Monday, March 31, 2014

Review - Batman, Inc. Vol. 1

Let me preface this by saying this is a review of the first compilation of the pre-New 52 Batman, Inc. so it is entirely possible that the post New 52 Batman, Inc. plays out differently. With that said...let me discuss for a moment just what a tragic and poorly conceived tale this book wove. I generally regard myself as a Grant Morrison fan, albeit one who remembers him mainly from older works such as the remarkable run he had on Doom Patrol many years back. The idea of Morrison writing Batman intrigued me, and situ....this book might make more sense. Alas, I jumped on the DC bandwagon only recently, post New 52, so whatever the hell was going on in the DC Universe just before New 52 came around? Yeah, if it was anything like Batman, Inc. I can see why they realized they needed a reboot.

The premise of the story is Bruce Wayne, deciding to throw the might of his corporate empire behind financing a global war on crime in the form of a funded vigilante PMC (private military corporation, which is what this works out to be even if the book does a terrible job of realizing it). The tales in this volume weave around several threads, none fully realized or properly focused on, creating a disjointed narrative that suggests one of two things: either Morrison just wanted to write his usual crazy and couldn't figure out how to do it in a Batman venue, or that there are a lot of crossovers and references to other comic titles at the time that are hopelessly impossible to figure out without the proper context.

As an example of how disjointed this story is, let me point out a few of the dozens of oddities that clearly lack proper context without who knows how many other sources from this period:

Who Are These Batmen?: There are multiple Batmen in the book, only one being Bruce Wayne. One might be Dick Grayson during the period he played Batman (which I know from reading the remarkable "The Black Mirror") but it's actually not clear from any context as to which one he is. Part of the problem? None of these Batmen act like Batman. They act like hapless pawns in Morrison's convoluted tale, a common trope in his writing that I felt worked well for a team like Doom Patrol, but works miserably for a book about a control freak who dresses like a Bat and keeps tabs on the entire DC Universe, just in case. This is not that Batman....none of them are.

Spewing Vigilantes: Was there a non Barbara Gordon Batgirl pre New 52? Was there another Batgirl who gets all of two panels midway in the book? Was this Batwoman a lesbian pre New 52? She doesn't act like the Batwoman of other titles....Why does Gaucho betray Batman when he does, even though he was really on his side? How did he thwart the mind control of whatever it was that possessed him in the first place? What the hell is any character in this book doing? They all come off as violent, foolish crazy characters who are easily dispatched, thwarted or otherwise overcome at times by Leviathan, the super-secret Not-Smersh/Not-Hydra organization specifically invented just to serve as a foil to the plot, which is sprinkled with two unmemorable villains that proceed to engage in ridiculous, poorly explained and badly conceived plots. Note that I really felt to a certain extent that Morrison' style was faltering badly here....he was writing a Batman book that ignored Batman, making him a bit character in his own tale, while simultaneously hinting at moments of greatness but not even bothering to slow down and explain it. The book could have used a serious editorial review and rewrite. There were several tales going on here, and none of them got the justice or time they deserved, in the name of confusion, poorly represented versions of the main protagonist, and an array of nonsensical events that--while characteristically Morrison--just didn't seem to work in the context of the Batman's corner of the DC Universe.

I mean...maybe the pre New 52 DC Universe was going completely nuts, but somehow I think, in the end, this is Morrison showing that his range of writing is limited to a certain roaming area, and his inability to incorporate Batman into his style ends up making the entire run feel like he shoehorned the Bat into his own limited mold. A real shame.....but I have the first post New 52 volume in this series, will be curious to see if it manages to get more focused and actually try and tell a story that can be followed without referencing dozens of obscure events and characters of the source material.

D+. I'll give it the + because Batman, Inc. had some great moments (I liked Catwoman's appearance, one of the few coherent moments of storytelling in the book), sadly hidden behind the hip tale that is so laden in self-referential material that making sense of it without countless other now out of print books is all but impossible.

Morrison's version of Batman: stricken of common sense due to some time travel plot, with way too much money and a dearth of the trademark paranoia and detective skills other, better and more timeless Batman tales have exhibited. Also, bat-bots that show up for like two pages and then nada.

Preamble: Useful Posts for Basic/Expert Dungeons & Dragons

Before I start my April posting on Basic/Expert D&D (I've settled on a methodology that will work well, I think) here are a list of useful rules and ideas scattered on the internet that I will take advantage of, but not repeat because the sources are already good enough:

Gnomes as playable Racial Class - done extremely well by Tim Brannan at The Other Side Blog.

Minotaurs as a playable Racial Class - done right here by me.

Orcs as playable characters - right here, also by me, but also available in the Orcs of Thar Gazetteer (not yet in PDF format, alas)

The Grey Matter Bestiary - written by Leonaru, this is the single greatest free bestiary on the internet and works great with B/X D&D.

Paladins, Rangers, Monks, Druids and other Advanced Labyrinth Lord Fun - The Advanced Edition Companion to Labyrinth Lord makes these all perfectly functional optional races in D&D B/X, so you don't need to wait till you're high level to be a paladin or druid, for example. I won't assume these are classes in the April event, but as a DM I would allow them as options to interested players if pressed upon.

Things I'd like but can't find evidence of, so may have to design on my own:

Hutaakans as playable characters - I seem to recall these existed as a thing at one time, possibly in the Hollow World setting. Does anyone know if proper hutaakan racial classes were ever presented?

Elven Thief racial class - a vital requisite to playing wood elves, in my opinion. I will construct a specific racial class for this purpose at some point if I find the time.

Lupins, Tortles and possibly even kobodls deserve racial classes, too....

Starting Tomorrow....a month of....Basic/Expert Dungeons & Dragons!

Continuing my thematic madness I am going to spend April focusing on the classic Basic/Expert Dungeons & Dragons sets, with a nod to the D&D Rules Cyclopedia as well, all back in electronic format over at

I've published some stuff on the blog for B/X D&D before, but this new focus will be aimed at fleshing out a new setting specifically with the B/X D&D themes and designs in mind, and it will lean on the Otus-cover original editions and the Rules Cyclopedia heavily, although everything should be equally compatible with the other later iterations of the game, including Labyrinth Lord (which I may also reference). I'll also use the Creature Catalog quite a bit, it's a great resource (and also available at the website).

So: the goal....30 days of new content, ideas, adventures, monsters, magic items and optional rules ideas for Basic/Expert D&D. The reality: I'll make it happen, somehow....!

13 Days of 13th Age XIII: The Flasks of the Nephilim

This was my first module written for use with 13th Age, and I had to do a bit of clean-up to get it current with my growing understanding of the system (but errors may still float in the text). It's part I of an ongoing campaign, but the party has cut their way through this section so far. 

Personally it wasn't structured in an ideal manner for my tastes; it doesn't require the PCs to do anything they don't want to, and if they take a tactic that assumes a "wait and see" position the GM will need to be ready to adjudicate a different sort of experience. The locations and events below serve only as a template of possibility....more than half of what I describe below didn't play out quite as described. 

