Tuesday, February 25, 2014


Just a quickie about the new Godzilla movie

Oh, damn... I am so ready for this. I loooooovve monster movies, and this one looks like it will be a good one.

Now, another thought. What if Godzilla was less Kaiju and more Cthulhu? What if Godzilla was Cthulhu? What might that be like?

Maybe you can force the stars to be right... by detonating a fusion bomb and creating a small sun right on top of That Which Lies Sleeping. Then it's game over. You get two choices only: Madness or death.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Wizardry is Basic: Why do we even need Detect Magic?

I've been thinking for a while that having Detect Magic as a spell doesn't really make a lot of sense. In my mind (and in a lot of the fantasy literature), when arcane powers are used, they cause disturbances felt by those with arcane affinity of some sort. That is, when a wizard casts a spell, or someone invokes a powerful ritual, or someone taps into a ley line, then those who know magic may have a sense of that thing happening. Because they traffic in arcane power, they somehow can feel when someone uses such power, especially if it's a powerful effect. The distance at which one can feel this effect could be debated, but I'd argue that more powerful effects can be detected a greater distances. So, a little cantrip might go virtually unnoticed, but the spell, Lightning Bolt, would be much easier to detect. A complex and powerful ritual requiring a bunch of wizards would be like a beacon (and in fact, when we think about what might be summoned through such a ritual, it probably very much is a beacon of sorts). A spell that has been cast with more power might be more detectable than the same spell cast with less power.

Fantasy RPGs, in my experience, do a poor job of modeling that element of the fantasy literature. Depending on the system we're paying, if we want a wizard to know if, for example, an object is magical, we cast Detect Magic. If we want to know what kind of magic it is, then we cast Identify. Surely, there are different spells in various systems that are used to achieve these sorts of effects. My point, though, is that wizards actually have to cast a spell to detect this stuff, let alone to identify it.

I'll use DCC RPG ruleset as the basis for what follows. Let's begin with a problem.

What if you're a wizard standing in front of a closed door. You want to know if there's any kind of magical trap. With the rule-as-written, you might have to cast Detect Magic. Depending on the roll for spellcasting, assuming it's successful, you could learn that, yeah, it's magical. Or you might learn how magical it is. Or you might even get some (or a lot) of information about the nature of the magic. However, you can't just be in the presence of the magical trap and say, "Hmmm... this shit's magical, and I can tell that simply because I'm a wizard, and we know that kind of stuff. Maybe I don't want to fuck with it until I figure out what it is and how it works." Why can't wizards just do that?

Option 1: The magic has been hidden in some way (e.g., weaves were inverted to hide them).

Option 2: The magic is of a type not familiar to the wizard, as magic (e.g., divine or demonic power of some kind).

Option 3: The magic has not yet been activated (i.e., some element of the spell has not been completed).

I think all of those options are reasonable explanations.

With Option 1, then, perhaps instead of (or more probably, in addition to) Detect Magic we should have a spell called Hide Magic. Also in that line of thinking, an Identify Magic spell might be complemented by a spell designed to promote misidentification of magical effects. It looks like a simple Hold Portal, but actually is a Fireball spell triggered by opening the door.

With Option 2, there would have to be various flavors of magic in the world, some of which you'd know and some not, and alignment might be a part of that. Your cleric could, for example, tell you if something seems holy or unholy, because she's a freakin' cleric. You need that kind of caster to detect that kind of magic. That's just one example of things in this genre. Another: Maybe a fire wizard would be better able to detect elemental magics, but other types are harder to detect and/or identify.

With Option 3, spells are done in stages. Maybe someone has rigged a door with a rune of some sort. Maybe it's visible or maybe it's not. More importantly, the rune must be activated in some way. Maybe there's a needle trap with a silver needle which must shed some blood. Maybe there's a piece of chalk fixed to the bottom edge of the door. When the door is opened, it will complete the rune and trigger the spell effect. In either case, the spell is not detectable, because it's not yet triggered. There is no arcane power to be felt, at least not yet. There are, however, outward signs of the making of such powers: chalk marks around the doorway or on the floor; a trap with an unusual component (a silver needle engraved with weird symbols, which could be found by a thief, perhaps).

