Monday, January 28, 2019

Play Report - DCC Sanctum of the Snail

Just before it was released, I had the chance to playtest The Sanctum of the Snail, a DCC adventure by Josh Burnett from the Bernie the Flumph! blog. The following play report is partially narrated by my lone surviving character, Little Matchstick Greta, the guild beggar. For reasons that will become clear, halfway through the adventure she became incredibly whiny. In my head, she sounds just like the character "Flip" from Connie Willis' novel Bellwether.
 
 
Sadly, none of us played as Starfire or Captain Planet.
    
"It wasn't MY fault we got in a shipwreck! The captain was supposed take us all the way to the CITY, not crash us into some ISLAND!"

A group of travelers had all booked passage on the good ship Starfish to seek a new life in the distant city of Xothma-Ghul. They almost made it too, but shipwrecked on a tiny island only a day away from their destination.
 
My characters were Greta, Princess Persimmon the noble, Sally Sneakers the cobbler, and Spanakopita the halfling mariner.
 
Todd started out with Lisk the tailor, Raymundo the herbalist, Orvis the dwarven herder (and his sow Marie), and Tammy the hunter.
 
Gilbert and Doyce had Kyle the dwarven stonemason, Mournath the dwarven blacksmith, Brian the wizard's apprentice, Geof the woodcutter, Bob the mercenary, Jack the ropemaker, Phil the other mercenary, and Norman the baker.
 
 
"Anyway, it was the sharkboys who attacked US! We weren't even DOING anything!"
 
The travelers got washed ashore amidst a raging storm to find the captain laying dead on the rocks before them, and a gang of 8 hillbilly sharkboys clambering up onto the island to attack them. They saw the sinking remains of the Starfish to one side, and a stone door cut into the rock of the island to the other.
 
The dwarven brothers Kyle and Mournath were the MVPs of this combat, and frankly, of the entire session. ("No! It was me! I'm the most valuable EVERYTHING!") They recovered the captain's iron khopesh sword, used it to kill one of the sharks, pushed open the heavy stone door, defended it until everyone was inside, and then got it closed again.
 
Meanwhile, Raymundo, Tammy, Geof, Bob, and Norman got torn to shreds with nothing to show for it. Greta, Princess Persimmon, Sally, Spanikopita, Brian, Jack, and Phil only survived because they ran for it. Lisk killed one sharkboy with his scissors, then got eaten too. Orvis only survived because he threw his beloved sow Marie to the sharks, who ate her instead of chasing him.
 
The sharkboys did a fair bit of bumbling too. The rolled at least 3 fumbles, resulting in a sharkboy tripping over his own tail and faceplanting, another breaking his teeth biting the rocks, and a third pratfalling by tripping over a sharkboy corpse.
 
 
"I didn't even WANT to go in that old door! I wanted to go back to the SHIP! It was those dwarf brothers who MADE us do down there! It was THEIR idea!"
 
Spanakopita realized the tide was coming in and that the whole island was going to submerge when it did. Fortunately, the stonemasonry on the door was excellent, and it fit so well no water leaked in. Kyle used a rope and a flask of oil to make a lantern, and Mournath used a second rope to create a handhold as the group descended a giant staircase that simply sheered off like a cliff to either side.
 
Some ways down the stairs, but not yet at the bottom, they encountered a partially collapsed bridge lit by candles, and a golden door that seemed to glow in the candle-light on the far side. Really all that remained of the bridge were two support pillars. Orvis leapt across the gap to the first pillar, and it immediately began crumbling beneath his feet. He leapt to the second, and then across to the far side, but the others were now trapped with the gap between them too far to jump over. While the others waited, Orvis found the skeleton of a dead elf on the landing and immediately began rifling through its supplies. He found a 20' length of copper chain, a heavy basket, and empty barrel, a rusty wheelbarrow, a lead statue of a duck, several iron spikes, and a flask of oil. Ropemaker Jack managed to toss one end of a length of rope to Orvis, and they each hammered down their sides with iron spikes.
 
Princess Persimmon tried crossing this makeshift rope-bridge first, and attempted to show off by walking across it like a slack-line. Halfway across, she fell off and plummeted to her death. ("I didn't tell her to walk like that! She said it was SAFER that way!") One at a time, the others started shimmying across the chasm by hanging upside down on the rope. At one point, their end gave way, but Mournath caught it, and stayed until last to hold the rope for the others, before swinging across the chasm and climbing up to the landing in the end. The whole affair took on a sense of urgency when a swarm of tiny, but carnivorous snails crawled up the landing and ate Orvis, rapidly reducing him to a skeleton. The others heaped some gear into the wheelbarrow and rushed through the golden door. Mournath took another glance at the elf, and realized the skeleton was wearing human-skin leather armor and carrying a steel-hard glass sword. He declined to collect the armor, but did take the glass sword, along with a handful of ancient moon-shaped coins.
 
 
"I was the one who got Blorgamorg to listen to us! The others don't even know HOW to beg properly! Begging is my JOB, so of COURSE I'm good at it!"
 
Through the golden door, the group arrived in a huge natural cavern, lit by growths of glowing amber stone. There was a giant altar in the center of the room, and a slime-coated tunnel on the far side leading out. A shadow filled the room as a giant snail with gemstone eyes slithered down from the ceiling. In a booming voice, it declared "Hello little ones, Blorgamorg has use for you!" Brian dropped to his knees and began groveling, Phil nonchalantly backed away, and Spanakopita ran to the edge of the cave in a panic.
 
Greta politely beseeched Blorgamorg for help, and the great snail explained that his own former apprentice had returned to the island and built an accursed sanctum further below. He wanted the travelers to force out the wizard, and Greta agreed on behalf of the group. The snail patron offered them extra help, in the form of four more shipwreck survivors, who were spit out of the floor by a wave. These were Todd's replacement characters, Schitts the blacksmith, Chase the halfling moneylender, Dennis the weaver, and Dodge the caravan guard.
 
Jack investigated the slime-coated tunnel and saw that it was actually a chute dropping almost straight downward. Spanakopita climbed into the wheelbarrow with the gear and told the others to give it a push. The barrow raced down the greasy shaft and came to an immediate halt when the front wheel got snapped into a bear trap. Spanakopita went flying, landed face-first on some rocks, and died. Mournath went next, avoided getting speared on the wheelbarrow handle, and then called down to the others that it was safe to descend.
 
 
"I knew the wheelbarrow wasn't safe, but Spanakopita wouldn't LISTEN to me! I didn't even get a chance to SAY anything before she died! Anyway, this is where I found the wonderful medallion that made everything make SENSE for a change. The others say the amulet CHANGED me, but they're just JEALOUS because I found the BEST treasure ever!"
 
