Thursday, 7 October 2021

TTRPG Bundle for Afghan Support

Evening all!

Recently my efforts have been poured into fundraising - specifically, setting up a charity bundle on Itch to help support vulnerable people in Afghanistan (details here).

Nearly 40 games-adjacent people have joined up to help raise money, with 70+ items (including everything I've written) for just $20 - though you can, of course, donate more. Anything we raise will go to the charity appeal. We're closing in on $5,000 after a week of the bundle, and if we hit that target I've promised to add another item (for free) for anyone who bought the bundle. You can even vote to tell me what to write!

You can get the bundle here: TTRPG Bundle for Afghan Support

Tuesday, 3 August 2021

Beneath Dark Skies accumulator post

Roger kindly enquired about the "bizarre sci-fi hack of World of Darkness" I mentioned, so seeing as it's a loose collections of posts knocking around, this seemed the easiest thing to do.

The initial overall premise.

A summary of Visitant, the first concept for Beneath Dark Skies.

Mechanics for Cover identities, and how they're compromised or reinforced. Xenotypes, the alien splats of Beneath Dark Skies.

Mutable Ansad, the first Xenotype. Peerless infiltrators. Yes, their plural is Welsh, deal with it. Their gifts are mastery of form and disguise.

The ultimate survivors, Mosa, with conscious control of their own biochemistry. Their gifts are regulation of their own bodies, and secretion of chemicals that affect others.

Swarming Shekt, nigh-immortal hive minds with a talent for negotiation. Their gifts rely on the capabilities of swarms, and the application of controlled sound.

Symbiotic Ytaleh, riding in stolen human corpses to sustain their ephemeral selves. Their gifts are mental influence and bioelectrical control.

How visitants might interact with other inhuman creatures.

Technological gifts for any species - also useable beyond Visitant for other high-tech entities.

Mistaken Identity, the first Terrible Game Fic. Whoops. An easy mistake to make. But only once.

Inside Job, additional Terrible Game Fic. No loyalty to corporate masters!

Hostile Takeover, some crossover Terrible Game Fic.

Friday, 30 July 2021

Necropolitans, episode 19: My bad, almost committed murder

Let the bullying commence! I accidentally begin my extended reign of Jaal-terrorising with the advent of the Tiny. Wooden. Statues... in Episode 019: My bad, almost committed murder.

Special thanks to Marche Towers Art for the gorgeous Necropolitans commission he did for us, he was a pleasure to work with and I'm delighted with the result.

Direct Links

  1. RSS feed for all episodes
  2. Episode 001: Character Generation
  3. Episode 002: I'm going to keep saying yes until I don't fall in the big hole
  4. Episode 003: One does not simply walk through More Doors
  5. Episode 004: That one was completely harmless
  6. Episode 005: Are you sure you're a barbarian
  7. Episode 006: Maze of the Brian-otaur
  8. Episode 007: Screaming blue murder from his waist
  9. Episode 008: It’s a rare genetic condition
  10. Episode 009: Well, isn't that dandy
  11. Episode 010: The classic ‘Ta-da!’ position
  12. Episode 011: These crabs know advanced tactics
  13. Episode 012: Observe! I will be totally aaaagh
  14. Episode 013: We can take the boss, we're second level
  15. Episode 014: He's very badly burned
  16. Episode 015: Would you say that she's ghastly?
  17. Episode 016: Look at you, coming here with your good ideas
  1. Episode 016.5: The Seven Chants of Anubis
  1. Episode 017: Allow us to inspect that which is in your hole
  2. Episode 018: I'm unclean, so I'm gonna cook this octopus
  3. Episode 019: My bad, almost committed murder

Monday, 26 July 2021

Necropolitans, episode 18: I'm unclean, so I'm gonna cook this octopus

Let the nautical shenanigans commence! With the party finally free of the island where they were shipwrecked, it's time for watery fun. This is entirely a narrative decision on my part, and has nothing to do with the fact that I haven't read the next book in the campaign yet. Honest. Our heroes indulge in culinary experimentation in Episode 018: I'm unclean, so I'm gonna cook this octopus.

Special thanks to Marche Towers Art for the gorgeous Necropolitans commission he did for us, he was a pleasure to work with and I'm delighted with the result.

Direct Links

  1. RSS feed for all episodes
  2. Episode 001: Character Generation
  3. Episode 002: I'm going to keep saying yes until I don't fall in the big hole
  4. Episode 003: One does not simply walk through More Doors
  5. Episode 004: That one was completely harmless
  6. Episode 005: Are you sure you're a barbarian
  7. Episode 006: Maze of the Brian-otaur
  8. Episode 007: Screaming blue murder from his waist
  9. Episode 008: It’s a rare genetic condition
  10. Episode 009: Well, isn't that dandy
  11. Episode 010: The classic ‘Ta-da!’ position
  12. Episode 011: These crabs know advanced tactics
  13. Episode 012: Observe! I will be totally aaaagh
  14. Episode 013: We can take the boss, we're second level
  15. Episode 014: He's very badly burned
  16. Episode 015: Would you say that she's ghastly?
  17. Episode 016: Look at you, coming here with your good ideas
  1. Episode 016.5: The Seven Chants of Anubis
  1. Episode 017: Allow us to inspect that which is in your hole
  2. Episode 018: I'm unclean, so I'm gonna cook this octopus

Saturday, 24 July 2021

Necropolitans, episode 17: Allow us to inspect that which is in your hole

When you're stranded on a tropical island full of snakes (to whose poison you're immune), crustaceans (ditto), undead (that's just embarrassing) and pirate treasure, no party can resist the urge to delve into every nook and cranny. Bring on the hole inspectors! in Episode 017: Allow us to inspect that which is in your hole.

I have no idea what you're sniggering about, Matron.

Special thanks to Marche Towers Art for the gorgeous Necropolitans commission he did for us, he was a pleasure to work with and I'm delighted with the result.

