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juggalo baby coffin
Dec 2, 2007

How would the dog wear goggles and even more than that, who makes the goggles?




god drat who thought encouraging players to be racist was a good idea? why would you make that the player option and not an npc (to show the 'dark side' of the brujah or w/e)?

edit: i tried reeading the degenesis book cause i thought the stuff posted in here was interesting, but its the worst loving book to read. it looks great, but its like trying to read a white wolf book.

juggalo baby coffin fucked around with this message at 03:30 on Jun 29, 2019

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Selachian
Oct 9, 2012



Tibalt posted:

Action dice are definitely the one thing I think more d20- based games should lean into, and it feels so weird to me that other games either don't include it or give half measures. Inspiration in 5th edition comes to mind, where you're only allowed to have one at a time, and it's presented as a reward for roleplaying instead of a resource that makes the game work better.

Pathfinder kinda swiped the concept for their mythic rules, where they're called surge dice. You can spend one of your uses of mythic power to add +1d6 (at 1st tier) to +1d12 (at 10th tier) to a d20 roll, even after you've made the roll. However, unlike Spycraft, surge dice don't explode, and there's no real use for them other than adding to rolls.

Zereth
Jul 8, 2003




Halloween Jack posted:

I've heard stories about groups where people cleaved very closely to Clan stereotypes, so every Brujah had to be a punk and every Toreador had to be a poncy artist and so on. This is ironic because the books themselves, in my opinion, went too far in the other direction. For example, you started seeing multiple Ventrue characters who are thugs with no ambition to hold a position of authority, who were Embraced to do the Clan's dirty work.
I feel like a Ventrue thug would be a guy in a suit standing behind several ghouls.

PurpleXVI
Oct 30, 2011

Spewing insults, pissing off all your neighbors, betraying your allies, backing out of treaties and accords, and generally screwing over the global environment?
ALL PART OF MY BRILLIANT STRATEGY!


Halloween Jack posted:

Hyphz, you're really doing yeoman's work here. I've found that my major stumbling block in F&Fing is covering chapters about GMing. I just find it inherently harder and less fun than assessing character options and rules.

Generally it's because the GM'ing chapters in most RPG books are kind of... milquetoast generic poo poo. "take some notes, don't be a dick, ignore the rules if they cough up an unfun or absurd result that neither you or the group wants." Where it actually gets interesting is when it gives you amazingly bad advice, like in Kromore where it encourages you to make the players think they have freedom but actually they're about to be assassinated because of a magic clock or something and then a tornado forces them back on track, i.e. it keeps telling you to railroad the players in the most aggressive way imaginable.

That's something you can actually write about.

Robindaybird
Aug 21, 2007

Neat. Sweet. Petite.



and wasn't there a game whose GM advice *encouraged* the GM to trigger their player's phobias to get them into the mood. I sure seem to remember that.

Alien Rope Burn
Dec 4, 2004

I wanna be a saikyo HERO!


One of the major issues I had with Mastercraft games (the blanket name for Spycraft / Fantasy Craft system) stemmed from Action Dice. Now, before I mention it, I just want to say I generally really like the AD mechanic, especially how it can be used to activate Critical Successes and Critical Failures - especially as a GM, it avoids a lot of worrying about fudging by making it so you'll only have a villain crit when you think it's appropriate.

However, it leads to what I call "crit fishing" at higher levels. Since Vitality Points increase and Wound Points don't, and the ability to crit increases (either through having more AD, ), generally I found players hold onto their ADs until they can crit, then blowing one to bypass Vitality Points and then another to increase damage to aim for a one-shot rather than chew through VP. It's not a big issue until higher levels (like 10+), but it really just kind of turns the combat system into people finding ways to generate more attacks in order to "fish" more. The only hard way to fix this is to give major villains the Tough quality, which allows them to ignore a number of crits equal to their Tough rating, or other qualities that reduce the PC's crit range- but both of those have real badfeel. Alternately, you could just increase the amount bypassing VP costs to 2 or even 3 to avoid every fight turning into a likely anticlimax.

Night10194
Feb 13, 2012

We'll start,
like many good things,
with a bear.


That makes sense, especially with abilities that increase critical hit rate and/or make you need less dice to crit. I suspect Vit/Wounds are originally there as a way to give players a chance to take people out quietly due to the superspy genre but that certainly would turn into an issue at high levels. Not to mention that since you can boost damage after a crit, if you really need to take a guy out you'd just wait until you critted and then throw your dice on the damage roll.

What's funny is that at low levels. You crit them, you blow through their Vit, and then do 4 Wounds and without a bunch of crit-boosts because you're low level, it can be hard to blow through their Wounds before you end up running through all their Vit. And like most d20 games, most of my experience with it is at lower levels, since the group that liked d20 that I played with in college always insisted on starting every game at level 1, so I've never played at the level where that starts to be a serious issue.

juggalo baby coffin
Dec 2, 2007

How would the dog wear goggles and even more than that, who makes the goggles?




that gm advice seems like a lot of words to say 'know enough about your setting and characters to be able to wing it if your players go off the rails'

hyphz
Aug 5, 2003




The GMing advice from that one game..

It's difficult to write reviews of this kind of material without considering the GMing material that actually appears inside the games themselves. However, as PurpleXVI said, most GMing advice in actual RPGs is kind of generic. Nonetheless, it would be remiss to ignore it completely, so let's consider what, by rights, should be the most influential GMing advice in the world.



A Twitter user called Talen Lee referred to "why don't you just not play D&D" as the "just use Linux" response of tabletop gaming, which got 35 likes. The metaphor is apt in a whole bunch of ways. Just like Windows, D&D is limited in its amount of innovation by its userbase's addiction to older material; used by many willingly, and many more because the trust that software/players are available now and will be available in the future is an overwhelming tradeoff against any number of other failings; and while you don't have to like it, you can't ignore it. So I'm not going to.

I say "by rights" above, because I doubt very much the GMing advice in this book is actually the most influential or indeed that influential at all. Very few people I know who play D&D have ever read even the D&D Players' Handbook from cover to cover, and many of the GMs I know have never even opened the Dungeon Master's Guide at all except to refer to magic item descriptions when running published adventures. (I've seen GMs be totally gobsmacked at certain optional rules existing in the DMG.) But maybe, at some point, someone might have read it for what it says about DMing? Who knows.

One thing I do want to make clear is that I am not going to review the entire Dungeon Master's Guide. It has a ton of game specific rules which I'm not looking at. It also has a fair bit of material on world-building, which I've deemed out of scope for these write-ups since it's a whole separate theme that's shared with fiction. But there is, nonetheless, some agnostic stuff in there.

For example, I was as surprised as many of the GMs I described above to learn that D&D 5e has a player categorization scheme.

Well, ok. It's actually an "aspects of play" scheme like Blacow's was. But a little more digging reveals that it's almost entirely copied from a player categorization scheme that appeared in the Dungeon Master's Guide 2 for Fourth edition - which was in turn based on one that appeared in the DMG2 for 3.5 edition. 3.5e gave each one a couple of paragraphs; 4e gave them even more paragraphs with headers, including some odd things such as where they should best be seated at the table; and they're massively shortened down to single paragraphs and bullet points in 5e. But I can't necessarily blame them for that, given that a Dungeon Master's Guide 2 is a rather niche supplement while a core DMG has to contain a ton of rules, items, and so on. (That said, there was more DMing advice in the Fourth edition Dungeon Master's Guide than there is in the fifth edition one, too.)

It's also worth noting that Robin Laws was a cover credited author on the Dungeon Master's Guide 2 for both 3.5 and 4th editions, which explains that, at least in their form in 3.5e, the categories are almost the same as his original ones from Robin's Laws - especially not surprising given that the DMG3 for 3.5 was only three years after Robin's. 4e also has several quoted paragraphs from James Wyatt's Dungeon Master 4th Edition For Dummies, a book I don't have, but that apparently used the same categories because they're specifically mentioned in the quotes. 3.5e, however, also added a bunch of new categories which don't necessarily fit as well as Robin's originals do. So, let's look through and see how they've evolved.

Robin's first category was the Power Gamer, and this appeared in 3.5 as Accumulating Cool Powers. 3.5e claims that this is almost always popular, and that they're some of the easier players for a GM to deal with; as long as you keep the XP and loot flowing, they'll engage even with encounters balanced for other types. 4e, on the other hand, names them as the Power Gamer and suggests giving them moments to exploit their strengths but also attacking their weaknesses and having villains aggressively adapt to them - which can be a good idea, but can also result in a system-based arms race that turns out to be no fun (especially in a world with minmaxing forums). It does add that if you want your Power Gamer to engage with pretty much anything in the setting, just make it a source of power, and bingo. 5e, however, renames this motivation Optimizing - a rather awkward term given that optimizing tends to be something that happens away from the table more than during the game. As with most of the 5e versions, they've essentially just taken the paragraph headers from 4e and occasionally 3.5e and turned them into bullet points, although the ones about targetting the weaknesses of the power gamer are gone; it's only suggested that encounters highlight their strengths.

Next up was the Butt Kicker, which becomes, oh look, Kicking Butt in 3.5e; they're all about the thrill of combat. 3.5 emphasises that unlike power gamers, butt kickers tend to want more interesting and/or visceral fights, and suggests holding a fight or two in reserve to break up non-fighting play if they're needed. 4e instead names them as the Slayer, and has similar advice on interrupting other items with fights, plus making use of minions (yes, 4e had mook rules) to give quick kills and making sure that villains are strong and easy to hate. 5e simply changes this to fighting but ditches the advice on strong villains, but oddly does keep the one about large numbers of weak foes - which are much more awkward in 5e - and the ever popular advice to interrupt other activities with combat if you lose the players attention.

Robin's Tactician becomes 3.5e's Brilliant Planning; encouraged by giving players mapped, determined set-piece encounters with routes for planning to lead to victory. Even unlike the original Robin's Laws, 3.5e addresses the big issue of planning causing an anticlimax which is unacceptable to other players; the suggestion given is to big up the positive consequences of victory, so that there's a victory party for the method actors, some magic items for the power gamer, and some future effect on the world for the storyteller. Unfortunately, the Butt Kicker kind of gets it in the shorts.

3.5e introduces Puzzle Solving as a category - which I still think was rolled into Robin's Tactician, but there we go. Most of the text in 3.5 on the topic of this is how to deal with introducing puzzles to the game without stalling the game for everyone else, which is perfectly fair.

4e rolls the Brilliant Planner and the Puzzle Solver back into a single category, the Thinker, but with similar advice - although since 4e's combat system was more intrinsically tactical, most of the advice is to do with making sure that interesting features exist and that their consquences are visible to the player and PC before the fight starts so that they can be planned around. It also suggests adding extra clues to provide information for planning. Puzzle solving isn't so directly addressed. 5e, on the other hand, changes this back to Problem Solving and mentions unravelling motivations, solving puzzles, but only uses the "tactics" word once and not in a combat context. Which might be an admission that 5e combat without optional rules isn't all that tactical.

The Specialist gets retitled as Playing a Favorite Role in 3.5e, this time claiming that while ninjas are the most common, bards are the second most common, and even calling out Drizzt Do'Urden specifically as a character that's copied. Unfortunately, the advice given for this guy in 3.5e is rather week - basically, just hope they attach to a class, and then focus the adventure on that class's signature abilities.

Supercoolness is added to 3.5e even though it didn't appear anywhere in Robin's Laws, but 3.5 attaches it specifically to the "favorite role" player, saying that they also often want to be "icy cool, masterful, in command, formidable and intimidating". This is more or less just a lengthy preamble to the advice to be aware that RPG characters fail more often than movie characters, but that the failure can be made progressive rather than humiliating.

Fourth and Fifth edition both just left out the Specialist, in both of the forms above, presumably counting that class based play naturally encourages them.

The Storyteller appears as the Story motivation in 3.5e, and warns that these players are double-edged swordss; they love creating story material to work with, but it can also take things in unexpected directions that require improvisation than a new GM, or a published-adventure GM, might not be sure of. There's also the assumption that a story-driven player will provide a detailed background (which is my experience is not always true, but there we go) which can give you some advance warning of what to expect. 4th brought them back as the Storyteller but with a different focus on advice: that encounters should be tied together to larger goals, that player actions should have visible consequences, and that opponents could potentially have their own stories. I actually like these a fair bit less, because they're desirable for all player types, not just storytellers. Storytelling in 5e gets almost exactly the same as 4e, but stripped down to bullet points.

Likewise, the Method Actor appears in 3.5e as the motivation for Psychodrama - in other words, they want to be presented with difficult choices and think through how their characters would react to them. The good news is that this can add a ton to the table. The bad news is that one of the easiest ways to kick off difficult choices and psychodrama is to defy the rest of the PC group, and the GM is warned to ensure there are other reward moments to avoid this. Also, there's an explicit warning about players using PCs to act out their own emotional issues, but the only response suggested is that the GM simply freeze or even halt the game until the player separates their personal issues from the game.

The psychodramatist becomes the Actor in 4th edition, where there's advice to use their character backgrounds (which was assigned to the storyteller before), and to add roleplaying elements to combat, allowing skill checks to affect combat, the spotty support for which was one of the big complaints about 4e. So for those folks, well, there you are, 4e explicitly said they should be allowed, although it was an a supplement and the only guidance is "you must determine an appropriate skill check and assign a DC". The last 4e advice for actors, sadly, is that they love Skill Challenges. No. No they don't. No-one loved Skill Challenges. Again, in 5e, Acting gets a stripped down version of the same advice from 4e, although without the skill challenges being mentioned.

Irresponsibility is an unusual motivation that hasn't appeared in anything else I've reviewed so far - essentially, the desire to play an anarchic or unusual hero who can break the rules. On the one hand, it's a nice fantasy, on the other hand it can mess up plots if a PC does something like attacking an authority figure; so the advice is to make sure there are opportunities to break rules or do mischievous things in the setting that actually advance the plot or interest rather than screwing it up.

This fellow made a rather bizarre change into 4e, becoming the Instigator - who doesn't actually even get that good a definition, but the advice given is to allow them to have lots of things in combats that they can play with to change things up, like braziers to knock over, oil to pour, and so on. Unfortunately, it then mentions that if the instigator is actually overriding other players by causing trouble that redirects onto the players, or wanting to rush ahead faster than the actors and storytellers would prefer, then they should serve the drinks. No, seriously, it says they should be given the group busywork to do so that they're distracted, including serving drinks, adding up XP, and clearing away the Wizards Of The Coast Dungeons & Dragons Fourth Edition Official Dungeon Tiles(tm) that were used in the encounter. (No, it doesn't give that whole title, but it tries.)

