Thursday, September 29, 2011

Sæthryth's Salve

That last post was kind of ranty and thin.  Here's my coin for joesky :
Sæthryth's Salve is a thick green paste that smells of mint and fish.  Applied to a freshly cut body part, even a head, it will keep that part alive and viable for up a week.  If the part is bound to a fresh wound within that week it will grow a healthy connection.
Let your players find a dish of this next to a severed, living head.  The head can talk in a quiet wheeze.  Where will the party find a body to keep this head alive?  Who does the head belong to that they would want to?  Where is its body?


Hypothesis: Anyone complaining that magic-users are too powerful in comparison to other classes-- especially fighters-- has never played an old school magic-user.

Why do I say that?  I find it hard, hard, hard to believe anyone would complain if they had actually experienced how hard an old school MU has it.  Hell, one of my players has a MU with 1 freaking hit point!  He's already died twice and only lives because the party encountered a time travel tower.  And, because it takes so many more XP for him to level, the fighters are all 2-3 levels higher than him.

He has to hang in the back of the party (but not the rear!) because one hit will kill him.  He has to bide his time because he has only one spell to cast.  The time he does cast it will be terrifying because it means there is something the party's multiple fighters couldn't take out.

Will he be more powerful than the fighters come 8th level?  I damn well hope so.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

More on One-Pagers

It's been a while, so I thought I'd write a little about my continued thinking and also get feedback on some other one-page ideas.

The more I think about poison the less I think it needs a subset of rules like these one-pagers are, unless poison is a tool used by the players.  Because really all it will amount to otherwise is a chart of modifiers +/- to save versus poison.  Well, that's assuming that poison doesn't do a wide array of things like cause damage instead of death, etc.  Yes, I've seen those articles-- including the one way back in the Best of the Dragon II.  But to me that makes poison . . . not poison.  So it doesn't interest me and I am assuming that it would, weaker or stronger, be killing you.

To use it as a tool other things become important: how it enters the body, how hard to get, how much it should cost.  The last one especially gives me pause because if I get it wrong I could break my whole campaign.  It would need to cost enough so that one dose would be about equivalent to the amount of treasure you would gain from killing a creature.  Well, maybe a little less for missile weapons because you can miss.  I'm away from my books, but I imagine later versions give poison a specific price.  Has anyone got experience with how that has affected player use of poison?

After Coming up with the Drug one-pager that listed some common base drug effects and then allowed you to use those as building blocks to make your own I was pretty happy.  That seemed to do exactly what I'd hoped for-- make a stable, simple system that tons of variety and customization could come out of.  I thought I could do the same thing with disease, building diseases from a core of common symptoms.  But two problems 1) there are many more symptoms than I had drug effects, and 2) symptoms aren't usually the important part of disease, they just let you know you've got it.  Sure leprosy, might be about the symptom, but unless you want your campaign world to be quite horrible, fingers-dropping-off is not going to be a building block type of symptom to be used over and over.

Here is what matters about disease in a game:
  1. How easy to catch
  2. how does it handicap you when you've got it
  3. how fatal
  4. how long before you die once you catch it
If you limit the possible values for each, you can make a matrix that gives you some minimum number of diseases to have in a game world and still have a realistic flavor.  For example an easy to catch less deadly disease, and a hard to catch very deadly disease, etc.

Some other considerations:
I think another part of disease flavor is having a lesser disease give you immunity to a more dangerous disease, and also scaring the crap out of players catching that lesser one.  So a couple of those would be nice.

That being said, I think the actual vectors should be uncertain and mysterious.  Maybe the way you possibly catch them is very broad: Being in a swamp, being on a ship for a month.  That way players can be scared of the vapors and such and not go around lecturing the peasants on bathing.

Chris Hogan reminded me of something I totally forgot, that things like Jungle Rot, could be very important in an exploration game.  So there should be room for maladies that may not be fatal at all in themselves, but hamper adventurers in important ways.

Also, how can you talk about diseases without thinking of the terrible brain rot of syphilis.  So, at least one or two on the list would need to be STDs. 

There is the possibility of campaign altering diseases like a plague killing all the oaks or livestock, but I think that could probably be easily extrapolated from the four points above and not need much extra in the way of mechanics.

Other Possibilities
I think anything that forces me not to try and tackle it at all because the possibilities seem so vast is a good candidate for boiling down to a one-pager.  I feel like I can use drugs in my campaign world now, before there were just too many possibilities and variables, I was always thinking "I need to sit down and work out how I'll handles those."  What else would I like to have but feel similarly about:
  • Martial Arts
  • Herbs  (much weaker than potions, probably nicely corresponding with symptoms)
  • Gambling Games  (for taverns and such, but there are so many and often hard for me to grok)
  • Dogs  (noisms went a nice way towards giving me what I need here)
  • Horses  (Michael Curtis had a perfect 2 pager, I'd just want to shrink it a page for compactness)
  • Pantheons/Cults (I really crave something like 2e's domain system so I can randomly determine religious powers for many different cultures)
  • Trading! 
  • Property (maybe not the full blown building a castle, but what about buying/renting a house, upkeep etc.?)
  • Other Magic Item Categories
Okay I need to get to work.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Animal Mash-ups

Okay, if you're my player stop reading.  That goes for you G, and Tyler!

