Tuesday, April 22, 2014

It's Bloody Basic!

Blood & Treasure Basic is going to officially be called Bloody Basic. I like the sound of it, and that's all the market research I need (or can afford).

The draft is completed and the layout is finished. I'm now editing the text, and should be done by the end of the day (which is good, because I need to finish up layout on NOD 23 and then get my butt in gear on the Monster Tome - some of the art for that thing is so awesome I'm chomping at the bit to get it out there). The first publication will be the Classic Edition in blue. At the moment I plan to follow it up with the Contemporary Edition in red, the Fairy Tale edition in green and then maybe a the Victoriana Edition in brown.

All of these editions will be the same basic game, but the illustrations will be different and there will be slight alterations made to fit the rules to the theme. The Fairy Tale edition, for example, will be based on my "Mother Goose is My Dungeon Master" articles. The Contemporary edition might have automatons and tieflings as playable races, and sub-classes like shadow dancer and soulknife.

That's the plan. This is probably the quickest I've ever gone from idea to publishing, so hopefully it won't bite me in the ass (fingers crossed).

These covers are mock-ups - I plan to vary the cover images for the different editions - but they should give you the idea. Obviously, if these prove popular, I might other editions, assuming I can come up with a theme that can sustain an edition - the one that comes immediately to mind is a sort of "mirror-mirror" Chaos edition, where you play the monsters and the dungeons are actually human and demi-human fortresses.

Okay ... actually, that sounds pretty good.




Saturday, April 19, 2014

Blood & Treasure Basic

Yes, Blood & Treasure Basic. For now - I might change the name.

I took the last week off of work, and in between hiking, grilling ribs and a much needed massage, I found time to write Blood & Treasure Basic, as well as finish up NOD 23 (should publish by Monday).

What is B&T-B?

Ultimately, it's that project I mentioned a post or so back in which I pondered doing different editions of a basic game using different public domain artists. While I thought of that, a couple ideas for simplifying B&T came to mind, so I started making notes, and notes led to writing, and a week later I had a game ...

B&T Basic is kind of the same game as B&T, but also kind of a different game. One could easily make the jump from one to the other, but Basic isn't just B&T with a bunch of material chopped off.

B&T Basic has the six traditional ability scores, with just a +1 or -1 modifier for high or low scores.

It has humans, elves, dwarves and halflings, with some multi-classing and level limits.

It fighters, magic-users, clerics and thieves, with some sub-classes that work like the variant classes in B&T - barbarian, paladin, ranger, assassin, bard, druid and cultist (the chaotic version of the cleric). Levels go from one to six.

The cleric and magic-user have spells from level 1 to 3, with the fewer spells than in Blood & Treasure (of course).

It has the basic equipment lists, the basic rules for dungeoneering (light, movement, tasks, combat, how to draw a dungeon, wilderness travel, settlements), all as simple as I can make them.

For monsters, you get all the basic monster types, with stats based on size and examples of monsters to make them more interesting. Why? I thought it would make it easy for TK's to invent new monsters if they could just label something a Medium Aberration to get their basic stats, and then drop in an AC, attacks and special abilities.

For treasures, I keep it simple so you get the coins, the gems, the objects and the magic items.

I wanted to get a couple new things in the game, so I came up with a retainers system and super simple encumbrance. Since the levels only go to six so there are no rules for strongholds. In exchange, I decided that sixth level characters get a retainer, or sidekick. I also decided to roll them randomly, since I love random stuff! The retainer is a 1st level comrade for the adventurer, with whom they share some experience points. Honestly - I have no idea how well this will work. Maybe they should be higher level? Maybe second?

Anyhow - here's the table ...

At this point, the game runs about 30 pages without art - I figure when I add a title page, contents, index, and illustrations it will be around 35 to 40 pages, so not too shabby.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Beneath the Dungeon of the Apes [Map]

The upcoming NOD 23 will have the continuation (and finale) of the Dungeon of the Apes adventure in NOD 22. I thought folks might appreciate a map preview, even if they didn't plan on playing the Dungeon of the Apes. This one features acidic water, teleporters, wish goo and an atomic bomb. Enjoy!


Friday, April 4, 2014

Who's Under that Mask?

You've fought your way into the evil lord's citadel or the inner sanctum of the chaos cult. You've eliminated the guards. You are locked in battle with the masked overlord of all evil and in a brief pause in the fighting reach out and snatch away their mask. You gasp as you see ...

1-2. The Archduke or Archduchess

3-4. Your doppelganger (literally, a doppelganger in your form)

5-6. A faceless horror, or something with tentacles so the party can say, "Seriously, more Lovecraft?"

7-8. A goblin (he's standing on another goblin's shoulders)

9-10. Your old teacher

11-12. Your ex-lover or ex-mate or ex-best friend who always secretly resented you

13-14. Your mom!

