All posts by LS

d100 Curses

NO CURSES, GRIMBO!

Curses are cool. Open a sealed tomb? You get a curse! Kill a wizened old crone? You get a curse! Plunder a wealthy monastery? Everybody gets a curse!

Here are 100 of them.

  1. The cursed must get proper permission before entering any domicile.
  2. The cursed will always close their eyes in the presence of fire.
  3. Anytime the cursed walks through a doorway, they will thoughtlessly slam it behind themselves, causing a racket and possibly knocking nearby items off shelves.
  4. If the cursed sees a knot, they are compelled to untie it.
  5. The cursed cannot get wet. If they do, their most important concern becomes drying themselves as soon as possible.
  6. The cursed is mesmerized by any form of performance art they encounter. They are unable to continue on until it ends, or they are dragged away from it.
  7. The cursed may never sit for any reason.
  8. Nobody remembers the cursed between meetings. Each time they encounter someone, that person believes it is the very first time.
  9. Everyone who meets the cursed seems to recall hearing stories about them. These stories paint the picture of an unreliable, cruel, and evil person.
  10. Any money that the cursed doesn’t spend the same day the get it, disappears.
  11. Compasses don’t work within 100′ of the cursed.
  12. The cursed can be turned by clerics as though they were undead. If a friendly cleric turns undead, they are not able to exempt the cursed.
  13. Every coin that passes through the hand of the cursed transforms into a less valuable metal. (Platinum turns to gold, gold to silver, silver to copper, copper to steel, etc).
  14. A permanent raincloud drizzles on the head of the cursed. Each week they must roll a save versus Breath to avoid rusted equipment. (In addition to other annoyances which would occur).
  15. The cursed’s shoes wear out within 4 hours. They must carry spare pairs unless they wish to adventure barefooted. Adventuring without shoes reduces max hp by 1 per hit die.
  16. The cursed sleeps for 16 hours each day, instead of 8.
  17. The cursed’s reflection shows a gaunt, dead thing. Not even a living corpse, just a corpse propped up in roughly the same position the cursed is currently in. Others who notice this will be horrified.
  18. There will never be any lodging available in any town the cursed visits.
  19. The gender of the cursed is randomly determined each morning.
  20. The cursed gains a crippling weakness against common dogs. A dog’s bite is so poison to them, that they must make a save versus poison or die.
  21. Anytime the cursed takes more than 3 damage in a single round the wind is knocked out of them. They must save versus Poison or they won’t be able to do any more than move during their next turn.
  22. The cursed cannot hold their breath. Ever. At all. For any reason.
  23. Any time a save is called for, the cursed rolls their worst save instead of the save that was intended.
  24. Anytime the cursed is in a private residence, they will accidentally break something the owner holds dear.
  25. Any time anyone at the game table coughs or sneezes, the cursed is consumed by a loud and obnoxious coughing / sneezing fit in-game. To the point that people start to think they’re faking it for attention or something.
  26. The cursed’s dietary needs are altered so they can only be sustained by animals that people care about: horses, cats, dogs, etc. Nobody needs to care about the specific animal eaten, so long it is of a type that people in the area generally keep as pets.
  27. Anything experienced by the cursed while alone is entirely fictional. The only real experiences they have are those shared by at least one other member of the party.
  28. The cursed loses all concept of table manners. They eat in the most disgusting way imaginable.
  29. The cursed character becomes hyper-sensitive to changes in air pressure. They cannot travel more than 20′ vertically in a day without becoming light headed and weak.
  30. All clothing becomes unbearably itchy. The cursed must go about naked or suffer from constant discomfort.
  31. The cursed attracts biting insects and rashes to their body; and thus they itch constantly. They are completely incapable of sitting still, and anytime it might be required they fidget and scratch and rub themselves against things. Contorting themselves to reach difficult itches.
  32. Everything the cursed says comes out as sarcastic and disrespectful.
  33. The cursed has intermittent super strength, allowing them to punch through stone walls and stomp their foes into the ground. This power only manifests itself when the cursed least desires it. This causes simple, ordinary actions to become destructive. The referee will judge which actions have this ‘benenfit’ after the fact.
  34. Everything that the cursed says must rhyme. If they fail, they’ll take 1 point of damage each time.
  35. The cursed cannot abide the presence of the opposite gender, and must either fight, or excuse themselves from the area if they encounter one.
  36. Each non-cursed member of the group (including the referee) should be asked to name a common word. These words are then put onto a list, kept in common view of the whole table. If the cursed speaks any of these words during play, their character takes 1 point of damage to a random ability score.
  37. The player to the right of the cursed should name a letter. The cursed cannot use any words which begin with that letter, on pain of suffering 1 point of damage each time they do so.