The Instigator shows up in 5e too, but it's suddenly terribly written - as the character who "would rather rush headlong into danger and face the consequences than face boredom", thereby bringing OOC boredom and pacing into the matter which no previous definition did. The advice is similar except that 5e explicitly says that you should allow the Instigator's actions to put the other PCs "in a tight spot", causing exactly the drama which 3.5e said should be avoided.

Setting Exploration is another new one in 3.5 that wasn't in Robin's. As the name implies, 3.5e focussed very heavily on the idea of geographic exploration, and the need to create interesting areas to visit. 4e, however, united the Explorer rather bizarrely with the Thinker, arguing that their "exploration" can be in terms of uncovering general information rather than strictly geographic. The advice given does overlap rather heavily with that for the Thinker, including the suggestions for secrets that set up encounter tactics; although it also suggests that combat itself could imply secrets about the monsters. 4e gives very little about geographic exploration. 5e, on the other hand, mixes these together; it suggests both geographic and informational exploration, with a mix of the advice on both, although since it's just bullet points there's much less given.

3.5 lists The Outlier, which is the player that plays the oddball. These players get a savage burn:

quote:

Outliers enjoy playing oddballs for the same reason that some people embrace eccentricity in real life. By rejecting the rules that most people follow, they define success on their own terms - terms they can more easily meet... Some players.. create incompetent or mediocre characters to immunize themselves from the emotional consquences of failure... Failures are not only expected - they become victories according to the outlier's self-defined, contrarian criteria.

So, the only suggest about outliers is to first check they're not outlying because things are too difficult in the campaign or they're otherwise bored, and then to give them isolated situations in which they can do weird stuff without screwing things up for the other PCs. They don't show up in 4e or 5e, except possibly rolled into the Instigator.

Lastly, there's there Lurker, which is Laws' Casual Player very closely - in fact, some of the text in 3.5e seems to have been copy-pasted from Robin's Laws. 3.5e does go out of the way to define that they mean Lurker in the old Usenet sense rather than anything horrific. 4e calls them the Watcher, and suggests trying to draw them in with detailed descriptions when they do act, but not worrying too much about it. 5e doesn't list them, but since it's presented as an "aspects of play" list rather than a "player category" list, that's understandable.

Wow, ok. That took a lot longer than I was expecting and I've only covered one page of the 5e DM's guide. But I'm going to throw in an aside regarding a totally different game (sorry to indexing folks)..



So, I'm going to storytell a bit here. This came up only because a user on the goon TG Discord mentioned that they were inspired by the GMing advice in HoL, which seems a bit odd. HoL is a parody game of essentially 90s RPG tropes which unfortunately doesn't do well due to the simple fact that it's not particularly funny. It's handwritten as scrawl on the pages, there is no contents page or index or page numbers, and the GMing section is only about a page in this weird font, so what the heck. Here's all the GMing advice from HoL Second Edition. By the way, this originally came out in 2002, the same year as Robin's Laws.

quote:

As for actually running the game, again, you do whatever you want (although we wouldn't suggest anything that required can openers and gauze). But we do have a few *****. Not only that, but we have some hints, too.

1. Ignore any rule any time you think it will gently caress up the game.

2. Ignore anything you don't like.

Part III: Act out everything! Make up weird voices! Role-play to the stem of the asparagus! Use recurring NPCs! Think melodrama! Parody everything!! Slapstick!! Let your imagination sprout into something firm yet soft.. I.. I.. excuse me.. I have to get some Kleenex...

Okay, okay, I'm better now. It's just that we here at Dirtmerchant are way big on that roleplaying thing. For us, the dice are just there to give us something to do with our hands so we don't scratch ourselves too much. Personally, I like plots thicker than bad mayonaise [sic]. About a week into the campaign, one of the players will come to me with a sheet of paper so heaped with scribbles and lines that it looks like a web constructed by a spider who's just polished off Al Pacino's coke stash from Scarface. This, says the player, is the NPC/event chart so far.

Now, I'm about to contradict every RPG I've ever read on the subject of adventure creation. Are you gripping your armchair appropriately? Good. Don't make maps. Don't write down NPC's stats. Don't plan out every square inch of ground you want your PC's to go. Don't plan their actions. In general, don't plan much of anything at all. An entire epic campaign may kept moving [sic] at a sweaty pace if you just spend six minutes making notes before a game, and scritch a little during it. There is no need to lose sleep and turn your brain to sometheng resembling the guacamole in the aft of the fridge in order to maintain a storyline that will make your players grovel to continue. It's easy and doesn't require any evil addictive substances or thumbscrews. Here is an example of notes for a six-hour game:

[Third-of-a-page diagram of scribbled garbage]

Think of images, keep 'em in mind, and pick a good one to start with, then use the others if you can. If you don't, save them for the next game. The thing is, let the players go where they want from the start you've given them, and draw the adventure from what they do, occasionally stoking the fire with some major event. But always keep everything dramatic -- not necessarily serious -- just acting-wise. HoL is a game of performance, not number chowing. That's why experience is given for role-playing, not roll-playing.

If you want the campaign to last - don't kill off the players. Yes, unless drama dictates you should for the purpose of the story, it's best to let them keep kickin'. Let them develop into their characters -- torture them all you want, tease them with the scythe - but if your going to dice 'em, do it in a way that wants them want to spew epic poetry (or whatever). Remember, gently caress rules, the play's the thing.

(Astute - yet again - shoppers will likely, in the near future, pick up full length adventure "modules" and send hateful letters accusing us of being disgustingly hypocritical. That is a misnomer. We are disgustingly GREEDY. Ed.)

Now, when I mentioned this again on the Discord, some of the folks there replied that obviously I'd been punked. HoL is a parody game and therefore, its GMing advice must also be a parody, of GMing advice given in games at around the mid and late 90s. And it fits perfectly:
  • Multiple assertions that the dice do not matter and that the world and NPCs shouldn't be set in advance, in a book that primarily presents a dice system, NPC stats, and a defined world? Check.
  • Personal examples and a total failure to depersonalize advice, such that statements like "it's easy" come across as bragging, not encouragement? Check.
  • Advice not to kill the players in a system with harsh damage rules, where the sections of the book are specifically called Killing Things and Things That Kill You? Check.
  • "Experience given for role-playing not roll-playing" when, in fact, HoL has no formal rules for when experience is awarded at all? Check.
  • The editor's note? Check. (No adventures were ever published for HoL.)
In fact, the only thing that made me less sure about this was the fact that it would be a brilliant and subtle parody which would not necessarily belong in a book which titles its sample adventure section Unbridled Sex Stories Of The Animal Kingdom just "to get the reader's attention". (Oh, and the monster list immediately before it is headed Bestiality because why not run that into the ground?)

But at that point, the original poster returned and said that no, he/she was straight up. They genuinely found this advice helpful, in particular the part about building around images.

So, I leave this to some extent open to more experienced GMs than me. Is this section a parody, or not? I'm honestly not sure anymore.

hyphz fucked around with this message at 21:31 on Jun 29, 2019

PurpleXVI
Oct 30, 2011

Spewing insults, pissing off all your neighbors, betraying your allies, backing out of treaties and accords, and generally screwing over the global environment?
ALL PART OF MY BRILLIANT STRATEGY!


Robindaybird posted:

and wasn't there a game whose GM advice *encouraged* the GM to trigger their player's phobias to get them into the mood. I sure seem to remember that.

I think that might've been nuKult, possibly? Every piece of GM advice in that game was a severe shitshow.

megane
Jun 20, 2008





The best kind of parody is the "joke" X that is also, simultaneously, an excellent "straight" example of an X. See: Weird Al songs, Galaxy Quest, etc.

Bieeanshee
Aug 21, 2000

Not keen on keening.




Grimey Drawer

I think the HoL advice is sound and genuine. The first two points are basically Rule Zero, and frankly, who hasn't heard tales of intricately detailed plot and stuff derailed because the PCs wanted to go in a different direction?

Sure, the book is a long, scribbly joke at the expense of the hobby, but it's a hobby that the author clearly cherishes.

FMguru
Sep 10, 2003

peed on;
sexually

megane posted:

The best kind of parody is the "joke" X that is also, simultaneously, an excellent "straight" example of an X. See: Weird Al songs, Galaxy Quest, etc.
Hackmaster is a pretty good example of that in RPG form: a ridiculous version of AD&D plus one zillion house rules and unnecessary added details which also work surprisingly well if actually played.

MollyMetroid
Jan 20, 2004

Trout Clan Daimyo


There is one page in HOL that is not hand-scrawled, to be fair.

It's page 17.

(It's also the only page that has a number.)

The page is blank save for, aligned roughly in the center of it,

pre:
ling
That's it.

That's the entire joke. I mean, sure the fact that I still remember it from reading it back in high school, decades ago, says something, but...

NGDBSS
Dec 30, 2009








Robindaybird posted:

and wasn't there a game whose GM advice *encouraged* the GM to trigger their player's phobias to get them into the mood. I sure seem to remember that.
I think that was Adeptus Evangelion? The GM advice there was definitely some kind of mess.

PurpleXVI
Oct 30, 2011

Spewing insults, pissing off all your neighbors, betraying your allies, backing out of treaties and accords, and generally screwing over the global environment?
ALL PART OF MY BRILLIANT STRATEGY!


NGDBSS posted:

I think that was Adeptus Evangelion? The GM advice there was definitely some kind of mess.

Perhaps "traumatize the characters by traumatizing their players" is just all-round poo poo advice that pops up in more than one awfully-written RPG. :v:

megane
Jun 20, 2008





If your players aren't hollow shells of their former selves, barely clinging to sanity, you're not a real hardcore roleplayer

Night10194
Feb 13, 2012

We'll start,
like many good things,
with a bear.


NGDBSS posted:

I think that was Adeptus Evangelion? The GM advice there was definitely some kind of mess.

AdEva's big thing was 'your story matters more than your players' comfort' and 'if they come to you to object to an element, try to find out how much you can get away with before they'll leave the game' and 'you should make them feel upset and uncomfortable', yes. 'A certain degree of sexual imagery' is treated as necessary to gaming.

Humbug Scoolbus
Apr 25, 2008

The scarlet letter was her passport into regions where other women dared not tread. Shame, Despair, Solitude! These had been her teachers, stern and wild ones, and they had made her strong, but taught her much amiss.


Clapping Larry

hyphz posted:




So, I'm going to storytell a bit here. This came up only because a user on the goon TG Discord mentioned that they were inspired by the GMing advice in HoL, which seems a bit odd. HoL is a parody game of essentially 90s RPG tropes which unfortunately doesn't do well due to the simple fact that it's not particularly funny. It's handwritten as scrawl on the pages, there is no contents page or index or page numbers, and the GMing section is only about a page in this weird font, so what the heck. Here's all the GMing advice from HoL Second Edition. By the way, this originally came out in 2002, the same year as Robin's Laws.


Now, when I mentioned this again on the Discord, some of the folks there replied that obviously I'd been punked. HoL is a parody game and therefore, its GMing advice must also be a parody, of GMing advice given in games at around the mid and late 90s. And it fits perfectly:
  • Multiple assertions that the dice do not matter and that the world and NPCs shouldn't be set in advance, in a book that primarily presents a dice system, NPC stats, and a defined world? Check.
  • Personal examples and a total failure to depersonalize advice, such that statements like "it's easy" come across as bragging, not encouragement? Check.
  • Advice not to kill the players in a system with harsh damage rules, where the sections of the book are specifically called Killing Things and Things That Kill You? Check.
  • "Experience given for role-playing not roll-playing" when, in fact, HoL has no formal rules for when experience is awarded at all? Check.
  • The editor's note? Check. (No adventures were ever published for HoL.)
In fact, the only thing that made me less sure about this was the fact that it would be a brilliant and subtle parody which would not necessarily belong in a book which titles its sample adventure section Unbridled Sex Stories Of The Animal Kingdom just "to get the reader's attention". (Oh, and the monster list immediately before it is headed Bestiality because why not run that into the ground?)

But at that point, the original poster returned and said that no, he/she was straight up. They genuinely found this advice helpful, in particular the part about building around images.

So, I leave this to some extent open to more experienced GMs than me. Is this section a parody, or not? I'm honestly not sure anymore.

This is how I've been running games for the past 40 years. It may be in a parody game, but it is good solid advice.

Alien Rope Burn
Dec 4, 2004

I wanna be a saikyo HERO!


That wasn't actually common advice at the time of HoL's publication, so the notion of it being a subtle parody flops on that fact. Most of the advice at the time was high-minded (what themes does our game have?) rather than practical.

Libertad!
Oct 30, 2013

You can have the last word, but I'll have the last laugh!



For its near-fifty years of existence, Dungeons & Dragons has branched out into a variety of inspirational material beyond the Tolkien-styled European fantasy. The older AD&D Player’s Handbook sprinkled artwork of adventuring parties, shrines, and equipment from non-medieval time periods, and 2nd Edition had a brief run of “historical fantasy” sourcebooks set during the Crusades and other eras. Al-Qadim, Maztica, and Kara-Tur dipped its toes into Asian, Arab, and Mesoamerican tales, while Dark Sun’s various city-states had touchings of Ancient Greek, Phoenician, and even Sumerian trappings among others.

But sub-Saharan Africa has had a rockier history when it came to holistic settings. Beyond obscure homebrew and third party worlds, pre-OGL D&D had such influences confined to very small and/or specific regions within existing settings. Faerun’s Chult is mostly a trackless jungle with but a few trade cities; Ravenloft’s Wildlands are literally the Darkest Africa trope minus any indigenous humans; Dark Sun’s city-state of Gulg may be the only exception in a primarily-urban example, but when you compare these options to the more fleshed-out regions and countries there’s not much to build a campaign on that ventures outside of wilderness exploration.

And this is not even getting into the insensitive racial portrayals that dotted old magazines and sourcebooks!

Nyambe is often credited as the first holistic “Fantasy Africa” sourcebook meant to be its own self-contained campaign, and it got a lot of talk back in the day due to this.Upon first release in 2002 it definitely qualified for 3rd Edition D&D when the OGL was still a new thing indie game designers were testing out, sometimes to legally disastrous results.

Nyambe actually got its start in 2001 as a free web supplement sans artwork and some newer content featured in this book. I cannot find any active links as most of the domain hosting has long expired, although I found this very brief fraction of a review with the creator Chris Dolunt going into his writing for the game. The line lived only very briefly, spawning a core setting book, the Ancestral Vault (new equipment and magic items and a 3.5 rules update), Dire Spirits (adventure), and several free web enhancements before being discontinued. However, the setting would go on to be mentioned in Atlas Games’ Northern Crown supplement, a pseudo-fantastical version of Colonial America which shares the same Material Plane universe as Nyambe. But the game was not necessarily forgotten; on the contrary, its unique place in what would become the overcrowded 3rd party market made it stand out all the more.


