Tuesday, 6 September 2016

1d100 Retroactive Backstory

A note to my players: pls don't read.

I've been working on this off and on for the past couple of months.
The Backstory table is here.

The basic idea is that every time you level up, you roll 1d100 on the Backstory table.
Each has a hopefully-inspirational fragment of backstory and two potential outcomes.
So if you roll a 1, the DM tells you "You got into a confrontation with a bully who was way tougher than you. Did you fight or flee?"

Now the trick here is that the other players at the table decide what your character must have done, based on how your character's been acting in the game thus far. Debate is allowed and encouraged, as is swapping examples of supporting evidence, in this case probably times you stood and fought versus times you turned and ran.

The others come to an agreement or vote or whatever, then you make up a story of what actually happened. Who was the bully? Why did you do what you did?
The story can be as detailed or as sparse as you want, no pressure. Most of my players tied it into their failed career in some way.

Finally you get told what your new ability is! Each outcome of each backstory has its own associated power. In this example, "fight" nets you a +1 to hit vs enemies who have more HD than you, and "flee" grants you a +1 to fleeing rolls.
Score! Now your character is hopefully encouraged to live up to their new backstory.

An old one but there aren't really any better images when you search for "backstory"

This was all, as with damn near everything I ever make these days, chiefly inspired by Arnold K.
Specifically, his lifepath character generation thing.
It's a fairly involved process but at the end of it you have a character who's fleshed out in a way that Bob the Level 1 Fighter isn't.

Trouble is, I love quick char gen with an embarrassingly fiery passion. It's quick to get to the actual playing-the-game part of the game, I can get new players playing quickly, and I don't have to feel too guilty if a PC dies. It's the best.

But another thing is that I already have some light character history at char gen via the failed career table. After their character's finished I ask the question that goes like "So you're a Necromancer who used to be a Bellringer. How'd that happen?" and have actually always received a good answer. The implication's meant to be that before that point they were a boring nobody, at which point they went off to become a Player Character and their life gets Interesting and their character's actual in-game experiences become their backstory.

Which is great and all, but making up the story about How Your Character Got Here is actually really fun! So this retroactive backstory is meant to be a sort of best-of-both-worlds approach. You get quick char gen, but as your character levels up you get to flesh out more backstory.
This also has the neat effect of making your character's personal story grow backwards as well as forwards, and means you sort of learn more about them as you play them. Plus from the DM's side of the table, you can tie current campaign events into backstory you just found out about.

As for the special abilities, many of them are based around my house rules, so you might need to change some of the specifics for your own thing.
Generally they either give you a little stat or skill bump, grant you some sort of conditional bonus, or give you a gimmick you can use once per session. Nothing's meant to be particularly powerful on its own, but some of the once-per-session ones are a bit wacky.
Something that came up in the comments when I posted this was what I meant by "+1 HD" under some of the benefits. It's just intended to be a bonus HD-worth of health until the end of the session, not a full extra level. So a Magic-User gets 1d4 more maximum HP and a Fighter gets 1d8, for example. Not that you have to do the same, of course!

Many of the individual backstory fragments were lifted from the Lifepath generator I mentioned before, and some of the powers were lifted from yet another Arnold post about player-player bonds.

Since I've instigated this thing mid-campaign, each player's been getting a new backstory a week until they catch up with their current level.
This means, unlike most things I post, it's actually been tested extensively as a gimmick. And it's been great!

Currently we've got a Necromancer who attempted to kill the tyrant who ran her village in a convenient bellringing accident, but tragically dropped the bell on her own family instead.
We've got a Cleric whose backstory is basically all centred on his prior "career" as a flagellant, particularly one crazy night at an all-night flagellant rave that got shut down by the local guard.
We've got a Muscle Wizard who was once a member of the Men of the Rooves, a group of shinglers who were part thief and part Robin Hood-style local resistance.
And many more!

So anyway, if you do try it out I'd love to hear how it went.
I'm still fiddling with the table, so if you notice anything bullshit in the abilities or come up with something better for anything definitely let me know!

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Religion for the Masses (aka players who don't want to read all that)

So while I'm pretty stoked about this new religion bollocks, it's a tough sell to hand a player an actual religious pamphlet for an actually definitely fake religion and ask them to make an informed choice about what fake religious denomination they want to be.

I'll leave the actual deciding part to players of Clerics. Here's a guide for the masses.

