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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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Pulp Powers: Prechometry

Exploring a concept of a psychic power I’ve never seen anyone use in  story or game before.

“Prechometry”

The ability to touch an object and gain impressions of noteworthy things that are going to happen to it in the future.

Especially useful variant is “image prechometry,” which allows you to touch a detailed picture of an object (such as a blueprint), and determine what major things would happen to it if actually existed.

In my “Diesel Pulp” just-for-fun setting, the Black Duchess of Crimea has a number of prechometrist stranniks, who allow her military to troubleshoot new designs without ever actually building or testing them. While this system is not perfect, it saves so much time and money as to give the Black Duchess a huge advantage.

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The Public Enemies: Inverted Jenny

Superheroes and pulp adventurers need nemeses who are just as colorful, interesting, and talented as the protagonists they oppose. Batman’s Rogue’s Gallery, the Flash’s Rogues, Spider-Man’s Sinister Six, Superman’s legions of foes, the Green Lantern’s Yellow Lanterns and so on, define those heroes as much as their powers and backstories do. So when running a supers RPG, GMs often want to create memorable foes to serve similar roles.

One way to do that is to do pastiche versions of classic villains. Another is to create new villains that draw on similar tropes, but aren’t 1-for-1 homages.

Since villains are often coolest if they have some collective noun (which doesn’t have to mean they work together… though sometimes they might), I have begun pondering a group of colorful foes ready to be the nemeses of nearly any hero.

I call them, the “Public Enemies.”

Inverted Jenny
The  master criminal known as Inverted Jenny is well-known to actually be Dr. Jennifer January, an expert in computational complexity theory who funded many philanthropic pursuits by working as a freelance postal and insurance investigator uncovering fraud. After she exposed a profitable money-laundering scheme being used by the Wolf’s Head, she was kidnapped and questioned by the villain Toxin under enhanced interrogation to see how much information she had turned over to the government. This treatment resulted in her developing dissociative identity disorder, apparently as an intentional side-effect of the psychotropic treatment she underwent.

The second identity that developed thought of herself as the opposite of everything Dr. Jennifer January believed in, and thus dubbed herself “Inverted Jenny.” Inverted Jenny is a genius planner obsessed with things that are the reverse of the norm, and stamps and stamp collecting. Though she has no superhuman powers, her ability to carefully plan, prepare for nearly any eventuality, adjust on the fly, and adapt to changing situations in clever and unexpected ways makes her a famously successful and dangerous foe. She is often very well funded, able to gather vast wealth in short periods of time through various forms of fraud, and happily spends that money to commit crimes that bring in much less value, but matches her personal aesthetic.

As Inverted Jenny she wears a domino mask (despite knowing her identity is public knowledge), and a high-quality pinstripe suit with a label pin of the famous Inverted Jenny stamp. She normally carries a handgun (often with specialty ammunition designed to deal with specific problems she has foreseen running into), a utility knife (generally concealed), a big ring (with the biplane from the famous stamp on it), and sometimes a cane (which has about a 50/50 change of having some special function, such as being a sword-cane, or a one-shot shotgun, or a cattle prod).

Inverted Jenny often works with a small club of all-women mercenary criminal specialists known as the Philatelists. These include Basel Dove (nonlethal munitions), Red Mercury (explosives), One-Cent Magenta (naval and underwater ops), Penny Black (disguise and infiltration), and Scinde Dawk (hand-to-hand combat). The Philatelists aren’t insane, and aren’t obsessed with stamps or inverted items. They were first assembled by Inverted jenny in an early, spectacularly successful, caper. While they were captured after they went their separate ways, their reputations were such that they were often freed and recruited by governments, master criminals, and of course Inverted Jenny herself. As a result, they use their stamp-based codenames, even when working independently or with groups with different motifs.

Two other Philatelists have sometimes been acknowledged, Penny Blue being a bodyguard often hired by Inverted Jenny, and Penny Red being a trainee of Penny Black (and possibly a younger relation) who operates independently as a bounty hunter and repossession expert on the gray side of the law.

Since Inverted Jenny is truly and genuinely insane, when captured she is generally confined and treated at the Segefield Sanatorium for the Criminally Insane. Of course, sometimes Dr. January’s personality is dominant, and at such times Inverted Jenny effectively does not exist. On numerous occasions, Dr. January has seemed to successfully and permanently suppress the Inverted Jenny personality, and managed to receive clearance to live in public, though always with regular monitoring and check-ins. Sadly, some treatments turned out to be only temporary, others couldn’t prevent a resurgence of Inverted Jenny if Dr. January was in extreme pain or danger, and in at least two cases what was a permanent fix was undone by some other villain who felt the need to recreate Inverted Jenny to access her planning expertise.

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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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Icosantheon Index

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.

This page is updated as new members of this divine collection are added.

2. Karrackar, Loremaster, Shade Dragon, and Kobold King. NG.

7. Ovinnec, the Wild Visitor. CG.

13. Tazoteot, the Demon God/Devil Goddess. N

19. Garuuhl, the First Lich, the Fermented One. NE

 

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The Icosantheon. No 13 – Tazoteot

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.