  38. If the cursed uses an edged weapon, they will cut themselves after every fail attack roll, dealing half weapon damage.
  39. The cursed grows a pair of gills, and can now only breathe in water.
  40. The cursed must make an original pun each game day. Any days in which they fail to do this, they are struck by lightning.
  41. The cursed must reroll all their ability scores each morning. 3d6, in order.
  42. If the cursed is a caster, they may now only access the spells of a different casting class. Magic Users can only prepare Cleric spells. Clerics can only prepare MU spells. Other casters are restricted to the spells of whatever spellcasting class is deemed most opposed to their own. If the cursed is not a caster, reroll their curse.
  43. Between sessions, the cursed goes on uncontrollable drunken adventures that they then have no memory of. Each session starts with a hangover, and a new injury.
  44. The cursed becomes trapped in whatever clothes they’re currently wearing. Characters wearing armor will suffer mounting penalties after being forced to sleep in their armor for long periods. If the cursed was not wearing any armor at the time the curse took hold, they will still become ever smellier, and more offensive to civilized folk.
  45. If music is played, the cursed must dance to it. Even if it’s just enemy wardrums.
  46. The cursed’s face turns into a ceramic mask, fitted over exposed muscle and bone.
  47. Any boat the cursed boards will be blown off course and shipwrecked far from where it was supposed to be.
  48. The cursed is compelled to break any glass they see.
  49. Pack animals hate the cursed, and will flee or attack if the cursed is near.
  50. Instead of food, the cursed subsists off of making people cry.
  51. Anyone who spends the night under the same roof as the cursed will be struck by lightning the next time they stand under an open sky.
  52. An obese old woman appears each night to hover over the cursed as they sleep, staring at them in slack-jawed annoyance. Drool dribbles from her mouth, onto the cursed’s sleeping form. If she is confronted, she flies into a rage fit that will prevent anyone from sleeping. If she is attacked, she is killed, but the dreams of the cursed are tormented and give no rest. She returns the next night, still agitated from having been slain.
  53. The cursed does not have a name. No word seems to describe them, and anytime one is tried, it is forgotten by everyone, including the cursed.
  54. Everything the cursed says must be sung.
  55. In any religious rite the cursed witnesses or participate in, they will perform a sacrilege.
  56. Within a day of encountering some new community or culture, the cursed will always commit some highly offensive faux pas that is unique to that community.
  57. Any tool the cursed uses has a 1 in 6 chance to break.
  58. If the curseds own any structure, it will burn to the ground or be otherwise demolished the first time the cursed sleeps in it.
  59. Any animal the cursed attempts to ride will attempt to buck them off at the most inopportune time possible.
  60. No warning given by the cursed will ever be heeded.
  61. No servant will remain faithful to the cursed when their back is turned.
  62. No message sent from anything but the cursed’s own lips will ever reach its destination.
  63. Any map the cursed might benefit from will be half-ruined before it can be used.
  64. Half of any book the cursed might benefit from will be torn out or destroyed before they can be read.
  65. Any wand found by the cursed will have only a single charge.
  66. Anytime the cursed expresses a concern, it will be interpreted as a joke.
  67. Any community the cursed stays in for a week will experience poor fortune for a year. Bad harvests, raiding bands, lost trade agreements, war, etc.
  68. No fire can ever be put out in the presence of the cursed. Even fully submerging a torch in water won’t work.
  69. The cursed has 100% fertility, and is irresistible to the opposite sex. 100% as in “literally anything sexual results in pregnancy.” The cursed makes babies from blowjobs.
  70. Anything that drops from the cursed’s hands is lost, and can only be found by someone who would never return it willingly.
  71. Even the smallest amount of a drug–a thimble of beer, second hand marijuana smoke, etc–will have the full effects of a day of binging on the cursed.
  72. The cursed’s morality becomes an absolutist thing. Any deviation from your alignment or stated values will result in losing all class abilities until an atonement is made.
  73. The cursed tastes good. Really good. Creatures that eat manflesh will smell the cursed much more readily, and be persistent in pursuing them. Any time the cursed takes damage from fire, the sizzling scent causes an immediate random encounter check. Any time the cursed takes damage from a bite, that creature will direct all their attacks towards the tasty tasted cursed one.
  74. The cursed comes to believe strongly that the Iron age was a mistake, and that mankind was led astray by their hubris in smelting metals that were not meant for them. Bronze is the most advanced metal the cursed may use. The cursed will proselytize to others about their iron-sins.
  75. The cursed believes they are dead. Any damage dealt to them, as well as their actual hit point total, are kept secret by the referee. The cursed simply doesn’t believe any of it has occurred. How can they be hurt if they’re already dead? It’s silly.