Choosing My Religion

So you’re choosing your character’s faith.
What a decision! You have three options -
A. Roll Randomly
B. Go with whatever the Cleric in the party tells you to do
C. Make an informed decision

Choice A. Roll Randomly
Roll 1d20:
1-9: Loegrianism. There are Nine High Gods and no others.
10-14: Roman Nonanism. There are Nine High Gods and there are Low Gods who serve them.
15-17: Denialism. There is One True God.
18: Unorthodoxy. The Nine High Gods each have an alignment, from Lawful Good to Chaotic Evil.
19-20: Termaxianism. The Gods are too distracted by the Final Battle for All Creation to watch us.

Choice B. Go with whatever the Cleric in the party tells you to do
Hey man, he’s the religious leader here. His unique spell will affect you differently depending on what your faith is.
If it helps, here’s a table showing how the faiths interact.
Blank means the spell has the regular GOOD EFFECT on you.
Smiley faces mean the spell has some EXTRA GOOD EFFECT on you.
Frowny faces mean the spell has NO EFFECT or a NEGATIVE EFFECT on you.

If there are Clerics of more than one faith in the party, it might be wise to pick something that works for both of them.
You →
Cleric ↓

Choice C. Make an informed decision

Friday, 17 June 2016

Five Faiths One Religion - Cleric Subclasses

Religion presents something of a problem.

My campaign map started out as a standard fantasy map with forests and rivers and a terrible sense of scale. Over the past half-decade it's grown closer and closer to Real History due to the influence of LotFP. Nowadays it's a sort of altered-geography parallel Earth in the vein of the Warhammer world or Lyra's World in His Dark Materials.

It's 1550 here in semi-fantasy England, meaning my established pantheon of nine gods needs to serve a similar role to Christianity in the early modern period. That is - fuck up everything and allow a lot of interesting wars and zealotry.

I want religion to be something the players will want to engage with. The early modern era is saturated with religion, but D&D often trends towards a sort of tacit atheism. Gods demonstrably exist, but nobody really gives them any thought in their day to day life. Even Clerics don't really have to engage if they don't want to. Just take your domain spells (if available) and go on your merry way.
Luckily Barry Blatt knocked it out of the park in England Upturn'd. Give Clerics of different denominations different abilities! Genius! And not only that, give mechanical benefits to everyone based on their denomination, not just Clerics.
Now everyone has a meta-reason to pay attention to their religion.
Plus it almost creates Cleric subclasses that intersect and interact with each other in different ways.
I really enjoy differentiation within a class because it means you can have two Specialists or two Elves or whatever without them necessarily stealing each other's thunder.

In case it wasn't obvious, I'm totally cribbing from, remixing, and generally ripping off the religion appendix at the back of England Upturn'd.

Finally, it's been established for a while in my game that Clerics can invent their god if they want. I've never really gone out of my way to justify this, because it's seemingly quite a natural thing to do. One of my players is currently playing a Cleric who worships his previous Cleric who got eaten by a demon bear. I want to make sure people can still do this if they like.

So that's three main goals:
- Create a mostly plausible parallel Christianity
- Mechanically impact all classes, not just Clerics, so it's something everyone needs to think about.
- Allow Clerics to invent their own deity if they want.

And so -



Nonanism has nine gods. It eats other religions and adds their gods to church canon.

Nonanism in Brief:

The Nonanist Church is basically an alternate Catholic Church, at least in the social historical sense.

There are Nine High Gods instead of the Holy Trinity.
In 0AD Jesus gave his life to free humanity from the Halfling Empire.
The holy tome is the Bible. The head of the Church is the Pope. The holy symbol is the Cross, or occasionally the Nine-Spoked Wheel.

One major difference is that the Church is rather liberal towards other religions. It’s hard to deny that other gods exist when there are Clerics of other deities performing legitimate miracles.
Instead of denying the existence of other gods, the Nonanist Church assimilates them.
As long as people recognise that their god is a Low God, merely a servant or aspect of one of the Nine High Gods, everyone’s allowed to carry on as they were. The newly discovered deity is added to a long list of Low Gods, the Church sends missionaries to build real churches and present the Gods’ real message, and the people are shown how and why they might have gotten confused.

You can still worship your Low God, just make sure the Nine get their proper praise too.

This all ticked along quite nicely until Martin Luther came along and fucked everything up by translating the Bible into the vernacular. Now people can actually read the Bible themselves and it turns out none of this bullshit about Low Gods is actually in there. Not to mention the scriptural basis of the Nine High Gods is really quite shaky.

So now everything’s falling apart.

