Wednesday, June 15, 2016

The Hunted: A gonzo racial class for OSR-style games.

Originally published in the People section of Secret Santicore 2014.


Those who have ventured into the deep forests often speak of the songs of the giants. Deep moanings can be heard, loud enough to be felt in the chest. The travel hundreds of miles, vibrating trees and sending the ears of animals up at the sounds. The forest itself seems to sing with deep sounds of the wandering giant tribes. But rarely is such a giant seen, even as the sound seems to emanate from right next to the travelers.

So rare are the sightings that some modern scholars insist that giants to not exist, that they are hypothetical inventions to explain the natural sounds the forest makes. 

The giants are real, however. They not only have their songs, but also language and culture. They stand as tall as two men and as wide as three. They travel in small, disperse groups through the forests, foraging for the moss, lichen, and bark they call their food. They can be violent, but they never war amongst each other. For the giants have a secret that few men know, a secret that is contained in the slow songs they sing to each other.
In their slow songs, the word the giants use for themselves is “Hunted”.

Background Information

The Hunted are a nomadic race of humanoid giants that live in seasonal forests, foraging food from their surroundings. They are a thoughtful, plodding race, and one that serves as a bit of a thought experiment: What would a conscious, cultured race look like that is not at the top of the food chain?

Because of their dangerous surroundings and solitary existence, the Hunted are hunted by the apex predators of the forest, particularly wolves. Because of this, they have developed a culture that both fears and venerates the Hunters, who they look upon as avatars of god’s divine wrath. They have  developed a culture that minimizes the risk that any giant, particularly young giants, will be brought down, but have developed a religion that helps them deal with the fact that most giants do meet a violent end between the teeth of their god.

The Hunted live and travel in large tribes of individuals, but because they require so much space to graze, they often will spend weeks not in physical proximity of each other. In order to stay in touch, to share information about the weather, predator movements, and just not to get lonely, the Hunted sing a low, deep, slow song that can travel hundreds of miles through the forest. This song contains information, but not in the form of words that make up sentences—rather, the information is contained in the grammar of the song, the way they sing it with each other, the musical points and counter-points of the various participants. The song is a low slow lumbering thing that holds multiple layers of meaning, much of it just out of the conscious awareness even of the Hunted. 

The Hunted are phenomenal bushcraftsment. They can predict the weather days and weeks in advance, can track any animal over long distances, can tell from the sounds of the forest where packs of wolves or other predators are. In spite of their size, they can hide well in any forest, and even their slow singing will not give away their location. It is only through an excellent sense of smell or by happening upon an unsuspecting (usually very young or very old) giant that one will be found.

The Hunted navigate the north-south length of the continent every year. The summers they spend in the North, taking advantage of the abundance of food and lack of predators in order to congregate for two months as they give birth and raise their calves to the point that they can make the long journey south. In the winters, they again congregate at the southmost reaches of the seasonal forests, doing their best to help each other find food until the worst of winter relents.

They thus spend most of their time traveling, and only travel through the forests. As the forest is not unbroken, many have wondered how the Hunted make it from the top of the continent to its inner reaches without ever being seen.

In each of their semi-permanent settlements is a convent for the very old. Those few Hunted who have managed to live to the point where they can no longer travel settle in these areas and become the spiritual leaders of the Hunted. The Old Men live in the South, and the Nans live in the North. As such, two separate versions of the Hunted’s religion have formed, which the Hunted believe simultaneously.

The Old Men tell of the importance of accepting what is in a philosophy not unlike Buddhism. The Wolf comes for everyone, and so accepting Him when He does come, regardless of his incarnation, is an important point of growth. Once the acceptance of things as they are has been made, a Hunted can himself sense better, communicate better, and survive longer. The Old Men promote doing willfully and experiencing mindfully, and teach meditation techniques that help all the Hunted live better in the world. 

The Nans, those who have grown up charged with protecting their young, do not take such a laissez-faire attitude towards the Wolf. They teach that The Wolf is an unthinking force of nature as much as he is a cruel god, and as such the techniques that the Old Men teach are just as useful for understanding its ways in order to work around them and even challenge them. They teach the importance of sacrifice to the Wolf in order to satiate it, and the ways in which a Hunted can fight back with both intelligence and strength.

The Old Men and the Nans communicate between each other only through slow songs: at the beginning of each migratory season, as the Hunted leave a resting ground, those who will not be coming with them start a new slow song that will be sung that entire season. In this slow song is information that the Hunted will need to safely make it through the season, and when they arrive at their destination those Hunted who lived out the whole year since their last leaving will take in the song, help them sing it one last time, and then begin composing a new slow song for the traveling season ahead. Thus, the Nans sing to the new mothers and fathers of how to protect their children, while the Old Men sing to the young children of how to do well in the woods on their own and how to interact with society. 

How to Play

In order for the players to play as a Hunted, they must be willing to play a large smelly beast of a humanoid, a giant covered in green mossy fur and rough bark-like skin, with paddle-like hands of ridged leather that they use to scrub lichen off rocks, who will attract unwanted attention wherever they go. In return, they will play a creature that does not fear physical attack, has heightened senses, and can travel through the woods as easily as a whale through the ocean.

A Hunted can be played as a gentle giant, a dim-witted warrior, or a cunning barbarian druid. The player should know two things about the Hunted character: Why has the character left the tribe, and why has the character left the forest? These question can be answered in many ways: maybe a whole tribe has left the forest to live with men or halflings, perhaps he was exiled for wrongful conduct and chose to leave the forest for self-punishment, or perhaps she lost her first young child and in her grief forgot the ways of gliding between the forests and actually reached the edge.

For examples of how to play a Hunted player character, look at the “further reading” section at the end.


In game terms, the Hunted are a racial class that takes elements of Fighters, Halflings, and Dwarves and combines them with a large size and several custom abilities and disadvantages. I will be using Lamentations of the Flame Princess for reference, but rather than giving exact stats I will be explaining how to construct the Hunted class for your game using your chosen ruleset.

First, the size. Hunted require a minimum strength modifier of +1 and constitution modifier of +1. In addition, they receive a racial bonus of +1 to their strength or constitution modifier, as the player sees fit. So in most old school systems, if a player does not roll at least a 13 on both Strength and Constitution, they cannot play a Hunted (unless a kind system or GM is willing to let them swap stats after the roll). 

Hunted are good fighters with long reach. Male hunted take a +2 to the base melée to-hit bonus, and females a +3, although progression from there continues as a Dwarfs (in LotFP, to-hit never increases, in others it increases by the minimum amount per level). In addition, they all have a d10 hit dice, and a minimum HP of 6 at level 1. Finally, their tough hide gives them a +1 AC bonus for having “natural armor”.

However, the Hunted are not often trained warriors. Most know how to use a stone spear—it has fantastic reach even in melee (treat as a spear), does impressive bludgeoning damage (treat as a mace or warhammer), and can even be thrown (again, treat as a spear, although with no bonus to ranged to-hit), but cannot use any other weapons without training. In addition, any non-custom armor will do more harm that good by preventing the +2 to-hit bonus, and only increasing AC by 1/2 the usual amount. Custom-made armor does not have such restrictions, but costs 5x the normal amount due to added materials costs and the difficulty in sizing it properly, and can only be made by a master craftsman. 

