Monday, February 17, 2020

Robbing Pathfinder - Combat Styles - Bear Crane Dragon

For awhile now, I've had this daydream that a lot of Pathfinder material could be converted to slightly simpler rules-systems where I would feel more able to use it at my table. I like the idea of Pathfinder. It's one of my favorite D&D 3.75 editions (although Monte Cook's Arcana Unearthed might be my favorite). It's full of fun ideas, and it has lots of bold flashy art. Yes, it seems to largely be a game of fantasy superheroics, but so does most D&D, and in PF that means there are lots of interesting options for customizing your character.

My only problem with Pathfinder, really, is that its complexity means that neither I nor anyone I play with feels comfortable trying to run the thing. Which I don't mind, really, but I wish I had a way to use some of the cool character ideas that it includes. Hence my daydream of conversion.

So this is something of a thought experiment or proof-of-concept, to see if I can take something from Pathfinder and rewrite it so that I can use it. I want to start with the "combat style" feats that were introduced in Ultimate Combat. Each of these is a series of three feats that define a specific fighting style. One really obvious use for these is additional Mighty Deeds of Arms that DCC warriors could learn. Another possibility is as GLOG spells for characters like the adept class from A Blasted Cratered Land, or one of the muscle wizards from Goblin Punch or Ten Foot Polemic or Remixes and Revelations. In both cases, combining the feats into a single Deed or spell should hopefully provide some nicely variable results.

Sajan the Monk by Wayne Reynolds

Pathfinder Combat Style Feats as DCC Might Deeds

Boar Style - The warrior bites and scratches her opponent, tearing skin from flesh and flesh from bone, emerging red in tooth and claw. Although the style rewards a brawler who abandons herself to bestial fury, its moves were once carefully refined to inflict maximum horror and break the enemy's morale. Boar style is typically unarmed, but it can be enhanced with flensing knives, or by wearing cat-claws or metal teeth (as daggers). Its techniques are sometimes known to Orc bosses, Beastmen champions, and Hobgoblin sergeants.

A warrior can learn boar style by expending at least half her Intelligence or Personality score while in the throes of battle rage, by stealing a blood-soaked idol from the sacrificial altar of a tribe of humanoid berserkers, or by slaying a Giant Boar (combat statistics as Ogre) and eating its heart.

3 You bite and tear at your opponent. They must make a DC 10 morale check or flee in terror from your ferocity.

4 You bite and tear at your opponent. The wound bleeds freely, and your opponent suffers 1d3 damage each round until they use an action to staunch the wound.

5 You bite and tear at your opponent, dealing an additional 1d6 damage. They must make a DC 10 morale check or flee in terror from your ferocity.

6 You bite and tear at your opponent, dealing an additional 1d6 damage. The wound bleeds freely, and your opponent suffers 1d3 damage each round until they use an action to staunch the wound.

7+ You rip and tear, bite and gouge your opponent, dealing an additional 2d6 damage. Your opponent must make a DC 14 morale check or flee in terror from your ferocity. The wound bleeds uncontrollably, and they suffer 1d6 damage each round until they use a full combat round to staunch the wound.

Crane Style - The warrior stands on one leg, finding her center and balance like a reed that sways in the wind. Allowing her enemy to approach, she batters away her opponent's blows as a bird buffets the air with its wings. This is a measured and cerebral style that turns an opponent's strength against them. Crane style might be unarmed, or might utilize a quarterstaff or shield (shield bash deals 1d3).

A warrior can learn crane style by surviving a fight because her opponent fumbled what would have been the killing blow, by discovering a long-forgotten monastery among the mountain peaks, or by defeating an Air Elemental or an enemy wizard's Invisible Companion.

3 You sway to turn the force of your enemy's blow back upon them. The next attack that hits you, you automatically deal your current weapon's damage to the enemy who hit you.

4 You bend to redirect your enemy's strike against their own allies. The next attack that hits you also deals its normal damage to another opponent.

5 You bend and sway to absorb your enemy's might and turn the force of their blow back upon them. The next attack that hits you deals only half damage. You automatically deal your current weapon's damage to the enemy who hit you.

6 You bend and sway to absorb your enemy's might and redirect their strike against their own allies. The next attack that hits you deals only half damage to you, and also deals its normal damage to another opponent.

7+ You bend and sway, absorbing your enemy's might, turning the force of their blow back upon them, and redirecting their strike against their own allies. The next attack that hits you deals its minimum possible damage to you, and also deals its maximum damage to another opponent. You automatically deal your current weapon's maximum damage to the enemy who hit you.

Dragon Style - The warrior invokes the spirit of the dragon - her mind filled with the dragon's philosophy, her body emulating the dragon's movements, her heart aspiring to imitate the perfect being. Empowered by her own belief and ambition, the warrior is imbued with the nobility and sovereignty, the savagery and ferocity of the living dragon. Although rare, dragon style is sometimes practiced by entire tribes of Lizardmen and Kobolds, whose community life is devoted to reverence and awe for their sacred ancestor.