  76. The cursed PC transforms into the cursed player. The PC takes on the appearance of the player, as well as the group’s best guess at how the player’s real life abilities would translate into the game world. The new PC doesn’t have any modern knowledge. They are as they would be if they had been born in the game world and followed an equivalent life path to their real life’s path.
  77. Randomly determine a player who is not the cursed or the referee. That player must come up with a catchphrase. Any session in which the cursed does not use their catchphrase in some appropriate way, is a session in which they forfeit any experience points they would have gained.
  78. The cursed falls into a deep sleep until their true love’s kiss wakes them. The the cursed is unplayable, and will likely remain so unless the rest of the party set up a kissing booth or something.
  79. The the cursed immediately and irrevocably falls in love with the next NPC of the appropriate type they meet. Resisting this infatuation will result in a negative level each week, as the cursed finds they cannot eat or sleep or enjoy the activities they once did. The only cure for this malady is the pursuit and marriage of the NPC. The cursed will always be very happy in this marriage and unwilling to leave it, no matter how horrible and demanding the referee makes their spouse. The referee is encouraged to make the cursed’s spouse very horrible and demanding.
  80. The cursed shows visible, obvious signs of desire anytime they see a piece of treasure. So if they encounter a king wearing a golden crown, they’ll spend the whole conversation staring wide-eyed at his crown and making grabby-hands in the air towards it. Obviously, this does little to endear the cursed to anyone who owns treasure.
  81. The cursed is contorted into a sphere. They can roll in any direction they desire, and take some actions with their arms. They are none the less limited in their ability to perform many common tasks due to their new shape.
  82. The size of the cursed becomes variable. Each morning when they wake, roll a d6 to determine how big the cursed is this day. 1. Ant sized; 2. Housecat sized; 3. Halfling sized; 4. Adult human sized; 5. Tall as an elephant; 6. Tall as a giraffe.
  83. Everyone who sees the cursed perceives them as an octopus struggling to survive on land. Everything the cursed says is heard as the pitiable wailing of a dying cephalopod.
  84. The cursed needs to pee every 10 minutes.
  85. Anytime the cursed takes damage, the wound immediately turns to gold. Since the wound cannot be healed, the hit point loss becomes permanent.
  86. Once combat has begun, the cursed is unable to stop fighting until every foe is dead. Even those who seem like they might someday consider the possibility of becoming a foe must die.
  87. The next time the cursed wrongs someone, that person will exaggerate the wrong into a horrible, unsympathetic crime. They will expend great effort to ensure everyone knows of the cursed’s foul nature.
  88. An intense rivalry develops between the cursed and another randomly determined member of the party. This rival PC will receive bonus experience each time they work against the cursed’s interests or betray their trust.
  89. The cursed becomes a natural target for pickpockets. Anytime they enter a crowd or a large community, they will lose some of their carried gold and possessions.
  90. The cursed becomes a natural target for burglars. Each session they will lose some of their gold and possessions that are not carried with them. Hiring guards, hiding valuables, or placing valuables in a vault will provide only temporary relief. Each of these will eventually be overcome by burglars.
  91. The cursed must always agree with the majority opinion of any group they’re in. This would include a lynch mob that wanted to have the party hanged. So long as the opinion is held by the majority, it is also the fervent opinion of the cursed.
  92. The player to the right of the cursed selects a well known personality. A political figure or celebrity, with whom the cursed’s player is familiar. In speech, mannerism, word, and deed, the cursed must now be played as though they were that personality.
  93. The cursed becomes a moral boyscout. They will always feel compelled to help anyone who has even the slightest need, and would never dream of accepting recompense for their efforts.
  94. When the cursed encounters an NPC, they must make a reaction roll to determine their demeanor towards that NPC. The reaction roll is modified by the NPC’s charisma.
  95. At the beginning of each adventure, a vulture swoops down and demands the cursed give them 500 money. If the cursed refuses, the vulture takes a bite out of their belly, pulling one of their organs free and flying off with it. The cursed takes 2 Constitution damage from this, but is otherwise unharmed. The process repeats until the cursed is dead, or starts paying the bird off. Previously taken organs can be bought back for 750 money. The vulture itself is invulnerable to attack, and can only be seen by the cursed.
  96. Every surface the cursed stands on is as slippery as melting ice.
  97. The cursed exaggerates everything. They regularly make promises that they cannot live up to, and make wild claims about past accomplishments.
  98. The cursed becomes a hireling, the the cursed’s hireling becomes the player character.
  99. Any piece of food the cursed is about to consume has a 1 in 10 chance to be poison. This poisoning occurs when a piece of food goes from being “food,” to being “the cursed’s food.”
  100. The only manner of fighting the cursed can participate in is dance fighting.

