat, and are removed from play.

VICTORY

If you have eliminated more than half of an opponent’s units, that opponent is eliminated and any remaining units are removed of play.

One side wins when all opposing sides have had all their units removed from play.

RPG Seed: Journeyfolk

This is the seed of an idea. The barest hint of a setting, a slight blush of a game mechanic.

The Setting

There are great and mighty heroes of the land, movers and shakers who can face down armies, raise mountains, and challenge the gods themselves.

These titans are busy. Perhaps they must oppose the forces of Khernobog. But for whatever reason, while these paragons can do any twenty things they wish, there are always 100 more things to do.

You have been apprenticed to one of these mighty beings for years, cleaning weapons and cooking meals and cleaning up after familiars. But now, you are a journeyfolk. You are trusted to actually take care of some minor things on your own, dealing with some of of the 100 problems your great and powerful patron doesn’t have time for so they are freed to tackle other issues.

And if one of these lesser problems kills you, that will prove it’s important enough to draw your patron’s direct attention.

The Rules

When you attempt something you might fail at, you make a roll. Every die that turns up as a 5 or more on that roll is a success. For typical things, one success means you have accomplished your task. Difficult things, or those actively opposed by others, might require 2 or more successes at once. Long, complex things might require many successes, earned over time.

Every turn, you get three action dice. These are normally d6s. (For our purposes these are colored green, though that’s not required by the rules). Anything you do on your turn must have at least one action die attached to it. If it’s something you can’t fail at (walk across the room), you just expend the die and take the action. If it’s an action you could fail, you roll the action die to see if you succeed.

You also have other dice, like Physcial dice (attribute dice are blue), Combat dice (skill dice are white), and Fire Spell dice (magic dice are red). These start at a d6 each. When you expend an action die to attempt something, you can add these dice if they are applicable.

You can keep adding dice to see if you succeed, until you roll a “1” on one or more dice, at which point you have to stop. However, you can only use each die you have one per turn, and every action must at least one action die attached to it.

You can spend experience points to buy up the value of your dice. Buying up skill dice is cheap (they only apply to a limited number of rolls), buying up attribute dice is more expensive (they apply to broad categories — in fact there may only be three attributes, like Mental, Physical, and Spiritual), and buying up action dice are extremely expensive (as they can apply to any action).

When you take damage, you have to degrade your dice. I’m not sure how yet. Maybe just your action dice degrade. They can go down to a d4, which can’t *succeed* at a task, but you can still expend those action dice to do things (you’ll just have to expend additional dice as well, if you are attempting a thing you could fail at).

Damage might be broken into categories, like physical (wounds), mental (confusion or insanity), social (reputation), and spiritual (possession, demoralization). If so, engaging in a public debate can’t result in physical damage (unless things escalate to violence), but might result in you taking damage to a Diplomacy or Mental Attribute die.

Your patron is also a die, but one you can only use out of combat, and which has a recharge time measured in days or weeks, rather than a turn. Need to talk your way past a guard? Invoke your patron’s name. Want a curse removed? get your patron to send you the materials needed to do so. Want to have a band of mercenaries guard a town? Ask your patron to pay for them.

The more often your patron helps journeyfolk like you, the fewer resources they can dedicate to help on each occasion. Your patron die begins at a d10, with a one week cooldown. You can move it up to a d12 with a month cooldown or a d20 with a season cooldown; or a d8 with a day cooldown.

This obviously isn’t a playable system yet, but it’s the nugget from which a game could be carved out.

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Making d20 Creatures Interesting: Phase Venom

In general, d20 games are more fun if the foes have abilities that require PCs to make interesting decisions.

Ideally these abilities can be easily figured out (perhaps after being experienced a time or two), follow an internal logic, and force the players to try new things without being frustrating or overpowered.

For example:

Phase venom. A creature with phase venom is out of phase with all standard planes of existence. It takes only 50% of the damage inflicted on it, and it only 50% likely to be effected by nondamaging effects.

All the creature’s attacks infect targets injured with phase venom, causing them to be more in-phase with it, and less with the normal universe. Such targets do full damage to the phase venom creature and have nondamaging effects affect it, normally, but receive 50% less healing from allies not at the same phase, and each round are 50% less likely in that round to be affected by non-damage based abilities (such as beneficial spells) cast by allies not at the same phase. They also take only 50% damage from creatures not out-of-phase, and are only 50% likely to be affected by such foe’s nondamaging effects.

