Sunday, February 14, 2016

The Silver Men

You may find standing, on one of the busy corners of New Croton, a strange statue, glittering in silver and completely motionless. No one ever sees a silver man coming or going, only standing in a place as if they were always already there, though they may not have been just that morning.

Deposit a silver or gold piece in the hat or case before them and they spring to motion, performing strange motions and gesticulations. Hours and days might go by, were you to stand and watch, and the silver man would remain motionless, without food or drink, until precisely the moment a token was put before them.

Attacking a silver man is a crime and considered abhorrent behavior, however it is also taboo to provide them with any support or engage with them beyond giving them coin (many would look down on this practice as well).

  • No one has ever heard a silver man speak, but were they to do so they would always speak prophetic truths.
  • Some believe that the coin they collect is used not for material support of their activities, but in the creation of new silver men through alchemical or magical means. The proponents of this belief will share stories of silver men resembling missing friends and relatives 
  • The motions of silver men are actually miracles, blessings and curses apportioned to someone, somewhere. It is even less certain whether proper offerings can allow the donor to wish for specific things.
  • The silver men all worship the great rider of waves, and they have trained themselves to be in stasis that they may last until his return at the end of the world.
  • The silver men are not and never were human beings, they are mechanical in nature, constructs whose original purpose is not known. Giving coins triggers some aspect of their long-lost programming
  • A silver man is created when a miser dies, painfully fused with the coin they avariciously coveted.
  • There are also gold and copper men.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Some Viziers

Viziers. Ministers, functionaries, political flunkies and advisors. In my campaign city I think they're probably the functional unit of governance and administration. Also the nonfunctional element. Some of them might be good quest-givers, others might make good nemeses, yet more might just add color every time the party runs up against the law or the civil administration of your fantasy city. All will send you on pointless and probably painful errands.

Power, corruption and lies For each vizier, roll d6 twice: The first represents how powerful the vizier is, the second how powerful they purport to be. Such a scale looks something like this:
1. Just a humble civil servant (important only in their own mind)
2. Can help or hinder (No real power other than a stranglehold on some bureaucratic choke point)
3. Influential (lots of soft but little hard power)
4. Mover and Shaker
5. Controls a substantial sect, institution, or force
6. Wields near-despotic power(You could also just do a scale of 1-10 with d10s)
I'd assume they're all almost all corrupt if the price is right.

d20 Personality Traits. This vizier is:
1. Friendly, hyperintelligent, specialist in contact medicines/poisons. Impossible to know if they're angry with you until they poison you.
2. Spends nights dressed in plainclothes wandering the streets of the city exploring and carousing with the locals. May find himself in trouble, and will reward assistance handsomely once he returns to his palace
3. Eccentric, officiates constantly-changing sumptuary laws with extreme punctilio.
4. Cruel and imperious. Enjoys the suffering of others. Requires respectful treatment.
5. Obscure and ineffable. Speaks in dreamlike meanderings and riddles. Will eagerly trade for bizarre and seemingly useless items. Never provides and direct solutions or assistance.
6. Bureaucratic with gusto. Knows every bit of paperwork and procedure in the realm. Refuses to take or allow shortcuts to bureaucracy, will always take or advise the most paperwork fraught paths.
7. Missing. Their excellency has not been seen in some years, but is probably still around. Obscure hints and traces abound that the vizier actually does exist, but nothing provable.
8. Hapless, harried demeanor. Constantly operating one step ahead of a monumental cascade of failure. Receptive to assistance. Will destroy or bring ruin to most everything they touch or gets involved in.
9. Profligate. Money is no object, budgets no concern. Will spend freely on allies as well as directing substantial sums against enemies.
10. Monstrous. Is actually a monster, probably a large one with lots of HD. Maybe a gelatinous cube or something, even. Intelligence is not increased simply because of political station. Other advisors are sure that there is a good reason for this appointment but cannot or will not identify it; the upshot is that there are probably consequences for killing it.
11. Trigger Happy. Shoot first, ask questions later, violence is the best answer to any particularly nuanced political problem or diplomatic issue.
12. An incorporeal cloud of woody smelling smoke that communicates through seemingly inscrutable telepathy. You seem to be the only ones who don't understand, which is embarrassing, assuming you didn't already disperse his/her/its excellency which is a grievous breach of protocol.
13. A djinn, largely unconcerned with mortal affairs but bound to the work at hand via someone with a lamp. Will look for opportunities to bind others to drudgery, looks favorably on sanctioned shirking.
14. A child. While ministerial positions are generally not hereditary, either clerical error, prophecy or similar SNAFU has placed a child in charge of a portion of the political apparatus. Small chance that the child is actually fit for the position. Regardless, will be capricious and whimsical in both deed and judgment.
15. A perennial schemer seeking to supplant, assassinate and ruin the careers or rivals. Driven by ruthless self-interest and a desire to increase personal standing and power.
16. A philanderer and lecher, either more concerned with the pleasures of the flesh than good governance, or firmly convinced that the body and body politic are united by their carnal appetites.
17. A ghul, litch or other undead, reanimated for service or chosen because of their long institutional memory. Archivist and antiquarian in nature, they will constantly lament nostalgically about the good old days.
18. Filibustering bloviator. Wants to be listened to interminably. If Silence or similar spells are cast on him he either hulks out, explodes or both.
19. A blackmailer of some skill and completely paranoid, driven to believe that others are obsessed with spying and blackmail as they are.
20. Fair, efficient, entirely reasonable. They can't all be weirdos. This is likely such a bizarre anomaly that this vizier will not be trusted.