15-16. The captain of the guard

17-18. The sergeant of the guard

19-20. Second man-at-arms from the left at the front gate who, now that you think of it, was giving you a funny look when you entered the city

21-22. The hunchbacked hedge wizard who hawks magic charms in the town square - turns out he's a 15th level magic-user

23-24. The high priest of the local Law Cult

25-26. The pirate lord of the western seas

27-28. The queen of the gypsies

29-30. A sleestak

31-32. A mannequin [gasp]

33-34. The mummified face of some the ancient pharaoh on display in the museum

35-36. Nosferatu!

37-38. The princess royal

39-40. A ghoul [chomp]

41-42. Your evil twin brother or sister who was thought to have died in the barn fire

43-44. The head of the local merchant company

45-46. The local guildmaster of thieves

47-48. A bearded devil

49-50. A polymorphed fire giant, and that mask was what kept the spell in play

51-52. A brilliant light (choose a color) in place of a head that messes with your mind

53-54. A succubus - pucker up!

55-56. A tangle of vines and two emerald orbs for eyes

57-58. An elf lady knight from the far woodlands

59-60. A flesh golem with a psychic's disembodied brain sutured to its head

61-62. A serpent man with a cobra's ability to spit

63-64. The undying caveman

65-66. A grey alien with a headband of pain of dominance

67-68. A 15th level amazon

69-70. The wizened old magic-user you thought was your greatest ally

71-72. The dark pope of the holy assassins

73-74. A demi-god or goddess

75-76. A quasi-god or goddess

77-78. A primordial ooze thing that collapses into a blob of destruction

79-80. That dummy used by the seemingly harmless bard in the local tavern

81-82. A super-intelligent gorilla

83-84. A really stupid and confused gorilla

85-86. A heavily scarred visage

87-88. The twisted face of a maniac

89-90. A 15th level duelist who is actually left-handed

91-92. The emperor everyone thought was lost

93-94. The mad genius that designed the automaton palace guards

95-96. An astral deva that has taken Lawful Good to an unhealthy level

97-98. The Riddler (unfortunately, as played by John Astin, not Frank Gorshin)

99-100. The robe collapses, because the meme has been revealed

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

What If Arthur Szyk Illustrated a RPG?

One thing I've long wanted to do is to produce different versions of a role playing game - we'll say Blood & Treasure since that's my game to play around with - keyed to different artists. The rules would stay largely the same, though it might be fun to introduce a couple optional rules to bring the game closer to a particular artist's style - i.e. rules that make the Arthur Rackham version of a game slightly different than the Frank Frazetta version of a game.

If I did this with Blood & Treasure, for example, I would create a "basic" B&T - much shorter, simpler, and make the layout serve the art (and be in color!). I think it would be fun to have simple games to play in books that mainly exist to be beautiful. Imagine something about 30 to 40 pages long, with maybe several nice illustrations in color.

Anyhow - I got to thinking about this again because I was perusing the artwork of Arthur Szyk today. Imagine a game with illustrations like these ...


Fighter


Cleric


Magic-User



Thief
(No, I don't know why the thief would wear a chef's hat ... just work with me here)

This might be something worth doing after I finish the NOD 23, Tome of Monsters, Grit & Vigor and the revision of some older works. Of course, the books would have to work off of stock art by modern artists or works  in the public domain (so no Szyk or Frazetta, unfortunately) to make them financially feasible, but it still might be fun. Maybe the basic version of Blood & Treasure could be called Blood Simple (crap, I think I'm starting to really like this idea ...)

Images found at the following sites:

Arthur Szyk, The Alphabet of Illustrators

Lehigh University Special Collections

Power of Babel: Arthur Szyk: The Canterbury Tales

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Peoples of Ende


Almost ready to publish NOD 23 - just finishing up the monster stats in the Ende article, and putting some finishing touches on the conclusion of the Dungeon of the Apes adventure that started in NOD 22. Today, I figured I might get some extra use out of some of that Ende writing and blog about some of the peoples who dwell in Ende ...

AASURA (AASIMAR)

Ende has long been a crossroads of the different planes of existance due to its being, for reasons unknown to all, a frequent battleground between the forces of Law and Chaos. As even a midling scholar of Nod could tell you, when an outsider is manifested into the Material Plane, it becomes a living, breathing creature with free will, even if it often takes a while for them to realize they are no longer bound to the wishes of their master. Many of these outsiders break away from their appointed tasks and mingle with the locals, so aasimar and tieflings are not uncommon in the region of Ende.