My point is this: I think Detect Magic needs to be expanded a bit. Wizards are magical beings because they are able to cast spells, and/or as a result of such casting. They traffic in the arcane. So, when a strong spell effect is generated, they probably can detect it, unless something is done to hide the effect. Here's a possible mechanic to model this, using the DCC RPG spellcasting roll as its basis.

When a spell is cast successfully, the number generated for the casting roll is proportionate to its power. Thus, the higher the roll, the more likely it is to be detected. My guess is that the person doing the detecting must be a wizard or elf, someone who uses such magic. The judge could look at the base success for that spell, subtract that number from the casting roll, and then roll under that number, with modification by Luck or Intelligence.

Example: The party of adventurers is attempting to enter a wizard's tower via a locked entrance. The Wizard (let's say she's 3rd level and has an Intelligence attribute of 15) casts Knock, getting a roll of 13 on her d20, plus 3 for caster level, plus 1 for the Intelligence mod, for a total of 17. The base success for that spell is 12. 17 minus 12 equals 5. The wizard who owns the tower would have a chance to detect such magic, automatically. That base chance would require her to roll under 5. The roll would be modified, as was the casting roll, by caster level and Intelligence modifier. So, a 5th level wizard with an Intelligence of, oh, 16 would have modifiers of 5 for caster level and 2 for Intelligence. Those would be added to the "5" result for a total of... 5+5+2=12. That would be the "roll under" number to detect the effect automatically.

Now, certainly, range might be a factor. If one is just too far away, it would be difficult to detect magic. That sort of thing still needs to be worked out, of course. Similarly, one could take steps to hide magic use. Maybe you have an artifact that does so. Maybe you cast some other spell that obscures your magic use from prying minds. Those things will be put aside for discussion at some later date. Now, let's look at the spell itself: Detect Magic.

In DCC RPG, the Detect Magic spell is a cleric spell, and is a combination of detection and identification. It allows both detection of magic and, depending on the results of the spell casting, a determination of its potency, its effects, and so forth. While I strongly disagree that, as a clerical spell, the wizard should cast it at a penalty, I'll leave that aside for now. The spell itself, even with the addition of the mechanic I've laid out, above, would still be useful. Sure, the wizard in the tower might have "felt" somebody using magic nearby, but she would still need to figure out some things about it. Maybe Detect Magic would be useful in that regard, so she could cast it. However, she would not just be blissfully unaware that powerful magic had just been used nearby, and that she might actually need to summon the flying monkeys to deal with whatever ruffians might be lurking nearby, or already on the premises trying to kill her and take her stuff.

Further, Detect Magic could be reconfigured as an inversion of the spell-as-written, or it could be used as a kind of saving throw, where the DC is the casting number of the spell she is trying to detect (as is the case with Sleep and other wizard spells). So, let's say the wizard casts Hide Magic before casting whatever other spell she wishes to cast. She rolls a 20 result, say. Perhaps another wizard nearby would have to make a save against a DC of 20 (modified by caster level and Intelligence mod) in order to "feel" whatever that spell was meant to hide.

Example: Chlorimina the 3rd level wizard is attempting to enter a rival wizard's tower, and is accompanied by a thief and a couple of warriors. She finds that the entrance is locked, and the thief can't seem to get it open. Maybe it's locked with a Hold Portal spell. She wants to cast Knock, but knows that her rival, Dementia (a 5th level wizard) would detect that. So, she casts Hide Magic first (which, by its nature, is not detectable by normal means). Her casting roll is 13, and is modified by +3 for caster level and +1 for Intelligence mod, for a total of 17. Dementia, the rival wizard, must save against a target number of 17. So, when Chlorimina casts Knock to open the door she wishes to open, the Judge rolls a d20 for a 9, modified by 5 for caster level and 2 for Intelligence for a total of 16. This doesn't beat the 17 on Chlorimina's Hide Magic casting, so Dementia fails to detect that her rival has used a spell nearby. Her enemies have penetrated her sanctum, but she has no idea that they have. However, should Dementia cast a Detect Magic spell, it may be that she would be able to determine that something has happened, and, depending on the results of the roll, its direction, nature, power level, etc.

