July 23, 2011

Vivid: Scale DHMTC

Dispensing with weapon damage ratings in Vivid has both given me a lot of freedom and at the same time removed an easy mechanic for scaling effects.  To compensate, and hopefully make a GM’s life easier, I’m introducing new scale mechanics, taking inspiration from WEG’s Star Wars RPG.

Save Costs
First off, the bedrock of the Vivid damage mechanic: the Save Cost. The default assumption is that every hit is a battle-ender – we don’t bother recording grazes and bruises.  You only survive to fight some more if you have an excuse to stay up.

The Save Cost is a narrative way of letting everyone else know why you’re still alive.  You can either pay the Save Cost by Soaking the damage – you tap Assets indicating strength, toughness, size, or having armor/a shield; or you can Save by Escaping the damage – you tap Assets indicating agility, perceptiveness (you saw the attack coming and reacted in time), or blind luck, in the form of your Fate Dice.

Scale Effects
Scale has a very simple effect: it restricts the manner in which you can Save yourself from a defeat. 

Thus the very simple Scaling rule: Creatures, characters and vehicles (etc. etc.) cannot Soak damage from attacks of greater Scale than themselves.  This means surviving a greater-scale attack requires Escaping it.

For example:

If a Star Destroyer fires its turbolasers at your puny little X-wing, there’s no way it’ll survive a direct hit.  But you can spend a die from your X-wing’s Maneuverability or Speed to have been somewhere else just when that turbolaser beam hit.

If a hungry T-rex chomps down on your character, he’s steak. Or maybe hamburger.  But you can spend a die from your Fate to say you fell into a hole at the last moment so those teeth closed on thin air.

You can quash a mouse underfoot – if it doesn’t get away.

I think this increases the verisimilitude – no longer will my mind boggle at the thought of me surviving the bite of a multi-ton carnivore – at the same time I’ll be challenged to narrate just what happened.  More cinematic, more fun.

The flip side of this is smaller scale vs. bigger scale.   A creature or machine cannot effectively hurt a target of greater Scale – unless it has a weapon that can do so, or scores a Crit.

For example:

A single mouse will only annoy you at most.  A swarm of mice, biting all over, is life-threatening.

A man firing an ordinary rifle at a dinosaur will not wound it badly enough to kill it – unless he hits a vital spot.

But the same man firing an elephant gun at a dinosaur will damage it normally – the elephant gun is considered a Monstrous scale weapon.

Scale Categories
I was originally going for a numerical scale, but a verbal one is just much more evocative and less crunchy-feeling.  It’s just me – I don’t like numbers too much.  Unless they happen to be sets of zeroes separated  by commas in my bank account … hah, I wish!

So here are the categories:

Diminutive a mouse
Human person, horse
Monstrous dinosaur, dragon, giant
Titanic a modern battleship
Colossal the Death Star

We can easily note what Scale creatures or items are by writing the first letter of the Scale category next to their Trait ratings.

For example, a Dragon 5M is a Monstrous creature – it can easily quash a Human scale creature, no Soak.

July 20, 2011

Class: Merchant-Adventurer

I’ve been thinking of merchant-adventurers as a character class and how I would’ve liked to play one such in D&D.  The root of my inspiration: a long bout of cough that led me to getting reacquainted with a favorite read, Allan Cole and Chris Bunch’s The Far Kingdoms.

The Far Kingdoms revolves around the adventures and misadventures of young Amalric Antero, heir to a wealthy merchant house, as he seeks a fabled land of wonders.  I love the story for the shades of Marco Polo and Sindbad it evokes – not just the Sindbad of Hollywood, but also the original Sindbad of the Arabian Nights.  (Hollywood’s Sindbad was of course a swashbuckler in a turban, while the original was a timid but plucky businessman).

These are some of the features I’d like to have seen in this class:

Milieu: merchant-adventurers can only come from well-developed civilizations with high levels of trade.

Origins: merchant-adventurers will usually come from the wealthy trading families or guilds.  A few may rise from the ranks of lesser merchants, caravaneers or seamen, but this is rare.

Roles: merchant-adventurers are explorers  first and foremost, and merchants second.  It’s not the merchant-adventurer’s job to buy and sell; instead his role is to create conditions for successful trade. 