At the bottom of the chute, the travelers found themselves on a beach at the foot of the stairs. The water to either side of the staircase faintly glowed, and there were two burning braziers flanking a door directly across from the foot of the stairs. They saw a large, turtle-like creature washed up on the shore. Sally went to investigate, with Schitts following close behind. As she got close, a tapeworm leapt from the turtle's flank and dove down Sally's throat, desiccating her and killing her instantly. Seven more worms danced like cobras from the side of the turtle, so Schitts backed away. Greta helped herself to some of Sally's and Spanakopita's supplies.
 
The group saw two statues on either side of the staircase, one a statue of a man, the other a statue of a lion, both wearing medallions. Brian the wizard's apprentice recognized the man as a god of chaos and the lion as a god of laws and kings. Persimmon's body floated near the statue of the man. Greta waded out to the statue of the man and circled it, seeing that he held a dagger hidden behind his back, then took the medallion. She realized immediately that all her problems were somebody else's fault, and everyone else in the group was to blame for her current situation. ("See? It's like I TOLD you! The medallion knows! Why can't you ever LISTEN to me?") Dodge waded out to the statue of the lion and took its medallion, but then Chase took it from him and put it on. He immediately felt incredibly guilty for stealing from his friend. Meanwhile Kyle and Mournath freed the wheelbarrow and collected the bear trap.


"I want to be rewarded! I DESERVE a reward!"
 
The travelers passed through the door at the foot of the stairs and arrived in a rough stone chamber, with a stone dodecahedron hanging from the ceiling, swaying slightly in the breeze. Immediately under the dodecahedron was a stone altar with a white ceramic pitcher, with writing that promised "Drink if you would be rewarded for patient consideration." Kyle and Mournath assumed the hanging stone would fall and crush anyone approaching the pitcher, but Greta, Brian, Dennis, and Dodge all drank water from the pitcher. As he drank, Brian studied the geometric stone overhead, and realized that the runes carved into it were names of gods of balance.
 
The continued into a damp-smelling room full of glowing, twitching human-sized green ovals. Each oval was connected by a strand of slime to a central nodule, which sat atop a tall stone pillar. Schitts wriggled up the pillar and saw a dark sphere inside the green nodule. Using his blacksmithing tongs, be pulled the sphere out. As he removed it, the ovular shapes dimmed and went still. Schitts recognized that whatever this metal was, it was heavier than lead, and was carved into the shape of an eyeball with a gemstone iris.

The wanderers were eager to leave that room, but the next one they entered had a giant stone coffin, and the walls were indented with niches, where skeletons stood guard. They backed out, and found a staircase going deeper into the island sanctum. Schitts started leading the group down a hall at the bottom of the stairs, but the floor collapsed under him, and under brave Brian, who had rushed forward to try to save him. ("I wanted to save him, too! Brian pushed me out of the way! He didn't even LET me try to help!") They fell 30 feet into shallow water and both died on impact. The makeshift lantern Brian had been carrying lit the scene of carnage at the bottom of the pit. ("Plus Brian broke our lamp! What are we going to DO without a lamp, Brian?") Inspecting through the open trapdoor, they saw a third body - the skeleton of a dwarf holding a metal box. Kyle and Mournath used a chain to lower Chase down to the water. He retrieved the lockbox and was pulled back up. Mournath broke the rusted box open with his hammer and found dozens of silver coins, and a lead coin good for a free drink at one of the bars in Xothma-Ghul. The group edged their way around the trap door, and took another staircase at the end of the hall.


"If you look at it from their perspective ... then we're the ones in the wrong ... which means I'm wrong ... which means their perspective is STUPID! We should KILL them for being stupid!"

The travelers entered a slime-coated chamber where they walked in on a half-dozen slug-men eating fungus from a clay pot. The monsters dropped their mean and hastily started gathering their spears. Greta, Dennis, and Dodge found themselves afflicted with the Curse of Thoughtful Deliberation, which tempted them to consider the situation from the slug creatures' point of view. In practice, this went more like them considering considering the slug-men's point of view, then deciding to kill them anyway. Kyle and Mournath once again did most of the killing, and afterward, everyone took a shield, spear, and copper chaos-symbol necklace from the dead soldiers.

The group also inspected the clay pot, which was full of colorful mushrooms. Chase ate one, his eyes turned red, and he became able to see in the dark. Greta was jealous of Chase, ("I was NOT! Chase was jealous of ME!") ate a mushroom, and experienced the same effect. Dennis ate a mushroom that tasted foul, and caused four small mushrooms to grow out of the top of his head. He wasn't very happy with that result, so he ate another. The mushrooms on his head turned black and withered, and he began uncontrollably vomiting green sludge until he died. ("Dennis was jealous TOO! See! EVERYONE'S jealous of me!") The clay pot went into the wheelbarrow with the rest of their treasure, and the group moved on.

Entering another hall, the group found a very new-looking wooden door, along with another set of stairs leader further down. Greta peeked through the keyhole and saw a bedroom lit by candlelight. Using the dagger she stole from Spanakopita, ("I didn't steal it! Spanakopita GAVE it to me! After she died!") Greta managed to pick the lock, and the door opened silently. The air in the bedroom was clammy and damp. It was well-appointed, with fine bedsheets, tapestries hung from the walls, and a large wardrobe to match the four-poster bed. The group concluded that this must be the wayward apprentice's room. Greta opened the wardrobe and stole several fancy silk robes and bottles of perfume. ("I DIDN'T steal them! The apprentice GAVE them to me! She WANTED me to take them!") Chase found a lockbox and tried out Greta's lockpicking trick, and managed to prise it open. He found rubies, a clay vial with a potion, and a receipt for some paintings Xothma-Ghul's favorite artist, Spargo Excellerando. Mournath, Kyle, and Dodge searched the room for hidden exits, checking behind every tapestry, and eventually found a door mechanism in the wardrobe.

The room on the far side of the wardrobe was lit by a silver candelabra. This was a smaller, more utilitarian space, with a purple book on a small wooden table. Chase started flipping through the book, and as he did, a black crayfish with glowing purple runes emerged from the book's shadow and began attacking him. Mournath and Kyle assailed it with spears ("THEY'RE the ones who stole those spears from the slug-men! THEY'RE the thieves!") and Greta heroically saved the day by shutting the book and tossing it into the wheelbarrow, along with the silver candelabra. The group agreed their next move should be down the stairs to confront the apprentice.
 