It looks like my long dormant campaign will resume this Friday.  We last left the party stranded on an island populated by weird animal hybrids.  In fact the last thing that happened was the party discovered one of the machines that could do this (I never wrote this session up, and yes, there is more than one animal combiner).

I had great fun having the party be sprayed by skunk-bats.  They had a dangerous encounter with a golden puma of sorts-- with tail feathers and the ability to charm.  They also encountered some screaming cobras with little peacock tails around their heads instead hoods and a scream that makes you dumb if you fail your save.  And the tragic parrot pig, pushed so cruelly into quicksand.

So, I thought I would generate some more possibilities for them to encounter.  Which means I keep rolling on this table until something strikes me as a cool possibility.  Here are a few:
  • rattle heron - "Look at those graceful birds feeding on the fish in that pond.  Wait, they lifted their heads. Aggh, flying snakes."
  • striped monitors - Zebra + monitor lizards.  These seem terrifying to me, imagine a galloping herd of creatures with the heads of those things that race up and tear prey to shreds.
  • sloth hawk - this seemed hilarious.  How slow can a bird fly and still be flying, haha.  Maybe it can hang about and be a mascot.
  • humming panther - A puma with humming bird wings, think blink panther + displacer panther, terrifying.
  • chameleobear - grizzly + chameleon, run muthafutha's
  • turtle vultures - I think these could be like shriekers-- they make a lot of noise and draw other encounters, except they come to your recent kill, and their are hard as hell to kill, pull back into their shells.
  • buffalo swans - think water buffalo with huge black wings.  Man, this island is getting less and less hospitable.
  • pachylion - Elephant lion hybrid. If I can pull off the description, this would be terrifying.  Basically a giant thick-hided lion.
  • beaked rats - toucan beaks on rats.  might just be local color, maybe they snap too.
  • moosepecker - haha, another goofy one.  Although, if it's territorial and stil has the antlers maybe not.
  • fisheater - anteater + hippo.  It just wallows around vacuuming up fish in its long snout. Probably not dangerous if you leave it alone.
  • yellow beaver - canary + beaver. Hah!  These little yellow things swarm and cut down trees.  That might block a trail.  Also their dams are said to be filled with golden pebbles they've picked up.
  • Kroalas - crow-headed bear-things climb trees very slowly.  Make a lot of noise, like shriekers.
  • Furred Frogs - frog-sized but with enough black bear in them to have teeth, claws, and fur.
  • Owlamanders - I guess just local color, slimy brightly colored things that fly silently past.
  • Golden Cobras - canary-yellow feathers.  No wings, but a sweet bird song as their warning, then bite!
Okay, that's enough for now.  The online roller I'm using doesn't seem very random amd I'm tired of getting the same results again and again.   I need to make a swimmer/insect chart to give me more unique results.  But that gives me some to think about.  I may just use a few of these that stick in mind most.  Keep in mind that one of the players has a beautiful cap and when he puts it on stuff tends to follow him, even non-predatory animals come out of the jungle in wondrous awe.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Silhouettes XXVI

Look familiar?  Thanks to James at The Underdark Gazette I now know the familiar DMG illustration by Darlene was actually a copy of one by Aubrey Beardsley.  Found it.  Extracted some silhouettes:
The last figure is Perseus from a different book.  Beardsley's figures look graceful and lithe-- elfin-- to me.  I think these could represent High Elves, no?  Now, here is a second OD&D monster:
I know there are other conceptions of nomad-- Mongols, the Sioux-- I'll be on the look out for them too, so your nomads won't have to always be desert tribes.

And here's another human fighter-- he was a blacksmith fighting off fairies, seems appropriate-- or, if I made him squatter and lengthened the beard, could be another Dwarf.
These have all been added to the zip file located in the sidebar.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Silhouettes - Taking Stock

Okay, I have at least passing silhouettes for 42 of the 77 monsters found in Original D&D's wilderness encounter charts.  That's more than half way!

I actually have tried lions twice, and stegosaurus twice, but the source pictures weren't very good and the resulting silhouettes just didn't seem good enough.  There are tons of beetle pics from directly above but I'm looking for an action shot like the ant, crab, and spider.  I think I finally found an image for iconic nomads.

I've mentioned before that the humanoids will be difficult.  If you put a gun to my head I'd make some shields with different totemic images to represent their tribes.

Some of the remainder are pretty classic mythological creatures but I haven't been able to find representations of them that give a crisp, recognizable silhouette.
I actually forgot that I started out just trying to provide images for creatures encountered in the wilderness.   I started thinking my list was all the monsters.  But the Monsters & Treasures book also has some dungeon monsters:
  • Lycanthropes (4)
  • Purple worms
  • Invisible stalkers (haha, that one's done)
  • Elementals (4)
  • Djinn
  • Efreet
  • Ochre Jelly
  • Black Pudding
  • Green Slime
  • Gray Ooze
  • Yellow Mold
  • Medium/Heavy/Draft horse (I have the medium)
  • Mule (I have this)
  • Small insects
  • Large Insects

So if I expand my project to include them, the various puddings will be challenging to say the least.  I could do the were-creatures by placing human figures next to the animal shapes, but that's not the Hollywood-type wolfman.  The rest seem doable.  This brings the total to 44 out of 100 creatures.  That's not quite half way.