Skills: Mastery Versus Uncertainty

OR YOUR MANIES BACKSkills have been my buggaboo for nearly as long as I’ve been writing about RPGs. Every time I look at a skill system I see some new problems that I want to fix. I don’t know whether I’m working towards some platonic ideal, or if I’m just fickle. Either way I can’t help myself. There’s always something that can be done better.

For the last few years, most of the referees I play with and learn from have been using some variation on Skills: The Middle Road. If you’re unfamiliar, the breakdown is pretty simple. When you check a skill, a roll of 5 or greater indicates success. For untrained characters, each skill check is rolled with a d6. As a character advances in a given skill (either through class features or training), the die they’re allowed to roll increases from 1d6, to 1d8, to 1d10, and ultimately to 1d12. The elegance of the system has always appealed to me. As recently as last year I was planning to integrate it into my games, and a variation of the system was originally going to be described in my LotFP house rules. But then I sat down and did something I almost never do: math.

I love math, but I’m shockingly bad at it. It was never my strong suit to begin with, and being homeschooled from the 3rd grade up didn’t help. As such, obvious mathematical realities sometimes escape me. Using AnyDice, I tried to work out the functional difference between The Middle Road, and the way skills work in Rules-As-Written LotFP. (Skills start at a 1-in-6 chance of success, improving to 2-in-6, then 3-in-6, etc).

While The Middle Road gives players a higher success rate at lower levels, RAW LotFP quickly outpaces it. The very highest level of ability in Middle Road only gives a 7-in-12 chance of success, or 66.67%. In RAW LotFP, a character with a 6-in-6 skill rolls 2d6, and the check fails only in the event of double sixes. That’s a 35 in 36 chance of success, or 97.22%.

Now when I first figured this out, it convinced me that I wanted to stick with RAW LotFP. At the time, my reasoning was that players ought to be able to truly master a skill if they choose to devote themselves to it. After all, choosing to master a skill completely leaves other skills underdeveloped. There’s a natural balance there.

More recently, my thinking has changed. A system which allows total mastery of a skill is a system which allows certain challenges to become completely trivialized. If the players can always unlock a locked door, why even place locked doors at all? As a means of justifying the player’s investment? Even players seem unenthusiastic about rolling dice when they feel certain of success. And in the rare events that they fail one of these nearly-certain rolls, they seem more upset by it than usual. As if the dice just told them they’d failed a “walking” check.

When failure doesn’t seem like a possibility, it’s a lot more frustrating when it happens. It might be better to allow players to reach a level of mastery that no longer called for a roll at all. One where locked doors simply no longer existed for a master locksmith. It’s not the sort of system I want, but I think it would be better than a 2.78% chance of failure.

It could be argued that if players have reached such a high level of mastery, they ought to be adventuring in areas with locks that require checks made at -1 or -2. This is a possibility described in the LotFP rules, and is entirely legitimate. But I don’t like it.