Direct Links

  1. RSS feed for all episodes
  2. Episode 001: Character Generation
  3. Episode 002: I'm going to keep saying yes until I don't fall in the big hole
  4. Episode 003: One does not simply walk through More Doors
  5. Episode 004: That one was completely harmless
  6. Episode 005: Are you sure you're a barbarian
  7. Episode 006: Maze of the Brian-otaur
  8. Episode 007: Screaming blue murder from his waist
  9. Episode 008: It’s a rare genetic condition
  10. Episode 009: Well, isn't that dandy
  11. Episode 010: The classic ‘Ta-da!’ position
  12. Episode 011: These crabs know advanced tactics
  13. Episode 012: Observe! I will be totally aaaagh
  14. Episode 013: We can take the boss, we're second level
  15. Episode 014: He's very badly burned
  16. Episode 015: Would you say that she's ghastly?
  17. Episode 016: Look at you, coming here with your good ideas
  1. Episode 016.5: The Seven Chants of Anubis
  1. Episode 017: Allow us to inspect that which is in your hole

Quick podcasting update

Apologies to anyone disappointed by the lack of podcast episodes. We've just come through the busiest time of year for me at work, and I've simultaneously been moving home. Things are starting to settle down, but I haven't had a great deal of time or energy for editing. Plenty of episodes are stored up though, it's just a matter of getting to them and releasing them.

Anyone craving my dulcet tones (why?) can perhaps get your fix at Whartson Hall, where I've recently finished running Dark Carnival, as well as The Price of Success, a chapter in our new episodic GURPS filler campaign.

Sunday, 20 June 2021

Hell's Rebels, episode 22: Is this going to be another Mal versus Door?

Educational visits can be dangerous. "Starknives and whips is just not a good look with skeletons", quote Zim.

Pathfinder Adventure Path: Hell's Rebels Part 1 - In Hell's Bright ...

We are bullied by undead apes, and discover the disadvantages of party members who are physically incapable of inflicting damage (yes, I'm one of them).

Part 22 of the campaign is now up on Archive.org at Episode 022: Is this going to be another Mal versus Door?.

Direct Links

  1. RSS feed for all episodes
  2. Episode 001: Number My Thugs
  3. Episode 002: Technically She's Goop
  4. Episode 003: The Mediaeval Equivalent of a Zimmer Frame
  5. Episode 004: Personal Snot Monster
  6. Episode 005: By our powers combined
  7. Episode 006: There is honour amongst, ah... normal civilians
  8. Episode 007: You have it on good medical advice not to lick the ground
  9. Episode 008: Mmm, blobs of quivering flesh - my favourite
  10. Episode 009: A lot of papier-mâché
  11. Episode 010: Kamikaze ferrets and commando weasels
  12. Episode 011: It's such a horrible coincidence
  13. Episode 012: I think we found our bass player
  14. Episode 013: Ego Shattered!
  15. Episode 014: Whipping up an alligator stew
  16. Episode 015: Sewer brings back bad memories
  17. Episode 016: Chaos is one way of describing it
  18. Episode 017: NOW she's a ghost
  19. Episode 018: A lot of f*cking birdseed
  20. Episode 019: Real things said by real people
  21. Episode 020: It's like Casper the Friendly Ghost
  22. Episode 021: Hit points is a state of mind
  23. Episode 022: Is this going to be another Mal versus Door?

Saturday, 19 June 2021

Hell's Rebels correction, ep. 21

Roger has kindly pointed out that the start of Episode 21 contains 13 minutes of dead silence. This is in no way part of an elaborate Kuthite occult ritual designed to lure our innocent audience into the path of shadow and pain. Especially now that someone's noticed.

I have replaced the file on Archive.org.

Friday, 18 June 2021

GURPS Conversion: Charity Shrinesdaughter

Charity Shrinesdaughter was a much-loved character in one of our (many) Pathfinder campaigns. As often happens, I found something unsuitable for a player character and was inspired to work out how to use it for a player character.

In this case, the culprit was the Site-Bound oracle curse; a feature that keeps the oracle within a short distance of a particular spot to avoid wasting away to death within a few hours. Clearly, wildly inappropriate for a player character, who will need to bod about the countryside seeking adventure and excitement.

...a particular 10-foot square, you say.

A series of shenanigans followed, involving the mass of various kinds of soil, careful scrutiny of rules, and a painstaking exploitation of every single carrying capacity-boosting ability I could cram into a single penniless 1st level character. Charity Shrinesdaughter was up and running; or rather trudging, given she had to carry 1,000 cubic feet of earth around on her back. Possessed of phenomenal strength, blinding charisma, boundless energy and an absolutely monstrous appetite, she made up for it with a lack of common sense and a tendency to trip over her own feet.

If one curse wasn't enough, the gods also afflicted Charity with Legalistic, compelling her to try and fulfil any promises she made - and the aforesaid lack of common sense, plus being very kind and helpful, meant she made an awful lot of promises. There were hints throughout the campaign that those gods were probably the passionate, kindly Sarenrae and the Asmodeus, influencing poor Charity each in their own way. She did get fire magic out of the deal, though.

But how to do this in GURPS?

Let's start with some basics. We're looking at a Tech Level 3 setting, with Normal Mana (some people have the capability to cast spells, but most don't). Pathfinder PCs are significantly above human average, and I'll reflect that by choosing a 200-point limit for the character.

(I would also like to point out that I invented Charity looooong before hearing about Reborn as a Vending Machine, I Now Wander the Dungeon! I had the idea in October 2017, according to my chat history with Nathan! But it's good and I recommend it, and yes, Charity is similar to Lammis in many ways, although she was actually inspired by Miyako from Hidamari Sketch (right).)

The easy stuff

The first problem is that Site-Bound curse. It seems logical to model this with a Dependency (Rare, Hourly) for a mighty -120 points.

Yes, that dependency all by itself is smashing through the normal disadvantage limits and careening down the highway like an out-of-control rhinoceros. But don't worry; it'll soon get cancelled out, and something like Charity would need a forgiving GURPS GM in the first place.

Surprisingly Heavy

A 10-foot cube of soil weighs approximately 75,000 lb., or just shy of 38 tons. Soil is, it turns out, surprisingly heavy. To lift this much with only moderate impairment (Medium encumbrance), Charity will need an effective Strength of 354. The human norm, for what it's worth, is 10. In reality, we'll want her to be able to carry something other than her sacred earth cube, so let's go for ST 360 as a target.