13. Tazoteot
Deity of all sensuality and sexual thought. Tazoteot is also known as the Divinity of 10,000 Forms, because as deity of all forms of sensuality they cannot be contained by a single gender or shape. However, in all but 13 of their 10,000 forms, Tazoteot has glossy black lips.

Tazoteot is also know as the Demon God or Devil Goddess, because their original pantheon, the Cthonic Gods, all became fiends in the Ancient Times during the Discovery of Sin and turned to evil. But, as deity of ALL sensuality, Tazoteot refused to abandon their good followers. When the Cthonic Gods lost their true divinity and were bound to serve the eldest Daemons, only Tazoteot escaped their fate. However, Tazoteot retains considerable power drawn from fiends of all kinds as a result of this ancient history.

Tazoteot demands their followers acknowledge all forms of physical delight, but does not require them to embrace or perform any act a given worshiper does not wish to. They are unique in that they allow followers of any alignment–though Tazoteot is True Neutral themself, they does not care what ethos or goals their worshipers embrace as long as they do so with respect to pleasure.

Tazoteot does, however, forbid their worshipers from acting upon each other in any way without consent. This is poorly understood by other churches, that refer to it as the Silken Sanctuary.

*Tazoteot’s colors are black, gold, and crimson.
*Their favored weapon is unarmed/natural attacks.
*Their favored animal is the jaguar.
*Their servitors are the werejaguar witches, the forvlakke.
*Their holy symbol is a pillar within a ring, or a ring within a pillar.
*Their areas of concern are animal husbandry, birth, pleasure, relationships, sex, and truth.
*Their domains are Animal (fur), Charm (lust), Community (family), Destruction (torture), Healing (medicine), and Liberation (self-realization).

They also have special Fiendspeakers priests of any alignment can also access the Evil subdomains of Daemon, Demodand, Demon, Devil, and Kyton–though not the standard evil domain–and use the spells and powers of those domains without any automatic affect on their alignment (though if they use those powers to commit evil, that still impacts their alignment normally).

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What is “Common”?

Okay, for gameplay reasons I am totally down with a “Common” tongue, as is frequently presented in RPG campaigns, especially fantasy RPGs.

But what IS it?

Without changing any rules at all, you can help give a campaign world some interesting backstory by explaining why there is a “common language.”

Here are 20 examples, built on tropes common to d20 fantasy games.

“When the mighty empire of Te Essar collapsed, its official language was already known to most of the world, and became the common language of trade and diplomacy.”

“The deity Commonos wished all people to trade stories, and gave them a single language in which to do so.”

“The eldritch Power Words, Glyphs, and Sigils used in so many spells require significantly study to use to their full mystic potential, but their common forms are easy enough to learn, and taught to populations worldwide as a method for seeking those with a spark of spellcasting talent.”

“The Plane of Shadow is a reflection of all that occurs on the Material Plane, including all language. The Shadow Tongue is a simplified amalgam of all mortal tongues, and can be vaguely understood by any literate person.”

“The Logos Prima was invented by a travelling bard centuries ago, and carefully designed to be easily learned by anyone, from any culture. It has a single, unified spelling and sentence structure, and avoids elements that make some languages more difficult to learn, such as tonality and gendered nouns, and has a simplified structure to allow it to be picked up quickly.”

“It’s a virus. Exposure to the sound, or the sight of it, allows it to creep into your mind, and infect your thoughts with its syntax, and vocabulary.”

“They come once in each generation, to every library and school above a given size. The Solresolut, the Inevitables of Communication. Immortal teaching machines, they offer the language of the Law of the Spheres to any who will learn it, then leave the laws themselves behind. Ignorance of the law is no defense, but every mortal is given a fair chance to learn them.”

“When the world was young, the Cyclops discovered art, and architecture, and language. They built mighty fortresses and huge henge that could predict the seasons. No one knows why these cyclopean ruins were abandoned, but their uses to ancient cultures to know when to plant, when to migrate, when the moon would eat the sun ensured that the basics of what was written upon them would be learned worldwide.”

“The angels spoke Enochian, the tongue of the heavens. Devils taught it to man, to ensure they would be ready to bargain for even more knowledge.”

“It turns out if a demigod archmage genie gets annoyed enough with translation errors in her mail order service, she’ll wish ‘there was one Common language almost everyone knows’.”

“The self-replicating Printing Press Golems nearly destroyed the world. But from their ruined movable type, a single common alphabet was born… ”

“Look, humans can interbreed with almost anything. If it;’s a less common or less popular combination, we just call it a half-whatever. half-dragon. half-angle. half-orc. If it’s happened enough to develop its own culture, it gets a new name. Minotaur. Centaur. Harpy. As a result, the most popular human languages are taught to a LOT of wondering offspring…”

“The first Riddle of the Sphinx was a grand mystery for centuries. It was taught in every academy, studied by every sage. Given how crucial context is to understanding and solving riddles, it’s native tongue was taught alongside it, to ensure no nuance was lost in translation.”

“When madmen worldwide all babble and scream in the same language, it’s worth knowing what that language is, and what they are saying.”