Part of the reason oldschool skill systems appeal to me is the lack of any need for the referee to determine the difficulty of a task. Getting rid of Difficulty Checks was one of the best things about quitting Pathfinder. DCs are the fuckin’ worst. They add a ton of boring, yet necessary preparatory work to the referee’s job. They encourage the referee to reduce player agency by saying “Well, this door allows the players to skip half the dungeon. So it’ll have a REALLY high DC.” Furthermore, when a DC has to be improvised, it’s difficult to choose a good DC off the top of your head. And finally, if the referee is placing ever-increasing DCs in the game, at the same pace that the player’s ability to surpass those DCs is growing, then why have any advancement at all?

If I place a lock that requires a check at -2 in my adventure because of the fact that my players are really good at opening locks, then why did I allow them to waste skill points that I was just going to invalidate through future dungeon design?

The Middle Road has none of these problems. Furthermore, it has two great benefits.

First, it enables the referee to include weirder skills in the game. Consider the problem of the Law skill that I mentioned when I drafted the Lawyer class a few months ago. I think the law skill is super neat and fun, but it’s also powerful. If a player were able to master it, they’d be unstoppable. But so long as they still have a decent chance to fail any given check, they won’t be able to push their luck too far.

Second, and more importantly, it preserves the low level experience. It’s almost universally agreed, at least within the OSR, that low level play is the best play. The most challenging, the most engaging, the most fun. People prefer low level play so much that many campaigns (much to my frustration) are terminated just as the PCs start to reach mid levels.

The reason low level play is so treasured is that the game fundamentally changes as it goes on.  As PCs reach higher levels, more and more challenges become trivial for them. They don’t need to worry about torches once the magic user learns Light, they don’t need to worry about rations once the cleric learns Create Food and Water, and they don’t need to worry about locked doors once the thief has an almost certain chance of opening them easily.

Keeping skill checks uncertain, even at the highest levels of mastery, maintains that low level play that we all enjoy.

And as an aside, Skills: The Middle Road could easily be expanded using a d14 and d16. Not all Zocchi dice are reliably random, but those two are. I’d love to see them come into more common usage, since they so nicely fill in a lot of the gap between the d12 and the d20. And even with a d16, a player would only have a 75% chance of hitting 5 or higher. Which is still a respectable failure rate.

Magical Marvels 31: Getting Weird with the Classics 3

Cat-Bag-5This shit is way too entertaining to ever stop doing it. Same thing as last time. Three randomly determined magic items from the AD&D Dungeon Master’s Guide. One roll on the rings table, two rolls on the miscellaneous tables. The items are modified to suit my own sensibilities. This isn’t an attempt to “update” or “fix” anything, since none of them are broken. They’re just not my style.

Ring of Spell Turning

This ring distorts the three normal dimensions with respect to magic spells directed at its wearer. Any spell cast at an individual will usually rebound, in part or perhaps in whole, upon the spell caster. The distance between, and area occupied by, the victim (the ring wearer) and the spell caster are not as they seem when the magic activates the spell turning ring.

Ring of Spell Divergence

Spells cast by, or at, the wearer of this ring have something like the opposite of their intended effect. These aberrant magics are conjured from the imagination of the referee on the spot, and he or she bears no responsibility for making these new spells any better or worse than the originals. The ring is no guarantee of safety from magic, and the wearer takes full responsibility for the risks of wearing it.

Whatever illogical weirdness the referee comes up with when pressured to invent a new spell on the spot is unassailable law. They are not bound to remember precedent, or make their aberrant spells consistent in any way. The spells produced in the spur of the moment may or may not be available to be researched on their own in the game world, determined by the referee on a case by case basis.

Any attempt to argue with the referee, even to simply suggest a more reasonable ‘opposite’ spell effect, causes the ring to explode and take the wearer’s entire hand with it. Any anachronisms in the referee’s thinking on this subject are not a bug. They are a feature. They are the infinite impossibilities of magic folding backwards onto themselves, and producing something spontaneous, and terrifyingly beautiful.

Thus “Fireball” may become “Water Cube.” Or it may trap you inside a giant hamster ball of fire. Or it may force you to sing Katy Perry’s “Firework,” replacing the titular word with “Fireball.” Every referee will come up with a different way to reverse any given spell. The wearer must hope that these will work out in their favor more often than not.