 
"I killed a demon, all Todd's characters got killed again, and the slug-men wouldn't LISTEN to me! You NEVER listen to me!"
 
At the bottom of the stairs, the travelers entered a room filled waist-deep with brackish water. They saw another stone altar, this one glowing with red runes, and just visible at the far side of the room was a doorway out, with fresh breeze blowing in. After Blorgamorg's entrance, Kyle and Mournath immediately looked up at the ceiling, where they saw a woman with the lower body of a slug, clining to the ceiling and wielding a multi-colored sword. They immediately assailed her with spears. She quickly lost blood from her injuries, then passed out unconscious, falling into the water below, where she was speared to death.
 
Simultaneously, more slug-men burst up from the water and brandished spears at the party, and a giant white woolly demon slug appeared from behind the altar. The slug-men threw spears into Chase and Dodge, killing them. Greta grabbed a flask of oil from the wheelbarrow, poured it onto the water, and set it alight, holding the demon slug at bay. Mournath took the bottles of perfume that Greta stole from the wardrobe and threw them into the fire, where they exploded and drove the demon back to some other realm. ("No! He stole them from ME!") Greta brandished her talisman and tried to turn or command the slug-men, but wasn't able to compel them. Kyle and Mournath pulled the spears out of Dodge and Chase's corpses and used them to finish off the remaining slug-men. ("Maybe I WAS in command of the slug-men! Maybe I WANTED them to keep attacking the dwarves!")
 
Searching the fallen apprentice's body, Kyle recovered her multi-hued metal sword, and Mournath found some jewelry which he put in the wheelbarrow. They floated the barrow across the flooded room and through the door on the far side. They found three paintings leaning against the wall. One had been burnt badly, and another showed a sunny field before a distant village. Mournath touched the painting, and both he and the wheelbarrow disappeared, magically transported to the outskirts of Xothma-Ghul, a location almost identical to the painting. Kyle, feeling worried for his brother, touched the painting and disappeared as well. Greta felt worried about the treasure ("They're trying to STEAL from me! EVERYONE'S always stealing from me!") and followed close behind.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

8 Abilities - 6, 3, or 4 Ability Scores?

D&D-style games traditionally have 6 ability scores, but those 6 scores actually represent 8 different abilities. Those 8 abilities, in turn, are simply the combination of three different dichotomies - physical vs mentalforce vs grace, and attack vs defend.
   
This is something I've thought about before, but my immediate inspiration for writing about it now is something that Jack from Tales of the Grotesque & Dungeonesque posted on Google Plus, and the outpouring of responses and ideas he received in return. I'm going to miss G+. The conversations that happen there can only happen because of all the people who are there. And for now, at least, the conversations that happen there inspire me more than conversations happening anywhere else.
   
Recognizing the 8 underlying abilities does a couple things. First, it points to the direct parallels between D&D's mental and physical ability scores - Charisma, for example, is mental Strength; Intelligence is mental Dexterity. Second, seeing the underlying abilities gives us some insight into the ways the can be re-combined to make a smaller number of scores. (Jack argues, and I agree with him, that it's more interesting to have a smaller number of important scores than to have a larger number of unimportant scores - which is why I wouldn't suggest expanding out to 8 ability scores, although you certainly could if you want to.)
   
 
The 8 Underlying Abilities
Physical force attack - The ability to interact with objects on a large scale. Force open stuck doors, batter down brick walls, bend iron bars, break chains, lift weights, pull yourself up, climb. Break things, smash things, crush things, throw things. Overcome obstacles by flattening them, get through defenses by overwhelming them. Be the hammer. Do damage by hitting hard.
    
Physical grace attack - The ability to interact with objects on a fine scale. Pick the tumblers on a lock, disarm a trap, do tricks with your fingers, perform sleight of hand, disarm. Touch sensitive things without triggering them, manipulate one thing without affecting another, go around obstacles, get through small openings. Get behind them, out-flank them, out-maneuver. Aim well, be precise, find the hole in their defenses, slip through the crack in their armor. Be the scalpel. Do damage by striking in just the right spot.
   
Physical force defense - The ability to survive being hurt by being tougher than the thing that's hurting you. Endure extreme temperatures, remain unbowed by crushing weight, flex your muscles so they break the hand punching you, toughen your skin so it dulls the knife trying to cut through it. Be your own armor, be your own shield. Let their attacks hit you, break against you, wash over you. Survive poison, survive disease. Endure.
   
Physical grace defense - The ability to survive being hurt by avoiding the thing that's trying to hurt you altogether. Duck out of the way, dodge, deflect, riposte. Stay in the shadows so they can't see you, step quietly so they can't hear you. Stop short, jump back. Roll with punch, fall to the floor, slide out reach. Twist to escape their grasp. Move so their attack never touches you, move so that the force of the attack simply pushes you along in the direction you're already traveling. Take cover from the bomb blast, hide from the dragon's breath. Evade.
 
Mental force attack - The ability to affect the emotions of people an animals. Give a rousing speech, make a call to arms, impress them with your faith, show them the courage of your convictions, demonstrate the strength of your principles. Inspire, incite. Tell a story, sing a song, make them weep, make them thunder with applause, make the wicked cower at your feet. Make a good first impression. Calm an animal, train an animal. Cook a meal. Gain trust. Impress.
 
Mental grace attack - The ability to manipulate people and objects. Tell lies, wear disguises, negotiate contracts and sales. Deceive, defraud, trick, fool, feint, scam. Draw mazes, make puzzles, tell riddles, set traps. Ambush them, take them by surprise. Diagnose illness, forge documents, scribe scrolls. Uncover clues, unravel mysteries, decipher codes, translate and speak languages. Outwit.

Mental force defense - The ability to avoid having your emotions affected by hardening your heart. Don't be afraid, don't run away. Ignore compulsions and commands. Know history, remember family trees, understand loyalties and relationships, know your enemy, understand who they work for. Do things even though they're boring, chop firewood, fetch water, pick berries, make camp. Endure trauma, bear witness, hunt monsters, stare into the abyss, live to tell the tale, never forget. To thine own self be true. In a game with sanity loss, this would be the ability to witness horrible sights without going mad as a result.
 
Mental grace defense - The ability to avoid having your thoughts affected by looking in the right place, or by looking away at just the right time. Avoid ambushes and surprise, notice architecture, find hidden doors, search rooms, spot traps. Find tracks and follow them. Appraise the value of objects, discern lies. Search your own memories, remember details, recall lore. See the Medusa in the mirror. See through illusions. Out-think. In a game with sanity loss, this would be the ability to avoid looking at a maddening sight, even though it tempts you.
 
