Hex Crawl Alphabet: A is for Animals

I’ve already quoted Eliot’s apocryphal advice about great writers stealing in a previous post, but I’ve got to bring it up again here. Michael Curtis’s Dungeon Alphabet (also in PDF) is one of the most ostentatiously useful and fun system-neutral supplements even published; if you don’t own it, you should. So last night when I got thinking about how I hadn’t done any random tables in a while, I got some inspiration and decided on a project – the Wilderness Hex Crawl Alphabet. Not surprisingly, I found that I wasn’t the first person to have this idea. Jim Pacek published The Wilderness Alphabet in 2010. Based on a couple of reviews I read, I think that the list of subjects I came up should differ significantly enough from his to justify proceeding with the project (especially since I already came up with a few potential table ideas for each letter). So this is the first in a series of alphabetical posts featuring tables to assist with wilderness hex crawls.

deviantART by Sampl3dBeans

Let’s start with Animals. Many a rural region is home to mythic animal that features heavily in the oral tradition of the locals. When your PCs arrive in a new village, roll 1d10 on each column to see what legendary animal dwells in the nearby wilds:

Continue reading “Hex Crawl Alphabet: A is for Animals”

Holy Shit: Let’s Talk about Clerics in DCC RPG, Part 3

As previously noted, I am writing with two particular assumptions in mind: One, that alignment represents allegiance, and two, that the majority of “nature gods” are Neutral.

deviantART by diablosdemie

I would say that Turn Unholy poses the biggest problem for me in regards to Chaos clerics. Last time I mentioned the anti-cleric, who completely lacked any version of Turn Undead. Considering what the power represents in the fiction, it makes sense that it would be exclusive to Lawful clerics. It’s Peter Cushing rebuking Christopher Lee with a cross; it’s a holy man passing unharmed through the valley of the shadow of death. When I first started playing D&D, the fictional truth behind Turn Undead instantly made sense to me, even if the rules for doing it didn’t. But where does the Chaos cleric fit in that fiction?

Continue reading “Holy Shit: Let’s Talk about Clerics in DCC RPG, Part 3”

Holy Shit: Let’s Talk About Clerics in DCC RPG, Part 2

As I noted in Part 1, I am writing with two particular assumptions in mind: One, that alignment represents allegiance, and two, that the majority of “nature gods” are Neutral. Also, this topic will now be split across three posts instead of just two, as I previously expected.

Chaos Knight by Ian Miller

In little brown book OD&D, all clerics are Lawful in alignment, and the priests of Chaos are “anti-clerics.” This distinct class lacks any power over undead, not even AD&D’s command variation for evil priests. Also, the anti-cleric spell list lacks any healing spells. Now, DCC comes together from an amalgamation of ideas across all editions of D&D, along with a lot of excellent original material. But I think there’s still a lot of value in looking back at the anti-cleric when considering Chaotic clerics and how they are distinct from Lawful and Neutral clerics, both fictionally and mechanically.

Continue reading “Holy Shit: Let’s Talk About Clerics in DCC RPG, Part 2”

Holy Shit: Let’s Talk About Clerics in DCC RPG, Part 1

There are currently two cleric characters in my DCC game. One is a 1st-level Lawful cleric of St. Trebor of the Gavel, whose holy words are “Judge others as ye too shall be judged.” The other (and original) cleric of the group is the Chaotic former gong-farmer Sherman Funk, filth-priest of Nimulrun the Unclean. With both ends of the spectrum at the table, it’s gotten me thinking about how the rules and the fiction jive up for clerics (especially on that chaotic end).

deviantART by DKuang

The DCC cleric is obviously rooted in the tradition of the D&D cleric, which is itself arguably an amalgam of implied psuedo-Christianity and Hammer horror films. From this we get a DCC cleric with Lay on Hands, Turn Unholy, and deity disapproval that resets every day in a manner similar to Vancian-casting clerics praying for spells in the morning. Before I get into some thoughts on each of these class abilities, know that I am making two assumptions about the fictional setting: One, that alignment represents allegiance and therefore the overwhelming majority of non-spellcasting humans are Neutral; two, that the majority of “nature gods” are Neutral, with only gods of icky things and brutal savagery falling into the Chaos camp.