I: The Flasks of the Nephilim

Reward for the Death of Alabask Phenar!
The cruel and insidious ashtarth warlord Alabask Phenar has at last been driven from the lands of righteous men! The vile cur has retreated from the battlefield, his force of ne’er-do-wells scattered hither and yon. Rangers of the fabled order of Kom’Huandyr have tracked the fiend to the entrance of his subterranean demesne within the depths of the Lower Dark, deep beneath the caverns of the Lost Mantle in the eastern range of the Slithotendan Mountains. Lady Siddara of Hyrmyskos has sent forth an armed delegation of ambassadors to speak with the ashtarth of Dahik, where they were informed that the “traitorous” Alabask Phenar had been exiled from their kingdom a decade earlier, and that Eilith, the Infernal Queen of Darkness did not recognize Alabask’s authority to speak on behalf of her people. She specified an unstated reward to those who could claim the head of the “craven fool.”
Emperor Usyllyses has also proclaimed that the first hero to bring forth proof of Alabask’s demise will be rewarded with a generous sum of money in the form of 1,000 gold crowns and the issuance of both knighthood and ten acres of land along the lush shores of the Nyarlith Delta. Hundreds of eager blades and clever free agents have already stated that they will see to the death of this most hated foe of the Empire…”

--Excerpted from Gazette of the Royal Sun, Hyrkan’ien, Ca. 1,952 aw

Twenty years ago an entrepreneurial warrior of the dark elf kingdom of Dahik rose to power, joined the movement against the Infernal Queen, and like his brethren failed to cast her down. Many of those who survived the failed coup attempt were captured or killed in Dahik’s dark arenas, but Alabask Phenar was not among them. He had paid carefully to receive the best bodyguards ashtarth coin could buy, and was protected by three dark fiends who served as allies and bodyguards, all in exchange for a piece of his soul. When the time came to make his escape, Alabask called upon his fiendish protectors and fled. Each fiend sacrificed itself for him that he could escape, willingly.

Alabask made his escape, and eventually took refuge in the troll city of Hoggoth, where he had a torrid and brief affair with the troll queen Invidia herself. But his time with the mistress of the Evil Eye was brief, and he was soon forced out of the city when the Infernal Queen Eilith called upon Invidia to honor her ages-old alliance with Dahik. Invidia did so, though not before insuring Alabask had opportunity to make his escape.

Alabask eventually retreated to the deeps of a region known as the Lost Mantle, located in the eastern end of the Mountains of Madness, deep below the Great Pass used by the Empire’s trade routes for overland north-south travel. Here he found a degenerate tribe of dark elves called the Salabari, who had been cast out centuries ago due to their depraved standards… depraved in fact that even the demon-worshipping blood-sacrificing ashtarth had a problem with them.
The Salabari had long ago given up their worship of the demon gods and now sought an even deeper truth, listening to the maddening whispers and dreams of a being buried hundreds of miles beneath the earth of the mountains, the whispering mad god Slithotep. The degenerate elves revealed some of the elaborate mysteries that unfolded from Slithotep’s psychic dreams to Alabask as he stayed with them.

Alabask was impressed at the madness and power evident within Slithotep’s dreams, and it became clear that this being was a very old agent of chaos. He sought to learn more, and delved deep to learn as many mysteries as he could. While he did so he made more allies in the deeps of the Lower Dark, and eventually he stumbled across a tribe of degenerate troglodytes who claimed they knew of an ancient tomb that may belong to the mysterious Slithotep, where his corporeal body had been slain the the War of the Gods.

What Alabask found was not a tomb to the mad god but instead a forgotten temple and tomb to another unknown chaos god, who had fallen in the two-thousand year old War of the Gods. This chaos lord was called Siny’Math (sin-yee-math), and she was the lost goddess of corruption. Transfixed by the eerie beauty of her statuary, Alabask decided that he must restore her lost worship. He braved the temple with his followers, and eventually after many casualties they restored it. He then penetrated the tomb, seeking the reliquary of the goddess that he might use it to contact her spirit which he felt sure must be wandering in the planes of Limbo, lost and without followers for so long.

Alabask, after many losses, penetrated the depths of the tomb and uncovered Siny’Math’s remains. Within her tomb he found two artifacts: the Reliquary of Siny’Math which contained the vial of her cosmic blood, and the Spear of Corruption, her unholy weapon which chose him as her avatar champion the moment he seized it. From that moment on he became her zealous follower.
Little is known of the three years that followed this time, other than stories of how salabari dark elves rode forth in the night across the wilderlands of the Empire, seeking out allies to forge an army in the name of Alabask and his dark goddess. Priests of the new cult spoke in whispers of Alabask’s terrible fascination for the goddess, and how her soul would descend the planar realms to possess her physical remains for a time, and that he had terrible carnal visits with the goddess. Other priests remarked that the terrible all-pervasive presence of Slithotep only grew stronger with the manifestation of Siny’Math, and that it was often difficult to distinguish between Slithotep’s dark dreams and those prophetic revelations of the undead goddess. One priest dared question if Siny’Math was even real, and not just another feverish dream of the mad god, but Alabask slew the priest after a prolonged torture session for daring to suggest such; his remains were then fed the goddess, who grows stronger with each sacrifice.

Recently, Alabask has resurfaced, prompting renewed interest in his capture. He, along with a force of Salabari warriors and khitteck attacked at the heart of the Grand Temple in Hyrmyskos, during the visit of the High Sacrimori herself. The attack appeared to be targeted at the high priestess, but it was in fact an act of misdirection: the real intent was for a small cadre of warriors to infiltrate Nistur’s Temple of Knowledge to find an ancient tome on the Secrets of Corti’Zahn, dead city of the gods.

Within that book Alabask found what he sought: lore on the enigmatic Orb of Oblivion, said to bethe secret to granting all knowledge in the world, at the price of despair at the stark truths of existence. Alabask, convinced his madness would protect him from such revelations and instead open up new avenues to power, decided to pursue the Orb.

Secrets within Secrets: Siny'Math may in fact be in league with the dreaded Elder God of chaos that lies imprisioned beneath the Mountains of Madness called A'kall...but discovering this bit of information is very difficult.

The Journey

Alabask made his way into the deserts, staying briefly with a sympathizer ogre before using the map in the tome to find the fabled White Station, an ancient bastion of divinity which the lost kings of the Fertile Empire used to travel to the floating towers of Corti’Zahn to commune with their gods directly.

Alabask found the White Station, and he and his men evaded the purple worm guardian with judicious use of slaves. They then encountered the mind flayer Severes who served as its caretaker, with his abominable guardians. Alabask had no trouble sacrificing his men in exchange for use of one of the four airships at the land-dock. So impressed was Severes with this drow that he converted to the worship of Siny’Math on the spot. Once Alabask left this left three airships, one of which had fallen into disrepair beyond even the capacity of Severus to fix.

The adventurers following Alabask to the White Station will first have to overcome the purple worm which lurks in the area as an eternal guard (deception works best) and then convince Severes to also let them use one of the skyships. This will be difficult….Severes has been tainted badly by the visions of power Alabask showed him. If they can find a way to coerce or convince him then he will allow access to one. Alternatively, if they manage to slay him somehow, a brutal fight if ever there would be one (treat as mind flayer but with escalation die bonus and ability to shrug off stun effects as a quick action) then he will relent and teleport away when he is staggered (although killing him also works).

