Saturday, January 20, 2018

Monster AI, Challenge Adjustments and Learning to Love the Monster Manual

Runehammer is one of my favorite You Tube channels.  Hankrin Feranale (hankerin’ fer an ale. Get it?) presents D&D as an old-school-meets-board-games tactical story-telling experience, and it works for me.  Ken Hite once said the whole point of narrative in D&D is to string the fights together, and Hankrin seems to subscribe to that philosophy.
That said, he knows how to squeeze a lot of narrative juice out of combat encounters.  His videos on monster AI and adjusting challenges are must-watch for any GM who wants to get more out of combat than a hit-point countdown.  (Note that Runehammer started out as Drunkens and Dragons, and Hank gets hammered in quite a few of his vids, but the core content is worth the obnoxious You-Tubery.)
I applied the wisdom in these videos to my Dr. Levinson the-Fly-Meets-Immortan-Joe cul-de-sac encounter, and here’s what I came up with:
AI for Dr. Levinson:
Hankrin suggests pre-determining monster behavior via logic gates and writing the routines on index cards.  Here are my three cards, for preparation (his passive state, in which he prepares his evil master plan for world insectoid domination), aggressive and retreating behavior.

LOS is line of sight, which means he tries to get out of sight for ranged attacks, or find a LOS for ranged attacks.  Place of Safety means he’s in his lair, rather than out and about getting ready for world domination.  Timer means he sets off the timer (see below) that sends a wave of buggy death into the surrounding area.

Damage: Since I’m going to be using Pugmire which is based on the  5e SRD, I decided to look at the 5th Monster Manual to check out the Ankheg, a bug-monster that DR. Levinson was going to summon on a natural 20.  I found that the Ankheg was essentially what I wanted Dr. Levinson to be, so now he’s mechanically a super-intelligent Ankheg with Spider Climb and the ability to summon Stirges on any even roll above 16.
I decided to double the damage for Dr. Levinson, because I want him to be deadly and scary, as well as a potential recurring villain.  I’m using fixed monster damage, an option listed in the 5e MM, so we’ll see how that goes.
There are enough new factors in this encounter that I didn’t also want to add the complexity of monsters from multiple sources. I took out most of the 13th Age and Other Dust mechanics for Levinson and added an animated carpet to the encounter.  The “carpet” is really a swarm of insects controlled by Levinson that overwhelms a character and tries to force its way into their body.  Gross and scary, I hope.
Disruption: Disruption dictates how much freedom to act the PC’s have in the encounter.  Hank’s illustration of a low disruption encounter is fighting a balrog in an empty parking lot.  A high-disruption encounter might have broken terrain, traps, changes in elevation, and so on.  The disruption effects in Levinson’s lair are all DC 12 (another of Hank’s ideas: one disruption DC per encounter), and they all have the same effect: they disrupt the characters’ ability to act freely. The lair is full of termite-damaged floors and walls, line-of-sight disruptions in the form of debris and termite mounds, and an ongoing effect called “swarm skeeve” (name suggestions welcome, btw) that’s a DC 12 Charisma save.  Characters who fail the save must spend a round swatting, stomping and generally being occupied with the layer of insects that undulate all over and fly through the encounter.  Certain areas of the floor are badly damaged; avoiding them requires a Wisdom or Dex save. Characters who fail must spend a round extracting a foot or other appendage from the broken floor. Between the skeevy swarm, the weakened structure, and the termite mounds blocking line of sight, this should be a fairly disruptive encounter.
Duration: If Dr. Levinson successfully retreats, the PC’s have 1d4 rounds to prepare before he unleashes a wave of heritor bugs, which will overwhelm the PC’s and disperse into the world in a twenty mile radius from the cul de sac.  All settlements within that radius will have their resources reduced by one level.  All level one settlements will be destroyed. (Rules for enclave rankings and resources can be found in Other Dust.)
So there you have it!  AI and challenge tuning for Pugmire and other PA games!  I hope you enjoy the ideas from Runehammer.  Give him a look, a like, and subscribe if you dig his stuff!