Bag of Tricks

As is usual, a bag of tricks appears to be a typical size for sacks, and visual or other examination will not reveal any contents. However, if an individual reaches inside, her or she will feel a small, fuzzy object. If this is withdrawn and tossed 1′ to 20′ away, it will balloon into one of the following animals, which will obey and fight for the individual who brought it into being until the current combat terminates. The animals inside a bag of tricks are dependent upon which sort of bag is found. Roll 1d10 to determine which type.

(Type 1: weasel, skunk, badger, wolf, Giant Lynx, Wolverine, Boar, Giant Stag. Type 2: Rat, Owl, Dog, Goat, Ram, Bull, Bear, Lion, Type 3: Jackal, Eagle, Baboon, Ostrich, Leopard, Jaguar, Buffalo, Tiger)

Only 1 creature can be drawn forth at a time. It alone exists until it is slain or 1 turn has elapsed and it is ordered back into the back of tricks. Another animal may then be brought forth, but it could be another just like the one which was drawn previously. Note that only one roll is made for type of bag, but type of creature is rolled for each time one is drawn forth. up to 10 creatures maximum may be drawn from the bag each week.

For real, the Bag of Tricks is already pretty weird. I could easily see myself including this in a game nearly as-is, with only a few minor tweaks. Perhaps you’d need to coax an animal into the bag before it could be pulled out. But that isn’t really worth writing up, so I’m gonna jump a little off base with this one.

Cat in a Bag

A small burlap sack with a cat inside of it, closed tight with a knotted drawstring. The cat doesn’t particularly like being inside the bag, but it’s content enough that it doesn’t struggle or mewl constantly. It doesn’t need to be fed, but it can be harmed by attacks or by drowning, so some care must be taken to protect the bag.

Anytime the cat is let out of the bag, it will brush up against someone’s legs before running off to enjoy its temporary freedom. That person must reveal the most relevant secret they have. Whatever it is that they would most wish to keep hidden from the people who will hear them speak, is exactly what they must now reveal.

When the bag is opened, the owner should indicate a target to the cat. This cat is unusually obedient, so there is a fully 60% chance it will brush up against the indicated target’s legs. Otherwise, the cat’s target should be randomly determined from among everyone in the room, including the owner of the bag.

If the person has no obviously important secret to reveal, roll 1d6 to determine an appropriate sort of secret.

  1. The cat’s target must reveal a major crime which those present will want to punish them for committing.
  2. The cat’s target must reveal a minor crime which those present will want to prosecute them for committing.
  3. The cat’s target must reveal a shameful indiscretion from their past, which will alienate those around them.
  4. The cat’s target must reveal a taboo and disgusting preference, which will alienate them from those around them.
  5. The cat’s target must admit that they changed their identity, and provide a new name and 1-3 sentence backstory.
  6. The cat’s target must admit that they secretly produce embarrassingly bad art under a pseudonym.

Anytime the cat is let out of the bag, it will take some time to find the cat. There is a 1-in-6 chance of encountering it each hour the players spend in the same area if they are not specifically looking for it. A 3-in-6 chance per hour if they are specifically looking for it. Once found it can be reliably coaxed back into the back with 10 minutes of effort and a ration’s worth of food.

Javelin of Piercing

This weapon is not actually hurled, as when a command word is spoken, the Javelin of Piercing launches itself. Range is 6″, all distancves considered as short rangte. The javelin is +6 “to hit” and inflicts 7-12 hit points of damage. (Note this missile will fly horizontally, verticvally, or any combination thereof to the full extent of its range.) From 2-8 will be found. The magic of the javelin is good for only 1 throw.

The Snapshot Musket

For most magic items, ownership and possession are functionally the same thing. However, very nearly the whole point of the Snapshot Musket is to get other people to use it. Thus, ownership is granted to whomever most recently held the rifle while being fully cognizant of its magical properties.

The musket does not stand out among other weapons of its kind. It is a battered thing. Functional, but not beautiful. Any time the owner snaps their fingers, the weapon will fire. It does so whether or not it is loaded.

If the barrel pointed at a target, attack rolls are made normally without any bonuses or penalties. If the barrel is resting directly against something, a hit is automatic. If the barrel is not directed towards anything in particular, it probably won’t hit anything, but the referee may choose a random target at their discretion.