In addition, while the Hunted are strong and hearty, they are not agile, lucky, or accustomed to magic. They have the saving throw progression of whichever class has the worst in your ruleset (the Fighter in LotFP), and start with the saving throws of a level-0 character even as they are level-1. This can often be role-played as the Hunted simply accepting the world as-is, as the Old Men teach.

The Hunted also have three special racial abilities, described below, and a special racial disadvantage, described below that. The players can invoke the abilities whenever they make sense. The GM should invoke the disadvantage whenever it makes sense, and play it out to its logical conclusions.

Ability 1: Slow Singing

Wherever other Hunted are in range, the character can slow sing to communicate with them. This slow singing is available regardless of their relationship with those particular Hunted—the truth of the slow song does not follow the petty conscious social boundaries of regular speech. 

Slow song does not work like speech. There is no back and forth, not even symbolic concepts underlying what is being sung. The character sings along with the others as if in a trance, and like tapping into an animal collective unconsciousness, comes out knowing certain things. 

In practical terms, a certain length of singing will give the character certain knowledge. If the character would simply like to broadcast important information (“the forest is on fire!”, “the big baddie is coming!”), it takes only a half-hour of singing to broadcast it to others who will then incorporate it into their song. This song will continue to travel at a very rapid rate, upwards of 500 miles per day, but only to other Hunted.

If the player would like to know the answer of a yes/no question, they must simply sing for an hour, and then will know what the other Hunted communicated with them—although it may simply be “I don’t know”, and this they won’t know until after finishing the song. Singing for a longer period of time is more likely to result in a solid answer, as the song will have traveled a longer distance across multiple participants. 

If the player would like to know the answer to a more complicated question, it’s likely that they will have to sing all day. Traveling is a prime time to sing, and so the GM may choose to make this easy by simply letting the Hunted’s player ask one question for each day of travel where the Hunted did not engage in any encounters or speak with the other players (to simulate their focus on the Song). The GM should answer in a way that is helpful but cryptic, and if the Hunted asks a question that the other Hunted wouldn’t know they may receive an unhelpful reply back. The more relevant the question is to the life of the average Hunted, the more specific and useful the answer will be—so asking where the wolves are or how warm the summer season will be is going to be more straightforward than asking the movements of men through the forest or the goings-on in a forest village, and asking about the political situation in a kingdom far from the forest will likely result in confusion or laughter rather than answers. 

Ability 2: Bushcraft and Hiding

The Hunted excel in nature, particularly the woods. Whenever foraging for food or water, attempting to know the weather, or find their way through unmarked nature, they have the same chance of success as a ranger or halfling of the same level (so starting at a 1/2 chance in LotFP). This is true of all skills that could be construed as being “bushcraft” skills.

The Hunted can hide incredibly well when in the forest. They have no chance of being found by men when they put their mind to hiding, and a 1/6th chance even while they move and/or sing. If a druid, ranger, or dog is doing the looking, the chance of staying hidden decreases by 1/6th

If, while hiding, the Hunted makes a successful melée attack, that attack counts as a “sneak attack” under whatever rules you’re using. Or, if you’d prefer, the attack is a critical hit with all that implies under your system (acts as a roll of a nat 20, so it does full damage or roll on a special benefits table or whatever). 

Ability 3: The Word for World is Forest

The Hunted travel only through the forest, and have found a way to slip from forest to forest along magic lay lines, so that they never have to set foot in open plains even when any conventional travel route would take them there.

Slipping between the forests only works when groups are singing the slow song. They do not have to be in particularly close proximity, and indeed it is the slow song itself that anchors the Hunted to the forest.
To many Hunted, the space between the forest is but a myth, a sort of geographical boogymen that mothers tell calves in order that they not stray out of range from the safety of the song. To those who have seen it, it haunts them all their lives—either through fear of approaching it again, or through curiosity of what lies beyond.

A party with a Hunted can slip through the forests with it, as long as they’re singing a song as they go. Any possessions they are in contact with will come as well, as will any beasts that sing along—such as dogs howling, donkeys braying, or cats purring. The song, once it’s been taken up, is infectious, so this should all come through course. The hardest part is getting the party to sing together in the first place. It is only through a mindful but unselfconscious singing that they will align with the Hunted. The forest knows whether the song is sung sincerely or with only personal gain in mind. 

The GM might want to prod the players into actually singing along the first time. There will be hemming and hawing, but only once everyone is in harmony (as poor a harmony as it might be) and have found a song they can sing together can the adventure continue. The song itself does not matter. 
Traveling in this way does not cut down on the travel time, distance traveled, or resources required, but it does force all encounter rolls to be done on a forest table, the party has no chance of encountering settlements of any kind as they travel this way, and only druids, forest elves, and other Hunted will be able to track them. 

Disadvantage: What Is that Smelly … Thing?

The Hunted aren’t readily accepted in human company. They are large, somewhat smelly, awkward, scary creatures. Their hands are flat and ridged, their brow sticks out past their snout, and their mouths are wet and gummy and full of rows of tiny molars. They can speak the common tongue well enough, although it sounds not unlike if an elephant were to speak English out its snout—deep, sonorous, and undignified. To men, they look like terrifying alien creatures, more animal than human.

And as such they are treated. Most who meet with the party will assume that the Hunted among them is either a beast of burden or a slave. They will cause villagers to run into their hovels or band together to drive it out, they will often not be allowed within city gates, and the best lodging they can expect at an in is in the stables—and only if there are no horses there to be frightened (other animals besides dogs will largely ignore the Hunted and goats may even befriend them). In some of the more baroque cities, association with a Hunted may be a mark of social good amongst the nobel classes, but only as men of high standing in Europe used to keep on “savages” as boarders—they are a mere curiosity to be paraded in front of their friends, and are still regarded as less than human. 

Hunted generally do not feel comfortable in the presence of man. Man is, after all, an apex predator himself, one who was able to conquer all other predators and even domesticate the Hunted’s god. 

Speaking of which, the Hunted have a fearful venerations of dogs bordering on insanity. Female Hunted will often attack them on sight, unwilling to stop until the last one is dead (or they are). Male Hunted will do their best to hide from them, and if seen will pray loudly to the dog in hopes of a good clean death. Of course, many human-bread dogs are more scared of the Hunted than the Hunted are of them—although packs of dogs or well-bread war dogs will often attack the Hunted, or at least get very aggressive in their presence. 

Being Hunted in a human world is not easy nor comfortable for the Hunted, and while the party might be quick to befriend a strong, intelligent, and skilled giant to help them on their quests, most of society will not react similarly.

Further Reading / Works Cited

Much of the society and behavior of the Hunted is based on real life behavior of the giant grazing mammals of the oceans, and the general concept for the slow songs is based on the mysterious songs of the humpback and blue whales. Any documentaries about humpback or blue whales are worth watching if you’d like to know more. I particularly like David Attenborough’s BCC documentaries, such as Ocean Deep or Life

The old communal language of the dolphins in Startide Rising by David Brin was an influence as well.