Continue reading “Holy Shit: Let’s Talk About Clerics in DCC RPG, Part 1”

Vassals to the Lords Unending: Elves of the Age of Ruins

Two blogs which I respect and enjoy the hell out of had some semi-recent posts about elves that got me thinking about how the pointy-ears fit into my own setting.  Adam Muszkiewicz of Dispatches from Kickassistan detailed a bit more of the history of elves in his Ur-Hadad setting, and I love his twist on the “elves leaving this world” concept: the elves already left a long time ago (a lot of them at least), and then came back (relatively) recently. Tom Fitzgerald of Middenmurk mused beautifully about elves in general before detailing several evocative types of elf. Really great stuff that inspired me; check it out.

In deep forests and forgotten valleys lie places where the border between the world of men and the realm of the elves is weak; around these hidden paths the Fair Folk have established footholds of dominion in the lands of mortals. This is not to imply that the intent of elves is sinister, nor is it certain that their will is benign. The minds of elves are not easily understood, being alien in thought as they are in birth.

'The Meeting of Oberon and Titania' - Arthur Rackham
‘The Meeting of Oberon and Titania’ – Arthur Rackham

While all elves ultimately owe allegiance to Oberon, the King of Elfland and First Among the Lords Unending, each is also sworn to the court of a lesser lord, the princes and princesses of the Unending Reign. More than mere allegiance, elves have distinct physical and metaphysical characteristics dependent on the court from which they hail. Different courts tend to also be associated with certain natural features in the world of men, and the paths between worlds near those features will often lead to the domain of a particular Lord Unending.

The very first elves to cross over into the mortal world did so in ancient eons, when mighty forces were still shaping reality itself. The wood-watchers of Prince Fyonheil’s court became fast friends to the servants of the Great Bear, so much so that they too marched to war when the Great Bear’s wrath stirred and brought about the First Ruination.

deviantART by bridge-troll

The lore keepers of Prince Arcanus also dwelt in the world in those early days and some shared the secrets of magic with the first men to practice the art of wizardry. Even the prince himself crossed into this realm, establishing a great citadel on the large moon that bore his name. The Court of Arcanus took little interest in most affairs of the world; the elves’ looked instead to other worlds that lie yet beyond the mortal realm, for despite their ancient and strange magics, it is impossible to summon entities of other realms into the land of elves. By way of the land of men, however, many an elf established allegiance with godlings and demons of all sort. And once brought into the world of men, such beings can follow the paths to Elfland with a guide to show the way.

The experiments of the Court of Arcanus surely played some role in the onset of the Second Ruination, for all elves fled from the world in those days, and the gate from the lunar citadel to Elfland was destroyed behind them, shattering the moon.

Shattered Moon

Elves remained apart from the mortal world for countless millennia until the Sixth Ruination, the Maelstrom of the Chaos Lords, opened many new paths into the elven realms. Drawn forth by the surging magics of the last Ruination, elves from all manner of courts entered the world of men and have remained here in the centuries since — a mere blink of an eye by their accounting of time.

Elf Characters: The elf class remains unchanged from the DCC RPG rulebook, though the physical appearance of an elf varies based on which court they come from. 0-level elf characters already have infravision, heightened senses, and iron sensitivity per the rules; in addition, they know and are able to cast one of their 1st level spells based on their court. For example, all elves from the Court of Arcanus know and can cast Read Magic at 0-level, while those from the Court of Fyonheil know Animal Summoning. This counts as one of the 3 spells the elf knows at 1st level, it is not a bonus spell.

Also, regardless of occupation, all elves begin play with either mithril scale mail or a mithril short sword; this is in place of the rule in the book that allows them to purchase the items at regular price once at 1st-level. Elves do not begin with any coins or randomly determined equipment.

My Mother was a Witch: Tiefling Class for DCC RPG

tiefling1I was a big Planescape fan back in the 90s, and I still think it’s a pretty great. Tieflings were one of my favorite aspects of the setting, though as the years went by the race definitely developed something of a “good drow” problem. While it made perfect sense for there to be a tiefling or two in every party when the game is hopping all over the multiverse, having them all over the place in more traditional fantasy worlds drains a bit of what made them special. That being said, I think the core concept can fit very well with the Appendix N style of DCC.