“The Grand Trickster demanded that all understand his jests, and the skalds sought out to ensure this could be so, though it take carrying his words to every corner of the world.”

“When the gods made mortals, they gave them language. That which best spoke of rock was adopted by the dwarves. That which best spoke of wealth was adopted by the dragons. And that which best spoke of toil was adopted by the workers, crafters, and servants of the world.”

“They come to every port and trading post, in creaking ships and caravans of twisted beast. They are known by their brightly painted masks they never remove, and overly-sweet perfume scents masking a hint of rotting flesh beneath their faded robes. They buy, and sell, and trade, and make many wealthy, but they do it all in just one language. If you wish to do business with the Traders, you must learn this common trade tongue.”

“In the first seasons, the beasts all knew two languages, which gave them dominion over the material world and the spirit realm. The tool-makers stole the common words of material dominion from the beasts, and became ascendant. Now druids guard the spirit dominion language closely, and forbid that it be taught to any but those of their own order.”

“The wind whispers, the river mutters. Fires spit and curse, and the earth groans. Early people could rarely master all of any elemental tongue, but ususally learned a few key phrases from each, forming them into a set of common words and phrases that were almost universal.”

“Common? You mean Khelvish? Sure, it’s common where you are from, in the lands between the Basalt Mountains and Shallow Sea. A few folks ’round these parts know it, too. But if you want to be able to talk to everyone in these parts, you’d best learn Fworven, or at least Low Glett.”

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What’s Your Runeblade Name?

Runeblades always have cool, evocative names… but it can be a pain to have to come with them from scratch all the time. So for all your Runeblade name needs, here’s the What’s Your Runeblade quiz!

Take the second letter of your first name, and the last letter of your last name. So, as Owen Stephens, my Runeblade name is Shadow Slayer. (Or Shadowslayer—you can run them together or not, as you prefer.)

Or, you can roll 1d100 twice to create a random name.

Or just pick something cool. 😊

Runeblade Name Beginning
(Second letter of your first name, or 1d100)

A (01-04). Ash
B. (05-08). Bane
C. (09-12). Battle
D. (13-16). Blaze
E. (17-20). Blood
F. (21-24). Bright
G. (25-28). Crimson
H. (26-32). Dawn
I. (33-36). Death
J. (37-40). Doom
K. (41-44). Fear
L. (45-48). Foe
M. (49-52. Gray
N. (53-56). Hell
O. (57-60). Ice
P. (61-64). Luck
Q. (65-68). Mourn
R. (69-72). Night
S. (73-76). Pain
T. (77-80). Rage
U. (81-84). Run
V. (85-88). Sea
W. (89-91). Shadow
X. (92-94). Soul
Y. (95-97). Storm
Z. (98-100). War

Runeblade Name Beginning
(Last letter of your last name, or 1d100)

A. (01-04). Blade
B. (05-08). Bringer
C. (09-12). Claw
D. (13-16). Cleaver
E. (17-20). Crasher
F. (21-24). Dragon
G. (25-28). Fist
H. (29-32). Flame
I. (33-36). Friend
J. (37-40). Gate
K. (41-44). Hammer
L. (42-48). Iron
M. (49-52). Master/Mistress
N. (53-56). Moon
O. (57-60). Raven
P. (61-64). Razor
Q. (65-68). Sigil
R. (69-72). Skull
S. (73-76). Slayer
T. (77-80). Song
U. (81-84). Star
V. (85-88). Thunder
W. (89-91). Tomb
X. (92.-94). Tooth
Y. (95-97). Wand
Z. (98-100). Widow

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The Branding and Promise of the Names of RPGs

I think it’s helpful for the name of an RPG to tell you something about what the game is (supposed to be) like.

For licensed properties, this is easy. A Star Wars RPG is about Star Wars For licensed properties, this is easy. A Star Wars RPG is about Star Wars (even if some folks will always claim it is just the Ghostbuster’s rules of D&D, “reskinned”).

Dungeons and Dragons does a good job of this–it’s a game about monsters and underground locations. Yes, it’s more than that, but it still tells you something. And it’s ubiquity allows you to show kinship with it easily enough — Tunnels and Trolls is clearly giving a similar feel as D&D. Mutants & Masterminds was brilliant.

Hero System and Champions are both pretty good.

Shadowrun was not as good as Cyberpunk, originally, but it is now. Gamma World was good, but Aftermath was better, and Marrow Project at least as good.

But Omega World was brilliant, because of Gamma World.

Both Vampire and World of Darkness did good jobs with this.

Star Frontiers was better than Traveller in this department, but Space Opera may have been better than either.

I’m not comparing the quality of these games as games. Just the ease of branding offered by their names.

I think about this, when I am working on things like Really Wild West, which I hope does a good job of immediately identifying itself as a kind of over-the-top Weird West setting.

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Revised, Partial List of Very Fantasy Words (Update!)

The most recent update to the Revised, Partial List of Very Fantasy Words can be found here!

Need to make a region sound more like a Croft or Realm? Want to make sure people reading your fantasy text think of you as argute?

Well then, you need a Very Fantasy Word!

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