Wednesday, January 05, 2022

Quick Thoughts on Thirsty Sword Lesbians

 It mechanizes things I don’t normally want mechanized but doesn’t get stupid about it.  The rules are simple and not overbearing.  They mostly focus on individual personal relationships, and while they’re lacking a bit in nuance (there’s basically friendship and being “smitten” and nothing else) this also means you don’t feel railroaded by them.  


In spite of the art and the examples, there’s really nothing here insisting that the PCs be thirsty or lesbian.  Heck, there’s even a section on replacing the swords with anything else that inspires personal, one-on-one combat, like wrestling or mecha (Achilles Shieldmaidens, anyone?)  That said, characters who are not “thirsty” for romance and messy interpersonal entanglements will be missing a lot of the fun.


It would be dreadfully easy to run this as Lesbian Stripper Ninjas: the RPG.  Even one of the example settings involves holy stripper warriors who use their polearms as dance poles.  You’re going to want the right group to play this with.


The mechanics work best in a “hothouse” environment, where they’re forced to encounter the same individuals over and over again.  Which kinda works contrary to the free-wheeling, swashbuckling mood the game is aiming for.  The result is probably like a French novel, where no matter how far the characters travel, they just keep encountering each other again and again.  But I can’t help thinking it would work best in a constrained setting like a generation starship, a prison, or a harem.  


The game really wants you to acquire insights about your foes and then use those insights to either seduce them towards goodness, or help them find true love (and, it’s assumed, they’ll start being good after that).  It’s got a lot to recommend it as a gameplay loop but leans very, very heavily on the GM to bring novelty to each iteration and doesn’t provide much help in doing that.  


What does mitigate this somewhat is that the “classes” of the game (playbooks since this is a PBtA game) are all based on a personal conflict, mostly revolving around the individual’s relationship to society.  A player who’s getting bored can resolve their character’s conflict and either retire them to a happily-ever-after, or transform their conflict into another (and thus start playing with a new playbook).  There are rules for how that would work mechanically as well as suggestions for making it feel organic in the fiction.  


What’s really interesting is what’s not here: no equipment lists, no vehicles, no skills or weapons or treasures (other than, of course, the friends we make along the way), which does kinda run counter to the whole swashbuckling adventure thing.  This game is extremely Old School in its reliance on rulings, and I wouldn’t recommend it as the first game you GM.  I’d want a lot more detail about the PCs backgrounds than the game demands, and would likely include a handful of questions to give me some idea of what the PCs are about beyond their trauma.  This game really doesn’t want to get hung up over how fast your starship can go or how many cannon are on your pirate ship, which means the GM is going to be winging it pretty heavily while trying to steer things towards emotional moments that will have the PCs going through emotional wringers and then turning to each other for support.

Saturday, January 01, 2022

Three Swords and a Mask

Here are some magic items that have made an appearance in some of my gaming recently.  They're designed for D&D 5e (because that's the game we were playing at the time), but can be used in TSR-era D&D with little tweaking.

Swish

Swish is a +1 swept-hilt rapier with a blade fashioned from gleaming mithril and tower engraved on the pommel.  For every opponent personally attacking the wielder of Swish beyond the first, Swish grants its wielder a +1 to AC up to a max of +5.


The Lady

The Lady, so the joke goes, is disarming.  Swish is a +1 rapier with a silvered blade, orichalcum swept hilt and pommel, and an ivory grip.  Whenever the wielder of the Lady makes a successful attack with her, the wielder can choose to forgo doing any damage and instead attempt to disarm the person they attacked.  The target must roll a Strength save with a DC of the wielder of Lady’s spell save DC (or their Dexterity bonus + 8 + their proficiency bonus if they don’t have a spell save DC) in order to keep their grip on the weapon.  Otherwise, it is tossed 5d4 feet away from the wielder in a random direction.


Polydipsia


Powers

Polydipsia is a +1 longsword that thirsts for blood.  In addition to its usual +1 to attack and damage rolls, when used against a living creature with internal fluids (blood, ichor, etc.), the blade does an additional 1d4 necrotic damage as it sucks these fluids into itself.  Against constructs, most undead, and other creatures that lack internal fluids, it simply works as a normal longsword +1


If Polydipsia is ever sheathed without drinking blood, it will bite whoever sheathed it for 1d4 necrotic damage.  


If Polydipsia ever deals the finishing blow on a creature it can drink from, it gorges itself on the creature’s fluids.  Until the wielder’s next long rest, it acquires an additional +1 to attack and damage rolls.  The DM may decide that gorging this way on particular creatures (angels, demons, mindflayers, etc.) might grant the wielder additional, one-use powers.