The airships are harnessed ether-engines, powerful machines that could enter space if so rigged. These models have been restrained from spaceflight, but if someone were to find a ritual to enchant their atmospheric engines to allow for artificial air, heat and protection from the harsh conditions of space, and then freed the ether engines of the “gravity harness” which keeps them from leaving orbit then the machine could become space-worthy. The ship itself is directed in the atmosphere by an electric sprite, a small blue woman who appears on a complex stained glass round table in the navigation room. She is currently programmed for a number of specific destinations:
  1. The Tower of Oblivion (last utilized destination; where Alabask went in Corti’Zahn)
  2. The Arc of the Seraphs (a great arc-monument in Corti’Zahn, now collapsed)
  3. The Tomb Lands (along the far western slopes of the Slithotendan Mountains)
  4. The Gates of Starthias (this may surprise some)
  5. The Palace of the Empire (the one she has programmed is not the current era palace; it will take the PCs to a vast ruin deep in the deserts to the south where the old Imperial Palace of Hyradakas rests)
The sprite is named “Azima” after “azimuth.” A clever PC in talking with her will learn the destinations are all programmed in, but there are many more, as well as a freeform style of navigation, but only the ship captain and navigator can be granted access. Inquiring about how to prove ownership as such will reveal that the PCs would need to find the proper deed of ownership, last held by the captain. Where is the captain? According to the sprite, before her vessel was docked she knew he was returning to the Capitol to be married…..(possible side quest).

Arriving At Corti’Zahn

The airship took Alabask to the tower of Aurumurvox first, one of the few towers who now rested only feet above the desert sand. There he met the enigmatic living god, and was told that the Orb of Oblivion would accept –or reject—any who sought its ownership. Alabask indicated he needed only ask it a question, a revelation…Aurumurvox assented, for the god knew it was destined.

Alabask was right: his mind was protected by Siny’math’s weave of spells that she had crafted, even in death, to protect her greatest avatar and first true worshipper in eons. Alabask’s madness helped as well; he had already had dark truths of chaos revealed to him, knew in his heart of the inevitable death of creation as the great worms of chaos were destined to devour it.

The Orb revealed its secrets to him: as he parsed through the vast flood of knowledge he found his mind focused on one singular bit of information, though unknown to him it was that single piece of lore which it was that Siny’Math and Slithotep desired he find: The lost knowledge of the Flasks of the Nephilim.

In the dawn of time, when the gods were young, they crested a servitor race of beings called the Prehunates. The prehunates were nearly immortal for in this early era the gods saw fit that their creations would one day serve the needs of the gods. In this early era, the god’s direct immortal servants were the Seraphim. The seraphim were true angelic beings, and each represented one ideology, ethos, vice or virtue of the world. The seraphim were entranced by the first men, the prehunates, and had relations with them. From these relations were born the first giants, the nephilim.

The nephilim were the original true giants. They saw themselves as greater than men, greater than seraphim, and aspired to be gods by virtue of their celestial blood. The first nephilim contented with the rule of the early prehunates, but in time their lust for power grew, and they sought to steal celestial power from their divine parents. This was a time of great conflict, as the nephilim used elemental magics to change themselves, and sought out powers of both order and chaos without consideration of consequence. They built up the prehunates and used them as great armies to steal the power of the seraphim.

The tales of this time are largely undocumented, but it is known that in this primal era that the nephilim were ultimately cast down, and survive today as the remote giantkin of the world, still touched with elemental traits, but forever barred from the immortality and divinity they once sought; only the titans, who are a different breed of giant entirely (though few realize this) are different.

The lore that Alabask sought from this time was simple: power. In the tale of the Nephilim the Orb revealed that one of the greater weapons of the Nephilim were the legendary Flasks of the Nephilim, sacred elixirs used to imbue the giantkin with elemental power and create horrible monsters; alchemy most foul. The Flasks were potent artifacts of what may have been the first war in the word’s ancient prehistory. They rested in the high floating Towers of War, a monument to the gods of war, including Hargameth, Hanahook, Vishannu, Morrigante, and the dead lost gods Argolos and Sakragei. Each flask had been placed in one of the monuments to each deity, and the pathways to each remained treacherously guarded.

Alabask realized what he needed: if he could secure three of the flasks, he would be able to perform a ritual of resurrection that would grant the dark goddess Sniy’Math a new body…

PCs who follow Alabask will find that he traveled to the Tower of Oblivion first. There, they will find an expectant living God with the Orb of Oblivion…Aurumurvox will explain that a madman, touched by the chaos of a god long dead, is on a mad quest. The adventurers must stop him from getting the Flasks of the Nephilim, for they will allow a great corruption to enter the world, one tainted by an ancient and unholy magic that has not existed for an eon.

If anyone inquires as to why Aurmurvox did nothing, he will explain that it is not his place to act in the world of men; he can only serve as keeper of the Orb of Oblivion, and caretaker of the ruined necropolis the gods once called home. He can, however, inform the adventurers of their destiny, should they choose to embrace it…

The Towers of War

The adventurers are close behind Alabask, but may not pick the same paths he has. Each tower is as follows:

Tower of Hargameth: the god of primal war, blood & thunder and great strength.

Tower of Hanahook: god of strength and might in Amech.

Tower of Vishannu: the lord of the art and cunning of war.

Tower of Morrigante: the goddess of war, including spite, vengeance and fury.

Tower of Argolos: dead god once the dark and terrible spectre of doom on the battlefield; god of loss.

Tower of Sakragei: dead god, once the god of valor and honor, slain in the War of the Gods.

The Tower Hub Docking Station:
The towers are reached via a common dock station, overrun with foliage and filled with the relics of the War of the Gods; dried husks, bleached bones and rusted arms and armament litter the station. There is no evidence of another airship, suggesting that the drow following Alabask have left; in fact they are circling, using clouds and other towers as cover, and plan to return when the adventurers abandon their vessel so they can seize it.

A solitary guardian remains on the docking platform, the whispery seraph Occanulos, long dead but still existing as a vestige. His angelic corpse remains frozen in death near the center of the carnage, impaled by a great spear that seethes with lightning. His vestige will warn the visitors to turn away, but if they do not then he raises a small army of skeletons to drive them out.

Encounter: 20 decrepit skeletons (3 levels), 4 warrior skeletons (4 levels) 1 blackamber skeletal legionnaire (2 levels); secondary possible: Occanulos Wight (his damage attacks are electrical)
Adventurers who look around will see some clues: evidence of blood spilt that was not their own, and some barbed black ashtarth arrows from the Salabari, Less evident is which paths they have taken so far, though a scrutinizing ranger may be able to identify at least one path.

Occanulos can be freed of his deathly state if someone can dislodge the lightning spear from his corpse in the center of the platform. The corpse will rise and attack any who come too close, as a wight with barrow-touch but the damage is lightning instead of negative energy due to the spear.

If someone manages to grasp the spear it deals 4D6 lightning damage (+5 vs. PD) but a strength check (DC 15) can pull it free; once done the body turns to dust and bones. The adventurer who holds the spear for three consecutive rounds without being injured is now attuned to the spear and is its master:

Morrigante’s Spear of Lightning: This weapon grants the tier bonus (+1 at adventurer, +2 heroic and +3 epic) plus once per battle (recharge 16+) it deals 1D6 lighting damage in addition to the base 1D8 spear damage. This damage levels up with the base damage. Once per encounter the wielder may instead charge the weapon as a free action and release the lighting at a target that is nearby as a ranged attack. Anytime the wielder misses and rolls a natural 1, the weapon discharges it’s lightning against the wielder instead, dealing the wielder’s level’s worth of lighting damage. Quirk: The wielder of the weapon develops a fascination for lighting storms that some might consider suicidal.
Anyone who tries to take the weapon and tries to attune to it is subject to three consecutive electrical discharge attacks at the attack bonus of the wielder vs. PD, dealing the wielder’s level in D6 damage. If three consecutive attacks miss or deal no damage then the wielder is safe and attuned to the weapon; only missing in combat on a 1 causes risk of more damage.