(Here are links to Hank’s video on timers and one of his brilliant room design vids.  I used these ideas in the encounter design, but I didn’t write them in to keep it reasonably brief.)

Saturday, January 6, 2018

It all comes together in Pugmire. (Seriously.)

Pugmire is where it all comes together. Less Fury Road and More Gamma World, Pugmire is a game set in a post-human future where uplifted dogs, cats, lizards and rats live in rough equivalent of a D&D-style medieval society. The first thing that comes to a lot of minds when they hear of this setting are either furry jokes or jokes about dogs’ less noble behaviors like humping legs and sniffing butts. Go ahead and have your giggle, but then get ready for some deep role playing.

The sense of loss in Pugmire is profound. Dogs all have some response to the Code of Man, a set of edicts meant to provide moral structure for dog society. Some dogs respond to the call of Man with serious devotion, even dedicating their lives to Man’s service: doing good works in Man’s name, seeking artifacts of His reign, and generally trying to shepherd others towards the ideal of being “Good dogs.” Others are skeptical pragmatists, wondering if Man was ever really worth obeying or if He was in fact just another animal: nor more or less noble than the dogs themselves. Still others revel in their freedom and run (and run and run and run) with it. Each dog’s attitude towards Man provides a large part of her role-playing impetus. The Pugmire book suggests that man has perhaps evolved and shed his mortal shell to ascend to a higher plane.

Enter Other Dust. In this setting, the Earth has been abandoned by star-faring humans because it has become an inaccessible death trap. The setting details why, but the parties responsible for isolating Earth so totally are a cadre of seven human super-psychics called The Crazed. These men and women are the lich-kings of the setting: horrifically powerful, immortal, and completely insane. If Arkham Asylum were a prison for mad gods, the Crazed would be right at home there. Add this bit of back story to the world of Pugmire, don’t tell your players, and suddenly you’ve got a role-playing time bomb worthy of John Wick. What will your devoted shepherd do when she discovers that the wasted earth she and her puppies have inherited came to her compliments of the best Man had to offer?  Will your cynical ratter still aspire to be a Good Dog when he has had to journey through a forest of formerly-human cancer trees, the handiwork of one of the Crazed?  If Mankind was so simultaneously fragile and cruel, what is the use of following the code? What will the dogs do when their gods are dead?

Pugmire bills itself as lighthearted and family friendly, but with the backstory of Other Dust, darker themes become an option.

Beyond its potential for thematic depth and role-playing drama (meaning stories in which characters must change in some way as they progress), Pugmire is very versatile mechanically. Based on the D&D 5th edition SRD, Pugmire invites monsters and locations from pretty much all editions of D&D and other d20 material (d20 Gamma World gathering dust? How about d20 Call of C’thulhu? Bust them out and populate some ruins). While written for Savage Worlds, Andy Hopp’s Low Life is a great source of weird cults, locations and misinterpretations of the age of Man.  Even The Day after Ragnarok can provide cool adventure hooks and campaign frameworks for a game of Pugmire.  The Mutant: Year Zero free starter booklet provides some cool ideas and locations that would sing in a Pugmire campaign. And I would be remiss if I left out Numenera, a game which while fun in its own right, is full of ideas applicable to Pugmire.

Of all o these options, Other Dust provides the most Pugmire bang for your buck. OD has tools for generating gear, artifacts, locations, and adventures that are just what the Shepherd ordered for Pugmire. While capable of great thematic depth, Pugmire also shines as a game about exploring ruins and fighting monster, which Other Dust robustly supports with many maps and tables. The free material for Other Dust, including the excellent adventure Grandfather’s Rain, is bursting with adventure hooks, creatures and gear to challenge and entice Pugmire players. The free zine,The Sandbox, also has a great ruin generator. Finally, Hard Light, an adventure for Stars Without Number, has a tool set for generating tombs that would allow a sci-fi spin on a Barrowmaze-style campaign.