In Ende, the aasimars are called aasuras, and they usually belong to the higher castes of wise people and warriors. Of course, many, despite their blood, have fallen from their once high positions, and must make their way as mercenaries and adventurers, for they are ever too proud to work as artisans, laborers, and beggars (and the artisans, laborers and beggars would claim the haughty fools wouldn’t have the skill to do their jobs properly anyways).
While aasuras aspire to (and often pretend to uphold) the old ways of their ancestors, honesty, gravity, open-mindedness, far-sightedness and martial honor, the sad truth is that generations of life at the top of the social foodchain has left them decadent, over-bearing and aloof. While they are often respected, for even in their fallen state they are often driven to succeed at whatever calling they have chosen (callings which often involve killing or calling down fire from the sky), they are rarely well-liked.

In keeping with their castes, aasuras dress well, and decorate themselves with jewelry. They are usually perfumed or scented with fragrant oils, and even the poorest aasura will make every effort to keep a servant or slave. Aasura warriors prefer to wear aristocratic armor, usually banded or splint, rarely platemail imported from the north, and they carry shields and various sorts of swords and lances. Most work as horsemen or charioteers.

Most aasura take the lordly Indra as their patron, though those aasura who still hold to the old ways prefer Vishnu. Aasura characters usually have classes in paladin, monk, cleric, psychic, duelist or fighter.

DAITYAS (STONE GIANTS)
The stone giants of Ende are called daityas. They once served as mercenaries in the divine armies that fought here, usually for Chaos, and now dwell in the mountains as barbarians. The daityas are wild men and women, heavy with crude jewelry, their faces scarred and painted with images made up of swollen dots, the men cultivating fabulous mustaches that are a sign of power and fertility in their culture. Daityas wear no armor, only baggy pants and cloaks, and their wield giant scimitars and shields. They have skin the color of rust that is often marred with patches of white.

GANDHARVA (ELVES)

The gandharva are the elves of Ende. Once the masters of the plains of Gondar, their small, fortified villages eventually fell to humans and humanoids, leaving them to wander like gypsies. Most gandharva now are herdsmen and herdswomen (known especially for their ability to raise horses), entertainers, traders and, sometimes, ne’er-do-wells.

Like most elves, they are graceful and beautiful, with eyes that gleam like gemstones, deep olive skin and black hair. They dress in light, loose garments, or robes to hide their armor. Female elves are referred to as apsara, and they are known for their dancing.

Gandharva are cosmopolitan and easy going, with ready wits and a tendency to tell people what they want to hear. Charm is the hallmark of the gandharva, and they use it liberally to get what they want. Despite being graceful and alluring, the elves of Ende are skilled warriors, especially with staves and bows. Many elves train in the martial arts, combining dance with fighting.

Gandharva prefer deities of music and dance, and thus gravitate towards Saraswati, goddess of art and music, and Shiva, famous for his cosmic dance.

HUMANS
Humans make up the middle castes in Ende society, the artisans, laborers and farmers. They range from poor to rich, with the wealthiest humans usually being merchant princes. Most middle class humans are artisans, merchants or officers in the regions armies. Humans, here as everywhere, are cunning and clever and hold every opinion under the sun. Humans in Ende are often resentful towards the aasura because of their insistence on taking on airs despite their obviously lacking characters, and they fear and hate the tievas for their demonic powers and their close contact with death in all its fearful forms.

Humans are usually barred from the higher orders of society, though some are elevated into the upper castes due to their impressive abilities (i.e. high ability scores and capacity for bribing the aasuras and stroking their mighty egos). Humans with magical abilities are usually magic-users. Magic-users are not regarded as highly as psychics and clerics because of their dependence on material components, many of which are of an unsavory form. These magic-users do a good business in Ende, serving the middle and lower castes in the manner of doctors and advisors. Human warriors usually make up the bulk of Ende’s armies, and usually fight on foot or as light cavalry. Ende’s officer corps is mostly made up of humans, who serve as lietenants and captains. Higher ranks are held by the aasura nobility.

While they are barred from becoming clerics (again, there are exceptions), they are not barred from the druidic orders, and in fact dominate those orders. For this reason, the humans of Ende most often give their keenest devotion to the nature gods and goddesses, such as Agni, god of fire, Varuna, god of water, and Surya, the sun god, as well as Gunputty, the overcomer of obstacles (humans hate obstacles).

TIEVAS (TIEFLINGS)

As the aasuras are descended from outsiders of Law, the tievas, who occupy the lower rungs of the social ladder, are descended from outsiders of Chaos. Swarthy of skin, bright of eye and quick of wit, they have gravitated towards the lower professions of thief, assassin, beggar, and charlatan. The best of them live a straight (well, mostly straight) life of honest labor in such occupations as tanner, butcher, or hunter.

