Thursday 31 March 2016

New Inheritance Rules

I created a rule for inheritance today, due to unforeseen circumstances arising in a game. It is as follows.

New Inheritance Rule 
A player can at any time have his character create a will in order to pass on his wealth to a new PC after the current one's death.  
If doing so, he must specify the name, relationship, and character class of the PC who stands to inherit. After his current PC dies, he takes on the heir and then rolls up the stats and hit points.

The idea is to create a trade-off between being able to pass on money but potentially being stuck with a sub-optimal weak fighter or stupid magic-user next time around.

Wednesday 30 March 2016


There is a natural tendency in all things towards bloat. Bureaucracies expand inexorably as their members annex ever-greater levels of control. Wealth accrues to the wealthy through interest and investment. As you age your body expands and you have to work harder and harder to fight its natural tendency to resemble Jabba the Hutt. And as sure as eggs are eggs, a new edition of D&D, sooner or later, starts to bulge at the seams with new rules, new classes, new books. Like Japanese knotweed, the process cannot be stopped once it is underway - at least, not without a heck of a lot of toxic chemicals and large-scale mechanised excavation.

I like 5th edition. It works well. But the knotweed is already on the march. There are gaps that must be filled! There are gaps that must be created in order to subsequently be filled! There are genuine needs! The logic of D&D bloat begins in earnest with these observations: it is only a matter of time, you must be acutely aware, before they are trying to sell us books about the anatomy of illithids for £12.99 and yet another Dungeoneer's Survival Guide.

Fair enough: I'm not the target audience for these things, and companies have to generate revenue in order to survive. I can't help but feel, however, that since this sort of thing has been going on since the mid-80s with what could charitably be described as "mixed success", it could be time to think of a better long-term strategy than: let's just get people to buy more and more rules.

Monday 28 March 2016

Cyberwolf: The Werepunkalypse

Cyberpunk and Werewolf: The Apocalypse have a lot in common. They both speak to a certain conservative streak in modern public discourse: a distrust of technological development and economic advancement that at its extremes becomes almost misanthropic. We're ruining the planet, globalisation is disruptive and damaging, and by the way development brings inequality and mental health problems and Justin Bieber and God knows what else, so it's best not to bother. This spans the political spectrum and I certainly feel susceptible to it at times, so I offer it simply as an observation.

Cyberpunk is the political aspect of this, of course: the future is here, and it belongs to the rich. If you're not in the 1% you're in for a miserable life of drug addiction, brutish violence and the collapse of society - if you're lucky. Werewolf is the environmental: humans are basically arseholes bent on destroying the natural world. The two games are two sides of the same rather bleak and angry coin.

So why not combine the two? Werewolf's rules are terrible, but I've always thought that under its surface it has (interestingly but in a somewhat cowardly implicit fashion) suggested something that very few RPGs ever have: the PCs are terrorists. They have an aim in mind and that is to actively and aggressively defend the natural world from exploitation. And if that involves violence, so be it. This creates a sandbox game with a difference. Rather than seeking fame and fortune, the PCs are acting to preserve - searching out threats to a certain natural habitat and eliminating them with extreme prejudice. They are the white blood cells of gaia.

Cyberpunk, on the other hand, has better rules and goes the extra step in creating a setting which does the requisite caricaturing to make the ecoterrorism motif seem plausible and even necessary: in a world in which there is absolutely no restriction on corporate power and the blending together of the commercial and political elites is so total, violent activities in response feel almost justifiable.

What you would come out with is a very tight and focused game which, as well as being thematically interesting, would also provide a heck of a lot for the PCs to do (something which the oWoD books were pretty terrible at). It might even - dare I say it? - provoke some thought in the heads of the GM and players. I really quite like the idea.

Thursday 24 March 2016

You say tomato, I say bagayi

In the comments in the last post I felt somewhat chided by the notion that if you want to get serious about thinking about fantasy languages you are some sort of rabid elitist who wants to foist incomprehensible and unpronounceable gibberish on the unwary. I don't agree with this at all: it's generally a good thing within reason to think things through and I'm not sure why words should be any different.