As for character-type silhouettes, I know that I have a real dearth of females and have actively been looking for some.

I know that the actually work I'm doing is pretty crude (if there's artistry it's recognizing the pictures that will yield the most iconic silhouettes) but it's cool to think I'm plinking away at the same image, blown up to 800%, that Aubrey Beardsley or one of the other great illustrators was stooped over so many, many years ago.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Adventures I'd Like to Have

Work is tough, here is me daydreaming to stay sane:

Adventures I'd like to have as a player, places I'd like to explore:

  • A library heist, where the books are the loot.  Also an alchemical laboratory.  The packaging and movement of these is a logistical challenge.  Be even better if the goal was to get them tinto my own wizard tower.
  • Visit a Yellowstone analogue with hot springs and geysers and magical springs.
  • Landing on a continent undiscovered by my character's known cultures-- exploring, mapping.
  • Visit a city on a great moving beast or within one
  • Found a guild/university, get it going, and try to ensure that it's self-sustaining
  • Lead a revolution against a tyrannical regime
  • Visit a 3d city in the elemental plane of water, I imagine it called the Verdigris City
  • Zoological expedition to collect and bring back rare beasts and monsters
  • Build my own lavish tomb complex
  • Explore a living cave system that feels like real caves and not just abstract 20'x20' spaces in my mind.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Indiana Jones & the Module of Doom

I bought my brother the Indiana Jones rpg one Christmas.  It either came with the Temple of Doom module in the boxed set or I bought that too.

We never played it, but I spent some time reading through the game and that module.  Even then I was boggled by that module.  It was exactly.  The same.  As the movie.  Scene for scene.  Let me get this straight, you watch a movie and like it so much that you want to play through the same exact movie.  Except, there will be no tension because you know everything that's coming.  The only tension is whether Indie dies in your version rather than making it through.  There must have been enormous pressure on people who did play it to fudge rolls: "No, he can't miss.  He totally sends the big guard into the crusher!"

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

My Brother's First GMing Gig

My brother's first GMing gig was also Top Secret, but the newer version that had the Casino Royale gambling rules.  I believe he was running an adventure that came with the boxed set.  My friend and I were the only players.

We were tipped off that someone was going to blow up a national landmark in San Francisco.  We could never figure out what the target could be.  Chock this up to player brain-fart, but it probably didn't help that we were more interested in gambling at the casino (not sure where, I thought we were in California) than hoofing around investigating.

So, yeah, we played roulette while terrorists blew up the Golden Gate Bridge.  End of adventure.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Ant Heads

There just happened to be twenty of these:

Roll to see what the potion of ant-headedness does to your pc, or maybe what the aliens boarding you tramp trader look like. (I've got no idea what the deal with M is, something beyond our ken I guess)

Here's me messing around to see how they'd look as coats of arms:

My first GMing Gig

I think the idea was that I would become the Top Secret Administrator because my two friends were running D&D and Traveller.  I didn't even own Top Secret, had to borrow it from one of them.

There were four(?) players.  We were at my friend's house. 
I remember a vague sense of not knowing what a game was supposed to look like.  I wasn't exactly steeped in James Bond movies.  But there was a module.  With a location.  It assumed a stealthy approach.  I remember reading it and rereading it with a bit of anxiety because I did know I would have to be prepared for whatever entrance they might attempt.  And I have a vague recollection of worrying about the locks, I probably wanted to be ready for when they tried to pick a lock to gain entrance.

The first thing the PCs did was ram their van full speed into the front door.

I was filled with dread.  I had no idea what to do.  I awkwardly said something along the lines of "this is boring, let's go outside."  They wanted to keep playing but I was insistent.  "Nah, I don't feel like playing this right now." 

I don't think I even tried to run a game for another 10 years.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Silhouettes XXV


Another original monster as I slowly try to gather silhouettes for them all. Odd to think rats weren't in the original crew but here are some of those too:
And here is a cobbled together attempt at a more post-tolkien dwarf for ya'll:
These have been added to the zip file in my sidebar, along with all my previous silhouettes.

One-Page Wands of Detection

Here is a pdf of 20 wands of detection.  Here is an editable file so you can use this framework but make it your own.
Wands of detection seem like a really cool, old school item because they are leading you somewhere-- you have a hook and direction-- but you don't know where or what to expect along the way.  I especially like the idea of the party having to identify the wand by following it to its target.

Blasting wands can be limited to magic users but I think everyone should be able to pick up one of these things to see where they lead.

Some versions of D&D give these charges and limited ranges as if they were powerful tools, but knowing a trap is about isn't the same as knowing how to get past it safely.  Likewise, knowing a cache of gems is somewhere in the next room in no way helps you deal with the bugaboos that might own them.

One kind of wand I didn't fit that I think would be cool is the breadcrumb wand, set a location and then later be able to find your way back to it.  One signal I wasn't able to fit but think might be interesting, is: the wand gives the bearer a permanent idea of the location of the target until that location is visited.  They don't need to have the wand any more.  That means you could be searching for an NPC that knows exactly where the tomb of Zarglfarger is, but has never been there, etc.  Wands with this kind of signal might be kept in mage guilds and used only by appointment or membership.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Serendipity X

In a forked glen into which he slipped at night-fall he was surrounded by giant toads
Good reaction roll?  Saw this on the always awesome OBI scrapbook blog.  A Rackham.