A warrior can learn dragon style by failing her saving throw against a dragon's breath and surviving, by establishing a hoard of unspent coins worth at least CL x 1000 gp to sleep within between adventures, or by intercepting a rival adventuring party of would-be dragonslayers and taking the dragon's revenge upon them.

3 The spirit of the dragon surrounds you like an aura. Your attack deals +1d damage, and you roll +1d on your next saving throw against magic (usually d24).

4 You strike like the slap of a dragon's tail. Your enemy must make a DC 10 Fortitude save or drop everything they're holding and roll -1d Action Dice until the end of combat (usually d16).

5 The spirit of the dragon surrounds you like an aura. Your attack deals +1d damage, and you roll +1d on your next saving throw against magic (usually d24). Then you unleash the dragon's roar. All your enemies roll -1d saving throws (usually d16) and their ACs drop by half until the end of combat.

6 You unleash the dragon's roar. All your enemies roll -1d saving throws (usually d16) and their ACs drop by half until the end of combat. Then, you strike like the slap of a dragon's tail. The enemy hit by your attack must make a DC 10 Fortitude save or drop everything they're holding and roll -1d Action Dice until the end of combat (usually d16).

7+ The spirit of the dragon surrounds you like an aura. Your attack deals +2d damage, and you roll +2d on your next saving throw against magic (usually d30). Then you unleash the dragon's roar. All your enemies roll -2d saving throws (usually d14) and their ACs drop by half until the end of combat. Finally, you strike like the slap of a dragon's tail. The enemy hit by your attack must make a DC 10 Fortitude save or they drop everything they're holding and roll -2d Action Dice until the end of combat (usually d14).

Crane Style by Dmitry Burmak

Pathfinder Combat Style Feats as GLOG Spells

Boar Style
R: touch, T: creature, D: 1 attack

Your biting, clawing attack deals [sum] damage to your target. The target must Save or become frightened and try to run away. An additional [dice] opponents also test their morale. The bleeding wound you inflict deals an additional [dice] damage to your target every 10 minutes until they receive medical treatment, typically in their own lair.

Some monsters' bodies have magical (or toxic!) properties when eaten. When you attack a creature with Boar Style, you may choose to consume 1 serving of its flesh. If you rolled doubles or triples, you automatically eat a serving.

Crane Style
R: self, T: self, D: [dice] enemy attacks

Your bending, swaying defense protects you from the next [dice] attacks that hit you. Set aside the Magic Dice used to cast Crane Style; none of them will return to your MD pool until after they are expended. The [dice] and [sum] devoted to this spell will diminish as its MD are expended.

When an attack hits you, the damage of that attack is reduced by [dice]. Then select one of the Magic Dice used to cast Crane Style. If the original damage of the attack is more than the amount showing on the chosen MD, you push the blow partially aside, and the attacker also deals [dice] damage with their current weapon to another opponent. If the original damage of the attack is less than the amount showing on the chosen MD, you reflect the blow back on the attacker, dealing [sum] damage with your current weapon to them. Finally, expend the chosen MD normally.

Dragon Style
R: self / 30' cone / touch, T: self / [dice] creatures / 1 creature, D: 10 min / 10 min / 0

The spirit of the dragon surrounds you like an aura. You unleash the dragon's roar and strike like a tail slap. This spell has three distinct effects: the first affects only you, the second targets multiple opponents at missile range, and the third affects a single opponent you strike in melee.

Until the end of combat, you have advantage on Saves, and all your attacks deal [dice] additional damage.

[Dice] enemy creatures are shaken with fear by the roar. They suffer [dice] damage immediately and have disadvantage on Saves until the end of combat.

Your stunning attack deals [sum] damage and causes your target to drop everything they're holding, to be too confused to cast spells, and to suffer disadvantage on all rolls until the end of combat.

Dragon Disciple Prestige Class by Jason Engle

Director's Commentary

Boar Style, Boar Ferocity, Boar ShredWhen I opened the first summary description, I almost immediately regretted my decision to take this on. "Unarmed strikes deal bludgeoning or piercing damage." Oh, come on! Work with me, Paizo! Give me something, give me anything, that I can actually carry over into a system that doesn't care quite so much about damage types!

Fortunately, I kept reading, and there is more there, both in the overall description of the style, and in the complete rules text for the feat. My initial fears may have been a little bit of an overreaction. There are some additional effects to draw on, but what helps at least as much are the descriptions of what you look like, how you learn this, and how you can improve.

For the DCC Deed, I decided to use combine the three effects to produce an A, B, AC, BC, ABC pattern. Obviously, the A effect is the weakest and the C effect the strongest, so I had to think about which should be which. I suppose the platonic ideal combat style Deed would have five different effects, but this seems fine for now. Also DCC spells typically have a top effect that's quite a bit more powerful than the ones that came before it, and I wanted to include that feel here to emphasize the specialness of these moves.