A target of phase venom becomes fully in-phase with their normal reality after one minute.

Now, this makes a creature very resistant to PC attacks, but it also gives them a way to make it less resistant, at the cost of potentially being more cut off from ally support. OTOH, if the phase venom creature is used in a fight with creatures that don’t have that ability, a PC that becomes out-of-phase is actually harder for some foes to hurt… which may cause them to target in-phase foes.

None of this is overpowering, but it adds a new element to an encounter, forcing PCs to decide who is best to face off against each kind of foe.

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The Bottomless Tombs, Area 2

You can find the introduction, map, and index of the Bottomless Tombs here!

Area 2: The First Passage

Thirty feet down the shaft is the first passage, off the south wall. When the heroes are free to pay attention to it (likely after killing the centipedes in Area 1, though who knows how PCs will react to a vertical battle?), and assuming they have a light or can see in the dark, read or paraphrase the following.

An opening in the southern wall reveals a small space, no more than five feet wide and six feet tall. A 1-foot ledge sticks out into the shaft forming a narrow balcony that is part of that space’s floor. The opening is no more than a large hole in the shaft’s wall, with a broken door sitting in a stone frame 5 feet in. The floor is littered with bits of broken pottery, wood, and dirt, and the walls are stained by dark splashes of color.

More than one adventuring party has left a guard here over the years, and just left their refuse behind. The stains can be identified with a DC 10 Knowledge (dungeonering), or (nature) check to be a mix of water stains from when rain gets into the holw and old ichor, maybe from large vermin.

If more than one Small or Medium creature tries to fit within the space, they must squeeze.

The door was once fine preserved wood and brass, but has long since been smashed in and the brass fittings and hinges removed. A careful examination allows a DC 15 Perception check to realize the door was not designed to ever be opened once it was closed, and it had a trap built into the wall, though it is also long since gone.

The doorway leads to a 10-foot-long, 5-foot wide corridor, which ends in a portcullis. Read or paraphrase the following:

A portcullis blocks passage any further south. Made of rusted iron, it runs the width of the corridor, and its spiked bards set into small holes in the floor. It is covered in worn runs, and shows obvious signs of having been battered and hammered on, and one bar is bent outward toward you, making a space roughly the size of a cat. Just past the portcullis is a cross-corridor, running east and west. A lever, also of rusted iron, sits in the wall of that corridor, currently in the ‘down’ position. A rotting bag of sand is attached to the leaver by a frayed rope.

If you lift the leaver, the portcullis goes up. The last group of adventurers here tied a sandbag to the lever so it would be pulled down after they left. There’s no easy way to use a rope or similar flexible device to pull up on the lever from the north side of the portcullis.

The portcullis can be lifted by a DC 24 Strength check (so an 18 Strength character can do it by taking 20, though this is loud and time consuming). A Small creature can get through the bent-out bars with a DC 18 Escape Artist check, though failure results in 1 hp of damage from jagged edges. The portcullis has 8 hardness and 30 hp per bar, so a group could just hammer on it and hope to break open a bigger hole.

A DC 15 Disable Device check allows a character to find a way to trigger the lever, and a DC 15 Engineering check can be used to rig a staff or similar device to flip the lever u by using the crossbars on the portcullis as a leverage point, though this also requires a successful DC 15 Strength check.

Developments: The louder the PCs are, the more likely it is they draw out something from Area 3.

Design Philosophy: It’s a dungeon, so it should reward people ready for traps and mechanisms… but also not prevent groups without such preparation from getting to the fun part if they work at it. So this has lots of solutions, and is mostly about the players deciding how they want to handle such things.
It also establishes that doors here may have traps, which will matter later, with being a gotcha moment for players.

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The Bottomless Tombs, Staging Area

We introduced the Bottomless tombs, and their map, yesterday.

Now, it’s time to get to some adventure!