Basic Lift is calculated as (STxST)/5 lb., while Medium encumbrance allows up to 3xBL. This means we need a BL of 25,000 lb., and we're looking for a Strength equal to the square root of (5 x 25,000) = 125,000. That calls for a ST of 353.5 and a bit.

Lewis Hine, Italian woman carrying enormous dry-goods box, New York, 1912

Now, actually buying that Strength has three problems.

The first is that it would cost 3500 character points, from a typical budget of 150. Tricky under your conventional, earthly mathematics.

The second is that it would mean she had a ST of 360. That's enough to do 37 dice of damage with a single punch, for 130 points: obliterating a bus or a WW1 Renault FT17 tank, killing two-and-a-half full-grown elephants, or knocking a suddenly-deceased wild boar 10 yards away.

The third is that in GURPS, hit points (how much injury you can absorb) is directly based on Strength, for... presumably some reason. Giving Charity 350+ hit points would put her on par with light military vehicles, and give her good odds of taking a sniper rifle shot to the eyeball without serious injury.

Do you even lift, sis?

GURPS has an answer in the form of Lifting ST, an advantage costing 3 points per +1 ST for lifting things only. Buying that up would cost a mere 1,080 points - a bargain! But I don't actually need it for anything other than the shrine; in fact, in our game, Charity's incredible strength was bestowed specifically so she could carry the shrine around.

We can add a limitation: Accessibility (Only to carry shrine), which is specific enough that I feel justified in making it -80% cost (the maximum). She can't use this incredible lifting capacity for anything else; only what the gods demand. That's still 216 points, though.

What about looking into superheroes? Feats of strength are abundant in that genre. Sure enough, they have Super-Effort: a modifier specifically for Basic Lift, which allows you to vastly increase your strength when you use the Extra Effort rules. It modifies the cost of an ability by a massive 400%, though; and you always have the base amount of extra Basic Lift, which I don't want.

Extra Effort involves spending Fatigue Points to boost a specific action.

Despite a lot of searching, I can't find anything on adding Super-Effort without the constant benefit. The intuitive way to do this is with Accessibility (Only to carry shrine, -80%) on the Lifting ST, but because of the way modifiers are calculated, that's traded off with the cost of Super-Effort for an overall +320% cost. That may be right(?), but it doesn't feel right; the very strict restriction on the entire power barely reduces the overall cost very much.

I'm going to do something controversial (and possibly horrify poor Roger) by applying the limitation to both Lifting ST and Super-Effort. Reducing the cost of both by 80% brings it down to a manageable 66 points. This still doesn't help with the unwanted Basic Lift, though...

OK, judgement call time. I've just remembered that the "maximum -80%" mitigation applies to the overall cost of an advantage, not to a specific mitigation! I do not want the Basic Lift to apply anywhere except when lifting the shrine, and the Super-Effort is restricted to that use as well, making both of very limited use. I therefore decide to apply a -400% limitatation to the entire advantage; this cancels out the cost of Super-Effort and leaves us with an acceptable 66 points for the whole thing, without (I hope) doing violence to Roger's feelings.

Oh, and I need to tag on Cosmic (+50%) to allow me to take Reduced Fatigue Cost (+20%), otherwise carrying the shrine around will cost me 1 FP per minute! The final tally is 113 points. That's pleasingly close to cancelling out the disadvantage. Thankfully, the Super-Effort rules supersede the ordinary Extra Effort rules, so I don't need to worry about failing the Will roll to pick up my luggage and getting a serious injury.

Charity ends up with Lifting ST 22 (Accessibility, Only to lift shrine; Cosmic; Divine; Reduced Fatigue Cost 1; Super-Effort) [113].

Edit: shortly after writing this section, I realised that I'd messed up the rules for Super-Effort. For some reason I'd got it into my head that I needed to hit effective ST of 36; I don't know why. So I don't need Lifting ST +22, only +14.

The scaling on Super-Effort means the closest I can get is Lifting ST +14, which will turn into +500 when Charity uses Extra Effort. This makes her very good at lifting, with a BL of 156 allowing her to wander around with a motorbike on her shoulder - but not so good at lifting that it feels completely ridiculous.

Since the only use for all this strength is to lift the shrine, I add Accessibility (Only to carry shrine) to the Super-Effort modifier, at -90%. That seems like a reasonable way of handling that, since I'm okay with letting the rest of the Lifting ST make her good at carrying things.

Oh, and I need to tag on Cosmic (+50%) to allow me to take Reduced Fatigue Cost (+20%), otherwise carrying the shrine around will cost me 1 FP per minute! The final tally is 114 points. That's pleasingly close to cancelling out the disadvantage. Thankfully, the Super-Effort rules supersede the ordinary Extra Effort rules, so I don't need to worry about failing the Will roll to pick up my luggage and getting a serious injury.

There's more. I suddenly remember that Lifting ST is slightly more complicated than it sounds: it also enhances your ability to grapple and choke! Super-Effort explicitly doesn't contribute, but I don't particularly want Charity to be a brutal wrestler either. Let's slap on an Accessibility (Not for combat, -40%).

Charity ends up with Lifting ST +14 (Accessibility, not for combat -40%; Cosmic +50%; Divine; Reduced Fatigue Cost 1 +20%; Super-Effort +400% (Accessibility, only to lift shrine, -90%)) [89].

That seems... okay? And it does allow the enormous penalty from Site-Bound to give Charity a few bonus points, which is nice. Carrying around 38 tons of soil in a 10-foot cube causes challenges that aren't really accounted for by Dependency, and which I'm not entirely sure how to model. For example: very few doors are big enough for you to carry a 10-foot cube inside.

Lighten Burden

On reflection, it strikes me that another way to handle Charity's carrying capacity would be to reduce the weight of the soil itself. A version of Lighten Burden, maybe?

The 10' cube would have a SM of +4, making it a royal pain to cast spells on. 2 levels of the Huge Subjects perk reduce that to +2, so the cost of Lighten Burden would be 15 to cast, 8 to maintain. That's a lot.

Also, the spell only has a duration of 10 minutes. Since FP can only be recovered while not walking around, that's a big problem for maintainance.