Main Denominations:

Loegrianism: Anglican analog and state religion of Loegria (aka alt-England). Believe there are Nine High Gods and no others. Unique Cleric spell changes weekly.
Roman Nonanism: Catholic analog. Believe in Nine High Gods and the Low Gods who serve them. Clerics can invent own Low God and craft buff-granting talismans.
Denialism: Protestant analog. Believe the Nine are a lie and there is only One True God. Righteous oratory shakes faith of sinners and inspires flock.
East Unorthodoxy: Use D&D alignments. Believe each of the Nine High Gods represents a different moral standing, from Lawful to Chaotic and Good to Evil. Swap mutually exclusive long-term buffs depending on situation.
Termaxianism: Just weird. Believe the Nine High Gods are too distracted by the Final Battle for Creation to bother watching us. Clerics grant action battle magic.

The Nine High Gods:
Alaunus. He of the Mailed Fist. Loyal, honourable and fervent.
Minerva. She of the Burnished Shield. Wise, reserved and battle-worn.
The Allfather. He of the Filled Cup. Strong, warm and kind.
Oberon. He of the Green Branch. Wild, cunning and tall.
The Lady. She of the Silver Coin. Fickle, quick-witted and joyous.
Vorn. He of the Rusted Blade. Grim, gaunt and iron-clad.
The Dead God. He of the Brittle Bone. Vigilant, just and quick-tempered.
Dispater. He of the Subtle Knife. Secretive, sharp-eyed and silver-tongued.
Eris. She of the Spinning Wheel. Progressive, shameless and driven.


The Fated King is the head of the Loegrian Church, having split off from the main Nonanist Church about fifteen years ago.
While mostly following mainstream Nonanism, Loegrians believe that the whole thing with Low Gods is nonsense and the Nine High Gods are all there are.
Each week a different member of the Nine is used as a focus for religious devotion, culminating each Sunday in a celebration in the name of that particular High God.

Game Effects
Loegrian Clerics acquire the unique spell Blessings of the Nine.
Loegrians gain double benefit from Blessings of the Nine.
Denialists reverse the benefits of Blessings of the Nine.

Blessings of the Nine

Cleric Level 1
Duration: 1 turn per Cleric level
Range: 50’ radius

Grants a different bonus depending on which deity is the focus of devotion this week.
Alaunus: +1 to melee attacks
Minerva: +1 to AC
The Allfather: Food eaten to heal always heals the full 6 HP. Loegrian faithful heal 6+1d6 HP.
Oberon: +1 to ranged attacks
The Lady: Gain a reroll to be used at any time. Loegrian faithful get two.
Vorn: Equipment quality improves by 1.
The Dead God: +1 to rolls to avoid unconsciousness and death when at 0hp.
Dispater: +1 to hit from surprise
Eris: +1 to gambit attempts
During holidays sacred to Jesus (Easter, Christmas, etc): Reflect mind-afflicting effects back on the attacker with a successful Save vs Magic. Loegrian faithful roll twice and take the best.


Many people weren’t particularly pleased by the Fated King’s decision to break away from the Nonanist Church. They still follow mainstream Nonanism despite the King’s attempts at Reformation, and tend to riot if someone tries to mess with the Book of Common Prayer.
It’s obvious that the King’s blasphemies led directly to the current crises wracking the South. Why else would there be Dead and Demons everywhere?
People sometimes refer to Nonanists as Roman Nonanists in order to set them apart from other denominations. These people are wrong, real Nonanism is the only true Nonanism.

Game Effects
Nonanist Clerics can invent their own Low Gods and acquire the unique spell Imbue Talisman.
Talismans last a week, but Nonanists can refresh worn talismans for another week by attending Church on a Sunday.
Denialists and Loegrians receive no benefit from worn Talismans.

Imbue Talisman
Cleric Level 1
Duration: Instantaneous
Range: Touch

This spell may be cast only on a Sunday. It requires a holy symbol representing the Cleric’s god and a place sacred to them. The value of the symbol and the altar do not matter, only that the Cleric believes it to be sacred.
Once cast, the symbol is imbued with the power of the god and the Cleric’s faith.

The power of the talisman is chosen by the Cleric’s player. It should be specific, conditional and related to their Low God. Mechanical benefits will not exceed a +1 bonus.
The God of Thieves might grant a bonus to hiding in shadows while indoors, for instance, while the God of Light might give a benefit to AC when standing in direct sun.

A Talisman retains its power until sunset on the following Sunday.