From this book which I find hypnotic. Also via OBI SBB, bless them.  Hope your week is going well.  More one page goodness in the works.

Update: crap, I didn't notice, Mucha was involved in the designs of that last one!?  Figures.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Ranulph's Veil

Make me a ring so I can slip through the crowds silent and unseen he asked the Dwarves.  For weeks.  Make me a ring that will let me go where I wish, quiet as love, as regret.  He asked week after week after week.  Finally, they called him to the forge.  We have heard your petition, and they locked the veil on him, and he slips through the crowd silent and unseen.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Magic Items as Gygaxian Building Blocks

One of the cool things about D&D, and probably why it's survived so long, is that you can tinker with different subsystems without breaking the whole. Classes, for example, are a lot easier to plug-in or cut out than reshaping a whole skill system.  Septimbrini called these parts you can fiddle with Building Blocks (I first heard of this at Jeff's).  The traditional magic items are great examples, and they've been that way from the beginning. I've been trying to spotlight how within the building block of magic items are sub-blocks that serve different functions-- have done potions and rings so far. I thought I might pull back a little and think about the whole field.
Here, I made a matrix with number of uses mapped against who it effects. I think the magic items tend to fall into these categories rather nicely. The single-use other hasn't been used quite as much, but oils, powders, and dusts fit here. Scrolls of control would fit here too.

I don't know why I put scrolls for charges/self, that seems wrong now, and there must be some room for exploration there.

I think most, if not all, of the magic apparel would fall with the rings. I think the wands can be broken down into two types, at least, the spell guns and the dowsing rods. I'm thinking about doing a one-page on the latter because they are pretty easy to define and describe-- detect enemies, magic, gold etc. I'm not sure I can come up with 20 different types though.

These simple categories aren't the whole picture.  In looking at potions, I realized they existed to be short-term dungeon tools, too.  Potions provide a toolbox that gives players choices in how to approach dungeon hazard/obstacles.  And rings, because of their always on nature, turn out to be good defensive items, defending even when the wearer isn't prepared (feather fall).

I really like examining the magic items like this because it's possible we might discover another type of magic item that hasn't really been used to its potential.  Also, If we're clearer about what makes the types unique we might be able to invent new items along those lines (like my idea of a ring of Force, though I'd be happy with a clearer name).

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Ring is Actually . . .

The angles I took here were: permanent effects, on and off binaries, and weird stuff to wear.  Pdf.
Ioun stones are my favorite magic items of all time.  Who came up with them?

Sunday, September 11, 2011

One-Page Rings

First, you should check out the great posts by heyjames4 on rings here, here, and on wands and staves.

I took what he did and tweaked it for my own campaign.  Here is a pdf and here is a file to edit to your own taste.
So, in trying to differentiate magic items into distinct Gygaxian building blocks, rings are different in that their effect is infinite.  Any ring with charges should be a wand.  Because of their always-on nature they are the magic item best for contingency-like effects.  I think Feather Fall is the quintessential magic ring.

Once I realized this, I invented a ring of Force that produces an impervious forcefield around you when being crushed.  The idea is to provide protection against deadfall traps the way Feather Fall does against pits.  I also ported the amulets, Life-Protection, and Non-Detection to rings.

I like the X-Ray power but think it should be some crude spectacles a character has to wear.  I took out Telekinesis because it just seems to damn powerful.  Maybe it will feel better to me as a charged item like a wand.

I think invisibility is pretty damn powerful too and should probably be a potion, but I can't escape the tradition of the One Ring.  I did duplicate the Water Breathing power that I had previously as a potion, because it seems like a good one to be able to use continuously.  Maybe I can replace that potion with something else to keep the lists distinct.

Rather than side-effects, I thought inscriptions might be more appropriate for rings.  I plugged in a few Latin mottoes, but you could put in riddles or Esperanto or whatever.

I have to give heyjame4 props, I never thought of a ring made from mercury and the image of the ever-shifting stuff around a finger is cool.

A couple ideas for rings that this page doesn't get at: 1) Harmonious or negative effects when two ring types are worn together, so for example, you put on a Ring of Non-Detection at the same time as a ring of Invisibility and you become ethereal (but that could be as many as 400 possibilities!), and 2) ring pairs that function together.  ze Bulette's portal rings spring to mind, my rings of the joined, and heyjames4's idea which I call: Rings of Friendship: pool HP with the person that wears the other ring.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Symptoms & Side Effects

It's a new retroclone where you play hypochondriacs and pharmacists, haha.  Okay, not really.  I explored before the idea of how few effects we can put on characters based on mechanics.  I don't know why I didn't think about coming from it the other way-- start with effects we want and try to generate reasonable mechanics for them.  So that's the intent of this post.
Here is a pdf of 30 symptoms.  Some of these came up in reference to potions being mixed, some in drugs being used, and some are coming up in the disease rules I'm working on.  I think these 30 can go pretty far for us.  There are some other minor malevolent effects, but I'm not sure I could squeeze out 100 interesting symptoms.