A possible backstory for a Hunted player character can be found in the book 1491 by Charles Mann. Mann describes the true story of the person we know as Squanto, the Indian Tisquantum (a name that literally translates as “Wrath of God”). Squanto was trained to be the personal bodyguard of the king of his tribe but was captured by a slaver ship as a young man and taken to England. He traveled Europe as the charge of various men who used him either for labor or as an ornament to show off to their friends—that is, he was little more than a slave. However, he twice learned the language of his captors, befriended them, and convinced them to help him return to his home. When he finally did arrive home, it was just after a plague had wipe out his entire tribe, and a neighboring tribe captured him, put him in a cage, and forced him to translate for them in their dealings with the Pilgrims. Some day I’ll write a fantasy book based on the life of Tisquantum, but until then steal this story for your Hunted character.

The idea of slipping through the forest was taken from Peter Hamilton’s Pandora’s Star. Honestly the book isn’t worth the read, but that was a pretty sweet idea to steal for an RPG. The name of the ability I stole from the Ursula K. Le Guin book, The Word for World is Forest, which I must admit I’ve never read. It would be easy enough to use the Hunted in an SF setting as a peaceful sentient race on a forested planet of some sort. 

Finally, this is an updated version of a race I created several years ago in a thread on the worldbuilding forum on reddit. If anyone would like to see the original incarnation, just email me, but I promise it’s not that exciting. 

If you do end up using this racial class in play, I’d love a report on it! Any questions, additions, comments, or corrections are always welcome as well. 

Sunday, February 7, 2016

A short review of every post-apocalyptic novel I've ever read.

The other day I was thinking about post-apocalyptic novels, and how many of them I'd read. So I sat down and created a list of as many of them that I've read that I could think of. Then I decided to write a review for them all. Here is that list. I hope people find it interesting. If you think there are any novels that I might have missed, please ask in the comments and I'll add them! And if you think I'm wrong about any of these reviews, let me know, I love arguing about books :-).


The Greats

These are my favorite post-apocalyptic novels. They are not quite in order of very best to best, but rather in the order in which I want to talk about them.

A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr.

This is, in my mind, the single greatest story about the apocalypse ever written. It's told in three long stories, each following a monk from the same Catholic monestary after the world has all but ended due to nuclear war. The Church is one of the only institutions that wants to keep scientific knowledge alive. Each story follows a different monk, and showcases a struggle they go through to keep some knowledge alive. There are post-apocalyptic politics, strange meldings of Jewish and Catholic mysticism, and one of the most "real" post-apocalyptic worlds you'll read about.

Wittgenstein's Mistress by David Markson

This is a strange, experimental novel. It's narrated by a woman who is the last woman on Earth for unknown reasons. Having no one to talk to, she goes slowly mad. The book takes the form of her highly literate but definitely crazy first-person ramblings. It's a meditation on how our relationships make us who we are, on art and literature, on loss, on what it is to be human. I highly recommend it to anyone with the stomach for postmodern and/or experimental novels.

Soft Apocalypse by Will McIntosh

Nearly perfect. Rather than ending with a bang, Will McIntosh (an academic sociologist) shows how the world could slowly turn apocalyptic. Throw in a dash of climate change, a pinch of economic slowdown, and enough time, and before you know it former members of the middle class are wandering the countryside while the richest people live in hyper-futurist enclaves. It's a punk rock story about the world ending with a whimper, following one young man as he tries to make a living and find love in this strange new world. To me, the best insight of the novel was that no matter how bad and strange things get, people are versatile enough to just think of the "now" as normal, as long as change happens slowly enough.

Dark Eden by Chris Beckett

This is one of those places where I've interpreted "post-apocalypse" broadly. Set on a wandering planet, a world of forever night, after a space ship crash-lands, it tells the tale of the 500 or so 5th generation descendents of the two people on the space ship. They have formed a small tribal community which is pushing against the natural resource limits of the small warm forrest that the live in. While the main character's plot is at times predictable, the setting is incredible and the story of a matriarchal tribe tearing itself apart and becoming a patriarchy was fascinating.

1491 by Charles Mann

"Isn't that non-fiction?" I hear you say. Yes it is. 1491 is a wonderful history book about what the Americas were like before Columbus "discovered" them. One of the most striking elements of the book is how our conception of Indians as "nomadic tribal hunter-gatherers" was not actually true: they were largely civilized, agricultural, stationary polities, even in North America, until Europeans brought diseases that ravaged the native communities in advance of the Europeans themselves. It's estimated that somewhere in the range of 50% to 90% natives died before Europeans even saw them, so in truth the "nomadic hunter-gatherers" lifestyle had more in common with the folks on _The Walking Dead_ than they did with their parents' or grandparents' lifestyles.

Blindness by Jose Saramago

Oh boy, this novel. Blindness is perhaps the most depraved thing I've ever read, which is exactly what it's trying to be. In a small town, people start going blind. First one or two, and soon hundreds of people at a time. The blind are rounded up and put in prison to try to quarantine them. Within days, as more and more people (even outside of the prisons) go blind, society completely breaks down and a brute sort of anarchy reigns supreme. The animal in man is brought out. Rape, murder, and torture become everyday activities. The story is told through the eyes of a woman who doesn't go blind but follows her husband to prison anyway, and who bears witness to the depths that humanity falls to as soon as society ceases to hold power over us. A terrifying novel.

The War Against the Chtorr by David Gerrold

So War Agains the Chtorr is what happens when you cross Soft Apocalypse with Blindness and add plenty of man-eating wormlike aliens and a gonzo, heavy metal attitude. I read this still-unfinished series 15 years ago, and just re-read them, and they hold up just as well. An alien ecology is infesting an Earth reeling from losing 1/2 the population due to massive plagues, and it's up to elite teams of scientist/soldiers to figure out what the fuck is going on. While it sounds like old school scifi fun and games, the books delve into a lot of philosophy and cover a lot of the same ground that _Blindness_ does, asking where our humanity lies and whether we can still keep it as the world around us goes to shit, and the answer probably isn't what we want to hear.

10:04 by Ben Lerner

What is contemporary lit-fic written by a Brooklyn hipster poet doing on this list? Being one of the best-written stories about the modern apocalypse we're currently going through as a species, that's what. A large part of the book is about New York City after hurricanes Irene and Sandy, the reeling feelings we all had after these super-storms straight out of a scifi novel put the city on hold for days and weeks. The sense of "anything is normal while it's happening" comes through strongly. It's also beautifully written and includes some of the best writing on art that I've ever read.

Stand Still. Stay Silent. by Minna Sundberg

A beautifully drawn and lovingly written science fantasy story about a world where the only survivors from a harrowing world-wide plague are small groups of people living in Scandinavia. It's a forever-winter world of the arctic crossed with pagan folk wizards. It's both twee and heavy metal at the same time. Definitely the best web comic I've ever read, up there with the best comics, period.

