Friday, 26 February 2010

Chaos Patrons Revisited

Critical Hits may not be my scene, but they do occasionally have interesting articles. Today, for example, I find this, by somebody called Scott, which basically just discusses ways of making it interesting when a PC gets killed.

I've never seen anyone get genuinely upset and hissy about a character dying in real life, except once when a member of a group lost his genuinely-rolled-up paladin character to an illithid and literally gave up role playing games forever thereafter (at least the last I heard). But I assume it happens all the time, because you read about it a lot on the internet. (It may just be one of those internet things, though - I sometimes suspect that there is an entire coterie of conspirators who spend their entire time on internet forums perpetuating myths, truisms and recieved wisdom like "people get really upset about their characters dying" and "random encounters are not fun" and "save-or-die is really unfair", without ever actually playing in games where characters die, random encounters happen, and save-or-die occurs.)

I also don't understand this idea that Scott talks about that death in an RPG is, for the player, "their invested time, work and creation disappear before them with a single roll of the dice" - because dead characters always add something to a campaign. It might be something as simple as his comrades going off to wreak terrible revenge on the monster that did it, or as complicated as family members showing up and dispensing quests.

However, I do like the concepts he presents for toying with death and resurrection, and it gives me the chance to resurrect my old post about Chaos Patrons (which was itself a riff on something from the roguelike game Zangband - this is where you realise that this blog is essentially a pack of stolen cards resting precariously on a borrowed table; well fuck you, I never claimed to be original!).

Here's a rejigging of that old saw.

Chaos Patrons

The layers of the Abyss are infinite, and so are its Powers. Endless multitudes of dark gods throng its depths, scheming of ways to attract more mortal followers and thus gather power. Every so often one of them finds a way to dominate some foolish individual on the prime material plane, usually through striking some kind of Faustian bargain. These chaos patrons are capricious and flighty, however, and they are just as likely to curse or bless their unfortunate worshipers.

A player may come to be adopted by a Chaos Patron in three ways:

1. He can choose for his character to follow a chaos patron at character creation.
2. He can decide to follow one during the course of the game should the opportunity arise. (The DM should come up with a suitably painful and tortuous ritual for a PC who wishes to take up the worship of a chaos god.)
3. He can choose to strike a faustian bargain with a chaos god at death, and be resurrected in return for eternal servitude.

The only requirement for a PC who wishes to worship a chaos god is that he be willing, and that he be Chaotic Evil or Chaotic Neutral in alignment (or willing to shift his existing alignment to either of those positions).

There are infinite chaos gods, and the DM and player are encouraged to be as creative as they like when coming up with their patron. Alternatively, they can roll 1d20 and consult the following table of example gods:

1. Slortar the Old
2. Mabelode the Faceless
3. Chardros the Reaper
4. Hionhurn the Executioner
5. Xiombarg the Sword Queen
6. Pyaray the Tentacled Whisperer of Impossible Secrets
7. Balaan the Grim
8. Arioch, Duke of Hell
9. Eequor, Blue Lady of Dismay
10. Narjhan, Lord of Beggars
11. Balo the Jester
12. Khorne the Blood God
13. Slaanesh, God of Pleasure
14. Nurgle, the Rotting God
15. Tzeentch, the Lord of Change
16. Djobidjoba, the King of Grubs
17. Azathoth, the Devil's Bannerman
18. Beelzebub, the Lord of the Flies
19. Dusty Miller, the Mad Baker
20. Bindapaparabba, Mistress of Waterlilies

Effects of worshiping a chaos patron:

A character with a chaos patron who advances in level is given a boon or a curse at random. This either takes effect at the moment of advancement, or at the first combat after advancement, or at another time defined in the text. When the character levels up, roll 1d30 and consult the following table:
Boons and Curses