 
The Classic 6-Ability Division
D&D's 6 ability scores mostly take these abilities individually, but a couple of them double up. Strength represents physical force attack. Dexterity combines physical grace attack and physical grace defense. Constitution is the physical force defense. D&D's mental attributes are basically mirrors of the physical ones, but there's a slight asymmetry. Charisma combines both mental force attack and mental grace attack. Intelligence is mental grace defense. Wisdom is mental force defense. The broken symmetry, I think, is the result of the organic nature of the way D&D has grown over the years. Yes, in some moments it has been designed, but in-between those moments, it has simply grown by accretion.

There's nothing particularly wrong with this set-up, although as Jack notes on Google Plus, it does make Dexterity unusually important, especially in versions of the game where physical combat is more common or more important that social and/or skill challenges. Reducing the number of scores would make each attribute more important by making each ability do more work. Reducing the number of modifiers might also make them easier to use, even if they apply to a larger number of situations. It's easier to remember +1 on this, +2 on that, -2 on THAT, than it is to remember 6 or 8 different bonuses and penalties.
 
The other possible problem is their names. If terms like dexterity, constitution, and charisma were ever common outside of gaming, they certainly aren't anymore. DCC renames Dexterity as Agility and Constitution as Stamina. Personality replaces Charisma, and arguably adds mental force defense to its repertoire. The Luck attribute from DCC serves a little like a mental grace defense, but it's also something new, a kind of all-purpose defense against misfortune, as well as a resource that can be used up to improve any situation, like a generalized version of the specific forms of "Effort" in Numenera. When it comes to renaming, I also kind of like Daniel Davis's suggestion to call the abilities Puissance, Celerity, Obdurateness, Supercerebrality, Perspicacity, and Pulchritudinousness, if only because it leans into Gygax's old timey naming conventions and does him one better, and because they're so silly I find them kind of charming.
 
 
Two Possible 3-Ability Divisions
In the 3.0 ruleset, D&D introduced new Fortitude, Reflex, and Willpower saving throws, representing essentially the physical force defense, physical grace defense, and mental force defense. When other people have tried to simplify the D&D rules by reducing the number of ability scores, the most common reduction mirrors these saving throws.

Although they give them different names, both Into the Odd and Numenera make the same decisions to arrive at 3 ability scores. There's a physical force attribute (combining attack and defense), a physical grace attribute (combining attack and defense), and a single mental attribute (combining attack and defense, force and grace).
 
It feels worth pointing out that in the original version of D&D, Strength, Intelligence, and Wisdom didn't represent what they do now. They only things they modified were the XP you received from playing certain classes, which means that they were more like measures of Fighting-Man-ness, Magic-User-ness, and Cleric-ness, respectively, than they were like the abilities that familiar to us using those same names today. And that means, when you take those three away, that in playing OD&D, you're left with only 3 real ability scores, Dexterity, Constitution, and Charisma, which is just what you get in I2TO and Numenera.

 
There was another suggestion though, that came up on Jack's G+ thread a couple times. Adam Thornton, Tim Other, Paolo Greco, Jay Murphy, and Joe Coo all spoke up to call for something like Mind, Body, Soul as their preferred division. Paolo uses Physique, Craft, and Spirit in his Adventure Fantasy Game. There's also something similar in Torchbearer and Mouse Guard (and possibly in other games based on Burning Wheel), which use Will, Health, and Nature.
 
What all these other approaches have in common is that they invert the Fort/Ref/Will division by creating a single physical attribute (force and grace, attack and defense) while allowing for 2 mental ability scores. Mind (AFG's Craft) is mental grace (attack and defense) while Soul (AFG's Spirit) is mental force (attack and defense).
   
In Torchbearer and Mouse Guard, however, I think the division is different. If I understand correctly, Will is a single mental attribute (combining force and grace, attack and defense), while Nature, like DCC's Luck, is something else entirely, something new. It represents a certain self-ness, or you-ness, or perhaps species-ness (human-ness, elf-ness, dwarf-ness, or mouse-ness) of the character, something outside of the traditional abilities, that isn't represented by any of the traditional ability scores. Whether you call this Nature or Soul, I think, just depends on your preference ... or you could call it Alignment.
   
DG Chapman at the Graverobber's Guide proposes Attunement instead of Nature. Characters start with an Attunement score ranging from 1-4 depending on their race. If they receive a favor from a fairy, their score goes up by 1. If it reaches 7, they're so attuned to fairy-land that they go off and live there. I propose a similar idea to make Alignment an ability score. Roll 1d6 (or 1d4+1) for your starting alignment. 1-2 is Lawful, 3-4 is Neutral, and 5-6 is Chaotic. Over the course of your adventuring career, you can occasionally receive help from agents of elemental Law and Chaos to decrease or increase your Alignment score, respectively. As with Nature, if you ever drop to 0 or rise to 7, you cease to be a playable character and become an NPC Agent of Law or Agent of Chaos. Or follow DG Chapman's lead, and use the Seelie and Unseelie Fairy Courts instead of Law and Chaos.
 
 
Possible 4-Part Ability Scores ... and Beyond
Of the two possible 3-part ability scores, my own preference leans toward 2 physical, 1 mental - but if I were planning to write a set of rules with fewer ability scores, I think I might want 4. My current preference would be for a physical force ability (combining attack and defense), a physical grace ability (combining attack and defense), a mental attack ability (combining force and grace), and a mental defense ability (combining force and grace).
 
I recognize that I've paired the physical abilities differently than the mental abilities. I also recognize that some of the skills or abilities that I've assigned to each ability score differ somewhat from the way D&D assigned them - although in part, that's because I'm assigning them more systematically and all at once, while D&D's were assigned organically over time. After all, as I mentioned Strength, Intelligence, and Wisdom started out solely as XP modifiers for fighting-men, magic-users, and clerics. The 8 abilities / 6 scores system I've laid out wasn't anyone's initial plan, it's my interpretation of where we've ended up after years of adding on to that initial framework. (Which is probably why the physical and mental abilities are divided asymmetrically - someone might plan to have Dexterity and Intelligence mirror each other and encompass two abilities each, but I don't think anyone would decide to break symmetry by doubling up two un-matched ability scores like Dexterity and Charisma as part of a plan - I think that could only happen organically.)
 