I have some ideas for mechanics, but I thought I would give you a chance to try it out.  So, at the risk of seeming coy, what mechanical effects would you use in your game for all these symptoms?  You don't have to list them all in the comments, but if you're stumped or come up with something cool I'd love to hear about it.

Also, if you can think of other symptoms or side effects you would definitely want, I'd like to hear about them too.

Friday, September 9, 2011

The Potion is Actually . . .

Having the one-page potions doesn't mean I want a boring, standard fantasy world.  I mostly just didn't want to miss out on the useful subsystem that has been tested and known to work.
Here's a table to add some spice on top of that potion subsystem.  I was riffing on one-shot devices, items that last a limited amount of time, and things you have to consume.  That could probably be three charts right there, but it was hard enough to squeeze these out of my tired brain so I'll leave those charts to you.  Have a nice weekend.

Update: Whoops, I forgot to put an icon to distinguish this from the 400,000 other charts we all use so I added one.
Also, umm, many of these complicate, if not do away with, the "sip to indentify" technique.  Forgot about that.  You may want to have little "eat me / drink me" type labels  identifying what these do, or else have them come to the party by way of knowledgable NPC

Monday, September 5, 2011

One-Page Drugs

I've praised Chris Hogan's Small But Vicious Dog before.  One thing about the drug rules therein is that I doubt my players would every risk taking them.  I know that not all drugs offer mechanical benefits and that those drugs as Chris has them are probably well suited to the darkness of Warhammer Fantasy, but I wanted drugs that would tempt players.

Here is a single page that combines Chris' rules on addiction with 10 basic drug types.  You can name these types for your campaign or you can mix and match them for more complex drugs below.  I made a few as examples.

The only thing I wish I could have but don't know how to fit, is how the drug is taken: smoked, drunk, sniffed, etc.  The complex drugs below have more room, so you could enter a note there.

Here is the Write file so that you can mold it into something that works for you. Note, more undefined side-effects.  Disease will have some too.  Maybe a one-page side-effects is the answer.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

One-Page Potions

Here is a single page that has the rules for potions, and 20 standard potions with flavors and qualities for a certain region/culture.
I had a vision of the perfect blogging product.  It would be a clean minimal framework like this that was entirely editable.  I hoped to do this with LibreOffice's Write, but the form text boxes are just too clunky.  Maybe you can do it with Adobe software or something else.

Imagine that you could edit each of the numbers on this list from d20 to percentile so you could weight entries to your liking.  Imagine leaving all these potions the same and changing their qualities to that of potions of goblin manufacture.

Anyway, I couldn't achieve that, so I'll give you the Write file that you can edit if you want.

I had a heck of a time fitting the info.  The side effects probably need some description, the potion mixing chart doesn't gives specifics, etc.  I even cheated a little by allowing for fire/cold/acid resistances to be listed under one potion.  I did the same for elemental form, figuring Elasticity could fit under it too.

But I really wanted a single page so I can find it in the heat of play.  I put the bottle pic because I noticed that the more charts I have the harder it is to find something because they all look the same.  So a simple image to signal what each chart is about.

Update: Trying to minimize more, I was able to cut the whole Color column by making the Quality backgrounds the potion color.  But it might look better if you just printed in B&W and then use markers or crayons to color.  I'm going to do this for myself because seeing red is faster than reading red.

John made the great suggestion that there should be a place for the hints of clues players will get when they sip the potions.  I'm having a hard time fitting it, even after cutting the Color column, but if you care less about the Qualities/Flavors see the comments below for an example of How he did it.

The Story of Potions II

Last post I listed which potions existed from version to version.  Now I'd like to look at how those versions handled them.  I'll be specifically looking at developments in Identification, Duration, and Miscibility:

All potions come in a quantity sufficient to perform whatever their end is, although a small sample can be taken without effecting the whole. For those with limited effect the time will be six turns plus the number of pips rolled on a six-sided die.
Right from the start we see that sipping a potion to test it doesn't use it up.  This allows for players to have some idea of what potions they have so they can make decisions about when to use them.  Also note the time, an hour with a d6 in variability with a two hour maximum. 

Potions will affect anyone who takes them. Some method of detecting the effects of the potion must be found. If the characters lack a detect magic spell, they may dare a tiny sip to see what the result may be. This would leave enough potion to accomplish its complete effect. Most potions come in small vials or flasks containing a single dose. The effects of most potions last somewhat longer than 6 turns. The Dungeon Master rolls a secret die to determine the number of additional turns and only informs the player when the effect of the potion has worn off.
Not sure about the first sentence here.  Does this mean you don't get a save?  But you do if it's a potion of poison.  Does it mean once you've drunk it you can't decide to not use the flight powers you been granted? Not that I want more specificity, just not sure why that sentence is needed.
   Detect magic to identify a potion?  Or just to show that the vial of liquid is magic?  Notice a potion gets defined now as a small vial and the roll for duration becomes explicitly secret, the DM's purview.

