Ordinary Greatness

From back in September 2013, now with minor edits:

A few years ago, I watched Puncture starring Chris Evans, Mark Kassen, Marshall Bell, and Brett Cullen. (Caveat: This film has a well-deserved R rating.) The plot revolves around Mike Weiss (played by Chris Evans) and his partner Paul Danziger (played by Mark Kassen in a story co-written the real Paul Danziger) trying to bring suit against medical suppliers to get safety syringes into hospitals.

During one scene near the end of the film, Weiss confronts Nathaniel Price (Brett Cullen). Price represents the company trying to keep the safety syringes off the market. During their conversation, Price says something to effect of, “You think you’re here to accomplish something great, but everyone thinks that. It’s the most ordinary thought in the world.”

Price was right. Thinking that I’m here on Earth to accomplish something great is an ordinary thought. I can easily believe that at some point in time, everyone ever born thinks the same thing. Of course, Price’s intent was to convince Weiss that the ordinariness of this thought means the thought is false.

In other words, Price was saying, “Maybe some people are meant for greatness, but you are not. Give up.”

Of course, Price misses something important. His cynicism blinds him to the full truth. Yes, it is perfectly ordinary for me to imagine that I’m meant to accomplish something great. What Price doesn’t grasp is that the perfect ordinariness of a thought does not mean the thought is wrong. Everyone truly is meant to accomplish something great. When I consider this truth, I must avoid two equally destructive errors.

First, I must ignore the Nathaniel Prices of the world. Other people don’t get to limit my life with their lack of vision. Second, I must avoid becoming my own Nathaniel Price. I am meant to accomplish something great, but my something great may not be the same as or as great as your something great. I’m not likely to cure cancer, be the first man on Mars, or bring peace to the Middle East. Those great somethings are meant for someone other than me. My something great probably won’t be anything greater than being a father, husband, and teacher.

Those three roles are rather ordinary, but, again, ordinary does not mean unimportant or insignificant.

July 15th, 2017  in RPG No Comments »

From Unformed Realms? Excellent!

I recently acquired several Paul Baldowski’s The Cthulhu Hack products-in-print via All Rolled Up. One of these products is From Unformed Realms. According to the introduction, this 20-page booklet is a “system-free supplement for a Gamemaster running games involving creatures of alien horror for role-playing games of all genres, fantastical or horrific”. The author suggests rolling 3d6 six times “to generate a customized aggressive horror”.

Each set of 3d6 determines a category, subcategory, and specific trait. There are six categories, such as Extremities or Fluids. Each category included at least three subcategories, and each subcategory includes six specific traits. That’s quite a lot of variety, and it looks like fun, so let’s play. I get 3d6, one black, one purple, and one red, and I roll them six times each, recording the results in the color order already mentioned. I get these results:

3, 4, 4: Skeleton, Bone Mutations, Blades
5, 6, 6: Appearance, That Looks Like, Ooze
1, 4, 2: Extremities, Weapons, Pincers
5, 3, 5: Appearance, Protuberances, Digestion
2, 6, 4: Senses, Vision, Compound
1, 2, 4: Extremities, Limbs, Spines

In other words, something like this:

Before our horrified eyes, the blasphemous thing lurched forward, glistening wetly in the moonlight. Shadows of bones rolled within its amorphous bulk, translucent and fetid, and some of those skeletal remnants slid from within, hooked and sharp and some clacking like monstrous pincers. Globular compound eyes bobbed within its body, pressing toward air. Even in the dim lunar glow, we could see half-digested remains: a dog, several rats, and — God help us! — a man’s arm!

Turning to The Cthulhu Hack core rules, I put together some quick monster stats:

Hit Dice: 5
Nota Bene: The gelatinous horror moves stealthily (roll with Disadvantage to hear it before it’s too late), and its fluid form is difficult to grapple (also roll with Disadvantage). It is impervious to flame or heat. Its compound eyes see in nearly all directions at once. It attacks 1d4 times per Moment, and each attack inflicts 1d4 points of damage.

After From Unformed Realms describes the various traits by category and subcategory, there is a single page “Summary of Traits” followed by two pages of “The Obligatory Appendix”. The latter provides tables that answer questions such as “The Hook?”, “Location?”, and “Horror’s Motivation?”, and with a few more dice rolls I determine the gist of an investigation into madness and death. Bolded parts of the following sentence indicate the results of dice rolls.