I could see someone else wanting to make their 4 ability scores by creating a physical attack ability (combining force and grace) and a physical defense ability (combining force and grace) to match the way I've paired the mental abilities ... or a mental force ability (combining attack and defense) and a mental grace ability (combining attack and defense) to match the way I paired the physical attributes ... or, like me, they could prefer mixed doubles, just the opposite of the way I arranged them. Shadow of the Demon Lord also uses 4 ability scores, Strength, Agility, Intellect, and Will, as does John Stater's Tales of the Space Princess, Strength, Dexterity, Mentality, and Knowledge. One thing that breaking down the original ability scores into 8 abilities based on 3 dichotomies does is let me imagine other possible ways to combine them, and thus other possible ability scores that can be derived from the original abilities.
 
I find the creation of new abilities like Nature and Luck to be interesting, because they represent truly new additions to an old system. Over the years, I've seen other abilities, but none that have felt nearly as appropriate. Comeliness is supposed to measure physical beauty, but that feels useless to note if it's divorced from Charisma, from the ability to influence the emotions of others. I've also seen Social Standing and Wealth represented by ability scores. That's okay, I guess, although for Social Standing, I'd rather know my character's specific pre-adventuring occupation, and have a sense of which tier of society that job fits into. (I also think there should be fewer than 18 tiers, and I also also think that there's little point in playing a truly high-caste character who already possesses real wealth and worldly power - why would someone who can command armies go knock over a goblin's liquor store or carjack an orc?)

For Wealth, if an ability score is going to replace actually counting gold and treasure, I think it would be more appropriate to have just the modifier, not the score, and I think the range should probably be more restricted than the usual range of ability modifiers. (Replacing found treasure with a Wealth attribute implies plenty of other changes about the way you play as well, so this is certainly not a one-size-fits-all-games kind of idea, notable, both D20 Modern and Torchbearer include abstract Wealth mechanics. There's probably an argument to be made in favor of dispensing with ability scores entirely and just using modifiers, as is done in Mutants & Masterminds.)

But Nature and Luck are different, and they point out the fact that although I can imagine a simple system that encompasses all the original ability scores, skills, and modifiers, and maps well onto 3- and 4-attribute rule system, the original abilities don't exhaust the all the possible abilities you could want your character to have. In particular, Nature, Luck, and the way Numenera uses ability scores as pools of points that are both spent to pay for abilities and lost due to damage suggest new ways of using ability scores that go far beyond what original D&D envisioned, and far beyond the 8-ability system I've laid out here.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

I2TO - Never Tell Me the Odds!

... actually, wait, please DO tell me the odds!
  
Let me back up. Chris McDowall of Bastionland is writing a combined rules / setting book for running Into the Odd (I2TO) in his fictional city of Bastion.
  
In support of this setting, he's also written a truly excellent list of failed careers for starting characters. These are fantastic, and aside from the generally terse, evocative writing, there are two things about the list that stand out. First, they fully capture the mood of Bastion as a bureaucratic labyrinth full of petty middlemen, where there's no job too lowly or too demeaning that there's not somebody stuck doing it, probably with an overly self-important supervisor breathing down their neck the whole time. And second, these careers are decidedly failures. You're not just someone who failed at their job, you're someone whose job itself was a failure, your job that should never have existed in the first place. You would have been failing even if you'd done it perfectly, which was probably impossible, because the task you were given was probably misconceived from its very inception.
  
Seriously, go read his list of careers. I'll still be here when you get back.
  
Okay, so given a list of 100 careers, my inclination would be to roll a d% dice and just scroll down that master list. It's the DCC way!
  
But this is I2TO we're talking about, and one of its unique character generation mechanics is the way you generate your starting equipment / career based on your ability scores. Look at your highest ability score, then look at your lowest ability score, then look at a matrix of high and low scores and find your position. (There's also a neat trick where you roll d6 hp and d6 starting money, and each of those d6 rolls gives you a piece of equipment or a class feature that sets you apart from other characters with the same occupation , and creates a kind of balance by giving the best STUFF to the weakest, poorest characters... but although that's nifty, it's not really relevant to our current conversation.)
  
Chris shows off the failed career ability score matrix in a preview video for his new book, and I've reproduced the image below.
  
  
Which brings me back to my original question - what ARE the odds?
  
What I mean is, what are the chances of getting any one of those failed careers as your starting occupation? If you roll a d% dice on a 100-item table, it's easy - each occupation has a 1% chance, and you have exactly the same chances of getting any one of them as you do of getting any other.
  
But in I2TO it's not so easy. Because you're not equally likely, for example, to have a high score of 15 and a high score of 17, which means you're not equally likely to get careers from one row or column versus another. If you knew how likely you were to get each ability score as your highest or lowest, you could cross-multiply and fill in each of the hundred cells in the table. (You can do that with a d10 by d10 table representing a d% as well, it's just that every cell along the top and side has a 10% chance of appearing, and when you cross multiply 10% by 10% you get 1% every single time.) Unfortunately, it's also not so easy to figure out the chances that this or that will be your highest or lowest score  - even using AnyDice's "at least" and "at most" features.
  
It's so not easy, in fact, that I didn't figure it out. I asked for help, and Brian Ashford from the Ominosity blog stepped up to answer my question. (Edit: Brian had the same question I had, and got his friend Jamie Prentice to help solve the math. When I posed my question, Brian shared Jamie's answer with me.) I took the output he gave me and turned it into the table you see below. I can't independently verify that it's correct, (obviously) but basic sanity-testing shows that percentages add up to 100, and the careers that depend on the likeliest ability scores are themselves the most likely.
  
In the table below careers that are more likely have a light background and black text, and the lighter the background, the more likely you are to end up with that career. Careers that are less likely have dark backgrounds and white text, and the darker the background, the less likely the career. I used 1% as the cut-point, so the more likely careers are the ones that you'll get more often than if just you rolled d%, and the less likely careers are the ones that show up less often than they would on a d%.
  
You, uh, might want to enlarge that...

Looking at the diagram reveals at least one surprise (it surprised me, at least). I expected that Chris would make the most ordinary and prosaic careers the most common, while making the more unusual stuff rarer. And sure, as expected, you're less likely to play as "a dog" or "a brobdingnagian giant" or "literally two characters for the price of one". But on the other hand, if everyone at the table got the likeliest characters, you'd end up with a gonzo party where one character's a psychic, one's a muppet, your spellcaster is either a science mystic or the priest of an alien god, and the last character is actually a whole group of kids stacked up under a trenchcoat. Meanwhile, occupations like "grad student", "ex-con", "orphan" (just one this time), and "poor kid from the country who moved to the big city to make it big" are much less frequent than I would have guess (much MUCH less frequent, in the grad student's case). Although I should note that if Chris changes the order of the careers as he moves from blog post to finished book, then some of what I've said here about which careers are most common could be rendered false.
  