d12 This vizier is in charge of:
1. The ministry of animals smaller than breadboxes
2. Brain freeze, funny bone injuries and other peculiar and fleeting pains.
3. Smells. Ensuring the proper balance of smells in the city, taxation of odors based on how pleasant they are.
4. Transformation, mutation and other morphological affairs
5. Bridges and other non-earthbound means of conveyance
6. Parties lasting longer than three days
7. Ropes, tentacles, noodles, vines and similar objects
8. Pugilism, duels and other organized fights
9. Joke religions which should nonetheless be taken seriously
10. Some wheels*
11. Non-representational art
12. Poems that bring the audience to tears

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Dice Drop the Block

I usually run a very hasty and sketchily drawn city using the rules from Vornheim for sketching streets and then just generally hand-waving or rolling for individual buildings and the like as the players ask questions or as the scene dictates. However, a recent scenario had the Party preparing for an Italian Job style heist in the middle of a crowded district, so I wanted to figure out a way to somewhat quickly generate a few city blocks with terrain and maybe a few other doodads.

Here's what I came up with, two dice drops: the first to determine the buildings/streets, the second to figure out connections, feature and terrain. Larger dice lead to larger buildings and more varied terrain. I think it still needs work but maybe it'd be useful

First Drop - Buildings are centered on dice. For overlaps, assume tiered or wedding cake style buildings.
Dice size - Number of Stories
Dice number - Building Footprint
Draw streets in between buildings. Streets and alleyways can cut through buildings (arcades, passageways, etc) at your discretion.

Second Drop -
Dice number - Complications and Terrain Features (getting up, down and around)
1 - Bridge
2 - Balcony
3 - Stairs
4 - Ladder
5 - Residence
6 - Residence
7 - Shop
8 - Shop
9 - Entrance to Sewers/Below
10 - Alleyway or (Secret) passage
11 - Market
12 - Random Crowd
13 - Elevator, pulleys or other instant conveyance from street to roof
14 - Courtyard/Garden
15 - Spire/Minaret (d6 stories taller than adjacent building)
16 - Pile of garbage/waste (sentient at your discretion)
17 - Thieves’ trap
18 - Police/Guards
19 - Fountain
20 - Special (flammable or explosive goods, something mechanically salient)

Sunday, June 28, 2015

New 5e Character Race: Totem Pole Trench

You are two to three children in a trenchcoat and a fedora.

Ability Score Increase: +2 Dexterity (it takes a lot of skill to pull this off), +1 Charisma (you're not fooling anyone yet somehow you are). Your lowest score has to be strength.
Age: You are several children. You may use individual age or combined age where advantageous.
Alignment: You're probably chaotic
Size: between 6-8' tall depending on how many of you there are in there.
Speed: 25' on tiny legs
Languages: You start off knowing two languages, but can learn languages twice as fast as grown-ups. You're not very good at reading and writing but you get an A for effort.