He does this by finding new trade routes and markets, new goods and sources, and  by making deals to allow him or his compatriots to come back in peace and make a profit.  This last role requires negotiating skills and the ability to move among the ruling classes with ease – again, roles that tend to favor an origin from the better-educated upper tiers of society.

In game terms, a merchant-adventurer is perfect as the keystone character holding an adventuring group together for a sandbox campaign.  He’s got a built-in motive to go to far and dangerous places, and to find other characters to come along.

Perks: a merchant-adventurer should have bonuses to negotiation, appraisal of goods and markets, and detecting motives. 

Merchant-adventurers should also get higher starting gold, or maybe even a regular gold income (from family estates and the family business); this wealth however is not destined to stay long in his hands, as he must pay for things such as transportation, supplies, and hirelings for his journeys.

Because the merchant-adventurer has money or has a wealthy backer, he has access to resources that other  PCs can only dream of.  Horses, ships, mercenaries, specialists, you name it.  Thus a party with a merchant-adventurer character on board has the potential to be pretty powerful; their enemies should then be powerful to match. 

Combat: merchant-adventurers will often have to fight for their lives, so they have the potential to become decent combatants – not as powerful as fighters of course, but not as weak as wizards.

Merchant-adventurers can afford any armor but should have incentives to only wear light armor like leather at best.  Perhaps an XP bonus for adventuring in attire that’s better for impressing a foreign lord or merchant-prince instead of wearing metal armor?

For weapons, merchant-adventurers should, coming from wealthy families, have access to the status weapons of their culture; in a typical campaign, this would be the sword.  If you have firearms in your milieu, merchant-adventurers should be early and eager adopters of gunpowder technology.

Experience: merchant-adventurers should get extra XP for doing the following:

  • Mapping newly-explored regions and the best routes through them, or finding and mapping a new and better route to a know destination;

  • Recording new knowledge in the form of a journal or letters to a superior or colleague; you could roleplay this by narrating the contents of the letter or journal entry. 

  • Dispelling misinformation about a faraway place or people.  The farther away a place is, the more likely people from the merchant-adventurer’s home are to believe something fantastical or monstrous about it.  Yup, you’re a Medieval Mythbuster!

  • Making profitable trade deals with foreign rulers or merchant princes;

  • Implementing a long-term solution to a trade problem – e.g. to stop a barbarian tribe from raiding his caravans, a merchant-adventurer makes a deal to have them be his caravaneers and caravan guards.

July 10, 2011

Iron Planet (fragment)

© 2011 Dariel R.A. Quiogue

The bone-jarring rumble of a ship coming in to land filled the cantina. Everyone inside stopped in mid-drink, Dep and Con alike cocking their ears to the painfully swelling sound. The cantina’s flimsy, rusting walls of metal sheeting rattled like the chains of the damned.

A Con with rotting teeth and gang tattoos on both cheeks banged his neighbor’s table, crowing, “Meat truck’s in! Hallelujah!”

“First ship in four years,” the once-paunchy publican said wonderingly. “Wonder why they’ve taken so long? But drink up, boys! A round of local mash on the house for everyone! Tomorrow night, you get to drink real Earth booze! There’s a crate of it with my name on it on that ship!”

A roar nearly as loud as the ship’s swept through the smoky interior. Men in a drunken frenzy of emotion pounded each other, poured the sour local liquor down each other’s throats, spilling much of it, shook their guns and blades, or seized and kissed the nearest Dep slave handy. Everyone in the cantina was caught up in a celebratory catharsis, save for one stranger. Staying where he was at the bar, he signed to the publican.

“Another drink. Your strongest, not this watered-down piss,” the stranger rasped.

The publican complied. “You’ve been drinking hard since you came in,” he observed. “I’ve been watching you. You came here alone, something no Con will do, and you’ve no gang markings. That you’re here at all says you’re no Dep, either. I smell a story on you – wanna let me hear it?”

The stranger shook his head and gathered his drink to him. It was obvious he intended to take no part in conversation, but the publican’s attentions had drawn the eye of at least one gangster. “Hey hey,” the Con called out, “here’s a sight! You’re no Dep, but you’re too good to mingle with us Cons, are you? You’re not sharing our joy at the meat truck’s arrival. I say you’re spoiling our fun, stranger, and that’s no good.”