Denialists believe there is One True God as told via the teachings of Jesus. They reject all Church doctrine as the Bible is the only source of spiritual truth.
The Nine High Gods are never mentioned directly in the Bible. Nonanists try to justify them through scripture but frankly it’s a mystery where the doctrine came from in the first place. Presumably one of the Popes made it up at an ecumenical council and the concept stuck. 
At best this makes the Church a bunch of corrupt fools, but more likely the Pope is a puppet of Queen Satan trying to bring about the downfall of Man.
This is, of course, a vastly heretical point of view and antithetical to the doctrine of the Nonanist Faith at large.

Game Effects

Denialist Clerics acquire the unique spell Undeniable Truth.
Denialists are affected positively by Undeniable Truth.
Other denominations are affected negatively by Undeniable Truth.

Undeniable Truth
Cleric Level 1
Duration: 10 rounds + Level
Range: 30’ radius

The Cleric lets fly with their most unassailable quotes from scripture, most ironclad arguments against Church doctrine, brutal threats of hell, curses, gesticulations and all round hollering, reaffirming the beliefs of himself and his followers and presenting sinners with undeniable proof of the corruption of the Church and the falsehood of the Nine.
This shakes the faith of any non-Denialist Nonanists in range, causing a morale check and filling them with crippling self-doubt. Affected individuals must make a Save vs Rhetorical Device or become immune to the benefits of their denomination until they can talk it over with a priest, Cleric, or other high-ranking member of their faith for at least an hour.
The Cleric and their Denialist faithful within range are filled with RIGHTEOUSNESS and CLARITY OF PURPOSE, gaining a +1 to hit against people of non-Denialist denominations, +2 against Roman Nonanists, and immunity from mind-afflicting effects for the duration of the spell.


The East Unorthodox Church split off from the Nonanist Church at the turn of the millennium due to a range of theological disputes, most notably over the concept of the Triple Trinity.
The Unorthodox believe that the Nine High Gods each embody a different moral alignment. 
The Three Good Gods seek to lift humanity into the glory of heaven. Worship and obey them.
The Gods Between care more for Nature than for Man. Respect them and do not invite their wrath.
The Dark Trinity seek to destroy the souls of Mankind. Curse them and fight their machinations.
The Low Gods exist to serve the Nine, and act differently towards Man depending on whom they serve. Give praise only to those Low Gods who serve the Three Good Gods, for those who serve the Dark Trinity are demons.
The Unorthodox are prevalent to the east of Europea, but some few have made their way west.

Game Effects
Unorthodox Clerics gain access to the unique spell Triple Trinity.
Unorthodox faithful gain additional benefit from Triple Trinity.
Denialists and Termaxians gain reverse benefits from Triple Trinity.

Triple Trinity
Cleric Level 1
Duration: Until Sunrise
Range: 50’ Radius

The Cleric gives a sermon to focus the faithful upon one of the Triple Trinities. The Cleric chooses which Trinity to focus on when they cast the spell. People can only be affected by one Triple Trinity spell at a time.
On casting, choose between:
Praise the Three Good Gods: Affected Clerics cast spells as though they are one level higher. Affected Unorthodox faithful gain the maximum benefit from Cleric spells (eg. maximum health from Cure Light Wounds, maximum Bless points from Bless).
Respect the Gods Between: The DM rolls overland encounters twice and the Cleric chooses which to take. Affected Unorthodox characters are ignored during random encounters if there are other targets available.
Abjure the Dark Trinity: Affected Clerics gain +5 against saves vs magical effects from Chaotic sources and gain a +2 to hit against Magic-Users, Demons, Elves and other creatures that detect as Chaotic. Affected Unorthodox faithful gain a +2 against saves vs magical effects from Chaotic sources and +1 to hit against creatures that detect as Chaotic.


The Termaxians are a weird bunch. They believe that the Apocalypse happened five hundred years ago when the Eris the Ninth God fell from heaven and became Queen Satan. Soon after, the prophet Terms Termax fused with the spirit of Jesus to form the entity called Maximum Godhead Hyper-Jesus and descended into Hell to defeat Queen Satan forevermore.
When Maximum Godhead Hyper-Jesus finally wins he will bring the Termaxian faithful to the Holy Mountain. There they will blast off in a silver rocket to heaven, which is exactly one hundred miles above the surface of the Earth, and sit and watch what happens to everyone left behind while having just the best time.
Until then they can all just hang out and do whatever they want. The Eight Gods Who Remain are too busy watching the Ultimate Battle to pay attention to boring mortals, so in the meantime go wild! Fornicate, drink, smoke, whatever! No gods are watching to judge us!