Safety First: Because you are children you are not allowed to play with knives. You cannot use bladed weapons or any weapon with the "heavy" characteristic
Convincing Disguise: You get to double your proficiency bonus when making deception, disguise and persuasion checks.
Some assembly required: When standing up from prone make a DC 20 DEX save. Failure means you comically tumble back down to the ground.
Mysterious resilience: Opponents who attack you will be baffled when a seemingly lethal blow fails to cause damage. They do not know that this is because they are attacking several children hiding under a trenchcoat. You gain the "Lucky" feat even if you are not using feats.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Odd Cairo

Islam Chipsy / EEK - all of it always on repeat
and whatever you can hear from the passing vespas on the street below.

The idea for the game started when it seemed like we wouldn’t have enough players for regular campaign play, and one newcomer who’d never played an RPG before in his life. With little time to prep, I figured why not run something in a gonzo version of Cairo, an idea I’d been playing around with. Evan Calder Williams has a great post about the concept of Salvagepunk, which I immediately found an affinity with. The nice thing about this of course is that Cairo is already gonzo, and in the past few years we all had a chance to see the actually existing beautiful and terrifying breakdown of law and order, so I just took existing elements of the city and turned them up to 11 with a bit of Mad Max scavenger logic thrown in, jotting some notes. Since we were skirting close to some sensitive issues and memories, and dealing with violence in a setting where we’ve all experience a lot of traumatic violence in real life, I turned it towards the cartoonish/comical, but presumably gluttons for punishment could make this as grimdark as they’d want.

So the party boats that roam the nile blasting music and lights turned into partying pirates. At dusk, huge flocks of fighting pigeons are directed by rooftop conductors fighting strange wars. Young men with architecturally impossible haircuts challenge passers by to sartorial combat. The cell networks inexplicably work but nobody has any credit so scratch cards are the primary currency. The upper class ladies at the Gezeira sporting club would of course make for a perfect matriarchal cult waiting for the cthulhu like return of a STRONG HAND to lead the country back to its golden era. They basically are already. Fuel’s already short and the electricity cuts anyway so all of this was pretty easy to sell without having to posit any extreme catastrophe. The city is already a city of salvage.

When I told the players at the table that we were playing in a post apocalyptic Cairo they said “Oh, so just a normal day, then”. This was as great a response I could ask for because I could also rely on their knowledge of the city’s geography, resources, and social makeup, I’d just have to tell them what’s changed. This allowed for tons of strangeness and surprise, as they wandered through a half-familiar city but completely unsure of what to expect of it.

I ran it using Into the Odd, which is a godsend to the unprepared DM, with a very slightly modified starting kit. Players asked questions throughout, and in thinking of their own post apocalyptic fantasies of the city incidentally contributed to my seat of the pants planning. I used google maps to wing the distances and some of the streets when it needed to be granular, but of course a bridge here might be destroyed and a street there might be an impassable car graveyard, etc. Again, the beauty of using the existing city as template gave me an idea of the types of encounters to be had in different places without having to draw up tables.

The party (A labourer, a petty ponzi-schemer, and an antiquarian-cum-thief) assembled at Gezeira Sporting Club, Cairo’s most elite social space now turned into a doomsday cult of aunties repeating perverse ritualized versions of their normal petty formality, hiring the party (despite the fact that they were not as elegant as the ladies would have hoped for) to retrieve a beautiful chinoiserie tea set that they believed could be used to summon the avatar of Sisi (the long passed president himself merely a cipher for energies from a plane of petty autocracy) and return the country to its imagined nostalgic glory. The tea set was rumoured to have reappeared in the Japanese Gardens in Helwan, a southeastern suburb. The party had an idea where the neighborhood was but had never been to the gardens (neither in game nor meatspace) and the Tantes, god forbid, would never leave their island to go out to such poor places, so they’d be asking directions (always a comedy of errors in Cairo).

