I would describe Rat Queens as an irreverent fantasy pastiche that self-consciously recruits the tropes of fantasy RPGs. It’s also a lot of fun.
Half (or maybe one third) of everything you need to know to run a game of fantasy adventure.
When PCs do something significant, such as moving cautiously into a new chamber while exploring a haunted mansion, spending an exploration turn attempting to pick a lock, searching a room from top to bottom, travelling for a day in the wilderness, camping for a night, or even spending a week in town recovering, the referee should roll a die to see if complications arise. By default, assume that this chance is 1 in 6.
The exact nature of these complications will vary by context. While exploring a buried ruined city, a complication might represent a wandering monster. While travelling on an open road, a complication might be an assault by bandits or a meeting with a travelling peddler. Complications do not always need to involve danger.
It might be tempting to modify the 1 in 6 chance based on fictional circumstances (such as increased situational danger), and this is a reasonable approach in some cases, but keep in mind that the 1 in 6 chance tends to interact almost perfectly with the pace of game play at the table, injecting uncertainty and, potentially, danger, in a way that is engaging without being overwhelming. Instead, consider varying the severity of the potential outcomes rather than the chance of events occurring. This is a guideline rather than a rule, however, and should periodically be violated, at the whim of the referee, so that events do not become predicable.
Laird Barron is one of the few post-Lovecraft horror writers that I enjoy. The others, off the top of my head, being Thomas Ligotti and (some) Stephen King, though I’m not nearly as knowledgeable about this genre as I probably ought to be. (If you haven’t read Nethescurial, it is available online for free legitimately, and is a good place to start with Ligotti.)
That is a prelude to noting that the Kindle version of Barron’s recent release, The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All, is on sale at Amazon until October 31st for $2. That’s a pretty good deal given that otherwise it is priced as a standard mainstream fiction release (around $20 for the hardcover from Amazon).
The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All is a collection of short stories. These are not overly clever stories with twists that try to surprise you, but rather solid, almost straight forward tales that seem to move forward toward inexorable doom, which is exactly how I like my horror stories. I’ve only read the first two stories so far, so I can’t vouch for the entire contents, but I enjoyed both of them.
Somewhat related, are there any other writers in this vein that I should be aware of?
* Perhaps Clive Barker deserves a seat at this table, but I haven’t read anything by him in more than 15 years, and so I don’t know if the actual texts live up to my memory of them.
So, this is a real thing with layout and everything now. Most of the content is done, though I still need to do some editing and make decisions about images. More spells may also be added before the final release. The images here are tinted to stand out from the post background, and the final document will be black on white.
Direct damage spells are much maligned, especially among those who are interested in elements of the game such as exploration and problem solving in addition to combat. Even within the category of attack sorcery, magic missile in particular is a rather lackluster spell in a number of different ways, especially for a low level traditional magic-user. It doesn’t seem effective enough (despite automatically hitting in most interpretations), because it only does something like 1d6+1 damage. The primary benefit provided is to have some way of damaging monsters with immunities to mundane weapons, but even then the damage is not likely to be enough to make a difference.
However, playing as a sorcerer, it is also true that it is quite pleasing to call conflagration down upon the heads of your enemies. There is the danger, though, that available attack magic will displace other interesting spells. Some approaches to this problems have been unlimited use attack cantrips or at-will magic (such as the ray of frost or cloud of daggers) in games like Pathfinder and 4E. This approach preserves the viability of more unique spells, but also makes magic too common for my tastes, and does not distinguish it enough from the methods employed by other classes. Instead, why not make the attack magic more powerful, but allow sorcerers to cast it in place of any prepared spell? This maintains both distinctiveness and resource constraints.
If you don’t go in for the idea of sorcerers being able to trade in prepared spells for default effects (because it goes against the preparation ethos of the class), you could also probably just make this a standard first level spell. Another variation, if you wanted the damage to scale with level, would be to use 2d6 + level rather than just 2d6 (intelligence bonus could also be incorporated here, if desired). Or, if using traditional ranked spells, make the bonus damage dependent upon the level of spell sacrificed rather than the sorcerer’s experience level.
Any prepared spell may be expended to conjure calamity, doing 2d6 damage (save for half) to all in a melee area or to a single enemy. Each sorcerer’s maleficence is unique and should be determined at the time of character creation by choice of a single additional descriptor (fire, lightning, shadow, cold, acid, and so forth), which can also cause secondary effects (igniting flammable objects, freezing a small pool, doing extra situational damage based on enemy weaknesses). When both damage dice come up 6, or if a natural 1 is rolled for the saving throw, the magic permanently disfigures the place or person afflicted (some examples include permafrost, an affinity for ghosts, a strange high pitched whining, the attention of a demon, a scar that senses the presence of the sorcerer).
