Archive for September 2011

[D&D 4e] Fractines

Fractines are a mirror based monster that appear in 2nd edition Dungeons and Dragons’ Spelljammer Monstrous Compendium Appendix. Unfortunately, they are really lacking in any sort of backstory or flavor or story hooks. And that’s sad, because I really like weird mirror based enemies in my games (like the Nerra from the 3.x Fiend Folio). Here is some stuff I wrote about Fractines, purely as a writing exercise to make a boring monster more interesting. (This makes the Fractine more a Planescape creature than a Spelljammer one, but I’d be blending the two in 4e style anyway.)

Long ago, the different planes of existence were entirely separate and inaccessible. Planar shifting and travel to the Heavens or Hells was entirely impossible, due to the actions of the mirror god Kannadi. Kannadi restricted all interplanar travel or summoning, by placing his own mirror bright body between the planes of existence. Any who tried to travel from the mortal world into the Heavens or elsewhere would encounter his vast mirrored form as an impassable boundary, and be turned back. The titan Krasa eventually became angered at Kannadi’s prohibition and shattered the mirror god into innumerable pieces. Thus the planes can now be travelled freely by all manner of beings, and thus were the fractine born.

The fractine are shards of the dead god Kannadi. They seek two basic goals: first, to return all planar travelers to their home plane and to restrict planar travel and secondly, to remerge the scattered fractines and thereby resurrect Kannadi.

Many scholars have noted that the bodies of captured fractines are useful as components in scrying and planar travel rituals. In particular, fractine pieces can be substituted for material components in spells of banishment. On occasion, spellcasters have been able to reason peaceably with the fractine. Majorius the Green once secured the service of the fractines in returning a horde of ghosts to the lands of the unliving.

(This gives the fractine their own motivations, and some reasons for others to seek them out, either for help or as ritual components.)

    Fractine Reflector

Level 11 Solo Controller
Large immortal animate

XP 3000
Initiative +9
Senses Perception + 15, darkvision

HP: 448 Bloodied: 224 (but see Shatter)
AC: 25 Fort: 20 Ref: 23 Will: 26
Vulnerable: 10 Force, immune radiant
Speed 0 Fly 8 (hover)

Traits:
Any creature reduced to 0 HPs by a fractine is immediately teleported to its plane of origin (immortals to the Astral Sea, elementals to the elemental Chaos, etc.)

I’m Rubber, you’re glue.
If the Fractine reflector begins its turn suffering from an effect that a save can end, it places that effect on a different creature within line of sight. The duration (save ends) still remains.

    Standard actions:

Slam (melee Basic; at-will)
+16 vs. AC; 2d10+11 and push 2 squares.

Double Slam (at-will)
The Fractine reflector makes two slam attacks.

Killing Reflection (close burst 10; at-will), illusion
Targets one, or two creatures. +15 vs. Will; the target is teleported up to 10 squares, then makes a basic attack on a target of the Fractine’s choice with combat advantage.

    Immediate Reactions:

Reflect the Rays (ranged 10; at-will)
Trigger: an attack targets the Fractine reflector’s Fortitidue, Reflex or Will
+15 vs. the targeted defense; 2d10+11 damage of the damage type of the triggering attack.
Effect: the Fractine takes no damage from the triggering attack.

    Free actions:

Action Point (only on its turn; encounter)
The Fractine Reflector takes a standard action.

Shatter (when bloodied)
close burst 5
+15 vs. Reflex; 2d10+8 damage and ongoing 5 (save ends). Miss: half damage.
Effect: Remove the Fractine Reflector from the encounter and put three Fractine focusers in its space instead. These focusers act on the reflector’s initiative count.

Str: 20 +10
Con: 14 +7
Dex: 15 +7
Int 20 +10
Wis 20 +10
Cha 16 +8
Perception +15, Arcana +15

    Fractine Focuser

Level 10 elite Controller
medium immortal animate
XP 1000 or —
Initiative +8 or
Senses Perception + 14, darkvision

HP: 208 Bloodied: 104 (but see Shatter)
AC: 24 Fort: 20 Ref: 22 Will: 24
Vulnerable: 10 Force, immune radiant
Speed 0 Fly 7 (hover)

Traits:
Any creature reduced to 0 HPs by a fractine is immediately teleported to its plane of origin (immortals to the Astral Sea, elementals to the elemental Chaos, etc.)

Standard actions:

Slam (melee Basic; at-will)
+15 vs. AC; 2d10+10 and push 1 squares.

Double Slam (at-will)
The Fractine focuser makes two slam attacks.