Paths 1 through 6 match the towers in order, above.

1. The Tower of Hargameth
The floating causeway is riddle with holes where the eldritch spells have at last given out, or been compromised by the war fought here so long ago. While navigating the treacherous expanse adventurers will find that ghostly images of the warriors who fought in the War of the Gods manifest all about them, as if they fight on forever upon the great bridge.

Each minute that passes on the bridge (and it will take five minutes to cross) increases the odds of the wraith noticing the PCs. Touching a wraith will provoke an accidental “attack by contact” and the wraiths are so thick as they move along that each minute requires a check to see if the PCs draw attention or an unwanted attack: DC 10 for round one, then DC 12, DC 14, DC 16 and lastly DC 18 vs. Dexterity (acrobatics or similar skills will apply here).

If an adventurer fails a check or deliberately seeks attention, roll to see what sort:

1-4 The wraith brushes up against the PC or moves to strike where it thinks a phantom stands; PC subject to a single random wraith attack (roll normally); if the PC does not engage with the wraith it will move on.
5-7 A wraith focuses on the PC. Roll a D6: 1-3 the wraith is a warrior of Hargameth and will react to the PC only if the PC looks like a foe; 4-6 it is a demonic wraith and will likewise react if the PC looks like a foe; the wraith will engage for one round before breaking off distracted, unless the PC pursues. The wraith in this instance is a weak vestige (mook wraith 9 HP).
8-9 As above, but the wraith is a greater wraith of full normal strength.
10 The PC has attracted the attention of multiple wraiths! 1D6 mook wraith and 1D2 full strength wraiths turn on him. Note that if a full battle is engaged, the PCs will have to make a Dexterity check at the current DC level per round to avoid drawing further wraith attention. The DC goes up by two for any who are engaged during the battle.

After crossing the bridge the PCs realize that they have arrived at an immense, monolithic temple constructed in the likeness of the god of raw battle. Hargameth’s energy seethes within this monument, and for each minute the PCs are here they must make a DC 10 Wisdom check to avoid succumbing to the bloodlust that permeates the temple. A PC who fails a check will find themselves acting in violence against a nearby ally for that round, and every round thereafter until an easy Save is made (6+).

A careful search reveals that there is a ladder along a far wall of the inner monument, leading up into the hollow of the temple-colossus figure of Hargameth. In the hollow of Hargameth’s “body” are multiple platforms and ladders, and on the one roughly where the god’s heart might be mounted rests a pedestal with the Burning Flask of the Nephilim upon it. There is only one problem: there is a temple guardian, a brutal blue dragon named Keravosk who has claimed the temple for his lair. In addition, a laf-dozen ashtarth warriors sent here by Alabask still live; a dozen more drow lie dead on platforms throughout the inner complex having been hunted by Keravosk.

Encounter: Keravosk, Medium Blue Dragon (Raw Power: uses 2D20 and picks better for melee attacks; also, an escalation level creature)(HP 76)
6 Salabari ashtarth dark elves (leader: Crokais Sparthane)

One Ashtarth Officer: Crokais Spoarthane (Drow elf)
Level 4 Rogue (humanoid dark elf)
Initiative +9
Melee: scimitar attack (+9 vs. AC; 14 damage)
Ranged: hand crossbow (+10 vs. AC; 10 damage and +8 vs. PD or target is weakened and takes 5 ongoing damage per round (Save 11+ to end))
Exceptionally Cruel: when the escalation die is even, any attack deals an additional 10 damage.
Shadow Walk (recharge Escalation 3+); the dark elf can disengage and move to any nearby point via shadows; arrives stealthed (DC 20 wisdom check to spot).
AC: 20 HP: 54
PD: 18
MD: 14

Five Asharth Elf Minions
Level 3 mook rogues (humanoid dark elves)
Initiative +7
Melee: scimitar attack (+8 vs. AC; 10 damage)
Ranged: hand crossbow (+9 vs. AC; 8 damage and secondary attack +7 vs. PD or target weakened (-4 attacks and defenses) plus 5 poison damage per round, 11+ save to end)
Exceptionally Cruel: when the escalation die is even, any attack deals an additional 10 damage.
Shadow Walk (recharge Escalation 3+); the dark elf can disengage and move to any nearby point via shadows; arrives stealthed (DC 20 wisdom check to spot).
AC: 19 HP: 10
PD: 17
MD: 13

Dark Elf Treasure: The Drow have their crossbows and scimitars, which are each +1 imbued weapons. They also have 2D6 platinum pieces (worth 10 GP per coin) in their pockets, and one vial with three applications of their poison (+7 vs. PD or target weakened and 5 ongoing damage, save 11+)

The Flask of Elemental Fire: The first of the flask of the nephilim, merely drinking from this flask requires +10 vs. PD check or the drinker takes 20 ongoing fire damage (save 11+ to end). Making the save will imbue the drinker with immunity to fire for 24 hours. Rituals can be constructed to make this effect permanent, but in the process imbues the drinker with elemental properties, and unexpected side effects of monstrous nature.

The Dragon’s Hoard: 125 GP in coin and stolen relics the dragon has pulled from the temple into its hoard per person (so assuming 8 PCs there will be 1,000 GP in treasure heaped on the same platform as the flask). The dragon greatly valued the flask but was afraid to use it, having been badly injured during its first attempt. This left Keravosk with his unusual fear of fire.

The dragon’s hoard also contains some oddities, including stacks of musty old tomes it has been trying to decipher, to find the rituals that let it use the flask. If the PCs grab it all, a clever soul can spend 1D6 weeks sorting through before finding a partial scroll called the Incantations of the Nephilim Vol. III On Fire with the proper Ritual of the Nephilim of Fire upon it; the ritual will permanently turn one giantkin into a fire giant, or one human into a fire elemental with humanoid form, but it requires an ingot of Pure Fire from the Elemental plane of Fire itself to complete the ritual.

2. The Tower of Hanahook
Reaching this tower requires navigating a series of stone steps suspended by thick vines and leaves hanging suspended in the sky between the tower and the station. Although the path looks treacherous it is in fact safe enough. Large birds like condors swoop by and periodically land on the vines, but make not threatening actions (and if the PCs attack them they scatter).

The tower is immense, designed out of a single piece of basalt such that the front entrance looks like the great elephant god Hanahook reclining, immense statuary of his harem at his feet; between his feet rests the entrance to the inner tower-temple. Inside, PCs will notice that the floor is earthen, and there is a vast open area with a great dome that glitters with sacred glowing jewels marking the constellations of Amech can be found. At the center of the dome is an impressive abstract statue of Amechain design, in a style which predates that of modern art styles in Belladas; the abstraction is reminiscent of dozens of figures merging together, but with tusks and animal imagery thrown in at random angles.