Tievas deal in death in one way or another, which makes them suspect and low in the eyes of the aasura and most humans. They see themselves as the necessary evils that make the more comfortable lives of the upper castes possible. While tievas care little for virtue, they do have a strong sense of self, and when crossed or insulted they rarely let the act go unavenged. A tieva might strike immediately themselves if they think they can get away with it, but more likely they will attack in the dark, from behind, with many friends.

Tievas dress as commoners. They live in the shabby quarters of town, and congregate in taverns and other places of rowdy amusement to let off steam. Tievas are rarely found in the organized armies of Ende, even armies of Chaos, for they are generally thought to be untrustworthy and cowardly. They are, however, hired as spies by all the lords of the region, including lords of Lawful alignment.

Tievas usually worship Ratri, the goddess of night, Lord Shiva, the god of death, and the black earth mother Kali.

YAKSHA (DWARVES)

The yaksha are dwarves that separated from the dwarves of the west a very long time ago. As such, they are quite different from their kin in Antilia and the Motherlands.

While most dwarves are gruff in demeanor and generally unhandsome (from a human point of view), the yaksha are remarkably sensuous. The females are curvaceous and viviceous, the men dashing and ferocious when roused. They live in heated casverns, and prefer to show off plenty of skin – they’ve got it, so why not flaunt it.

The strongholds are highly ornamented, with many gemstones and carvings. They are well lit, and kept very plush, for the yaksha are the keepers of the wealth under the earth, and while they may appear to be softer than other dwarves, they are in fact skilled warriors who guard their monopoly on mining precious metals and stones viciously.

The yaksha are worshipers of Lord Shiva, who is not only a god of death, but also of the valuables hidden within the earth.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Much Ado About Alignment

Just some stream of consciousness stuff here - me thinking about the over-thinking of alignment.

Alignment is the wrong tool for the job of "defining" a personality, but that doesn't mean it's not a useful tool for the game (you know - THE GAME). Let's review ...

Alignment seems to have originated as a way to do fantasy army factions, not unlike English vs. French at Crecy, or Warhammer's Empire vs. Dwarves (or whatever).

These factions were more than just simple nationality or "race", though - they did have some basis in values - good guys vs. bad guys, with neutrals joining either side. What were the factions really fighting about? I guess the good guys want a good universe, where there's some measure of freedom and happiness and justice - good luck defining exactly what that means to a multitude of people, but you sort of get it in your heart. Finn and Jake are Lawful, but that doesn't mean they spend much time thinking about it or hewing to a masterplan of goodliness.

Chaos is the bad guys - they like to dominate and bully and kill because it's fun (but don't adventurers have fun killing people and taking their gold? Well, yeah, sort of ... but it's for the greater good, and they only kill bad guys!). So, it doesn't matter that the Chaotic warlord thinks he's bringing the blessing of his rule to people who can't rule themselves - he's a dick. You know it, I know it, the people he tortures know it.

Okay - so we have two factions, vaguely warring over control of the universe.

Alignment has another dimension though - game balance. Chaotics can use poison and flaming oil and do whatever they want WOOOOO!, but Lawfuls would never stoop to such lowly tactics, right? And neutrals are not low enough to poison people, but flaming oil is badass and super fun, and they don't mind getting down and dirty like that. That means Chaos should pretty much always win, right? What's the balancing factor?

Well, go back far enough and you find that you had two brands of clerics - the Lawful clerics and the Chaotic anti-clerics. Anti-clerics cast the reverse of lots of cleric spells, presumably healing spells included. So, it's just possible that the old intention was that chaotics get to play with poison, but they don't necessarily get healing.

A lawful cleric (remember, no neutral clerics - they would eventually show up as druids) doesn't necessarily have to heal anyone if she doesn't want to - she's a crusading, fighting-priest - like the armored bishops of old who smashed in the heads of blasphemers and railed against Chaos in sermons and probably withheld their divine favors from folks who didn't toe the line (or who didn't come across with a sizable donation for the cause!). Side note - clerics should be the most awesome class in the game to play, bar none. I think it's a sorry lack of imagination, grit and gusto that has made them into "walking healing wands". Cleric players out there - get into some old time religion and make those clerics awesome again.

So imagine the balance - chaotic characters can coat their weapons with poison (save or die!) and stab people in the back and steal from their friends and such, but they may not receive healing, which means they have to be sneaky as hell (pun intended) and might have to put up with tons of shit from the lawful cleric in the party, including giving up a hefty portion of gold in exchange for saving their sorry butts. Neutrals aren't as bad as that, but they have a bit more freedom to play dirty, and probably have to tithe to the party cleric in exchange for the good stuff. The lawfuls are restricted in their tactics, but enjoy full support from the Lawful church as their reward for playing by the rules.