Well, we can do this. It's not pretty, but we can. Let's take Lighten Burden Will-50 (Accessibility, Only to carry shrine -90%).* The high skill will reduce our cost by -1 at 15, and an additional -1 every 5 levels thereafter. This works out at 28 points. We can now maintain the spell as we walk around, while the initial cost is reduced to only 7 FP.

The Accessibility discount here is basically a wild guess. I cannot find any guidance on the appropriate pricing for "spell only effective on a single object and with no combat or social utility". I think it's going to be completely down to the GM.

You're also not meant to put enhancements and limitations on skills, but that ship has sailed, my friends. It is invisible over the distant horizon.

A kindly GM might allow Huge Subjects 4, reducing the cost of the spell to 5 to cast, 3 to maintain, and requiring only Lighten Burden Will-25 to be maintained without extra cost. This would cost only 8 for the spell and 4 for the perks.

With the weight of the shrine reduced to a mere 37,500 lb., we need only 250 ST. Aaaand... the overall effect of that extremely convoluted plan is to reduce the amount of Lifting ST needed for our original plan by a mighty... 1 level. This saves 6 points, making the plan overall cost 6 points more than simple Lifting ST.

If there were an enhanced version of Lighten Burden, we could pay more to reduce the weight further. Unfortunately, nothing like that seems to exist. Adjustable Spells from Thaumatology won't do it, as besides the cost, I can't find any enhancements that would increase the weight reduction anyway. Except possibly Cosmic.

Supernatural Strength?

What if we built this as a power instead?

The most logical option looks like Control Gravity (from Powers). This has a base cost of 20, and we'd need to hit 10 levels to reduce the weight by 100% - reducing it by 90% would leave 7,500 lb. which remains impossible to lift. So we're looking at 200 points, plus the need to make it Independent (+40%) so Charity doesn't need to concentrate all the time. 280 points then. Here, the cost would depend entirely on the GM's verdict on how much Accessibility discount applies. It's essentially a fiat cost. I have honestly no idea. Somewhere between 56 and 280 points is within easy GURPS tolerance, but this is a hyper-specific power.

Workarounds

An alternative to this is to deal with the fatigue another way entirely. OK, so using Super-Effort is going to soak up 1 FP per minute? Fine. I'll just have to regenerate it.

Regeneration (Fast) (Accessibility, Only to carry shrine -90%; Divine, -10%) allows regeneration of 1 FP/minute, exactly the rate of FP loss from Super-Effort. This costs 10 points.

It allows us to drop Cosmic and Reduced Fatigue Cost from the Lifting ST, leaving Lifting ST 14 (Accessibility, Only to carry shrine -90%; Divine -10%; Super-Effort (AOtcs -90%)) for 34 points.

The whole package costs 44 points, and allows Charity to spend 1 FP and a turn to lift her cube of earth, then carry it around as a Medium load for...

actually, you know what? I'm wrong. Lifting ST 14 (Super-Effort) gives her an effective +500 to ST, which means she can lift the cube as light encumbrance. Fantastic!

...as a Light load without taxing her energy at all, and without requiring any rolls that might awkwardly fail. She can lift as much as a normal strong person (ST 14) but doesn't have any preposterous ability beyond the shrine.

Promises, promises

Charity's next problem is that pesky probably-Asmodean secondary curse, which leaves her sickened whenever she breaks her word.

Honestly, this one is a poser. The obvious approach seems to be a version of Chronic Pain, except there doesn't seem to be a way to trigger it. Vows are treated as purely social in nature and don't discuss hard consequences. Pact requires adherence to a supernatural agreement, but takes away benefits when broken rather than imposing harm.

I scour Steve Jackson Games forums for quite a while, discovering interesting ideas like Weakness (Affliction) and this alternative that seem like they should have been in the rules all along, or John Dallman's discussion of Chronic Pain which has some useful ideas.

In the end, I opt for a Chronic Pain (Severe) (Constant; 24 hours; Mitigator (Keep Word) -70%) for -36 points. The 24-hour duration is a custom one as the longest in the book is 8 hours for 2x cost; I decided to be conservative and put it as a 3x cost.

Spellcasting

As an Oracle, in Pathfinder Charity is a Charisma-based spellcaster. This means her spellcasting capabilities depend on her "personality, personal magnetism, ability to lead, and appearance" (that last one is well dodgy, like).

Here I run into a problem, because GURPS magic plants its flag firmly in the camp of the scholarly wizard. Spellcasting is based on IQ, the mental statistic, which also governs overall intelligence and ability with a huge range of skills. It's "brainpower, including creativity, intuition, memory, perception, reason, sanity, and willpower".

The problem is, that isn't like Charity at all. She has very little schooling and isn't studious at all. Boosting her IQ will make her good at a whole host of skills I don't want her to have, as well as giving her reasoning prowess that the original Charity lacked.

Doesn't GURPS have a way to make a mage who isn't a genius?

The obvious answer is Magery, an advantage which specifically boosts magical ability alone. Or rather, in Charity's case, Power Investiture, which is the same thing but for divine magic. It seems all well and good, except that GURPS suggests capping these at a maximum of 3 levels. As Roger taught me, for spellcasting you really want to aim for Magery + IQ - 2 >= 15 as hitting the 15 mark makes a couple of useful rules kick in. If I'm reliant only on Power Investiture, I'd need 7 levels to hit that point, which many GMs wouldn't allow.

Thaumatology has many suggestions for variant magic, including basing it on other attributes. There isn't really a Charisma-like thing in GURPS at all. I mean, there's the advantage Charisma, which helps you get on with and impress people, but you can't base magical ability on an advantage; it needs an attribute.

To be fair, you could base magical ability on an advantage. Arguably Magery does this, especially in the "10 + Magery" version suggested in Thaumatology.

If I were implementing a really charismaticness-based magic system, I'd want it to require some kind of attribute and also levels of GURPS!Charisma. The obvious one seems to be Will, which is a secondary attribute of IQ. Will governs a few skills, but not many; it wouldn't make a decent mage automatically a leading scholar, which is an improvement already.