Striding around the immense statue is a Hanadako, an elephant man of Amech. He introduces himself briefly, “I am Gocha, guardian of the temple.” Gocha will explain, is asked that the Statue of the Oracles, as he calls rthe monument, can reveal the secret of the Flasks of Nephilim to those who ask…..but to ask, Hanahook demands a proof of might. That proof comes from defeating Gocha.

Gocha is a formidable opponent, but when the challenge is accepted by whatever means he stomps his feet twice and his pet, a bullette, bursts from the earth to attack.

To win this fight the PCs need only reduce one or both of their opponents to the staggered condition, at which time Gocha will relent and allow passage.

If the statue is asked to relinquish the Flask it will do so, but the voices of the oracles in the statue will warn that the curse of the nephilim will haunt those who use it. The oracles will also divulge a manuscript, an ancient codex, on request containing the ritual of use for the flask.

Encounter: Gocha the Hanadako Elephant Man (use minotaur stats) and one bullette

Treasure: a madman seeking to extract the stones from the ceiling may climb up and do so, but each timer the attempt is made a Dexterity check (with thieving skills) at DC 22 is required to pull one free. Fail and it explodes for 3D6 fire damage.

The Flask of Earth: a giant who drinks this becomes an earth giant (hill or stone depending on size). A humanoid who drink this gains the power to move through the earth at will for 24 hours unless they fail against a +8 vs. PD check in which case the drinker turns to stone. One save at 11+ after 24 hours, modified by CON modifier; fail and it is permanent. With the Codex of the Earth Nephilim the rituals inside allow a bearer to turn themselves into an earth elemental or earth giant (stone, hill or other) but they must secure a sacred Arkenstone….a stone of the mountain heart, to complete the ritual. These can only be found on the elemental planes.
3. The Tower of Vishannu
The passage to this tower is a treacherous series of stone blocks suspended in the air. Harpies zig and zag back and forth, about a half dozen, but they seem disinterested in attacking the PCs. It becomes apparent when the temple is reached that Alabask has already been here; a dozen amazon warriors lie dead near the tower entrance, but one amazon woman named Venice Kong is not dead, merely delirious from poison and badly injured. She can tell them what happened if they earn her trust; the drow and his driders, ashtarth warriors and scorpion man allies rushed the temple and cut their way through. They found the vault and looted it; inside, on a platform can be found an ancient teleporter which the amazons use to reach the temple, and she is not sure but suspects they may have used it to escape.

Venice Kong will join the PCs if they heal her, but not before she summons a sprite to get work back to her people in Vyrindia about the attack on the tower.

Venice Kong
Level 6 amazon warrior
Initiative +10
Melee Katana (+11 attack 21 damage; On a natural 19-20 she does triple damage)
Ranged Long bow (+10 attach 21 damage)
Escalating: Venice Kong may benefit from the Escalatoion die bonus
Whirlwind Attack: Once per battle Venice can attack an engaged opponent, then move and attack a nearby opponent, and continue to do so (getting a free disengage) until she runs out of opponents or misses an attack. This resets on Escalation die 4+
AC: 23 HP: 90
PD: 21
MD: 16

4. The Tower of Morrigante
This stern black keep is closest to the dock station, and the bridge to it is an actual stone bridge stretching over space. The tower is decorated with jutting spikes, and foul birds eclipse the sky around it. Closer to the temple and a darkness overwhelms the area, for it appears the Plane of Shadow covers the area around the tower.

While crossing the bridge an old one-eyed man with a gnarled staff can be seen midway along it’s length, scrutinizing the PCs as they move closer. His name is Caedos, and he is an ancient, wizened priest of Morrigante, exiled now for a century at her temple. His crime is unnamed, though he will admit that he probably deserved this duty; from discussion it should be apparent when he refers to “Gloomwrought” that he is not a native to Lingusia, but instead the Shadowfell.

Caedos will suss the party out, and if he finds them wanting he will inform them that he can take them to the temple to study up on the nature of the Flasks of the Nephilim, but that if indeed Morrigante keeps such an ancient relic in her vault it is beyond his means to retrieve it. “The Lady does not give of her vault lightly,” he explains.

Inside the keep the party is surprised by a furious encounter: shadows battling dark elves and driders who have stealthed their way past the old priest:

Encounter: Allies: 3 shadows, 1 greater shadow, and Caedos (see here for shadow stats)
Enemies: 12 rogue drow (see earlier mook stats) led by one drow officer (Catalia Svornen; use prior officer stats but she replaces Force Missile for crossbow; auto hit but no poison) plus one drider sorceress named Sadisty’ann.

Caedos will join the fight to aid the PCs if they have earned his trust; if they haven’t he summons four more shadows (one greater) to also attack them.

Level 4 Cleric Human
Melee staff (+9 attack for 14 damage)
Ranged Javelin of faith (+9 attack for 14 damage, or 18 damage against an uninjured target)
Cure Wounds (Daily; nearby ally can heal as free action spending a recovery; also may remove one bad condition)
Heal: 2/battle quick action; nearby target can spend a recovery to heal
Justice: grant attack reroll blessing to self or ally when hit, once per turn
Summon Shadows: once per battle Caedos can summon 3 shadows and 1 greater shadow as a quick action.
AC: 18 HP: 54
PD: 14
MD: 20

After all the fighting is done, Caedos will be remorseful to discover that the drow Alabask has already made off with the Flask of Shadow…..PCs may see him on the bridge, where he seemingly jumps to doom, buit instead lands on the deck of his invisisble ship somewhere below.

The Flask of Shadow: this can create shadow giants, though no such creatures roam the modern world, so just how terrifying such a being would be remains unknown. Anyone who drinks the potion and makes a save (11+) gains the Shadow Walk ability (as per the dark elves), allowing them once per encounter to pop free of any engaged target and move to any other nearby location, making a stealth check on arrival. Failing the save however means the target begins to take 10 ongoing shadow damage (save ends) and if the target reaches zero hit points before the effect stops becomes a shadow (if level 1 to 6) or greater shadow (if level 7+) immediately.
5. The Tower of Dead Argolos
The passage to this tower is effectively absent, and it appears the tower’s magic failed entirely; a close study of the ground below shows an impact crater and strewn remnants of the tower. Astute PCs may remember that there is a teleporter to the surface in Vishannu’s Tower. This is the quickest way to get there unless one PC has managed to learn to use the Control Sprite on the airship.

The tower ruins are a devastated mess, and it is unclear as to whether anything, be it god or artifact, could have survived such an impact. A cleen sweep reveals nothing…at first. In a heap of debris inside the crater there is a large intact stone wedged at an angle. There are a gang of scorpion men working furiously to break in, supervised by one of Alabask’s lieutenants, the cruel Hadasan Katai. Astute adventurers will realize they have already hammered open the stone vault and extracted its contents.

Encounter: 12 scoprion men laborers, 4 scorpion men warriors, and the ashtarth sorcerer Hadasan Katai

Hadasan Katai, Master Ashtarth Sorcerer
Level 5 infernal sorcerer
Initiative +10
Melee scimitar (+10 attack 18 damage)
Ranged Infernal Bolts of the Evil Eye (+11 attack 20 damage; on an even roll the target instead takes 10 damage but the sorcerer may become invisible for one round and can also disengage if desired)
Escalation Foe: Hadasan gains the attack benefit of the escalation die.
Fire Resistance: 16+
On the first round Hadasan will drink from the Flask of Blackfire, gaining this power:
Black Firestorm: On Escalation 1+ Hadasan may cast a firestorm that engulfs all nearby targets. He may ignore allies but for each one he allows to be hurt the spell gains +5 damage. +10 vs. PD; base damage is 10 to all nearby targets hit, plus sacrifice bonus. Damage is both negative energy and fire. Recharges in Escalation 6.
AC: 21 HP: 72
PD: 15
MD: 20

Hadasan will fight for three rounds before a skyhook from the invisible drow airship drops to give him a lift. If the PCs fail to stop him he escapes with the flask, which he and his agents have already extracted from the tomb-stone.