The Top of the Tomb

The first issue is reaching the shaft, and examine the areas around it before the PCs even think of climbing down the the shaft into the tomb and reaching the first side-passage. As the PCs reach the top of the tomb shaft, read or paraphrase the following:

The top of the shaft is a square hole in the ground, roughly 15-feet to a side. Dirt, sod, and bits of refuse are piled up around the hole, and the shaft itself is choked with long tree roots, clumps of matted grass, and a tangle or what seem to be old and broken woodwork and rope rigging. It doesn’t look particularly stable, but it does offer numerous handholds. Light doesn’t penetrate more than 40-50 feet into the shaft, but there is certainly no sign of a bottom to it within that range.

An iron ring, showing just some signs of rust, is looped through a large wooden stake driven into the ground 5 feet to the north of the hole. Not far from that sits a well-defined fire pit, ringed in stones and filled with a dense layer of cold ash and charcoal. Bits of cloth, broken glass, chipped whetstones, and strips of rawhide are scattered about, more than half-buried in the grass. Old woven grass mats are laying on the ground in a semicircle around the firepit.

The firepit, mats, and refuse are the remains of numerous camps adventurers have made here over the past several decades, thought the gnomes who came through a few weeks ago didn’t use any of it.

Hazards: The mats are long-since riddled with lice, and anyone who sleeps on one must make a DC 10 Fortitude save or be at -1 to all Dexterity ability and skill checks from itching until they are deloused with a DC 10 Craft (alchemy) or Heal check. A DC 10 Survival check reveals the mats are infested, and can use smoke from a fire in the firepit to cleanse them.

Treasure: One sunrod, three pitons, a cold iron dagger, and 2 cp can be found with careful examination of the old campsite and refuse around the shaft. Each can be found with it’s own DC 10 Perception check, and an additional item found in one attempt for ever 5 the check exceeds that base DC.

Developments: Animals and outlaws both check this area from time to time, looking for food or valuables. They don’t make any dedicated searches, so any effort to bury or conceal items is successful. however, if tents, or mules, or food stores are left unattended and unguarded at the old campsite, there is a 1-in-12 chance each day that either a wolf of a brigand comes along and raids obvious materials.

Design Philosophy: It’s not that common for 1st level characters to get much use out of Survival (especially in dungeon-focused games), or from searching areas that aren’t obviously dangerous but that detail-oriented adventurers should want to check out.

This also already gives characters a reason to be happy to have an animal companion or basic hireling. If anyone (or, within limits, anything) watches their stuff they can safely use the old campsite as a base of operations. Neither wolves nor brigands will risk fighting for trail rations or spare blankets, though a guard left behind can let PCs know that someone has been prowling around after a week or more of time watching.

Low-level characters also often don’t get much benefit out of resistance to disease, or the ability to make basic alchemy and Heal checks. Lice isn;t life-threatening, but that’s the point,. Characters can begin to learn ways in which the game world is dangerous without risking having am arm drop off or becoming a mummy.

Not yet, anyway…

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Five Years at Paizo

I have now been a full-time employee of Paizo for five years.

It both seems like it’s been much, much longer than that, and like it can’t possible have been that long.

I was hired to be a developer for the Pathfinder Modules line, and that lasted for all of a single module (Plunder & Peril), which was outlined and ordered before I showed up, written by awesome authors, and which both Paizo Editor-in-Chief at the time Wes Schneider and the entire Paizo editorial staff had to do a lot of hand-holding to get me through it. Then I moved over to help with the Player Companion line, which I eventually took over. The first book I was able to propose, outline, assign, develop, and shepherd through the whole process was Dirty Tactics Toolbox, and it remains something I am proud of. I developed or helped develop 24 titles in that line, covering a little more than two years. Again, it both feels like it was longer than that, and like I couldn’t possible have been doing that for two years.

During that time I was also the host for Paizo’s RPG Superstar contest, was the Freeport Developer for Green Ronin (and yes, that got complicated, and I appreciate more than I can ever express the trust both companies placed in me), a blogger, the publisher for Rogue Genius Games, a developer and then producer for Rite publishing, a freelance writers developer and consultant, the person who handled most of the development blogs for the Emerald Spire (leading to my “Into the Emerald Spire ongoing multi-year Con game, which will be played at the 6th PaizoCon in  row come next month), a seminar attendee, and as much as possible an advocate for the causes and people I thought needed allies.