The Fifth Season by NK Jemisin

A man beats his son to death, and a woman comes home to find his body. Across the world, a powerful mage sick of the enslavement of other mages creates a super-volcano which splits the world's only continent in two. Years before, a young girl is taken from her family to be taught how to wield her power which lets her cause and dampen earthquakes, and another young mage is sent on a month-long mission with a senior mage with whom her mage's society tells her she must procreate, against both their will. These are the four stories that start The Fifth Season, a story of the end of society in a world-ending cataclysm. In a genre which loves its "plucky female protagonists", the lead female character is a human instead of a caricature, a loving mother with revenge in her heart, seeking her husband and remaining daughter across an ash-blown landscape as society reels in the aftermath of the worst earthquake in recorded history. I just finished this novel and loved it so much. I am afraid I don't have many intelligent things to say about it because it's so fresh, but read it read it read it. You'll be glad you did and angry that the next book in the trilogy is not out yet.


The Good

These are all post-apocalyptic novels that I think are worth reading. None of them is a favorite of the genre, but neither do any of them hold fatal flaws that keep me from recommending them. Alphabetical order by last name.

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

I enjoyed this book, but find I have very little to say about it. The worldbuilding was fantastic if a bit heavy handed, and the story was totally engrossing. I've never really had any desire to pick up the sequels. A solid SF novel written by a literary author, although she does fall into the traps that literary authors tend to when writing SF.

The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury

I don't normally think of this novel as a "post-apocalyptic" story, but as I was compiling this list it became apparent that it actually contains three apocalypses: the first, and the most moving to me, is the death of the Martians themselves, followed by the nuclear war on Earth and the desolation on Mars after. The first apocalypse is, to me, the best explored. "—And the Moon be Still as Bright" + "The Settlers" combined makes one of my favorite short stories of all time, the story of a man who realizes he is complicit in the genocide of a native race and who can't take that realization. The Martian Chronicles is one of the few novels on this list to have internalized the lessons that 1491 teaches: that apocalypse has already happened on this planet, it's just that we don't know it because we were the cause. Other stories set on Mars after most people have gone back to Earth are also good, especially "There Will Come Soft Rains" which is perhaps one of the best stories ever written to feature no characters at all.

The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber

The main story in this novel is about an evangelical priest who goes on a missionary trip to a strange new planet. It's a weird book, one that I 100% loved. One of the sub-plots is that the wife of the main character is left on Earth, and he and she can only communicate through faster-than-light emails to one another. As he has a wonderful if strange time on the planet proselytizing to his alien flock, climate change and political unrest get worse and worse back home, leading to some of the emails from her being harrowing stories of her times in a post-apocalyptic world which seemed normal just weeks or months ago (harkening to the themes in Soft Apocalypse). This book is amazing for so many reasons, and only doesn't make the "greats" because it's only the email stories within the story that contain post-apocalyptic elements.

Afterlife by Simon Funk

This is a free, online novel (of which there are several on this list). A man wakes up in a strange world where people are happy and never sick, but from which they can't leave. He dreams of a past life where he was a computer researcher. As time goes on, he realizes that these dreams are more than just nightmares, and that the Earth he knows is long gone, replaced by (spoiler alert!) self-replicating machines which cover the face of the Earth, doing inscrutable tasks—machines which as an AI researcher he laid the foundation for. Really fascinating novel, definitely worth reading.

The Gone-Away World by Nick Harkaway

I loved this book, as weird as it was. 1/3rd kung-fu coming of age story, 1/3rd corporate thriller, 1/3rd military apocalypse novel. Harkaway writes an incredibly fast, tight, and entertaining plot, but the speed and entertainment don't hide a lack of intellectualism. Instead, you get great ideas on every page. Great read and lots of fun.

Fine Structure by Sam Hughes

Ultra-dimensional beings fighting to the death take out Earth as a casualty of their conflict. This is the story of what that looks like from our lowly 4-dimensional sight. Strange scientific experiments, super-heros being born stronger and stronger each year, and a series of dystopias and apocalypses. Fun, smart book which was written as a serialized novel and is available for free online.

A Feast for Crows by George R.R. Martin

The 4th of GRRM's A Song of Ice and Fire novels. It takes place after wars have ravaged the countryside of Westeros, and many of the chapters involve the fallout that the average person of this world deals with as a result of the wars that up until now you've only seen through the eyes of the nobles who caused them. While an interesting book from that perspective, it's the weakest of the ASoIaF novels over-all, and would be in the "meh" category if this were just a ranking of Martin's fantasy novels.

Cloud Atlas & The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell

These are two very different novels, except each contains one story set in the same post-apocalyptic world (a setting which Mitchell has also visited in some short stories). These books are absolutely wonderful, and deserve to be read. They are only not in the "great" category because the so little of them actually focuses on the post-apocalyptic setting. But seriously, read Cloud Atlas, an experimental postmodern novel which follows six stories in six genres and has some of the best prose work you'll see this side of Nabokov.

Apocalypsopolis by Ran Prieur

I liked this novel, but you could tell the author lost interest part-way through, and the story just sort of trails off rather than ending well. It's in some ways an experiment by the author to write a story of the apocalypse, rather than a post-apocalyptic story, and as he said: that's really hard to do well. However, the novel gets definite points for trying, for having some really creative ideas, and for having some awesome weird Native American shadowlands chapters. Plus, it's free online so the price is right.

Seveneves by Neal Stephenson

I loved this novel, but based on feedback from my book club, it was a polarizing one. The moon explodes and we realize we have only 3 years before the shards rain hellfire down on Earth, so the whole Earth pitches in building structures in space and sending people up. After the Earth dies, the several hundred people in space slowly whittle themselves down to fewer and fewer due to accidents and politics gone crazy. I really enjoyed the near-future hard science of getting everyone into space and the politics that played out amongst the spacers.

Tales of the Dying Earth by Jack Vance

Fantasy stories sent on a far-future Earth where technology is so advanced that it's actually become magic. These are fantastic adventure stories which don't get nearly enough love amongst genre fans. Vance's prose is astounding and the world he built, of techno-wizards and rogues, is a blast to read about.

Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace

What is easily one of the great 20th Century American novels contained some definitely apocalyptic elements. A "concavity" where Northern New England used to sit where giant babies and herds of feral hamsters run wild. Wheelchair-bound French-Canadian assassins. And a video so wildly entertaining, that anyone who watches it loses all will to do anything else. The novel is dense and rich and rewarding, and Wallace cares about his characters like no other novelist has. It's only here instead of in the "greats" because it's light in terms of being a post-apocalyptic novel.

The Metamorphosis of Prime Intellect by Roger Williams

Another free internet novel about AI run amok, although one in which the AI is all-loving, all-caring and still causes the apocalypse. It's short and fun to read (although _really_ gruesome at points), so rather than review it I'm just going to say that you ought to read it, it's fun and totally worth the price.

The Book of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe

Another far-future, Dying Earth book. This, instead of being short stories, is four novels which form a single narrative (not unlike The Lord of the Rings trilogy). The Earth is falling apart under the weight of its own history, and a torturer is kicked out of his guild for showing compassion to a woman under his "care". This book is one of the densest I've ever read, full of puzzles and unreliable narrators. You really have to read between the lines to get what's going on. I had the strange sensation of actively disliking the books while I read all 1000 pages of their intensely dense prose, but loved it in hindsight.