While many times the strange offspring of wizards and witches may be powerful outright half-demons, there’s definitely something cool to the notion of the slightly off child who becomes more sinister as they grow into their own power.

Tieflings level up as elves in terms of hit points, attack bonus, spells, saves — all of the level-based table stuff covered on p. 58 of the DCC RPG rulebook. They also get Patron Bond/Invoke Patron free as elves do. Due to their nature, they tend very strongly toward aligning with Chaos. In addition, tieflings gain the following abilities.

Second Sight: Because of their otherworldly heritage, tieflings are able to perceive the bonds between worlds. Tieflings can tell if someone is aligned with Law or Chaos just by looking at them. They can also perceive this alignment in magical artifacts.

Immunities: Tieflings are immune to being magically charmed and having their thoughts read.

Sins of the Forebearer: Tieflings begin play with two Minor Corruptions per DCC RPG p. 116 (or from Marks of Chaos 1: Subtle). As they gain power, they display ever more outward signs of their heritage — at every odd level (3, 5, 7, and 9), the tiefling gains another corruption. Roll 1d10 and add the tiefling’s new level: 1-6 Minor, 7-9 Major, 10+ Greater. Luck modifies the result on the corruption table normally, but Luck cannot be spent to avoid gaining the corruption.

Supernatural Sympathy: Because of their connection with the otherworldy, tieflings gain a +2 spell check bonus to all summoning spells and patron spells.

Luck: Tieflings are said to be harbingers of misfortune and ill fate. They gain additional abilities when spending Luck, as follows.

First, tieflings can expend Luck to bring bad luck to others. For every 2 points of Luck expended, the target gains -1 to their roll. The tiefling must be able to see the target or have some part of them (a lock of hair, some toe nails, their wedding ring).

Second, tieflings recover Luck to a limited extent. A tiefling’s Luck score is restored each night by a number of points equal to their level.

OK, here’s the thing — I was originally going to make the bad luck ability a 1-for-1 expenditure, but I was worried that it could be game breaking. I’m still worried it might be a little unbalancing. My main concern is a situation where there’s a party halfing spending Luck to help boost a wizard’s spell while the tielfling is spending luck to reduce the target’s saving throw. Yet there’s another part of me that still prefers the simplicity of a 1-for-1 expenditure. I’d love some thoughts/feedback on this.

The Night Children: Hobgoblins in the Age of Ruins

Hobgoblins are by far the most sinister and devious of the Night Children, possessing a sharp, cunning intellect to rival that of mankind. They commonly employ ranged weapons, such as bows, and many display knowledge of spellcraft — traits unique among least demons. Because of this wit, hobgoblins are frequently encountered as leaders among large groups of goblins and orcs; on rare occasions even the mostly solitary bugbears and trolls can be found serving hobgoblin masters.

Despite this accumen for command (or perhaps because of it), hobgoblins almost never gather in large groups of their own kind. They are most commonly encountered in small bands, traditionally referred to as “haunts,” consisting of a hobgoblin warlock, 3-4 warriors of diverse and complimentary combat styles, and a small swarm of common goblins. These groupings have such a fearsome reputation for brutal efficiency that itinerant human mercenaries and mages have emulated their structure since time immemorial, recruiting desperate, foolish, and greedy peasants in place of goblin swarms. This is why decent folk refer to those who choose to engage in such activities as “hob-os.”

Hobgoblins are also the only Night Children that actively seek out and summon their demonic superiors. Some sages believe that all of these traits, taken as a whole, suggest that hobgoblins are the larval stage in an unfathomably long and hideously alien lifecycle that culminates in the ascension of a demon prince.

Awesome original art by one of my players, Alex Rivera
Awesome original art by one of my players, Alex Rivera

Hobgoblin Warrior: Init +2; Atk sword +d4+1 deed melee (1d8+1) or bow +d4 deed missile (1d6); AC 15 (chain mail); HD 2d8+2; MV 30′; Act 1d20; SP infravision 60′, -1 attack in bright light, mighty deed of arms, vulnerable to fire; SV Fort +1, Ref +2, Will +0; AL C.

