Sunday, August 26, 2012

Praise for Two Dragon Articles

They're probably my favorite articles from all of Dragon*.  "Even Orcish Is Logical," by Clyde Heaton, and "All games need names," by Katharine Kerr.  They both appear in issue 75 as "language Lessons I and II.  And they were lessons for me.

Kerr's article is about creating realistic sounding fantasy names for people and places, but to get there she basically lays out a primer on language.  I was 13 when it was published and it was the first I'd ever heard of isolating, inflectional, or agglutinative language types.  You might consider it my first linguistics lesson.
Choose your sounds.

Heaton's article is basically a primer on how to make your own language.  He uses Orcish as an example.  Maybe none of either article seems surprising these days, but his suggestion for picking sounds for a language and then putting them in three columns to create words, blew my young mind.
Mix-n-match to make a reasonable language facsimile.

I went on to partially construct two of my own languages-- one a courtly language meant to be spoken when you didn't want to be overheard called Noom, the other my version of Ent, of which I only remember one word, resketlek (don't remember what it meant).

What I want to praise these articles here for is not the seriousness they took simulating a subject for a game, but how they gave me a simple tool.  Combining Kerr's phonemes and language types and Heaton's three-column matrix made a tool that anyone could use to make a reasonably unique sounding constructed language with relative ease.  So, thanks to them and the Dragon editor.

Now, I think it would be cool to have a list of basic vocabulary to help anyone doing this kind of exercise.  Maybe to be more specific, a basic dungeon vocabulary.  If your players are going to encounter someone speaking this language underground, what basic words would you want covered as a DM?  I'm thinking things like attack, run, surrender, sword, gold, etc.  In a brief poking around the internets, a lot of the conlang links are subject to link-rot and the language-learner type sites had huge lists of words in the thousands.

What if we worked together to make our own?  If you're interested, leave a few words you consider essential to a basic dungeon lexicon in a comment.  I'll look them all over and trim the list to fit on a single-page before year's end. (or if someone's already done this links would be appreciated.

*Well, maybe excepting some articles in the Best of Dragon Vol II which I've already written a bit about.

Update 8-28-12:  I was thinking that I'd probably use language most often as inscriptions in my game-- notes, dungeon graffiti, instructions for weird devices-- and that might require a different lexicon than language spoken to hirelings and such.

Also, check out this post by Quibish, where he does something very similar to Heaton's approach.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Praise for a Subsystem of 1e AD&D

I don't remember first edition AD&D being big on giving DMs tools to make things themselves.  There was the DMG's random demon generator (creatures from the lower planes, actually), the random dungeon generator, and the system for determining artifact powers (which was a bit of genius).  Mostly the game seemed more concerned with defining things in the universe of AD&D than helping you make your own. That's why Oriental Adventures' martial arts system surprised and pleased me so much.

It came at the tail end of 1e and corresponded with a break I took from gaming, so I never got to use it in play, but it's so beautifully modular, it makes me want to give pcs martial arts now, just to try it out.  Basically, all you have to do is keep track of the number of attacks per round, the AC a style gives you, the damage of a typical strike, a small assortment of special maneuvers that can be learned, and you're done.

Better than that, the book took the attitude that DM's would want to create their own, so it only gave you stats for four real world styles (Karate, Kung-fu, Tae Kwon Do, Jujutsu) and a little table to help you create new ones.  By picking whether a style is "hard," "soft" or in between, you can determine the rest of the necessary details.

Table included for scholarly purposes
The special maneuvers are broken up into 9 categories:
  • Kick
  • Lock
  • Movement
  • Push
  • Strike
  • Throw
  • Vital Area
  • Weapon
  • Mental/Physical Training
None of these categories have more than 6, and most have just 3 special maneuvers.  The system has the clever addition that moves can only be learned in order of difficulty-- so you can't jump to a powerful 3 strike, until you've learned all the styles 1 and 2 ranked moves (or every category).  Combining this with the fact that you use proficiency slots to learn maneuvers, there's a minimum level most players will need to do devestating moves. 