A long time ago I wrote a post about the Yellow City Trade Tongue. (You may also recognise this from one of the Appendices to Yoon-Suin.) The basic idea behind this language is that it is a kind of simple lingua franca (like the Chinook Jargon or Tok Pisin) to allow slug-men and humans to communicate with each other. Since slug-men are the rulers of the Yellow City, the language primarily suits them; it does not recognise gender (because slug-men have both sexes) and it is designed to be pronounced by a mouth that does not have teeth or much of a palate, and very rubbery lips.

You can read about my conclusions as to how the language would operate in the previous post. The main thing is that the number of sounds or syllables available for use is fairly clearly defined, and is as follows:


Most vowels are as they are in Spanish and consonant sounds are largely as they would sound in English; "f" has to be pronounced very lightly, just using the lips (no teeth); "x" is like the Spanish "j" or Scottish "ch" as in "loch"; "q" is like a "k". The only difficult one is "w" but just assume that is pronounced the normal English way for the sake of argument. Elongated vowels do not mutate (so "é" is an elongated "e" sound - pronounced like the English air rather than English feed). There is strict vowel harmony, so all vowels in a word are either all normal or all elongated. 

So you can see that once you have the sounds created you can very easily come up with whatever noun you want and it will sound roughly consistent. Tomato? That's a bagayi. Painting? That's a híxá. A giant squid? Yá means "big" and "squid" is bufala, so "giant squid" becomes yabufala (vowel harmony being enforced). You don't particularly need to use the Yellow City Trade Tongue words for "tomato" or "painting" in a game, but you get the point - you can create all sorts of consistent-seeming proper nouns with this sort of approach, no bother. You can also throw in weird sounding words to amuse and intrigue the players - isn't it more interesting and atmospheric if they are warned about the presence of a "yabufala" in the lagoon over there rather than a "giant squid"? What's a yabufala? Hope it's not dangerous! 

Try it - it isn't difficult. Get hold of a phonetic alphabet with sounds (like this one), choose about a dozen or so consonants and a few vowels, and then you have the soundscape of a made-up language. Think of a way of transcribing the sounds if necessary. (In the Yellow City Trade Tongue, the IPA symbols pbqgɸʝχ,ɰl, and h are transliterated into p, b, k, g, f, y, x, w, l and h.Then think about who is speaking the language and what that might imply. Hey presto! Consistent-sounding proper nouns. 

Wednesday 23 March 2016

On Language

There are three schools of thought regarding languages in fantasy or SF settings. These schools of thought are sort of implicit, in the sense that English writers - like most English speakers - tend not to actually think about language very much. They are as follows:

1. The pseudo-philological school. These are those such as MAR Barker and JRR Tolkien, for whom constructing coherent languages is an enjoyable hobby and actually probably the main attraction for them in the genre of fantasy. This is by far the smallest. 

2. The instrumentalist school. This is the use of language and linguistics to achieve fictional goals. One example is China Mieville's Embassytown, in which an alien language which requires being able to say two things at once and living people to act out similes is a sort of plot device for weird stuff to happen. Another is the Star Trek: TNG episode "Darmok", in which an alien race is discovered who can only communicate using metaphor - again as an interesting plot point. 

3. The aesthetic school. This is the largest, and comprises the great majority of fantasy writers, who simply make up words as and when they need to because they sound good. An example of this is George RR Martin, who invented a "Dothraki" language in some notional sense (the language exists in the setting) but who just makes up Dothraki words when he needs them; they sound sort of suitable from an English-speaker's perspective for a culture of steppe-travelling nomads. Most fantasy languages are like this, and are typically conceptualised in quite a lazy way, so if there is a culture of people who live in small mutually antagonistic city-states the languages they speak will sound vaguely Italian; if there is a culture of people who live in hot exotic climes their languages will have weird clicks and apostrophes everywhere; if there is a culture of people who live in the desert their language will sound harsh and guttural; and if there is a culture of people who live somewhere cold their language will have lots of umlauts and feel vaguely Nordic. 

I've always been fascinated by languages, especially the rare ones. Different languages really are different ways of looking at the world. Perhaps the best and most striking example of this I know of is that the Japanese word for 'blue', aoi, also often is used to mean what an English person would call 'green'. I was amazed when I first moved to Japan and started learning Japanese, and realised that people actually referred to a grass lawn or a 'go' sign on a traffic light as being blue. This rather trivial example illustrates the depths of difference which exist from culture to culture, and what a tragedy it is when one of these unique ways of looking at the world disappears.