Thaumatology and the SJG forums alike point out that using Will makes it much cheaper for mages to buy up their key attributes. This is true; but it's also worth pointing out that the reason IQ is so expensive is that a huge number of skills are IQ-based (most of the others are DX-based). Buying up IQ to be a better wizard is expensive because it makes you good at about half the skills in the game, as well as all of your spells. Will is a lot less expensive because it won't improve many skills.

It doesn't entirely make sense to argue that IQ is expensive because it boosts spellcasting, either, because the cost of IQ doesn't seem to change in campaigns without magic. The cost of IQ includes its benefits to both skills and spellcasting. The price of IQ possibly should vary in those campaigns, but it doesn't.

I decide to do exactly that. Will-based spellcasting, with the requirement of equal levels of Charisma. Charity gains Charisma 4, which gives her the naive charm and inspirational presence of the Pathfinder original.

Spell systems

If I want to mimic Oracle spellcasting, is the default spell system from GURPS the way to go? Pathfinder oracles can learn any of the clerical spells, and use them without preparation, but know very few spells (whereas clerics know all of them, but need to pray for them in advance). Default magic gives access to any spell, but also means learning numerous spells as prerequisites. Clerical magic greatly limits the selection of spells to fit a deity - oracles specifically don't serve a particular deity, so that isn't ideal.

However, Pathfinder clerics get multiple overlapping spells - healing spells of different potencies, stronger or weaker protective spells, and so on. Oracles also get a limited set of spells themed to their 'mystery' - in Charity's case, this is fire, of course. I think what I'll do is make several small groups of spells that she's eligible for, and she can pick from those.

Divine Spells: Final Rest, Sense Spirit, Turn Spirit, Affect Spirits, Turn Zombie, and Banish allow a servant of the gods to manage unholy influences. Purify Air, Purify Earth, Purify Food and Purify Water provide for the people when other things are scarce. Deities might also grant Armour to protect their oracle, and Light (and its variants) to guide the way.

Oracular Spells: Great Voice seems perfect for making public proclamations. History, Ancient History, and Prehistory will reveal secrets, as will Compel Truth. Divination is obviously appropriate. Lend Language and Borrow Language allow communication.

Healing Spells: oracles automatically learn to heal. Most of these are appropriate, but not Share Energy.

Fate Spells: blessings and curses, great and small, are thematic for an oracle. Since GURPS doesn't have much in the way of luck spells, let's go for spells that have similar results. Compel Lie, Spasm, Tanglefoot, and Fumble are good minor curses, while Curse is the big one. Boost spells are a good option for 'lucky chance', and Bless is a generic blessing. Suspend Curse and Remove Curse represent an oracle's ability to free people from divine punishments. Bladeturning and Turn Blade seem appropriate for the oracle's defences. Madness and Permanent Madness are mythologically appropriate.

Law Spells:

Mystery of Fire: this is the distinctive sphere of Charity's gifts. In Pathfinder, it grants both spells and supernatural powers. I give Charity a minor Innate Attack (Burning, Melee C), as well as Extra Basic Move for the quickness of flame; the whole package gets Divine (-10%).

Stuff

Signature Gear: 75,000 tons of very specific soil

Since Charity's life depends on staying near her cube of soil, we need to make it Signature Gear.

You know, I have absolutely no idea how to price this. The thing is, it's a completely irreplaceable item, but also one that's got no particular inherent value.

For want of a better idea, I'm going to call this a perk.

I'll also go ahead and spend the points for her to have a Signature Gear heirloom staff with elaborate carvings, a gift from her unknown parents (who dropped her off at the shrine and disappeared).

Wrapping Up

To my surprise, I can actually build Charity at 150 points (including skills and spells) - assuming, of course, that my version of the carrying-75,000-lb. ability gets past the GM.

Here's a draft character sheet. I've grouped Charity's abilities for convenience in the Character Builder - this means both the groups and the abilities show up on her sheet, so the costs don't look right. Anything beginning with - (like -Mystery of Flame) is just a group name.

Sunday, 13 June 2021

GURPS and large-scale spellcasting

I've been thinking about how you'd set up magical precautions against natural disasters in GURPS. It seems like exactly the sort of system where you could do that sort of thing. Hurricanes, earthquakes and so on are devastating, so it's reasonable that a benevolent government would pour effort into effective countermeasures. Even an actively malevolent ruler might do so, because the economic impact and infrastructure damage is really inconvenient.

This post examines the case of Seismia, a country prone to various disasters.

One of the troubles is the sheer area natural hazards affect. GURPS generally handles area spells with a fixed cost ("base cost") per radius in yards.* This cost is the amount of Fatigue Points you need to spend (basically, how tiring it is). A meagre half-mile radius with a base cost of 1/2 clocks in at 440 Fatigue Points. That's roughly one noble estate or village.

*they also measure things in miles per hour, degrees Fahrenheit, pounds of weight, feet and inches, making the system an absolute ruddy nightmare for the sort of scientific realism it's meant to support. For those wondering why the game isn't more popular, this is probably a factor. Yes, I know Americans have an abiding love for their imperial measurements (and I use plenty of them myself in everyday life), but they are wildly inconvenient when calculations come in. Put out a metric version, for the love of all that's holy.

I'm not a great judge of typical capabilities in GURPS, but human capabilities hover around the 10 mark; I'd guess an experienced mage would buy up Health and buy extra Fatigue Points, so they might be able to throw in 20FP or so. Far short of our total.

Ceremonial casting might help. This is much slower (one-tenth of normal speed), but that isn't a problem. It allows other mages, and even random bystanders, to contribute some of their own energy. We're still limited, though...

  • Each mage who knows the spell at level 15+: as much energy as he wishes to contribute.
  • Each non-mage who knows the spell at level 15+: up to 3 points.
  • Each mage who knows the spell at level 14 or lower: up to 3 points.
  • Each unskilled spectator who supports the casting (by chanting, holding candles, etc.): 1 point, to a maximum of 100 points from all spectators.

"Mages" are those who have the inherent power of Magery, rather than merely having learned a spell; they're better, faster, stronger and more wizardly.

So a 440-point spell to keep rainstorms out of a 1/2-mile radius would require the full exertion of 22 mages who know the spell at a high level. That's a tough order for one village.