Pugmire won’t give you Mutant Crawl Classics-style gonzo craziness (though the patron AI's could make an appearance) or grim survival rules (though you could import them) or cool car battles (ditto), but it will provide a unique post-apocalyptic take on the terrible consequences of getting what you want.  It  will also give you full use out of your 5e books and it invites use of other material of multiple genres. I highly recommend Pugmire, and I am looking forward to seeing what my game group does with it.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Using Silent Legions and 13th Age mechanics to make an OSR post apocalyptic monster boss

In the last entry, I used Kevin Crawford’s Other Dust to flesh out a ruined cul de sac complete with a insectoid mutated military scientist bent on unleashing a massive colony of radioactive bugs onto an unsuspecting wasteland.  The mad scientist, who I’ve decided to call Dr. Levinson, needs some stats.  I’ll be using ideas from Silent Legions and 13th Age to create the good doctor.
Silent Legions builds on the monster/mutant/alien toolboxes in Stars Without Number and Other Dust by presenting a menu of base creatures and adding a few add-ons to make the creatures unique.  I chose the Humanoid Thing, Average as the base for Dr. Levinson.  (Silent legion presents creatures as a generic type like Hulking Brute and Verminous Beast and gives three variants of each--weak, average and strong—with appropriate stats for each.) Average Humanoid Things have the following stats:

I’ll give him the Acidic template, which modifies his stats by upping damage and +Hit, but lowers morale.  Additionally, Dr. Levinson will be in body armor and carrying a laser pistol. 13th Age has some compelling reasons for giving monsters static damage rather than dice, so his final stat block is this:

One of the things I love about the Sine Nomine sandbox tools is how they allow the GM to discover the game setting right along with the players.  Monsters with lots of GM activated powers turn the play experience into a tactical battle, while monsters with only claw/claw/bite to me become quickly tiresome.  13th Age monster design has monster abilities activating based on the to-hit roll or the number on the escalation die (a die that counts rounds and has other mechanical effects in that game.)  Applying that principle to OSR monsters allows the gm to watch and enjoy the experience of the combat without switching roles from tour guide to tactical opponent.  (Of course, if you want to match wits with your players as a combatant, feel free.  However, I would rather facilitate their experience than be responsible for remembering how many times a breath weapon has been used or whether the spell-likes have been activated.)  I want Dr. Levinson to have some acid fly-puke ability as well as a swarm summoning that comes after a certain number of rounds.  I will also throw in a random mook bug showing up with certain die results. To add this kind of AI to the monster, I’ll tie certain effects to d20 rolls.

Even Hit 16+: Acid vomit.  Does 5 damage and 2 ongoing acid damage for 2 rounds.  Fortitude save negates ongoing damage.
Even Miss: One heritor bug appears to fight with Dr. Levinson. (Heritor bugs are giant roaches; any low-level vermin will do.)
Natural 20: An Ankheg appears to fight with Dr. Levinson

Should he fail a morale save, Dr. Levinson will retreat easily by scooting up the wall and out a window or into a hole in the floor. His insect minions will not follow him, but will continue to fight the PC’s to block any attempts at pursuit. Dr. Levinson will disappear and become impossible to catch if he is not caught in three rounds.

Now I have a boss monster for my cul de sac, a summoner with a ranged and a melee attack who will run away to fight another day.  Dr. Levinson could be a short fight or a recurring villain, always seeking to cleanse the earth of the plague of primates that prevent the ascendency of the insect horde. The final form of Dr. Levinson is this:

AC: 4 (14 if using ascending AC) HD:2 Attacks: Caustic claw +laser pistol. +Hit:+3 Damage: 3 and1 acid + 3 Speed: 30’, wall crawler (can move on any surface like walking) Morale:6 Science:2
Even Hit 16+: Acid vomit.  Does 5 damage and 2 ongoing acid damage for 2 rounds.  Fortitude save negates ongoing damage.
Even Miss: One heritor bug appears to fight with Dr. Levinson. (Heritor bugs are giant roaches; any low-level vermin will do.)