If the wielder of Polydipsia gets into a heated confrontation, the blade will murmur and whine thirstily.  If Polydipsia’s wielder gets into a fight but doesn’t draw Polydipsia, the wielder must pass a CR 12 Charisma saving throw or use the blade to deadly effect.  Some of Polydipsia’s wielders have taken to chaining the sword in her sheath.  While chained, while Polydipsia can’t force her user to wield her, she will rattle and hiss.  (Chaining the sword in its sheath requires a full action to get Polydipsia free.)


Polydipsia cannot be used to deal non-lethal damage.  Wielding Polydipsia while she is still chained in her sheath will allow for non-lethal damage, but she’s treated as a club and her magical powers are negated until she is free of the sheath.


Description

Polydipsia looks like an elegant longsword with graceful cross guards that curve gently towards the sword’s point and set with small, smokey garnets between the grip and the blade.  The octagonal pommel is decorated with obsidian plates and the grip is wrapped in shark skin.  


The ricasso has two thorn-like projections in line with the edge of the blade.  The ricasso also bears a maker’s mark, identifying it as the work of a particularly skilled but mad swordsmith.  The blade itself is delicately engraved with a roses-and-thorns pattern.


The Mask of Falier

Powers

While carried, the Mask of Falier allows the bearer to cast the Minor Illusion, Prestidigitation, and Thaumaturgy cantrips.


While worn, in addition to the above powers, the mask confers the following benefits on the wearer:

Targets of Vicious Mockery had disadvantage on their saving throws against it.

The wearer can cast Alter Self on themselves once per hour.

The wearer can cast Blur once per day, the power recharging at dawn.

The wearer has advantage on Deception, Intimidation, and Sleight-of-hand skill checks.

The wearer has advantage when resisting any sort of gaze attack or magic, such as the gaze of a vampire or medusa.


Description

The mask has the ability to transform itself into any shape the wearer desires, but it must remain a mask.  It always looks like a mask, so while it can form itself into a caricature of a known person, it cannot imitate their exact look.  The mask is immune to mundane damage.

Exactly who Falier is has bedeviled generations of historians.  Some say Falier was one of the nomes de guerre of the half-elven illusion most commonly known as Kmikle.  Others claim Falier is the true name of a demon who is bound inside the mask.

Sunday, October 17, 2021

Why Travel to the Grand City of Epic Grandness?

 


A black magic black market where you can get things you can't get anywhere else.

 

The Running of the Gorgons.

 

Win Fame and Fortune in the Arena of Death!

 

A massive library run by an androsphinx.

 

There's a mystery cult in the city that worships a mysterious god who grants bizarre powers.

 

The PCs learn the city is secretly run by:

  • a clan of wererats.
  • a cabal of warlocks.
  • a dragon.
  • an incubus who's seduced the Autocratix.
  • the Beggars' Guild.

 

The PCs learn that the city's premier sage is actually an arcanaloth in disguise.

 

The city is a port for skyships.

 

The city has gates to the City of Brass on the Plane of Fire and the City of Pearl on the Plane of Water.

 

The city is a teleport hub, with circles going to all the other major cities in the world (and possibly beyond). 

 

One or more of the PCs' mentors/family members lives there.

 

The PCs must travel to the city to receive an award (title of nobility, deed to a parcel of land, etc.) they've earned.

 

The city is built around magical springs that flow with enchanted waters.

 

The city is considered a neutral zone where creatures of all alignments and from across the multiverse can meet and engage in (relative) safety.

 

Neighborhoods of the city randomly shift into the Feywild, the Shadowfell, or the Ethereal Plane. 

 

The city is holding a tournament and the greatest warriors of the world will be competing.

 

The city doesn't know it, but it's hosting a death-match tournament between warlocks serving demons. 

 

The city is having a festival of misrule, when crimes are now legal and sobriety is punishable by being transformed into a goblin.

 

The city is having a masquerade festival, where everyone disguises their identity with masks and illusions and indulges their most secret desires cloaked by anonymity. 

 

Monday, September 27, 2021

Eating 6row?

 

I’m on record as saying that there’s no 6e for D&D on the horizon because it keeps selling like hot cakes.  But then Tasha’s came out, and then the expanded publishing schedule, and I started thinking that, whether they liked it or not, they were going to force themselves into 6e.  And yesterday…

 

Well, it might not be 6e, but there’s going to be a new… something in 2024?  Mike Mearls said thisabout a new edition 6 years ago:

 

I really don't like doing a new edition. IMO, new editions of D&D would focus on cleaning up trouble spots, applying lessons learned in design, and sticking to the core elements that made a thing successful in the first place.


Basically, a new edition asks people to re-learn the game all over again. It has to be worth that effort.

 

But that was before D&D showed so much growth and possibility.  Mearls has left the building, and his wisdom about “too much product killing D&D” has left with him. 