So, alignment, if reduced to a matter of vague faction and game balance, are probably game enhancers. There's going to be some guidance in terms of personality, but let's not worry over that too much. Law and Chaos are extremes, so embrace them. If you want to be complicated, be neutral and pony up some gold when you contract mummy rot - such is the way of the world.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Incarnator [New Class]

It's been way too long since the last post, so hopefully this one will make it up. This is admittedly not an "old school" sort of class, but rather more of a "high fantasy" concept.

THE INCARNATOR

The incarnator is a mystic character class that can make the power of the stars incarnate on and within his person. These stellar incarnations appear in many shapes, but are always composed of light of a different color, based upon the star sign being invoked.

Incarnators train in much the same way as monks, psychics, and soulknives. They operate in training houses as tight-knit brotherhoods under the tutelage of a master.

In your campaign, incarnators might be the equivalent of magicians or psychics who specialize in star magic, or they might even have the blood of star gods and goddesses (the Pleiades) running through their veins.

REQUIREMENTS: Wisdom and Charisma 13+

ARMOR ALLOWED: Padded, leather, studded leather, and ring mail

WEAPONS ALLOWED: Club, dagger, dart, light crossbow, light mace, quarterstaff, short sword

SKILLS: Communicate, Decipher Codes, Navigation

CLASS ABILITIES

1. Incarnators call upon the mystic power of the stars, in the form of the twelve signs of the zodiac. Obviously, different fantasy worlds might have different star signs, but the rules here use the traditional zodiac - adjustments may need to be made for other worlds.

Because an incarnator calls upon the zodiac, they must first have their own star sign rolled randomly, with a 12-sided dice, of course.


2. Incarnators are skilled at drawing astrological charts. The action takes one hour, and not only reveals a person's star sign, but also acts as an augury spell for the person in question.

3. To manifest an incarnation they must make a task check (a Will save) modified by their Wisdom score. Manifesting from one’s own birth sign is at a +2 bonus, from one’s own element at no penalty, from other elements at a -2 penalty, and from an opposing element at a -4 penalty. It is impossible for an incarnator to manifest from his opposing sign.

There are three types of incarnations an incarnator can manifest:

Artifacts are objects of solidified starlight. Manifesting an artifact requires a Will saving throw made with no additional penalty (see above).

Summonings are creatures composed entirely of solidified starlight. A summoning requires a Will saving throw with a penalty equal to the monster's Hit Dice.

Aspects are internal or external modifications of the body. Aspects require a Will saving throw with a -10 penalty.

An incarnator can attempt a set number of manifestations per day (see table below). These numbers represent attempts, not successes. It's possible for an incarnator to fail on all their attempted manifestations during a day. An incarnator can attempt the same manifestation multiple times per day if they choose.

Fire signs produce red light, earth green, air white and water blue.

If an incarnator is manifesting three incarnations from the same element, he gains resistance to that element’s related energy (fire, acid, electricity, cold) so long as his incarnations are manifested.

The artifacts, summonings and aspects associated with the signs are as follows:


Weapons: All incarnator weapons, including natural weapons, appear as solidified light of the appropriate color. The weapon acts in all ways as a +1 magic weapon of its type. A 6th level incarnator's weapons also deal +1d6 points of energy damage based upon its element (i.e. Aries is a fire sign, so a warhammer of Aries deals +1d6 fire damage). A 12th level incarnator's weapon acts as a +1 brilliant light weapon of its type. Weapons last for one turn (10 minutes). Manifested natural weapons permit an attack by the incarnator in addition to a held weapon.

Armor: Incarnator armor acts as +1 magic armor of its type. A 6th level incarnator's armor also provides resistance against the appropriate energy (fire for fire signs, acid for earth signs, electricity for air signs and cold for water signs). Armor lasts for one hour.

Potion Bottle: The potion bottle of Aquarius contains a potion that duplicates a single spell of a level equal to the incarnator's level divided by four, rounding down. Thus, a 1st level incarnator can manifest a potion that duplicates a 0-level spell, a 2nd to 5th level incarnator a first level spell, a 6th to 9th level incarnator a second level spell, and so on. The potion bottle and the liquid starlight is contains last for one turn, though the effects of the spell within have the normal duration.

Scales: The scales of Libra can take a measure of creatures, determining their alignment leanings (chaos vs. law, good vs. evil) and also the wisdom of an action (per the augury spell). The scales manifest for 1 turn.

Monsters: Monsters are energy constructs that fight as their normal type, but enjoy resistance to the energy associated with their sign. They last for 6 rounds.

Split: When a character splits, they become two incarnators of half their normal level and half their current hit points. If one is killed while split, the incarnator absorbs his former half, but suffers one level of energy damage (not drain). A split lasts for one round + one round per level of the incarnator.

Mighty Roar: The mighty roar works as the special ability of the dragonne. While manifesting the mighty roar, the incarnator's eyes glow red, and a mane of reddish light filaments sprouts from his or her head. The mighty roar ability lasts for one round + one round per level of the incarnator.