Game Effects
Termaxian Clerics acquire the unique spell Comes the Godhead.
Comes the Godhead lasts twice as long for Termaxians.
Termaxians gain a +2 bonus to saves versus non-Termaxian Cleric spells.

Comes the Godhead
Level 1 Cleric
Duration: 1 round/level
Range: Touch

The target takes on a measure of the spirit of Maximum Godhead Hyper-Jesus. Their skin glows with inner light, a halo forms above their head, and at the start of each round they choose between the following moves:
Maximum Smite: Deal double damage.
Cross Counter: Return damage onto the one who damaged you once per round.
Ultimate Move - Final Fortress: Meditate within an invulnerable shell until the end of the spell’s duration. Absorb all damage done to you and your allies within 50’. At the end of the duration the damage absorbed is dealt to everyone within 50’, including yourself.

Sunday, 12 June 2016

Consolation Ratman Character Class

NB: This is based on and almost entirely ripped off of Arnold K's Rat Master class.

A long long time ago I read this thing by Roger GS about a gnome as consolation prize for rolling shit ability scores.
Great idea.
Needing high stats to play a particular class is lame because you're just giving someone who's got advantages more advantages. What is this? America? But needing low stats to play a class is brilliant.

I've got a race of ratmen kicking around under the campaign world. They've rarely been encountered by players but they're there.
I've got a vague policy that any intelligent race should also be a PC class. Keeps me from adding too many races and diluting my humanocentric milieu, and also hopefully means that players understand that even though they're monsters they're still people. Hence, for instance, the Goblin class.

After I saw Arnold's Rat Master I knew immediately that THIS IS IT. The consolation class! What's worse than a rat man?
And now somebody's finally rolled shit enough for it to be possible.

Culturally ratmen are basically Skaven. They share a similar conceptual space to Goblins for me, being subterranean and numerous and into technological experimentation. I've tried to keep them differentiated in my head, I figure ratmen are more sinister and cunning while goblins are wild and wacky.
Goblins don't care whether they live or die, they're legitimately expendable. Ratmen care about their lives more than anything else and will lie, cheat and kill to make sure they're at the top of the heap.

What follows is based (as always) on LotFP, so you already know how to tweak stuff into your home system because you're you.


So anyway, how do they work?

Base class: HD, saves and exp track of the Specialist.
The Worst: A Ratman can have no ability scores above 12 at char gen.
Big Fat Rat: Ratmen have a 5 in 6 Climb skill, can swim as fast as they can run, and can fit through holes as narrow as a human head. They can't see in the dark, but can navigate easily by sound and smell and whiskers. A Ratman's tail is so long that it can be used as a whip. Their bite deals 1d6 damage when used to Brawl in a Wrestle, and transmits any poison and disease afflicting the Ratman if the victim fails their save.
Rat Friend: The Ratman is beloved by all rats. They can call one rat per turn, and control a number of rats equal to their level squared. Rats will obey all orders given and can be used to do basically anything a rat could do. If used to attack as a swarm they use Goblin Punch Minion rules, and if thrown at enemies they use that ridiculous Goblin Punch Attached Weasel rule. If used to scout a dungeon they will bring back an impression based on whether a rat would like the room. For more info see the Goblin Punch Rat Master class.
Hate Magnet: Ratmen are hated by every beast, every creeping thing, and every fowl, and whatsoever creepeth upon the earth. If they see a Ratman they will attempt to kill it, or at least draw attention so that something else can kill it. In a combat situation involving animals the Ratman will be targeted first if possible. The only exceptions are rats (obviously) and shelled reptiles.


The Worst is because I like the idea of a class that just plain sucks statwise. It's nice to be able to say "oh too bad, but at least you can play THIS super special class".
Also it makes Ratmen much less likely to be in the party, which means they're rare and special in their own way, you know?

Big Fat Rat is to give some actual ratty advantages. I was initially going to go with Stealth as the rat's natural skill, but Halflings and Goblins already have that covered above and below ground and I was already worried about Ratmen getting into the Goblin's conceptual space. So they get Climb, which makes sense to me because damn can rats climb.
Swimming is because I saw this whole thing about how rats are ridiculously good swimmers, and I figure a man-sized rat beats a man-sized man at swimming any day. Same again with fitting through holes and "seeing" in the dark. I didn't want to give true darkvision because I've already got Dwarfs with quasi-magical darkvision, and I want to keep that Their Thing, so Ratmen have to use their whiskers instead.
NPC Ratmen already have tail whips in my reskinned Stonehell and it's a fun gimmick. Good for tying down armoured PCs and all. The disease-transmitting bite is because Ratmen as vectors of disease appeals to me a lot, and I love the idea that a PC dying of poison can take something else down with them.