 

They are using the word edition, but they’re hedging things as well.  For instance, the next thing is supposed to be fully backwards compatible.  That makes it sound more like a 5.5 rather than a 6.  I honestly would not be surprised if they try to keep the 5 and we end up with some sort of “Pentium III” nonsense.  Probably something like 5+ or 5Next.

 

They did announce a reformed monster statblock yesterday that basically moves attack spells out of a monster’s spell list and moves it into their attack options, limited to once-per-day or with a rolled “cool down” mechanic like for dragon’s breath.  So this new version could potentially be all about quality-of-life improvements.  That being the case, here are some other things I’d expect to see:

  • Simplified action economy that looks an awful lot like Pathfinder’s.  This will likely require heavy modifications to Rogues.  (I also suspect we’ll see an integration of pets/familiars/etc. into this new system that makes them more useful.  Maybe you can make a second or third attack with a pet without suffering penalties?)
  • Changing the level names for spells, so instead of having their own levels, the spell’s level will now be the level at which you get the spell.  So fireball will become a “5th level spell” because you get access to it when your character reaches 5th level.
  • Further tweaks to tool skill rules. 
  • A heavily re-worked character sheet that makes it easier to understand how the different numbers relate to one another. 
  • Milestone advancement becomes the default; the Players Handbook might not even include a leveling-by-EXP chart, relegating that to the DMG. 
  • An attempt to resurrect something like 4e’s skill challenges.  It will faceplant as hard as the 4e system did. 
  • The Artificer will be in the PHB.  I suspect we’ll see at least one new class.
  • Classes that try to leverage the difference between short and long rests will do that less.  I expect the only class to see more changes than the Warlock to be the Ranger. 

I really wonder if the WotC crew realizes what sort of fire they’re playing with here.  5e is beloved; it’s the first system for literally hundreds-of-thousands of new players.  This is akin to doing open-heart surgery on the goose-that-lays-the-golden-eggs, and precedent has been set for competition from past editions.  Here’s the really crazy thing: Critical Role is publishing their own books now.  They don’t need WotC.  If WotC doesn’t bend over backwards to court them, and Critical Role does with 5e what Paizo did with 3.5e, it could get really ugly.   


EDIT: Mr. Brannon is more sanguine about this than I am.

Thursday, September 23, 2021

Ghosts, Swords, and Wyrms


This pic, by the amazing Johan Egerkrans, was posted on Facebook recently, and the poster asked what the sword and broach do, and how you'll defeat the ghost to get them.  Here was my suggestion:

You set the ghost's soul to rest by slaying the White Wyrm (actually a black dragon with achromasia) and its servants that have claimed the ruin of an ancient watchtower in the middle of the swamp.  However, you must do this without telling a lie or killing an innocent.


The servants of the Wyrm are the fallen descendants of the ghost, men and women without honor or scruples who've been engaging in illicit slave trading through the swamps.  The Wyrm was wounded by the warrior who is now the ghost, and delights in tormenting the old soul by corrupting his descendants.  

The broach and sword are both fashioned from bronze and set with stones of alexandrite.  The broach confers immunity to poison, but if the wearer ever uses poison to harm another sentient, they will prick themselves on the broach's pin and fall dead from an especially deadly toxin.

The sword rings like a bell when an untruth is knowingly told in its presence, and any attacks made with the sword on the speaker of the lie deal especially vicious wounds.  However, should the wielder of the sword every speak a lie, even a white one, the sword will sap some of their strength.  The lost strength can only be restored by an act of public penance (flogging, climbing a mountain barefoot, crawling across broken stones on your knees, etc.).

In D&D terms, the sword is +1 to hit and damage under normal circumstances.  Against a liar, it's +3 to hit and damage.  Telling a lie while being the swords wielder confers a penalty of -1 to the character's Strength score.  Setting the sword aside while telling the lie is no protection; as soon as the sword is taken up again, the character loses the point of Strength.   


 

Sunday, September 19, 2021

Trollsmyth's Quick and Dirty Setting Info for Players Checklist

 


0 - Really rough overview in one sentence (plus picture if possible) to give players the general idea.


1 - Name and basic form of government.


2 - breakdown of population by race.


3 - clothing and overview of culture (whenever possible, use pictures for this).


4 - a random life-path tables that players can roll on for what sort of situation they grew up in, possibly followed by early adulthood.


5 - gods worshipped there (just a name and basic description; if they want to know more because they want to play a cleric, have that somewhere else.)


6 - how magic is learned (school, apprenticeships, hedge-witches, etc.).


7 - list of towns and cities the PCs could be from, with a single sentence description (though might be best to wrap this into #4 above.)


8 - description of how names are constructed, plus a list of names to pick from.


You have, at most, 100 words for each section (not counting tables and name lists) and 50 words is much better ("brevity is the soul of wit" and all that), so you want to use random tables and pictures wherever possible.  