A chance visitation leads to a boot camp that has been a cover for anarchists for nearly two years for the purpose of medical research. The boot camp has become the target of the horror because the camp is built on the monster’s food source.

And there you go. In a fraction of the time than it took me to type, format, and edit this blogpost, I’ve got the framework for an investigation that pits the players’ characters against secretive, Mengele-like anarchists unaware that a Horror from Beyond lurks at their doorstep.

Excellent.

July 14th, 2017  in RPG No Comments »

A New Cleric Spell & A Magical Lake

At that time Jesus exclaimed, “I bless you, Father, Lord of heaven and of earth, for hiding these things from the learned and the clever and revealing them to little children.” (The Gospel According to St. Matthew 11-25)

Apophatic Facade
Spell Level: Cleric, 1st Level
Range: 120 feet
Duration: Until dispelled or an attack is made

The object of this spell, whether a person or a thing, becomes invisible to both the normal sight and darkvision of Chaotic creatures. A non-Chaotic creature can see the target if that creature fails its saving throw against the spell. An invisible creature cannot be attacked unless its approximate location is known, and all attacks are made at -4 to hit. If the invisible creature makes an attack, the spell is broken. Otherwise, it lasts until dispelled or removed by the caster.

Pilkullinen

The Great Northern Forest’s full extent remains a mystery. It is an inhospitable land of rugged, wooden terrain subject to heavy precipitation, especially during the latter spring and fall months. A few days west by northwest of Mirror Rock is a shallow, wide valley into which flows several small streams. These streams feed into Pilkullinen, an alkali lake with remarkable properties. Pilkullinen is shallow for most of its length and breadth, perhaps no more than several yards deep except during the heaviest of rainy seasons. The lake drains into marshes along its southern and eastern shores. During the shorter dry seasons, much of Pilkullinen evaporates or drains away, revealing dozens of large, natural pools. The strange minerals in the lake concentrate in these pools, and impart upon the waters healing powers. Unfortunately, the savage and xenophobic barbarians native to the region believe their fierce gods gave Pilkullinen to them alone, and they zealously guard it against trespassers.

Anyone who soaks in one of the large, natural pools for 1d4 hours may benefit from the lake’s special qualities. Roll on the following table and apply the results.

Pilkullinen’s Powers

1: Cures all diseases and heals 2d6+2 hit points.
2: Cures all diseases and heals 1d6+1 hit points.
3: Heals 2d6+2 hit points.
4: Heals 1d6+1 hit points.
5: Boosts health. +1 saves versus disease and poison for a day.
6: Strengthens will. +1 saves versus charm and fear for a day.

July 10th, 2017  in RPG No Comments »

Magical Enervation & Invigoration

Recently, Matt Jackson had a thought about magic in Old School games. “If magic is to be powerful, magic should be dangerous, have consequences, and not always just be perfect,” Jackson wrote. Seems reasonable to me. Then, for some reason, I thought of Fate Dice. If you’re not familiar with Fate Dice, they’re like normal dice, but instead of numbers, their sides are either blank (equal to zero) or else are marked by a plus sign (equal to +1) or a minus sign (equal to -1).

When playing Fate (which you should do at least a few times because it’s a hoot), you roll four Fate Dice (4DF) and total the sides. About 23% of the time, you’ll end up with a zero. About 20% of the time, you end up with a +1, and another 20% of the time you get a -1. You end up with a +2 or -2 about 12% of the time, respectively; +3 or -3 about 5% of time, respectively; and +4 or -4 about 1% of the time.

Enough explanation. Back to Matt Jackson’s observation about magic. Imagine, if you will, a spellcaster, Zot the Wondrous, a 4th-level magic-user.

Confronted by charging lizardmen in a dark, humid cavern, Zot casts web. Zot’s web normally has a range of 2″ and lasts for 8 turns. Zot’s player picks a center point for the spell, hoping it ends up in the middle of the lizardmen. He then rolls 4DF, and gets a -1 total. The web goes into effect as if Zot was a 3rd-level magic-user. The caster’s desired center point for the spell ends up 1/2″ closer than expected, and the web lasts for 6 turns instead of 8. Later, Zot casts magic missile at a gelatinous cube. The player rolls 4DF, and gets a +2. Zot’s magic missile goes into effect as he were a 6th-level magic-user, which means he fires three missiles instead of two.