Magic Circle: Per the magic circle spell, affecting either good or evil. The magic circle actually appears as a glowing green aura around the incarnator's body, and lasts for one round + one round per level of the incarnator.

Blinding Beauty: Per the nymph ability, this ability causes the incarnator's body to glow with luminous, white light. Blinding beauty lasts for one round + one round per level of the incarnator.

Horse Body: The incarnator manifests a centaur like horse body of red light. He gains the movement rate and natural hoof attacks of a centaur.

Steam Body: Per the gaseous form spell, but the incarnator can choose to expand into the equivalent of the fog cloud spell. Lasts for one round + one round per level.

Scales and Gills: The incarnator gains a swim speed of 60 and water breathing (per the spell). Lasts for one round + one round per incarnator level.


Wednesday, March 5, 2014

IQ - A Different Way to Allocate Skills and Abilities


Caveat #1 - This isn't necessarily a post about D&D-style games. I say necessarily, because it could probably be adapted, but it isn't intended to be a new rule for the old game. It's actually not intended to be a new rule for any game - just a thought experiment.

Caveat #2 - Since I'm a D&D guy from way back, the language used will probably be cognate with D&D language - old habits die hard.

Caveat #3 - IQ, or "intelligent quotient", is the term I'm using because one tends to speak about "IQ points", and this scheme uses points. In truth, I'm using IQ in a way that has little to do with the real thing.

On to the idea ...

Characters have ability scores to measure their raw physical (including mental) abilities in a variety of general endeavors. Strength, dexterity and the like. Among these is intelligence.

Raw intelligence might be considered to be one's ability to figure things out on the fly, and could influence dice rolls concerning that endeavor. It would also, though, form the basis of learning - i.e. skills.

Skill also impacts one's endeavors, on an individual basis. So, while raw dexterity generally impacts one's ability to dextrous things (thus a bonus or penalty on a dice roll), skills would apply only to individual endeavors that might be influenced by dexterity, such as moving silently or picking pockets.

How skilled can a person be? Here's where a points system comes in, and we'll call these points IQ points. IQ points are allotted over time to any number of endeavors that a character trains in. How many IQ points does a character have? That would be based on raw intelligence. Perhaps, if we used a scheme like D&D, IQ would equal intelligence x 10.

Each possible endeavor a person can become skilled in - from picking locks to fighting with a broadsword to shooting an arrow to programming a computer or casting a magic spell - would be given a level equal to the number of IQ points devoted to it. This level would be cross referenced with a difficulty level when attempting an endeavor to find the chances (on a dice roll) of success. I think the old "turn undead" table would be a pretty good starting place for this, though one would have to play with it a bit to get it quite right.

How does one devote IQ points to endeavors? Practice, practice, practice!

Characters must devote a certain number of hours per day to an endeavor to devote IQ points to that endeavor. Here's where the system would need quite a bit of thought and fine-tuning applied to it, and honestly more than I shall do here. Remember, this is at this point a notion and a thought experiment, not a fully-formed system.

We might suggest something like this - each hour of practice per day gives a person a 1 in 6 chance of achieving a higher level in that something, up to a maximum of a 5 in 6 chance, at the end of the week. Beyond level 5, this becomes a chance in 8. Beyond level 10, a chance in 10. Beyond level 15, a chance in 20. If a person manages to achieve a higher level, they allot a point of IQ to that endeavor and record their higher level on their character sheet.

Example: Sir Boris devotes five hours of practice per day to fighting with longsword and shield. He has 50 IQ points total. At the end of the week, he has a 5 in 6 chance of achieving "level 1" in fighting with longsword and shield. If he succeeds on his roll (which is likely), he achieves level 1, and allots 1 IQ point to "longsword and shield", leaving him 49 IQ points to devote to other endeavors or to improving at "longsword and shield".

Of course, experience is the best teacher. Anytime a character attempting an endeavor during an adventure - i.e. fighting with longsword and shield against a hobgoblin rather than just training against another pupil or his teacher - he has a chance to increase his level. After the fight (or attempt or whatever), if the character was successful, he or she has a 1 in 10 chance of increasing their level right there on the spot. If they were not successful (but are still alive), they have a 1 in 100 chance of increasing their level. One might also rule that the task being attempted must be equal in or greater in difficulty than the character's present level of skill in order to have a chance to increase their skill - thus master's at fighting cannot easily improve their skill at fighting by picking fights with those who are less skilled - no challenge, no improvement!

By devoting hours of study, one can spend their IQ on a given endeavor and achieve a certain level (with a maximum level as well) that must then be maintained by devoting a lesser amount of time per day or week to maintenance. If we divide the levels of mastery into broad bands, say something like the following ...