Land of the Overpower

Enough with the history lesson, let’s dive into this book! This first post actually details two chapters: Land of the Overpower is an introductory overview written from the in-character perspective of a scholar from the great city of T’ombo. Chapter Two, Mythology & History, looks over the history of the world dating from its cosmic creation to the present era.

quote:

Hewa-hewa! I am Shomari of T’ombo, a teacher at the great school of T’ombo. I have been selected to guide you through the lands of Nyambe-tanda, a daunting task indeed. Nyambe-tanda — sometimes simply called Nyambe — is a land in transition. Though we have never been completely isolated, recent events have brought us to the attention of the outside world, and I fear that our way of life is about to change for the worse.

As a stranger, you do not know our ways. Pay careful attention and I shall teach them to you.
If you wish to walk beneath our sky, you must learn to walk as we do, or you will surely die. Forgive my gravity, but this is a serious matter. Nyambe is not a safe place for the unwary. Vicious monsters, black-hearted tyrants, and foul magic await you at every turn, and the spirits cry out for brave heroes to fight the evil.

This is not to say that Nyambe is devoid of peace or beauty. To the contrary, we believe that our land is the most blessed in the entire world. But do not take my word for it, read on and decide for yourself.

Land of the Overpower first starts out with the standard D20 fare, along with what to expect: first off, Nyambe is a continent derived from aspects of actual mythology, folklore, and history re-imagined to be placed in a fantasy context rather than relying upon Darkest Africa tropes. The continent takes place within the confines of a larger world, with some implied fantasy counterpart cultures having contact with the people but are meant to be substituted with realms of one’s own creation: Northerners are Europeans, Near Easterners are Middle Easterners, Water People are Ancient Egyptians, and Far Easterners are Chinese/Japanese people.

Nyambe-tanda is the name of the continent, which translates to “Land of the Overpower,” although the sourcebook uses Nyambe and Nyambe-tanda interchangeably at times. The continent’s people are collectively called Nyambans, although this is usually in regards to sweeping comparisons by continental foreigners. The referencing of people in regards to specific races and nations is more often utilized. Virtually every culture in this land refers to the creator of reality as Nyambe, the Overpower. Nyambe used to live among mortals but withdrew, so people see it fitting to attribute the land they live on to the one that crafted it from nothing. Nyambe-tanda sits closer to the global equator than surrounding lands, causing many places to be warmer than average. While heavier armor does exist, it is impractical so many warriors learned martial arts collectively known as “sanguar” which emphasize speed and grace.

The most-numerous people of Nyambe-tanda hew close to fantasy standards: humans outnumber the other races and have 12 major ethnic groups, of which there are many minor ones not mentioned and often subject to change due to shifting regional boundaries, cultural exchange and intermarriage, and so on. In some cases these groups are synonymous with nationality, but others are minority groups within larger kingdoms or scattered nomads with common linguistic and cultural origins. The “non-humans” of Nyambe-tanda are collectively referred to either as demihumans, those friendly to humans, or savage races, for those hostile to humanity. Both examples largely consist of humanoids rather than more exotic aberrations, undead, and so on which do exist but not necessarily in numbers great enough to form their own societies. What is peculiar to Nyambe-tanda is that there are no goblinoids of any sort, and a race of people known as the kosans which orcs descend from once ruled a great empire in ancient history but are now extinct for all intents and purposes.

Animal and plant life corresponds largely to real-world Africa, with some unique fantasy trappings. Dire animals, particularly lions, may sport unusual colorations which their normal counterparts do not have, and that the sight of one may portend a future omen. Many foreigners remark that the unique animals here are large and impressive, from giraffe to rhinoceroses. The plantlife, both edible and not, is bewildering thanks in no small part to the large rainforests. Palm oil and wine are common trade goods, while some exotic crops such as bananas, coconuts, and rice have been imported by Far Eastern traders.

We then go over a variety of monster types. First off, beings native to colder climates do not naturally inhabit the continent (white dragons excepted), and a lot of magical monsters originated as war machines during the times of the Kosan Empire. A few specific setting tropes are that elementals and outsiders are servants of orisha spirits pertaining to their nature, as are fey but they live in the Shadow World, while the most common undead are true zombi and ancestor spirits who are not found in other parts of the world. Dragons have a special place in Nyamban history for their creation of the sei, a sorcerous type of arcane caster.


Religion, Cosmology, and Magic

So far we’ve had some typical and recognized fantasy tropes but with twists. Here is where things get really different. First off, the world of Nyambe-tanda is technically a monotheistic one. The Overpower is the creator of all that is, and all forms of magic spring from them.* The Orisha are spirit servants which hold sway over various domains of reality, and act as intermediaries between the Overpower and mortals. The number of orisha is quite literally uncountable, for there is no overarching orisha of Plants or of Mountains, but represent specific species, geographical features, ancestors of particular peoples, etc. There are some orisha well-known enough that their names spread far and wide, but they are more or less limited to the celestial and fiendish groupings. The concept of a deity is reserved for Nyambe and Nyambe alone, for it can mean nothing other than one who is lord of all.

*the god is not limited to the gender binary

So how does this tie into magic, particularly the arcane/divine divide and the classes? First, divine magic, or ashe, is when a person petitions an orisha for aid, and said orisha sends helpful magic their way. It is by far the more common and socially accepted type of magic, and almost every village has some kind of divine spellcaster acting as a specialist. Arcane magic, or dimba, bypasses the Orisha-Overpower arrangement. Mchawi, the setting’s wizard equivalent, is basically an arcane Ur-Priest who uses ritual items to steal what spells they need directly from the Overpower. They must literally sell their souls to a fiendish orisha in order to learn this secret, and cannot resurrect into the world of the living save as an evil animal spirit. The other type of arcane caster is the Sei, sorcerers born with draconic heritage, drawing spells directly from the Overpower but without any soul-bargaining required.

Finally, the cosmology of the setting is different than that of the standard “inner planes/outer planes/transitive planes” of 3rd Edition D&D. The Material Plane contains four great oceans, upon which the continent of Nyambe-tanda sits at the relative center. Said oceans are held within a giant gourd forming the borders where the Spirit World lies beyond. The “stars” are actually holes in the gourd linking to the Shadow World from where magic flows, and the sun and the moon are a married orisha pair known as Lahu and Masa respectively. Sadly their relationship became abusive, with physical scars: Lahu was ashamed of his wounds and shone so brightly that nobody could see them, while Masa wanted all to know what her husband had done and sometimes reveals more of her form as phases of the moon. Their hostility lasts to this day, and this is why they are never seen in the sky at the same time.

The Shadow World is a combination of the Ethereal and Astral Planes, whose features are much like its Material Plane counterpart but viewed through the lens of a hallucinogenic drug trip. The creatures native to this place are largely unknown and mysterious to mortals. The Spirit World, commonly called Da, is the home of the Orisha. Da is coiled around the Material Plane like a snake, with 3,500 coils above and an equal number below. Each coil constitutes its own universe inhabited as many as one or millions of orisha. Some realms, such as the realm of the dead which manifests as 30 storm-swept universe-oceans, spread out into multiple coils.

Technology and Family Life

The final two portions of this chapter covers technology levels and family units. Nyambe-tanda’s devices and innovations rival that of medieval realms, with the larger kingdoms having master iron making. Hunter-gatherer societies are common, especially among nomadic groups, and there are a few independent city-states, especially in the north. Heavy armor is rare due to impracticality, and while steel-working is known the element of iron has holy properties and many smiths do not wish to “pollute” it with foreign substances. Only glass-working is unknown in Nyambe-tanda, and the Near Easterners have tried introducing glass beads as a currency to hold smaller economies hostage, although most rural people continue to use cowry shells instead of gold and silver coins.

Family is important in Nyambe-tanda, much like anywhere else. In fact, the souls of those who die without children exist in a state of ennui in the after-life’s oceanic depths, waiting to be reincarnated. This places a high emphasis on marrying and having children, and those suffering from reproductive problems procure alchemical and magical fertility aids to overcome this. Such aids are common even in the poorest villages, their demand so high. Polygamy, while not universal, is legal in every land save for Bashar’ka, which enforces monogamy, and the Empire of Nibomay, which is matriarchal and polyandry is permitted. Plural marriages are mostly the province of the upper class, and a married woman joins the extended family of her husband, or husband the wife’s in Nibomay.

Virtually every culture regards the naming of a child as great importance, and multiple oracles are consulted to come up with the best name. Interestingly, adolescence is marked with coming-of-age rituals, often informally known as the “warrior” or “adventurer” stage of life due to the fact that most people in these occupations are under age thirty. Settling down and raising a family marks the transition to a “full adult.” As such, many cultures regard adventurers as having a sort of eternal adolescence. When a person dies, they become an ancestor orisha who can be called upon and consulted by divine spellcasters, as well as watching over their descendants for future generations.



This chapter covers the history of the world, shifting from an in-character narrator to a neutral objective narration. Oral traditions are the most common means of record-keeping; written records and calendar systems are known, but are both rare and differ wildly which prevents a true dating of events. In fact, Nyambans overall view time as cyclical with no true beginning and end: history itself will eventually repeat, so the assignment of dates is regarded as pointless.

This kind of contradicts the preceding chapter, where years in regards to the passing of adulthood are used and thus implies an annual or even seasonal system of sorts. Most communities have five-day weeks, with four of those days work and the fifth for religious observance. Magical divination is used for tracking solstices and equinoxes, meaning that non-magical astronomy is more or less pointless. The Mbanta nomads are the exception, who have a developed calendar system which is used for enhancing magical spells.



Mythical Ages: This covers the pre-history of Nyambe-tanda, beginning with the creation of all that is and ending with the downfall of the Kosa Empire. The Overpower was the first entity in reality; both male and female, the god became pregnant with an idea and gave birth to the world. The Overpower gazed upon their creation, and found that the continent of Nyambe-tanda was the only place beautiful enough to make a home. Soon the Overpower created other beings, from animals and plants to orisha and mortal humanoids for company. The intelligent beings sought to please their creator in various ways:

quote:

The races of people possessed a desire to please the Overpower, and quickly learned to emulate their creator. When the Overpower used stone to repair its home, the utuchekulu did this as well. When the Overpower grew plants in its garden, the wakyambi did this as well. When the Overpower dug cellars into the ground, the agogwe did this as well. When the Overpower shuttered its windows to keep out the light, the kitunusi did this as well. Finally, when the Overpower forged iron into a plowshare, the kosans did this as well. Only the young humans failed to emulate their creator.

But soon, the various races of peoples began arguing as to which race best emulated the Overpower. This argument went on for many moons, until the kosan orcs discovered how to forge iron into spears.

The kosans grew arrogant and began killing the other races in what became known as the first war. The Overpower grew sad and isolated themself, sharing the secrets of resurrection with a bat and a frog to spread the word and reverse the damage. The bat offered to carry the frog in its mouth while it flew to the various villages, only for the winged rodent to grow hungry and eat the frog. The bat only remembered the first half of the message: “when people die, you must bury them in the ground.” The Overpower’s attempt to teach people resurrection failed, and priests have been trying to master the full secret ever since. Even magical resurrection has its own limitations and requirements, from material components to portions of the body being available.

Those suffering under the kosan’s depredations begged the Overpower for more direct intervention, even asking for violent action. But the Overpower was a pacifist, so they would instead aid indirectly. The god gave the secrets of magic to the orisha to act as intermediaries. Then the Overpower ascended into the heavens on a giant spider’s web, never to be seen again. The kosans began to lose the war but turned the tide when they learned arcane magic from orisha of unknown origin. Some say they are the kosan ancestors, others failed creations of the Overpower, but today they are known as the Fiendish Orisha.

Sadly the Kosans won, and ruled over a continent-spanning Empire of great oppression and dark magic which even reached across the oceans. The descendants of the kosans in other realms would become known as orcs. The orisha retreated from mortal life, a sort of non-aggression pact reached with the Kosan’s fiendish orisha. But one orisha secretly approached the tuIda dragons. Born of the world itself, these creatures could work arcane magic without the orisha, and if they bred with mortals this power would be passed on to the oppressed populace. And so the seeds of rebellion were sown.

Eventually a group of slave-women with sorcerous powers rose up, overthrowing their masters with the very razors used to groom Kosan hair. The leader of the women, Amazonia, led a group of rebels known as the Amazons, liberating the city of Arabo which would come to be the capital of the Empire of Nibomay. Thousands of sei sorcerers revealed their powers in displays of arcane might across the Empire, the first of many slave rebellions that spelled the end of their reign.

Ancient Ages: With the Kosa all but slain, the other races of Nyambe-tanda grew to prominence. The matriarchal Empire of Nibomay’s humble origins began with the city-state of Arabo, gradually expanding to cover the western half of the continent. In the East, the Water People mastered the secret of bronze weapons and worshiped unknown gods. They enslaved the indigenous people and forced them to build great pyramids and monuments before eventually going to war with Nibomay. The rainforest-dwelling Boha-Boha people were one of the civilizations caught in the crossfire, and their leaders summoned legions of demons in desperation to hold back the Water People. Although successful, this came at a terrible cost, where advancing Nibomay soldiers encountered entire villages and cities impaled upon sacrificial pikes for the great summoning.

The other great events in this era included the tale of the great fire priest Bashar, who defeated a powerful blue dragon demanding livestock as tribute among the Marak’ka people. In a rather ingenious move, Bashar had three chances of poisoning the dragon before admitting defeat. First he tried to feed the dragon dragon poison, but he could smell it. He then tried poisoning a goat to feed him, but the poison killed the animal too fast. So Bashar baked the poison into a millet cake, which would digest slower in a goat’s stomach. By offering said goat as tribute to the dragon, his plan was successful and the mighty beast died. Bashar became a war chief, eventually leading a portion of his people into the western grasslands and forming the kingdom of Bashar’ka.