Rat Friend is what I stole directly from Arnold and the main gimmick of the class.
In the original you get a limited number of Call Rats a day, but I figure rats are incredibly expendable so one per turn is a good enough limit. Despite only having seen a level 1 Ratman in action, he's always sending off his rat to explore before it dies and he needs a new one. He's also been giving each rat a punny name like Pope Ratzinger or Ratticus Finch or Condoleeza Mice so we're already running out of rat puns.
Basically if you use the rats to scout ahead or use them in combat you'll probably use up all your rats, then you have to wait for them to replenish. It's like rat mana.

Also the original has your max rats as a linear one-per-level thing. I've got it as exponential growth because, all things being equal, I expect people to die before they get to level 3.
Also someone pointed out in the original post's comments that ten rats at level 10 is small potatoes compared to what other classes get. Considering the highest level player in my game right now (and to date!) is level 6, and considering a level 10 Necromancer can get a spell that can command up to 1000 undead in a 100 mile radius, a guy who can control 100 rats is relatively small fry.

As for how you can use loyal rats, it's very much up to the player. I will transcribe the most obvious rules here because if I'm already plagiarising might as well go whole hog. I'll also update this occasionally if a Ratman PC does something consistently enough to need a consistent ruling.
- Rat swarm attack! You can send your rats to swarm people as written, utilising the remarkably effective swarm rules:
When attacking minions, you don't roll to see how much damage you do, you roll to see how many you kill. Minions attack in groups, and make a single attack roll for the whole group.  This single attack does 1dX damage, where X is the number of minions in the group.  AoE effects kill all minions in its area of effect with a failed save, or half of them on a successful one.
- Thrown Rat! Ranged weapon with the following effect:
Each attached rat does 1 point of damage per round.  A rat can be pulled off and held with successful wrestle (with a +4 bonus, as rats aren't very strong) made by anyone.  A held rat can be crushed in your hand automatically on your next round--this doesn't require an action, but it does require you to hold a rat for an entire round, occupying your hand.
Attached rats can also be attacked.  Make an attack roll against AC 10.  On a hit, the rat is instantly killed.  On a miss, the rat is instantly killed, and any damage in excess of the rat's single hit point "rolls over" onto the person it was attached to.

- Rat Mapping! This is actually great and has been used a bunch already. Just read Rat Mapping on the original post because it's long and includes a picture.
The only difference is that you can tell the rats to check out a limited number of rooms (most often just the next room) and the survivors come back to you.
- Rat Armour! Cover yourself with the crawling horde. Each rat can absorb one point of damage before dying as they jump in the way of attacks.
- Ratagram! Leave a trail of rats to act as a reporting or messaging service between two points. Maximum distance between message rats is 10' (ie. one per standard dungeon square) and messages passed down might be a bit muddled like chinese whispers.

Player-Facing Quick Class Breakdown Version

Be this if
You rolled your ability scores and said “well, fuck”,

Being the Ratman
Skulking scurrying vermin, haunters of the burrowing dark. Loathsome and long-buried odium incarnate creeping through the endless night of the underworld. Dead-eyed and reeking like grave-sod they are, gnawing eternally at the root of the world. Endlessly breeding and swarming and feeding. Despised by all and despising all. Cunning and merciless. Hating and hateful.
If only this was you.

You’re here on the surface now, hiding your black eyes from the bright sun. It is not your world.  Your world was one of chaos and avarice and greed, a Boschian nightmare of writhing flesh and fur and filth and life. This world is fresh. It is bright. It is cold.
It could be your world too.
You detect as Neutral.
Sub-Prime Requisites
A ratman character must have no bonuses to their ability scores. They’re the worst, but they know this and have a certain low cunning that you (the player) bring to the table.


Rats love you with all their furry little hearts. You can speak to them, and they tend to like you.
You can call rats if there are any nearby (and they are almost always nearby). You can call one rat per turn. The maximum number of rats you can have under your control is equal to your level squared.
Rats can give you information, scout for you, fight for you, be thrown at people, and a whole lot else.
You also get twice the rumours in towns since you can interview nearby rats to see what they know.

See the Rat, Be the Rat
You’re a big damn rat. You’re good at climbing and swimming, and you’ve got a tail that’s as long as you are. You have a 5 in 6 Climb skill, can swim as fast as you can walk, and can use your tail as a whip. You have a nasty bite that does 1d6 damage on a successful Wrestle, and the target must Save vs Poison to avoid contracting any diseases or toxins currently afflicting you.
You can squeeze through surprisingly small spaces (the width of a man’s head) with relative ease.
You can’t see in the dark, but you can navigate darkness easily by sound and smell and whiskers.