Now, some criticisms.  I would skip the unneeded proficiency step and just say you can learn some number of maneuvers each level.  That's not a big change, but would simplify things (especially since I'm not using proficiency slots for anything else).  My main criticism is that most of the maneuvers are boring to me.  The usual strategy is a higher number means more damage with usually no sacrifice.  That means by the second level of strike you're already doing as much damage as a 2-handed sword multiple times a round with your hands.

I'd want to play around so that maneuvers would be useful but also choices for players (there are a few of these in the system, but only a few). I'd also like to see if I could limit the moves to around four for each category-- to simplify a little bit.

And I'd like to make a one page summary with some generic styles already built.  For example, a hard striking style, a throwing style, a submission style, etc.  These could be re-named or combined as needed (I find it helpful to have a bare minimum already constructed that cool exotic stuff can be derived from).

Oh, yeah, another cool part of this system was that a player that learned multiple styles could make their own style mixing and matching parts from each.  I thought that was pretty sweet.  I'm not sure which of the several folks credited with the OA book designed the martial arts system, but I say good work.  I hope to produce my own little tweaks before year's end.  Hope you are all well.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Twenty Tattoos

I tried to hit these from all angles: the idea of different cultures having different kinds of tattoos, thievish counterculture, beautiful but mysterious designs, and even punitive marks given to you by the man.

Unless otherwise noted, each tattoo requires 100gp per player level as well as the blood of a creature equal in HD to your level to be added to the ink. Also, you need someone with the appropriate knowledge to ink you (possibly breaking their culture's taboos).

1. Widow Tattoo - When you die, this will bring you back to life by drawing hit points from surrounding friends.  It will drain as many as needed to bring you to full health.  This happens once, then the tattoo disappears.  These hit points are lost permanently by those drained.

2. Clan Name Scar - The name of a wizard raised in your skin prevents them from charming you.

3. Clan Saga - The marriages, births, and deaths of your clan/tribe are scarified into your skin.  Once a day you can raise your Strength by one for each living warrior listed, or your Wisdom for each living elder listed.

4. Clan Marks - Usually hash marks or rings around limbs.  Each member of the clan, tribe, or village supports your quest and acknowledges it by tattooing or branding these marks on you themselves.  Each mark gives you an additional 1hp.  The marks disappear as they are lost.

5. Ghost Killer - False Heart - Usually a stylized heart.  Requires an additional 1gp per xp and it then protects those xp from being drained away.

6. Ghost Killer - Flower Shroud - Usually flowers blossoming around a stylized image of the dead.  Your choose which type of undead or demon is represented.  Each session of play a new tattoo flower blooms, and sometime during each session you will be attacked by 1d6 of that particular undead or demon.  If you survive the third flower blossoming, you'll have permanent Sanctuary effect against those monsters.

7. Ghost Killer - Spirit Net - Usually stylized nets.  Requires the blood of a creature that can become immaterial or teleport.  Any creature that tries to do so within sight must save or be captured in the tattoo.  You can have only 1 captured creature per level.  Rumor says the foul beasts are released on the your death.

8. Elven Bridal Patterns
- Usually delicate depictions of animals and foliage.  Meant for the human brides of elves, each tattoo prevents any aging for 10 years, then fades away and allows aging as normal.

9. Dwarven Diagrams - Usually boxes within boxes tattooed on forearms.  Can depict the complex paths to Dwarven inner sanctums or plans for building constructs.  Only granted to those that prove themselves Dwarf Friend.

10. Guild pectoral - Each successful job you pull adds more ink, fifth job finishes it.  Your sense of self, and what you've accomplished is so strong nothing can take possession of you any more.

11. Guild bracelets - After being jailed twice, you can now squeeze into a space that shouldn't normally be possible (as small as a mouse?)

12. Guild Sleeves - Given for stealing from rival guilds, two means you fall like a feather.
13. Guild Psaltery - Usually encoded images that have meaning to those in the criminal underworld.  Adds a bonus to all thief skills or saves.  Killing someone with a Psaltery of their own will add it to yours.  The bonuses are additive.