Flask of Blackfire: this is one lost to time, but is possible the power behind rare death giants. A drink from this will convert a giant into a death giant, and a humanoid will gain the Black Firestorm ability for 24 hours. However, the drinker is first hit by a +10 vs. PD attack; failure means the fire consumes the drinker who drops immediately to 0 hit points and dies unless a Save 11+ is made; if made, the drinker can spend a recovery to stop the death but still hits zero HP.

Contents of the Vault: 1,000 GP in rare miscellaneous valuables, as well as an impressive scythe, an awkward weapon but it is magical: Scythe of Argolos (base 1D6 damage, +1 adventurer bonus) and grants the bearer a resistance 16 + and grants the user a 16+ save resistance to all negative energy damage. The scythe also grants the user the ability to understand most undead and in general undead will react neutrally or positively to the user before attacking. Once per day the user may attempt a mental attack at his normal mental attack value (IN+Level vs. MD) vs. one undead; if the undead fails it is effectively dominated for 1 hour.

6. Tower of Sakragei
The path to this tower has collapsed, though the distant floating tower has not. Interspersed like crude stepping stones are a dozen floating rocks, and each rock has etched on its top surface a pentagram. There is one at the base entrance of the dock station as well. Stepping on the pentagram and invoking Sakragei’s name (it is written in the pentagram in the Old Tongue and in the Primordial tongue) will cause the person to teleport to the next stone, and so forth, to the tower.
Problem is, there are four drow archers waiting at the base of the tower, aiming to shoot at those who are following! All adventurers are considered faraway until they get to the seventh stepping stone.

Four Drow Ashtarth Archers
Level 2 Archers
Initiative +6
Ranged scimitar (+7 attack, 7 damage)
Ranged Longbows (+8 attack, 8 damage)
Shadow Step (once per battle, quick action, may disengage to teleport via shadows to anywhere nearby, stealthed on arrival)
Cruel (once per session may add 10 ongoing damage if they roll even on an attack)
AC: 18 HP: 36
PD: 16
MD: 12

The drow are buying their boss time. Commander Vortan Sidhey Plagistron is the drow in charge, and he is securing the Flask of Storms as they speak. They need to keep the PCs occupied for four rounds, On the fifth round the drow airship will swoop in and grab Vortan by skyhook and take off.

The tower itself is derelict, a hollow shell that has mostly collapsed. In the midst of thre carnage Vortan unearths an ancient case in which he finds a variety of treasure, but all he cares for is the flask. There is no book of note that he finds, though PCs digging deeper will find an old codex to the flask.

Vortan Sidhey Plagistron
Level 6 Drow Assassin-Mage
Initiative +12
Melee Daggers (2) (+11 attack; 21 damage plus +12 vs. PD or take 10 ongoing poison save 11+)
Ranged Force Bolts (+11 attack; 21 damage)
Storm of Swords (manifests 7 swords nearby, each strikes for +7 vs. PD dealing 8 force damage; one sword goes away each time the escalation die goes up a notch)
Escalation Foe: Vortan and his magic swords gain the escalation bonus.
AC: 23 HP: 108
PD: 17
MD: 17

Flask of Storms: If the mage does not escape with this one, the PCs will have access to a flask which turns other giantkin into storm giants, humanoids into storm/air elementals with the right rituals, and drunk once now can grant the PC the power to deal electrical damage twice per battle for 24 hours: Level+INT vs. PD or deal 1D8 per two levels (round up) electrical damage to one nearby foe per level. Drinking it means a +10 vs. PD check however, or taking the PCs level in D8 electrical damage instead.

Possible Success/Failure at this Stage:

When the PCs nave either acquired some or all of the flasks, they need to determine what to do next. This depends on how many they got:

One to Three Flasks: Alabask has at least three flasks then, and that’s what he needs to concoct a new body for his goddess. The PCs will need to track him down. One way to gain this knowledge, assuming they don’t have a live prisoner, is to go back to Aurumurvox and ask the Orb. Pursuing will lead them to Part II: Siege of the Deep Fortress!

Four or more Flasks: Alabask is short what he needs; he will have to assault/hunt the PCs to secure the remaining flasks he needs. The PCs can stand and fight (a nebulous prospect to fight an invisible ship full of drow) or barter for escape. Part II becomes “Escape from Death,” followed by the Siege…

PCs should get one “pick” for advancement for every three fights, plus a bonus pick if they secure 3 flasks, and two picks if they secure 4 or more. Give them an entire level if they got all 6 flasks.

The Actual Play Aftermath: there's a lot more to the game I ran than what was represented in the prior text, and when I wrote this it was prior to all the other recent content I worked up for 13th Age. Some stuff had to be revised to work better with my understanding of the rules after a few sessions; other stuff remains as-is. Other parts were the adventurers deviating into unusual areas, and me simply going back to the campaign guide I run from to adjudicate (they visited other floating temples in Corti'Zahn, for example, and found a way to liberate the airship's sprite so she now has free will and serves them as an ally).

In actual play the game is still ongoing; they got three of six flasks, and are pursuing Alabask Phenar and his cronies to their subterranean lair in the Mountains of Madness, to stop his mad quest to resurrect Siny'Math....but that tale shall be presented at a future date....!

Friday, March 28, 2014

13 Days of 13th Age XII: Guns in 13th Age

13th Age doesn't offer up any rules on firearms in its core books, and those might not even be welcome....but some fantasy settings have firearms, or assume a more renaissance level of technology in their fantasy not-Europes and not-East Asias.

Since 13th Age tends to make a bigger deal out of what the character is doing with the weapon as a class than what the weapon itself actually does, firearms are actually kind of simple. The rule rule of thumb for base damage is like this:

Classes and Firearms: Barbarians, Rogues, Rangers, Paladins and Fighters suffer no penalties to using firearms. Sorcerers, Clerics, and Wizards suffer a -4 penalty to attacks, and Bards suffer a -2 penalty to attacks.

Small Holdout Pistols, Derringers: 1D6 base damage.

Flintlock Pistols, Six-Shooters, Blunderbusses: 1D8 base damage.

Rifles, Muskets, Shotguns, Arquebus: 1D10 base damage.

Special Qualities of Firearms: Since firearms are a bit more revolutionary than the rest of your average medieval warrior's armaments, it's only fair to provide some additional special rules. Think of them as being a bit like magic items, but without the persnality quirks or chakra/attunement issues.