The Meh

Some of these are books I love but which have fatal flaws. Some of them are good books, but not very good post-apocalypse tales. And some of them are awful and shouldn't be read. Happily, I've already figured out which is which for you. Although be forewarned, some of these reviews are not going to be very popular. In alphabetical order by last name.

Nightfall by Isaac Asimov and Robert Silverberg

A novelization of Asimov's wonderful short story by Silverberg. It adds a lot of new content to the end, after the stars come out, which when I read it in high school wasn't all that gripping and created somewhat of an anti-climax after the great reveal that ends the original story. I haven't read it in 15+ years, and am unlikely to again.

The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi

I found the world just too unbelievable here. I have no problem with fantasy or mystical settings, but this was presented as straight SF inside the novel itself. The conceit of "energy is expensive, so we'll use human and animal energy and store it in springs" just doesn't make any sense: it's more expensive for animals to create energy than for an engine to do so, even out of the same fuel. In addition, the plot meandered too much and the only sympathetic character was killed off early on. I know it won the Hugo, but I just didn't like this one.

Nod by Adrian Barnes

A cheap knock-off of Blindness. I wanted this to be so much better than it actually was, as the conceit ("suddenly no one can sleep") was so good. The insomnia, the waking dreams, the slow insanity that not sleeping causes. Such ripe territory to explore! But it just didn't come through, instead going over the same ground that Blindness did while being less well written and less well thought through.

The Painted Man & The Desert Spear by Peter V. Brett

I enjoyed The Painted Man well enough, until a graphic and unnecessary rape scene was directly followed by the raped character working out her emotions by having graphic and unnecessary sex with the protagonist. Just a little too close to "wank fantasy" territory for my tastes, and one that is pretty sexist at that. Then The Desert Spear just wasn't as well written or interesting as The Painted Man, so I gave up on the series. I really wanted to love it though, as the setting was great: every night, demons come out of the Earth itself and so humanity only survives huddled in small villages and cities with anti-demon wards painted around them. Really great fantasy setting and world-building but really disappointing characters and story. Happily. The Fifth Season ended up being everything that I wanted The Painted Man to be, and so much more.

World War Z by Max Brooks

I'm pretty so-so on zombies. I love a good b-movie zombie film, but whenever they get taken too seriously I start to yawn and lose interest. Some of the stories here were good, some of them were so-so, but too many of them were just boring. In addition, I'd hoped to see some of the characters show up in multiple stories so you'd see how they changed over time, and that never happened—even with the world changing so much, the characters were all remarkably flat. I know this isn't a character-driven novel, but that's just not something that I enjoy.

The Tripods Trilogy by John Christopher

I read these as a kid and loved them. I have almost no memory of them now, and doubt I'll ever bother reading them again. But hey, I said "every book" and some I'm leaving this shitty review here goddamn it.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Meh. Politicians make kids fight for... reasons? A "strong female protagonist" with no agency, a badass fighter who doesn't actually do any fighting and whose only meaningful choice is which boy she likes (spoiler alert, she doesn't make up her mind). Not my cup of tea.

Wool by Hugh Howey

This is a novel fully based on a twist ending, a twist which was telegraphed from the very beginning and wasn't very well executed even then. Also, the setting is totally unoriginal, why do people harp on about how original it was? Fine Structure lampooned the setting and came up with the same twist, and was published years earlier, and is 100x better writing. Read that instead. Also, Howey is a misogynistic douchebag who treats people horribly. I don't understand why these novels are popular.

Footfall by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle

Another novel I know I read and just don't remember at all. Aliens destroy Earth with kinetic weapons, I think? That was pretty bad-ass. And some people fight back and stuff? I don't know, but The Mote in God's Eye by the same authors was fucking phenomenal so this can't be all that bad right? That's my review, "I don't remember it but it can't be all that bad, right?"

Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand

Yup, I read this whole thing. All 800 pages, 60 of which were a single fucking monologue. That monologue took me almost a week to read, it was so boring. Honestly, I really enjoyed some parts of the novel and Rand had a knack for straw-manning people in a way that really made you hate them, but even in high school I found her philosophy repugnant (still do!) and the novel has too many flaws to be worth reading as literature.

Endymion & Rise of Endymion by Dan Simmons

These read like bad fan-fiction of the Hyperion novels, which is strange since they were written by the same author.

Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut

I love Vonnegut, and I used to love this novel, but the truth is that it suffers from a number of internal inconsistencies that take me out of the story. In addition, while Bokononism seemed profound to 15-year-old angry atheist me, to 30-year-old Buddhist me it's a little... trite as far as philosophies go. Slaughterhouse 5 is still amazing though.

The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells

I'm pretty sure I read this one too. I know I listened to the radio play on tape as a kid, because my grandfather would send me a bunch of old scifi radio plays every year. I loved that shit, Dimension X especially. You can find a bunch of them, including Dimension X, on these days. They're a treat to listen to. But I don't actually remember much about this novel that isn't filter through the radio play and the two different movie adaptations that I've seen, so this final review is going to be a little bit anti-climactic.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Play Report: Amazonian Rivercrawl

My first session of my more-or-less open table Amazon exploration LotFP game was this weekend. Seven friends from college came from out of town to play. We had a blast, spending about 4 hours on Friday night playing and another 12 hours on Saturday. When we game, we game seriously.

Dungeon: The First Foray
For Friday's session, I had them generate completely random characters using +Ramanan S's Random LotFP Character Generator, and then sent them through a version of +Dyson Logos's Ruins of the Gorgon that was reskinned for the Amazon Rainforest setting. They ended up forcing one of the hostile native men that they encountered in the ruins outside to poke around the first few rooms of the dungeon with them. He had the wherewithal to escape the moment they turned their backs, but the party didn't get out of the dungeon until a giant capybara felled one of them. The surviving characters soon packed up and left, but not before digging through the capybaras' disgusting nests to pick up some silver trinkets, and then hauling out one of the beautiful ceramic statues in the entry room while under the watch of a ceramic fresco of a harpy eagle with a woman's head tearing apart a man's body under her talons.

The next day, all my players were available and we began running through the actual rivercrawl. I took a hint from +Zzarchov Kowolski's Thulian Echos and placed the dungeon from the night before on the map of the river, and gave the players vague directions on how to get there. They'd encountered one of the last party back in town, who gave them their map and some warnings about hostile natives, giant rodents, and valuable statues. The players then got to start the exploration of the tributary they've been assigned to map and conquer for the Spanish crown by the Viceroy of the Maranon, the one-eyed conquistador Francisco de Orellana.

The players choose to go back to the dungeon from the night before to try to loot more of it. Being as this was the main adventure and for them was going to be a one shot, they were playing 2nd level characters and each had a 1st level NPC retainer (whose gear was chosen by running through +Jeff Russell's Gears and Careers Secret Santicore entry). They had a riverboat they'd pooled up to buy, as well as a number of oarsmen, dogs, horses, and personal retainers. This was as I'd hoped, and the amount of loot they had mimicked the conquistador expeditions of the early 16th century—as did the losses they would later suffer.