It might be interesting if a Warrior had to "spellburn" Personality or Intelligence to use a style Deed, or if they risked some kind of "disapproval" if they roll low. The point of putting a cost on using one of these moves would again be to help it feel a little more special, and to justify them being a bit stronger than other Deeds.

I also decided to include a bit about how a Warrior could learn each Deed, which is something I first tried when I wrote for David Coppeletti's Class Alphabet, (expected publication date TBA). For these, I thought there should be a way to learn each style by having a particular experience during a fight, a way to "quest for it" on an adventure, and a way to learn it by fighting a specific monster.

For the GLOG spell version, I decided to just pile on all three effects to create a single spell. In terms of the damage dealt, this is like a variation on Magic Missile, and I'm okay with that. Magic Missile also hits automatically, and this one you have to land a punch first, so I think it's alright to add a little more power as a reward for making the hit. Also, since food-based campaigns seem to be relatively common among GLOG players, and since this is a bite attack, I added a culinary effect at the end.

Crane Style, Crane Wing, Crane Riposte - The original version is about reducing the attack roll penalty and increasing the AC bonus for "defensive fighting," and getting bonus counterattacks against an enemy who attacks you but misses. Neither DCC nor GLOG has a defensive fighting option, and reducing penalties isn't super interesting. What DCC does have already is a Mighty Deed that increases Armor Class, so I thought it might be more interesting to turn this into Damage Reduction instead. Having decided that, it's obvious that the counterattacks should happen if your opponent hits you, rather than if they miss you.

For the GLOG version, I realized I could make the spell feel a bit more cerebral by making the caster choose whether to deflect the attack onto another monster or reflect it back at their main opponent, so now you have to think about how to use up each Magic Dice you assigned to the spell, by picking whether to spend one that's higher or lower than the incoming damage. Since doubles are always bad in GLOG spellcasting, discarding a dice that has the exact same number as the damage roll does nothing. As you spend the dice, the power of the spell gets reduced too, so it's not like you're repeatedly Magic Missile-ing your opponent at full strength.

Dragon Style, Dragon Ferocity, Dragon Roar - Of these three, this was the hardest style to work with, because the mechanics are so gamey, and it's not necessarily that easy to visualize what's supposed to be going on. It kind of reminds me of a combo attack from a fighting video game. For the DCC version, I tried to avoid having to keep track of modifiers by using dice-size increases and decreases, which is a fairly standard mechanic for that game. For the GLOG version, I just awarded advantage and disadvantage on the rolls. That's also helpful because a lot of GLOG mechanics are roll-under, and this way you don't have to worry about subtracting a bonus or adding a penalty or whatever.

Overall, I think this went pretty well, although it took slightly longer to write than I'd hoped. Still, it's the kind of thing that makes a nice mental palette-cleanser in between other kinds of writing. There's no shortage of interesting Pathfinder content that could be converted, so I'll probably do more posts like this in the future.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Random Thoughts on Jane Austen

Over the last couple academic calendar breaks, I've spent quite a bit of time with a couple friends from work playing Marrying Mr Darcy, watching various film versions of Pride & Prejudice, and talking about our own personal fan theories of Jane Austen. Have you ever wondered what librarians talk about when they hang out socially? In our case, yes, it was books. Well okay, a boardgame about a book, and several film adaptations of the same book. But, still, booooks.

Here are some of my / our thoughts, in no particular order.

- Lizzie and Darcy want to smash. The plot of Pride & Prejudice doesn't really make sense unless you think that the two of them are strongly sexually attracted to each other pretty much from the moment they first meet. (And before you say "of course, Anne, it's a love story," consider that what I mean is that this is NOT a story about two people falling in love. It's a story about two people who are immediately in love with one another figuring out how to LIKE each other.)

Why does Darcy keep attending social functions and seeking out Lizzie to talk to, when by his own admission, he hates attending social functions and doesn't like talking to people? Why does Lizzie put up with Darcy being such an awful conversationalist and insulting her constantly, when by her own admission, every word out of his mouth makes her angry?

I don't think either character's behavior makes sense unless you accept this premise. The whole plot is about the two of them getting to know one another well enough to actually figure out some way to like each other and ignore or tolerate all the things they instinctively can't stand about each other. But why do they bother? Why do they keep spending time together before they like each other? Why do they continue to look for excuses to overlook one another's shortcomings? Because they want to bang. From the first time they lay eyes on each other, they both want to have sex. That fact is what drives the rest of the action.

This interpretation also helps make sense of Darcy's first proposal and Lizzie's rejection of it. Why does Darcy propose to a woman he doesn't even like? Because even though he doesn't like her, he does want to do her. Why does Lizzie say no? It's a little more complicated. She says no to Collins because she wants to marry for love. She's not willing to get married just so she can have money. For much the same reason, she says no to Darcy because she doesn't want to get married just so she can have sex. She's conflicted, because she does want to jump him, but she wants more than that too. She wants love, and it takes most of the rest of the plot for her to learn enough about him to overcome all her reasons for disliking him, even though she's in love with him from the start.