Hate Magnet
Animals know what you are and hate you. A lot. If they can kill you they will, if not they will bark or swarm or do whatever else it takes to draw attention to you so something else can kill you. The only exceptions are rats and, for some reason, turtles.
Gameplay Stuff
1d6 – min. 1

Oh yea I nicked the first half of the Being the Ratman description from a Middenmurk Dwarf description because of course I did.

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

So I Ran Castle Gargantua... Poorly

After Kabuki Kaiser gave me a copy of this thing to review moooonths ago, my players finally decided to check it out.
And, basically, I fucked up. And not even in a good way.
If you want to know how to run something into the ground and waste a lot of wonderful potential, read on.

How not to run Castle Gargantua:

Assume the random generation gimmick means you don't need prep

First off, running this thing was sprung on me by the players at short notice.
I already had a big fuckoff tower on the map that nobody had ever gone near. Since nobody had ever gone near I'd never bothered stocking it beyond a vague "yea this is a big Skaven tower" idea. When Kabuki gave me a copy of his megadungeon I looked it over and thought "sick, randomly generated thing. I can slap this down here for now and look at it properly when the players start to get close".

Long story short, the players got their hands on the giant eagle from Deep Carbon Observatory due a lucky Halfling mind control roll. It being said Halfling's last session before she moved back to Portugal possibly forever, the party decided they should use this brief power of flight to explore somewhere they'd never been.
"How about this giant tower?" said one person, pointing at a potentially interesting giant tower on the map.
Ha ha yea ok let me load this thing up ha ha yea give me a sec.

Reskin it on the fly
The best time to reskin something is when you've only ever glanced over the contents once, and also when the thing you're reskinning is intended to be a megadungeon that could be the tentpole of a campaign.
And also when you're trying to reskin a grandiose gothic gigastructure filled with stone and bone and blood and lust into... a strange tower inhabited by ratmen.
Just waste all the goodness of the strangeness and replace it with fucking rats.

Pictured: Imagination!

Don't print out the helpful stuff at the back
Hey you know how there's some helpful stuff at the back to help you run the thing? No? Well there is, and it would have been veeery useful in terms of both keeping track of the place as it increased in size and complexity and maintaining a consistent Castle Gargantua between sessions.
Anyway, don't see that. Don't even look at that. Don't go anywhere near the back when you're running it. Great policy.
And you know how there's a list of one-word room and chamber descriptions per area? Different types of room to sell the theme of the zone? Keywords for you to use as general descriptions when people enter a room and cross off as they're used? Don't use those either. Just a giant version of a generic stone walls stone flagstone dungeon. Nothing of note other than bare stone walls. Fun.

Don't tell the players you're rolling as you go
Rather than letting the players know that this is a special dungeon with an interesting roll-as-you-go gimmick, try and hide it. Give them the impression that this is all written down somewhere and it's just like a normal dungeon.
They won't be able to tell, certainly not. The process of divining the dungeon from the dice, rather than being an enjoyable experience, should become a race against time to roll and find results and put them together in your head while you scroll to the descriptions of anything out of the ordinary.
The clatter of a handful of dice behind your hand or screen? Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain. Your players won't pick up on the clatter of countless dice at all. Your players sensing your discomfort and trying to help by asking about dungeon details to expand the shared perception of the environment? That's just more stress on top of the rest of it. Breathe fast.
Oh and remember how I said don't print anything out? Yea, just keep scrolling back and forth between the list of results and the descriptions. While trying to pretend everything's written down in a regular room description. Do that.

So is it good?

The worst thing about running it wrong was that I could see hints of how I should have done it. Dungeon generation via dice is a cool thing which I'd quite like to try out properly. But as with anything if you're bad you can mess it up, as I found to my eternal shame.
The other thing is I tend to review things only after I've run them, which I think is an ok gimmick in a world where you're reviewing something that only really becomes real when it's used in play, but if I have a bad experience is it the fault of the product or the fault of ME?!

Like, the book is good. The ideas in the book are good. The art is good. The monsters and treasure and weird things are good. The shape of the thing is good.
So much potential goodness foolishly wasted.

So hell, you now know how and why I messed it up. Let's try something new.

Why I think Castle Gargantua should have been good and unique and interesting as an experience but wasn't because I messed it up and all.