Crawling the River: Social Encounters
The first day on their way to the probable location of the dungeon, they had to scare off an otter that was trying to gather food from their stores. The next day they saw a pink river dolphin shapeshift into a native and join what looked to be a festival at a particularly large river village. They made landfall and contact with the natives in order to discover more about the shapeshifting dolphin, but were distracted by the excitement of their first native contact going so well that they were invited to join in with the festivities. Since this was a festival, I gave them the chance to give away their possessions as gifts in return for gaining their worth in SP back as XP, then had them save verses Poison or roll on +Jeff RientsCarousing Table.

The next morning they woke up hung over, closer to level 3, and with a Magic User beaten up and naked, and a Native Guide madly in love with a local Indian girl. A few of their oarsmen had gone native (failed morale checks), but four of the natives, young cocky men, wanted to come explore and adventure with these crazy white people (successful morale checks).

It was only then that they remembered about the dolphin that had brought them there in the first place, just in time to hear the commotion caused when one of the women in the village found out that she was unexpectedly about to give birth even though she had only had a one night stand with a stranger the night before. Turns out those dolphins don't necessarily have the best intentions. (This outcome I DnDified from an actual Amazonian myth about the river dolphins.) The party made the mistake of admitting that they'd known about the dolphin's presence without telling anyone, and were asked to leave under less pleasant terms than expected.

The Bobs
They then continued up the river with their new native hirelings (who they called "the Bobs"). They did some exploring, and came across another small hostile native village who drove them off, then to a final friendly native village near the dungeon. This village was cold but not hostile, and gave them reports of strange black magic that had happened up the river, and promised to convert to Christianity if the party could resolve it.

The Jungle and the Dungeon, Again
So into the forest they trudged, dogs, retainers, and Bobs in tow. On the way, a jaguar and a poorly-aimed crossbow shot managed to take down one of the party's henchmen. Once they got to the dungeon, they left the Bobs, a retainer, and one of the dogs up top, fought off the dungeon's guardian tree which had regrown since the last party's foray under ground, and descended below the forest's floor.

Below, they found the remaining ceramic statues re-arranged, and the entrance to part of the dungeon they'd cleared before now blocked off. An Open Doors check catastrophically failed thanks to my helping houserules and one of the fighters sprained a wrist, so they went the other direction to explore new parts.

They found a storeroom with more smaller ceramic statues, and then came across a party of warrior women with feathered bodies and taloned feet who tried to drive out the invading party. While the carnivorous Harpy Eagle Women had won a surprise round, some earlier smart thinking on the part of the Magic User—blocking off a door with an unseen servant that was not being used—managed to prevent too much damage from happening.

In the resulting combat (which, quite frankly, took much too long because of my own poor handling of combat with such a large party—lessons learned for future sessions), another henchman died and some of the PCs were taken out of combat with spells or taken down in HP, but they eventually got the upper hand of the five harpy eagle women due to good tactics and overwhelming numbers. At one point an expended Magic User brought a set of hand puppets into play, and it actually did the party good.

The party was supremely disappointed to find out that the dreadful black magic harpy eagle women were defending nothing more than the dungeon's fresh water supply, so went back to loot the dungeon they'd explored so far. They set up guards on all the doors and had the remaining party (+ the Bobs) ferry the statues out. They made easy work of all the wandering monsters the commotion brought to them.

Back to Civilization: Dealing with Consequences
On their way back to the boat with all their loot (statues made of glazed ceramic which were more beautiful than any ceramic work they knew of in Europe), they encountered a golden lion tamarind. Another of the party's Magic Users cast darkness on its eyes—a spell he hadn't used in the big fight for some reason—and the party managed to capture the creature. The spectacle of the characters running around chasing a monkey was one of the funniest things the Bobs had ever seen.

They made it back to the last village that afternoon, and after some negotiating and giving a gift of one of the statues, the village agreed to be converted. They spent the night there after erecting a large cross in the middle of the village (an actual tactic of the Spanish missionaries when converting native populations).

They traveled downriver quickly, making it to the Bobs' village before nightfall. They gave each of the Bobs a small looted statue as a parting gift. The Bobs' tale of adventure was the talk of the town, and their favorite part was recounting the party running around in circles trying to capture a blinded monkey.

The next day, the village made a gift of one of the finest bows that the party had ever seen, and they left having established excellent diplomatic ties with one of the larger villages on the lower reaches of the river. On the way back down the river, one of the specialists (a gnarled old Greek sailor who doesn't speak any Spanish, the only non-Spaniard European in the party) spent the whole time trying to teach the monkey pickpocketing skills.

The party made it back to town quickly, and sold off their loot for a pretty penny. They declined to sell the monkey, hoping instead of fetch a better price by finding a female of the species and selling them together as a mating pair. The Greek sailor specialist, who had stolen some extra loot when others weren't looking and had made full use of the carousing rules, managed to just level up to level 3, and after that succeeded in teaching the monkey just enough pickpocketing skills for it to be dangerous.

Conclusion: What Does it all Mean?
We left our adventure there, as it was nearly 10pm and time to meet some other friends for drinks. Overall, the adventure had been a lot of fun. The players all told me they enjoyed the exploration and social encounters more than the dungeon, and in the future they will likely seek out more exploration. Part of that was probably my own fault for letting the combat drag as much as I did, and in the future I'm going to be more limiting of who can go into dungeons and who can participate in combats, while still allowing the players to have a large party that is necessary for jungle-based overland scenarios to work out.

One thing that I was quite pleased with was the way that the game mechanics came together. Gaining silver and gold through adventuring is the only way to level up in +James Raggi's Lamentations of the Flame Princess, and it encourages the players to be greedy in a way that puts them in the conquistador mindset much better than any storygame rules could, I believe. Multiple times out of game they discussed wanting to play the game in a way that was not exploitative or overtly colonialist. They wanted to do first contact right. Even so, they were willing to exploit the natives the characters encountered both directly and indirectly, even as the players discussed openly the discomfort they felt with those actions. It was interesting to me to see the players' moral guilt at the actions of their characters, even while they enacted Raggi's principles of Heavy Metal DnD. It was exactly the kind of game I wanted to run.

The average Spanish explorer of the new world was someone out for dangerous work in order to gain lands, a name of themselves, and most importantly a fortune. Gonzalo Pizarro and Francisco de Orellana's quest into the Andes that led to them discovering the Amazon river started as a search for cinnamon trees, whose spice would have made Pizarro a rich man. His older brother Francisco Pizarro's conquest of the Inca was predicated on extracting as much of the gold form the civilization as he could, and in return for those riches the Spanish crown granted him governorship over the Peruvian province that conquest created. The conquistadors were truly the original murderhobos: they went to people's homes, killed and enslaved their men, and took their things.

In some ways, this makes it the ideal setting for an open-world DnD game. It is the age of exploration and adventure, and some of the stories of the Spanish conquest of the new world are more DnD than DnD is. (For instance: A group of four Spaniards lead by Cabeza de Vaca were shipwrecked in Florida in 1527 and trudged their way across N. America to the Pacific over the next eight years, the first Europeans to do so. They started out occasionally enslaved by and escaping various tribes, but by the end of their journey were known as shamans and messiahs amongst the native populations.)