The variety of human languages is also pretty astounding. Listen to the sounds of these three people, speaking Ainu, O'odham and Scottish Gaelic respectively. Pay particular attention to the noises they are making. The variety is impressive, and what you will notice is the absolute poverty of imagination that there is in the English-speaking literary world when it comes to thinking about what potential fantasy languages might sound like. 

Yet it is also perhaps worth pointing out that there may be a fourth school of thought regarding languages which is even less well-acknowledged - it's not so much implicit as subconscious. And it's this: if, like Tolkien, you conceive of fantasy as being a kind of "legendarium", then it may be entirely appropriate to approach the construction of fantasy languages and words as being an exercise in communicating meaning rather than in being realistic. A good example of this is the use of words in Mythago Wood; I don't believe for a second that the words used in that book are at all accurate as examples of old Brythonic or whatever, but the word urscumug has a great ring to it as a word for a kind of hellish guardian monster of the forest. Similarly, I would say that the word orc has a certain feel to it for English speakers which is suggestive of what the word "orc" represents. Fantasy languages, in other words, have a role to play in creating a mood for their audience that is representative of what that audience understands "fantasy" to be.

It is suitable and appropriate, then, to think of fantasy words as having to communicate mood to the readership rather than making sense from a linguistic point of view. Yet the observation that there is a poverty of imagination there also holds true: if you want to be interesting and different, you could do a lot worse than listen to how people in other parts of the world (especially its more obscure corners) actually communicate with each other.

Tuesday 22 March 2016

[Actual Play] 5th Edition in Pre-Medieval Japan: Session 2 - Musseling in Where One Ottern't

The blog is not going to turn into me just obsessively cataloging what happens in gaming sessions. But this post is yet more of it nonetheless.

The three philosophers Monomi, Goro and Terasu had gone in search of the lost population of the Emishi village of Niseko, and discovered that an aggressive group of Emishi hunters, operating from a series of river caves, had kidnapped the Niseko band in order to slaughter them for a local kamuy, the river mussel god. They had killed some members of this group of hunters and now had two of them hostage.

The three philosophers decided to rest for the night to recover their powers magical, mystical and physical, and then go in search of the river mussel god the next day. But in the night Monomi was disturbed by a bird call which seemed obviously to be made by a man rather than a creature. He woke the others and Goro was able to use his telepathy to get out of the captives that they had to make the call of a raven in return in order to signify that all was well. By the vagaries of fate, Terasu had the power to do precisely that, and communed with the local kamuy in order to do so. His raven call convinced whoever was outside the caves to approach. The three philosophers doused their torches, and soon enough five men appeared, entering the caverns; in a sharp fight two were shot dead by the arrows of Goro and Monomi and the others fled; Monomi gave chase to the others and killed them with his shugendo powers as they attempted to wade upstream. He then floated back down the river, to the others, meditating on the fleeting nature of life and death.

As dawn crept over the sky the three philosophers headed North with their captives, to the waterfall lair of the river mussel god. They had decided to attempt to negotiate with the kamuy, primarily through Goro, who was versed in the art of communication with beings otherworldly. They discovered a waterfall some 4 or 5 yards high, with a deep pool at the bottom; to its left carved into the cliff face were steps, and a little further to the left, a cave. After tying up their two captives (and promising to let them go if they survived), they decided to go up the staircase first to investigate what was on top and found another cave on the opposite bank, with a guard standing outside. In the water, tied together to a rock, were the decaying corpses of five Emishi villagers. The guard issued a challenge in Emishi; Goro was able to communicate to him that they had come to pay homage to the river mussel spirit. In return, he was informed that they must go to the pool below and call the god forth.

The three philosophers duly did so, and from the depths of the pool came the figure of a woman, naked, with very pale blue eyes. Accompanying her, emerging from the forest behind the three philosophers, appeared two bears. The three philosophers paid homage, and decided to offer her their services. They discovered that she was the sworn enemy of the otter god, whose people preyed upon hers; she was using the nutrients from the bodies of human beings her followers could capture in the forest to build her strength in order to fight back. The three philosophers promised to help her defeat the otter god, and learned that this other spirit's weakness was its curiosity. They headed off downstream in search of an area in the river which the local Emishi referred to as 'the salmon king' - a calm place in the river where salmon congregated. Before doing so they released their two Emishi captives as promised, though not without some debate as to whether to fight them to the death afterwards.