1-5 levels = Novice

6-10 levels = Veteran

11-15 levels = Expert

16-20 levels = Master

... we can thus assign different training requirements to maintain one's level of skill. We could say to maintain novice level, one must devote at least one hour per week to training. To maintain veteran level, one must devote at least three hours per week to training. To maintain expert level, one must devote at least one hour per day to training. To maintain master level, one must devote at least two hours per day to training. "Devoting hours" means studying, training, practicing, etc. Since one's time is limited, the ability to maintain numerous skills at a high level is also limited.

Example: Sir Boris above has one level in "longsword and shield". To maintain that level, he must devote one hour per week to training with longsword and shield. He can devote addition training time to attempt to increase his level with longsword and shield, but one hour of training will always be devoted to nothing beyond maintaining his current level.

When one does not practice as they should, they lose one level in that endeavor, and thus free up an IQ point. They might re-train themselves in that same endeavor and regain the lost level, or they might decide to devote their training to something else. A wizard who used to think illusions were the way to go might let his practice with illusions lapse, and instead devote his time and training to conjuration.

And thus the system. One gets better at things by training and actual experience "under fire", but is limited by their overall intelligence (i.e. ability to learn) and the amount of time they have to maintain their skills. One would have to work out the details to make sure the system functions properly, but it could provide a very "organic" way of building living, breathing characters that change over time. Introduce training costs (which might vary from one endeavor to another), and characters have a reason to go out into the world in search of gold.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Adventurers Face Death, Yes, But Also Taxes

Image found HERE - Click through for more info on medieval taxes
We all know the formula. Start in town, buy equipment, journey into the unknown, hopefully find lots of money, come back to town, buy more and better equipment (and maybe healing), rinse and repeat.

I have found that in practice, there are three ways this can go. The first, of course, is perfectly. More often, adventurers either come back without enough to support themselves in the hyper-inflationary economy they're all creating in town, or they come back with more dough than they can spend (assuming they're like mine and stubbornly refuse to hire men-at-arms).

It seems like the latter might have been more of a problem than the former in the old days. In AD&D, Gygax introduced "training costs" to, as I understand, siphon money away from successful mid- to high-level adventurers.

Another option is the bane of man's existence from the earliest days of civilization ... The Taxman!

Folks who regularly read the blog will know I was recently delving into the pages of Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations. He does a long chapter on taxes, and as I was reading about the myriad forms of taxation that existed in the 18th century, it occurred to me that a random taxation table could be fun, with adventurers never sure just how the local prince was going to steal their money.

The idea here, of course, is not to make life needlessly difficult for adventurers. If they're relatively poor, the taxes will be relatively light, and an inability to pay them will result in being impressed into doing work for the sovereign, which can be used as a way to introduce new adventures and even entire campaigns (Robin Hood, anyone?). Adventurers tend to be outsiders and ne'er-do-wells anyways (why else are they delving in dungeons instead of holding down respectable jobs?), so another reason to bristle at authority should help to keep them on the adventuring path.

To get this rolling, we need to determine how heavy the taxation is in the locality, who is collecting it, and what the actual taxes are.

HOW HEAVY ARE THE TAXES?

Different kingdoms/city-states/whatever have different expenses, and folks who spend tax money tend to overspend rather than underspend.

Each community will impose 1d4+1 taxes (see below) on adventurers.

THE TAXMAN

The tax collector is usually a normal human, but might also be a captain (5 HD) or an aristocrat (3 HD). In rare cases (1%) he is a fighter or thief of 4th to 7th level.

The tax collector is not a popular fellow, so he is always accompanied by 1d6+4 men-at-arms (light infantry usually).

Not all tax collectors are created equally, of course, so we will differ them by their alignments. Roll as follows:

LAW vs. CHAOS (D6)

1-2. Lawful = Cannot be bribed or frightened easily from his appointed duties

3-4. Neutral = Can be bribed (Charisma check, -2 penalty) with an amount of money equal to half the taxes owed; can be frightened, but will return with triple the number of men-at-arms

5-6. Chaotic = Can be bribed (Charisma check) as above, but there is a 1 in 6 chance he will return later and pretend no taxes were ever collected; can be frightened, but will hire 1d6 assassins or thieves to get revenge.

GOOD vs. EVIL (D6)

Note, if you use the three-fold alignment system, consider Good to be implicit in Law above and Evil to be implicit in Chaos above.

1-2. Good = Is willing to fudge the tax bill down a bit (maybe 10%) if people look hard on their luck.

3-4. Neutral =No special behavior.

5-6. Evil = Will overestimate taxes by at least 10% if one is not very careful.

Where's the Taxman?

The taxman is usually stationed at the front gate of a stronghold, village, town or city, but may be encountered as a random encounter outside of town, but rarely in the wilderness.