Loading Times: GMs will need to establish whether they are allowing old tapped-gunpowder-and-ball style musketry, breech loaded weapons or faster advanced weaponry such as six-shooters and chambered/clipped rounds. It's fantasy so nothing says firearm technology has to progress at the same rate as the real world. That said, loading a ball and powder for five to ten rounds can make firearms very undesirable to those who haven't considered the purpose of a brace or bandolier full of pistols, and a powder monkey to follow them around with the onerous task of reloading the weapons. My suggestion is that after each round a flintlock, wheellock or other ball-and-powder weapon is fired it will take a minimum of one standard action to reload, and that reload takes a save with a modifier equal to the character's level (base 11+ to succeed). So a level 7 pistoleer warrior can roll 1D20+7 on his standard action to reload the musket, which happens on an 11 or better. This simulates that loading weapons is not quick, while also making them potentially take more than one round to ready.

If you opt for more advanced firearms, assume they take one standard action to load after firing. Assume that most such advanced firearms can hold six to eight rounds in the cylinder, or two rounds in each barrell (such as for breech-loaded shotguns).

Misfire/Jam: Any time a firearm is used in an attack, a roll of 1 means the gun misfired or jammed. When this happens, make a save (11+) for the weapon. On a successful save the gun is merely jammed and each round the character can use a standard action to try and unjam it (success on a save if 11+, but let backgrounds of appropriate nature apply to the roll). If this save fails the gun remains jammed for that round. If on the save you rolled another natural 1 then the gun misfires, and the user rolls an attack from the weapon against himself. One final save is made to see if the gun is still in working condition after it blows up in the PC's face or not...failure means its been junked.

Critical Hits: Firearms do a lot of damage potentially. All firearms have a crit range of 18-20, and deal double the total damage dice rolled (i.e. a level 5 ranger with a musket dealing base 1D10 normally rolls 4D10+Dex mod in damage on a basic attack, so now he rolls 8D10+double dex mod). However, if a firearm rolls a natural 20 on the attack it triples the damage instead. What offsets this? The fact that in most games your characters are using one-shot flintlocks or wheellocks, which means a ranger can't dual-shot with a musket.

Pistols: Pistols are best at short range, so they suffer double the usual penalties for firing far away; they suffer no penalty for nearby or engaged targets. Anyone trying to reload while engaged is open to an opportunity attack.

For powers such as the ranger has where you can get off two ranged attacks, carrying a brace of pistols is a must!

Muskets/Rifles and Bayonets: These weapons are good at both nearby and far away although muskets suffer an additional -2 to hit targets at far away range, but rifles (with their fancy rifling) suffer no such additional penalties. These weapons also suffer a -2 penalty to shoot someone who is engaged with you, and if you try reloading them while engaged your opponents get an opportunity attack. It is popular to stick a bayonet on the end of muskets and rifles to turn them into melee weapons (1D6 base damage in melee). Using a bayonet is no penalty for fighters, rogues, rangers, paladins, bards and barbarians but incurs a -4 attack penalty to clerics, wizards and sorcerers.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

13 Days of 13th Age XI: An Optional Experience Point System

While perusing 13th Age forums for ideas I noticed this old thread on adding XP mechanics to 13th Age. This isn't a terribly bad idea if you have a group that loves to get some cheese at the end of each session (although in that case I suggest handing out an incremental advance). That said, you could have a fairly decent rudimentary XP gain system that works like this:

Gaining Levels: XP to gain a new level is equal to 100 times the desired level. So level 2 costs 200 XP. level 3 needs 300 more XP (for a total of 500 XP accrued). Then, double the required amount (so 200X and then 400X) at level 5 and level 8 (champion and epic respectively) to reflect the ramp-up in power. Here's a chart:

Advancement Chart:
Level 1: 0 XP
Level 2: 200 XP
Level 3: 500 XP
Level 4: 900 XP
Level 5: 1,900 XP
Level 6: 3,100 XP
Level 7: 4,500 XP
Level 8: 7,700 XP
Level 9: 11,300 XP
Level 10: 15,300 XP

Earning XP: characters gain XP based on the following formulas:

Killing Monsters: option #1 is 10 XP per level of monster. Double it for tough monsters, triple it for huge or boss monsters. Award 1/4th the XP for mooks. This works out to an XP award chart as follows:
Level 1 monster: 10 XP (mook 2 XP, tough 20 XP)
Level 2 monster: 20 XP (mook 5 XP,tough 40 XP)
Level 3 monster: 30 XP  (mook 8 XP, tough 60 XP)
Level 4 monster: 40 XP (mook 10 XP, tough 80 XP)
Level 5 monster: 50 XP (mook 12 XP, tough 100 XP)
Level 6 monster: 60 XP (mook 15 XP, tough 120 XP)
Level 7 monster: 70 XP (mook 17 XP, tough 140 XP)
Level 8 monster: 80 XP (mook 20 XP, tough 160 XP)
Level 9 monster: 90 XP (mook 22 XP, tough 180 XP)
Level 10 monster: 100 XP (mook 25 XP, tough 200 XP)

Option #2 is to award an award based on HPs. You simply tally up the starting HPs for foes and that's the XP value of the fight. Since HPs scale by creature toughness this is a somewhat more linear but still scaling method of awarding XP. Characters will probably gain more XP for tough monsters this way but less XP for the weaker ones.

As always you want to award players for defeating foes, not just destroying them. A routed monster should be worth the same XP as a murdered monster.

Looking at the chart above, you can apply the "kills to advance" test that seems to be popular despite overlooking all the other useful ways to earn XP. Under this approach, it indicates that using the XP chart I presented earlier one 1st level PC would need to slaughter 20 level 1 goblins or 80 level 1 goblin mooks (or any combination of such) to directly advance a level.

Scaling XP by Encounter Toughness: not all things are equal, and it has always been my opinion that the value of a monster is relative to the toughness of the PCs. (Yes, I did like the scaling XP approach of D&D 3rd edition even though it was a pain in the arse.) This option would have you determining XP based on monster level relative to PC level. Use the chart/methodology above, but with the following modification: when using the chart on page 203 in 13th Age to determine encounter value, calculate the effective level of the monsters relative to the PCs first before determining XP. So if lower level monsters according to that chart are worth .7 levels relative to the PCs, and you have 10 of them, then apply the modifier before determining the XP value. In this case, a party of level 3 adventurers against a gang of 10 level 2 goblins will actually only get 7 levels of XP for the fight (70 XP) instead of 100 XP, since there is a clear numerical advantage. Likewise, when the foes are tougher, award the better XP accordingly.

Treasure XP: I've always been a "treasure is it's own reward" kind of person, but you could award 10 XP per expendable magic item found and 50 XP per true magic item found, and 1 XP per gold piece under this system.

Plot XP: this is where the GM uses the plot and its advancement to award extra XP to keep players on the right level of advancement. If they've got especially laudable goals, and you're the sort of GM who wants them to accomplish those goals but also doesn't want to make them feel forced into it, their knowing you hand out nice accomplishment XP could be useful. As a rule of thumb I'd probably award plot XP at about 100 XP per level of character.

Alternative to Plot XP-Doing Stuff XP: you can award players for using backgrounds and powers creatively. You can award them for icon interactions, but be careful since those can be based of arbitrary luck of the icon dice. A 50 XP per "smart use" could work. Each class should have two or three "smart use" things they get XP for under this method. The downside of this approach is it requires tallying these uses/successes/valiant efforts as you play. My suggested list of "things worth 50 XP" would be:
Creative use of One Unique Thing in story
Use of a talent, power or background in an interesting way
Use of a background that advances the story/plot/information pool of the PCs

Slower Advancement: Either double the XP needed to level, or halve the XP earned in the suggested formulae above. One side requires less book-keeping but the PCs have to accrue more XP to get anywhere. The other side makes the advancement slower but leaves the book keeping on the GM's side of the screen.