1. "Thou needst a new form, mortal!" - The character is Polymorphed into a randomly determined race without chance of saving throw (1-2: Human, 3-4: Gnome, 5-6: Dwarf, 7-8: Elf, 9-10: Halfling; roll again if the character is already of that race).
2. "Well done, mortal! Lead on!" - The character is awarded a 10% experience point bonus.
3. "Thou didst not deserve that, slave!" - The character loses 10% of his experience and is relegated to the previous level.
4. "Use my gift wisely!" - A randomly determined magical item is created on the floor beside the character.
5. "Thy deed hath earned thee a worthy blade!" - A randomly determined magical weapon is created on the floor beside the character.
6. "Thy deed hath earned thee a worthy reward!" - 1d3 randomly determined magical items are created on the floor beside the character.
7. "Behold, mortal, how generously I reward thy loyalty!" - The character is granted a limited wish.
8. "Thou art grown arrogant, mortal!" - The character loses 33% of his experience.
9. "My pets, destroy the arrogant mortal!" - 2-6 randomly determined tanar'ri (with HD equal to the character's level) are created next to the character at the beginning of his next combat.
10. "Thou needst worthier opponents!" - 1d100 dretches appear next to the character at the beginning of his next combat.
11. "Death and destruction, this pleases me!" - An earthquake occurs, centered on the character the next time he kills an opponent.
12. "Stay, mortal, and let me mold thee!" - +1 to prime requisite.
13. "I grow tired of thee, mortal!" - -1 to prime requisite.
14. "Thou needst a lesson in humility, mortal!" -1 to all stats.
15. "Receive this modest gift from me!" - +1 to all stats.
16. "Rise, my servant!" - The next time the character is reduced to 10% of his hit point total, all his hit points are immediately restored.
17. "Suffer, pathetic fool!" - A ball of chaos, 12' in radius, blast the character and anyone within its range for the character's level x4 in damage at the beginning of his next combat.
18. "Thou reliest too much on thy weapon!" - Has the same effect of a scroll of curse weapon.
19. "Thou reliest too much on thy equipment!" - Has the same effect of a scroll of curse armour.
20. "Now thou shalt pay for annoying me!" - All the effects of items 17, 14 and 10.
21. "Die, mortal!" - The character immediately takes level x4 in damage.
22. "Let me relieve thee of thine oppressors!" - Immediate Power Word: Kill on the character's opponents as soon as the next combat begins.
23. "Let me relieve thee of thine oppressors!" - Immediate banishment of the next group of undead or daemonic monsters which confront the character.
24. "Thou shalt not die yet, mortal!" - All monsters threatening the character are immediately hit for the character's level x4 in damage as soon as the next combat begins.
25. The patron ignores the character.
26. "Let me reward thee with an undead servant!" The character gains a randomly determined undead servant, of any kind with HD equal to or less than his level.
27. "Let me reward thee with a demonic servant!" The character gains a randomly determined tanar'ri servant, of any kind with HD equal to or less than his level.
28. "Let me reward thee with a servant!" The character gains a randomly determined monstrous servant, of any kind with HD equal to or less than his level.
29. "Let me reward thee with a henchman!" The character gains a henchman of his own level (1-2 Fighter, 3-4 Mage, 5-6 Cleric; all henchmen are Chaotic Evil in alignment).
30. "Mortal, bore me no longer!" The chaos patron abandons the character.

In addition, a follower of a chaos patron gains a random mutation at each level of advancement.

1. You are superhumanly strong (+4 STR)
2. You are puny (-4 STR)
3. Your brain is a living computer (+4 INT/WIS)
4. You are moronic (-4 INT/WIS)
5. You are very resilient (+4 CON)
6. You are extremely fat (+2 CON, -20' speed)
7. You are albino (-4 CON)
8. Your flesh is rotting (-2 CON, -1 CHR)
9. Your voice is a silly squeak (-4 CHR)
10. Your face is featureless (-1 CHR)
11. Your appearance is masked with illusion (overrides your current CHR and provides a new value ranging from 3 to 18)
12. You have an extra pair of eyes (detect doors/traps, 1 in 2 times)
13. You are resistant to magic (+4 bonus to save vs. magic)
14. You make a lot of strange noises (never surprise opponents)
15. You have remarkable infravision (+120' infravision)
16. You have an extra pair of legs (+30' movement)
17. Your legs are short stubs (-30' movement)
18. Electricity is running through your veins (grants an electricity aura, doing 2d6 electricity damage to any monster that hits you)
19. Your body is enveloped in flames (grants a fire aura, doing 2d6 fire damage to any monster that hits you; also gives permanent light (radius 10'))
20. Your skin is covered with warts (-2 CHR, +1 bonus to AC)
21. Your skin has turned into scales (-1 CHR, +3 bonus to AC)
22. Your skin is made of steel (-1 DEX, +5 bonus to AC)
23. You have wings (fly 150')
24. You are regenerating (regeneration, 1hp/turn)
25. You are telepathic (telepathy)
26. Your body is very limber (+3 DEX)
27. Your joints ache constantly (-3 DEX)
28. You are protected from the ravages of time (undying)
29. You are susceptible to the ravages of the elements (you take double damage from elemental attacks)
30. Your movements are precise and forceful (halfling stealth bonuses, free action)


  1. Heartily endorsed! I am particularly fond of Dusty Miller, and it's good to see the GW Chaos gods in there, as it seems only appropriate. I think Boon No 11 is my favourite; I'd love to see the player's face when that happens.