THE TAXES

1. Tax on coins: A tax of 1d4 x 5% on all coinage carried is assessed.

2. Tax on cargo: A tax of 1d6 cp is assessed for every 20 pounds of goods, above and beyond one's own clothing, they carry into the settlement. If the goods are "valuable", this is increased to 1d6 cp per pound.

3. Tax on arrows and bolts (and quarrels): The arrow tax is 1d6 cp per arrow, bolt or quarrel. There is a 1 in 6 chance they will also assess a 1d6 cp tax per foot length of bows and crossbows. This protects the local bowyers and fletchers.

4. Tax on iron and steel: A surtax of 1d6 cp is assessed for every pound of objects composed mostly of iron or steel. This protects the local iron industry.

5. Tax on copper: A surtax of 1d4 cp per pound of copper (including coins), bronze and brass carried into the settlement.

6. Tax on silver: A surtax of 1d4 sp per pound of silver (including coins) and electrum carried into the settlement.

7. Tax on gold: A surtax of 1d4 gp per pound of gold (including coins) and platinum carried into the settlement.

8. Tax on gemstones: A tax of 1d4 x 5% of the value of gemstones carried into the town; those who cannot pay have their stones confiscated until they can pay, but must pay an additional 10% fee for failure to pay and for storage.

9. Tax on magic items: Obviously, this requires the presence of a person in the tax collector's retinue who can cast detect magic, or obviously magical items. A premium of 10 gp per item is collected, and items of a demonic or diabolic nature will be confiscated by local church authorities, with 10% of the item's value (determined by the church authorities) to be paid to the original owners, unless they are determined to be Chaotic (Evil), in which case they are clapped in irons and sent straight to the dungeon.

10. Tax on magic-users: Those who appear to be magic-users (the spellbook is a dead giveaway) must spend 1d6 nights patrolling with the night watch, or else must buy out of this duty at a rate of 1d10 sp per night.

11. Tax on holy symbols: Foreign holy symbols are assessed a blasphemy tax of 10 sp (wooden or stone or common metal holy symbols) or 10 gp (precious metal holy symbols). Each healing spell cast in court on behalf of the king/mayor/prince/etc. is the equivalent of 5 sp of the assessed tax.

12. Tax on strength: Settlements always have hard work that needs doing on civic projects. Characters who look sturdy (i.e. Strength of 10 or higher) are impressed into a work gang for 1d6 days, or else must buy out of this duty at a rate of 1d10 cp per day for able-bodied folk, 1d10 sp per day for muscular folk (i.e. Strength of 13-15), and 1d10 gp per day for the truly mighty (i.e. Strength of 16+). If a creature does not look as strong as he or she is, use your best judgment as  TK as to whether this applies to them.

13. Tax on beauty: The local ruler has an eye for beauty; those with Charisma scores of 13 or higher are tasked with attending court in their finery (or finery will be provided) for 1d6 days while in the settlement to impress visitors, or else must buy out of this duty at a rate of 1d10 sp per day.

14. Tax on feet: A tax of 1 cp per unshod foot/hoof, 1 sp per sandaled or shoed foot or shoed hoof or 1 gp per booted foot is assessed. If your game includes centipede men, they're going to hate this!

15. Tax on wheels: A tax of 1d6 sp per wheel is assessed.

16. Tax on beards: The locals have had trouble with dwarves, and so they assess a tax of 1 gp per inch of beard length on all (not just dwarves) who enter town. If you don't know how long a character's beard is, guess or roll randomly. If the dwarf's player has ever mentioned looking like "the dudes from ZZ Top", he's going to regret it.

17. Tax on warriors: The locals need strong warriors to deal with the humanoids and monsters of the wilderness. Anyone who looks the part of a warrior (leather armor or more) is impressed into patrol duty for 1d6 days, or else must buy out of this duty at a rate of 1d10 sp per day.

18. Tax on finery: Jewelry, silks, mithral, adamantine, cloth-of-gold and the like are assessed a tax equal to 1d4 x 5% of their value.

19. Tax on hides and pelts: Hides and pelts are assessed a tax of 1d10 sp for animal skins, 1d10 gp for magical beast skins (and similar) and 1d10 pp for dragon skins. If the tax cannot be paid, the hides are confiscated into the treasury of the settlement or king.

20. Tax on retinues: In order to support the local labor market, a tax of 1 sp per hireling or man-at-arms is assessed.

You'll note that there is no tax on thieves' tools - that's because they'll probably just arrest a person who has them or toss them out of town.

If taxes cannot be paid, the offenders are either barred entry to the settlement and its environs (i.e. sent back into the wilderness under armed guard) and threatened with being declared outlaws if they again return without their assessed taxes, or is taken into custody until they can work their bill off (i.e. a great adventure hook!).
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