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.


  1. I agree, poisons are simple and don't really need a one-page treatment. Dogs, horses, and cults sounds like something I would use, and I know one player who'd get some play out of a martial arts one. Used your One-Page Rings at the weekend, which was handy, so thanks for that.

  2. I think the magic item one-pagers are my favorite. Trading, property, and cults sound nifty. Herbs sounds redundant with drugs - unless you were thinking they had the opposite effects?

    Poisons I think could have some more variation, but probably don't need a full page. I'm toying with this basic set of templates for venom:

    Weak: +4 to saves
    Lethal: save or death in 1d6 turns.
    Paralytic: save or paralyzed 1d6 hours
    Necrotic: save or stop natural healing (like mummy rot)
    Petrifying: save or turn to stone in 1d6 turns

    With stacking possible (so, you could have a paralytic petrifying that paralyses you and then turns your body to stone, or a paralytic lethal that locks your muscles and then kills you by stopping your heart, or a weak lethal that is deadly but more likely to be resisted).

    The thing that lead me down this path was the spiders in The Hobbit. I wanted venomous monsters with some variation in effect, including nasty evil spiders that would take prisoners.

  3. Thanks a lot for the comment. I haven't totally given up on a poison subsystem. I kind of like the idea of players getting creative with contact poisons and sleep darts.

    Paralysis poisons certainly have precedent in nature, I would just want to make sure monsters using them seem mechanically different than ghouls or carrion crawlers.

  4. What about a series of one sheet monsters?

    At the top of the sheet, there are a series of generic stat blocks for humanoid, bipedal critters at different sizes denoted in the game. The rest of the sheet are different templates and overlays that can be slapped on the generic stats at the top of the page to make unique critters on the fly as you play.

    You can have things like an undead overlay that lists what makes undead critters different. A golem overlay, lycanthropic, etc.

    Does this sound useful?

  5. Ravenseye, sorry I'm seeing this so late. I think I would reverse it-- have a single page for the templates --undead/golem etc and list the effects they would have when applied to any normal creature. I remember having great fun making a mummified Beholder long ago. Same idea.