One final benefit of mapping out the odds like this is that any would-be designers out there who want to emulate I2TO's character generation mechanics can see how to arrange their own 94 classes to achieve whatever worldbuilding effect they're going for. As a designer, you can decide what you want to be most common, and with this information, put it in the correct location so that it actually will be.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Additional Actual Plays

In my first post about other bloggers' actual play reports, I asked my readers to nominate any play reports they knew about that I might have missed. I also put up the call on Google+ and MeWe. I've also kept my eyes open for people talking about play reports, and I've watched for new blogs posting play reports. This exercise also jogged my memory about a few that I knew about but had forgotten. The links below are in the order I received, found, or remembered them.
 
 
FM Geist recommended the sex, drug, and ultraviolence-filled urban adventures over at Last Gasp.
 
 
 
Jack Shear recommended the Blades in the Dark play reports over at Fictive Fantasies. That link should take you to a campaign overview page, where you can first find links to all the worldbuilding done in support of the campaigns, and then links to play reports from six separate campaigns set in the same world.
 
 
David Wilke recommended the session reports over on his own Anxiety Wizard blog. It looks like he's sent his players through a variety of LotFP adventures, including World of the Lost, Deep Carbon Observatory, and Red and Pleasant Land.
 
 
Michael Bacon suggested the play reports collected in the Thursdays in Thracia campaign over on the Bad Wrong Fun blog. Unsurprisingly, this is a campaign exploring Jenelle Jaquays' Caverns of Thracia megadungeon, apparently using Necrotic Gnomes' B/X Essentials rulebooks at the table.
 
   
 
Doug M recommended his own Smouldering Wizard play reports. That link goes to a master list of campaigns, each with their own set of reports: exploring the Endless Tunnels of Elandin using Holmes' Basic, visiting Larm using Labyrinth Lord, a campaign in the Ruined Hamlet of Blixter using Mutant Future, and OD&D campaign on a Quest for the Dwarven Mine, and another OD&D campaign collecting the Chronicles of Nolenor, a one-shot Witches of the Dark Moon game using Swords & Wizardry, and another Swords & Wizardry game set in Ravendale.
 
   
   
Andreas Habicher recommended Papier und Spiele, where he led a four-part play-by-poll game exploring The Spider Pit, using Maze Rats rules. Unfortunately, these posts aren't tagged, but Papier und Spiele is a new blog, so these are the only reports on there right now.
 
 
Seeing that play-by-poll campaign reminded me of some other things I'd forgotten before. I mentioned Blog of Holding last time, but I forgot to mention the Mearls campaign widget he has in his sidebar. Hereticwerks also used reader surveys as the basis of their long-running Bujili campaign. In addition, Hereticwerks has a few other actual play reports that I forgot completely when I was writing my first list.
 
 
 
John recommended his own Wandering Gamist play reports for his Adventurer Conqueror King campaign. John's reports put a statistical overview of the session right up front. These have traditional categories like XP and treasure, but also how long he spent playing the session and prepping beforehand, and exactly how much within-game time elapsed inside the dungeon. More traditional narrative summaries, anecdotes, and post-mortem thoughts follow after all this.
 
 
Bryan recommended Olde School Wizardry which ran a Dwimmermount campaign. Of special note is that many sessions in this campaign (which have their own tag!) were run with middle-schoolers as the players.
 
 
Aos has restarted his Metal Earth blog after a bit of a hiatus, and he's posted reports about session 2 and session 3 of a B/X campaign set on Mars. Currently these aren't tagged. If you like his art, you can also check out his Cosmic Tales comic. Tales of the Grotesque & Dungeonesque also has a few reports of from his time playing in Aos' Mars campaign.
 
 
 
The impending demise of Google+ has encouraged people to resume blogging after a hiatus, post more on their blogs, and even start new blogs. For the record, I think all this is great, but it probably can't take the place of a centralized location for aggregating commentary on blog posts, gaming discussion, and friendly non-gaming conversations among the small number of people who have gaming blogs and the much, much larger number of people who read them. That said, you can find a list of OSR blogs here, a list of non-OSR gaming blogs here, and Ramanan S of Save vs Total Party Kill has put together a file that you can load into an RSS reader for an instant OSR blog feed. (I don't know who started the OSR one, Jack Shear started the non-OSR list.)
 
Anyway, as a result of all this activity, I noticed or took a second look at some blogs I either didn't know about last time, or didn't realize were posting play reports.
 
 
Weird & Wonderful Worlds ran a Shieldbreaker campaign. He also has a few reports from his time as a player in Throne of Salt's Danscape games.
 
 
I don't know where I first saw everyone on this list, but I do know where I first saw Underground Adventures. Wizard Lizard was posting play reports directly into MeWe's Into the Odd community, and I suggested he should start a blog, and he did. He's using Into the Odd's rules to run his players through the Barrowmaze.
   
 
 
Tales of the Rambling Bumblers has an old Elves & Espers campaign that seems to be set in a fantasy Victorian city using Savage Worlds rules. You also have to love anyone who uses old Lego mini-figures both as miniatures and as the photo for the blog header.
 
 
Michael (who recommended "Thursday with Thracia") didn't recommend his own blog, Buildings are People, but I did notice that he's running a Formalhaut campaign using Gabor Lux's Echoes from Formalhaut zine.
 
 
   
I noticed that Fallen Empires is running a campaign that visited the Maze of the Blue Medusa and the Gardens of Ynn. (Ynn seems to be a pretty popular destination these days!) Isaak is using a list-of-accomplishments format similar to the Wandering Gamist. I'll confess it can be a little difficult for me to tell what actually happened in most of these sessions.
 
Carapace King has a couple campaigns worth of reports. Dikes Fall Everyone Dies takes place in a horrible, Hieronymus Bosch-ian Holland, while his new Ben-Dagra campaign sounds reminiscent of Yoon-Suin.
 
 
How on earth did I forget Judge James' Living 4 Crits blog? He doesn't tag his posts, but almost the entire blog is play reports, most of them using Dungeon Crawl Classics. James also does a great job linking to the previous reports in each series at the beginning of each post and to reports from other campaigns at the end of each one.
 
 
I also remembered that Superhero Necromancer a couple of campaigns in his own Rainy City setting. The Rainy City exists at the end of the world, where it's always raining because the wall separating the Prime Material Plane from the Elemental Plane of Water has sprung a leak, and so the world is slowly flooding. Literally every spell, monster, and magic item that exists is unique, and in the first campaign, the players are wizard thieves trying to get the good stuff while the getting's good. In the second campaign, the players are all parliamentarians in some kind of wizard's parliament.
 