So is this system right for you? If you want a nice benchmark on which to place character advancement, and like a bit of the hands-off approach (one where you can let the numbers speak for themselves) this can be very useful. My key issue with XP-free advancement in 13th Age is that it is arbitrary; the GM is leveling the group up when he wants them to go up, and not when maybe their actual range of experiences dictate it. As a GM I actually prefer not being in total control of variables like this; it can lead to bad GMing habits when you try to dictate when people start plotting around it, which takes away from a vital essence of personal freedom the PCs have and the idea that the plot is driven by player action, not GM fiat.

On the other hand, if you're a fair GM who simply decides that a less nuanced approach works (so X number of sessions =new level regardless of content of sessions) that can work too. I'm inclined to see the advantage of both systems, and so far I haven't used XP mechanics in 13th Age yet so the open leveling process so far works well...I use the incremental advances and my rule of thumb is that when everyone is due for a 5th advance they get a new level instead. This seems to be reward enough for my players. But if I wanted a more nuanced game, with a slower pace, I think an XP system like the one above would be a useful way to regulate that.

Monday, March 24, 2014

13 Days of 13th Age X: Alternate Rules Ideas

We've kicked some alternate rules ideas around in my recent 13th Age games, nothing too severe, but still worth discussing. Here then are two such rules...

Ability Scores and Damage

13th Age uses the "Hit Points as Single Damage Counter" concept first introduced in 4E. As such, all damage --be it fatigue, psychic, necrotic, poison, etc.-- affects hit points. Interestingly 13th Age still has 3-18 range stats and they go up slowly; the system, except for using them as a slow benchmark for the actual modifiers that count, could pretty much do away with the attribute rolls entirely. However, here's a way to make them meaningful again:

Alternate damage trackers: Poison damage could do 1 CON instead of every 5 HPs of damage. Psychic could deal damage directly to one's choice of INT or WIS (at an exchange of 5 HPs damage to 1 ability damage). These ability scores could heal at a rate of 1 point per recovery die spent (you'd still roll the dice too for HP recovery). The advantage of this method is that damage has a more interesting range of potential effects than just ticking down on the all-consuming hit point score. The downside is that you would have to track ever increasing penalties as stats dwindle down from damage. Hitting zero in a mental stat means catatonia, and three failed mortality checks mean death. Hitting zero in the three physical attributes means you're dying as normal, but stabilizing at a 1 means being too frail to even move.

Recalculating Power Uses

Some people still dislike the concept of powers that have a "per battle" use or a daily use rather than the more traditional "X uses/day" characteristics of older editions of D&D. There's an easy way to mod 13th Age that still insures things work as intended (more or less) while still granting these traditionalists a more familiar experience:

For any per-battle power, assume the uses/per day equal four encounters/battles per day, plus a modifier equal to the key ability mod (the one the ability works off of to make an attack roll). This is the total uses per day. Abilities with a recharge still get that, recovering one use on a success.

For any daily, assume one use per day, or for a little variability assume 1D2 uses per day.

This approach puts the use of powers and when they trigger into the hands of the players again, and arbitrary encounter limits are removed. The downside: players could swarm enemies with a barrage of powers all at once. The upside: they have the freedom to do so and will pay for it later when they wish they hadn't used all their power uses/day up at once.

Another alternative is to simply create a power pool, based on X number of powers acquired equal to 4 per power triggered per-battle, 2 per daily and a bonus equal to the better of the favored class ability modifier. Then, when the character wants to use one of these abilities simply spend 1 point for a per-battle ability or 2 points per daily to activate.

Is this approach a good idea, and is it balanced? It would depend on the GM eyeballing NPCs built around the assumed one power/battle situation, and would also depend on the sort of group you have. Old schoolers such as my two buddies who dislike per-battle use mechanics intensely may be appeased, and it may work for them because they are so old school that the idea of min/maxing this effect doesn't occur to them...a group of savvy players could abuse this optional rule easily.

Friday, March 21, 2014

13 Days of 13th Age IX: Seven New Magic Items

Thirteenth Age actually has plenty of interesting magic items to choose from, but you can always add more. Here are seven additional magic items I worked up....


Soul Cutter (any weapon): This impressive weapon has a blade/tip of blue energy, and feels chillingly cold to the bone on touch. Anyone struck by this weapon substitutes MD for AC on the attack. The target takes psychic damage from the weapon instead of normal physical damage. Quirk: broods deeply and favors dark clothing.

Arrow Cutter (any melee bladed weapon): the blade of this weapon can unerringly deflect arrows. When a ranged attack from a bow or crossbow is leveled against you, as a free action the defender may make a basic attack roll with this weapon (only once per round). If the defender's attack roll beats the attacker's attack roll the arrow is cut in two and does not hit. Quirk: You obsessively break arrows when you find them, and disdain the use of ranged weaponry.


The Amulet of S'Groth: the wielder of this amulet can innately sense the presence of demons that may be disguised. Once per day the bearer of this amulet may invoke a claim of power against a demon, in which the amulet's wielder can make a CHA+level vs. MD against the demon. If the attack succeeds the demon must act for one round as the amulet's wielder directs, though they will try to subvert the command. If the die roll on the attack is a 16 or better then the effect lasts for five minutes; on a natural 20 it lasts for 24 hours! Regardless of outcome the demon will be determined to slay the one with the amulet. Any demon who resists (is missed) is immune from further attempts to control him. This item recharges on a save (16+) at the end of the combat. Quirk: expects to be waited on by everyone.

The Solar Amulet: this powerful sun disk can emit a soft white light equivalent to a nice lantern as a free action indefinitely. Once per day the bearer can command it to evoke a potent, blinding light (Int+level vs. PD against everyone nearby or all are Dazed until the end of their next turn). recharge 16+. Quirk: you become extremely self-righteous and prone to pointing out the obvious.


The Sandals of Soliloquy: the wearer of these sandals develops a keen sense of oration and persuasion, gaining the sandal's bonus (+1 to +3 by tier) to charisma checks. In addition, once per day the wearer can make a direct (Cha+Level vs. MD) attack against a target as a standard action, in which through discussion powered by the magic of the sandals the target is convinced of the wearer's viewpoint. Quirk: the wearer soliloquizes all the time, out loud, to the point of perceived madness.


The Belt of Impulsiveness: the wearer of this belt finds that he can, once per battle, choose to change his initiative to one point better than another target who is nearby. In addition, he gains double the weapon's magic bonus in attacks and damage against foes when he makes an opportunity attack. Quirk: the wearer of the belt's sense of impulsiveness takes over, and he is prone to rash and unthinking actions.


The Helm of Intrusion: when worn, the wearer of this helm finds that he is unassailable when foes try to grapple or push him, and that no door can withstand his might. Against any attempt to break down a door he gains +10 to any check to do so. Against foes who seek to grapple him (by magical means or otherwise) he gains +4 to his AC, PD or MD accordingly, and gains that same bonus when saving against restraining or grappling effects. Quirk: the wearer develops a "my way or the highway!" attitude toward every problem, and describes all actions in analogies relating to smashing down doors whenever possible.