In any event, a gun going off unintentionally will certainly startle its wielder, and probably anyone nearby. The shot will be audible from a significant distance, and may attract unwanted attention.

LotFP Class: The Spy

The SpyAs long as there has been humans, there has been distrust. And as long as there has been distrust, people have resorted to spying on one another to find out what’s really going on. When humans built their kingdoms and empires, spying became an art practiced at a high level by a dedicated few. Steeped in the depths of human distrust and deceit, these truth-finders ironically gained a reputation for being untrustworthy. Captured spies are not afforded the dignity of captured soldiers, and spies who learn too much are easily disposed of by nervous masters. Knowing when to abandon your post and strike out on your own is perhaps the spy’s most important skill.

Spies are a sort of non-magical divination class. They advance as Specialists in most respects. Their hit dice, saves, and experience progression is identical.

They have two skills, Listen and Stealth. Both of these begin with a 2-in-6 chance, and advance by 1 each level, reaching the full 6-in-6 chance at level 5. Stealth works as normal, but savvy readers might note that LotFP does not have a listen skill. Particularly dedicated readers may even recall that I have a personal distaste for the skill myself. The skill possessed here by the Spy is a kind of “Super Listen.”

The spy presses their ear to the floor, or wall, and does not need to make any stealth checks that this activity might normally call for. If the check succeeds, the referee must give them some piece of information about their environment. The referee is free to give them any information seems relevant. However, if no information comes to mind, this table may be useful:

  1. Roll a monster from your encounter table. The spy hears this creature some distance away, allowing them either to avoid it, or gain a bonus in attempting to surprise it. This creature is the next random encounter the players would have faced, and if they avoid or kill it, then the next time the encounter die indicates that a monster should be rolled, don’t. That monster was already dealt with. This remains true even if you don’t roll an encounter until the players are in a vastly different place at a different time. Dealing with a monster in this way is a sort of “get out of one encounter free” card.
  2. The Spy identifies the location of a nearby trap by hearing the clicking of gears, the straining of wood, or the subtle wobbling of a loose pressure plate. They know precisely where the trap is located and how to activate it, but do not necessarily know how to avoid it or deactivate it.
  3. Something, somewhere brushes against a piece of treasure. Perhaps a rat, or just a gust of wind. There is a barely audible clink of precious metal on precious metal. Even if it’s just a handful of copper coins, the Spy knows precisely where to find it. They don’t necessarily know how to get there, or how to access it.
  4. With listening skills so refined they approach echolocation, the spy is able to determine the layout of the nearest unexplored room. It should be described to them as though it were brightly lit, and they were standing in the center of it. Color may be omitted if the referee thinks it is relevant to do so.
  5. With a less focused variation of the same echolocation-like ability described above, the spy gains knowledge of the layout of the surrounding area. The referee should sketch a rough map of the corridors, rooms, stairways, and doors nearby. Out to a roughly 300′ radius.
  6. The spy overhears someone speaking. What they’re talking about is completely unrelated to anything the players are currently doing, but it sounds as though it might be worth a look…

In addition to their two skills, Spies have two other notable abilities: Scout, and Disguise.

Disguise: If the spy is being pursued, and they manage to get out of sight of their pursuer, then they can disguise themselves. Doing so requires that they remain out of sight for a full round as they frantically modify their appearance using whatever is handy. If there is time, they may also attempt to disguise any companions who might be fleeing with them. Each companion requires 2 rounds of attention to be fully disguised. Once the job is done, disguised characters can wander out of hiding without being noticed at all. Any prolonged interaction with their pursuer will cause the disguise to fail, but it will otherwise stand up to casual inspection.

Disguise has no effect against pursuers who track primarily by scent. Nor will it prevent a creature who attacks all living things from attacking this ‘new’ living thing, simply because they don’t recognize it. Disguise is effective enough to fool pursuers in unpopulated environments. If the Spy is fleeing from a band of orcs in a dungeon corridor, they won’t see through the disguise simply because there’s no one else around.

Scout: By spending 8 hours away from the party, the Spy can find out a lot that they’d never have learned while burdened by their less subtle companions. Due to the time required, scouting may require the Spy to sacrifice some sleep. Additionally, scouting must be done as part of play, rather than between sessions.