It also makes running a game of DnD in this setting problematic, but in a way that is hopefully useful and good. In DnD, every player is accountable to only themselves. Their choices are completely their own and are not constrained by the rules. No player has to try to level up, and even further no player has to try to harm others, enslave natives, take what isn't theirs, etc., even if they are trying to level up. While the characters did bad things, and did so at only the conscious urging of their players, it's useful and good to be able to ask why they did.

When a group whose players are variously Christian, atheist, Buddhist, and Jewish; are male and female; are progressive, conservative, and libertarian; are white, black, and even Native American; when that group still opts in-game to exploit native characters, all because its in their best interest in-game due to the structures of that game, it hints at the importance of structure and ideology in our day to day lives.

This is why a work of art's being problematic can be a good thing, and should not be a reason for us to shun that art. It gives us a somewhat safe space to actually examine what makes it problematic, how it got to be that way. It can fully be enjoyed as art, analyzed as a piece of ideology, and used to better understand the world, all at the same time. That said, I do think that one can have badwrong reactions to art. The moral discomfort my players felt was good—an enjoyment of those same character actions, an unwillingness to admit that they were wrong or to further analyze the inputs that went into making those decisions, would all be terrible reactions to the problematic work we created together.

Anyway, this is all a longwinded way of saying that the game went very well, and I'm very much looking forward to running more in this setting, with these and other players. Anyone who wants to play in person or on G+ should get in touch—I hope to get to the point where the rivercrawl is a living open table, a sort of New World West Marches.

Monday, March 23, 2015

"The Archery Skill": A Houserule for LotFP

Archery Skill
All classes start out with a -1 in Archery, except Fighters who start out with a 0. Any character with skill points to spend can increase their Archery Bonus by +1 for each skill point that they spend in Archery. The Archery Bonus is added to the Ranged Attack Bonus when the character is firing a bow, but is not applied to crossbows, guns, or other ranged attacks. The maximum Archery Bonus is +4. 

Credit Andreas Øverland.
Graphic Design Note
On the character sheet draw a horizontal line underneath the first two pips of the Archery skill. This line represents skills parity: pips beneath the line bring Archery to 0, and pips above the line represent positive bonuses. This makes it easier to calculate the bonus in play, and stops advancement at +4. So one pip = -1, two pips = 0, three pips = +1, so on up to six pips = +4.

Mechanical Notes
Firing a bow is hard. Not only does it take strength and dexterity, it takes a lot of skill to get an arrow to go where you want it to go. Guns changed warfare not because they were more effective than bows (they were less effective for a very long time), but because it's so much easier to train someone to use a gun. Put it in their hand, show them how to point and shoot and how to reload, and they're good to go.

The Archery skill has the benefit of making guns and crossbows more valuable to the players. I've had people ask me why they'd want guns or crossbows when they don't do more damage, have penalties to reloading time, and are more expensive to boot. Now the tradeoff is clear: you buy a crossbow or gun because you are more likely to hit with it.

In addition, with the Archery skill, a "ranger-type" Specialist becomes more feasible. Specialists are now the only class other than the Fighter that can possibly get better at fighting, but the way in which they get better is very tightly constrained.

Fighters start out with a 0 in Archery because it is assumed that their weapons training includes basic training with bows. If your game allows Elves, then they should start at 0 as well. My Amazon Rivercrawl game allows Native American characters to also start at 0, for thematic reasons. You should do the same with any homebrew classes that it makes thematic sense for.

Playtest Notes
Overall, I was very happy with how this houserule ended up in play. It didn't add much more power to the party as a whole, but it did differentiate the classes and offered some interesting tactics.

I liked the range that this brings to the Specialist a lot, and found more players attracted to this often overlooked class. I also liked that it helped make the tradeoff between bows and mechanical projectile weapons more intuitive.

The one thing to note is that when Sneak Attack and Archery stack, it can often lead to nearly guaranteed one-hit kills of even 3HD creatures. I wouldn't allow anything other than the very first arrow fired from a completely hidden location count for Sneak Attack. Once a single arrow is loosed the enemy knows an enemy exists even if they're under cover, so the whole party is considered no longer sneaking.

I had added both this and another skill (Boating) to the skill list, so I gave Specialists 5 skill points at character generation. Having 12 skills and 5 points allowed the Specialists to differentiate from each other better than I've seen in other games. In the future though, I'll add the restriction that first-level players cannot be at 6 pips in any skill.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

"Helping", a Houserule for LotFP Skills

The Rule
One player's character can attempt to help another's at a skill test. To do this, the helping player rolls a d4 on their skill. If they succeed by rolling at or under their skill, then the helped player gets +1 pip for their skill roll.

However, if the helping player rolls a 4, they must check their skill on a d4 again. If they fail the second check, the helped player immediately suffers a catastrophic failure caused by the ineptitude of the helper.

Once one player has make a skill check to attempt something, no other player can make a skill check to attempt that same thing. Either help out, or accept that you've used your one chance to use the rules to get something done for you, and you'll have to come up with more creative solutions if you fail.

Players with a 5 or a 6 in a skill don't need to roll to help, they automatically give +1 pip in help.

Players with 4 pips in a skill cause a catastrophic failure on double-4's, and otherwise successfully help.

If the helped player's skill moves beyond 5 pips due to help, they roll another d6 for each additional pip beyond 5, and only fail if they receive 6s on all the dice that they roll. 2d6 at 6 pips, 3d6 at 7 pips, etc.

Catastrophic failures are context-dependent and up to the GM. On a "bushcraft" roll this might mean an immediate random encounter roll, on a "language" roll it might mean a hostile misinterpretation. The general rule is that more or less the opposite of what the players wanted to happen, will happen.

Multiple players can help if it makes sense in-game, but a single catastrophic failure means doom for the attempt. Roll all the help rolls together first.

Helping characters must have the same or fewer pips as the helped character.

NPCs, retainers, etc., cannot help or be helped by these rules, even if they have skill points. The exception is henchmen, who can help or be helped only by their corresponding PC.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

What's up with that random Amazonian village?

Village size (1d20):
1d20 x 5 dwellings, except on rolls of a 1. Then, 2d20 x 10 dwellings.

Dwellings are (2d4):
2. Treehouses
3. Floating on the river
4. Grass huts on stilts
5. Wooden, set back from the water on a high bank
6. Wooden, abandoned during floods
7. Buoyant grass huts, so they float during floods
8. Watertight with rooftop entrances

Wealth (2d4):

2. Great 3-5. Healthy 6. Hard 7. Sickly 8. Starving
Food d6 rations / dwelling d4 rations / dwelling d2 rations / dwelling d4 rations / dwelling d2-1 rations / dwelling
Warriors +5% +0 -5% -10% -15%
Decoration Silver, rare woods Animal pelts Grass, wood Grass, wood Decrepit

Average 4 people per dwelling.
15% 1-lvl fighters
1% 3-lvl fighters
1% 2-lvl magic users
0.1% 5-lvl magic user
75% women/children/elderly
The rest are 0-lvl fighters.