Killing Reflection (close burst 5; at-will), illusion
Targets one, or two creatures. +14 vs. Will; the target is teleported up to 5 squares, then makes a basic attack on a target of the Fractine’s choice with combat advantage.

Immediate Reactions:

Reflect the Rays (ranged 10; encounter)
Trigger: an attack targets the Fractine reflector’s Fortitidue, Reflex or Will
+15 vs. the targeted defense; 2d10+10 damage of the damage type of the triggering attack.
Effect: the Fractine takes no damage from the triggering attack.

Free actions:

Action Point (only on its turn; encounter)
The Fractine Focuser takes a standard action.

I’m Rubber, you’re glue. (encounter)
Trigger: the Fractine focuser begins its turn suffering from an effect that a save can end.
effect: it places that effect on a different creature within line of sight. The duration (save ends) still remains.

Shatter (when bloodied)
close burst 3
+15 vs. Reflex; 2d10+8 damage and ongoing 5 (save ends). Miss: half damage.
Effect: Remove the Fractine Reflector from the encounter and put two Fractine shardclouds in its space instead. These focusers act on the focuser’s initiative count.

Str: 18 +9
Con: 12 +6
Dex: 13 +6
Int 18 +9
Wis 18 +9
Cha 14 +7
Perception +14, Arcana +14

    Fractine shardcloud

Level 9 Controller
medium immortal animate (swarm)
XP 400 or —
Initiative +7 or
Senses Perception + 12, darkvision

HP: 96 Bloodied: 48 (but see Shatter)
AC: 23 Fort: 20 Ref: 21 Will: 22
Vulnerable: 10 Force, immune radiant
Resist half damage from melee and ranged attacks; Vulnerable 10 against close and area attacks
Speed 0 Fly 6 (hover)

Traits:
Any creature reduced to 0 HPs by a fractine is immediately teleported to its plane of origin (immortals to the Astral Sea, elementals to the elemental Chaos, etc.)

Swarm Attack Aura 1
Any enemy that ends its turn in the aura takes 5 damage and grants combat advantage.

Swarm
The pack can occupy the same space as another creature, and an enemy can enter its space, which is difficult terrain. The pack cannot be pulled, pushed, or slid by melee or ranged attacks. It can squeeze through any opening that is large enough for a Small creature.

Standard actions:

Slicing shard (melee Basic; at-will)
+14 vs. AC; 1d10+8 and ongoing 5 (save ends).

Killing Reflection (close burst 5; at-will), illusion
+13 vs. Will; the target makes a basic attack on a target of the Fractine’s choice with combat advantage.

Immediate Reactions:

Reflect the Rays (ranged 10; encounter)
Trigger: an attack targets the Fractine reflector’s Fortitidue, Reflex or Will
+14 vs. the targeted defense; 1d10+10 damage of the damage type of the triggering attack.

Free actions:

I’m Rubber, you’re glue. (encounter)
Trigger: the Fractine focuser succeeds on a saving throw
effect: it places that effect on a different creature within line of sight. The effect lasts until the end of the fractine’s next turn.

Shatter (when bloodied)
close burst 1
+15 vs. Reflex; 1d10+8 damage and ongoing 5 (save ends).
Effect: Remove the Fractine Reflector from the encounter and put four Fractine slivers in its space instead. These focusers act on the focuser’s initiative count.

Str: 16 +7
Con: 10 +4
Dex: 11 +4
Int 16 +7
Wis 16 +7
Cha 12 +5
Perception +12, Arcana +12

Fractine shardcloud

Level 8 minion Controller
medium immortal animate
XP 88 or —
Initiative +6 or
Senses Perception + 11, darkvision

HP: 1(but see Shatter) a missed attack never damages a minion
AC: 22 Fort: 20 Ref: 20 Will: 20
Immune radiant
Speed 0 Fly 5 (hover)

Traits:
Any creature reduced to 0 HPs by a fractine is immediately teleported to its plane of origin (immortals to the Astral Sea, elementals to the elemental Chaos, etc.)

Annoying: creatures adjacent to two or more fractine slivers grant combat advantage.

Standard actions:

Slicing shard (melee Basic; at-will)
+13 vs. AC; 8

Immediate Interrupt:

Glimmer (ranged 5; encounter)
Trigger: an attack targets the Fractine reflector’s Fortitidue, Reflex or Will
+13 vs. the targeted defense; 8 damage of the damage type of the triggering attack.

Free actions:

Shatter
Trigger: the shardcloud dies
Target: one adjacent creature.
+13 vs. Reflex; ongoing 5 (save ends).