    The concept of existence beyond death in rpgs is one I find fascinating. I left a message on another blog about the latest Star Wars rpg, pondering whether it allows you to play Jedi characters after they've died, as it seems clear from the films that they just potter along just fine after they're dead. Similarly, one of the few things I liked about the Dragonball Z mythos was this idea of being killed in battle, going to the afterlife and getting into training so you can come back stronger. And of course there's the Orpheus story underlying it all.

    It seems to me that, if we're dealing in fantasy, then death need not be the end, and if there's an adventure to be had in going into Heck to rescue your party's paladin's soul, then so be it!

    All of which only has a minor connection to what you were writing about, for which I apologise.

  2. Sir! I must make an exclamation as to your skill and finesse with your deck of stolen cards. Bravo!

  3. Hah! Very Warhammer 40k.

    Anyway, as someone who has played alongside people who were fond of frequently using Save-or-dies, I think I can legitimately say that they're neither fair nor fun for the rest of the group.

  4. Kelvin: Yeah, the "rescue a comrade's soul" motif is great. Another argument for why death is a good thing in D&D.

    Squidman: If you're going to steal, you have to do it well.

    Rach: Save-or-die encourages intelligent and creative play; if you know a Catoblepas is going to fuck you over with one attack, you get clever with it. Makes for a richer and more fun game.

  5. I got kicked out of a game after an hour once, because my PC died. DM wouldn't let me roll up another! I died because we found a secret entrance into the boss guys lair and the DM let us open it, rather than just telling us our pick locks failed. So we were 3 levels down on the baddy (at least), unprepared, and I got in the way to help someone escape.

    DM told me to go home.

    So I suppose I should be one of those forum guys spreading word about how hissy I got. But really it was the DM who got hissy, not me. I just wanted to roll up another PC and keep going (and there were freed prisoners wandering around who we could have drawn my next PC from).

    Maybe this is the genesis of the hissy forum guy...

  6. Faustusnotes: That is blatant dick DMing of the highest order. I can't imagine what kind of person thinks that would be a good idea.

    Did you immediately go to to whine about it? If not, then I'm afraid you don't qualify as a hissy forum guy. Although in this instance hissiness would be totally justified.

  7. faustusnotes: totally reminds me of that panel in Dark Dungeons where they tell the girl she's dead.

    Something tells me this guy was just a jerk in general.

  8. noisms, the kind of person who thinks that is a good idea is the kind of person who thinks good DMing requires disciplining players, rather than helping them have fun.

    I didn't chuck a hissy fit on a forum, but I did blog about it. Does that count as the same thing? I just don't think I'm cool enough for forumisation...

  9. Noisms: My experience with save-or-dies is basically what Faustus said. I've never seen them used to make an encounter more strategic, only used by bad DMs to punish players for not toeing the line, or by munchkin players who wanted to upstage the rest of the party.

  10. Rach, you probably know my thoughts on gaming with dick heads.

  11. I am very impressed by this set of tables. It immediately invokes a dark british fantasy atmosphere.

    I wonder, however, about the effects it might have on game balance. It would seem that the curses and boons are handed out in equal measure so that characters embracing a chaos patron are as likely to be impaired as benefited. But the lure of potential awesome demonic power is sufficient that who could resist really. This might result in the curious circumstance that the curse victims will fuck up and die and the generally awesome servitors of Dusty Miller will thrive and dominate (but also probably be a bit fucked-up as well)and be more fun.

    It occurs to me now that you've thought this through and it is fairly profoundly excellent and a campaign setting in itself, almost. It also seems like classic new-old school which manifests as an extra helping of gonzo awesome on top of a solid base.

  12. rach, I am a fan of save or die and death spirals (I played Rolemaster for years, after all) BUT I think the DM needs to administer games which are rich with that sort of thing very carefully. They can become very boring/too easy way too quickly, and they certainly reduce the importance of random encounters.

    And I agree that in the hands of arseholes they are absolutely the ultimtate evil. As are potions of invulnerability.

  13. It's only fair that you do a law patron AND a Neutrality patron now.

  14. This is RPG GOLD!

    I'm including this in my PBP game--it fits really good with what's going on currently.

    The characters are currently exploring some Fae Ruins full of evil-magicks, undead, and a Temple decorated with images of animals with tentacles bursting out of their faces. While they are camped in the shadow of the ruins, each one is visited in a dream and made a tempting offer...