Contacted before (1d8):
1. Yes
2-8. No

Weapon types (1d8, 1d4):

Warriors wield:
1. Spears (d6, thrown or melee)
2. Atlatl and dart (d8 thrown)
3. Bow + arrow (d6 distance, 1 in 12 poisoned)
4. Clubs (d4 melee, d6 if sharktooth)
5. Poison blowdarts (-2 to hit, save vs. poison or fall ill)
6. Net + spear (save vs. paralyze or get trapped and stabbed)
7. Trickery
8. Roll 2d6.

Made of:
1. Wood
2. Sharktooth
3. Bone
4. Stone

Reaction Roll (1d4):
Word of the party travels more quickly than they do. For each of the last two encountered villages, apply a modifier of -1, 0, or +1 to this roll based on whether the encounter ended as hostile, neutral, or friendly.

-1. Hostile (active)
0. Hostile (active)
1. Hostile (passive)
2. Standoffish
3. Cautious
4. Curious
5. Friendly
6. Friendly

Encounters (d12):
Roll on this table if the party is able to land. Whether they land in peace or in the fray will determine how it plays out. Once an encounter is rolled, cross it out and add the next down on the list in its place. Or just roll d20 and accept that you'll get repeats.

1. Young girl wants to be taken away.
2. "Christians? Oh yeah, we got some of them, funny looking guys who live about 50 miles inland."
3. Giant turtle farms.
4. Giant tree trunk with map of the area carved on it. At least one point of major interest. Vassal village of the "amazons".
5. Shaman warriors. Every two turns the shaman go uninjured, everyone in the party must save vs. magic or suffer -2 to hit for d6 rounds.
6. The leaders wear gold jewelry. Total 2d100 GP worth of gold jewelry and decorations in the village.
7. Temple with prayer idols made from brilliantly colored sewn feathers. The temple itself is made from two kinds of wood, one perfectly white and one perfectly black.
8. Weapons storeroom. Sharktooth clubs, atlatls, manatee skin shields, etc..
9. Chief owns a diary from a fallen conquistador from Pizarro's trip.
10. As a protest against colonial rule, a monkey has been appointed chief.
11. Someone stole their writing, and they want it back.
12. They're in the middle of a potlatch, players can join if they bring gifts. Treat as per carousing rules.
13. Ambush! 2d8 1-lvl fighters lead by 1 3-lvl fighter.
14. Beautiful pottery with lifelike figures painted on it.
15. Everyone wears silver jewelry. 10 SP worth of silver jewelry per person in the village.
16. A freshly killed tapir rests in the town square. ~100 rations worth of meat, ~50 of offal.
17. Players are offered a gourd of yajé.
18. The indians plan on capturing and enslaving the characters in order to harvest their knowledge of metallurgy.
19. The village is having major skirmishes with some villages further inland.
20. The villages need some sacred item buried with Esur the Red but it's taboo for any of them to set foot in the burial mound.
21. The village is in shock as one of its lost children just returned telling tales of the Pale Lady.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Bronze Shiva

This is a three inch high bronze statue of a young man with three closed eyes sitting in lotus position, a snake coiled around his neck. Some well-traveled PCs might know that this is a depiction of the Hindu god Shiva. Shiva is the god of death and rebirth, of balance and transformation brought about by destruction. Detect Evil shows nothing evil about the statue (it is a holy relic), but detect magic works and even gives the player a hint about how to use it.

Any sentient creature can use the statue as a yogic meditation focus. When focusing on the statue and stilling the mind, they will regain one hit point every 30 minutes, for up to their level in hit points. Alternatively, someone magically inclined who focuses on the statue while preparing spells will take only half the normal time to do so.

If someone focuses on the statue after it has already been used that day, then those who previously used it lose their effects. Hit points are reduced, spells are dispelled, and where possible the rolled effect is transferred to the new beneficiary. If multiple people meditate on it at the same time, then only the one who mediates the longest receives any benefit or effect. The exception to this is when a Cleric of Shiva is leading the meditation process—then all receive the full benefits of the meditation, but the GM should roll on the effects table separately for each participant.

If a Cleric of any other god blasphemes by meditating on the statue in order to prepare their spells more quickly, they will immediately lose favor with their old god and become a Cleric of Shiva. It's a good idea to prepare a new list of spells focused on destruction and re-creation for this eventuality. Feel free to use some Magic User spells, but remember that Shiva and his clerics stand for Law, not Chaos. It just happens to be the law of Entropy. 

Each time the statue is used, the GM should surreptitiously roll a d100 on the table below and play out the effect as makes most sense. The purpose of these effects is to add some of the destructive transformation that Shiva represents to the campaign. While a character might receive an immediate bonus from the use of the statue, it is only by causing the entropy of the world around them to increase to preserve balance.

As a GM, do not give your players reasons to associate these effects with the statue. Each should have a normal cause in-game, even if it means ret-conning, fudging, or changing plans. Does a wound not heal? Then that must have been a magic sword. Are the bees going to attack? Wait until the next encounter check and fudge the roll. Did their house burn down? They won't find out about it until they go back or a hireling seeks them out. 

Once an effect is rolled, scratch it out and add something new. 

1-74: Nothing happens.
75: The next time the character wants something from an NPC, no matter how well they negotiate or roll the answer is "no".
76: The next time initiative is rolled, increase the hit dice of all the creatures the players are fighting by 1.
77: Before the end of the day it will begin raining. If it is below freezing where the characters are, it will not fall as snow, but rather ice rain.
78: The next time it thunders, lightening will strike the most heavily armored character in the party.
79: The character's closest relative just died.
80: The character's house just caught fire.
81: From the next blow to the head, the character will develop prosopagnosia (inability to recognize faces) for 5 days.
82: The next time the character takes damage, they permanently lose that damage from their total hit points.
83: The character is unable to close their next wound without magical healing.
84: One of the character's hirelings (or close contacts) will sever all ties and never speak to the character again.
85: The next time the character is outside for more than an hour, they will be attacked by a swarm of bees.
86: If the character is a magic user, they mysteriously gain the summon spell the next time they prepare spells en lieu of one of their first level spells. It will continue to take a first level slot until it is used. If the character is not a magic user, then at some point today they are going to step in some poo.
87: The next time the character levels up, they do not gain a new hit die. 
88: Alcohol no longer gets the character drunk. It is still a poison, however.
89: The character's hair will permanently turn grey over the next month. Any attempts to dye it will result in it falling out.
90: The character develops stage fright and must save vs. paralysis to speak in the presence of more than 15 people. Public places and fights included. This lasts 6 sessions or until leveling up, whichever is longer. 
91: Horses absolutely refuse to be ridden by the character. Donkey's don't mind.
92: With the next blow to the head, the character loses the ability to read for 5 days.
93: The next time the sun sets, it will not rise for another 29 hours. 
94: The next time the character attempts a disguise, a childhood friend will recognize them at an inopportune time and attempt friendly discourse.
95: The character will receive a vision of love and aid from a dead love one.
96: The character gains one hit point to their total the next time they accept magical healing.
97: A lost item or pet unexpectedly and happily returns.
98: The next time the character negotiates when selling items, they will receive 25% more than the expected amount. This counts towards XP.
99: The next three days are beautiful weather.
00: The statue is lost and will not be found again.