Middle Ages: The Middle Ages occurred sometime hundreds of years ago, far beyond the Ancient Ages thousands. As such, it is considered more “recent history” to the longer-lived races, but to humans is still a long enough time in the past. This era is marked with the rise of Zombi cults, named after a fiendish orisha who holds dominion over serpents and the undead. Zombi entrusted a mortal mage named Zulo with great power if he acted as a prophet, and after achieving lichdom he formed the mighty Zombi Empire. Their long and terrible reign lasted in part because they were wise enough not to directly challenge Nibomay, terrorizing populations unable to resist. But the Zombi Empire made a terrible mistake when they slaughtered an entire village save for a young boy named Kwo. At first wanting a survivor to spread their tale, the boy burned with vengeance, exercising and learning to fight among his adopted family. He soon became a great mounted warrior after buying an exotic horse-like engargiya animal used as beasts of burden on other continents. Kwo took the title the Hungering Lion after he mastered cavalry warfare. He led a strike team against Zombi holdings, rewarded with iron weapons from the grateful populace of Taumau-Boha,* their numbers growing as they ventured to the capital. Zulo’s undead army was defeated by summoning a flock of stone-bearing sea birds to rain rocky ruin upon the unliving legion, each one enchanted with positive energy spells. Zulo was captured by Kwo and beheaded, although nobody could account for his phylactery. Instead of replacing the emperor, Kwo granted self-rule back to the various conquered peoples.

*those once enslaved by the Water People

The other notable events of this era included first contact with the Near Easterners, a Fantasy Counterpart Arab-Muslim civilization whose boats landed in northern Nyambe-tanda. They sought to convert the native populace to their religion, by peace or by force if that failed. They established the theocracy of Boroko, which is now ruled by native Nyambans. The Near Easterners also brought some new technologies and concepts such as steel weapons and university and mercantile houses. In the rainforests of central Nyambe, the kingdom of Mabwe grew rich from striking ample gold veins in the mountains, causing Nibomay to invade them and be repelled. Fearing their empire’s decline what with no longer holding a monopoly on iron, Nibomay sought allies among the gnome-like kitunusi who were engaged in a war with the dwarf-like utuchekulu. Both of the latter races came to the surface realms from a great earthquake, eventually establishing new lands and a nation in the kitunusi’s case once they were granted autonomy by Nibomay.



Modern Age: The events of this era stretch back a mere 50 years from the present. The transition from the Middle Ages was with the arrival of the Far Easterners in northeast Nyambe. Although no stranger to violent opportunism, they primarily sought trade and built several cities on the coast. They traded heavily with Nibomay and Mabwe for precious metals and body parts of native wildlife, leading to some species growing endangered from over-hunting. Eventually the Far Eastern trade hubs grew into a powerful alliance of city-states known as the East Nyamban Merchants’ Confederation, although most people call the pseudo-nation Kaya Vua Samaki, or “fish-catching towns.”

The Far Easterners’ arrival made the oba (king) of Mabwe grow paranoid, who commissioned a massive wall to be built around the capital city for fear of an invasion. While most Far Easterners’ run the gamut of alignments, some yuan-ti opportunists arrived in secret among them, seeking to exploit the natural resources of the bIda Rainforest which Mabwe is part of and enslaving the local populace. This has only fueled more xenophobia, not just in Mabwe but also further north, as dragon-blooded unthlatu demihumans are mistaken and blamed for yuan-ti depredations.

The two other major political conflicts include tensions between Bashar’ka and Boroko, and the arrival of the Northerners. In the former case, the Queen of Bashar’ka visited the Caliph of Boroko on a diplomatic mission. Being a predatory and lustful man, the Caliph sought to bed her by any means necessary. With enough pleading and pressure, she eventually claimed that she would only sleep with him as part of repaying a debt or favor. The Caliph responded by ordering his cooks to over-spice the food and remove all sources of water from his palace, causing a now-sweating queen to ask for a drink and thus forcing her into sex.

Nine months later the Queen gave birth to a son, which gave her a great amount of power for he could be the rightful ruler of Boroko. The Caliph denies this of course, and the only thing preventing war is their two kingdoms being on opposite sides of the continent.

Several months ago, a group of people from a distant continent in the north came to raid lightly settled western coasts. Instead of trade, conversion, or setting up nations, the Northerners are primarily interested in gold and slaves. In fact, eyewitness reports say that the Northerners are orcs, their ships fleeing across the ocean once they’re filled to capacity. Coastal villages increased their warriors and defenses, and people fear their return.

Thoughts So Far: Nyambe’s first impressions are neat and interesting. The cosmology and theology is clearly different from most D&D worlds, and I like that they have a clear origin story for arcane magic which a surprising number of settings lack. The animist-flavored monotheism bears a strong resemblance to Vodoun, which has its own supreme creator with a host of spiritual intermediaries called upon by mortals. The setting’s history is interesting and manages to be brief while conveying some overarching information in a legendary storytelling style over that of dry history. I also liked that Nyambe was not depicted as an isolated land, which real-world Africa is all too often portrayed; the Easterners/Northerners/etc are more an auxiliary aspect to be replaced with your own setting’s people, although the religious crusades of the Near Easterners and orc (or at least orc-allied) Northerners makes some inherent assumptions that may not necessarily map to other popular published settings. But overall this is a strong start.

Join us next time as we cover the Races and Cultures of Chapter Three!

Libertad! fucked around with this message at 01:19 on Jul 1, 2019

juggalo baby coffin
Dec 2, 2007

How would the dog wear goggles and even more than that, who makes the goggles?




the Palers seem a lot more compelling than any of the other factions so far in degenesis, and most of the world building in general.

im not really super into all the rest of the stuff. the primer bug guys would be neat, but the various european regional stereotype guys are boring and have waaaay too much time dedicated to them. same for the fake christians and muslims.

and the less said about the apocalyptics the better.

if I was gonna be the Editor or w/e of this game I'd focus on one main region, make the palers a primary focus as a player group (they're very unique and have a good excuse for not being intimately familiar with the world outside cause god knows no player is gonna memorise all the lore), then have reduced detail about the other regions and factions, and cut the apocalyptics entirely.

make fighting the primer directly kind of an epic level thing, and have the different mutant guys be responsible for the weird STALKERy stuff you encounter on the quest to find the other bunkers or follow a sleeper or something.

then you've got the other stuff leftover for splatbooks. people who want to be apocalyptics can go play loving white wolf games.

id probably also change the anabaptists, jehemeddans, and the roma and africans to be a liiittle bit more tastefully portrayed.

Jerik
Jun 24, 2019

I don't know what to write here.

Tibalt posted:

Brief tangent, did anyone ever play a game where you actually rolled your hit die when you leveled? Even the groggiest table I've played at let you take 75% of your hit die. It's the most inexplicable thing I've seen in the rules for Pathfinder or Dungeons and Dragons because everyone ignores it.

Huh. Maybe a lot of people do ignore that rule, but I've never encountered a group that did. Every D&D/d20/Pathfinder game I've been in (excluding 4E games, of course, since 4E didn't have randomized hit points) had players roll for hit points each level, though sometimes with house rules like taking half the maximum die value if you roll below that.

hyphz posted:

quote:

As for actually running the game, again, you do whatever you want (although we wouldn't suggest anything that required can openers and gauze). But we do have a few *****.

Sorry if I'm being dense, but I couldn't help but wonder... do those asterisks represent something that was illegible in the original text due to the "weird font", or are they there to censor an explicit word? (If the latter, I'm not sure what word would fit there.) Or were those asterisks actually in the original book for some reason?

By the way, sorry for the delay with the next part of the 1E Deities & Demigods review. I've had it all written and ready to go for some time (the text, anyway, though it needs formatting and images), but I've been busy with an out-of-town job the last few days and just got back today. I should have the next part of the review up by tomorrow morning, and hopefully there won't be this big a delay between parts again, though given my unpredictable and irregular work schedule I can't necessarily guarantee that.

PurpleXVI
Oct 30, 2011

Spewing insults, pissing off all your neighbors, betraying your allies, backing out of treaties and accords, and generally screwing over the global environment?
ALL PART OF MY BRILLIANT STRATEGY!


Nyambe seems a combination of things I like and things I dislike. The cosmology/supernatural background seems interesting, but at the same time it feels like at points it leans a bit too much into making the natives Noble Savages. Like... why does it have to be foreign invaders who teaches the fantasy-Africans about mercantile houses, steel and universities, why can't they, themselves, be interested in the nature of the cosmos and have universities at which to research it? Plus the whole "they don't even have calenders!" just feels, again, kind of patronizing. If they farm and there are seasons, they'll almost certainly have calenders or time-reckoning of some sort. Likewise the "foreigners trade for animal body parts thus almost hunting them to extinction"-bit also feels a bit too... copying real world history.

It feels like it would be more interesting if the natives were the ones venturing abroad to explore or simply didn't get contacted by any other continents.

Fivemarks
Feb 21, 2015


Nyambe is very much a mixed bag, but at the very least it's way loving better than the way Pathfinder does Africa in Golarion.

hyphz
Aug 5, 2003




Jerik posted:

Sorry if I'm being dense, but I couldn't help but wonder... do those asterisks represent something that was illegible in the original text due to the "weird font", or are they there to censor an explicit word? (If the latter, I'm not sure what word would fit there.) Or were those asterisks actually in the original book for some reason?

It's a black box (ie, fake redacted text) in the original.

Night10194
Feb 13, 2012

We'll start,
like many good things,
with a bear.


Spycraft 1e

Go Fast

So, a disclaimer: I have never once used the Chase Rules. My old GM in college took one look at them and declared that we weren't going to bother and made the Wheelman off-limits as a PC class, and when I was running my own game I did similar because I had bad memories of playing a Cavalier in d20 and never actually getting my drat horse. So this part of the system is not something I've used, so I won't be trying to do a careful analysis of how well it works or not; I haven't seen it in play, which makes assessing it accurately difficult.

However, I can give you my spot impressions, and also talk about the larger issue the Chase System raises as part of an OGL product and with d20 in general.

As happens any time you have vehicles in an RPG, every vehicle has a bunch of rules and mechanics attached to it; they have wound points, they can take locational/subsystem damage on critical hits (in case someone on your team is leaning out the window firing their rifle while the Wheelman plays their subsystem), and most of it boils down to giving bonuses or penalties to the opposed maneuver tests that you choose as the Predator vehicle tries to get closer to the Prey vehicle. Distance between the two is measured in Lengths, which end up being used a bit like the chase's HP mechanic. Most of the time, the degree of success between maneuvers is what will determine how much the Prey opens up distance or the Predator closes in. The maneuvers all have opposed bonuses and penalties against one another; for instance, if the Predator is trying to Redline their engine to catch up (at the cost of some vehicle HP from overheating) but the Prey decided to try a risky Barnstorming maneuver (driving through a crowded shopping mall or something, as any good James Bond-esque car chase will do) the Redline is very weak against that move and suffers a -8 to maneuver. Predator and Prey choose their maneuvers in secret before the rolling that resolves things. Many moves also require you to have a good lead already if you're the Prey. Finally, some moves are 'Finishers'; if the Prey is far enough away, they can attempt difficult Finisher moves to end the Chase while the Predator can do the same at close range. Some maneuvers are improved if you have the Daredevil feature from having Wheelman levels. Some of the best moves are impossible if you don't have Daredevil.

The thing with Chases is that between the Daredevil bonus, the bonus Chase feats, and the other class abilities and things they get? A Wheelman will always completely clown a non-Wheelman unless there's a serious level difference or the Wheelman is built extremely poorly. Other characters can try to play the Chase minigame, and can even buy Chase feats and all, but the issue with that comes back to a normal d20 issue: You don't have many Feats and your character resources are limited, and actually being 'good' at this almost requires being an actual specialist. And a character who isn't a Wheelman and thus who is locked out of some of the best maneuvers and worse at some of the other better ones spending a ton of their extremely limited, valuable Feats on being good at chasing will still get clowned by an equivalent level Wheelman; basically, you have little business actually buying Chase Feats unless you're the class that has 'Does Chases' as their entire core class ability.

This isn't quite like combat; combat is much more balanced around the idea that the Pointman or Fixer is the actual 'baseline' of combat ability and the Soldier is exceptional, but combat is still inherently a group activity. Everyone else can be giving cover fire, moving to flank enemy cover, sneaking up on a sniper to Sneak Attack them in their perch, etc. The Soldier actually needs the rest of the team helping out while the Soldier defends them in combat. Here, the rest of the team can shoot or something during the chase (though at huge penalties, unless they have Feats, because it's d20 and most of the time doing anything beyond the basics requires Feats) but the real meat of the subsystem is down to the Wheelman against the enemy. And if the enemy is an enemy Wheelman, they cancel one another out some. If it isn't, the Wheelman is going to kick their rear end unless something weird is going on, which is absolutely fine sometimes; they should get to show off the stuff they put all those points into. But it does remove mechanical challenge if it happens a lot. The very 'one character against another' nature of the subsystem seems like it makes it a bit more focused on the one character that does it well.

In essence, this is an entire subsystem that had to be invented for this game because there's no subsystem from D&D that can be adapted here. The problem isn't really the subsystem itself; looking at the numbers and resolution system at a glance, Chases are actually pretty reasonably designed and will resolve without too much unnecessary complexity and in a reasonable amount of time. The problem is that after inventing the subsystem, they then made one class that does that subsystem and nothing else. The Wheelman has a stark choice as a character: Be good at the thing you're for, or be meh at the thing you're for and also not great at being a second 'major' fighter for the team. If they choose to be awesome at Chases, they'll win most Chases handily, but just having a higher BAB and slightly more Vit doesn't actually make them able to keep up with a Soldier much in combat since they lack the Soldier's feats, combat class features, etc. So whenever there isn't a car chase, they'll just be a Soldier but meh. Also, you kind of specialize in specific vehicle types, though a good Wheelman has enough Feats to master multiple vehicles. So you'd better hope it's a Car Chase and not a Helicopter Chase or whatever, if you built for Car Chases.

The issue at heart is similar to the issue Thieves caused in D&D. Once you introduce a class that is specifically mechanically defined as The One Class Who Does Thing, the way d20 is designed, you now introduce that nobody else Does Thing. And often that class ends up with only Does Thing on their plate. So a Wheelman is awesome at their mostly-one-character focused subsystem, at the cost of being fairly bored the rest of the game. And unlike the Soldier, who interacts with combat, something that's a core part of the d20 system and almost certain to come up at some point, Chases are pretty specific. Chases also being what they are, this means a team without a Wheelman really can't interact with this system at all, so they just plain can't catch an enemy Wheelman unless again, one of them spent a lot of resources to be a shittier Wheelman. By strictly defining this and then making one class vastly superior to all the others at it, while also making the system highly dependent on opposed tests between two individual agents participating in the minigame, they invented a subsystem and then locked almost everyone else out of it.