The Tantes promising enough phone credit to substantially enrich our poor friends, they took off. thinking they could grab a boat from a nearby jetty and sail their way down the Nile. When they came to the bridge they found a bunch of peacocking youth engaged in a strange pantomime ritual recalling the selfies of yore, and at least one who was more machine than man belting out autotuned raps. The kids insisted on taking “pictures” with the party, who argued their way out of the bizarre ritual and made way to the dock.

They found a boat (an old metro car with a cannon, using this table), barely seaworthy but cheap to hire, and negotiated with the captain to take them downriver. Floating along they thought to go to the Giza Zoo (no stranger to mayhem) and potentially find an elephant because why not storm through the city on an elephant. The elephants unfortunately were skeletons at this point, but they did find some angry tigers, or maybe they were overgrown mutant street cats; some quick moves with a bell brought out the inner kitten in them long enough to deliver a fatal surprise shot on one and scare off the other. The party butchered the poor beast, taking the meat and the antiquarian donning the bloody pelt as a cloak. On the way out they recruited a confused camel, who they unfortunately had to just as quickly say goodbye to as the boat wouldn’t take the extra weight.

Moving further downriver, they started to hear the tinny beats of mahraganat tunes and sputtering of a diesel motor. The captain and crew stiffened up knowing that a party boat was gaining on them. The players rallied the boatmen, and decided to lay an ambush, hiding behind the pier of a bridge and taking on the party pirates in close quarters, using a khamaseen-in-a-can arcanum to help them board. Bloody combat ensued and both crews quickly lost their nerve as the PCs commandeered the party boat in the melee. The angered metro-boat captain fired a couple cannon shots as the party sped off, but they bounced harmlessly across the hull.

Running low on fuel, they steered towards another dock attached to a fancy cafe full of people eating enormous “mixed” grills, where they were brusquely asked for their reservations. As two PCs argued with the waiter who seemed increasingly intent on having them for lunch, another snuck off to a nearby gas station and traded some phone credit they’d found on the pirates for a jerry can of fuel. Shaking loose from the maitre d’, they made it to Helwan, only to realize (much to my surprise as well) that the Japanese gardens were deep in the neighborhood, a couple hours’ walk.

Marching through the neighborhood they heard stone rumblings and kept seeing strange movements in the buildings. They’d known that Helwan used to have medicinal hot springs, replaced by concrete factories long ago; it seems the springs had been bubbling back up and perhaps doing something to the stone, and just as they found the gardens a huge golem-like creature made of rebar and cement charged at them, a few very lucky shots reduced the thing to rubble, and they scaled the fence and started crawling through.

Inside the gardens it seemed that a monastery had formed, with eclectic bearded monks involved in strange meditations (they were perhaps some other sorts of religious types at one point, but had borrowed from the gardens’ architecture and decor and developed a half-understood cargo-cult buddhism). Sneaking around they found a tea ceremony going on using the very elegant chinoiserie set, which the monks invited the party to, explaining to them that the ceremony was their way of reigning in the dark powers of the tea set. This didn’t dissuade the party, who sought to feed the monks poisoned tiger meat, but when hospitality insisted the guests dine first they fell back on smoke bombs, sand storms and bedlam. Some amazing rolls allowed them to grab the tea set without breaking it (which would have been BAD NEWS) and escape over the walls, dodging poisoned darts until they were in the clear. Discussing the matter at one of their cousins’ houses nearby, they decided that maybe they didn’t want the aunties to have the teaset after all, earning them a new enemy and a horrible burden.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The Pen is Mightier: Calligrapher Class

{This is a draft and likely highly unstable/unbalanced, but here it is}

Race: Calligraphers can be of any literate race. However for systems where race and class are the same, assume that the long years of study and peculiar discipline required to become a competent calligrapher outweigh racial attributes.

Hit Points: Calligraphers accumulate hit points as wizards/magic users

Armor Proficiencies: None
Weapon Proficiencies: Daggers, darts, slings, bows, staffs, light crossbows.
Saving Throws: Intelligence, Wisdom

Skills: Two from: Arcana/Research, Religion, Persuasion, Insight, Perception

You know two extra languages.

Starting Equipment - An ornate dagger (penknife), inkwell, inks parchment or paper and pens. Robes. Anything else you'll have to write up, you're a scholar not an adventurer.