If we have all the villagers come along to chant, they can add up to 100 points to our total. Let's say we can find 100 of them. Let's also say our Head Wizard can rustle up extra energy from magic items, contributing 40 points and leaving us a nice simple 300.

To make up the 300 points, we'd need 100 lesser spellcasters - mages who don't know the spell in question, or non-mages who know it very well. Mages are generally in short supply, though. Perhaps Seismian government compels everyone to study certain spells for national defence against hazards, the same way they might require longbow practice?

That 1/2-mile radius is 0.78 square miles, or about 2km2. The population density of Scotland is 70/km2, so that would give us 140 inhabitants or thereabouts. Conceivably, if all of them had been forced to learn Protection From Hazard at 15+, and we made all of them participate in the ritual alongside our Head Wizard (20 FP), we could get the energy we need: 3 FP x 140 = 420 FP.

Of course, learning those spells requires investment of time and effort. Most spells are Hard skills, and expensive to learn. For those Seismians lucky enough to have average IQ 10, learning the skill at IQ+5 will cost a mighty 24 points. Those down at IQ 8 have to spend 32 points! Considering ordinary folks tend to have 100-150 points in total, that is a very significant investment in one niche skill.

Looking through Thaumatology, not many options help with spellcasting costs. The obvious one is, of course... sacrifices.

Sacrifice

This section of rules is deliberately fluid, giving no specific set of rules, but a set of ideas and discussion of their implications - for example, how the value of a sacrifice is calculated will determine the kind of sacrifices that happen.

Fantasy, however, gives some useable guidelines.

The basic currency of sacrifice is hit points. If the victim is sapient and consents to the sacrifice, use his full HP. If he does not consent, divide his HP by 3. For nonsapient victims, always divide HP by 3; they are presumed not capable of consent. At the GM’s discretion, offerings of material goods worth 20% of a campaign’s starting wealth count as 1 HP. Offered wealth may be cast into the sea, burned at a shrine, ritually consumed by someone possessed by a god or spirit, or otherwise destroyed or made inaccessible... Each HP of sacrifice could be exchanged for two energy points of magic.

According to Low-Tech Companion 3, sheep have 10 HP. They can therefore be sacrificed for the equivalent of 6 FP.

Wales supposedly contains around 1500 sheep per square mile (I resist my inclination to fact-check this in detail). Let's assume this is a reasonable figure for our hypothetical country, and that whatever sheep-equivalents it might farm (potentially including crops) are fungible in terms of density and sacrificial potency.

With a modest 1% tithe of livestock, Seismia can gather 15 sheep per square mile for sacrifice each year annually, providing 90 energy towards spells of various kinds.

Putting it together

We have to make some assumptions about mage density here. Let's say that there is one high-class mage per 10 square miles, able to contribute 20 energy. There are 2 decent wizards per square mile, who can contribute 3 energy. Assorted inhabitants can give us another 100, and we have 90 energy per square mile from sheep.

Putting all that together... we don't have enough. Our half-mile radius can produce 306 energy, far short of the 440 required. To protect the village from storms, we'd need to increase the Seismian sheep-tithe to 4% of livestock, which is a fair chunk considering it'll be on top of other taxes.

It only gets worse when I reveal that the actual cost for protection from storms (Weather Dome) is 3, not 1/2. We'd need 2640 energy to protect the village!

Thankfully, this sort of thing works better at scale. In a 10-mile radius, we have 31 top-flight mages, 628 decent ones, and a 2% sacrifice will net us 9420 sheep. This gives us 59132 energy, more than our target of 52800.

Sticking with Wales as our current example, it's roughly 170 miles from top to bottom, so we need to cover an 85-mile radius. That will cost us 448800 Fatigue Points to bespell against storms. However, we can muster an impressive army of mages: 2270 top-class mages for 20 FP each, and 45396 decent ones giving 3 energy apiece. There's frankly no point getting the ordinary folks involved for a mere 100 energy. We'll make up the difference with sacrifices: a mere 2 sheep per square mile will suffice and to spare.

Of course, we'll probably want to cast some other protective spells on the whole country, so I'd better stick with that 1% tithe. Plus... with ceremonial spellcasting, any roll of 16+ on 3d6 is a failure! We might need to give this a few goes, lads. Still, it's not a bad outcome.

Base FP cost of spell
Radius (Miles) 1/21 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
1/2440880176026403520440052806160704079208800
1 880176035205280704088001056012320140801584017600
2 1760352070401056014080176002112024640281603168035200
3 26405280105601584021120264003168036960422404752052800
4 35207040140802112028160352004224049280563206336070400
5 44008800176002640035200440005280061600704007920088000
6 5280105602112031680422405280063360739208448095040105600
7 61601232024640369604928061600739208624098560110880123200
8 704014080281604224056320704008448098560112640126720140800
9 7920158403168047520633607920095040110880126720142560158400
10 88001760035200528007040088000105600123200140800158400176000
85 748001496002992004488005984007480008976001047200119680013464001496000

 

Top
mages
OK
mages
SacrificesTop mage
energy
OK mage
energy
OthersSacrificesSumWithout
sacrifices
1230206100180306126
16902018100540678138
124360247210021602356196
3568405616810050405364324
5100150010030010090009500500
815623401564681001404014764724
11226339022667810020340213441004
15306459030691810027540288641324
204026030402120610036180378881708
255087620508152410045720478522132
316289420628188410056520591322612
2270453964539645396136188100272376454060181684

Have I missed something? If you know of an energy-saving technique that would help Keep Seismia Safe, contact your local Hazard Dispelling Bureau immediately.

Monday, 17 May 2021

Necropolitans, episode 16.5: The Seven Chants of Anubis

Returning from the dead (well, the more dead) shouldn't be a simple affair, even when Anubis is your patron. After all, who loves a preposterously-elaborate ceremony more than the gods of ancient Egypt? I have cast the bones of summoning; yea, I have invoked and besought the auspices of ancient hidden powers and made sacrifice at their shadowed shrines. And the One who bears the ren of Greig Johnson bestowed unto me Episode 016.5: The Seven Chants of Anubis. Praise be unto Anubis, the Lord of the Tomb, and unto his harbinger.

Behold his works and rejoice!