And that's why we never ended up using it. You can just ignore this whole thing and cut the Wheelman from the game and it still feels like a complete game. One of the things about d20 in general is that d20 is a system that demands a lot of specialization. This is why, even in cases where a d20 game is better designed, I tend to dislike them; it's a matter of taste. I prefer games about PCs who are more broadly competent because it's much easier to keep the group together and keep everyone contributing, but I also tend to prefer systems where a character can take something they're bad at and over time, learn to be good at it. That is not something that is going to come up in d20. You need to be decent at something from the start and devote yourself to it; gaining abilities randomly as what 'looks cool' was intentionally designed to gently caress you over in D&D 3e, after all. The Craft games are generally better about this sort of thing, and the Feat design in Spycraft 1e becomes noticeably better about it once they hit on the idea that the 'basics/mastery' 2 Feat 'trees' from Martial Arts were a good model for Feats in general, but you still really want to plan from the start or you can end up with a PC who isn't really good at anything, just less bad at a bunch of things.

D20 is designed around specialization and most things in it take a significant expenditure of character resources thanks to its base design, and in the end that's what sort of irks me about the Chase system despite it being a reasonably well designed subsystem on its own merits. By designing a single class that dominates it, the game makes the expenditure of character resources on Chases a really poor idea for any non-Wheelman since they can never really match the Wheelman (and the enemy in a Chase may well be a Wheelman). If you then make all Chases against non-Wheelmen, with non-Wheelman PCs to compensate, you just end up revealing you could have never had a Wheelman to begin with. Making a class entirely for a single subsystem that has a strong element of 'you only need this one character for this' (since the resolution of Chases is entirely down to opposed tests between the drivers) is not a good idea and does not produce a compelling class to play.

Next Time: Tradecraft

Joe Slowboat
Nov 9, 2016

Higgledy-Piggledy Whale Statements





I would personally be pretty fine with 'your cool magical beasts are being poached' as a way of doing Imperialism But Less Slavery And Conquest in a fantasy setting that doesn't want to feature the actual historical horrors, but since actual African nations had considerable contact with other continents' societies, universities, and mercantile empires even, and steel, it grates.

One thing that doesn't ever show up in Fantasy Africa but that should is the Ethiopian Church, a Christian sect founded before Christianity was even particularly established in Europe by direct transmission from the Roman Empire. If Europe had been totally destroyed by the Black Plague there would still have been a pretty major Christian influence in Africa and it never shows up in fiction. (Plus it's an interesting Christianity, with strong nationalistic and aescetic tendencies and a bent for its own form of hagiography).

E: Though if one has to make a single cosmology canonical for Fantasy Africa, the Yoruba cosmology isn't a bad choice. Ogun is one of my favorite divine figures, and even more so after reading Wole Soyinka's theory of aesthetics and long poem Ire this spring.

Joe Slowboat fucked around with this message at 15:53 on Jul 1, 2019

Mors Rattus
Oct 25, 2007

FATAL & Friends
Walls of Text
#1 Builder
2014-2018



Sig: Manual of the Primes
Wards of the Tether

Tetherward is the set of neighborhoods that surround and deal with the Tethers that connect Sig to the Planes. They are vital trade conduits – and loci of conflict and conquest, because here, goods and people flow freely. The City is built around the Tethers, which are connected by the immense road known as Queen’s Way. The locals of the Tetherward are hard-working, rough sorts with a love of drink after their labors. There’s always work to be done, handling the warehouses, barges and stables, and the workers keep the goods and people moving and managed. Tetherward is mainly known for laborers, explorers, mercenaries and similar people who work hard for a living. Tetherward, like the Hive, is divided into four primary neighborhoods.



The Golden Tether is the first of the three Tethers, and it is the one tied to the Ideological Planes, those of ethics and morality. As a result, the area is a focus of the City Between’s political life, home both to political operators and firebrand revolutionaries. Here, the city’s courts can be found, the dueling grounds of the advocates and judges – both verbal and physical. It is also the home of the ‘verse’s best café, at least if you ask the locals. Ideas can be bought here from ruthless information brokers, recorded on all manner of things, from clay tablets to scrolls to stranger things. The are is often a metaphorical battlefield, where ideas clash often. Zeal and fury seem to seep out of the Tether, slowly driving even the most moderate souls to ideological absolutism. The ability to compromise or self-reflect seems to be slowly worn away by ideological infection over time, and more than one crusading hierophant has arisen here, their ideas pushed to utter certitude.

The local NPC is Brunet the Mythender, a Primal human woman of the League of Exterminators and devotee of Alius the Pure. Her strengths are Paladin and Godslayer, her weakness Paranoid. Brunet is a newcomer to Sig, having been a paladin on her Prime world who was busy fighting a dark cult of demon summoners. To give her companions time to seal the demonic gate, she pressed forward with her holy blade. Next thing she can recall, she was curled up in an alley in Sig. Terrified and self-recriminating, she made her way to the nearest holy shrine to seek guidance. There, she was met by Alius the Pure, who offered her a holy mission: slay the false Powers of Sig. Brunet has now become a mythender for the League of Exterminators, eliminating divine and demonic pests in order to build up the money she needs to make her way home. Despite her holy vows, Brunet has fallen in love with Simus the Balancer. She has failed to slay Sachi, Devil of the Stacks, because the fiend shielded herself with orphans. She is a frequent visitor of Calvyn’s teahouse, seeking answers and sympathy.

The Silver Tether is the second of the Tethers, sometimes called the Port of Power due to the large arcane community that gathers there. It is where energy is imported, fueling the mastercraft of artificers and wizards. Academics and scholars congregate there to study the effects of this power and the magical strength it fuels. Raw power of all kinds is brought in from the Conceptual Planes. Shadows are bottled to be used as the core of illusion-crafting. Forbidden lore is recorded and protected by the Sage Collegium. Prophetic dreams flow through the minds of sleepers, warping perception and time alike. Life energies trapped in roots and fruits are brought in to heal the sick and wounded or prolong the lives of the wealthy. Chained spectres are smuggled in to be bound for labor and municipal work. The resources of the Tether are great, but very tightly controlled by the City’s laws.

The local NPC is Kinish the Crow, half Winged and half Gnome. She is a Herald and a devotee of Ferrelux the Whisperer. Her strengths are Dreams and Illusions, her weakness is Flighty. Kinish is a genius who has the small height of her gnomish father and the black feathers and wings of her mother. She hunts out secrets and lore, as her father did, and gathers and hordes things that grab attention, as her mother did. Thus, she has become one of the most well-informed people in the City Between, always trading in secrets. By day, she is a Herald courier, specializing in the transportation of gems and artifacts. By night, she is half private eye, half gossip, flitting about the rooftops of the city or nesting near the Silver Tether. Kinish has a professional relationship with Elakin as the exclusive transporter of her relics. She finds The Lost fascinating, often secretly watching them as they work. She has pestered Cyathea the Tower too often, and is banned from the Garden.

The Brass Tether, third and final, is a source of endless raw materials. Ore, water, clean air, fuel and ice are brought in here, stockpiled in immense warehouses until needed. The Tether has been colonized by a number of heavy industries, from smelters and smithies to alchemical workshops and factories, who try to be as close as possible to ensure fast delivery of raw goods to be worked. Hundreds labor without end to turn these raw goods into the things the city needs. Miners might spend months at a time carving out huge blocks and slabs from the Plane of Stone for future construction projects, while furnaces sometimes channel the heat of the Plane of Flame to refine ores or purify things. Special channels redirect water into the River to resupply it, and windmills stand on top of the warehouses to harvest the energies of the Plane of Wind when it has the Tether. One immense, insulated warehouse serves as a dedicated icebox to keep produce fresh for the wealthy.

Ghreeju the Stump is a Wyrm and Enforcer, servant of the Eater-of-Worlds. His strengths are Brutality and Draconic Fury, his weakness is Drunkard. Everyone knows he is a monster. He is a massive man full of dragon’s power, endlessly enraged and in pain. All he touches is destroyed by his razor-sharp claws, and his every smile is full of bared fangs. His breath is flame and smoke. What else can he be? Well, he can be a broken, fearful man, at heart. As a child, he was relentlessly mocked and tormented by smarter, prettier peers. His resentment festered in him, twisting him into the brute he is now. His insecurities drive him to violence, leading him to join the Enforcers. Now, he is a squad captain, frequently abusing his power and shaking down locals for cash. Ghreeju is drinking buddies with Brok the Damned, whose suffering is far greater. He is in desperate love with Negasi the Planner and would do anything if it would win her heart. He likes to beat up Kilku Ratface whenever he gets a chance, as he dislikes how good Kilku is at talking.

The Docks are the trade port for the Primes and those Planes that lack the Tethers at present. Huge numbers of goods of all kinds flow into Sig, and they have to be stored somewhere. Then they have to be transported across the city. Barges, carts and porters, usually underpaid, base themselves out of the docks to manage this – as do thieves and extortionists who prey on them. Hundreds of people of all kinds work the Docks at any given moment. Some run warehouses, organizing them as best they can. Others move goods to and from the barges of the Great River or load the city’s carts and wagons. Still more run the stables for the beasts of burden, which range from horses and mules to giant flightless birds and draft turtles. Others fight pirates with the Riverwatch. The Docks are not an easy place to live, but the ale is cheap in the many bars.

Slichk the Slime is a Waterborn member of the Riverwatch and follower of Tritonous of the Hungry Seas. Her strengths are Dock Workers and Leviathans, her weakness Kind Hearted. Slichk suffered terribly as a slave in the depths. Her youth was spent hunting the Leviathans, immense demon-whales, and butchering them for their valuable blubber. When her master was slain, however, she fled the depths and became a free woman. Now, a decade later, she is a distinguished leader among the dockhands. Her brilliance, industry and generosity have made her a natural leader. She handles the scheduling, ensures the cargo gets unloaded on time and keeps fights from blowing up too badly. She might give her workers more freedom than is necessarily good for them, but that is only because she dreads becoming anything like her own cruel master was. Slichk is very worried about Ranella and her divine power. She is very sympathetic towards Brunet the Mythender and would do anything to help her out. She sees Sachi the Aegis as her heroic role model.

Next time: Highspire

Night10194
Feb 13, 2012

We'll start,
like many good things,
with a bear.


Spycraft 1e

Tradecraft and Denouement

Bet you weren't expecting this to be the last Spycraft update, but it is. Because in reading a bunch of the GM's Guide and Tradecraft stuff, I keep coming back to my central thesis with this review: Spycraft is a well designed game by people who put in the effort to get across a genre they were excited to make a game for, and it is fought at every level and every turn by being a d20 OGL game. Let's take a look at the Tradecraft talk.

So in Tradecraft, you're told over and over: Try to keep killing to a minimum, don't interact with local authorities, don't get into gunfights with cops or soldiers in a foreign country unless absolutely necessary, and generally try to be in and out without anything exploding. Which is part of a normal bit of genre confusion in Spycraft: The game sometimes can't tell which sort of espionage thriller it's trying to be. Every now and then it gets a lot more into 'if the Soldier came out, your mission is already hosed', while giving you rules for mowing guys down with an M60 or having explosion-filled car chases through a public area. What's interesting is that Spycraft is also trying to be apolitical. It isn't, because there are political and ideological assumptions built into the genre conventions of the Espionage Thriller about heroic espionage agents, but it doesn't particularly focus on any sort of agenda. You're not really going to find passages about 'actually the CIA is always good and did only great things for South America' or 'Oliver North is a hero, I tell you!' or whatever; the general assumption is that your Agency may be a non-state actor as per old superspy serials and that you will primarily face non-state actors with volcano lairs and men in colorful jumpsuits, if the example Masterminds are any indication. There's actually no assumption you're even Western spies; the game suggests playing as agents of whatever nation and nationality the players think would be interesting.

Which is another source of the odd genre confusion. On one hand, you have a lot on what sorts of spies and spying are done, exhorting you to be patient and careful and minimally invasive, on the other you're trying to stop Dr. Kholera and his 1% virus (for '1% of humanity will survive') as he threatens the UN Security Council from his spectacular underground lair. The bigger issue is that neither sort of espionage action is at all supported by the underlying RPG system. Stopping Dr. Kholera is closer to what d20 can deal with; after all, his underground lair is very much like a dungeon full of combat and trap challenges, with investigation centered around finding the place, but the careful in and out intelligence gathering described in the Tradecraft chapter (or even quiet assassination missions) don't really work with the fundamental assumptions of the d20 system. Or rather, d20 has had to be crowbarred into a shape where they will at least somewhat play out properly. A huge amount of effort and design work has gone into making the classes more capable at non-combat functions, held back by the still pretty bad d20 Skill system and the unbounded DCs. Worse, because Spycraft 1e is an early OGL game and the first game by this design group, it still hews much more closely to D&D 3e's design in places, and suffers for it.

Let's look at some common superspy (or even normal spy!) actions and see how at odds with d20 they are. Take a guy out, quietly? You need to roll a crit, roll high enough on damage if he isn't a Minion (they just drop on crits, but it still costs a die), etc. Your actual chances? Very low. We saw Sveta trying to sabotage a guy's engine back in the skills chapter, and something to remember about that is that would remain a difficult action up to level 10 or so. Even just trying to sneak past level equivalent guards or mow down mooks in an exciting action scene takes longer because this is d20, without magic, instant-kill moves, or other ways of generally bypassing the basic damage system. It's not surprising in retrospect to hear that the optimal strategy at high levels is to focus on crits, because that's a character's only way to take people out quick without chewing through all their HP. Even just sneaking up on a guard and knocking them out (Superspy story, that should be easy enough) is actually hard to do in d20's combat engine. Lots of normal genre actions require lots of levels, feats, etc or outright become difficult to do because of the d20 system base.

I could also go into the huge section on hazards and designing enemies and all, but A: The hazard's section is that sort of massive pile of weird rules few tables ever actually use and B: Designing enemies eventually comes down to 'they're all built like PCs'. Including the mooks! The mooks are just weaker and usually lower level. Trying to build 15th level Mook tables to throw at my 17th level Superspies is the kind of thing my nightmares are made of as a GM and one of the things about d20 that I despise; I can deal with NPCs/Enemies built like PCs in a simpler system but a 15th level PC-alike in d20? That takes some goddamn time and fiddly bullshit to deal with. At the same time, determining exact enemy character level is often important, since the enemy's character level or skills or whatever often help set the DCs the PCs have to deal with. That part isn't really Crafty Games' fault, that's on d20, but that only strengthens my point.