Str: 12 +5
Con: 8 +3
Dex: 10 +4
Int 14 +7
Wis 14 +6
Cha 10 +4
Perception +11

The Alchemists of Pwang

Background

The alchemists of Pwang commit soul staining sins in an effort to cleanse their souls. Unfortunately, no one in Pwang can be sure what the gods approve of and what they do not, at least while they live.

Miracles

Take a tarot deck, separate the minor arcana from the major arcana. Shuffle both decks.

Each player writes on a card one miracle that alchemy can perform. Place a random minor arcana under the miracle’s card.

The recipe for the miracle will require doing something immoral and something illegal.

(Miracles can’t give eternal life, but they can save you from death by restoring a spent life token.)

Each player writes a sin on a card next to their lefthand miracle. Place a minor arcana facedown under the sin’s card.

Each player writes something on card next to their righthand miracle that the tyrant of Pwang has declared illegal. Place a minor arcana faceup by the sin’s card. Larger values = more severe punishments for the crime. Face cards mean the death penalty.

You must commit that sin and that illegal act during a scene to perform the miracle.

Alchemists

Draw a major arcana and interpret it to explain why you hate the alchemist on your right.

Draw a major arcana to explain why you need the help of the alchemist on your left.

Every character starts with a life token on their character sheet.

Name you alchemist something grandiose.

Gameplay

Starting with the oldest player, you’ll take turns framing scenes where you are pursuing one of the miracles. The player on your left will describe opposition and problems along the way.

When you reach the climax of the action in a scene, draw a major arcana card. If you were working to harm the alchemist you hate (their call) or if you were given assistance from the alchemist that you need help from, you get to interpret the tarot card to describe how the scene turns out. Otherwise, the player on your left interprets the card as negatively as possible.

If you drew the Death card or if the interpreter thinks you were in danger, then you experience a brush with danger. You can remove the life token from your sheet to survive. If you don’t spend a life token, then your alchemist dies.

If you’re dead, then you can frame scenes for NPCs, such as the Tyrant’s Secret Police or the Mawgwamite Church’s witchhunters. NPCs hate your right and lefthand players.

Judgment

Write down any sins you commit in play, or any miracles you perform.

When everyone has died, turn over the sin and miracle cards. For your sins, discard all Cups and face cards, then add up the numerical total. For your miracles, discard all Swords and add up the numerical total (face cards are worth 12.) If your miracle total is higher than your sin total, then the gods welcome you to paradise. If your sin total is greater than your miracle total, then you are sent to eternal torment.

[Reviews of Games that Don’t Exist] Galveston Adventures

Galveston Adventures

If you’re anything like me, you begin reading Galveston adventures thinking “What, another retroclone named after a city in Texas? Does every roleplaying group need to take their houserules for The Dallas RPG and publish them as their own separate game?” But like many other Dallas heartbreakers, Galveston contains a few really clever, innovative ideas. I just wish that the designers had been confident enough to discard more of the Old Soap Renaissance baggage and create something more original. Are we always going to be playing in the field of soap operas set in 1980s era Texas? Could we at least update the setting to modern day?

Most of the game follows heavily from the original Dallas rpg. You have the same essential core mechanic, a very similar list of attributes and a set of goals that involve uncovering secrets and gaining control over specific groups or NPCs. Like many Dallas clones, Galveston adds a combat system, which I feel is a mistake. It detracts from the real core of the game. The importance of JR being shot wasn’t how he was shot, it was the mystery that arose from there.

You have a pregenerated cast of characters with no character generation rules. This is fine for some games (I quite like the cast of PCs in King of Houston). But Galveston’s cast is full of wishy-washy uninspiring PCs with dull motivations (e.g., “Goal: Investigate accounting errors at Buck Wapnow’s cattle ranch”). This lack of strong situation and drama plagues the entire game. Who cares who secretly runs the Chicken Hut?

Even though the locations are uninteresting, I do like the rules for secretly seizing control of locations, organizations and NPCs. There’s a secret bidding system, whereby you know when people bid, but not how much. You can use this to fake out other players in various ways: making several small bids may seem like you’re investing more than you really are. One large bid may fly under the other player’s radars. Investigation rolls can reveal some about the bids given, which helps make investigative PCs useful.

When someone finally reveals their secret control, they get a bonus based on how heavily invested they are. At that point, the secret bidding is closed on that resource, but other players can later reveal they had even more invested in the NPC or group, and that the resource was really working for them. This makes for entertaining reversals in play. Once, during our playtest, one player miscalculated his secret total, which led to some rules confusion. Clearer rules on how to handle this situation would be helpful.