The stranger tossed down a full glass. “I’m just passing through,” he said softly, his voice rough with a weariness that went beyond time and space. “Don’t want trouble. Just drink with me.”

“Ah, now he invites us to drink with him!” the gangster announced, helping himself to a perch beside the man. “That’s better. But I’m not drinking with anyone I don’t know. Got a name, mister? Where you from? Where you headed?”

The stranger fixed his tormentor with hooded gray eyes, a stab of ice in the dark. “My name’s not important,” he said. I’ve been – away for a while. Six years I think. Now I wander. You could say I’m a pilgrim, of sorts.”

“I’ll call you Pilgrim, then,” the gangster continued to bait him. “Wanna tell me why you’ve been drinking so hard? I could get you something stronger, if you want it.” The other Cons began to gather around, sensing sport.

“Don’t need drugs,” Pilgrim said. “Just enough drink to have some quiet in my head.”

The gangster produced a knife. “And I say you gotta loosen up, my man. I’m going to prescribe you something that’ll make you feel real good.” He signed to one of his compatriots. “Give Pilgrim here a pill, and make him swallow it.”

“I don’t want it,” the stranger said.

“I don’t remember telling you you had a choice, Pilgrim,” the gangster hissed. He held the knife to the stranger’s throat. “Take the pill and swallow it.”

Offal children of the ape! Enough! Now learn to fear your betters!” the stranger roared. But it was not the stranger who had spoken. The gangsters recoiled, shocked by the alien timbre of that voice.

And in their shock, they died.

Before any of them could use gun or blade, the man called Pilgrim had drawn his sword, gutting his tormentor with a vicious upward slash, slammed another gangster’s head into the bar so hard the skull cracked like a melon, took another’s hand at the wrist as he tried to aim a slugthrower. When a Dep slave got in Pilgrim’s way, he hurled her aside with the same savagery he had dealt the Cons.

By the time the cantina denizens had collected themselves, the stranger was gone. But the publican was sitting with his hand over his mouth in shock. “Dammit, I know him now!” he gasped. “Carse!”


Jonathan Carse felt the alien mentality’s withdrawal as a disorienting shock, as always. The cold, deadly rage that had fired his wasting muscles to inhuman speed and power simply evaporated, and one by one he felt his faculties returning to his control. His nose registered a musty fetor, even before his eyes revealed the dim light filtering through a circular grate above. He was in the old sewage tunnels, and the sword he’d found in the Outland ruins was in his hand, a dark red crust hardening quickly in the dry air. At least the sewage tunnels, long unused, were dry.

“Jegar Kan, you bastard,” Carse whispered. “You made me do it again.”

Your life was in danger.

“You’ve seen Port Sheol. You’ve heard the ship come in. Let’s go back to the Outlands. We’re not going to do any good here.”

I wish to study your kind more. I want to know why.


Ok, now where to go from here? :)

July 9, 2011

Vivid System: Called Shots & Crits

I’ve been reading up on various posts regarding called shots, which got me thinking about how I handle them with Vivid. 

One of my major beefs with traditional called-shot mechanics is that they impose a penalty on the player; it’s as much as having the DM say, “I don’t want your creativity ruining my game!” 

Me, I like it when my players come up with effective, creative tactics in combat – it tells me they’re interested, they’re engaged, their blood is up and they want to win.  On the other hand, I also wouldn’t want a dragon or a giant to fold immediately – it makes what should’ve been an epic encounter anticlimactic.

So how are called shots resolved in Vivid?  I found inspiration in Keith Baker’s post here.  Thanks to insights from this post, I’ve gotten together my principles for called shots:

Imprimis, combat in Vivid is considered as exactly that – a violent, chaotic physical interaction.  Things will often happen not exactly as you intended them to.  Combat is a fluid dance, not a metronomic I-hit-you-then-you-hit-me rhythm.

Second, player input is welcomed and should contribute to the game, without breaking the game. 

Thus, telling me what you want to hit incurs neither penalties nor bonuses for you.  You want to strike at the villain’s head? Go for it! But because combat is interactive, Mr. Godless Badguy will of course be defending his head.

Telling me how you achieve your goal, however, in interesting and reasonable terms, will grant you a bonus die or two. 