They found 'the salmon king', and, knowing that the otter god was insatiably curious, Monomi played a mysterious tune on his flute while Terasu burned incense. This did not attract the otter god but did bring some Emishi women, who seemed to have been in the area gathering berries, to the far bank of the river. Goro used a magical cantrip to paint an image of an otter on the surface of the water; the women responded by gesturing upstream. The three philosophers headed in that direction and within a short period of time had found a family of otters playing in the water. One of these revealed herself to be the otter god.

After debating the nature of joy and sorrow with Monomi for some time, the otter god eventually revealed that she knew of the river mussel god but had always viewed their relationship as being cyclical, with the mussels growing from nutrients in the river and the otters growing from the mussels in due course. The three philosophers had initially planned to find some way to get the two spirits to fight each other, but through conversing with the otter god they discovered that there were some Emishi elders who could prevent animal kamuy from transforming back and forth between their true form and the form of a person. The three philosophers then hatched a plan. If they could gain the knowledge of one of these Emishi elders they could cast a spell on the river mussel spirit to force her to remain in river mussel form. They could then carry her downstream to a place close to the Japanese settlement of Kawa-no-kuchi, where she could live off the nutrients of the burgeoning village, and this might persuade her to no longer use the nutrients from human corpses to build her power.

And thus the session ended, with the three philosophers about to head to the friendly Emishi village of Okoppe to see if they could find an elder who might teach them a spell for controlling the shape-shifting power of a forest kamuy such as the river mussel god. 

Thursday 17 March 2016

[Actual Play] Cruth Lowlands Campaign: Session 7 - And the Party Was Incensed

Session 7 of the Cruth Lowlands Campaign took place today. For previous AP reports, see here.

PCs present:

  • Jason, playing Naghmeh, a 1st level magic-user
  • Patrice, playing Dragosta, a 1st level fighter

Andy and Sir Gareth were absent for this session, so Naghmeh and Dragosta, "the girls", decided to explore some new areas of the map. They were told by Yokomosok about an ancient elven tower in the forest that was rumoured to be haunted by the ghost of an elf princess. They also heard about an abandoned castle in the North, and about a merchant who had lost a shipment of salted fish in mysterious circumstances. They decided the ancient elven tower was the place for them. Before going, however, they decided to round up some help. While the party had exhausted all of the likely-looking brigands and mercenaries in town by now, at least for this month, they did manage to find some pathetic beggars and vagrants willing to do anything for cash. These were the friendly Calliope, the small person Zoe, and the one-eyed old man Christos. None had armour or any other equipment except clubs. They agreed to work for 1gp a week and a share of 10% of any treasure gained, split between them.

The tower stood alone on top of a hill amongst pine trees, and had a single dead oak outside. In the roots of this huge tree was a tunnel entrance, closed off by iron bars. Dragosta yanked off these bars and the party headed inside. They found an oak door on their left and a very narrow passage leading straight on. Examining this door, they noticed that around the edge was a strange, pale white mold. Dragosta noticed this could be scorched off with a torch. They did this and opened the door, revealing a room full of the mold. At the far end, in an alcove, was a gold statue of a young man with a huge sun-like disc behind him. 

The group spent quite some time investigating this room. They knew the mold was definitely dangerous, and that they shouldn't breath in any spores. They also noticed that just putting a toe into the room was enough to make the statue come to life, whereupon it would raise out its hand as if to say "halt", and speak in some strange language. They also surmised that this must have something to do with the cult of Apollo. Eventually, Dragosta scraped some of the mold into a pouch and sealed it, to carry off with her.

They explored beyond the narrow passage. On the right was a door which seemed locked and they couldn't force. On the left were stairs heading down - a long way, well over 100 steps. Beyond that was another door on the left, behind which they could hear strange chittering sounds. And further beyond that was a large, open room. 

They decided not to go down stairs, but to investigate the door beyond it. Opening it, they found half a dozen large centipedes, at least three feet long. Dragosta quickly threw in the pouch of mold and then shut the door. They decided to leave it and wait to see what effect it had. In the mean time, they would explore the large open room further in.