Anyhow, these are just a few thoughts on the matter. I'm not yet satisfied that this mechanic is usable in play. I'm sure I'm probably missing something important. However, it does capture to some extent both what I see as problems with Detect Magic as-written, and some ways in which those problems might be addressed. What do you think?

Friday, February 21, 2014

Wizard Van!

Please consider supporting the company that brought us DCC RPG, and the man who gave me a chance to write my first "pro" adventure, Blood for the Serpent King. Joseph Goodman and +Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game have launched a new Kickstarter project to develop the 2014 (and onward) World Tour. Click on the link to check out the video and maybe make a pledge. That's their pitch. Now here's mine.

So... you folks have figured out by this point that I'm kind of a big fan of DCC RPG. I fell in love with the game early on. What drew it to me, frankly, was the art. I looked at the art and said, "Damn... this is what I've been looking for." Every other page the images captured what for lack of a better phrase I will refer to as "Weird Shit." I like Weird Shit very much. So I bought a copy of it, and a got some of those Weird Dice (I like dice and I like Weird Shit, so what else could I do?).

And I ran DCC RPG for my home group. We'd played Dark Heresy for nearly all our time up to that point (about 2 or 3 years). It went okay, but I think that some of the guys weren't that into it. Then my home group cracked up for a variety of reasons, but they're irrelevant. So, I was stuck. I had all this stuff, and I wanted to play, but nobody to play with.

Then, I heard about people cranking up hangout games on Google+ from +Zak Smith, so I thought I'd check that out. I had a hard time getting into a game, at first, and so did +Adam Muszkiewicz. He and I were discussing that problem, and I said, "Well, I'll run a game for you, if you want," and Adam did the same. We came up with what we'd play, posted an "ad" on G+, and thus was born the Metal Gods of Ur-Hadad campaign. We've been playing since then (15 or so months so far), every Thursday night. It is so much goddamned fun. I'll be seeing most of them at GenCon this year, for the first time, and that's gonna be great. Great guys, great gaming experiences. It's for those gaming experiences that I'm pimping this Kickstarter. I want more people to have the same fun I've been having, with people who enjoy this kind of fun. Promoting the World Tour helps that happen. Simple as that.

This Kickstarter campaign not a pre-order for a product to-be-produced, as are many of these. It's to provide some funding for +Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game and Goodman Games to help promote DCC RPG. Yeah, there's swag involved, sure. But the major goal is to make more free swag available to more people who run (and play in) public games of DCC RPG. That's how J. Goodman wants to promote the game: Take it out in the world and let people play it. That's why it's called the World Tour, after all. Also, there's a big stretch goal to buy a FREAKIN' WIZARD VAN! They're gonna pimp it out for gaming and take that beast out on the road. I hope that happens, I so very much do.

The Dark Master, however, is but one man. For this effort, he requires an army. Steely-eyed warriors, corrupt wizards, and surly dwarves will fill the ranks, as will the other character classes. And, yes, there will be a fuckton of zero-level guys, too, and most of them will die. He will also need all manner of crusty grognards, bespectacled nerdlings, stone-deaf headbangers, drunken hooligans, and perhaps even You.

Will you join that army? Will you  march in its vanguard? I cannot promise you treasure or magic items. I cannot promise you victory, and cannot even promise you survival.  I can only promise three things to you: More murder. More guts. More fun. Now grab some dice and go play some DCC.

Now play us out, Alex. Play something pretty.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Metal Gods of Ur-Hadad 'zine, Issue #1

Hey! Check it out!

ACTUAL LINK TO PRODUCT (Thanks, +Joshua Macy!)

We're currently at #9 on the RPGNow Top-100.

If you haven't grabbed a copy of the 'zine yet, why the Hell not? It's pay-what-you-want! Go and get it! Consume it with your eyeballs and let it corrupt your mind!

Do it now!