(And as a ridiculously long parenthetical aside, I wish I had written something like this for my five-year anniversary with Green Ronin, who have been a loving and supportive family in ways I never would have predicted, and for Rogue Genius Games, which is still my baby. But those milestones hit at times when I didn’t have the words. I don’t want to take away from my main point, but nothing in the past five years has been simple, and I need some folks to know I love and appreciate them at a special level. Thanks Ronins. Thanks Stan! I would not have survived the past 60 months without you all.)

For five years, Paizo has been the focus of my social, professional, and financial life. I met new people. I made, and in a few cases lost to tragedy, close friends. I even had a “five year plan.” I thought I was on a specific path, and thought I knew where that would take me.

Then, Starfinder.

Which I never saw coming.

First the pre-game work, then the core rulebook, and now the work as Starfinder Design Lead. I’ve followed, collaborated, tried to lead, grown, and I hope helped others to grow. I am grateful for how amazing and talented all the people who work on Starfinder in all capacities are, and I am truly proud of a universe I have helped to begin. I look forward to seeing it evolve, especially watching the amazing things other people are doing to make it so much better than I imagined.

On the journey to be here, this arbitrary benchmark which has me writing passionately at 3:30am (and not at all for the first time), one moment sticks out in my mind.

In early 2014, on a phone call with Erik Mona about whether I would seriously give up the life of being a full-time freelancer in the extremely cheap and well-known environments of Oklahoma to take a full-time job for Paizo, he asked me why I wanted the job.

“I want to grow. I want to be around people who do work I admire. I want to meet new people, learn new skills, and do new things. I love Pathfinder, and I love Paizo. I want to help both of those things be better, and I can’t imagine a better place for me to be around successful people who can help me be better.”

It was, Erik said at the time, a great answer.

And, it has proven to be a great success in terms of making me a better person.

The past five years has certainly not been without its challenges, frustrations, pains, fights, and failures. But especially on the my year anniversary, I want to take special care to thank EVERYONE I have ever worked with since I joined Paizo, from managers and publishers and the warehouse crew and art department, editors, designers, developers, and owners, to freelancers and the community and Superstar contestants, for being so helpful, and welcoming, and awesome.

I look forward to the next five years, and all the challenges and opportunities they will bring.

Owen K.C. Stephens,

Starfinder Design Lead, Paizo, Inc.

Alcoholism, Therapy, & Gaming

My father was an alcoholic. He went to rehab, once, in the 1990s and toward the end of that process we had ‘family week,’ where the whole family came in for group therapy and counseling. So the other members of my family and I went, and spent a week there. It was a bit like summer camp, but the activities were figuring out how badly screwed up you were and crying instead of archery and canoeing.

While there for family week, I met a young woman who had been badly abused. I did not get, and if I am honest did not at the time want, any details of what she had been through. She was there for her own addiction. I either never knew what she was addicted to, or I have long since forgotten. She wasn’t in any of the group or therapy sessions I was in with my father and family.

She saw some of my RPG books I had brought with me, and was fascinated by them. She understood the concept immediately but, faced with multiple books of hundreds of pages each for just a few games (I know I had Rolemaster with me, I may have also had some D&D and Champions), she claimed that she “wasn’t smart enough” to play RPGs.

I assured her she was. I promised I could show her how the concept worked and we could play a game, with just a few of sentences of explanation, and three sentences of rules. She agreed.

“Tell me about your character.”

She loved rabbits. She wanted to know if she could be a rabbit, I told her she could be anything she wanted. She decided she was an anthropomorphic rabbit scavenger in a post-apocalyptic world who hunted (and killed) carnivores, and defended herbivores.

I gave her a 3×5 index card.

“Write down one thing you are good at.”

She wrote down she was good at creeping.

“Write down one thing you’re bad at.”

She wrote she was bad at keeping calm.

“Write down one important thing you have.”

I had meant one object she possessed. She wrote she had ‘limitless determination.’ This game was for her. I was not about to tell her she’d done it wrong. Limitless determination it was.

“Write down one thing you want to accomplish.”

She wanted to find a safe place to bring orphan bunnies.

I gave her a penny.