When a Spy returns from scouting, they may opt either to ask the referee 3 yes-or-no questions, or ask a single question with a full sentence as an answer. The spy is entitled to ask anything they like, and they are entitled to the truth.

The referee should strive to provide good, useful information after a scouting run. Yes-or-no questions should never be answered with ‘maybe.’ Full-sentence questions should be answered with information that would not otherwise have been available at this point in the game. Scouting should not be used as a vehicle to deliver quest hooks players would have gotten anyway. For example, if a Spy asks “How do we kill the Gigalich?” telling them “Gregory the Wise Man knows” would probably be a bad answer. That’s the sort of information any player would be able to find out if they went into town and asked the tavern keeper. It wouldn’t require 8 hours, or the expertise of a professional Spy.

A better answer might be the exact location of the Lich’s phylactery. They’ll still need to adventure to reach the phylactery, and may even need to adventure still further to destroy it after it’s found. Another good option would be to provide them with red herring information in conjunction with the real information. The Spy might learn that the Gigalich is weak against either fire, water, or stale baguettes. Under no circumstances should you lie to your players, but there’s no problem with obfuscating the truth.

In rare circumstances, the referee might tell a player that they should ask a different question. This should be resorted to only in the rarest circumstance, as it devalues the player’s choice of class. However, if the player is being a twat, asking increasingly specific, contract-with-the-devil style questions, it may be warranted. It may also be called for if the player persists along a single line of questioning with repeated scouting. There is a limit to how much can be learned about a single subject. If the Gigalich is weak against either fire, water, or stale baguettes, then that is what is known. The Spy can’t narrow it down by scouting again to ask a yes-or-no question about each of those possibilities.

(Thanks to master diviner Mad Bill Danger for sharing expertise. )

Crafting as Jury Rigged Equipment

MacGyber Title cardGuys, guys guys, I’ve got an idea.

Crafting is cool, otherwise it wouldn’t be as persistent in gaming as it is. But cool as it is in theory, pretty much every implementation of it that I’ve ever encountered sucks. It seems like all of them are either an overpowered, overcomplicated mess, or they’re bland. This has literally been bothering me for almost 4 years now,  and my attempts to solve the problem represent some of the most rigorous game design I’ve attempted. But despite my best efforts, I’ve been stymied as to how to make crafting work in a way I could be happy with.

But this might be kinda cool:

Crafting is a skill, with advancement, and success/failure determined like any other skill. A player who wishes to use the craft skill must first determine the type of crafting they are trained in. Options include (but are not limited to): Blacksmith, Leatherworker, Clothier, Painter, Sculptor, Glassblower, Cook, Silver/Goldsmith, Carpenter, Stonemason, Toolmaker.

Characters who intend to use their skill should also add some amount of nondescript “raw materials” to their equipment list. Raw materials take up as much or as little encumbrance as the player wishes. The more they have on hand, the more use they will be able to get out of the skill. Materials should also cost some amount of money. Perhaps 100sp per point of encumbrance.

Whenever the player wants, they can declare that they’re attempting to create some item that falls within the purview of their chosen craft.  The referee then tells them how much encumbrance that item would take to carry. If they have an equal amount of raw materials, then they can make a skill check to attempt to craft the item they described. Succeed or fail, the attempt takes 3 turns, and the raw materials are used up.

Essentially, the craft skill becomes a sort of equipment “wildcard.” Lets say your profession is glassblower. You don’t need to bring a magnifying glass, and a lens, and a mirror, and a jar into the dungeon. You can just take a lump of raw materials, and create whatever you end up needing whenever you realize that you need it.

Obviously this system is an abstraction. Something perhaps better suited to a board or video game. On the other hand, the really neat thing about the system is the tactical infinity of it. Something that can really only exist in a TRPG.

If a character turning a lump of steel into a dagger without a forge or an anvil to work with bothers you, I totes get it. It kinda bothers me too. But consider: if the character DID have a forge and an anvil, that probably means they’re safe in town. And towns have shops, where daggers can easily be bought.

I’d still like to see a crafting system that works the way I’ve always imagined. Something that allows players to express their creativity, and provides real benefits without requiring an encyclopedia of rules. Maybe it’s about time I took another crack at writing a system like that. But as an option, this “Equipment Wildcard” system intrigues me.

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