Potions are usually found in small glass vials, similar to Holy Water. Each potion has a different smell and taste - even two potions with the same effect.  Unless stated otherwise, the effect of a potion lasts 7-12 (1d6+6) turns.  Only the DM should know the exact duration.  The entire potion must be drunk to have this effect.  A potion may be sipped to discover its type and then used later. Drinking a potion takes one round.  If a character drinks a potion while another potion is still in effect, that character will become sick and will be unable to do anything (no saving throw) for 3 turns (1/2 hour) and neither potion will have any further effect. A potion of healing has no duration for purposes of the sickness described above.
Now potions have different smells and tastes.  Is this to help a young DM add detail to a world?  Everything else seems familiar except, now we get the first miscibility rule.  "Don't try to use Invulnerability and Heroism at the same time you little cheaters."  Notice when you add this level of specificity in your restrictions it requires even more specificity for the exception; "healing potions are cool, though"

Potions are usually found in small glass vials, similar to Holy Water. Each potion has a different smell and taste - even two potions with the same effect! Unless stated otherwise, the effect of a potion lasts 7-12 turns. Only you, the DM, should know the exact duration, and you should keep track of it when the potion is used. The entire potion must be drunk to have this effect. A potion may be sipped to discover its type and then used later. Drinking a potion takes one round. Sipping a potion does not decrease its effect or duration. If a character drinks a potion while another potion is still in effect, that character will become sick and will be unable to do anything (no saving throw) for 3 turns (1/2 hour) and neither potion will have any further effect. A potion of healing has no duration (for this calculation).
It's interesting to see how Mentzer has taken Moldvay and tweaked it.  Check out the exclamation point in sentence 2 and the DM being addressed directly as "you."  Cool departure from the neutral corporate-rule speak.  I need to get a physical copy of this and look closer.  But, look, we have one new addition here: someone wondered how long it takes to drink a potion and now it's become set in stone.

1e AD&D
Potions are typically found in ceramic, crystal, glass, or metal flasks in enough quantity to provide one person with one complete dose so as to be
able to achieve the effects which are given hereafter for each type of potion. Potion containers can be other than as described at your option. As a general rule they should bear no identifying marks, so that the players must sample from each container in order to determine the nature of the liquid. However, even a small taste should suffice to identify a potion in some way- even if just a slight urge. As Dungeon Master you should add a few different sorts of potions, both helpful and harmful, of such nature as to cause difficulties in identification. In addition, the same type of potion, when derived from different sources, might smell, taste, and look differently.

Unless otherwise stated, the effects of a potion will last for 4 complete turns plus 1-4 additional turns (d4). If half of a potion is quaffed, the effects
will last one-half as long in some cases. Potions take effect 2-5 segments after they are imbibed.

While potions can be compounded by magic-user/alchemist teams at a relatively low cost, they must have an actual potion to obtain the formula
for each type. Furthermore, the ingredients are always rare and/or hard to come by. This aspect of potions, as well as the formulation of new ones by
players, is detailed in the appropriate subsection of the MAGICAL RESEARCH rules.

(from pg119)
The magical mixtures and compounds which comprise potions are not always compatible. You must test the miscibility of potions whenever:
1) two potions are actually intermingled, or

2) a potion is consumed by a creature while another such liquid already consumed is still in effect While it is possible to prepare a matrix which lists each potion type and cross references each to show a certain result when one is intermingled with the other, such a graph has two drawbacks. First, it does not allow for differences in formulae from alchemist and/or magic-user. Second, it will require continual addition as new potion types are added to the campaign. Therefore, it is suggested that the following table be used - with, perhaps, the decision that a delusion potion will mix with anything, that oil of slipperiness taken with oil of etherealness will always increase the chance for the imbiber to be lost in the Ethereal Plane for 5-30 days to 50%, and treasure finding mixed with any other type of potion will always yield a lethal poison. Whatever certain results you settle upon for your campaign, the random results from the table apply to all other cases.
Now we get the longest description yet of identifying potions through taste-testing.  So, no identifying marks, you have to sip.  Why?  Well, poison won't work otherwise, right? It does allow for interesting and funny tastes related to the potion effects.  But I think you could have just as much fun with cool, punny names on bottles.

For the first time duration has changed, cut to 50-80 minutes.  The fact that mages can compund potions at relatively low cost seems an odd and risky addition.

Now we also get a complication on miscibility. Instead of the simple universal effect we have a random chart now.  If you look at the chart (not reproduced here) you see that 54% of the time both potions work as normal, there is a 3% chance of death and a 1% chance you'll get a permanent power out of it.  I like the randomness and the fact that you could end up getting a power, but it does add complexity.  I wonder what potion mixtures were so problematic to the game that they required these rules.  Players loading up on treasure finding, invisibility and speed?  Seems like, if they had the potions to do it, more power to them.  Is this a result of too many potions in a campaign.  My Telecanter sense is tingling, probably.

Notice again, detail requires more detail, with the suggestion that Treasure Finding never mix and the specifics about the oils.

2e AD&D
Potions are typically found in ceramic, crystal, glass, or metal flasks or vials (though you can change this, if you want). Flasks or other containers generally contain enough fluid to provide one person with one complete dose to achieve the effects described for each potion below. Opening and drinking a potion has an initiative modifier of 1, but the potion doesn't take effect until an additional initiative modifier delay of 1d4+1 has passed. Only then do the full magical properties of the potion become evident. Magical oils are poured over the body and smeared appropriately; this imposes a speed factor delay of 1d4 + 1. Potions can be compounded by mages at relatively low cost. However, they must have a sample of the desired potion to obtain the right formula. Furthermore, ingredients tend to be rare or hard to come by. This aspect of potions, as well as the formulation of new ones by players, is detailed in the Spell Research rules.