Spycraft came out at a time when D&D 3e was still pretty new, and the OGL was still new, too. I don't blame the AEG employees who would eventually become Crafty Games for jumping on the d20 OGL; it provided them with a big, pre-made audience of people who wanted more d20 gaming at the time. And this was at the beginning of the push to try to pretend d20 could be used for any and every RPG and genre. They made a good faith effort to try to build a superspy game in the early OGL, and the game they produced is well-designed, mechanically interesting, and if you played it, you'd get something out of the rules. Especially if you like the d20 base and enjoy character optimization and lots of options and bonuses and things to play with. Combat makes an attempt to make modern combat work in a d20 system, and has some notable high points like the cover fire system or reasonably well-handled automatic weapons use. The classes are mostly well designed and fun to play. If you were in for a d20 game, especially at the time when this came out? This is a pretty good d20 game. Especially as the base use of Action Dice really helped to cover for one of the serious drawbacks d20 has as a resolution system (I say drawback, not flaw; having flat probability math might be worth it depending on someone's design goals).

The issue is that it puts a lot of effort into smashing a genre into a system that really fights it all the way. The thing that gets me about Spycraft is that the designers are skilled and thoughtful designers who engage with the mechanics a lot. I really would have loved to have seen what sort of base system they'd have designed if they weren't married to d20 by the OGL. Nothing about d20 actually works with the superspy genre. The wild swing in competence between level 1 and level 20 (and the way you're expected to level enemies up to match) just isn't a good fit for a genre that's normally about broadly competent action heroes. The basic assumptions of d20 combat needed a lot of effort to fit into a modern context. Gadgets and Gear ended up breaking with many of the assumptions of the d20 Gear Treadmill, but the d20 Gear Treadmill is actually a critical part of the system. Some of the better balance of Spycraft comes wholly from the fact that it can cut the standard D&D wizard entirely out of the loop and just not have to bother with casters, too.

So that's the verdict: The main reason I call Spycraft well designed is because it ended up producing a functional game that does have mechanics worth engaging with, and did so while running face first into the fact that no, d20 is not a universal system. That isn't even a flaw of d20; no system is a universal system. Rules and design are part of the fiction of an RPG. A critical part, even! If you want to have lots of deep interpersonal intrigue with daring combat and highly complex characters that take a long time to develop and create, but you produce a combat system that kills people in one hit most of the time? That's going to end up shaping the fiction more than your original concept or intent. If you want highly competent action spies, but you start play at level 1 since that's the default assumption? It's going to change the story into more bumbling and hijinks, even though you're playing the superspy game with a well thought out rules system, because that's just part of what level 1 d20 characters are. D20 as a system brings its own assumptions to the table just from the way the rules are designed, and Spycraft spent a lot of time working around that. It did it reasonably well, but I'd have loved to have seen a version of Spycraft that didn't have to.

So in the end, Spycraft is another sign of the long shadow of the OGL and the way it tried to slam every square genre peg into the round genre hole of D&D's base rules system. An interesting, well-designed d20 OGL game that was definitely worth looking at and playing in the day, and that produced its own legacy of extremely crunchy but thoughtfully designed d20 clones for people who really want to deal with 478 pages of pure crunch. That may not sound appealing, but that's not meant as a knock; that's a valid style of gaming, especially if the crunch is actually meaningful and potentially fun to interact with and tinker around with.

So now let's examine something where it isn't, for contrast.

Next Time: There has come a reckoning.

Jerik
Jun 24, 2019

I don't know what to write here.

Deities & Demigods 1E
Part 3: The Consequences of Negative Charisma



I probably should have been using this banner from the start... oh well.

Foreword, preface, and introduction finished, now we finally get to the meat of the book. Oh, we don't get to the gods themselves yet; no. First we've got to get through the:

EXPLANATORY NOTES

This section details the statistics given in each entry for a god or monster. Some of these statistics apply only to gods, others only to creatures, but they're all mixed together in these notes. Most of these are straight out of the Monster Manual and other early monster books: Frequency, Number Appearing, Armor Class, Move (with the quirky 1E convention of preceding the movement rate with a slash to indicate flying speed, two slashes for swimming, etc.), Hit Points, Hit Dice, % In Lair, Treasure Type, Number of Attacks, Damage per Attack, Special Attacks, Special Defenses, Magic Resistance (in 1E Magic Resistance was a standard item in every monster entry, even though the vast majority of monsters didn't have it), Intelligence, Size, and Alignment. We do get a few notes on possible special values for these items for gods: Move, for example, could be Infinite, indicating that "the entity can travel to any point desired with no time lapse, and this is the being's preferred mode of movement." We also get a description of how Magic Resistance interacts with deities' special abilities—surprisingly, it still applies. After Alignment we get our first item that hasn't been standard in monster books: Worshiper's Align, the typical alignment of worshipers of the god, which may or may not be the same as the alignment of the deity. ("This does not necessarily apply to the alignment of the deity's clerics, which must be identical with their patron's.") After that we get Symbol ("Fairly self-explanatory, this is the symbol by which the deity and his or her faithful followers are known. It will be found engraved upon most holy items."), and then Plane—the "deity's plane of origin", usually, but not always, one of the Outer Planes. After that, for deities and heroes we get their levels of ability in various classes and subclasses: Cleric/Druid, Fighter, Magic-User/Illusionist, Thief/Assassin, and Monk/Bard. (It's worth noting that the gods and heroes in this book do not apparently make any attempt to follow standard AD&D multiclassing/dual classing rules—which were, admittedly, messy and contrived anyway.) We then get Psionic Ability—like Magic Resistance, a standard item in 1E monster entries, even though it didn't apply to the vast majority of monsters (though most of the gods do have some level of psionic ability)—and finally, for gods and heroes, their ability scores: Strength, Intelligence, Wisdom, Dexterity, Constitution, and Charisma (abbreviated by their first letters, except Charisma, which is CH).

The ability scores get a little over a page of extra explanation, because while the Player's Handbook laid out the bonuses and penalties of ability scores ranging from 3 to 18, gods and heroes often had higher ability scores. Therefore, this book extends the tables from the Player's Handbook to include ability scores from 19 to 25—25 was a hard cap on ability scores in 1E, as 30 is in 5E. For example, characters with a Strength of 25 can carry 15,000 pounds, get a +7 bonus to hit and +14 to damage, and have a 23 in 24 chance of forcing open a stuck door (or 9 in 10 if it's locked, barred, magically held, or wizard locked). Characters with a Dexterity of 25 get a +5 adjustment to attacks, a −6 defensive adjustment to Armor Class (in 1E, lower armor classes were better), and bonuses ranging from 30% to 50% to the various thief skills.

Charisma is unique in that it gets extended to values not only above 18, but also below zero. "In certain instances," the book explains, "some divinities are so loathsome and repellent as to actually have negative charisma." For example, a being with a Charisma of −7 gets a reaction adjustment of −70%—meaning that 70% is deducted from the probability of an NPC's having a positive reaction to the character. Gods, but not other characters, also have a horror ability if they have a negative charisma, causing creatures below a certain threshold of hit dice or levels (12, for a Charisma of −7) to be "stunned with fear and detestation until the being is no longer in sight"—divine beings with a high positive Charisma, incidentally, have a differently flavored but mechanically identical awe power. Oddly, neither Deities & Demigods nor the Player's Handbook addresses the effects of Charisma between 0 and 2; apparently you can have a Charisma of −1, or you can have a Charisma of 3, but nothing in between.

After the Explanatory Notes, we have the Standard Divine Abilities—as well as another image, while I'll include here because I realize that other than the banner at the top I haven't included any images yet in this post (but this introductory text in Deities & Demigods is really light on illustrations—there'll be more once we get to the actual pantheons).


So is this drawing trying to make an analogy between role-players and gods? Because that seems really... trite.

STANDARD DIVINE ABILITIES

Basically, there are eight special abilities that all gods have, unless specified otherwise: they can command other creatures, with no saving throw; they can comprehend languages; they can unerringly detect alignment; they can gate in other beings of the same mythos; they can impose a geas or a quest (these were both spells in first and second edition, with similar but slightly different effects, so this counts as two different abilities); they can teleport; and they have true seeing, the ability to see all things as they truly are (also a spell... in fact, all these abilities are based on spells). These abilities all "function instantaneously and at will, but not continuously." The book also encourages DMs to give the gods "bonus powers" not listed in the book according to their judgment. Finally, all gods and demigods make all saving throws on a roll of 2 or higher on a d20; heroes need a 3.

DUNGEON MASTERING DIVINE BEINGS

Dungeon Mastering Divine Beings posted:

In AD&D, when the deities deign to notice or interfere with the lives of mortal men, it is the Dungeon Master who must assume their roles. DMing a divinity presents a far greater challenge than playing the role of a merchant, a sage, or an orc. Players will quite naturally pay special attention to the words and deeds of the gods, so the DM must make a special effort to understand how to present them.

Basically, we're told that the gods are egotistical beings who will harshly punish any mortals who try to intimidate them or treat them as equals. They "enjoy flattery, but any any god with a wisdom score above 15 will know it for what it is, and will generally not allow his or her opinion of the flatterer to be altered by the flattery." Most gods have much higher Intelligence and Wisdom than mortals, and shouldn't be easy to trick or fool. "In fact, as DM, you can usually assume that if you know why a character is saying or doing something, the deity would know it as well. This should help to simulate the deity's superior intellect and wisdom, and impress the characters." Gods rarely deign to enter combat with mortals, and even if they do they won't risk their lives, and are likely to just summon aid and then teleport away. Nor will they typically fight other gods, "[u]nless they have a history of mutual antipathy".

Gods are willing to aid their worshipers, but usually do so in subtle ways rather than by overt miracles, much less personal appearances.

Dungeon Mastering Divine Beings posted:

If the supernatural powers of the various Outer Planes could and would continually and constantly involve themselves in the affairs of the millions upon the Prime Material Plane, they would not only be so busy as to get neither rest nor relaxation, but these deities would be virtually handling all of their own affairs and confronting each other regularly and often. If an entreaty for aid were heard one time in 100, surely each and every deity would be as busy as a switchboard operator during some sort of natural disaster. Even if each deity had a nominal number of servants whose purpose is to supply aid to desperate adventurers, the situation would be frenzied at best. It is obvious that intervention by a deity is no trifling matter, and it is not to be allowed on a whim, even if characters are in extremis!

Nevertheless, it's not entirely impossible that a god might come to a character. Evil gods are particularly likely to appear, if they think they can make converts; good gods are more likely to send servants. The book does something very interesting here and suggests that the increased abilities of high-level characters are in fact due to direct divine intervention: "the accumulation of hit points and the ever-greater abilities and better saving throws of characters represents the aid supplied by supernatural forces." I guess that's one way to answer the pervasive question of what hit points really mean in the game world, but for better or for worse I don't think this was ever followed up on. (To be fair, the 1E Player's Handbook had mentioned "luck (bestowed by supernatural powers)" among the things that hit points above first level were supposed to represent, but Deities & Demigods seems to suggest that that's all they are.) In any case, this goes two ways; gods regard high-level characters as important resources, which means they may call upon those characters to do things for them. "In these cases, rather than being requesters of divine intervention, characters may actually become part of the intervention itself!"

This section ends with a discussion of the chances of a character's receiving divine intervention when requested, and it's... actually much higher than the preceding text would seem to indicate, at least for first-time petitioners.

Dungeon Mastering Divine Beings posted:

If the character beseeching help has been exemplary in faithfulness, then allow a straight 10% chance that some creature will be sent to his or her aid if this is the first time the character has asked for (not received) help. If 00 is rolled, there is a percentage chance equal to the character's level of experience that the deity itself will come, and this chance is modified as follows:

And then we get a bunch of modifiers to the chance: minus 5% for each previous intervention, plus 1% if the character is "opposing forces of diametrically opposed alignment", etc. We also get a note that this applies only to activity on the Prime Material Plane, or occasionally in the Astral and Ethereal; gods never intervene directly on the Outer Planes or the Positive or Negative Material Planes, and "intervention in the Elemental Planes is subject to DM option, based on the population he or she has placed there."

CLERICS AND DEITIES

Here we get information about the relationship between, well, clerics and deities. Most of this is fairly predictable stuff: gods expect their clerics to "maintain appearances and perform the proper rituals"; clerics may be expected to build places of worship for their gods; etc. One bit worth noting is that not all clerics have access to all spell levels; there are essentially three tiers of godhood, and only the highest tier, "greater gods", can grant their clerics spells up to seventh level (the highest level of cleric spell that existed in first and second edition). "Lesser gods" can only grant up to sixth level spells, and "demigods" only up to fifth. Personally, I think back when I played first-edition D&D I just ignored this fiddly and annoying rule, and I'm sure I'm not alone in that. (Not that it would have come up much anyway; clerics of sufficiently high level to cast sixth- or seventh-level spells were few and far between.) We're also told that first- and second-level spells come directly through the cleric's own faith and knowledge; third- through fifth-level spells are granted by divine servants; and sixth- and seventh-level spells are bestowed directly by the gods themselves... but it's not clear that this has any actual game effect. (Well... I guess the part about first- and second-level spells not requiring the deity to grant them does turn out to have one game effect that we'll get to later, but it's one that would only come up in extremely unusual circumstances.)

We then get a discussion of what happens if clerics fall away from the path of their deities. Basically, low-level clerics don't really need to worry about divine punishment; the gods expect more from higher-level clerics. (Although the book doesn't say so, I'm assuming that applies only to relatively minor transgressions; if a low-level cleric decides to go on a spree of desecrating the temples of his or her god and wantonly slaughtering the god's other worshipers, I would expect the god might actually raise an objection to that.) For such a cleric, a minor lapse can result in nothing more than an admonitory omen on first offense. (We'll be getting to omens in a moment.) If the trespass is repeated, however, the god may send a servant to require the cleric to undergo penance—which may be as simple as an atonement spell if the cleric wasn't really at fault (yes, this was a spell in earlier editions), and otherwise may involve "several days of fasting, prayer and meditation and/or minor sacrifices." More weighty infractions may require major sacrifice, minor quests, or, in some religions, "public degradation and humiliation"; really serious offenses may require the cleric to "sacrifice all of his or her possessions and then go on a major quest in order to restore good standing." And of course, really serious sins or heresies may result in excommunication or even "direct divine wrath".

So... really pretty much what you'd expect, although we're assured at the end of this section that a "faithful and true cleric... does not even consider committing actions which oppose those of his or her alignment and religion."