General Abilities - 

  • The calligrapher spends a turn writing out the name of a simple object, crafting it in such a shape as to also reflect the form of the thing. The word then 'becomes' the object, "dagger" acts as a dagger, "torch" acts as a lit torch. At any given time, the calligrapher may create a number of such objects equal to half their level. Writing out a new object in excess of this number causes the earliest written to dissolve into a spatter of ink.
  • While they cannot produce magical scrolls themselves, calligraphers can transcribe scrolls produced by sorcerers. Turning the often-illegible and sloppy script of the sorcerer into a thing of beauty and contemplation enhances the power of such scrolls. Doing so, which takes the same amount of time and money as originally creating the scroll, allows the inscribed spell to be cast at its original level + calligrapher level. The act of transcription renders the original scroll a worthless scrap of paper.
  • The calligrapher can write a message coded by the very intricacy of its script. This message can only be read by its intended target(s) or by a very difficult decoding process.

--The calligrapher may create a creature crafted entirely of words. The process takes a week of writing and embellishing the text, and the result can be any creature up to the calligrapher's level in HD (or 1/2 level in 5e CR). The cost of the inks and papers is the HD of the creature x100gp (or whatever currency you use). The creature is obedient and intelligent, and while it cannot speak can communicate with the calligrapher through changing the sinuous lines of text in its body. At any point in time, the calligrapher can spend an exploration turn changing the creature back into written words and vice-versa. 
A level one calligrapher begins with such a creature which may be a cat, hawk, owl, poisonous snake, or similar small animal.

--At level five, you can spend considerable contemplation on the cosmological significance of the two letters and craft a lam-alif, لا, or "NO" that acts weapon dealing d10 damage and gives +1 to AC. The lam-alif allows you to cast remove curse or remove a negative status effect once per day.

--The calligrapher additionally has a number of spell-like things they can do. Calligraphers start off knowing 3 random scripts and add one at random every odd level. They can use a number of scripts per day equal to their level:*
  • Create a glyph that can temporarily paralyze, entrance or cause psychic damage (d6 per level) to a creature reading it.
  • Create a maze with words that can trap a creature for d4 hours: 1: Creature dies inside, 2: Creature comes back with d6 damage done to it, chastised 3-5: Comes back unharmed and confused, 6: Comes back angry.
    Parastou Forouhar
  • Write out a message that takes the shape of a carrier pigeon or similar bird. When completed the message takes flight and flies to its intended recipient. You get five words per calligrapher level 
  • You can write a message in such a way that even people who do not read the language it is written in or the illiterate can understand it. At higher levels (?) the message will translate their words into a form legible to you.
  • You take an object and create a calligraphic depiction/description of it. The object disappears and is held in the written words on paper. You can spend a turn contemplating the words to return the object to its material form, however if the parchment/paper is destroyed while the object is contained within it, the object is lost.
  • You gain knowledge of the author of a message by their writing, at higher levels the face itself appears to you as a series of letters allowing you to read minds.
  • You are briefly connected to the cosmological Tablet and the Pen, the instruments on which destiny is recorded. While you cannot change what is written, you can gain a precognition of your next encounter, or can use it to save against the next attack that would damage you or another target. Potency increases with level 
*This is definitely a bastardized version of Brendan S's spells without levels from Wonder and Wickedness. You could probably use these as a magic specialization within that system if you think this is a dumb class but maybe some of the magic is okay.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

What the jinn wants

Maybe you come across a Jinn, and it wants something from you, either in exchange for something you want or just because it is a capricious spirit and messing with banu Adam or other mortals is an irresistible delight. In any case it definitely wants something from you. So when that happens you roll a d12, and they want:

1. Money (not that they need it. More so that you don't have it, or because they like its sound, or because they're into numismatics)
2. A story
3. Your life (either they kill you or this is a "trading places" type thing)
4. Your beloved 
5. A random item you have
6. A random item you don't have
7. Nothing (nothing)
8. "Nothing" (something)
9. To make a friend
10. To see where this goes; curiosity
11. One of your precious memories
12. To help you to further their own agenda. You'll have a valuable ally, but probably end up with another jinn, afreet, prince or someone else powerful as an enemy as you've been used to get their goat.