“I’ll describe situations, and you tell me what you want your character to do. For anything you try you flip a coin – your action succeeds on heads and fails on tails. If you try something you are good at or have an important thing for you get to flip twice and succeed if either is heads, while if it’s the thing you are bad at you have to flip twice and get heads for both to succeed. That’s it.”

She asked if, since she was a rabbit, she could succeed on tails, and fail on heads. That seemed super-obvious, and I agreed.

And so the “Hares & Holocausts” game was born. Getting to flip twice and winning if either was tails was a bonus. Having to flip twice and winning only if both were tails was a trial.

We played 3-4 times over that week, mostly at lunch and once one morning after breakfast. I borrowed heavily from Gamma World, Rock & Rule, Watership Down, and Seven Samurai. Her character never got a name, and she didn’t seem to care. I thought of her as “The Rabbit Without a Name,” who wore a poncho, and assumed the setting used an Ennio Morricone soundtrack.

Each scene was clearly defined as casual or dangerous. Casual scenes had no consequences. In a dangerous scene, there were normally 3 chances for her to take an action. Actions weren’t blow-by blow things like “I stab a scorpion bandit,” but more like “I attack the bandits, trying to drive them back out of the mine shaft.” One successful action out of the three was a draw–she ended up neither better off nor worse at the end of the scene. Two successes was a win. Three was a BIG win, and she got some kind of permanent improvement.

Zero successes was a failure.

If she failed at a scene, she took a wound which meant she had to either give up one of her bonuses until she healed, or write down a new trial (which she got to pick) as a scar she kept until she succeeded at a task using that trial. I remember she choose a scar at least once,  getting a cut through her left eye so she got the trial “Bad at seeing things to my left.”

She picked up a katana, with a BIG win, which she got as a bonus she could use once per combat, because I wanted to introduce the idea of equipment. She also gained a psychic mind-stare with a BIG win, which let her try to take out a foe before a scene began, with no penalty if she failed.

She crossed The Waste, and found a mine shaft, which had evil scorpion bandits in it. Driving them away, the mine shaft lead her to a valley with a ruined town which had some bunny orphans in it. She saved them from a spider sweat-shop owner (who forced the bunny orphans to weave designer webs for uptown spiders), then went to find them a safe home. That took her to an old observatory on top of a nearby mountain, where she had to convince the ancient security AI (that controlled a robotic sphinx guard) to allow the orphan bunnies to live there. She hunted down and imprisoned a skunk airship pirate who made clouds the observatory couldn’t see through, and promised shed talk the orphan bunnies into become astronomers, and the AI agreed to let them stay and protect them.

Then she took the stench-airship, and flew off. She wanted to find, and defeat, the Uptown Spiders who received the designer webs. End of campaign.

I did not realize for weeks that she never killed anyone. Drove off, defeated, jailed, convinced to change sides, yes. Never death.

She really seemed into it, and told me she would introduce that game to friends of hers. She still didn’t think she could play a “real” RPG. I tried to convince her there were lots of games, like there were lots of books and lots of movies, and all she needed was one that was a good fit for her. I was not convinced “Hares & Holocausts” could be played seriously, thought I didn’t tell her that.

I’m skipping over a lot of the weird, awkward, difficult parts of this experience. I was making it up as I went along, and it was not as polished as this short write-up makes it sound, especially for the first game or two. There were moments I was uncomfortable. There was at least one time she burst into tears. I used some Rolemaster critical hit tables for narrative inspiration once, and that was a big mistake on numerous levels. The councilors insisted all games take place in one of the public areas, and only between 7am and 6pm. No one else played with us.

At the end of my week, I gave her my contact info. She was going to be there for at least a few weeks longer. I did not ask for, and she did not offer, her contact information. I never heard from her.

I think that’s the only complete, totally original RPG I have ever designed by myself.

My father stayed sober for 90 days, because one of the councilors at rehab told him he couldn’t — that it would be impossible. Through sheer iron will, my father took not a single sip of alcohol for three months. They were a good time to know him. Then, convinced this meant he wasn’t an alcoholic, he drank himself to death over the next few years.

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The Icosantheon. No. 19 – Garuuhl

The Icosantheon is a host of twenty deities bound not by a common origin, but by a united conservatorship of the immaterium that forms the sides and edges of the material plane.