OMENS

And now we get a section on omens, "signs or indications from deities that display the pleasure or displeasure of the gods or serve to foretell the future." Oddly, we're told that this section "deals with many of the common omens of historical reality", by which I assume the authors mean phenomena that were historically believed to be omens, unless they really think that gods constantly dispensing omens is a part of genuine, real-world history. Players who act against their alignment will be sent bad omens, most commonly in the form of a slight loss of power. (Yes, the book says players, but of course it no doubt means player characters... there are a lot of things here that could be worded better.) This isn't limited to clerics; unfaithful fighters may lose half their hit points due to illness, magic-users may be unable to cast their higher-level spells, and so on. The importance of getting the player characters to stick to their alignments is really hammered hard here:

Omens posted:

In short, omens are devices for judges [i.e. DMs] to use in correcting players that constantly do improper things in the campaign. If a temporary loss of power does not deter a player from constantly violating his or her alignment or not following the ways of the deity, then more severe omens can be given or the effects of some can be made permanent.

We then get lists of common omens, though we're assured that they're "entirely optional", and that:

Omens posted:

Under no circumstances should a player be allowed to badger a DM into, for example, giving the player a bonus on saving throws simply because he or she is carrying a pouch full of four-leaf clovers! In the AD&D universe, such an occurrence might foretell seven years of ill fortune to follow.

First we get the good omens, and it's... not really particularly interesting. Yes, four-leaf clovers are there, along with dice, crossed fingers, "and the three apes that see, hear, and speak no evil", inter alias. We do get the interesting note that "[t]he wearing of leather from top to bottom is said to repel demons and devils"—which is given no hard rules to back it up, and, again, is never followed up on. Bad omens, we are told, are more numerous than good, and include standard superstitions such as breaking mirrors, spilling salt, and "[t]hirteen of anything in one group". Rather oddly, we're told at the end of the paragraph that "[t]he coming of a will-o'-the-wisp is interpreted to mean that some building is going to burn to the ground within seven days, while the wail of a banshee certainly means that someone is going to die that very night." Well, according to the Monster Manual, will-o'-the-wisps and banshees are evil monsters that want to kill you. I think calling them bad omens is kind of redundant.


Save versus magic or be instantly killed by this bad omen.

In between the good and bad omens, dung for some reason gets a whole paragraph.

Omens posted:

Dung is said to have both good and bad properties. Objects or persons that are covered in dung reputedly cannot be touched or hurt by the undead. On the other hand, if even a small bit of dung is cast upon an altar consecrated to good, the altar is defiled and only evil can be contacted there. The forces of good must go to great lengths to resanctify such a tainted object.

The appearance of a rainbow, by the way, is a "definite statement from a deity. Its appearance means either that the deity wants to converse with a mortal, or that the deity wants the mortal to undertake a quest." So apparently in the D&D multiverse, every rainbow is a direct miracle specifically sent as a message from a god—at least according to this book, and no other D&D book ever. (One wonders how the mortals who see the rainbow know who the rainbow is specifically intended for, and what the quest is they're supposed to undertake. Perhaps D&D rainbows don't have a standard ROY G BIV order, but are color coded to signify their meaning.)


"Hm... blue red blue yellow purple green orange red. Welp, looks like Oghma wants Finn to go slay a hag."

MORTALITY AND IMMORTALITY

The last major section of the introduction is "Mortality and Immortality". This section begins by discussing the difference between souls and spirits—a technicality that existed in early editions of D&D, but was dropped from third edition on. Basically, only humans, dwarves, halflings, gnomes, and half-elves have souls; all other creatures that worship gods—including elves—have spirits. (Apparently creatures that don't worship gods don't have either souls or spirits, and are just gone when they die. Or they have some third, unspecified type of vital force (or anima, as the book calls souls and spirits collectively). Pneuma? Quintessence? And yes, we are given some brief guidelines for deciding whether or not a given type of creature worships deities.) Creatures with souls can be restored to life by a raise dead or resurrection spell; creatures with spirits cannot. (We are, however, assured that this system "is only a suggested one", and that "[i]ndividual Dungeon Masters should use a different system if they find this one unsuitable.")

Yes, that means in first and second edition elves could not be raised or resurrected. That part isn't actually new to this book; it was in the Player's Handbook—though that's another rule that I'm guessing was probably widely ignored. What is new to this book is the more detailed account of what happens to souls or spirits after death. Both souls and spirits go to an Outer Plane, usually the one where their deity resides, and more specifically to the part of that plane where the deity's influence is strongest. (Yes, there does seem to be an assumption throughout this book that every character will necessarily be devoted to a single god; characters who worship multiple gods or who don't bother worshiping any gods at all apparently don't exist.) The soul or spirit of a person who has not been perfectly faithful to his or her deity's tenets, however, may instead go to a different plane more in keeping with the character's true alignment. Once they get to their destination plane, souls are there for good; spirits, however, are eventually reincarnated and returned to the Prime Material Plane, though not necessarily as the same species as they used to be. The timing of the reincarnation is unpredictable: "It could range from as little as ten years to a millenium [sic] or more—time is not important to a deity."

(Speaking of reincarnation, it just occurred to me that the first- and second-edition reincarnate spell interacts weirdly with the soul/spirit distinction. The reincarnate spell could potentially bring back a dead human as an elf, or vice versa; does that mean the subject's soul was transformed into a spirit, or the reverse? Or does that result in a human with a spirit, or an elf with a soul? For that matter, the druid version of the spell could also bring back a dead human or elf as, say, a badger, or a raccoon (though I don't think any first-edition book ever had game statistics for raccoons); if badgers and raccoons don't normally worship gods, and hence don't have souls or spirits, is the soul or spirit of the reincarnated individual destroyed, or does he or she come back as a uniquely ensouled/enspirited badger or raccoon? Maybe these questions were addressed in a "Sage Advice" column somewhere, but if so I'm unaware of it.)

We're then given this parenthetical paragraph:

Mortality and Immortality posted:

(Note: The above is only a suggested method for dealing with character life-after-death. The DM may, of course, use whatever system is most appropriate to his or her campaign.)

Yes, we were already told a few paragraphs ago that this system was optional, but apparently the authors found that important enough to warrant reiterating. Okay, maybe the Editor's Introduction really meant what it said about everything in this book being guidelines, not rules after all.

Anyway, the soul or spirit is not instantaneously transported to an Outer Plane immediately upon a person's death. Rather, it has to travel through the Astral Plane, a process that takes 3-30 days. (At least, we're told that's the time "relative to those in the Prime Material Plane", but "time is meaningless to the soul or spirit". Which means... what, exactly? Does the soul or spirit experience it as instantaneous travel? Does the soul or spirit just have no idea at all how much time had passed?) This is why it's harder to bring people back with the raise dead spell the longer they'd been dead; the farther along they are in their travel to their destination plane, the farther they are from the Prime Material Plane. The resurrection spell works differently, though, and rather than calling back a soul in transit actually brings it back from the plane of its deity.

Mortality and Immortality posted:

As this involves the cooperation of the deity on the plane where the soul was, clerics must use extreme caution in employing this spell. If a cleric resurrects a being of radically different alignment, the cleric's deity (who gave the cleric this power) may be greatly offended. Similarly, if a cleric resurrects a being of different alignment simply to serve the purposes of the cleric or his or her deity (to extract information, for example), the deity on the plane where the soul was may be highly displeased and may take appropriate action.

So, wait, if resurrection requires the cooperation of the deity where the soul is, can't that deity just not cooperate if it doesn't want the person resurrected, rather than allowing it to happen and then getting all huffy about it afterward? Apparently not, I guess.

Two other notes about souls and spirits before moving on: First, we're told that the soul or spirit's journey through the Astral Plane can be dangerous because of the monsters that "roam the ethereal and astral planes at will" (why are the monsters that roam the Ethereal Plane relevant, if the soul is only traveling through the Astral?), and that this "is why burial chambers often include weapons, treasure, and even bodyguards to protect the soul on its journey." Second, we're told the following:

Mortality and Immortality posted:

The servants, functionaries, and minions of some deities (demons, devils, couatl, ki-rin, titans, and others) are actually spirits put into those forms for the purposes of the deity. It should be noted that the forms listed in the MONSTER MANUAL are by no means the only ones these servants can take — some chaotic deities rule planes where no two beings have the same form!

Which is another thing that was never really followed up on in later books, and in fact ends up being at least partly contradicted by them. Yes, we do later get details of how demons and devils are formed from the souls of the dead, but that seems to be a sort of quasi-natural process rather than an act of the gods, and there's no indication that couatls and ki-rin are formed similarly (and titans, at least, get an entirely different origin). Oh well.

We then get to what immortality means in D&D: basically, an immortal being doesn't age, but that doesn't mean it can't be killed. Whether a god appears old or young has nothing to do with the god's power level. Gods and their servants travel through the Astral Plane anchored by a "silver cord" similar to that of an astrally traveling mortal, except the god's silver cord is unbreakable. (The silver cord was another whole weird thing from early editions of D&D... I won't explain it now, but we'll get into it when we get to Appendix 1.) If the god or spirit is slain on another plane, the silver cord snaps it back to its home plane near-instantaneously and it's not destroyed, but it is weakened: even a greater god will need a few weeks of rest and recuperation, during which time any clerics of that god won't be able to recover any spells above second level. Any divine servant or even god is destroyed utterly if slain on its home plane, beyond even the power of the deities to restore. However, "[a]ll creatures are most powerful in their own territory", and it should be virtually impossible for a god to be killed on its home plane by anything other than another god.

The very last part of the introduction, a subsection under "Mortality and Immortality", deals with Divine Ascension. In other words, we get to find out how a mortal can become a god. Basically, there are four requirements for this to happen:
  • The character must be significantly above the average experience level of "adventure-type characters" in the campaign. "(This includes all such non-player types as military leaders, royal magic-users, etc.)"
  • The character must have had his or her ability scores somehow raised to be on par with those of the "lesser demigods"
  • The character must have "a body of sincere worshipers"
  • The character must "be and have been a faithful and true follower of his or her alignment and patron deity"
If all these conditions are met, the character may be eligible for divine ascension. That still doesn't mean the character immediately becomes a full-fledged god. Rather, the character's deity "invest[s] the person with a certain amount of divine power, and bring[s] the character into the ranks of the god's celestial (or infernal) servants." Then, "[a]fter several centuries of superior service and gradual advancement, exceptional servants may be awarded the status of demigod".

Mortality and Immortality posted:

This process of ascension usually involves a great glowing beam of light and celestial fanfare, or (in the case of those transmigrating to the lower planes), a blotting of the sun, thunder and lightning, and the disappearance of the character in a great smoky explosion.


Although in this illustration it kind of looks like both are happening at once?

No description of what the process involves for characters that are neither good nor evil. (And yes, as we'll see, there are plenty of gods that are neither good nor evil, and there are Outer Planes corresponding to such alignments, so this does seem to be a significant oversight.)

Of course, a PC who ascends to divinity becomes an NPC. Still, I guess that's a better way for a character to retire than failing a saving throw against a giant centipede's poisonous bite.


Save versus poison or be instantly killed by this common ¼-hit-die monster. (Okay, you get a +4 to your saving throw, but still...)

And that's that. Whew. Okay, I'm very glad to be through with all that introductory matter. Maybe I should have split it into more than one post, but honestly I'm just glad to get it done. Starting next post, we'll finally get into the actual pantheons.

Next time: Haida, Iroquois, Navajo... those are all basically the same thing, right?

Night10194
Feb 13, 2012

We'll start,
like many good things,
with a bear.


Oh, another thing I should note about Spycraft: It completely cuts out any kind of Alignment system and tells you as much. Your alignment is Spy. You spy.

mllaneza
Apr 28, 2007


Veteran, Bermuda Triangle Expeditionary Force, 1993-1952





hyphz posted:

The GMing advice from that one game..
So, I leave this to some extent open to more experienced GMs than me. Is this section a parody, or not? I'm honestly not sure anymore.

One of the strengths of HoL's GM advice is in how viscerally it wants you to run the game. Do the voices ! Get excited ! Threaten the characters with real stakes ! That's what the Killing Things and Things That Kill You chapter titles are hitting at. GM as Performance Art.

And the advice about getting an image in your head ? Gold. Always have cool stuff you want to try out. Maybe you came up with a cool NPC with an awesome lair. Great, nudge the PCs towards meeting them. Just don't decide beforehand if they're going to be allies or enemies, let it come out in play. PbtA games say the same thing with "Say what your prep demands" and "Play to find out what happens".

And I can't emphasize this enough, do the drat voices !

Night10194
Feb 13, 2012

We'll start,
like many good things,
with a bear.


Hunter: The Reckoning

I'm not immortal. Neither are they.

Hunter is the only Storyteller game I have ever actually played. And even then, only for one campaign, as a player, in high school. It barely qualifies for my normal criteria for reviewing something; when I actually ran Hunter games I immediately threw Storyteller in the trash and used Cinematic Unisystem with a little add-on system for Edges. Yet I really want to cover this game just to talk about how interesting and weird it is. Its system is a pile. It has no idea what it actually wants to do with itself. It's a 1999 game mired in a hell of a lot of standard 90s conspiracy junk, with all the unfortunate implications that can bring with it.

At the same time, it has one of the strongest elevator pitches in the World of Darkness: At some point, all the bullshit the other game lines get up to is going to bite them in the rear end. The people that almost every WW game dismisses as kine, mortals, weaklings, or otherwise unimportant? The people that the monsters have a thousand ancient conspiracies and magic blessings to hide them from? What happens when those people put on the glasses from They Live and suddenly a normal Vampire chronicle is invaded by extremely angry people who can recognize them and don't give a drat about the Masquerade? What happens when you look at the old World of Darkness through the perspective of the people it casually dismisses as victims and then give them magic powers?

The answer is they die, mostly, unless they get high enough level to get some of the more broken powers, but hey. The idea is sound. Especially for a horror game. Which is one of the strengths of Hunter. It's still a 90s urban fantasy game by WW, so of course you have splats and stereotypes about the splats (moments after the game tells you no-one in setting recognizes these splats or has stereotypes about them, of course). It's still monumentally insecure about itself and unable to decide what, exactly, it wants to be beyond its strong elevator pitch. It's a 90s game written by the same types of people who wrote all the other WW games, so it's got a ton of stuff in it that can easily accidentally have reallllly bad implications; Hunter is extremely rooted in 90s Conspiracy Theorists Are Right sort of thinking. Monsters control society and after being Imbued with power and sight (not very much power early on) you're above the ignorant masses of sheeple who just believe what 'they' want them to believe and who will never listen to warnings or anything. It has all the normal implications you get when a secret, depraved elite of non-humans are controlling the world behind the scenes.