Closely tied into the secret bidding is a system called “Foreshadowing”. Each secret, goal and NPC or group has a list of 5 hints that you can use, and each hint also applies to several different secrets. On your turn, you can insert into your narration a hint pointing toward one of your secrets, goals or hidden control of a resource. When you finally win the Big Reveal bonus from bringing out your secret, each hint that you gave adds a multiplier onto the bonus (there’s a chart). but each hint also makes it more likely that an Investigating PC could discover your secret and steal that Reveal Bonus for themselves. Hints are a risky maneuver, but can really pay off. This subsystem can make for really interesting play, but it also limits replayability: once you know which hints point where, it becomes easy to steal the Reveal Bonus from another player.

These new mechanics suggest to me that the designers could have made a really interesting, innovative game if they had abandoned some of the ideas carried over from the Dallas RPG. Or that they had made a setting out of Galveston that had enough drama to really sustain interest in the game. But as it is, I doubt that this retroclone can survive in an RPG marketplace already overcrowded with Dallas heartbreakers, TV soap systems and big budget licensed television drama games.

[Reviews of Games that Don’t Exist] The Dukes of Hazzard RPG

The Dukes of Hazzard RPG

Following the phenomenal success of The Dallas Roleplaying Game, lots of little game companies sprang up and seized licenses various television licenses. Some of these became instant classics (like the Fantasy Island game where the GM plays Mr Roarke). Others were less successful, and left their companies drowning in debt.

The Dukes of Hazzard game is one of the latter group. The basic premise is actually pretty good for a roleplaying game (gamers love being heroes outside the law). And the rules have a few good ideas: every session is about building up resources to use in the mandatory final chase scene.

Unfortunately, the system’s flaws kept it from being a success. The random character creation was wildly unbalanced. (They don’t even stat up Bo and Luke as NPCs? Apparently, they assume you will play additional Duke family members, like the regrettable Coy and Vance.) The resource building phase is easily gamed to generate infinite resources. The “Bridge is Out” card is brokenly powerful, while other cards are ambiguously worded.

In the end, The Dukes of Hazzard RPG failed to gain a foothold against juggernauts of the industry like The Cheers Game or to find a niche among indie gamers the way St. Elsewhere Storytelling did.

[Reviews of Games that Don’t Exist] Allegory Mystery

There’s a thread on Story-Games.com where people write reviews of RPGs that don’t exist. I have had way too much fun writing a couple of these, and wanted to preserve them here. Here’s one:

Tom the Dancing Bug’s Allegory Mystery RPG (featuring Billy Dare)

Allegory Mystery at first looks like a Sea Dracula knockoff. Cartoon characters, absurdity, mystery investigation, the whole deal. Only this time we have humanoid cartoon characters, a la Tintin, and recursive literary meta-critique replacing the dance contest. The game is probably bet summarized as “House of Leaves meets Scooby Doo.” I don’t know if that clarifies anything, though.

It’s the last part that really causes problems. You’re supposed to have your PCs symbolize the subtext of their own story in order to manipulate the outcome towards the end that you want. So suppose you want to have your teenage spy clamber across the Berlin Wall. (The setting is “somewhere in the 20th century”. Nazis, Communists and bomb throwing anarchists all appear as antagonists.) You might accomplish this by explaining how your protagonist represents youthful optimism triumphing over cynicism. Or you might argue that crossing the Berlin Wall back into West Berlin is analogous to the Hero’s homecoming at the end of Joseph Campbell’s The Hero With a Thousand Faces. Your opponent, however, might argue that your job as a spy is symbolic of a larger morally ambiguous world of international politics, or that the Berlin Wall represents the fundamental divisions between humans: you will never fully know or understand anyone you meet. Either interpretation implies the same thing for the story: you fail to make it over the wall and be reunited with your girlfriend, and instead you are shot dead by the border guards.

So you and anyone else involved gives their critique of the story so far (in character), then the group decides which interpretation is correct and the story unfolds from there (“Haha, you neglected to pay attention to the neo-Marxist subtext of your own soliloquy. Victory is mine!”). The rules are unfortunately a bit vague on what happens if the group can’t agree on which is the right interpretation, which is quite unfortunate.

I’m real keen on trying this out in play, but the rest of my group is wary. They want the meta-critique to be encompassed in a more traditional mechanics like Sea Dracula’s dance-off. “Why can’t we have a yodeling contest, and the winner can then describe their analysis of the story?” they ask. I tried to explain to them that literary analysis is really just another performance art, but they didn’t buy that.

(Even if I did get them to play, I know one guy would be going for Jesus allegories everywhere. Biblical parallels are broken, yo.)

Still, it seems like a cool system. I’m working on a hack to run Doctor Who as the triumph of romance and intellect over brute force and cynicism. Now I just have to convince my friends to play it.