Direct Links

  1. RSS feed for all episodes
  2. Episode 001: Character Generation
  3. Episode 002: I'm going to keep saying yes until I don't fall in the big hole
  4. Episode 003: One does not simply walk through More Doors
  5. Episode 004: That one was completely harmless
  6. Episode 005: Are you sure you're a barbarian
  7. Episode 006: Maze of the Brian-otaur
  8. Episode 007: Screaming blue murder from his waist
  9. Episode 008: It’s a rare genetic condition
  10. Episode 009: Well, isn't that dandy
  11. Episode 010: The classic ‘Ta-da!’ position
  12. Episode 011: These crabs know advanced tactics
  13. Episode 012: Observe! I will be totally aaaagh
  14. Episode 013: We can take the boss, we're second level
  15. Episode 014: He's very badly burned
  16. Episode 015: Would you say that she's ghastly?
  17. Episode 016: Look at you, coming here with your good ideas
  1. Episode 016.5: The Seven Chants of Anubis

Friday, 14 May 2021

Hell's Rebels, episode 21: Hit points is a state of mind

"I am not a number (of hit points), I am a free, uh, humanoid of some kind."

Pathfinder Adventure Path: Hell's Rebels Part 1 - In Hell's Bright ...

Reggie and Mal uncover a Plot Device. We accidentally perform a 1970s comedy routine (poor Rexus). A visit to the Museum proves education in different ways than the institution originally anticipated - for example, we learned you should always carry a slashing weapon.

Part 21 of the campaign is now up on Archive.org at Episode 021: Hit points is a state of mind.

Direct Links

  1. RSS feed for all episodes
  2. Episode 001: Number My Thugs
  3. Episode 002: Technically She's Goop
  4. Episode 003: The Mediaeval Equivalent of a Zimmer Frame
  5. Episode 004: Personal Snot Monster
  6. Episode 005: By our powers combined
  7. Episode 006: There is honour amongst, ah... normal civilians
  8. Episode 007: You have it on good medical advice not to lick the ground
  9. Episode 008: Mmm, blobs of quivering flesh - my favourite
  10. Episode 009: A lot of papier-mâché
  11. Episode 010: Kamikaze ferrets and commando weasels
  12. Episode 011: It's such a horrible coincidence
  13. Episode 012: I think we found our bass player
  14. Episode 013: Ego Shattered!
  15. Episode 014: Whipping up an alligator stew
  16. Episode 015: Sewer brings back bad memories
  17. Episode 016: Chaos is one way of describing it
  18. Episode 017: NOW she's a ghost
  19. Episode 018: A lot of f*cking birdseed
  20. Episode 019: Real things said by real people
  21. Episode 020: It's like Casper the Friendly Ghost
  22. Episode 021: Hit points is a state of mind

Friday, 23 April 2021

Hell's Rebels: episode 20, It's like Casper the Friendly Ghost

In this twentieth episode, sometimes it's hard to be spooky.

Pathfinder Adventure Path: Hell's Rebels Part 1 - In Hell's Bright ...

Relations with our patron become somewhat soured when we point out that he is criticising us without doing anything whatsoever to improve matters himself (that'll happen). We engage in budget Hallowe'en shenanigans and lie abundantly. All good fun between enemies.

Part twenty of the campaign is now up on Archive.org at Episode 020: It's like Casper the Friendly Ghost.

Direct Links

  1. RSS feed for all episodes
  2. Episode 001: Number My Thugs
  3. Episode 002: Technically She's Goop
  4. Episode 003: The Mediaeval Equivalent of a Zimmer Frame
  5. Episode 004: Personal Snot Monster
  6. Episode 005: By our powers combined
  7. Episode 006: There is honour amongst, ah... normal civilians
  8. Episode 007: You have it on good medical advice not to lick the ground
  9. Episode 008: Mmm, blobs of quivering flesh - my favourite
  10. Episode 009: A lot of papier-mâché
  11. Episode 010: Kamikaze ferrets and commando weasels
  12. Episode 011: It's such a horrible coincidence
  13. Episode 012: I think we found our bass player
  14. Episode 013: Ego Shattered!
  15. Episode 014: Whipping up an alligator stew
  16. Episode 015: Sewer brings back bad memories
  17. Episode 016: Chaos is one way of describing it
  18. Episode 017: NOW she's a ghost
  19. Episode 018: A lot of f*cking birdseed
  20. Episode 019: Real things said by real people
  21. Episode 020: It's like Casper the Friendly Ghost

Thursday, 22 April 2021

Cheap and Nasty 2: Damn Big Heroes

Cheap and Nasty 2

“Low-cost, effective tricks to keep your lair hero-free!”

Despot reveals shocking secrets to erasing adventurers! Henchmen hate her!

Have you a lair that is plagued with bothersome heroes? Can't take a nap without a howling barbarian trying to bisect your torso? Treasury depleted by the depredations of ravening rogues, money-grubbing mages, and tediously commercial Lawful Evil clerics capable of casting Resurrection for you? This irregular column aims to help you find affordable solutions to your PC Problems.

What the Adventurers Bring

The obvious answer, of course, is "pointy things". Or possibly "serious inconvenience." More practical overlords might say "a dozen pack mules, rope and ten-foot poles". A handful - an unfortunate handful - will flinch, mutter only "butter", and slink back into the shadows to dwell on past horrors.

On a global level, we villains are the movers and shakers. We unleash machinations, plots and legions of blighted echinoids wielding halberds of thrice-forged sorrow; others try to foil them. We are the inevitability of change, and others - the adventurers in particular - are the status quo.

In a lair environment, however, that situation is reversed. You dwell comfortably in your citadel, tomb or volcano, supported by a team of loyal minions; adventurers enter the lair and interfere. Thus, what they primarily bring is change.

On a more practical level, adventurers are also equipped with all manner of ropes, poles, caltrops, enchanted swords, boots, rations and so forth, not to mention thousands of gold pieces. All of these can be recycled for your own purposes. Indeed, one of the most successful business models for the modern lair is built around that principle.

Finally, adventurers often differ from your own minions in key ways. With careful design and policy, you can exploit these differences to hamper and harm the adventurers at minimal cost.