 
Dennis Laffey from What a Horrible Night to Have a Curse both runs his own games and blogs about being a player. He's running his own campaign based on Ars Ludi's West Marches ideal. He's also played for several years in another GM's Vaults of Ur campaign (where he plays a Sleestak, no less!)
 
 
In retrospect, it should have been obvious to me why it's mostly Game Masters who post play reports online - it's because it's mostly Game Masters who keep blogs. Chris P is actually a rare counter-example (I think) because as far as I know, he only plays in online games, never runs them, but he does keep a blog where he sometimes talks about it. I've actually played alongside Chris is like three different open-table games; he's a very canny player who, to me, exemplifies what people are talking about when they write paeans to the wily players of yesteryear. In one memorable session, his character wore a treasure chest as a backpack - and eventually revealed that it was a cursed or magically trapped chest, which he opened to unleash the curse on an attacking monster. The chest had some kind of treasure in it which he had never recovered, because it was more valuable to him as a magic beam weapon. Among the play reports, you can also find a link to a lengthy Google Doc that describes his sessions exploring the Colossal Wastes of Zahar.
 
 
Chris Wilson of Journey into the Weird ran a game that ended in a (near) TPK, and wrote about it. So far this is his only play report, there could be more to come.
 
 
Roger suggested his own blog, A Life Full of Adventure. He's mostly been running Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, but appears to have recently started a 5e game.
 
 
Beloch Shrike is back! You may recall that my previous post started with me being inspired by Beloch posting some play reports. Unfortunately, almost immediately after that, the Papers & Pencils blog went away for awhile because it got hacked. Fortunately, it's back, and Beloch has continued his series of posts looking back at his old Dungeon Moon campaign. He's also written a post-mortem for his just-retired Fuck the King of Space campaign. I find his insights about what worked well and what he would do differently in the future very valuable.
 
 
Nate Treme from Highland Paranormal Society has a couple play reports and player art associated his own In the Light of a Ghost Star campaign.
 
 
 
My friend Peter posted about a game of John Stater's Tales of the Space Princess he ran for his family. So far, I think this is the only play report on his blog, but it sounds like it was fun.
 
 
Finally, and most recently, Kyrinn S Eis found the Dragon's Breakfast blog, which turns out to have play reports for a hundred-session-long nautical campaign set in his own Far Isles setting. It looks like he's also gearing up to start a Classic Traveller campaign, which certainly has enough material to go a hundred more.
 
 
I'm sure there are more blogs out there that host play reports, but I'm willing to call an end to my part in this little experiment. It was fun hearing from so many people about actual plays that they like, and interesting to rediscover parts of my own sidebar that I'd forgotten.
 
I recently had a friend start playing D&D 5e with an apparently terrible GM and she nearly quit the game after a few sessions of torture. I shared some of my favorite 5e play reports with her, some imaginative, weird, artistic games, and the next time I talked to her, she said she was quitting her GM but not quitting the game. She wants to play good D&D more than ever.
 
I'll leave off with a call-to-arms from Ben L of Mazarin's Garden (another one I forgot last time), who wants us all to remember the games we played on Google Plus and Google Hangouts:
 
"For the love of God, if you have a community on G+ for your game, even if that game ended long ago, please export the community so some record will remain of your shared play. So many worlds are about to be extinguished, and along with them the memories recorded in countless session reports, downtime threads, scheming plans, posted maps, ephemera, funeral threads celebrating dead PCs. Don’t let it just disappear into the void."

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Secret Santicorn 2018

A group of D&D bloggers ran a "Secret Santicorn" this year. I didn't participate, but did notice the posts appearing in my blog's sidebar, and I'm capable of following links, so I decided to reconstruct as much of it as I could.
 
"Secret Santicorn" works like any other gift exchange - each blogger makes a request for a D&D article, and fulfills one request made by someone else. Many of this year's participants are part of what I consider the GLOG-o-sphere. I believe that the exchange was set up on Discord, so it's possible that some requests were fulfilled there. While I can tell that I don't have all of it, I can't tell how much of it I'm actually missing. It could be as few as 3 entries, or there could be longer chains that are missing.
 
(Note, because of the way the gifts are exchanged, the completed blog entry list is like a circle. I've chosen to start with Throne of Salt, but I could have begun anywhere.)
 
 
On the first day of Christmas, Throne of Salt wrote "Animal Mutation Table" for Dungeon Antology,

On the second day of Christmas, Dungeon Antology wrote "The Rift Unending" for Demogorgonia,
 
On the third day of Christmas, Demogorgonia wrote "The Hyperlight Dragon Kills You in Reverse" for Ten Foot Polemic,
 
On the fourth day of Christmas, Ten Foot Polemic wrote "The Powerglass" for Unreal Star,
 
On the fifth day of Christmas, Unreal Star wrote "Santa's Sack is Full of Guts This Year" for The Die Uncast,
 
...
 
On the seventh day of Christmas, The Whimsical Mountain wrote "Kowloon Planet, High Rise Defenses and More" for Buildings are People,
 
On the eighth day of Christmas, Buildings are People wrote "Sci-Fantasy Extraterrestrial Race" for wr3cking8a11,
 
...
 
On the tenth day of Christmas, Unlawful Games wrote "The Magician plus Bonus" for SherlockHole,
 
...
 
On the twelfth day of Christmas, Rogue's Repast wrote "The Alchemist's Basement" for The Bogeyman's Cave,
 
On the thirteenth day of Christmas, The Bogeyman's Cave wrote "Ke'Sik Locales and Encounters" for Dungeonliar,
 
On the fourteenth day of Christmas, Dungeonliar wrote "Codpiece Crafting" for Tales of Absolute Doom,
 
On the fifteenth day of Christmas, Tales of Absolute Doom wrote "Unicorn, GLOG Race-as-Class" for The Bottomless Sarcophagus,
 
On the sixteenth day of Christmas, The Bottomless Sarcophagus wrote "4d12 Supernatural Mystery Clues or Occult Sacrifice Components" for Hmmm Marquis,
 
On the seventeenth day of Christmas, Hmmm Marquis wrote "Mothership Culture Tables" for Throne of Salt,
 
... and a partridge in a pear tree!

Friday, January 4, 2019

Two Supporting Castmembers in Umberwell

Jack from Tales of the Grotesque & Dungeonesque has a new book out about his Umberwell setting (which I've played in!) Included in the book is a section for generating "supporting cast" or NPCs. Let's generate two.
 