Natural 20: An Ankheg appears to fight with Dr. Levinson

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Making a Cul de sac Ruin With Google Earth and Other Dust

I've been enjoying the RPG mapping community lately.  There are a lot of helpful, generous, creative people making all kinds of fun, free maps for RPG's that I got a little excited and decided to try my hand at mapping, something I haven't done for years.

To create the ruin I wanted to map, I used the ruin generator from Other Dust.  This is about as good a generator as you can find, and it gives just enough detail to spur the mind to new and interesting avenues.  I rolled on the Ruin Origins table and got Suburban Wreckage.  I thought immediately of Sanctuary Hills in Fallout 4, the first settlement the vault dweller encounters in the game.  Sanctuary Hills is a ruined cul de sac, full of interesting back story and useful items and work stations.

I then rolled on the Ruin Destruction table and got Decay.  Ruin destruction tells what put the ruin in its current state. Basically, the place was quickly abandoned and then went to seed.  So I've got an abandoned cul de sac with buildings that are in various states of dilapidation.  Hm.

Next came the Ruin Inhabitants table, on which I rolled Beasts. The first thing that came to mind was an insect infestation: heritor bugs (the Other Dust version of PostApoc cockroaches), maybe an ankheg or rhemoraz (because D&D monsters are great for Post Apoc monsters as well in OSR games).  Things are coming together.  I have an abandoned residential area in a state of deep decay populated by monstrous bugs.  Nice.

Last came the Ruin Tags. Tags are one of Kevin Crawford's genius inventions, and basically are an evocative word or phrase combined with a number of variables like Friend, Enemy, Secret and Complication.  The tags I rolled up were Mad Scientist and Doomsday Countdown.  Things are about to get funky in the cul de sac.

I decided that the Mad Scientist is a recently thawed-out military officer who has been mutated into an insectile creature with the ability to control and summon bugs. Think Immortan Joe meets The Fly.  His mutation has driven him mad and he wants to overrun the world with insects.  He has to finish brewing a pheromone bomb which he intends to detonate under the cul de sac, sending the massive colony of bugs that live there into a killing frenzy, cleansing the world once and for all of the evil influence of man. The Mad Science tag led me to decide that he has been experimenting with human subjects, in order to make the pheromones trigger only a certain type of murderous behavior on the part of the insects.

The story elements were in place.  Now I needed stats for the Mad Scientist (that's next week's post) and a map.

I googled Post Apoc RPG maps, and found a few neat things (random ruins,random wasteland) but nothing really fit the bill for a pre-fab housing developmet. Then, it hit me: Google Earth was loaded with top down views of all kinds of places from residential areas to industrial and military complexes.  I started looking around my location and sure enough I found a cul de sac with several large homes perfect for the lair of the mad military scientist and his insect horde.

I took a marker, graph paper, and copied the layout.  Then I added details, including some random elements for exploration because you should be able to use and reuse a cul de sac map; they're all over the place and they're all similar. Here it is:

Not quite Sanctuary Hills

It's not the prettiest, but it's done and I can re-use it.  Random rolls can tell me which buildings are explorable and I can populate them with critters and loot via the Other Dust random tables as well.

How do you find make or find maps for your post-apoc games? Leave a comment below!

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Art post!

This is an illustration I did for a Savage Worlds post-apoc idea a while back.  The character is named Charlie Crow, and he's a Nuid, a protector of life in Nu Earth. His companion is a four-eyed pig with a high Smarts and the Alertness feat.  Charlie could fit into any Post Apoc campaign, including the new Mutant Crawl Classics game by Goodman Games.  Here's a link to a larger image of Charlie and the rest of my Deviant Art gallery:

Saturday, January 21, 2017

An embarrassment of riches from a single video

This video provides so many cool ideas for PA rp'ing: Strong language: NSFW

My mind sparked off this, because it's such a ridiculous and simultaneously slightly dangerous situation.  Here are five ideas for PA gaming based on this amazing video:

1. A gear trap, that ensnares a valuable or essential bit of loot already in the PC's possesion, could be a fun or annoying challenge.  The passersby, were they approaching hostiles, would ramp up the situation and turn it from comic to tense.