Size Matters

For the cruel kobold queen or the gnomish gnecromancer, a party of adventurers is likely to tower above your minions, holding them off with superior reach and raining down powerful blows. While that height is usually an advantage, with careful planning you can turn it into a serious hindrance.

Tiny Tunnels

The most straightforward approach is architectural: simply construct your lair to fit your henchmen. Few elves enjoy crawling through extensive tunnels on hands and knees, and it's hard to make use of a 6' longbow in passages 4' across. This method has the advantage of being cheap, since it usually involves less work than constructing on a larger scale, and uses less materials.

On the downside, it's hard to establish a serious reputation without echoing halls to expound your dreadful plans, and low-hanging ceilings give far less scope for giant spiders to descend on the unwary heroes. In addition, this tactic can be too effective, giving adventurers strong motivation to mitigate their disadvantage by means of shrinking magic. If they'll always be severely penalized by their size, the downsides of being shrunk may still be outweighed by removing this environmental disadvantage.

You can reduce this risk by limiting corridor size only at pinch points. Doorways and crossroads are an obvious choice; not only are these strategically important, but your minions will find it easier to handle doors sized for them.*

*Remember, an evil environment can be an ergonomic evil environment! RSI and workplace injuries can seriously reduce the effectiveness of your evil hordes, and awkward equipment greatly increases the chance that employees avoid using it at all. By ensuring your fixtures, fittings and machinery are designed with ergonomics in mind, you can keep your team healthy and ensure that loyal long-term minions aren't forced out through age or disability.

Don't see concern for your minions as a sign of weakness or insufficient evil. The evil philosophy embraces a wide variety of attitudes without judgement (that's a Paladin thing). Sure, some of us view minions as disposable fodder and potential sacrifices to dark gods. Some regard their followers with a fierce, jealous love that doesn't extend to any other beings, and are prepared to do anything for their benefit. Others view themselves not as tyrannical despots, but as simply an evil leader amongst an evil team. Still others care deeply for their minions as a by-product of concern for the smooth running of our despicable realms, and consider their welfare as a vital part of the wider evil picture.

Exit Strategies

Another way to exploit size is that your diminutive troops can get out of tight places far more quickly than bulky adventurers. A tunnel that your skulking minions can run through is a crawl for an elf - a crucial distinction when that tunnel is rapidly filling with water, smoke, or bees.

Consider also the Emergency Exit. When slavering wargoats are charging full-tilt after the adventurers, they will tend to hurl themselves at the convenient human-sized door marked Exit PUSH. Ensure the top and outer part is affixed to a solid stone wall, while the lower section includes a handy flap for kobolds to slip through unhindered. The additional cost of an oversized door is minimal.

Barn door - geograph.org.uk - 412063

Watch your Head

A more subtle approach is to exploit adventurer height at crucial moments, in order to catch them off-guard.

Construct a long, narrow bridge with no handrails across a chasm.* At the inner end, establish a guard post equipped with bows or slings to defend the bridge (as well as defensible walls, seats, and hydration stations). When adventurers reach the bridge, they will typically hurry forward to engage your guards. This is an excellent opportunity to place beams, wires or spider-webs 5ft. above the ground, where they can clonk hasty humans across the forehead at inopportune moments. The costs are negligible, especially where beams and wires are structural elements.

Villains with a flair for deception and engineering should consider building the bridge to seem as rickety as possible, adding patches of fake 'slime' to make it seem treacherous underfoot. This encourages adventurers to watch their feet as they cross, instead of looking up. A simple minor image or even prestidigitation can do this in a pinch. On plank bridges, attach prominent bells to some of the planks; unlike tripwires, these don't pose any hazard to your minions, but sneaking adventurers will tend to watch out for them and miss the cheesewire at ear-height.

For a premium experience, install invisible bars or force-beams, so the adventurers can't even see what's about to clothesline them.

*While bottomless pits, spikes and flames are traditional, a sufficiently high-walled swimming pool or ball pit will contain heroes just as effectively, while keeping minion attrition low.** Moreover, these can double as recreation facilities for your minions - and yourself!***.

**Modern malevological approaches reject the archaic thinking that pays no heed to minion welfare. Aside from purely pragmatic considerations of training and recruitment costs, knowledge attrition within your evil organization is a real threat to long-term survivability. A safe workplace builds minions' confidence in your leadership, improving retention of experienced minions and team spirit. Indeed, the advantages of 'soft' benefits (such as flexible working hours, on-the-clock fitness opportunities, and not falling into death-traps due to a momentary oversight) are particularly valuable to the low-budget villain unable to compete in purely monetary terms.

***While we fully support non-hierarchical teambuilding opportunities, please remain aware of workplace dynamics and avoid placing yourself in any situation that could be seen as harassing your minions, outside of contractually-agreed intimidation. Tracing another's bare, muscular abs with your spiked gauntlets while purring "I like a man with spirit" is best reserved for captured heroes.

A useful variant of this technique is the staircase. Construct spiral stairs and have your minions guard the top, rolling boulders or necromatically-empowered skulls down to assail the incoming adventurers. Hang tasteful curtains of beads, feathers, bells, seaweed, teeth or sea urchins* high enough that they will strike tall adventurers in the face, encouraging them to close their eyes. As an additional benefit, the poor housekeeping typical of evil lairs will encourage dust to settle in these devices, making them even more effective at blinding your adversaries. In many environments, unpleasant dangly things will grow without any particular effort or cost on your part.

*Spider-webs can serve the same purpose, and many minions enjoy cultivating spiders as a relaxing hobby or competitive sport. You can increase loyalty by offering the underside of your staircases as fertile ground for spider-raising, while inconveniencing invading do-gooders. Consider monthly prizes for the densest or most adhesive webs, or breeding new species that produce poison-infused silks. In damper lairs, try fungi or sea urchins for a similar effect. Not only will this be cost-effective, but your minions have personal motivation to maintain the defences, as well as professional motivation..

For staircases you expect adventurers to descent, stronger methods are available. The combination of height, stance and speed when descending a staircase means heads are closer to the ceiling than when ascending. Here, hang weights, or place invisible blocks halfway down where they can stun an unwary trespasser and cause them to fall down the stairs.