The different film versions don't all handle this point equally well. Lizzie and Darcy have an immediate emotional attraction and spend the rest of the story trying to reconcile that with their intellectual needs and social obligations. And although that reconciliation is hard work, they pursue it because their emotions won't allow either one of them to simply write the other one off.
To my mind, one of the clearest visual indicators of this kind of attraction
is when you can't take your eyes off the person you're attracted to ...

... when you can't break eye contact, when you can't look away.
That's attraction the audience can see, too.

- Muppet Pride & Prejudice needs to happen yesterday. Miss Piggy is clearly meant to play Mrs Bennett, and Kermit wouldn't make a bad Mr Bennett. Gonzo makes a likely Bingley, and Sam the Eagle would be a pretty convincing Collins. Seriously, how has this not already happened yet? Can someone please throw money at this problem?

- I really need to watch Pride & Prejudice & Zombies. Beautiful people in Regency-era ballgowns sword fighting with monsters?
I was hoping for "how am I not in that movie?"
But this works almost as well.

- Charlotte Lucas and Mr Collins feel remarkably open to interpretation. Not all the characters are particularly open. For example, Wickham is a creep. Oh my god, Wickham is such a disgusting creep. (More on this below.) Every time we played Marrying Mr Darcy, none of us wanted to end up engaged to Wickham, even if he was a "good match" for our heroine. But by contrast, Charlotte and Collins both feel open multiple understandings.

When you compare the Collin Firth mini-series and the Kiera Knightly film, in one version, when Lizzie rejects Collins, he and Charlotte end up engaged within a couple days. In the other, he leaves the house, embarrassed, to go for a walk, she meets him on his walk, and by the time he gets back to the house, like half an hour later, they're engaged.

In one version, when Lizzie visits Charlotte after she's married, and she's talking about how Collins is busy with his gardening and his devotion to the Lady Catherine De Bourgh, she seems so desperately sad and lonely, like "Lizzie, help me, I'm so alone, I didn't know what I was getting myself into!" But in the other version, when she tells her all that, she looks so wise and smug, like "Yup, he's outside, I have the whole house to myself, I'm alone all the time, I'm a genius, and I love my perfect life."

As an aside, in Marrying Mr Darcy game, Charlotte is the most "cunning" character. We made a lot of jokes about how "cunning" was code for "oldness", and then discovered that there are a bunch of really insulting traditional nicknames and sayings about how women above a certain age are considered un-marriageable because they're "too old" (no, I won't link to them here). You can probably guess what we joked "friendliness" was slang for.

Collins' two most distinguishing characteristics are his cluelessness about Lizzie's lack of attraction to him, and his comical over-devotion to the Lady Catherine De Bourgh. These two traits push in two very different directions. One is an interpretation I like to call "Neckbeard Collins". This is a Collins who is just an over-the-top parody of every trope of contemporary toxic masculinity. He has a neckbeard, he wears a fedora, he says "m'lady" and somehow manages to spew crumbs on you every time he talks. He's a redpillar, an incel, and a PUA in his own mind. And he's a joke, no one can take him seriously. The fact of his loathesomeness serves as a critique of all the qualities he exemplifies. (Wickham is a neckbeard too, it's just harder to laugh at him. Seriously, fuck that guy forever.) I would love to see a film version that leans into the Neckbeard Collins interpretation.

Another interpretation  is "Gay Collins", where Collins is as a gay man living in a time when he knows he can't live openly or love who he wants. He offers to marry one of the Bennett sisters because they're his cousins and he doesn't want to make them homeless, but if they're not interested, he doesn't really care. He has to marry someone though, because society and his patroness expect it. Enter cunning Charlotte Lucas. (More on her in a sec.) He likes gardening, interior decorating, and spending time with his women friends. Perhaps he's a bit of a queen, but that's fine. He's happy with who he is.

And Charlotte's happy with who she is too. In this interpretation, Charlotte is a lesbian. Theirs is a marriage of convenience. Does this Charlotte like Lizzie? Well, Lizzie is her best and oldest friend, they've been inseparable most of their lives. But Lizzie likes men, even if she's not ready to marry one, and Charlotte knows that her friend will never really like her back, not in the same way, and that she might after all decide to get married soon. So in this interpretation, Charlotte and Collins aren't in love with each other any more than they are in any other version, but they are each able to live with perhaps the only other person who can understand their situation. I've never seen anything like that in any version of Pride & Prejudice, but I'd like to.

One last thing about Collins, how does he not realize that Mary Bennett likes him?! I know that he's supposed to be so full of himself that it makes him unobservant, but seriously, how oblivious can one person get? Is it even possible for Mary be any more obvious about her affections? And yes, she's younger than him, but he's not that old, she's not that far off from adulthood, and it's not like there's actually a rush for him to get married. He could wait, if it meant being in a relationship with someone who actually likes him.