These increases or decreases to effective casting level can change the odds of the caster overcoming magic resistance. Normally, Zot’s caster level boosts a magically resistant monster’s magic resistance by 35%. If he had cast magic missile at a creature with magic resistance instead of a gelatinous cube, the monster’s magic resistance would have been boosted by only 25% instead of 35% because of the +2 increase to Zot’s caster level. What’s more, increases or decreases to caster level also change the spell’s effective level. In other words, Zot’s web against the gnolls would be treated as 1st-level spell and his magic missile against the cube would have been equal to a 3rd-level spell (a level of spell Zot would not normally be able to cast as a 4th-level magic-user).

Magical Enervation

When Zot’s spells take effect at a lower casting level, it is because of magical enervation. The ebb and flow of magical energies is somewhat unpredictable, and spells often end up at least slightly weaker. If a spell’s adjusted spell level ever equals zero or lower, then the caster does not lose memorization of the spell. For example, if Zot’s web had gone into effect as a 0-level spell, Zot would have not lost memorization of web after casting.

Magical Invigoration

When a spell takes effect at a higher level than normal, the caster experiences magical invigoration. Furthermore, if the spell’s effective level increases to a level the caster cannot normally access (as happened to Zot when he cast that magic missile), the caster must make a saving throw versus spell to avoid being stunned a number of rounds equal to the number of levels of increase applied to the spell. Thus, Zot would have to make that saving throw versus spell to avoid being stunned. If he makes the saving throw, Zot isn’t stunned, and he loses memorization of magic missile as normal. If Zot fails the save, he is stunned for two rounds, but the surge of magical energies burns the spell back into his memory; therefore, Zot does not lose memorization of magic missile.

July 9th, 2017  in RPG No Comments »

The Teeth in the Darkness

First, some news: I’ve released the playtest version of The Grimm’s Fairy Hack via DriveThruRPG. It’s listed as Pay What You Want with a suggested price of $2. Of course, as a purchaser (even if you choose to purchase the game for free), you’ll automatically receive updates to TGFH, to include the final, for-sale version. In TGFH, a based on The Black Hack roleplaying game, the players take on the roles of children from our real world who find themselves lost in a dangerous, magical realm. These playtest rules include all the information you need to get started exploring your own versions of grim tales.

And now a monster inspired by an entertaining film starring Finn and half of Firestorm.

Teeth in the Darkness
Frequency: Very rare
No. Appearing: 5-30
Armor Class: 6
Move: 12″
Hit Dice: 2-5
% in Lair: 35%
Treasure Type: O, P, R
No. of Attacks: 3
Damage/Attack: 1-4/1-4/1-6
Special Attacks: Add 1/2 HD to damage rolls
Special Defenses: See below
Magic Resistance: Standard
Intelligence: Low to Average
Alignment: Neutral evil
Size: S to M (2′ to 5′ at the shoulder)
Psionic Ability: Nil
Attack/Defense Modes: Nil
Level/X.P. Value: 60+2/hp (2 HD); 110+3/hp (3 HD); 185+4/hp (4 HD); 290+5/hp (5 HD)

Found in caverns and ancient forests, the teeth in the darkness are intelligent predators that run in packs, hunting much like wolves. These creatures lope about most of the time on all fours, and they are skilled climbers but do not swim well. Their forelegs are longer than their rear legs, giving them an appearance somewhat like an gorilla. The teeth in the darkness have no eyes (and are consequently immune to attacks and illusions that affect the sense of sight). They have highly developed olfactory senses as well a form of echolocation that uses clicks, grunts, snarls, and surprisingly human-like screams; some of the teeth in the darkness’s vocalizations cannot be detected by normal hearing. The teeth in the darkness use these same sounds to communicate with each other. Due to their unusual senses, the teeth in the darkness are surprised only a on 1 (in 6), and they track prey by scent like a bloodhound.

In the dimly lit and shadowy conditions, these monsters are almost impossible to see as long as they keep their mouths closed to conceal their bioluminescent fangs. They move silently with cunning. In the dark when they cannot be seen, they surprise foes 5 in 6 times. Even in lighted conditions, they still surprise foes 3 in 6 times due to their stealth. The size of these monsters (and HD) varies with age and sex. Males are generally larger when fully grown. Regardless of size, they are quite strong. Add one-half the monster’s HD (round up) to damage rolls with its bear-like claws and glowing fangs. Their fur is blacker than black, and it does not reflect light. This makes it difficult to accurately judge their position at distances farther than 15 feet, especially when they are moving; this trait imposes a -4 penalty on “to-hit” rolls with ranged attacks.

July 4th, 2017  in RPG, Spes Magna News No Comments »