So why do I want to cover it? Well, for one, you remember how I talked about how Feng Shui was tremendously confident and sure of itself? Secure in what kind of game it was? Hunter is not. WW generally wasn't. You'll get the usual exhortations that trying to play a military vet that knows how to fight isn't what the game's about, the usual 'roleplaying a character is the most important thing you could ever do and in time will produce the best characters ever written' crossed with lots of 'but only play this way' and then interspersed with art of people doing crazy side-flips while shooting a vampire with two SMGs on the same page as text telling you this game is in no way about people who do crazy side-flips while shooting a vampire with two SMGs. Hunter is confused about itself. The powers range from simple 'edges' like their name suggests to 'oh my God who gave the idiot an orbital laser'. You'll also get lots of stuff about the righteous battle of standing up against the darkness despite being an ordinary man or woman, interspersed with admonitions that the game isn't really about fighting monsters. Despite the game being about fighting monsters, and everything about your character being defined around how and why you chose to fight monsters when you had them revealed to you.

But at its heart there's the core of a really good horror concept in Hunter. Hunter is, at its heart, about a bunch of random, mostly ordinary people who can no longer look away from all the awful poo poo going on in their world. You might be an office worker, you might be a cop, you might be a nanny or a schoolteacher: Whoever you are, all of a sudden some kinda crazy angelic voice is screaming INHERIT THE EARTH and you can see that that guy luring someone into an alleyway is a goddamn dracula and he's about to eat somebody and nobody else can see it, so it's up to you to do something. Something you're massive unprepared for. In a situation where you might just be having a psychotic break. But then it keeps happening. And all you have on your side is that they don't know you're coming; the monsters are caught up in their games, playing their melodramas and eating people, like they do. They don't really understand that there are humans who can see them for what they are. They understand even less that the occasional human who can see them for what they are can turn a simple brick in a sock into a white hot holy flail of dracula face smashing. Better make that first swing count because it's the only one you get for free.

And after that part's passed, they're everywhere and you don't know a goddamn thing about them or why you can do what you can do. You're now on your own, with only a couple other people who did the same sorta stuff you did, and none of you have any idea what to do next. Your enemies are literal superhumans, many of them centuries old, and while you can see them you have no idea what to actually do about them. Only that you have to do something; you can't just let this poo poo continue. That's a strong pitch.

So yeah, Hunter has problems. Up to and including that apparently it was originally going to turn out that Hunters are modern Exalted or some poo poo. The rules don't work. It's mired in a ton of 90s White Wolf. Hunter: The Vigil is almost certainly a more playable game that is more certain of what it wants to do. But there's something in the way Hunter: The Reckoning starts off with a character pitched into the deep end with an earth-shattering revelation that there's something terrible out there that you have to deal with despite being unready for it that has a strong, visceral resonance. In the hands of better writers than the people at WW? The concept behind the Reckoning could be really great.

Also, the enemies you're up against? They can poo poo on the idea of being a soldier or whatever as being against the concept of 'everymen' all they want ('Sgt. Rex's story is stupid and boring, because he has guns and knows how to use them' is an entire sidebar) but the average PC is going to be in deep trouble against most of the game's enemies early on even if their background included combat training. It's not really going to make the difference between you being ready or unready; you're starting out the underdog. Your enemies outmatch you by an awful lot, and your enemies are, well...the World of Darkness. There's some value in playing a game that looks at the World of Darkness from an outside perspective and goes for the shotgun. The core of anger and the simple question 'Why the hell do you keep doing this considering what you're up against?' makes for surprisingly strong character concepts and is an evocative concept to build a horror RPG around.

So join me, as we go through a shitload of 90s, terrible combat rules in a game that thematically is going to need to include combat, terrible non-combat rules, terrible powers systems, and try to get past that to the simple truth within: Sometimes, it's good to shoot Dracula.

Next Time: Oh boy, in character fiction. For two chapters.

Jerik
Jun 24, 2019

I don't know what to write here.

I realize I may be nitpicking here, but I don't think Sig's creator really thought through the whole Möbius-strip aspect of the city's geometry. I guess that was just a takeoff of the fact that Sigil is a ring, so Sig's creator decided his city should be something like a ring, but even more strange and mystical. But the way that Möbius strips work, and the way the map of the city is set up, if someone were to walk all the way around the city they'd end up as a mirror image of their original self. (Note the top and bottom edges of the map—the top of the map has to be mirror-reflected to join up with the bottom.) The same goes for anything they were carrying with them; any books would now seem to people who hadn't joined them in their circuit to be written in mirror writing. I get that you could try to handwave the issue away with "well, that doesn't happen because magic", but the phenomenon is so inherent to the topology of the Möbius strip that for me that wouldn't really be satisfying; it would make about as much sense as saying that magical effects in this universe make it so five isn't a prime number, or so there's a forbidden number between 12 and 13. (On the other hand, if the creator did address this in the book and you just didn't mention it in your summary... well, props to him, I guess; that could be an interesting aspect to the setting if it's actually dealt with.)

Honestly, my overall reaction to Sig so far has been... disappointment. From the first post, it sounded like it could be really intriguing. And there are some intriguing aspects. I like the idea of the tethers, and how the city changes with the tethered planes. And there are some imaginative details (though given the amount of "borrowing" present I don't know how much of them are copied from relatively obscure RPGs I'm not familiar with). But, well, for instance, the factions... apparently Sig has Factions because Planescape had factions, and Sig's creator liked them in Planescape. But the main thing that made Planescape's factions interesting wasn't the roles they played in running Sigil; it was their philosophies, their beliefs, and the fact that through those beliefs they could literally shape reality. Unless you've glossed over that part in your summary, it doesn't seem like Sig's Factions have any of that—they're just defined by the jobs they do in the city. They're essentially just trade guilds; they're not factions in the Planescape sense; and they're not nearly as interesting. If you're going to copy an existing property rather than innovate, at least copy the good parts.

And the Spark RPG system itself sounds to me like it would be about as much fun to play as repeatedly whacking myself in the forehead with a two-by-four, though I admit that's down to personal preference—like I said in one of my prior posts, I don't particularly enjoy storygames or metagame mechanics, and it seems the Spark RPG system is all storygaming up the wazoo.

Bah, sorry for being so negative about this; again, a lot of this is no doubt just down to personal preference. I'm not saying other people can't enjoy Sig, or are wrong to do so... but it seems it's definitely not for me.

On a more positive note, my reaction to World Tree, incidentally, has gone the other way. From the first post, it seemed to me it was going to be just yet another generic furry RPG that only existed to give an excuse for those who were into that sort of thing to play anthropomorphic animals. But as the posts went on, it became clear that the creators really had gone to the trouble to build a unique and imaginative gameworld, with lots of potential for conflict and discovery. I'm still not sure I'd ever want to actually play the game—the whole furry aspect is still rather a turn-off—, and, like other posters here, I find the Zi Ri to come across as kind of insufferable. Still, while my opinion of Sig really plummeted with succeeding posts after a mostly positive first impression, so far World Tree has been turning out to be a lot more interesting than my first impression made me think it would be. (Though I don't think Tendales has posted anything about the actual rule system yet, so we'll see if that turns out to be a train wreck.)

Night10194, I'm looking forward to reading about Hunter. I think it's the oWoD game I'm the least familiar with. (Yes, even counting Demon and Mummy.)

Night10194
Feb 13, 2012

We'll start,
like many good things,
with a bear.


The weirdest thing? There's a system right now that would be perfect for the game Hunter: The Reckoning is actually trying to be.

It's Spire. Spire would be perfect for it. Spire is, after all, already a game about starting out at the outmatched street level with a few tricks and edges and trying to use a mixture of revolutionary violence and other means to deal with a powerful foe who outmatches you completely. When I look at Hunter and see how it has the same terrible combat as other Storyteller games because they don't want to emphasize combat characters, it stands out to me how easy it is to get across what it's trying to get across with something simple like Spire's Paladins or Black Guard: They just have a quick 'unless what you're doing somehow catches them off guard or you ambush this guy out of uniform, they're so hard to fight that only the absolute best warriors possible under this system have even odds with these guys'. Extend that same kind of thinking and you could have an actual light combat system that gets across what Hunter tries to.

I mean you'd need to write a bunch of stuff yourself to bring Spire out of its setting (since it's very heavily bound to it) but the base concept of its rules is exactly what Hunter: The Reckoning needs.

Mors Rattus
Oct 25, 2007

FATAL & Friends
Walls of Text
#1 Builder
2014-2018



The beliefs of the Factions are more drawn from their planes of origin - each is meant to in some way represent the nature of their Plane. And each Plane does have a belief that is fundamental to it. As for the map - no, this is not actually a game that cares super hard that the map is like that.

Mors Rattus fucked around with this message at 20:21 on Jul 1, 2019

Jerik
Jun 24, 2019

I don't know what to write here.

Well, okay, I guess I can see that... I'm not sure how a belief like "passion is incorruptible" or "strength is a burden" could really motivate a character's actions or lead to interesting stories, but I guess knowing only the elevator pitch of the philosophy and not the details or nuances you could say the same of, for instance, the Bleak Cabal in Planescape (which incidentally is one of my favorite factions). That still doesn't do much to change my opinion of Sig, though; the factions were just one example of something about the setting that seemed to fall flat to me.

By the way, since I didn't explicitly say this in my last post, I want to make it clear that my criticism is directed at the game itself, not at your write-ups. I've been enjoying reading your write-ups about Sig, even if I don't think I'd enjoy playing the game.

Bieeanshee
Aug 21, 2000

Not keen on keening.




Grimey Drawer

I feel like I should want to like Sig, but it feels like such an obvious knock-off of Sigil that it feels disappointing instead.

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SirPhoebos
Dec 10, 2007

Horned Rat-Sempai Noticed Me! :swoon:




Part 2

Solo of Fortune begins with an intro from Mike Pondsmith that explains the conceit of the supplement and how RPG readers would use it. The first section is “instant Response Time,” the letters from readers. The first one is the one that I talked about at the end of last update, and on the whole it’s more reasonable to see it as making fun of people that write long :actually: letters than suggesting some sort of unreliability. The second letter is from a Nomad thanking the magazine for depicting Nomad Families in a sympathetic light. The third letter his 1/2 gunpinions, and 1/2 rules FAQ (you don’t need a separate interface for each weapon). Tucked within the letters is the debut of MetalGearTM body armor. Because this edition doesn’t have EV, having 25 SP to all sections is pretty fantastic. You even have the option to buy it in separate components.



The next article is “I Was There”, a first-person account from Rex (Maddog) Burton, A Central America Vet who now works for Trauma Team. Rex regals the readers with one of his patient retrieval jobs, killing two operatives that had it out for the patient and blowing up an AV. It’s okay, though it wasn’t the most clear at times (it took a couple of re-reads to make sure that Rex didn’t brag about blowing up his own reinforcements). It does an okay job selling a Trauma Team centered game, though not was well as the dispatcher log at the end of CP2020 (which was reprinted from first edition as it turns out). Alongside the conclusion of this article is an ad for weapon modifications meant to bring older guns up to par with Cyberpunk firearms. But until Solo of Fortune, CP2013 only had real-life guns to choose from. Fictional weapons are only just introduced in this book, and we’re still missing Core book staples like the Arasaka Minami 10, the Armalite 44, or the Ronin Light Assault Rifle. There’s no balance to the modifications at all (getting a +1 accuracy costs much less than making the gun a bullpup).



That leads us to our first big article: “Cyberpsychosis: It Can Happen To You.” by Rich “Meatball” Cramer, M.D., E.M.T. He puts a photo of himself at the beginning of the article, but it’s a pretty goofy photo that undermines the serious tone of the rest of the section. Maybe Rich is a regular writer and he normally talks about taste-testing rations.



The article opens with a story told from 2nd-person perspective of a Solo’s descent into cyberpsychosis as he adds on more and more cyberware, until he’s finally taken down by psycho-squad cop. It’s a well-written article, mimicking literature about treating drug addiction and PTSD. The article reminds readers that replacing lost limbs with body bank organs. It also introduces the possibility of therapy to bring back someone that’s gone over the edge, although there aren’t any rules and there’s an implication that it might ruin your character anyway because you developed depression or now have an aversion to technology.

There are some things about this article that are less than great. One, there’s a suggestion that chipware can trigger at inappropriate times. Not sure what that has to do with Cyberpsychosis, but anything that permits a GM to take over a character Just Because is pretty bad. The second addition is a random table to determine what a character’s cyberpsychosis manifests as. Once a character’s EMP hits two and they start showing symptoms of Cyberpsychosis, there’s only a 30% that the condition manifests as homicidal rage, according to this table. The alternative manifestations are such fun role-playing opportunities as: catatonia, obsession, paranoia, delusions, hyperactivity, phobic, or schizophrenia! “In each of these variations, the eventual result is blind rage against people.” Well then what’s the point? One of the many issues with Humanity Loss rules is that aside from the decrease in EMP, there’s no other consequence to a character until they zero out. There’s no mechanics for a Referee to tell an EMP 2 or 1 metalhead that they’re having an early-stage reaction. To be fair, I don’t think such a system could even be written into either edition of Cyberpunk without it removing agency from a player. Something like Compels from FATE would just be a kludge for an otherwise mechanics-focused game, in my opinion. But it’s still a major gap between the fictional narrative and the mechanics.

Next Time: Solo Specialization & Street Gangs

Addendum: I feel that I should expand on my opinion of Humanity Loss and Cyberpsychosis. In my review of the core book, I was generally in favor of the mechanic given a few tweaks to implementation. But as I have continued writing these reviews and listening to feedback, I began to feel that my opinion rested on what I thought was the base explanation of Humanity Loss. In my head, the culprit was the connection between a person’s neurons and the electric interface somehow fucks with their head. The culmination of interface after interface eventually wears down their own sense of self, and as a reaction they lash out at any outside stimulus.

Even as I type that reasoning out I feel like there are plenty of holes, but in the end I can accept it as the in-universe justification. The problem is that there isn’t an agreed explanation for Humanity Loss among the writers, to say nothing about the fans. This can be seen in the inconsistency on what types of Cyberware have a high HC, and what can reduce or mitigate loss. One review of CP2020 that I saw on Youtube objected to Humanity Loss when just trying to restore basic functionality. While that might just point to body banks not being well advertised in the rules, it was still informative because it showed how much a different understanding of Humanity Loss can lead to different interpretations of what’s fair and what’s not.

In the end, I think my revised opinion is that while I like the dynamic created with Humanity Loss and Cyberpsychosis, if a group decided to heavily scale back or ditch the mechanic, they won’t be missing anything important.

SirPhoebos fucked around with this message at 00:57 on Jul 2, 2019

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