2. The "damage" from the fence is light, but intimidating.  Single hit points wouldn't bother a hard character but minor conditions, or a -1 to all rolls per jolt, wearing off in time, could be interesting.

3. The "cool gear in a difficult to reach place" doesn't have to be a dungeon.  It could be half a motorcycle sticking out of a rubble pile or the aftermath of a landslide...or wrapped up in a an electric fence. This type of thing could be a random encounter.

4. The damage/challenge could be ambient: radiation, a la Fallout, with treasure on top of a mound of radioactive waste barrels, or in the midst of a lair of a swarming pest or insects, could provide a fun and recurring challenge. (You got the motorcycle out, but it's still radioactive or infested with radioactive ants.)

5. There could already be a group trying to extract the gear or treasure from the obstacle, providing an opportunity to role-play, parlay, or have a fight over something that could be damaged in the dust-up, preferably with a huge explosion (again, a la Fallout.)

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Adrenaline Dice

Adrenaline Dice

I love the Mad Max films.  Their action scenes are gritty, senseless, depraved and violent. Chaos rather than competence wins the day; the heroes are more lucky than skilled.
Adrenaline dice are a sub-system of vehicular combat that promote chaos and mayhem. Players roll the adrenaline dice at the beginning of each segment of combat (turn, round, whatever your system calls for.)  Each instance of doubles on the adrenaline dice allows the player to call for another driver to make some kind of roll.  It can be a save, a driving roll, whatever.  It has to be narratively consistent (no whales dropping from the sky) but it can be a result of anything that makes sense within the narrative framework of a post-apocalyptic world (including mutant creatures erupting from the ground, pits opening under the combatants, and the sudden appearance of dangerous road debris.)
The player rolls a number of d6’s equal to the sum of his driving skill and the Speed score of his vehicle.  (Speed here refers to an abstract number from one (a tractor) to three (a motorcycle) that abstracts the acceleration and handling of the vehicle.  This idea comes from Stars Without Number and Other Dust, in which vehicles can be improved by adding to their speed score.)  In games where skills are usually between zero and four, this means that better drivers in better cars are luckier than rabble in rat rods.  So be it.
If our hero, (let’s call him Max), is an exceptional driver (+4) and is driving a fast, black car with a speed of four, he will roll eight d6’s at the beginning of each turn.  Each instance of doubles will enable Max to narrate a check or save by one of his opponents.  Failure on these checks or saves usually means death or at least a crash that takes a vehicle out of the scene.  These crashes can provide the means for another check or save, if the player has enough adrenaline double to accommodate them. The purpose of these checks and saves is to create a sense that no one is in control of the combat once it starts; NPC’s also get adrenaline dice and can provoke other combatants to make checks and saves as well.
A faction of NPC’s would have only one adrenaline pool.  If a boss with a +2 to driving in a ground car +2 had four henchmen +1 on motorcycles +3, he would roll eight adrenaline dice.  Each NPC should not have his own adrenaline pool; NPC’s of a type can contribute their common scores for driving and Speed.
Since RPG’s often have player characters as passengers, they passengers also get roll Adrenaline dice (which are a narrative device and not a measure of anything.) Passengers can use their driving, Luck, Shooting, or whatever else would contribute to the likelihood of violence in a vehicular battle to total their adrenaline dice.  A passenger with a Luck save of +3 would roll three adrenaline dice.

These rules should be adaptable enough to use with many kinds of games; the Speed scores of vehicles can be assigned on the spot.  I welcome feedback on these rules, and I’d love to hear from anyone who uses them in a game.  Have a lovely day!