I don't mean to seem glib about the age issue in Mary and Collins' case, because age differences and issues of consent are quite serious in our last bit of fanon. If you want to leave on a funny note, this is your opportunity to do so. Seriously, stop reading now if you want to avoid thinking about what exactly it is that Wickham did off-camera that makes him so detestable.

You can leave by clicking a link to see The New Yorker's defense of Charlotte Lucas, or LitHub's defense of Mrs Bennett. Spoiler alert, when the alternative is homelessness and abject poverty, there might indeed be something to be said in favor of marrying for the money, particularly if that marriage can be companionable, and it saves your widowed mother and orphaned sisters, too.

- Wickham got Georgiana Darcy pregnant. Okay, I warned you. So you know how Darcy leaves to go back home to Pemberley, and it's a huge problem because Jane and Bingley are finally getting really serious in their courtship, then somehow Darcy persuades Bingley to go with him? How does he do that exactly? What could Darcy possibly say to Bingley to make him leave the woman he's falling in love with? And is it really just because Darcy's feeling bored and anti-social? No, I think it's because Georgiana is having a baby. Wickham's baby.

Georgiana Darcy spends practically the entire story on bedrest. When Lizzie (and the audience) finally meet her, there's a sense that she's quite fragile, that she's just barely gotten over some life-altering ordeal. When Darcy tells Lizzie about Georgiana, the timeline he describes puts Wickham breaking off his relationship with Georgiana about nine months before Darcy and Bingley ghost Jane and yeet back to Pemberley.

Darcy only ever hints about what Wickham did to his sister, but I think it's fair to say that he did more than just break her young heart. I think Wickham raped Georgiana, and she got pregnant. I don't like this interpretation, but I'm convinced it's correct. When Georgiana finally meets Lizzie, she's thrilled to see her, probably because she's been in seclusion for like a year up to that point, healing from her wounds and keeping her secret so that she'll eventually be able to re-enter society. A society that, if it knew the truth, would judge her rather than him. My most burning question is, what happened to her baby?

I remember watching Lost in Austen a few years ago, and for some reason, one of the things they're trying to do in that is to find an interpretation that rehabilitates Wickham. One thing that struck me was his complaint that whatever he might have done, he didn't deserve to be punished by getting shipped off to die in a warzone. It reminded me of the scene in Persepolis where the narrator's grandmother scolds her and tells her that even though a man was sexually harassing her, he didn't deserve to have her get him in trouble with the Islamist morality police.

I can intellectually understand the moral argument that says that state-sanctioned violence is worse than the crimes it's meant to punish, but emotionally it's incredibly frustrating to hear that we couldn't possibly hurt this man who hurt someone else, to hear more sympathy for what might happen to him than for the person he already happened to. "No criminal justice" shouldn't mean "no other kind of justice, either." If Wickham weren't being sent to the front lines to get shot by Napoleon, what exactly would stop him from repeating his same pattern of grooming and abuse over and over again? If every one of his crimes is kept hidden to protect the honor of the young women he's injured, and he himself never faces any punishment for them, (indeed if he's rewarded for with payments of hush money), then what kind of protection is there for the next young woman he selects as a target?

One thing my friends and I kept worrying about in both the Firth and Knightly versions is, is Lydia going to be okay? She seems happy, but she's also a child, and her husband is a child molester. She seems like she wanted to marry him, but also, everyone else wanted her to marry him to save their own reputations. Lizzie acts like the test of Darcy's love is that he was willing to spend a fortune to keep her family from being scandalized. But perhaps the real test would be, would he love her enough to marry her even if her family was scandalized? And does anyone love Lydia enough to keep her away from Wickham, even at cost to themselves?

Austen composed her story so that by fortunate coincidence, what's good for Lizzie is also good for Lydia, and as mentioned Wickham gets what amounts to a death sentence disguised as a career promotion, but I wonder what that part of the story would look like if the characters believed their silence helped Wickham more than it helped Georgiana or Lydia. If there was no fortunate coincidence and they had to make consequential decisions? I suppose I'm wondering that, not just because of the MeToo movement, but because questions about what moral courage looks like have been on everyone's minds lately.

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Urzya Powderkeg 1 - Dreaming of Urzya

One of the first fantasy worlds to really make an imprint on my imagination was Magic: the Gathering's Ice Age setting. I love the frozen landscape, the taiga and tundra and glaciers and ice. I love the image of medieval redoubts holding on to the last vestiges of civilization against the unceasing winter night. That's probably why B/X Blackrazor's Land of Ice is one of my all-time favorite unpublished campaign settings.