Bonus dice are the Vivid reward for player creativity.  “I’ll use my superior height and strength to batter down his defenses until I can land a solid cut on his noggin!” Good!  “I’ll use my superior speed and cunning to fake him out and make him think I’m attacking low, then suddenly attack high!”  Yeah! I’ll give you a bonus die for these things, which don’t guarantee your success but do make it more likely.

And what of the hit location?  If you get a Crit, you achieved exactly what you wanted; a normal Victory only means you injured or threatened your opponent enough to gain a Victory Point. 

Crits in Vivid result in more Victory Points.  As Crits are scored when you gain a Victory with a roll of multiple sixes, the Victory Points earned with a Crit is equal to the number of sixes rolled.  So if you won a Victory with a roll of 5, 6, 6, 3, 6, you get 3 Victory Points.  Note that rolling more dice not only increases your chance of Victory, it also increases your chances to Crit.

If you got enough Victory Points to finish off your opponent, then I can narrate the result of your attack as a hit to heart, head, jugular, etc. etc.  Not enough Victory Points?  Then your attack did not achieve that deadly result, though it’s still significant.

Alternatively, a Crit can be used to gain one Victory Point and reduce an opponent’s Threat by 1 die.  The effect of this scales with the opponent – shoot a bandit chieftain in the eye and his 3-die Threat drops to 2 dice; shoot a dragon in the eye and its 7-die Threat only drops to 6 dice.

I have to say I love how a die pool mechanic is making it easier to build things like this into the Vivid system.

July 4, 2011

Earth Benighted: Witch Signs

The forces of dark magic can taint a character who comes into contact with them.  This can have some positive effects, such as giving the character a supernatural power, but it often has an even heavier social stigma.  Nobody trusts a witch-marked character of any sort, not on the Benighted Earth.

Witchblooded- a witchblooded character has a witch ancestor.  Witchblooded have a strong affinity for magic, learning and casting spells with more ease than an untainted human, but tend to be obsessed with either magical knowledge, temporal power, or both.  Witchblooded characters may have a minor, almost unnoticeable sign of their taint – a strange but hidden birthmark, psychological quirks, etc. etc.

Witchborn - a witchborn character has a witch parent.  Witchborn characters have an even stronger affinity for magic than witchblooded characters, but have an even stronger obsession with either magical knowledge or temporal power. A witchborn character has an obvious sign of their taint – birthmarks, deformities, odd eye color, etc. etc.

Witchmarked - witchmarked characters have been permanently affected by magic, either a spell cast on them or an ancestor, or by the taint of a place of power; this mark has changed the character, given him some weird power (player-defined), but at the same time inflicted on him some special weakness (also player defined).  For example, the character is not hurt by flames, or will not be attacked by animals, etc.

July 2, 2011

Earth Benighted: the Seven New Gods

These are the newly-arisen gods of the Benighted Earth.  Are they alien beings from Beyond?  Dark reflections of man’s collective unconscious?  Corrupted manifestations of Gaia? Who knows.

from Salammbo, by Philippe Druillet

Azhraloth is the Gate of the Abyss, the tittering insane keeper of magical lore, he who unlocks the mysteries of magic and tempts men with the promise of arcane power.  Azhraloth drives his agents to write down the mysteries he reveals, then betrays them to make sure the forbidden knowledge is disseminated thus drawing more men into the corrupting practice of the dark arts.

Ferros Karnifex is the Metal Lord, patron of those who fashion infernal machinery powered by blood and petrol.  He delights in the building of grandiose monuments, cities, and palaces, and the creation of machines for warfare.  Basically, he delights in excessive consumption and ambition.

Haemogorgos is the Vampire King, patron of those who feed on blood and terror.  His gift to mankind is the vampirism virus, which turns humans into bloodsucking vampires if bitten but not killed by a vampire.  His greatest delight is terror.

Hekate is the Dark Seductress, the temptress who leads her followers into ever more depraved excesses of cruelty and lust, in exchange for power over other human beings; she is one of the main goddesses worshipped in the cities.

Asmodai is the Scourge of Fire, patron of war, slavery and genocide.  he incites men to savagery against each other, giving victory to the most ruthless.

Voraxos is the Glutton, who delights in the plunder and desolation of Gaia's wilderness.  He is the patron of hunters, fishermen, miners and ultimately of merchants, he drives men to profit off the despoliation of nature and off each other.  Thus he is widely worshipped as a god of good fortune and money.