Saturday, July 31, 2021

Masters of the Trollyverse!


I am not the target audience for this new Masters of the Universe series helmed by Kevin Smith.  The series came out in ’83, by which point I was already trading in my action figures for RPG minis.  And it was late coming out in my town; by the time MotU and Transformers replaced Tom & Jerry and Bugs Bunny in the afterschool cartoon lineup, I was in 8th grade.  At that point, I’d fully replaced going “pew-pew” through the imaginary jungles of my back yard to swimming in real lakes and hiking in real wilderness and shooting real guns and bows-and-arrows with the Boy Scouts.  We had a computer at home as well, an Apple IIe.  When I wasn’t out-of-doors, I was likely discovering new (to me) fantasy and sci-fi authors like Barbara Hambly and Steven Brust, or traveling through space-and-time in Ultima or kitting out my ship in Elite. 

 

So I never owned any of the MotU toys.  I was aware of them, but that was mostly thanks to the cartoon.  And the cartoon was fascinating to me because it was this insane world where science and sorcery lived and fought side-by-side.  The world of Eternia drew me in because it was so bizarre and alien, with its strange peoples and iconic locations (Snake Mountain being high on that list with its river of lava being vomited from the mouth of a giant snake statue).  Where GI Joe couldn’t hold a candle to movies like Zulu and Tora, Tora, Tora, and the Transformers real-world setting failed to inspire, Masters of the Universe was this bonkers, no-holds-barred candyland of inspiration seeds. 

 

But I can kinda see where Smith is coming from.  A full-on assault on Castle Greyskull wasn’t something that happened in the cartoon, but I’ll bet it happened a lot in backyards and den floors across the country in the mid-‘80s.  So I can totally see this as a wonderful nostalgia trip for those who are not quite yet staring down the barrel of their 50th birthday.

 


The non-spoiler TL;DR: overall entertaining and a fun binge on a night where I wasn’t feeling energetic enough to do anything much more than plop in front of some passive entertainment.  Individual bits disappoint by being cliché and/or rushed, but there’s some fun inspiration, especially with stuff that’s glossed over with a hackneyed brush but could be really fun if you dug into it.

 

Spoilers below!

 

The only voice I recognized was Mark Hamill hamming it up delightfully as Skeletor.  Skeletor manages to both be in on the joke and an even scarier threat than he ever was in the original cartoon.  So far, he’s not called anyone a boob, which makes me sad.

 

Teela and her engineer bud (whose name I will never remember and who I keep wanting to call Fannie after a materials engineer I knew when I was a kid) are clearly embarrassed to find themselves in a MotU cartoon.  They’re self-aware with that ironic distance that is sooo Gen X.  But then, Kevin Smith, so I guess we should feel ourselves lucky it’s mostly relegated to two characters. 

 

Orco’s got a nice tragic thread going, Evil Lynn is fun (especially as a not-very-trustworthy ally), and of course Beastman has a crush on her.  (Did he in the ‘80’s cartoon?  I don’t recall.  In one of my worlds, he’d have a crush on the shape-shifting Sorceress, but that would be a bit too creepy for a children’s cartoon, no?)  But the real break-out is Duncan (no longer Man-at-Arms because that’s some sort of general/super engineer-nerd position in the royal court) who finally gets to be the total bad-ass we always knew he was.

 

Skeletor and He-man get sidelined in the first episode, which gives enough space for all these great secondary characters room to take the spotlight.  It’s like they took all those single-episode stories that focused on a secondary character and expanded them into a full series, which is a lot of fun.  And the slow-motion cataclysm the provides the urgency not only forces heroes and villains to unite (always fun), but also allows the writers to really shake up the world and do some fun things with it.

 


Cyclops’ Motherboard religion is one of those lame glosses that could really go places with a GM willing to put some time into it.  A merging of goddess myth with a 40k-style machine god?  Yes, please, sign me up!  The secrets of Greyskull were not as epic as I wish they were, but they were not a complete disappointment, either.  The idea that all magic in the universe emanates from Eternia is an interesting one, and could be used to create a very interesting setting for RPGing in.  Making a crystal sea actually have floating crystals in it is a fun bit of literal “duh” that I look forward to tossing it into a game (but, again, it needs more done with it than just a pretty background for a fight scene). 

 

The only thing that kept me going through the so-been-there-and-done-that face-your-ultimate-fear episode was the interactions between Orco and Lynn.  Otherwise, it felt like the weakest episode of the bunch.  While I thought Orco’s transformation wasn’t really earned, I do look forward to seeing him in his final form as Oracle, ruler of the Land of the Dead. 

 

The cliffhanger was appropriately epic, and they’ve done a good job with actually killing and scaring characters that (some) of the peril feels (kinda) real.  Though I’m sure we’ll see a whole slew of resurrections as we work towards our finale.