I remember playing out in the snow with my sister, imagining a world so cold that magic sometimes froze when you cast it, and the land was littered with ice crystals containing frozen spells. (In retrospect, that part sounds a bit like unexploded ordinance leftover on a battlefield, which is actually consistent with Ice Age's status as a kind of nuclear winter following an apocalyptic mages' war.)

I remember dreaming once of a frozen land, where the royal court was ruled by psychic vampires, who could read minds and drink souls, where among the outcasts dwelt warmth vampires, who craved the heat of another's touch and could never, never drink in enough. (The lords in my dream wore armor like Babylon 5's Vorlons. The outcasts went naked in the wastes, but wrapped shivering in furs within any settlement; it was only HUMAN warmth they longed for.)

source: Zero Wing
So when Jack from Tales of the Grotesque and Dungeonesque published Dirge of Urazya, detailing a postapocalyptic fantasy Eurasia ruled over by a decadent and collapsing feudal hierarchy of vampires, the setting he described managed to touch on a very formative bit of my own personal fantasy mythos.

Jack also manages something that Eberron tries, and, in my opinion, fails at, which is to make historical conflicts between monster factions matter to the present day of his setting. Eberron has something like 40 thousand years of recorded history that takes place before the player characters show up and get to interact with anything. All the events of that history are really samey and easy to conflate, and they're also all just backstory with no particular relevance to the gameworld the players are interacting with. You could maybe argue that all that long history is intended to help gamemasters pick appropriate set dressing and treasures for the ancient ruins the player characters might explore, but it's presented in a way that does nothing to facilitate that goal.

In contrast, in Jack's campaign set-up for Saltmire, the waning vampire lords have two groups of unruly vassals who are jockeying for ascendance, and both are derived or descended from dragons. This in turn implies some prior conflict between vampires and dragons that the vampires won, but the war itself is never even mentioned, the focus is entirely on the present-day conflict. (Jack Vance did something similar in The Dragon Masters, with humans and aliens each breeding captured members of the other species to create fantasy monsters. Unfortunately it's one of Vance's weaker books; the idea is much better than his execution of it.)

Trey of From the Sorcerer's Skull has some really good advice for making setting history matter in your game. One of the key points for our purposes here is that history is useful when it helps define the parameters and scope of the present-day adventure.

Dirge of Urazya itself is much less a setting than an invitation to the reader to create their own setting, within certain parameters, and Jack's recent post about making a powder keg is another invitation, with Saltmire as an example "powder keg" campaign set-up along an unnamed piece of Urazyan coastline. (I don't know why, but I assume either the Black Sea or Caspian Sea.)

To make a grotesque and/or dungeonesque powder keg you need six ingredients:
  • two ambitious noble houses with a bitter rivalry
  • a fading imperial power that nominally holds the nobles in check
  • a trading company or corporation wants to expand from economic to political power
  • a religious sect whose members are more loyal to it than to any other authority
  • a foreign barbarians who exist outside the society the other factions belong to 
  • and finally, some scarce resource that all five factions are competing to control
Ideally, the scarce resource should be something the players want for their characters as well. That gives them maximum incentive to get their hands dirty and join the competition. As Brendan from Necropraxis advises, let the players decide who their enemies are. (Although they could, I suppose, like Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon, simply play each against all with the goal of creating maximum chaos.)

source: Babylon 5
Jack has successfully inspired me to make a powder keg campaign start of my own. I'll create an outline here, and add details in future posts. For now, I'll focus on the key elements. Names for things are a detail to be added later. (Also, since this is my own little thought experiment, and since I initially misread the title of Jack's zine, I'm going to be spelling it as "Ur-zya" rather than as "Ur-a-zya".)

Location: An isolated town in the far north of Urzya, possibly in what used to be Siberia. Based on details from the factions, it looks like the town was once some sort of vacation or resort spot, that it houses either a biological weapons laboratory or a biological waste dump site, and that it has a railroad running through it.

Imperial Power: An ailing vampire tsarina. She has a loyal court of aging suitors and their household knights, and the town has a sizable population of disinherited dhampirs. The tsarina holds court in a former grand hotel. She badly wants an heir, ie, a young person she can perform either brain transplant surgery or a psychic personality transfer on.

Noble House: The first noble house are dragonborns. Sorry Jack, I'm shamelessly stealing your idea here. The dragonborn were bred by the vampires either to fight their war against the dragons or as some kind of symbol of victory after the war ended. These days they're the more established noble house. I bet they love the petroleum spas in the town's old resorts. I'm not sure what they want besides knocking off the competition, but that's another detail that can come later.

Noble House: Stealing from Jack again, my second noble house is made up of dragonmarked humans. Their dark and gritty origin story also involves being bred as enslaved soldiers by the vampire elites long ago, and let's suppose that they're the more up-and-coming of the two houses. I'll need to look up what the different dragonmarks do to pick out the right one for these nobles. I do remember that dragonmarks come in different sizes, and the larger ones are more powerful.