Why this split? This began as a comment on a Google Plus conversation, but I think it’s worth a blog post. For me, the split is based on two things: problem solving tools and archetypes. For archetypes, the inspiration is swords & sorcery. This, in my opinion, is uncontroversial and does not need further elaboration (other than to remark that the cleric, if taken too far away from the original Van Helsing and Solomon Kane inspirations, does not fit so well aesthetically or culturally).
Clerics are really a hybrid class in terms of problem solving, and could potentially be either fighter/mages (for the trad crusader vampire hunter that also has some magic) or thief/mages (a version less often seen, but just as thematic for zealous witch hunters or hashashin characters). However, the hybrid nature of the cleric means that it can be understood based on the other three main classes, so no more need be said about the cleric independently.
The primary problem solving qualities of the core classes are: combat/renewable resource (fighter), combat/consumable resource (magic-user), utility/renewable resource (thief), and utility/consumable resource (magic-user). Thus, the magic-user is more versatile, but resource-limited (and in most incarnations, more fragile). Obviously there is some bleed between the approaches when you consider the actual implementation (everyone can make melee attacks, fighters can still use some magic items, etc). So that’s where the split comes from in terms of OD&D game mechanics.
Edit: I should also link to Talysman’s post on classes and problem solving here.
These spells are inspired by confusion, disintegrate, slow, haste, growth of animals, neutralize poison, polymorph self, polymorph other, and stone to flesh. See spells without levels for more information about this project. The category name vivimancy was borrowed from The City of Iron.
This spell awakens the inner beast, causing the growth of claws and fangs, granting a +1 to attack and damage, and a decrease by 1 to all damage taken (a saving throw is permitted for the unwilling). Any creature so enraged must make a melee attack against the nearest combatant every round in the most violent manner possible (this generally means that the target should be determined randomly). When the spell expires, the subject collapses into unconsciousness if a saving throw is failed, and if this saving throw is a natural 1, the subject contracts lycanthropy.
The sorcerer’s touch causes the chaotic workings of life to permeate contiguous nonliving matter, approximately the size of one human per level (living creatures touched during the workings of this spell are subject to mutation if a saving throw is failed). One exploration turn of contact leads to softening and weakness, as veins, entrails, and other organic appurtenances metastasize, and after three exploration turns of contact, the matter collapses entirely into warm, pulsing slime. During each turn of contact, there is a 1 in 6 chance of the transforming matter spawning some hitherto unseen organism, though such spawns are almost certainly unviable.
All within a melee area are stricken with lethargy, moving at half their normal rate, and acting last in initiative automatically. Creatures of less than or equal HD to the sorcerer’s level are affected automatically, while others get a saving throw to avoid the effect. Indolence may also be cast on mechanisms or other things that engage in progress or change.
Similar to indolence, but the reverse in all ways.
The growth processes of several animals are accelerated, inducing ravenous hunger. If sufficient food is not available, the creatures will attempt to consume anything nearby, and will gain sustenance from materials not normally consumable, such as wood or dirt, though food or flesh is preferred. The animals 1) double in size for the duration of the spell and then collapse into unconsciousness afterwards, 2) double in size permanently, or 3) grow until they become gargantuan and are driven insane.
After casting this spell, the sorcerer grows long, hollow fangs, which may be used for a bite attack as if armed. These fangs may also be used to to draw out venom from someone that has been poisoned, negating the poison, though this process is painful and somewhat gruesome. Venom so extracted is then stored in a new gland that develops within the sorcerer’s body, and may be delivered by bite during the spell’s duration.
Every person has two totems, a predator totem and a prey totem, which are connected and should be determined randomly (and recorded): 1) bat/centipede, 2) cat/rat, 3) hawk/newt, 4) owl/frog, 5) serpent/chicken, 6) wolf/sheep. This spell allows the sorcerer to transform into the predator totem animal, or force another into their own prey totem (marked by the sorcerer’s totem sigil), the enchantment being permanent as long as the sigil is present (though a saving throw applies). Equipment does not transform.
A form in stone, such as a statue, is endowed with life, viscera, beating hearts, flesh, and so forth. If the stone was once living, that previous existence is permanently restored. Otherwise, when the spell ends the new life will 1) return to stone, 2) dissolve into a mess of biological waste, or 3) be stolen by an incorporeal soul, demon, or spirit for unpredictable purposes.