Tuesday, February 11, 2014

You know what you need?

 This shit, right here.

The Metal Gods of Ur-Hadad 'zine. Issue #1. 

Get yours now!

And listen to some of this, too. It'll make your ear holes feel good. 

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Effects of Overland Travel in DCC RPG

A recent Google+ post Peter Leban, in reference to THIS BLOG POST, got me thinking about a subsystem for DCC.

In my experience, it's pretty rare for judges to really keep track of things like provisions, water, and the like. It's even rarer for them to concern themselves with the longterm effects of travel in the game world. But what if we wanted to do that, to introduce environment as an opponent, an enemy just as dangerous as a monster the PCs might face?

Think about it. 

The PCs are riding (or marching), at speed, for days. They've barely rested. (exhaustion)

The PCs are lost at sea, becalmed, and their water is foul. (deprivation)

The PCs are fleeing (or chasing) through a hostile environment (desert, snow, whatever). Though they have supplies, they need to be rationed for the long haul, and the endless marching is wearing them down. (deprivation and exhaustion)

In each of these cases, the PCs are trying to achieve a goal of some kind, and their ability to endure their circumstances is being tested. Certainly such a test should have some effects on the PCs, right? I mean, if you spend three days on a forced march, with little food and no rest, you're probably not going to be in very good shape to fight when you reach your destination. How do you model that, mechanically?

One option would be to model this on the Spellburn mechanic in DCC RPG. Reflect the cost of journeying (or whatever durance and/or deprivation) astemporary attribute loss (to Strength, Stamina, and/or Agility). When any of these goes below a threshold (say, 3), then the PC is unconscious. You could also tack on actual damage to HP if that happens, or permanent stat loss, or even death, if the circumstances suggest it. 

For example, the PC is fleeing through the desert, pursued by X. He has no water or food, and cannot stop to rest. Maybe for each of those factors, for each period of travel (whatever that might be, perhaps half a day), he loses 1d4 or 1d6 attribute points from each attribute (with saving throw, modified by current attribute, for half loss). At some point, it might pay to turn and fight X, instead of fleeing. If the PC continues to flee, he may become exhausted (reduced STA), weakened (reduced STR), and/or lack of mobility (reduced AGI).

Further, the PCs might find that their ability to fight or cast spells is reduced (via lost attributes), leaving them even less able to deal with whatever it is that they must face.

If we assume that some environments (more extreme ones) are more challenging than others (milder ones), perhaps we could use steps on the dice chain to represent the relative advantage/disadvantage conferred by environment. If the PCs have supplies and equipment that allow them to mitigate the environmental factors, then that also could be represented on the the dice chain.

First, let's make an assumption. Each half day of normal traveling costs 1d3 attribute points in Strength, Agility, and Stamina, with any extras taken from Stamina. This is the base die in the chain. 

Then, we consider aggravating and/or ameliorating factors. They have no food (+1 on dice chain), they have no water (+1 on dice chain), but they have beasts of burden to carry some of the their load (-1 on dice chain). I'm keeping this to a simple +1/-1 just for the sake of simplicity. I'm sure there could be other numbers. These just keep it simple to use and remember.

Factors that aggravate or ameliorate circumstances of travel could be environmental (weather and climate, geography), circumstantial (supplied for environment, or not; encumbered, or not; wounded, or not), and so forth.

The idea, in the end, is to encourage the PCs to think about resources and capabilities, and to make choices that reflect the actual circumstances. How the hell, for example, could a group of PCs march three days through the desert, in mail, carrying 30,000 gp, without water or rations, and then arrive at a crucial battle, ready to fight? That's silly. They'd be exhausted, at best. Hell, they might be dead in the desert, food for the vultures and jackals.

Does this seem like a reasonable system to model such circumstances?

Saturday, February 1, 2014

The Vancian Wizard in DCC RPG

I chance to read this excellent post over on The Evil GM, today. Given my proclivity for all things DCC RPG, it drove me to reflect on the magical mechanics of that particular system. It seems to me that magic in DCC RPG, while still "Vancian" in flavor, has been altered sufficiently to ameliorate some of the problems associated with that sort of system. Here are a few of the "fixes" I've noticed:

The Dice, The Dice, Oh, Lord, the Dice!