Identifying Potions
As a general rule, potion containers should bear no identifying marks, so player characters must sample from each container to determine the nature of the liquid inside. However, even a small taste should suffice to identify a potion in some way. Introduce different sorts of potions, both helpful and harmful, to cause difficulties in identification. In addition, the same type of potion, when created in different labs, might smell, taste, and look differently.

Combining Potions
The magical mixtures and compounds that make up potions are not always compatible. The compatibility of potions is tested whenever two potions are actually intermingled, or a potion is consumed by a creature while another such liquid, already consumed, is in effect. Permanent potions have an effective duration of one turn for mixing purposes. If you drink another potion within one turn of drinking one with Permanent duration, check on Table 111. The exact effects of combining potions can't be calculated, because of differences in formulae, fabrication methods, and component quality employed by various mages. Therefore, it is suggested that Table 111 be used, with the following exceptions:
1. A delusion potion will mix with anything.
2. A treasure finding potion will always yield a lethal poison.
Secretly roll 1d100 for potion compatibility, giving no clues until necessary. The effects of combining specific potions can be pre-set as a plot device, at your option.
Potion Duration
Unless otherwise stated, the effects of a potion last for four complete turns plus 1d4 additional turns (4+1d4).
The only difference from 1e here is that the time to drink/take effect is tweaked to the 2e initiative system.    Oh, and the 2eism hidden in the explanation of how to use the miscibility chart.  Pre-setting a result as a plot device does not sound good to me.  So the big bad is going to drink two potions and you scripted something dramatic.  Nah, roll when he drinks it, drama is in not knowing what will happen.

A potion is a magic liquid that produces its effect when imbibed. Magic oils are similar to potions, except that oils are applied externally rather than imbibed. A potion or oil can be used only once. It can duplicate the effect of a spell of up to 3rd level that has a casting time of less than 1 minute. Potions are like spells cast upon the imbiber. The character taking the potion doesn’t get to make any decisions about the effect—the caster who brewed the potion has already done so. For example, a potion of protection from energy is always designed to protect against a specific energy type chosen by the creator, not the drinker. The drinker of a potion is both the effective target and the caster of the effect (though the potion indicates the caster level, the drinker still controls the effect, such as with levitate). The person applying an oil is the effective caster, but the object is the target. When a character applies oil of speak with dead, the character is the one asking the questions.

Physical Description:
A typical potion or oil consists of 1ounce of liquid held in a ceramic or glass vial fitted with a tight stopper. The stoppered container is usually no more than 1 inch wide and 2 inches high. The vial has AC 13, 1 hit point, hardness 1, and a break DC of 12. Vials hold 1 ounce of liquid. Identifying Potions: In addition to the standard methods of identification, PCs can sample from each container they find to attempt to determine the nature of the liquid inside. An experienced character learns to identify potions by memory—for example, the last time she tasted a liquid that reminded her of almonds, it turned out to be a potion of cure moderate wounds. (You can reward players who keep records of potion sampling by always having the same type of potion taste the same—or you can cross them up by occasionally having the almond-flavored potion be something other than a potion of cure moderate wounds.)
Activation: Drinking a potion or applying an oil requires no special skill. The user merely removes the stopper and swallows the potion or smears on the oil. The following rules govern potion and
oil use.  Drinking a potion or using an oil on an item of gear is a standard action. The potion or oil takes effect immediately. Using a potion or oil provokes attacks of opportunity. A successful attack (including grappling attacks) against the character forces a Concentration check (as for casting a spell). If the character fails this check, she cannot drink the potion. An enemy may direct an attack of opportunity against the potion or oil container rather than against the character. A successful attack of this sort can destroy the container (see page 165 of the Player’s Handbook). A creature must be able to swallow a potion or smear on an oil. Because of this, incorporeal creatures cannot use potions or oils. Any corporeal creature can imbibe a potion. The potion must be swallowed. Any corporeal creature can use an oil. A character can carefully administer a potion to an unconscious creature as a full-round action, trickling the liquid down the creature’s throat. Likewise, it takes a full-round action to apply an oil to an unconscious creature.
When I started doing this I just wanted more insight into how potions might work by the way they've been handled over the years.  I didn't realize they would be a perfect example of the encrustation of rules as the system tries to standardize things and make rulings unnecessary.  We've gone from 2 sentences to multiple paragraphs.

I never played 3.x D&D and reading this excerpt I'm a little ashamed that any of you did.  You have a rule system that tells you the way to use a potion is to drink it!  Really!?  Why was this necessary?  Did someone try pouring it on their head?  Try rubbing a potion and drinking an oil?

The potion has a volume now, the container suggested dimensions.  Apparently there really is no such thing as potions in 3.5, they are just liquid spells, which requires the whole section on who the caster is and who the target is.  Now it is very clear that you can't use potions while incorporeal but you can feed a potion to an unconscious person.  What worries me is what if a gaming situation arises where there is an incorporeal unconscious person!?  Can you feed them a potion?  What if, GASP, I become incorporeal midway through drinking a potion?  Is it possible to feed an incorporeal potion to a corporeal unconscious person?  Why couldn't this system be more complete?  How slipshod it is to not cover the infinite possibilities that might arise in play!