So one thing they want is to find a child with the correct aberrant dragonmark to become their new leader. Probably the current leader wants to kill the kid, someone else wants her on the throne so they can be regent for a decade or so, and, I don't know, maybe there are revolutionaries who want her as a figurehead atop a democratic government. Three sects within the same faction feels like too many, so ideally I'll narrow that list down to two going forward.

Trading Company: I think that something like the Trans-Siberian Railroad ought to run through this town. Probably no one controls its entire length anymore, or at best there's a very fragile syndicate made up of dozens of local franchises who control the tracks in their turf. (Or maybe there IS a single company that runs the whole thing, and THAT level of control and ownership makes them one of the most politically powerful forces in Urzya?)

Anyway, there's a local company operating out of the old railroad station, and they control passage into and out of town on the only mode of transportation that will reliably get you to another bastion of civilization alive. In addition to controlling the food supply, they're probably also arms dealers selling to both the noble houses, amplifying the risk of conflict. I bet the foreign barbarians have been causing them trouble lately. What do they want that they don't already have? Good question! It'll have to wait until a future post for the answer though.

Religious Sect: My favorite Urzyan religion so far is Our Lady of the Drowned, but I don't think she's the right fit for this town. Instead, I want to use the followers of the Five Headed Empress. Tiamat was a literal weapon of mass destruction in Urzya's past. Let's say that she was defeated at the end of the war and her cult was outlawed.

There's presumably a mainstream dragon-worshiping religion that manages to fill the churches in a town with two different dragon-descended noble houses. In that case, the cultists are like followers of the left-hand path of dragon religion, hoarding banned books and forbidden scriptures, meeting in secret to worship a figure who acknowledged but despised by the dragon church's orthodoxy.

Tiamat was a biological weapon, so let's suppose the cultists are either searching for samples and research notes from her original creation or remnants of her that were buried as waste. They're probably risking touching off a plague by accident. Let's also suppose that they really want to find either a human vessel who can reincarnate Tiamat's spirit, or some way to raise her up in her entirety as an undead (or reborn) dragon goddess.

Foreign Barbarians: What kind of creatures live in the frozen wastes outside of town? Well let's start with some sort of feral life-drinking vampire type. The name "breath-stealer" has a nice ring to it. Let's also have some living spells out prowling amid the snowdrifts. These aren't a coherent faction yet so maybe some sort of winter elves would fit in here? I'm also not sure what they want, other than to raze the city and kill everyone in it. They sound scary though!

Scarce Resource: My first instinct is to say "enough food to last the winter," but that seems really depressing, even for a grimdark crapsack like Urzya.

A thought occurs to me that each faction might be searching for a specific young person - a vampiric heir, the bearer of an aberrant dragonmark, Tiamat Reborn. Perhaps, like in Dune, each faction's messiah is the same person? Each faction might racing the others to find the girl before anyone else, and place her on their preferred throne. The town's other children could probably also use a champion to protect them from being kidnapped by the various factions. (Wait, IS this actually any less depressing than the grain idea? I guess "town where children are disappearing" is time-honored plot element, often in stories intended for children, although it seems awfully creepy. But would this work for a game, or is this the kind of idea that works for book, but wouldn't be any fun to play?)

This part might require more consideration. If there's not any one single thing all the factions want, then there should at least be a couple desired objects with overlapping interest groups.

source: me

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Secret Santicorn 2019

When I wrote about Secret Santicorn 2018, I was basically just working from my own sidebar, and noticing when people used that phrase as part of the title of a post, and I happened across a few more while looking up members of the GLOGosphere. This year, I had the benefit of being able to spot additional posts in the blogroll section on the OSR Discord.

Last year I counted 17 entries. This time there's almost triple that number. Approximately one year after the end of Google Plus, I would say that the health of the blogosphere is strong.

I should also note that Of Slugs and Silver scooped me by publishing their own Secret Santicorn compilation post. I was already collecting links when Ancalagon published their list, so despite the fact that I'm reduplicating their efforts, I still want to put mine up as well. Last year, there was no one else writing a list of all the Santicorn entries. I interpret Ancalagon's compilation as a further sign of the health of the blogsophere, and I'll happily pass the torch on chronicling the next one.

Unlike last year, it's not possible to assemble all of these into a continuous chain of requests and fulfillments, so I've organized the entries by the type of content instead. I'm not sure what it says about me that I've watched two of these from the wallflower seat without ever getting up to dance, but it's likely nothing flattering, so let's avoid uncomfortable personal introspection by diving straight in to this year's entries!

On the first day of Santicorn, the blogosphere gave to meeeee....