Necromagos is the Raiser of the Dead, the mad god whose delight is in raising the newly dead as mindless hungry zombies to spread yet more death and destruction.  Necromagos' delight is in death and desolation - the annihilation of life.

Hari Ragat: Titles

Since some of you keeping track of Hari Ragat’s development aren’t Filipino, let me provide you a key to the royal and noble titles being used here.

King.  Rajahs may either inherit the title or gain it by acclamation.  All Rajahs will have several Datus bound to them by oath. 

Prince.  Title given the sons of a Rajah.  However (in the world of Hari Ragat) the title may also be used by jumped-up Datus.

Chieftain.  As with Rajahs, Datus may either inherit the title or win it by acclamation.  Rajahs may also confer the title on a warrior they wish to honor.  Most Datus will be followers of a Rajah, but many are independent.

Most of the time, I’ll stick with these titles.  From time to time though I may also bring in others such as:

A High King; a Rajah who claims suzerainty over one or more other Rajahs.  It comes from Sanskrit and more or less means ‘Under the Sandals’ – it’s said to refer to the story in the Ramayana where Rama on being exiled makes his brother king, but the brother reveres Rama so much he puts Rama’s sandals on the throne instead and does obeisance to them. 

Same as Saripada, but less frequently used.

Royal Lady.  Literally meaning ‘of the blood’ this title is given to honor the wives and daughters of Datus, Lakans and Rajahs.

Feudal Structure
There ain’t any.  Vijadesan social structure is much more freewheeling than Medieval European – simply because if you don’t like your king or chief, you can simply pack up and sail away. 

The basic community is made up of a Datu and his followers.  Labor and military service are exchanged for the Datu’s protection and patronage.  In turn, those Datus who feel the need for protection or desire additional wealth and prestige commend themselves to a Rajah or Lakan.  Service and mutual protection, not land, is the basis of forming these relationships.

Also, these relationships are voluntary and don’t necessarily continue from generation to generation.  When a Datu or Rajah dies, his heir must win the loyalty of his followers or develop a following of his own.  It’s very fluid, unstable, tending to encourage bitter rivalries and feuds – and hey, isn’t this potential to generate story exactly what we role-players want? Yeah!

July 1, 2011

Project Earth Benighted

A post-apocalyptic dark fantasy. Thousands of years after genocidal wars wiped out civilization and awakened dark forces from another dimension, the remnants of mankind struggle to survive in a savage world dominated by evil necromancers.

I'm channeling pulp sword and sorcery specially Conan as REH wrote him, from a Lovecraftian point of view - there is no good god, the supernatural are really alien entities from beyond space, magic is a grisly, twisted, obsessive affair that leads to madness, and barbarism triumphs over civilization.

So my influences and inspirations are: Reh's Hyborian Age, Almuric, Moorcock's Hawkmoon, bdsm fashion, Heavy Metal, the Coldfire series of CS Friedman, the Claymore anime series, vampires and werewolves, the fantasy horror stories of Clark Ashton Smith and the like.

Who are the pcs? The pcs should be barbarians. They're the last clean-living people left, and their ignorance makes them interesting to play - there's so much in the world for them to discover. Civilization in this world is corrupt and dehumanizing, leading to loss of freedom and dignity.

The civilized parts of the world are broken up into despotic city-states, separated by wide gulfs of barrens - lands where nothing but the weirdly mutated life of Necrosis can grow - and by the barbarian territories. The barbarians are alternately a pest and a source of slaves for the decadent, pallid, hedonistic, nobles of the cities. These city-states are slave societies, where a small class of nobles lord it over a much larger population of unfree subjects. Even the commoners, those who aren't slaves, are perpetually in debt to the nobles simply for the privilege of living inside city walls.

Unlike a typical fantasy world, however, the agrarian population is quite small. The cities grow much of their own food in hydroponic farms. There are however homesteads and ranches that do grow crops and livestock outside the cities.

Elements of the setting - barbarian swordsmen, slavery, despotic city-states, decadent civilization, dark foul and grisly magic, demonic entities from other dimensions, yoma-like doppelganger demons. What is the long-term goal of the characters? To survive and keep their humanity.
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