I must begin with the most important difference: The role (roll?) of chance in the DCC RPG magic system. Those already familiar with my work know that I love dice and the chaos they bring to this game, for good or for ill. Nowhere is that more apparent than in the magic system.

Scaled Randomization of Spell Results

First of all, unlike D&D and its various clones, casting a spell doesn't succeed automatically. And, even if it does succeed, saving throws are still possible. DCC RPG creates the possibility of spell failure through the Spell Check mechanic. Here, the wizard rolls a d20, modified by Intelligence and by Caster Level. At the lower levels, the caster must achieve a "12" result on the die roll for a bare success. Higher results, as I'll discuss presently, mean better (more powerful) outcomes. At higher levels, the caster must achieve higher results for the bare success (18 for 5th level spells). This sort of scaling of the randomized results makes it easier for high level wizards to succeed with lower level spells, but preserves the difficulty logically following from the idea that it is a higher level spell.

Every Wizard is (potentially) a Nuke

Even more interesting, even a low-level wizard is capable of amazing successes. For example, a first level wizard could, with an 18 Intelligence, achieve a result of up to 24 on a spell check roll. Let's look at Magic Missile.

With a "12" result (bare minimum success) he or she would get the following result:
The caster throws a single missile that does 1 point of damage. He must have line of sight to the target. The missile never misses, though it may be blocked by certain magic (e.g., magic shield).
With a "24" result (maximum without Spellburn or Luck Burn), he or she would get this:
The caster throws a single powerful missile that does damage equal to 4d12 + caster level. The missile must be aimed at a single target to which the caster has line of sight, at a maximum range of 1,000’. The missile never misses, though it may be blocked by certain magic (e.g., magic shield). (Both results, DCC RPG Core Rules, p.145)
That's a pretty kick-ass result, comparatively, and some of the ones in between are pretty amazing as well.

So, any wizard, from 1st level to 10th, has the potential to demonstrate amazing arcane abilities. He or she also can augment those abilities with sacrifices of various sorts.

Spellburn and Luck Burn

Sometimes, sacrifices must be made to ensure (to the extent possible) success. In DCC RPG, the character can do this by two mechanics: Spellburn and Luck Burn. Spellburn allows the wizard to sacrifice Strength, Agility, and/or Stamina to increase his or her casting roll. Those losses are real, though temporary. The lost abilities can be healed at a rate of one point per day of rest. In the mean time, any rolls relying on those abilities would be at an adjusted modifier for the ability in question. For example, a wizard who burns 3 points of Stamina might go from 10 to 7. The new modifier would be a minus-1. The result would make his or her Fortitude Save somewhat less likely. So, the Spellburn mechanic allows wizards to burn vital essence to achieve supreme results, but at a cost.

Depending on what happens later, early use of Spellburn might turn out to be a very, very bad idea. The wizard may find him or herself handicapped significantly in a save-or-die situation. On the other hand, Spellburn might be the thing that turns the tide when things start to go to shit. This, I must say, is one of the best things that this approach makes happen: The noble sacrifice of the wizard can turn a can't-miss TPK into a resounding victory for the party. The wizards Formerly Ian and Jerkal the Blazin' (RIP) have provided good examples of that, in the Metal Gods of Ur-Hadad campaign.