Mighty Deed of Arms: Hobgoblin warriors have a d4 deed die (at least) and are capable of performing deeds as members of the warrior class.

Vulnerable to Fire: Hobgoblins take an additional 1d6 damage from fire, and have a 50% chance of catching fire whenever they take damage.

Hobgoblin Warlock: Init +1; Atk balefire missile +3 (1d12); AC 10; HD 2d6+2; MV 30′; Act 1d20; SP infravision 60′, -1 attack in bright light, spellcasting, summon balefire, vulnerable to fire; SV Fort +0, Ref +1, Will +2; AL C.

Spellcasting: Hobgoblin warlocks may know wizard spells as high as 3rd level. They have a bonus to spell checks equal to HD+1.

Summon Balefire: Hobgoblin warlocks can summon and hurl orbs of sickly green flame called balefire. Though it appears as fire, balefire is deathly cold and does no damage to demons of any sort (Night Children included). In addition to attacking with balefire, warlocks can make a spell check against DC 14 to transform all natural flame in a 30′ radius into balefire.

For Savage Worlds:

  • Use the hobgoblin stats from p. 127 of SW Fantasy Companion
  • Night Children traits
  • Warriors have Fighting d10 and Parry 7, as well as 2-3 combat edges up to seasoned rank
  • Warlocks have Spellcasting d10 and can hurl balefire at a -1 caster check (2 spell points) and transform fire at a -2 caster check (2 spell points), in addition to any other spells known

Servants of Order and Entropy: Alignment and Allegiance

Elric of Melnibone
deviantART by Isra2007

Earlier this week, Keith Davies posted a comparison of three different “alignment” systems: The nine alignments of AD&D, the three alignments of OD&D, and the allegiance system of FantasyCraft and d20 Modern. In a bit of synchronicity, last week I was reading the Beyond the Black Gate Compendium 2010, which touches on the ideas from these two posts about the difficulty with alignment in sword & sorcery and shifting the OD&D alignment system toward an allegiance system. As I was reading BtBG, I was thinking that  the allegiance scheme might be more in keeping with the tone of DCC RPG, and reading Keith’s post put me over the edge.

So what is the fundamental difference between the classic conception of D&D alignment and the allegiance concept? A comment on one of the BtBG posts sums it up best: “It’s basically the idea of Alignment as something one does, roughly, as opposed to something one is.” Essentially, it is viewing alignment as the devotion of a character to certain higher cosmic forces rather than as a descriptor of a character’s behavior or attitude. In the allegiance view, a character who is quite honest and believes in strong government could very likely still be Neutral in alignment — a character is only aligned with Law if they work as an active servant of cosmic order and the eternal. It works very well for DCC, as it actually hearkens back to the Appendix N inspiration for the OD&D three-alignment system, Michael Moorcock’s Eternal Champion stories.

Looking at how the various classes’ alignment tendencies play out in the allegiance model, I’d expect that spellcasting characters wouldn’t see any change in alignment diversity, as magical characters are those most likely to serve a patron of a cosmic force. Likewise, demi-humans could be seen as inherently magical and therefore tending toward an actual alignment, though halflings would probably shift strongly toward Neutral. (In fact, there’s a nice, simple elegance to dwarves = Law, halflings = Neutral, elves = Chaos.) Warriors, thieves, and all of the other folk in the world would overwhelming tend toward Neutral alignment, not getting involved with the machinations of otherworldy beings save for when they are swept up in them by the world around them.

In light of this differing outlook, I’m giving all of my current players a one-time shot at changing their characters’ alignment. Since I don’t plan to incorporate any new mechanical twists to alignment beyond the already-present Luck rewards, the shift here is purely one of meaning.  This works out well, as DCC doesn’t have any real integration of alignment explicitly into the mechanics as it stands, even with cleric spells and abilities, which simply refer to “evil” and the “unholy” as relative concepts defined by the role-playing of the character’s faith. There is, however, one point in the system where alignment is integrated in a mechanical manner that marginally complicates things: Thief skills.