14. Fierce Moko - These patterns chiseled on the face will give any foes -2 to any morale checks.

15. Gypsy Mirror - Once a session this tattoo will change to depict something in the future.

16. Contingent Sigil - Allows for a spell to be inscribed into the skin that will be set off when the chosen conditions trigger it.  Requires a wizard that can cast the spell.  Spell must affect your person (Feather Fall ect.).

17. Hidden Arcana - Some wizards will pay you to be tattooed with secret lore to keep it in an unexpected place.  Choose an unlucky number and if you roll that in combat the wizard has decided to cast that spell, burning it off your skin for damage equal to their hit points in level.

18. Beautiful Spell - An elegant, full-color work depicting the finest translation possible of a particular spell (bonuses to caster).  It makes you immune to the spell but draws wizards once per session wanting to study you and usually flay it off you.

19. Liars Marks - Often inked on those sent on Church, or otherwise important, missions.  If any of a set of 12 proscribed actions are committed, a black mark will appear on your torso for each.

20. Apostate Stigmata - Given to people as a lesson.  They prevent you from entering a particular place- Temple, City, Plaza.  If you are physically forced to enter you take 2d6 points of damage each round you remain.

Some of these mechanics have appeared on the blog before (1 here, 3 here, 4 here) but I think they might work well as tattoos and wanted to put them all in one place.  Number 6 was inspired by the great stuff going on over at the Swordfish islands.  I'm not sure about the power level of some of these, but you might make them hennaed designs that fade in 3 sessions and have them still be something players would be interested in getting.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Five Shields

It gains +1 to AC and 50 lbs each round of combat.

St's Buckler
Crude and wooden, it offers no bonus to AC but a foe's critical hits are reflected back on them.

Three successful missile hits each round on anyone in 20' will be neutralized by this shield.

Beautiful Shield
All foes involved in hostilities will direct their attacks on its bearer.

Ivory Aegis
So fragile it is actually a detriment in combat (-1 to AC) but will help guard the bearer against any charming magics (+4 to save).

Monday, August 6, 2012

Misc IV

Choose Your Weapon
I'd be surprised if some game doesn't already do this, but how about letting fighters choose which weapons they have the most skill in by assigning higher damage dice to those weapons.  They choose which of 4 die types particular weapons will do for them.  So, your fighter might choose staff, bow, sword, battle-axe to have d4, d6 d8, d10.  Or not.  They might choose a dagger to have d10, which is different, but maybe they want to be a badass knife fighter.  If nothing else, allowing a certain number of die types could also function as a very simple proficiency system: "You only get one d8 weapon, but you'll be able to assign another at 4th level."

Critical Weapon Feats
I've been thinking for a while about how to distinguish weapons if they all do the same damage.  Yes, more than the obvious utility of a sword being able to cut a rope a blunt being able to hammer in a spike.  What I'm thinking about trying is giving them all special abilities that kick in when you score a critical.  Staves and maces: can knock an opponent completely out, battle axes: can sever limbs, flails: can disarm an opponent, swords: can parry while still getting in a hit.

XP as a Currency
Again, probably not new, but I was thinking if anyone ever utilizes some of my toxins/fireworks in ways that allows players to craft them when they have necessary ingredients, you could allow players to spend their XP in a jam to do so without the necessary materials.  It could undermine resource management a bit, but it would allow the tools to come into play when they are most needed (an fun).  If for, example, a time arises where having a triggered notification would be handy but they are too far from town to acquire what they need to make the Mine Light and Dwarven Braids.  You charge them 50-100XP and say "Hey it turns out scrounging around in all your packs you have enough to make one charge.

XP Bonus for Mapping
I know drawing a map out for players with dry erase markers as we play makes it a lot easier for them to visualize where they are and what's going on-- it also slows down play and gives me another task when I have too many already.  I also think that being the mapper can be kind of chore-like and pull you out of the game unless you are a certain type of player that really likes it.  I'm thinking of mapping for brand new players and giving intermediate players the option of mapping for them or having them start learning to map for a bonus ~100 XP per party member.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Serendipity XVII

Public domain: