Monthly Archives: September 2013

False Rumors are Hazards

Rumors are stealth infodump delivery tools. They use concision and diegesis (that is, presence in the fiction of the game world) to disguise their load-bearing capacity. They are a wonderful way to present setting detail and hooks without overburdening either the referee or the players. I don’t use them nearly enough. However, as traditionally presented, they also have a potential problem: false or incomplete rumors are hazards, and like any game hazard, should come with clues to support fair play. Personally, I prefer incomplete rumors to false rumors. Incomplete rumors preserve the sense of a living world while maintaining player trust.

Here are some methods to build false or incomplete rumors that add to the play experience.

  1. Provide contradictory rumors together. As all of them can’t be true, this signals to observant players that more investigation is required to actually ascertain risk. This has the added benefit of promoting further information gathering.
  2. Make it clear to the player that the rumor is false, but make that falsity interesting (why is the NPC lying, is she being manipulated by some other creature or force?). This is much like making a trap obvious, but still dangerous.
  3. Have the false rumor contradict some previously established setting detail. This is a more subtle form of option 1. Be careful with this approach though, as it is likely to be missed by all but the most engaged players (and consider the three clue rule).
  4. Provide a rumor about concrete conditions but don’t include motivations (or the inverse, provide a rumor about motivations but don’t include any concrete conditions). Example: a wizard is trying to find a cure for a wasting disease, and is abducting villagers to experiment on. Rumor one is info about the wasting disease, rumor two is info about lost villagers returning as ghouls.

This post was prompted by Wayne’s recent Bree-Yark Factor article. Additionally, I would suggest taking a look at FrDave’s concerns about false rumors (with which I mostly agree), and Telecanter’s post about rumors.

D20 turn undead variant

Appearance of Banquo

Appearance of Banquo (source)

Quick: 1d20 + cleric level + CHR vs. 10 + HD. Succeed by 5 or more banishes or destroys. Nat 20 always succeeds, nat 1 results in a complication.

To turn away unholy creatures, such as demons or the walking dead, present an object of faith. Roll 1d20, add cleric level, and add charisma modifier. If the roll is equal to or greater than 10 + creature HD, the creature shrinks back or flees. If the roll exceeds the target number by 5 or more, the creature is destroyed or banished. Roll no more than once per encounter, and compare this single roll to all potentially affected monsters. Lower HD creatures are affected first. On a natural 1, your faith has failed you (or your god has deserted you), and your hubris only angers the monsters, giving them some form of bonus for the remainder of the encounter (perhaps +1 to everything, or a burning desire to slay and feast on the cleric specifically). Most of the time, you can assume that all undead in the encounter are potentially affected, but if there is a true horde, the max HD of affected creatures could be the modified turning roll (so a 6th level cleric with CHR of +2 that rolls a 10 affects up to 18 HD).

Advantages of this method:

  • Easier to remember than reaction roll ranges or (shudder) the whole turning table.
  • Less certainty makes every attempt interesting.
  • Gives lower level clerics more potential and higher level clerics more risk (relatively).
  • The turning roll always has 4 potential degrees of success.

Potential variations:

  • Require the use of a vial of holy water to add resource management restriction.
  • Allow anyone to turn, but widen the “fumble” zone to 1 + monster HD for non clerics.
  • Games without charisma modifiers would obviously just use + level.
  • Works as influence undead, of course, for necromancers or anti-clerics as well.

Somewhat reminiscent of Delta’s house rules, though his approach is framed as target 20 (and he has done away with clerics). Also similar to the 3E/Pathfinder method, though player-facing rather than referee-facing. In PF, the undead make a will save with DC 10 + half cleric level + cleric CHR. By the book, the PF method probably requires much more dice rolling, as each creature should get its own save, though I suppose you could roll one save per creature type to save time. In general, for PC abilities, I tend to prefer player-facing rolls, as they are more engaging (this is one thing that 4E definitely got right).

Free resources, annotated

I have this folder in my Dropbox account: RPG/Tablet. It contains copies of all the PDFs that I keep synced to my tablet, using the GoodReader app (which is mandatory for reading PDFs if you have an ipad). Here are the ones that can be downloaded free of charge. (Note that “free of charge” does not imply unencumbered by copyright.)

  • AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide Appendix A Random Dungeon Generation. Gygax’s original random spur for generating dungeons. This free sample was made available as a promotion for the recent AD&D premium reprint.
  • Akratic Wizardry. Swords & Sorcery house rules, including damage by class, wisdom-based sanity, and a colors of magic system that collapses the magic-user and cleric into the magician class. HTML index of rules here.
  • Better Than Any Man. An extensive historically based early modern sandbox setting with time based events, numerous lairs, and lots of new content (spells, monsters, etc). This was the LotFP offering for Free RPG Day 2013, and is now available pay what you want.
  • Campbell – DM1 Treasure. Help generating memorable treasure. Leave Courtney a word of thanks for this great resource here.
  • Campbell – DM2 Tricks, Empty Rooms, & Basic Trap Design. Some tables to help you populate rooms without monsters. Leave Courtney a word of thanks for this great resource here.
  • Castles & Crusades Quick Start. A low-level intro to Castles & Crusades, one of the first OGL “clone” games, incorporating many Third Edition innovations (such as ascending AC) into a tight game somewhat reminiscent of AD&D. C&C was integral to the formation of the OSR, and the C&C PHB may be the best selling OSR product so far.
  • Challenge of the Frog Idol. This module is a swamp-crawl by Dyson Logos and features a raft made of zombies. What else do you need to know? Overview page.
  • Chandler – EGG Teratic Tome. Even though I’ve included this in the free resources list, technically it is pay what you want, and as one of the best RPG bestiaries released so far in any form, it’s probably worth throwing some cash in Rafael’s direction.
  • Conley – Blackmarsh. A free setting with keyed hex map and starting town. Also includes some custom rules connected to the setting, such as “viz” (solidified magic). Release post here.
  • Crawford – Stars Without Number. An sci-fi game with extensive support for setting generation and a rules-lite approach to character classes.
  • DCC RPG Quick Start Guide. Includes random birth augur, equipment, and occupation tables.
  • Delta House Rules. An elegant core mechanic approach to classic D&D. Includes a simple fighter feat system for added customization.
  • Dyson’s Delve Deluxe. A vertical mega-dungeon consisting of individually small levels, fully keyed and quite usable. Summary page here.
  • Labyrinth Lord. OGL clone of Basic/Expert D&D (incorporates several d20 SRD-isms). Has become the lingua franca of flailsnails. The pay version has an extremely tight aesthetic due to the art of Steve Zeiser. Overview page here.
  • Labyrinth Lord Advanced Edition Companion. An AD&D approach to Labyrinth Lord, with added classes, races, spells, and so forth.
  • LotFP – Rules and Magic 2013. Highlights include the tweaked magic (see the summon spell) and a recently added appendix with firearms rules.
  • Metamorphica. An entire book dedicated to tables for mutations. The softcover version available from Lulu is also quite attractive. A necessity for any devotee of chaos magic.
  • Monsters of Myth. A free, illustrated bestiary for OSRIC.
  • Mutant Future. Inspired by the original Gamma World and mostly compatible with Labyrinth Lord (and thus many other OSR clones). Wacky HP rules, but useful for mutation tables and apocalyptica. Summary page.
  • Philotomy’s Musings on OD&D. The best introduction to and discussion of the original Dungeons & Dragons game. Some excellent house rules suggestions as well. Conveniently transcribed into HTML by Ramanan S.
  • Quick Primer for Old School Gaming. Rulings, not rules. Player skill, not character abilities. Heroic, not superheroic. Forget game balance. Read this to get a sense what many people are talking about when they mention “old school” D&D.
  • Rients – Miscellaneum of Cinder. Quoting from the author’s description: “an ill-conceived collection of random dice charts vaguely compatible with games involving dungeons, labyrinths, swords, spellcraft, wizardry, lords, dragons and etcetera.”
  • Rients – Under Xylarthen’s Tower. A wonderful little archetypal intro dungeon of four levels.
  • Rients – What Went Wrong. Best random character creator ever? Very likely. Yes, the link is to a Google Doc. But! File -> Download as -> PDF.
  • Shear – TOTGAD. The gothic career system is the highlight of this collection for me, though there are many other useful tools, a gothic “Appendix N” (Jack is a professor of Gothic literature), and 13 variations on gothic settings. Also requires you to do the download as PDF thing. Release page here.
  • Swords & Wizardry WhiteBox third printing. Full LBB-inspired rules chassis. Particularly well suited for use as the basis for custom systems incorporating house rules. Free version includes all the art, and the cover of the print version by Mullen is one of my favorite pictures to come out of the OSR. Also a good intro to the “imagine the hell out of it” ethos. Overview page.
  • Telecanter – Magic Item Spur. Inspiration for creating unique magic items. This is one of my most used random tables. Summary post.
  • Theorems and Thaumaturgy. A Labyrinth Lord OSR equivalent to the Tome of Magic. Contains new classes (elementalist, necromancer, vivimancer, fey elf, expanded illusionist) with full custom spell lists and numerous custom tomes (such as the The Chronomancer’s Workbook). All text is OGL and thus reusable in your own OGL works.
  • Traveller Starter Edition Core Rules. Everything you need to play Traveller, one of the original 2d6 systems. Features a capable life path system as well.
  • Varlets and Vermin. A collection of low level monsters to add variety to a campaign by Roger from the Roles, Rules and Rolls blog. Google Docs link, so do the download as PDF thing. Release post.
  • World of Dungeons 1979. The fake progenitor of Dungeon World. Very short (only several pages) simplified version of DW. Check out the excellent magic system. Also features a page of S&S themed names.

That’s a lot of pretty amazing free resources. You could play for the rest of your life, probably, with nothing else.

I’m sure there are many other free resources, too! This list is not intended to be comprehensive. It is what I actually keep synced to my tablet all the time.