In the DCC rules as written, there are three progressions of thief skills, each based on one of the alignments. But if thieves are almost universally Neutral, this would mean they all follow the same progression. I think that the simplest solution will work just fine here: When a character hits 1st level as a thief, they must choose to follow either the Path of the Boss, Path of the Assassin, or Path of the Swindler, and alignment has zero bearing on the matter. I can’t see any way this complicates or unbalances the system, as players were essentially already making this arbitrary choice when determining the alignment of potential thief zeroes. If any DCC peeps can foresee a issues or complications I’m not accounting for, I’d greatly appreciate the feedback.

The Night Children: Orcs of the Age of Ruins

deviantART by DKuang

After the swarming masses of goblins, orcs are the second most numerous and commonly-encountered breed of Night Children. Though all least demons are prone to mutation and malformation, the physiognomic diversity displayed by orcs is staggering. In fact, some sages with a particularly keen interest in styxozoology have suggested that rather than the five commonly accepted varieties of Night Children (goblins, hobgoblins, orcs, bugbears, and trolls), there are in actuality hundreds of different breeds, and that it is only through uneducated and ill-informed peasant tradition that all brutish warrior-types have come to be collectively categorized as orcs. To date, however, field research has proved too formidable and mortiferous to conclusively support this thesis.

Douglas Chaffee
Douglas Chaffee

Whatever physical characteristics they display, there are a few traits common to all orcs: They are strong, dim-witted, and voracious. On their own, orcs deploy little-to-no strategy in their attacks, rarely even showing enough tactical accumen to utilize ranged weapons. Under the command of clever hobgoblins or sinister mages, however, orcs can easily transform into a terrifyingly adept army; they even seem to spontaneously gain great skill at weapon and armor craft in such circumstances, only to lose the ability to construct all but the crudest armaments if the leader is removed. Unlike goblins, many orcs are capable of crudely speaking the languages of men despite their lack of intellect. Orcs have no capacity for magic of any sort.

Perhaps the most frightening characteristic of orcs is their unholy hunger. Even in the midst of battle, orcs will often disregard immediate danger to gorge upon the entrails of a fallen foe before resuming their assault. This demonic appetite causes orcs to exude an aura of dread, which is why even a well-armed force of common men will falter and flea at the sight of an orcish warband.

by neisbeis

Orc: Init +1; Atk* bite +1 melee (1d4) or as weapon +1 melee; AC 11 + armor; HD 1d8+1*; MV 30′; Act 1d20; SP infravision 60′, -1 attack in bright light, lesser fear, unholy hunger, vulnerable to fire; SV Fort +2*, Ref +0, Will -1; AL C.

*Orcs can vary wildly in size; these stats represent a roughly man-sized orc. Particularly large orcs will have an additional +1 to hit and damage in melee, to hit points, and to Fortitude saves. Likewise, particularly small orcs (about the size of a dwarf) receive a -1 to the same traits.

Lesser Fear: Whenever henchmen, hirelings, or other 0-level NPCs encounter orcs, they must make a morale check against DC 11 or attempt to flee. If the orcs have been organized under an intelligent leader such as a hobgoblin or wizard, the DC increases to 13.

Unholy Hunger: If an orc is in the vicinity of a fallen and helpless foe, they must make a Will save (DC 11) to take any action other than ripping open the enemy’s gut and devouring a few handfuls of organs before returning to combat. The orc suffers a -1 penalty to AC during the round it spends stuffing its gullet. Once a foe has been gutted it no longer poses a temptation to other orcs.

Vulnerable to Fire: Orcs take an additional 1d6 damage from fire, and have a 50% chance of catching fire whenever they take damage.

For Savage Worlds:

  • Use the orc stats from p. 138 of SWD
  • Night Children traits
  • Lesser Fear causes extras to make a Spirit Check or panic
  • Unholy Hunger requires the orc to make a Spirit check at -1

Revisiting Faith in the Age of Ruins

Uriel-mosaicIn yesterday’s post, I mentioned that I’ve been thinking about the idea of faith in my home game again; specifically the way the manifestation of divine power is reflected in the rules. Since there is no Arcane Background: Miracles edge or divine spellcasting in the setting, I originally outlined Faith as a skill modified by a few edges (and refined that outline a few days later). I put a link to that first post up on the Savage Worlds general forum; the first reaction I got was from a long-time frequent poster who said he thought the basic premise of treating Faith as a skill outside of a spellcasting function was just the wrong way to approach it.

At the time I thought he made some interesting points, but I was kind of stuck on that basic premise so I didn’t really think deeply about the alternative. But once my mind drifted back to the topic after giving it some time to simmer on the back burner, I started to wonder if maybe he was right. I also decided that I was almost certainly going to remove the Healing edges from the Faith edge progression, as I only really included them in the first place because a corner of my brain was being a slave to traditional D&D ingrained notions.

Side note to any players from my current campaign who may be reading this and are concerned about its impact on their characters (Hi, Joe!) — I do not plan on changing the way we are handling Faith in the current game, other than removing the option of the Healing edges, which haven’t come into play yet anyway. What I am posting below is the way I think I would handle it in the future. That future could be a new Age of Ruins campaign, or it could be a point in this campaign after any characters who currently have the Faith skill have met an untimely end and any new characters are introduced. (Of course, if you read this and feel strongly that you would prefer the system below, we can assess the situation.)

This incarnation takes the Faith skill out of the game altogether. Instead there is just a series of Faith edges. Because these edges are not considered Professional edges, any benefit gained from them stacks with any similar bonuses gained from other edges. Ultimately, what truly faithful characters are capable of barely changes from the previous system (except the already mentioned removal of divine healing). All that changes is the way those things are represented in the rules.

True Faith
Requirements: Novice, Vow Hindrance, Spirit d6+
Your deep devotion to a deity provides you with great inner strength. You get +2 on Spirit rolls to resist Fear and Intimidation, as well as +2 on Smarts rolls to resist mind-controlling magic. The benefits of this edge, as well as of any Faith edges, are lost if you violate your vow or consistently act in a manner contrary to the tenets of your faith. The GM determines when you have properly atoned and regain these benefits.

Requirements: Novice, True Faith, Spirit d8+, Strength d6+, Vigor d8+, Fighting d8+
Functions as described on SWD pg. 39.

Requirements: Novice, True Faith
You are an ordained priest, monk, or other recognized leader of your religion. You command respect and receive a +2 to Charisma when dealing with followers of your faith. In addition, you may gain role-playing benefits as appropriate to your station within the setting. Unlike other Faith edges, the benefits of Clergy can only be lost if word of a failure to keep your vows gets out.

Enduring Faith
Requirements: Novice, True Faith, Spirit d8+
You gain a +2 bonus to any rolls made to resist the negative effects of Hazards. In addition, whenever you are required by a Hazard to make a Vigor roll, you may roll Spirit instead.

Guardian of the Sacred
Requirements: Veteran, Champion, True Faith, Spirit d10+
Your bonuses gained from the Champion edge increase to +4.

Holy/Unholy Warrior
Requirements:Novice, True Faith, Spirit d8+
As an action, you may call upon your chosen deity to repulse supernaturally evil creatures, such as the undead, demons, and the like. It also works on characters of opposed faiths. Repulsing evil affects all such creatures within a range equal to your Spirit. Targeted creatures within that range must make an opposed Spirit roll (very powerful undead or demons may get a bonus to their rolls). When you win, the target is Shaken; a win with a raise means it is destroyed (Wild Cards suffer an automatic Wound instead). When a targeted creature beats your roll, they are unaffected. If any target beats your roll with a raise, you are Shaken. Multiple targets beating your roll with a raise do not cause any further effect; however, if any one target beats you with multiple raises, each additional raise causes a level of Fatigue. This Fatigue will heal one level per hour once you are no longer in the presence of the creature.

Unyielding Faith
Requirements: Seasoned, True Faith, Spirit d8+
You gain +2 to Spirit rolls to overcome being Shaken.

Requirements: Novice, True Faith, Spirit d6+, Notice d8+
You gain a +2 bonus to Notice rolls. In addition, your Notice skill may be used to detect otherwise imperceptible otherworldy presences and unholy corruptions, such as places where demons have been summoned in the past and nearby sites that are either strongly sacred or profane. It can also detect the mark of possession or otherworldy evil on other characters (such as infernalists and necromancers). This does not allow you to detect the specific intentions of others, nor does it detect those whose sins have been strictly worldly in nature, such as those who have murdered out of greed or anger.