This large room was the base of the tower. On the floor was the long-dead skeleton of a man, wearing rusty plate mail, and carry a strangely-pristine iron warhammer. On the South wall was a staircase heading down. Above them was a hole in the ceiling, which had presumably once housed a pulley. They hit on a plan to have Dragosta climb on Christos' shoulders, and then toss Zoe up into the hole in the ceiling with a rope she could lower down. This she did, and they got up into the second level. This proved to be a large room with many windows, and a strange sweet smell in the air. The source of this was revealed to be 12 large sacks of some kind of elven incense. They lowered this all down to the ground floor with the rope, and then investigated the windows. Dragosta tried tossing Zoe up onto the roof of the tower with a rope round her waist, but didn't make it; luckily the rope didn't snap and the hireling survived. They reeled her in and descended the tower. Naghmeh then hit on the idea of using incense in the statute room, on the basis it might have religious significance. She put a sack's worth in Dragosta's small cauldron, and set it alight, then place it in the statue room. Sure enough, the incense seemed to placate the statute and seemed to stimulate the mold to release clouds of spores. They decided to leave the incense burning in the room and see if it would cause the mold to 'spend' all of its spores. . 

In the meantime they decided to investigate the staircase in the Southern wall of the tower base. At the bottom they found a series of rooms. One of these was decked out like the room of an elf maiden; it contained a bed, a beautiful coat stitched with silver and gold, a wolf skin rug, two books, and three vials. Dragosta put the coat on and Naghmeh took the books; they also took a vial each and gave one to Zoe. Zoe immediately opened it and, assuming it was perfume, put it all over her body.

In the next room they found a big, open chamber decorated with magnificent frescoes of elf lords and ladies, hunting parties, and banquets. And in the corner, sitting on a chair, a skeleton wearing a beautiful green dress. Heedless of Dragosta's warnings, Naghmeh strode forward to investigate. Sure enough, this turned out to be a spectacularly bad idea, because it led to an epic conflict - which must have lasted 20 rounds - in which what turned out to be an elf wraith killed all of the hirelings and very nearly killed Dragosta. [DM's note: I had a brain fart and completely fluffed my lines, giving Dragosta a saving throw attempt against the wraith's energy drain, which she survived. For some reason I forgot there is no saving throw against level drain. But on the basis that DM errors in the player's favour shouldn't be overturned, the result stands.] But the warhammer seemed to have some kind of powerful effect over the wraith and ultimately the party prevailed. 

Dragosta and Naghmeh went back to the statue room to see what had happened. Indeed, the incense seemed to have over-stimulated the mold so it no longer released any spores. It also seemed to placate the statue, and they were able to inspect it. It seemed the statue itself was stuck fast to the ground, but the sun disc could be removed and was solid gold. However, they knew they had no hope of carrying it back to town, so they got what loot they could carry (two sacks of incense each, the coat, the rug, the vials, and the books) and headed back to town. Selling the incense gave them 3000 gp, more than enough cash to buy two oxen and a large cart and some hay, and the next day they took this back to the tower to get the disc, with two new vagrants in tow - Eva (infested with fleas) and big, muscular man [DM's note: his name currently escapes me). 

In the tower they noticed that there had been activity during the night. The skeleton corpse in the plate mail armour had disappeared, and the door to the centipede room was mysteriously open - revealing six dead giant centipedes, all apparently killed by mold exploding out of them. The PCs decided not to investigate further, but to just get the sun disc and get out of there. This they did, and took it back to town covered in hay.

The halfling woman jeweller, Squinter, agreed to value the disc and turn it into bullion in return for 10% of its value. This turned out to be 7000 gp. They agreed to this; giving a share of 10% to Eva and the big, muscular man resulted in a total haul of 5600 gp. Split two ways and with the sale of the sacks of incense taken into account, this was enough to take Dragosta to level 3 and Naghmeh to level 2. A stunning success after a number of barren sessions, and good reward for sheer bravery in not fleeing the wraith. 

They then took the hammer, books, vials, and elven coat to the sage, Karpi. He agreed to identify them for 100 gp each. The vials were revealed to be ordinary perfume, and Karpi didn't know about the books (he thought there were in some old elven dialect) but he knew that the hammer had once been owned by a man called Sir Evangelios, who was the older brother of the ruler of Riverfork, Sir Iannis. Sir Evangelios had gone into the forest in search of adventure with this hammer, but never returned. It was rumoured to be especially puissant against the undead, but was also said to be cursed. He advised Dragosta never to wear it around town. He then told them that the elven coat was the kind given to elf maidens on their wedding days. Wearing it would have a strange effect on elves, making them easily persuadable by the wearer.