19. Garuuhl

Garuuhl is also known as the First Lich, the Bringer of Bottled Sorrow, and (especially where his veneration is allowed in major cities) the Preserver and the Fermented One. He is always depicted as a roughly 4-foot tall, lean, humanoid desiccated corpse, with a long, curved nose, bright white points of light for eyes, and durable clothing of resin-impregnated leather. His gauntlets are light gray leather and fingerless, with twisted mithral and adamantine thread at every seam and cuff. Though his throat, chest, and abdomen are normally covered with a leather work-coat, when opened it is revealed that fungus and mushrooms grow in his flesh at these places.

It is believed that this depiction of Garuuhl is so clear and consistent because, unlike most deities, he still visits his temples and shrines from time to time. All these places remain working distilleries, dairies, apothecaries, canneries, and herbalist shops, and the Preserver has been known to come to have some new discovery or process explained to him, or to loan out his gauntlets to a worthy student, or to set a cask or vat to ferment in a cave beneath a dread monastery for a few centuries, or to pluck a fungus from his flesh, and set it to grow in a corpse laying in the yard, and command it be left to grow. None of these events are frequent, but every few decades Garuuhl appears at some place that reveres him.

The First Lich is just that, the first mortal to achieve lichhood. What his species was prior to this is unknown, and it has been suggested he is anything from a shrunken human or elf to the frame or a thin dwarf, to a gnome, goblin or, or halfling. When asked, the god himself just notes he is a lich, and it’s hard to argue with that. While seeking a way to preserve his body forever, Garuuhl invented beer, ale, yogurt, wine, spirits, jam, and cheese.

It has been suggested that in his mad dash to exist forever, Garuuhl invented the things needed for civilization. He has shown uses for the caves beneath the earth, the things that grow in it, fire for cooking and tanning and fermenting, cold for freezing and drying. He is a god of dread and terrible knowledge, but also the wonders it can create.

There is no question that Garuuhl is evil. He cares only for his own researches and discoveries-and safety-and happily sacrifices anyone and anything that slows his desires. But there is also no question that his temples and monasteries are sources of great teaching, knowledge, and, and medicine. While most other gods oppose him (though Karrackar continues to simply try to convince the Fermented One to stop being a deific ass, and Tazoteot doesn’t much care what Garuuhl does as long as he keeps them and their worshipers well-supplied with narcotics as desired), they also accept that his contributions are more beneficial than harmful. But he also demands he be credited as the primary source of any discovery made by him or his followers, and rains horrors down on those who don’t acknowledge him.

From great evil can come knowledge that can be used for good. This neither changes that it was created through evil, nor that it’s main uses may be benevolent.

Even in lands where it is illegal to openly worship Garuuhl, as he is an evil deity, it is sometimes allowed to venerate him. His monasteries and temples sometimes operate openly, staffed not by “priests” but by “cantors” and “curates.” And, in truth, as long as they do his bidding, Garuuhl does not care if those he empowers and protects worship him, or not, though mostly to gain his divine power one must be willing to sacrifice all other entities at his command, which requires at least a non-good alignment.

*Garuuhl is Neutral Evil. He accepts the worship of entities of any alignment, but only non-good creatures can truly worship him. Some alchemists and wizards do venerate him as the source of much knowledge, while at the same time opposign his followers excessive experiments.
*Garuuhl’s colors are red, black, and white.
*His favorite weapon is alchemist’s fire.
*His favored animal is the bee.
*His servitors are alchemical inevitables and fiendish undead.
*His holy symbol is a knot of red fire, black ice, and white hide.
*His areas of concern are preservation, invention, discover, experimentation, and self-important.
*His domains are Death (undead), Earth (caves), Fire (smoke), Magic (alchemy), Plant (decay), and Water (ice)
.

His priests can take the bombs sect ion of the alchemy feature of alchemists in place of channel energy, and gain appropriate discoveries as feats. Spellcasters and alchemists who venerate, but do not worship him, can learn formulas to duplicate any spell from his granted domains as spells or extracts, but must never destroy or suppress knowledge of his church’s work, regardless of whether they try to stop it.

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