Thursday, October 18, 2018

Engines & Empires: The Scholar Class

The old, Labyrinth Lord based version of Engines & Empires replaced the cleric class with an "occult scholar" class, which was intended as a reference to the origins of the cleric as a Dr. Van Helsing expy. Since the new, stand-alone version of E&E ditched the Vancian magic system altogether, and with it the need for separate arcane and divine spell-caster classes, some of that flavor was lost, somewhat to my regret.

The old, original version of Retro Phaze also had a scholar class, as a stand-in for the red mage or  bard; the new, up-and-coming version of the game moves the scholar from "optional fifth class in the back of the book" to "standard fifth class, right there with the other main four." Calling this version of the character class a "scholar" is something of a reference to the Final Fantasy scholar class, which is noted for wielding books as weapons, and for "scanning" monsters to find their weaknesses.

Well back in January, I decided to combine these ideas and created a "fifth base class" for Engines & Empires, one based on the Van Helsing style scholar. I suppose I just got too distracted to get around to writing it up formally. Plus, I figured that I would wind up debuting the new class in Shade Isle when I got around to writing that. (Turns out, Retro Phaze VI just felt more urgent.) You see, adding a scholar class to Engines & Empires fills a lot of niches that rather need filling. It provides an alternative Int-based class for cultures, settings, and time periods that aren't inclined to use steampunk technology; which means that in a gonzo steampunk setting, the scholar can be an alternative to the technologist for in-game societies that don't use steampunk technology. And in a non-steampunk setting, Engines & Empires can still be used a complete game with a sufficient variety of classes.

But, most importantly, there gets to be a whole class dedicated to monster- and undead-hunting again, and there gets to be a proper "gish" class for human characters now. The link to the (one-page) addendum is going to live on the sidebar of this blog for the time being, but anyhow, here it is.

Monday, October 15, 2018

My Barrowmaze Campaign: The Overworld

I figured it was high time got around to posting this.

My weekly, Saturday-afternoon Barrowmaze campaign is now in the middle of it's tenth month of real time (and its second year of game time). Party members' levels range from 1st to 6th, with the higher level characters all in the hands of the most frequent and longest running players.

But I also wanted to put up a map that I'd just finished recently, depicting how I slot the Barrowmoor into Eastern Karameikos:

(It's a very large image, which should hopefully counteract the sloppy handwriting and make at least some of the landmarks' names legible.)

I figured that I'd need a wider map soon, as the player characters (although still having only explored the tiniest fraction of crypts under the barrow mounds) are starting to grow in wealth and influence to the point where they might wind up traveling further afield. They've heard rumors of monsters massing the far north, and the Castellan Keep (you know, the one on the borderlands); and they've even had a couple of run-ins with Bargle, evil wizard extraordinaire, and cruel lackey to Baron Ludwig Black Eagle (whose lands are still off the western edge of this map, but which the PCs might very well travel to before this campaign wraps up).

Setting this campaign in Karameikos has been, on the whole, a positive thing. It does sometimes take the focus off the local area and the back-and-forth between town and dungeon; but players crave that variety. Same thing every game, week in and week out, would inevitably wear thin. That said, I'm still leaving the pace of this game, and where they go and what they do, entire up to the players. I've no idea how long the campaign will continue to run, where they'll eventually visit, or what they're going to do.

And, tellingly, I myself can feel the first stirrings of gamer ADD setting in. Ideas for other campaigns, for big dungeons with more depth and variety than a big crypt full of undead. A strong desire to back to playing one of my own systems, particularly Engines & Empires. The life of the campaign at this point, if I'm being honest, probably depends entirely on how long I can stay interested in it. So far… I'm holding on. But it's touch and go.

The Final Boss

Submitted for your consideration:

Chaos, King of All Devils
HD: 40 (140 hp; Acc +12; RS 10)
VN: −4
XP: [hp + 40] × 1.5 (avg 270)
MV: 4
DG: 15d
AP: 10
The “final boss” of a Retro Phaze VI campaign is usually some kind of terrible arch-devil. Chaos is but one example of such a monster, since each campaign world must naturally have its own ultimate villain. Chaos resembles a gigantic, gold-scaled fiend with clawed hands, cloven hooves for feet, and bat-like wings. He is the manifest embodiment of evil, hatred, and destruction, the very antithesis of life, order, and weal in physical form.
Terrain Affinity: Flying.
Master of Magic: Chaos has a unique level of spell ability, being able to cast every single spell in the game (black, white, and reversed white) twice per day each.
Summoning: Chaos can use an action to conjure two demons, two devils, or one of each, both of which will stay and fight for Chaos for the remainder of the battle. This costs Chaos 1 Action Point.
Withering Demon Breath: Chaos has a terrible breath weapon with range 1–3 that inflicts 24d damage on all targets, who may resist at −2 for half. The breath weapon has spread 1 if Chaos spends 1 AP to activate it, or spread 2 if he spends 2 AP. The damage inflicted is magical, Dark, and non-elemental, like the reversed white magic spell Unholy.
Immunities: Chaos is immune to all forms in instant death magic (Banish, Death, Kill, and Scourge), poison, and petrification.

(And because Chaos is a boss monster, marked with "•" and a title, it's explained in the rules that he has two actions per initiative cycle, each and every round… nasty. You're going to need a large party of high-level characters to take this guy down!)

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Sigh. Bandwagons.