The PCs heard that in the forests to the South lived a Jann, from Ylaurumm, who might know more about these items. They decided this should be their next port of call - and that they also wanted to seek out some elves to translate the books and persuade to do things. (Possibly after revenge on the gnomes to continue the vendetta from last session.)

Wednesday 16 March 2016

Witches and Warlocks

Those who worship Satan gain certain powers because their master is the prince of the world. While witches and warlocks can never enter heaven, they can walk freely between other realms, and are indeed the only beings that can do this. The mightiest of Faerie Nobles cannot enter the world of men without sacrifice and undergoing restraints both physical and temporal. Yet witches and warlocks can go back and forth from Faerie to New Troy to Muspel and suffer no hindrance in doing so.

Thanks to the granting of the devil's power, witches and warlocks also use magic, which comes from Faerie, and can communicate with the spirits of the evil and unbaptised dead, who exist in Muspel. Through it, they can even exert influence over nature itself, bending the will of beasts and plants to their own. 

Witch or Warlock

HD: d6+4, AC 6, #ATT 1, DMG By weapon +2 (typically staff)

Roll: 1 - Young woman; 2 - Young male; 3 - Middle-aged woman; 4 - Middle-aged man; 5 - Old woman; 6 - Old man

Powers by number of HD (cumulative):

5/6 - can walk between Faerie and New Troy, or New Troy in Muspel, if alone for one hour; can cast animal friendshipbarkskin, entangle, faerie fire, pass without traceshillelagh, obscurement, warp wood, call lightning, cure/cause disease, plant growth, neutralise poison/poison, summon insects, tree, all once per day; charm personcall woodland beings, animal summoning I, hallucinatory forest, dispel magic, speak with dead all once per week; and speak with animals and invisibility to animals at will
7/8 - can cast charm personanimal summoning I, hallucinatory forest, dispel magic, animal growth, commune with nature, sticks to snakes, all once per day; and animal summoning II, control winds, insect plague, pass plant, weather summoning, transport via plants, animate dead, all once per week
9/10 - can cast animal summoning Ihallucinatory forestdispel magicanimal growthcommune with naturesticks to snakes, animal summoning IIcontrol windsinsect plaguepass plantweather summoningtransport via plants, all once per day; and animal summoning III, feeblemind, turn wood, wall of thorns, control weather, creeping doom, finger of death, raise the dead, all once per week


Dice Lair Familiars* (roll d3) Unique Power
1 A small, ordinary and pleasant-looking
Wildcat Can detach own hand,
which acts independently
and can cast spells; has 1/4
of witch's total HD 
2 A house in the forest made from
many thousands of dead flowers woven
Rat Can bite to poison; save vs
3 A hut surrounded by petrified frogs,
bats, birds, toys, etc. hanging from
Owl Can hypnotise with eyes 1/day;
save vs paralysis
4 Within a bulbous gall on a tree which
somehow requires entrants to imagine
they are small enough to enter
Rook Can sing a beautiful song which
attracts the unwary 1/day; save
vs magic or be compelled to
discover song's source 
5 In a set of caves under a boulder which
is entered through an impossibly thin
crack which requires entrants to imagine
they are thin enough to enter
Lizard Can pause time for 10 seconds
6 A hut in a huge bird's nest is a high tree
in the forest
Adder Can feign death 1/week
7 A hut made from lily pads floating on
a pond
Sparrowhawk Can use words to compel others
(suggestion 1/day)
8 A hut constructed within the hollow of
a blasted oak
Spider Can fly 1/week
9 Balancing on top of a small tower of
boulders, standing one on top of another
in an impossible seeming way 
Stag beetle Can disguise perfectly as a
person seen and heard once
10 In a wind- or water-mill which seems
to turn backwards
Fox Can cast clairaudience 
and clairvoyance 1/day

*Familiars are as the normal animals, but contain the witch or warlock's consciousness and can cast one of his/her spells once per day.

Tuesday 15 March 2016

The Human Body Can Do a Lot

Apropos of nothing much at all really, here are some examples of real-world D&D-style monk/mystics and why having them do huge amounts of damage with unarmed fists isn't really so fantastical.