 
First NPC - Ugly Safra
 
Race & occupation - wight stevedore
Appearance & personality trait - brutish and bold
Ideal, bond, flaw - progress, land, superstitious
Nemesis - a collector wants something she owns
 
Short and horrid, Ugly Safra looks like a mindless corpse. Her cloudy eyes never seem to focus, her lipless mouth always hangs slack-jawed, her wet rotten skin, her hair like tangled black seaweed. But Safra's ugly visage belies her lively heart. She is friendly to a fault, and assumes instant intimacy with anyone who shows her the least bit of kindness - though admittedly, those who've been kind enough to see her friendly side are few in number. And Safra's no fool, she can tell genuine kindness from the sort who would feign it in order to use her.
  
Safra is a recent victim of the Necrophagous Fever. Her life before is gone now. But unlike most who succumb to the disease, Safra kept her intellect intact. She works on the docks now, mostly night jobs unloading contraband at the shore of the rivers that run between Umberwell's island boroughs. She's still in awe of her new undead body and works unloading the most dangerous cargoes, the ones too deadly for the living. Living a life of crime, handling materials that would have killed her with a touch before - Safra loves the excitement and opportunity that the Fever brought into her life.
  
Safra's only problem is that someone's after her diary, the journal she kept as she was wasting away with Necrophagous Fever. Safra thinks of it as her "brain" and fears that if she loses it, she'll lose the spark of intelligence that separates her from the Fever's countless mindless victims. She's not sure who this collector is, but through agents, they've tried offering her cash, breaking into her room, even attacking her at work. The Knights of Ruin have offered to recruit Ugly Safra, as they offer all of Umberwell's recently undead, and so far she's refused ... but if she can't get rid of the collector who's hounding her, she might accept the protection, and the obligation, that comes with Ruin membership.
  
Using Ugly Safra in your game -
  • The characters want to buy something illegal, need to learn about the underworld's shipping schedules, or meet a contact on the docks, and find puppydog-friendly Safra.
  • A patron hires the characters to steal Safra's diary. Or a faction wants the characters to use Safra to infiltrate the Knights of Ruin. The characters know someone will get the job done whether they accept or reject.
  • Desperate Safra approaches the characters wanting to hire them. She needs help finding out who the collector is before they simply kill her to take her book. Or she learned something from a Ruin recruiter that scares her, and her conscience demands that she tell someone before it's too late. 
     
Second NPC - Darbidian Ral
 
Race & occupation - rakshasa cultist
Appearance & personality trait - pristine and double-dealer
Ideal, bond, flaw - wealth, dead loved one, prideful
Why he came to Umberwell - seeking revenge against someone in the city
Cult devoted to - Ravsana, goddess of pleasure
 
The newest most glamorous cabaret in town is The Sinners' Home, operated by the rakshasa gangster and impresario Darbidian Ral, a recent immigrant from a sun-soaked and demon-haunted land far to the east. Ral stands shoulders above most of his clients, looking for all the world like a tiger on its hind legs wearing the most fashionably-cut and hand-tailored suits. Ral always catches eyes with his immaculate coiffure, silk ties, gemstone cufflinks, and fresh flowers tucked into his lapel. He seems to be everywhere in the club, booming voice, hearty laugh, slapping backs, shaking hands, stooping and stage-whispering confidences with his clients.
 
And oh! what clients The Sinners' Home attracts, all the highest rollers in Umberwell are here, night after night, drinking the finest imported wines, snorting the purest manufactured drugs, gambling at Ral's high-stakes tables (and every table in the Home is high-stakes), watching the intricate choreography of Ral's cabarets. Ral's dancers dress up as different incarnations of the goddess Ravsana, often several dancers in close coordination portray a single goddess with many arms, or several heads, or male and female aspects, all set to lively foreign music. Ral claims that the dances are all authentic to his homeland, but he must be lying, must have sultryed them up, unless dancers in that distant land beneath the demon sun truly end every performance by making love onstage for far longer than they initially danced. And besides, what tradition would have the goddess humiliated, made ridiculous, what tradition would rob her of all respect, song after song?
  
It's expensive going to Ral's, everyone seems to pay more than they intended, but it's worth it just to be at the best club in town. It must be worth it, because his clients come back every night, dropping more and more coins at his baccarat tables, his roulette wheels, dipping into savings, taking out loans, some working all day to afford just one more drink, one more dose, one more dance.
 
Though few realize it, Darbidian is not the first of his family to come to Umberwell. His younger brother Arvanyan Ral came first, and died here. Arvanyan's servants came back without the young man, but carrying rumors, stories, and one harrowing daguerreotype of Arvanyan with a smile on his face, surrounded by willing executioners, partaking in the pleasures that would soon consume him. Darbidian believes Arvanyan joined a pleasure cult in Umberwell, believes he gave himself, willingly, to be used, beaten, degraded, even beyond the superhuman limits of his rakshasan body. Arvanyan's body died starving, covered in sores and unhealed wounds. Dravidian blames the cult, blames the goddess Ravsana, blames the city of Umberwell, and the wealthy elite who permit deaths like Arvanyan's to take place. The Sinners' Home is Darbiddian Ral's trap, his revenge. His club is a lure to draw in the people he thinks killed his brother, his demon magic keeps them coming back, keeps them wanting to come back, even as they are ruined and brought to the brink of death themselves. Unless stopped, he will bring Umberwell to its knees.

Using Darbidian Ral in your campaign -

  • The player characters first meet Arvanyan Ral and witness his self-destructive tendencies over a couple sessions, then he is gone, then The Sinners' Home appears, and Darbidian Ral makes a splash in Umberwell's demimonde.
  • Someone wants to know Ral's secrets and how to stop him. It might be another cabaret, starving for business since The Sinners' Home opened. It might be a wealthy family, trying to save their fortune from total dissipation at Ral's club. It might be a true believer in Ravsana, trying to stop Ral from further besmirching her name. It might be the lover or family member of one of Ral's clients, wanting to rescue them from self-destruction, or seeking revenge on Ral for facilitating their loved one's demise.
  • Ral's servants seek out the characters for help. They fear their master will destroy himself in his open-ended pursuit of revenge. They want the characters to find out who killed Arvanyan - was it the Ashram of Willing Vassalage? the Risen Temple? some other self-abnegating sect? or did Arvanyan come to Umberwell already prepared to die to fulfill his desires? Be warned, for this or any other adventure - Darbidian Ral is impossibly proud, and it will be much easier for the player characters to persuade him he's won than to convince him he's wrong.