A questionnaire worthy of a BuzzFeed clickbait listicle is spreading like a virus through the OSR blogosphere yet again. Isn't that just so very typically hivemindey? (And quelle surprise where it comes from, mais non?) But I just can't help myself, either. Fully aware that this is a grotesque exercise in masturbatory pablum, here's the list, and here we go:

1. One article or blog entry that exemplifies the best of the Old School Renaissance for me:

Grognardia. J.M. discussing Dwimmermount. He drove home that long stretches of empty rooms drive tension, which is awesome; that sometimes, whole sessions go by with no treasure found and no XP earned, and that's okay; and that a mega-dungeon should have the seeds planted early on of puzzles that can't be solved for a long, long time, only after lots of exploration (his example being a solid stone wall that became a door only under a very specific phase of the moon). That's still just plain fucking badass.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Retro Phaze VI and Monster Stats

Right now, I'm deep in the weeds revising monsters, and expanding the monster list to add some tactically interesting beasties, as well some classic critters that should be very familiar to 8-bit and 16-bit console fans. I'm reminded of when I was slogging through E&E's huge monster chapter, and just how much I love monster lore. It's fun as hell, tweaking these iconic bits of mythology and folklore to suit the specific purposes of each game.

But on that note, I also thought that I'd post a quick note here on how I'm going about making the monsters easier to run during the game. First, an example of the old Retro Phaze stat block. For the sake of comparison, I'll use the basilisk as my example:

Clean and simple, sure, but it does make the typical rookie mistake of mixing flavor text with mechanics. In the revised edition of Engines & Empires, I made damned sure to split those up, having each monster entry consist of the stat-line, the description, and then bullet-pointed mechanics.  The revised basilisk does the same (keeping in mind that the below text is as-yet unformatted for publication, so the stat-line is more of a "stat-column" at the moment; so far, I haven't quite decided how I'll make it pretty whet it comes time to do the formatting):

HD: 7 (24 hp; Acc +3; RS 6)
VN: 4
MV: 3
DG: 2d + poison 2
A basilisk is a huge, gray lizard that looks like a giant chameleon covered in feathers made of stone. This creature is slow to move and act, but it is still widely feared for its petrifying gaze and venomous bite.
Terrain Affinity: Caverns.
Petrifying Gaze: Instead of attacking, the basilisk can gaze at a target at range 1–2; the target must roll resistance or be turned to stone.
Poisonous Bite: Any creature bitten by a basilisk must roll resistance or else become poisoned (strength 2).

This time around, the monster's tactical capabilities are clearly marked, and they use codified language that applies uniformly across all monsters, fitting of a tactical skirmish RPG. "Poison 2" for any monster that has it means a poison that deals 2 damage per round (or turn or day, depending on whether the party is in battle, in the dungeon, or on the overworld) to the victim. "Terrain Affinity: Caverns" also has a clear definition shared with all other cave-favoring monsters, that rugged terrain in caves hinders basilisks less than other creatures (specifically downgrading rough terrain and difficult terrain in caves, ordinarily costing 1.5 and 2 points of movement respectively, to 1 and 1.5 for a creature with the affinity), allowing a basilisk to still make 3 squares per round across a field of pebbles and scree, or 2 squares over boulders and talus and low stalagmites.

Note also that the gaze mechanic (and this is also going to be true of lots of awkward, holdover-from-D&D mechanics) has been seriously simplified. Now it's just a special attack on the part of the monster, and it uses the monster's action if it's activated. No quibbling about who's looking where, or what the penalties are for fighting while averting one's eyes. That matters in D&D, but it doesn't matter in RP6. Driving home, again and again, that this is a "combat as sport" game where you win by engaging with the mechanics rather than subverting them.

Old-school D&D, as many have said, is "combat as war". You beat a basilisk in D&D by bringing a mirror along and making it gaze at itself, so that you never have to fight it fairly in the first place. If I wanted another game like that—well, I'd just play D&D, and then I wouldn't need Retro Phaze in the first place, now would I? Rather, Retro Phaze is supposed to work like a slick, simplified, and hugely streamlined 4e, only with no sign of anything like a character "build" for a thousand mile radius. (Hence the elimination of the Rogue Talents class feature; they were only put in the old edition to cover up some dead levels, but they were always a betrayal of my "I hate feats!" principles.) You beat a basilisk in this game by making sure that all of your characters are carrying SOFT potions, and laying sufficient smack-down to make the monster run out of hit points before it petrifies all of you. Simple as that.

Next time—if I don't come up with another monster-related post, that is—I should be discussing the latter half of chapter three, which is magical relics. This is another area where the old editions of Retro Phaze were severely lacking in two areas: variety of items available; and a dire, dire need for selling prices. More on that soon.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Retro Phaze VI Update: Chapter Two Draft

Wow, this is exciting. I'm actually making progress here. When I should be studying for mid-terms, but whatever. Apparently I become a productive dynamo of creativity through the selective application of procrastination. Who knew?

Cover Art Mockup
Chapter One Draft
Chapter Two Draft

So chapter two is pretty much the rules of the game. It covers weapons, armor, and other equipment (a much expanded section, now that different weapons have different tactical properties for damage and range), travel, encounters, dungeons, and battles.

Basically, with the first two chapters in hand, you could pretty much play RP6 now, if you're willing to ad hoc the monsters and use the old magic item tables.

Well, that's it for now. I need to get back to prepping for Nuke Con tomorrow, where I'll be running B3: Palace of the Silver Princess using the white box and Holmes Basic! Fun times!