Bear in mind Higaonna Morio, the guy in the first video, is over 70 years old. Also bear in mind that the guy in the second video is presumably wearing armoured gloves of some description. You get the drift.

This post is really an extension of this old one. Human beings (let's face it, usually the male ones) are really good at figuring out ways of efficiently killing each other. In a fantasy world we'd probably be really good at figuring out ways to efficiently kill non-humans too. Using tai chi on a dragon might be a stretch... But we'd probably come up with something.

Sunday 13 March 2016

More Game World Building Reaction Tables

Following on from this recent post, I got to thinking a little more about how reaction tables can build the setting and serve as sources of greater interaction, not to mention contribute to achieving a certain mood.

Here's a sample. This is part of a table for New Troy, my pseudo-English folklore setting. One of the conceits of New Troy is that in certain parts of the map (particularly forests) PCs can accidentally stray into, or out of, the Faerie realm (and Faeries can do likewise into the 'real' world of the PCs). They will frequently do this without even knowing it. In such places encounters with animals in particular will have special significance.

This is a set of 'reactions' for encounters in Faerie with the most mundane creature I could think of - a slow worm. (For those of you in North America who can't be bothered to click the link, this is a small limbless lizard.) Ordinarily slow worms are so small and unobtrusive that humans simply don't really 'encounter' them. But that's ordinary slow worms. In Faerie things are different.

I've just provided one set of results for each reaction type; in reality there will likely be 3 or 4:

The Tail of the Worm
A slow worm’s detached tail will bring luck for its saviour. (The PCs come across a badger, fox or other predator attacking a slow worm. If they chase the predator away, the slow worm leaves its detached tail behind. This is a lucky charm if carried, allowing the wearer to avoid a failed save vs death once each lunar month.)
A Plea for Aid
A small, lithe woman dressed in brown leather and with yellow irises asks for aid; she is being hunted by the three wildcat familiars of a witch who lives deep in the forest and wants her for her potions. If the PCs agree to help and kill the witch, the next morning they will be visited again by the woman, who transforms into a slow worm and will lead them to a trove of gold buried beneath a tree (300 gp).
 The Blinding Creeper
In the old tongue, men knew of the slow worm as the “blinding creeper”, because its scales are so dazzling in sunlight. On a sunny day, on an exposed rock on a heath, the sun may catch on the blinding creeper as it dashes for its burrow. (Randomly select a PC, who must successfully save versus poison or be blinded for a day.)
The Maternal Serpent
Occasionally a voice is heard in the forest, calling out for help, giggling, crying, or singing. Its source cannot be found, but it leads a traveller away from his path and strands him in the forest. This is the doing of a mother slow worm, protecting her brood by distracting threats. (For each turn the PCs spend following the sound, there is a 1 in 6 chance they become lost.)
Born of the Earth
Sometimes travellers  climbing on a steep slope, or passing through a ravine or by a rock face, are hit by falling rocks. This is the work of a slow-worm, threatened by their presence. (1d4 damage to each PC; save versus paralysation to avoid).

The idea, here, is that you would roll for a random encounter as normal, and the entry "slow worm" would direct you to its entry, where you then roll the reaction dice, As you can see from the above table, this then provides you with potentially three different things:

-The location of the encounter (on a steep slope or passing by a rock face in the case of an "attack" reaction; on an open rocky heath for a "cautious" one, etc.)
-An actual event of some kind
-Complications (getting lost in the forest for an "aggressive" reaction; possibly encountering a witch for a "neutral" reaction, etc.)

More information can also be packed into this very easily. For example, consider such a table for a standard D&D humanoid monster such as "orcs". An "attack" result might consist of "20 orc slave raiders searching for new blood". A "friendly" one might consist of "a single lost orc who obsequiously begs to be brought under the party's protection". So you get the number of creatures encountered included in the reaction table result. Other information that can be packed into the reaction dice in this way include distance - "attack" might mean that the monster is right on top of the PCs, whereas "neutral" might mean it is very far away - or even the surprise roll, with "attack", in the case of a predator, signifying surprise of the PCs, and "friendly" being the opposite.

This does require quite a bit of work, but it's worth it given the nature of the results, and it's part of the fun of creating the thing.