Okay, enough of that.  What did I learn?
  • There was always an assumption that, though there might be other ways, the primary way players would identify potions was by tasting them.
  • The standard duration was 1 hour + 1d6 additional turns until 1e when it was cut to 40 minutes + 1d4 additional turns.
  • Somewhere along the way the idea came about that mixing potions should be more risky and uncertain.  (I don't know if this was because players were "abusing" them somehow, or just in an attempt to add some mystery back to the magic.)
Some ideas for my own campaign:
  • Duration is at least an hour.  After that, the player rolls a d6 each turn. A 1 on the first roll means the effect ends.  A 2 or lower on the second roll the same, and so on. The max duration will be 2 hours.
  • Potions have a side effect that takes effect after the duration ends.  You can stack potions as much as you want, but in about an hour you'll be hurting.
  • Potions mixed together (outside the body) get a roll on a miscibility table.  Bad things usually happen (i.e. no 54% chance of the two working together normally).

Saturday, September 3, 2011

The Story of Potions

I went looking at how potions have changed over the various versions in order to decide on a standard set of potions for myself.  I was quite surprised at how conservative they've been. Here is a pdf from OD&D to 1e.

(I'm skipping the oils as they seem a different thing to me than something you ingest)

Holmes and Moldvay are meant to only cover the first 3 levels of play.  It's interesting that they streamlined the list of potions (10 for Holmes, 7 for Moldvay) which implies some potions are considered higher level, like spells would be-- or maybe some are less essential archetypally if you're streamlining.  But, with the Marsh/Cook expert set, every streamlined potion has been added back except ESP, Extra-healing, and Super-heroism.

And with AD&D not only are those added back, but all name changes (mostly the Control potions) are reverted.  So, really, the only difference between OD&D+Greyhawk and AD&D is the addition of 5 new potions:
  • Climbing
  • Philter of Love
  • Philter of Persuasiveness
  • Sweet Water
  • Water Breathing
2e cut Extra-Healing and added 10 more, but only Armor wasn't already seen in Unearthed Arcana:
  • Armor
  • Elixir of Health
  • Elixir of Madness
  • Elixir of Youth
  • Fire Breath
  • Glibness
  • Stammering/Stuttering
  • Rainbow Hues
  • Ventriloquism
  • Vitality
It seems that some of these are drifting into the realm of too specific to be standards, Rainbow Hues?  Where would that be useful outside of Carcosa? Elixir of Youth is a weak Longevity.  Glibness doesn't seem different enough from Persuasiveness to warrant another potion.

I don't have a 3.x era DM's guide (anyone got one lying around?) but I looked at the Rules Cyclopedia too.  There, 16 more potions were added:
  • Agility
  • Antidote
  • Blending
  • Bug Repellent
  • Defense
  • Dreamspeech
  • Elasticity
  • Elemental Form
  • Ethereality
  • Fortitude
  • Luck
  • Merging
  • Sight
  • Speech
  • Strength
  • Swimming
Philtre of Love and Sweet Water don't make the transition.  Speech looks to be a replacement for Philtre of Persuasiveness.  Note that Oil of Ethereality has become ingestible.  Merging is another odd specific one.  I'm guessing it's meant to be drunk by a thief who can then sneak the whole party past guards or something?  Dreamspeech is like a combo of Speak with Dead and ESP.  I do like Antidote and wonder why it took so long for it to appear.

Potions as Gygaxian Building Blocks
  • I like that you drink a potion and it gives you a limited time tool to use against the challenges of the underworld.
  • I like that the effects are often limited to the imbiber's body.
  • I wonder about some of these effects being replicated by other magic items; I want the different building blocks to feel different.

For example, I want all the Control Potions to be scrolls.  Why would drinking a potion let me control something outside of me?  Yes, I know it's magic, but I mean the literature seems full of counter examples-- shapeshifters and Mr. Hydes.  You don't use a potion to affect someone else, you use a wand.

Following those three points, I really like the later additions of:
  • Antidote
  • Climbing
  • Ethereality
  • Water Breathing
I wonder if there are other effects that would be good to add?  Maybe the traditional ring power Water Walking?

I don't like the idea of potions specific to certain classes, for example, fighters.  It seems too fiddly.  Besides, something like Invulnerability allows for a weak mage to be fighter-like, while Levitation allows the fighter to be mage-like.

I would like to have 30 or less standard potions.  Maybe 20 if I can trim it that far.  I can always add weird oddities on top, but I'd like to have a stable base that players can learn about so they can start making decisions based on them.  This is all a culmination of using random charts to determine potion qualities and magical effects.  It was getting too random.  And seems odd to ignore the building blocks that have worked for decades in play.

The Tracks of History

Arkhein posted about an interesting book that goes into how geography shapes history.  Well, that history then leaves traces of itself on the geography in the form of names.

This probably isn't new to you if you've been interested in making your own worlds, but I thought these were a couple cool examples of the linguistic evidence historic events leave on a landscape.
Here you can see the various names used for waterways as evidence of the different languages used by the colonizing cultures.
And in the U.K.

So, once you figure out your geography, then figure out how that shaped historical events, then figure out what languages your various cultures used, you can name places based on that information.  Piece of cake!

via here.