The Sheer Size
Gargantuan castle with huge ceilings, enormous rooms, and a scale of 60' per square? Unheard of. That scale means that the party's torches don't even reach the edges of the tile.
I've got a few megadungeons in my collection because I have a problem, but they're all in the rooms-separated-by-10'-wide-corridors vein. A dungeon at a scale this huge is craaaazy.

Thematic Differences
Speaking of megadungeons, I've spread them around my map and each has a distinct feel.
Stonehell is classical dungeon crawling, easily reskinned and primed for ease of use. This is what I imagined Castle Gargantua to be before I dived into running it.
Dwimmermount is full of history, history about itself and a history of the world which I felt compelled to massage into my own campaign. Dwimmermount is about discovering knowledge.
Barrowmaze is a relentless delve into a world owned by the undead, with the interesting distinction of spreading outwards instead of downwards.
The Castle of the Mad Archmage is the a-wizard-did-it dungeon of deadly whimsy in the Gygaxian style, with wacky traps and strange rooms and an intrinsic unpredictability. It doesn't have to make sense.
And then there's Castle Gargantua which SHOULD have been a baroque and intense megadungeon where the very walls of the echoing halls and cavernous corridors foreshadow the strange sights to be found within. It SHOULD have been a dungeon where each themed section had its own life. Walls bleeding wine as grape-faced guards step carefully through drug-fuelled orgies, blood-soaked barbarians battling in their own private Valhalla, cyclopean statues hewn from the walls of vast and echoing halls. Enter a Lust area and you can tell, from the furnishings, that this is a place where you should be careful of temptations and too-good-to-be-trues. Themes that allow players to predict dangers despite the weirdness, strong themes that set the dungeon apart from others like it.
Instead, swiftly reskinned mole rat people. Great.

The Main Gimmick
I might not have actually said this yet and just sort of implied it under the assumption that you know already, but the main gimmick of Castle Gargantua is that it's set up as a series of themed zones.
Most of these zones don't have traditional maps, and are instead randomised by throwing a handful of dice as the party leaves a given room.
The zones are Stone, Lust, Blood and Wine, each with appropriately themed set dressing and challenges, while special Gold zones feature actual keyed maps and actual keyed room descriptions.
Finally, travel between the zones is in the form of a snakes and ladders setup. After travelling through an arbitrary and DM-decided number of rooms (the default is four), you roll a d6 and the party travels that many zones on the game board.
Now I already love Snakes and Ladders as a game gimmick, but this sounds especially interesting due to its effects on how the game plays out. It takes one kind of map agency from the players ("We should avoid the northwest corner because spiders, but I don't thing we tried east yet") and replaces it with another ("That's two rooms we've been through, do we want to go through another two or head out?").
I'd be inclined, after my experience of trying to hide the gimmick from players, to just let the players in on it completely. Give them a printout of the Snakes and Ladders board and tell them how it's going to work.
How does this pan out in play? No idea! But I'd really like to find out for myself.

Interesting Impacts Yet Unknown
Just like having Snakes and Ladders instead of a traditional map alters gameplay and player agency in a way I'd be interested in discovering, there are a few other unknown effects of rules that I can see maybe happening.
For instance, monsters being bigger (and thus, more powerful) based on average party level. It initially sounds like the sort of challenge-rating balanced combat hokum that I wilfully fled from when I stopped running 4th ed and embraced the loose imbalance of the OSR.
BUT my assumption is that, like the rest of the castle seems to be, once it's been generated it stays that way. This would seem to imply that as the characters explore the castle and level up, the enemies get (literally) bigger and nastier. And THAT means that you maintain the classic megadungeon how-deep-in-do-we-go gameplay, while also having the interesting implication that once a party levels up enough they'll never generate smaller "normal sized" enemies when they enter a new area. They're only going to find the bigger ones.
Unless, that is, the players roll up some lower level woobies and go in to explore.
Which is weird but maybe fits if you play up the fairy tale aesthetic? I want to find out the implications of these things, man! I want to see how it plays properly!

Final Thoughts

I didn't run it good. It looks like it could be very good.
I'll probably do a second review after the players go back, except this time I'm going to use the aesthetic as intended and not try to reskin it.
Really the main advantage of trying to run it was seeing the horrific amounts of squandered potential at play here. I SHALL RETURN.
I am going to solve my problems by placing pouches of magic beans and/or scrolls of Engorge Beanstalk and Anchor Cloud Castle in treasure keys until the party finds one and uses it.

Should you buy it? Yea man.
But learn from my mistakes and run this thing right.