Also, a natural "1" roll (a fumble) while using Spellburn, has additional consequences:
Any magic-user who rolls a natural 1 on a spell check while using spellburn suffers the loss of ability points and the associated corruption (see below), and also loses 1 point of ability score permanently (DCC RPG Core Rules, p. 108).
Luck Burn, on the other hand, is something that any character class can use. It is, simply, sacrificing points of Luck (permanently, in most cases) to add to a Casting Roll. Luck gets used in a lot of ways, though different judges may have their own eccentricities in this regard. I, for example, have taken to using Luck to determine who will be attacked first, when there is such a determination to be made. Luck also may be used to see if characters notice things, or whether they find more or less treasure, or whether their mounts will bolt or stand their ground when startled. There are lots of reasons to need high Luck, not the least of which is the Recover the Body mechanic:
If a character reaches a dead ally’s body within one hour, the dead character may make a Luck check when his body is rolled over. On a successful check, the dead character was badly injured but is not permanently killed, and the ally is able to keep him alive. The “dead” character was simply knocked out, stunned, or otherwise incapacitated. (DCC RPG Core Rules, p. 93) 
With a low Luck score, the chances of surviving a Recover the Body check decrease. Low Luck can mean you are Dead, Dead, Dead, pal. Tear up that character sheet, buddy. Better luck with your wizardry next time, champ.

Spell Failure and Spell Loss

When the casting roll doesn't succeed, there are a couple of different things that can happen. The first is simple failure. The spell didn't have an effect. On top of this, the caster will usually lose the use of that spell. This is about the same thing that happens in the "traditional" Vancian spell casting. You use it, you lose it. In DCC RPG, however, the caster may Spellburn to keep a spell that has been lost via a failed casting roll. "If a wizard expends a lost spell’s level in ability score points, he can cast the spell as if he still had it. For example, a wizard could burn 2 points of ability scores to cast a level 2 spell he had lost for the day" (DCC RPG Core Rules, p. 108). Spellburn, though, as I've already suggested, has its own associated problems.

Misfires and Corruption

One of the things I love to see as a DCC RPG judge, is a natural "1" result on a Casting Roll. This means that something fun is probably going to happen. If it does, the wizard (and his or her party) may find themselves, as the bard said, totally fucked.

The wizard in question must make a roll to determine what happens on a natural "1" result. A misfire is an unintended effect. On a Sleep spell, for example, the misfire might result in the wizard (or entire party!) being put into a magical slumber. A Magic Missile might result in untargeted creatures (including the wizard) getting hit by the spell.

Misfires are fun. Misfires can be hilarious. I love, love, love misfires. Then again, I rarely play wizards.

Corruption is another matter entirely. Corruption is when the spell has the unintended effect of altering the wizard. It also, sometimes, could end up altering others in the area of effect of the corruption. In a word, if you mess around with magic, Son, don't be surprised if you get bit. By a viciously toothed maw. The maw that just appeared on your forehead. Look at the little children run away from the hideous freak wizard. Look at the villagers with their torches and pitchforks. And, Lo! Is that a hangin' tree? Is that a rope? Run, wizard, run!

Corruption is also fun. Yay, corruption!

Supernatural Patrons

Finally, wizards have access to supernatural patrons, and these patrons also can grant the wizard new spells (and new corruption results--i.e., "patron taint"). This unnatural congress will (of course) cost the wizard. One doesn't traffic with Angels, Daemons, and Beings Between without an associated risk that it will cost, and maybe cost more than one can bear.

The wizard will rack up obligations to his or her patron(s). The wizard be corrupted into the patron's image. The wizard may, ultimately, become puppet to the patron, with all that implies. These are not nice people. They want just (or even unjust) recompense. They will have it, whether or not the wizard can bear it.

Wizards, of course, are not the only spell casters in the game. Elves function pretty much as wizards do. Clerics, though, have another system entirely. They don't have spell misfires or corruption. They accrue Deity Disapproval. Such disapproval may obligate the cleric (as to a patron) to accomplish particular goals for the deity. It may strip the cleric of particular powers, or make it more difficult to access them.

I will not, at this time, go into the disapproval mechanic for clerics. It's beyond the scope of the current post.


DCC RPG's magic system, while ostensibly Vancian, takes "Vancian" to mean something different than D&D did with its magic system. In fact, one could argue that the DCC RPG magic system is far more explicitly Vancian than the D&D counterpart. Overall, I think it's my favorite system of the two. I embrace the risks and rewards. I like the way that supernatural patrons are incorporated. I appreciate the corruption rules that change the wizard in manner and/or appearance. These features, among others, make the DCC RPG "Vancian" magic system a close approximation of what is suggested by the Vancian literature.