Character Options

Aura Twilight of In the Land of Twilight Under the Moon wrote "Fairytale Classes" for Pseudo Fenton

Iemcd of The Benign Brown Beast wrote "The Slipsoul - a Character Option" for Sky Seeker

Quietude wrote "The Succubus - An OSR Race-as-Class"

As a bonus... Rook of Foreign Planets ALSO wrote "Post-Apocalyptic Character Backgrounds"

Sofinho of Alone in the Labyrinth wrote "2 GLOG Classes - The Aviator & The Jazz Bard" for The Mimic's Nest

GR Michael of Numbers aren't Real wrote "Oberon and Titania - Class: Warlock" for A Swamp in Space

Ryan of Kobolds in the Sewers wrote "The Cryptozoologist Class and Nine Cryptids" for Throne of Salt

Kent Miller of Tropicrawl wrote "OSR Gothic"

Spells & Magic

400 Billion Suns wrote "So You Killed Santa ... What's in His Sack?"

Malcolm Svensson of Tales of Scheherazade wrote "D6 Body-Warping Magic Items and a Body-Warping Spell" for Unreal Star

Isaak Hill of Fallen Empires wrote "D66 Short, Utility-Only Spells" for d66 Classless Kobolds

Diaghilev from Diaghilev's Dice wrote "Field Alchemy!" for Meandering Banter

As a bonus... GR Michael of Numbers aren't Real ALSO wrote "A Sack Full of Toys - Merry Christmas to All"


The Byzantine of Espharel wrote "They Came from the Moon! A Space-Breaking Monster" for Archon's Court

Martin O of Goodberry Monthly wrote "Flowery Orcs" for The Whimsical Mountain

Dan of Throne of Salt wrote "Troika Space Combat + d66 Ships" for Of Slugs and Silver

Spwack of Meandering Banter wrote "Creatures Amidst the Ash" for Ten Foot Polemic

Ancalagon TB from Of Slugs and Silver wrote "The 12 Birds of Christmas" for Kobolds in the Sewers

Velexiraptor from A Blasted Cratered Land wrote "The Shellcraze" for Archons March On

Ambnz of Ravenous Ambience wrote "Skyscraper Mimics - and Other Structural Horrors" for A Blasted Cratered Land

Type 1 Ninja of Two Goblins in a Trenchcoat wrote "Words for Monster" for Idle Doings of an Idle Doodler

Valker of Parasites and Paradoxes wrote "Ents and How to Prune Your Humans" for Wanderers and Willows

Campaigns & Adventures

The Goose and Pen wrote "Reinforcing Themes through Mechanics" for Was it Likely?

Vance A of Leicester's Ramble wrote "The Last City"

Luther Gutekunst of Archon's Court wrote "Sci-Fi Dungeon Fill" for Blue Wolf

Agile Goatman of The Man with a Hammer wrote "Drow Econ 101" for Goodberry Monthly

Jones Smith of Was it Likely? wrote "Post-Roman Pre-Saxon Tables, Generators, and Hexes" for Alone in the Labyrinth

Wizzargh of DMiurgy wrote "Pre-Adamite Minidungeon Generator" for Foreign Planets

Lejeune of The Young Dungeon wrote "Generating a Ruined Ship" for Quietude

Jim of d66 Classless Kobolds wrote "The Lounge Temple of Asavraki" for The Magic Spoon

Rook of Foreign Planets wrote "Societies, Gangs, and Cultures of the Post-Apocalypse"

Idle Doodler from Idle Doings of an Idle Doodler wrote "The Underground Caverns of Nodnol" for Same is Shark in Japanese

Journey to the Tomb of the Spider Princess wrote "The Trackless Peaks" for The Young Dungeon

Gabriel Hole-Jones of The Mimic's Nest wrote "The Temple of Lethe" for Princesses & Pioneers

Tamas Kisbali of Eldritch Fields wrote "All Aboard the Terrible Dogfish!" for Deus

Andy of Sword and Storytellers wrote "Herber's Expedition"

James Young of Ten Foot Polemic wrote "Tide-Flooded Caverns" for DMiurgy

Sven Weisserfuchs of Wanderers and Willows wrote "Three Funhouse Dungeon Rooms!"

Gorinich of The Whimsical Mountain wrote "Psychonauts - Courageous Healers or Conniving Thieves?" for Nick Roman

Cataleptic Kraken of Unreal Star wrote "Evolving Dungeons" for Goblin Punch

wr3cking8a11 from A Swamp in Space wrote "An Adventuring Economy" for Diaghilev's Dice

As a bonus... Ancalagon TB from Of Slugs and Silver ALSO wrote "The Secret Santicorn Compilation"

Mottokrosh Machinations wrote "Yuletide Haunting of TOMBS" for Mud & Blood

As a bonus... Iemcd of The Benign Brown Beast ALSO wrote "Crisis on Christmas"

Zoeology of Princesses & Pioneers wrote "Tarot Dungeon" for In the Land of Twilight Under the Moon

As a bonus... Sofinho of Alone in the Labyrinth ALSO wrote "A Gift from Mr Screw-on-Head to Us All..."

DG Chapman of The Graverobber's Guide wrote "Twelfth Night Heist"

... and a partridge in a pear treeeee! Phew!