Friday, June 29, 2018

Mothership: A Review

There has been a post going around Google+ this week that has discovered one of the main things the OSR needs is more reviewers. I doubt I will ever become a regular reviewer because honestly, I don't have the time to read that much RPG material. God help me if I ever became an ENnies judge.

(Dear ENnies selection committee, call me maybe and let's do lunch)

With that in mind, I decided to review something for the first time. It's a good excuse for me not only to stay active with the blog, but also to stay on top of things within the OSR community. So that's why I decided to buy and review Sean McCoy's Mothership, a Science Fiction Horror RPG.

Don't let the disco logo fool you.

So I will start this review with a very important declaration: Broadly speaking, I hate science fiction. I have certain exceptions, however. For example, I greatly enjoy Dune (at least the original novel) and Star Wars, although I see them more as science fantasy and adventure, respectively. The only other sci-fi I genuinely and regularly enjoy falls into the subgenre that overlaps with horror. The original Alien (1979) film is superb, and one of my guilty pleasures is the 90's cult classic, Event Horizon (1997). Both are set in space and deal with horror themes.

Note that I could also include the films The Thing (1982) and The Fly (1986) but those are slightly less relevant. The point is, couple space sci-fi with a horror of the unknown and I'm way more likely to be emotionally invested when compared to an episode of Star Trek.

Enter Mothership. I purchased this at my local game store for $15 although it's also available as a pay-what-you-want PDF (link). My version came printed on very nice paper with a cardstock cover along with four collectible monster cards, with stats and descriptions for each monster pictured. More on this below.

First off, I love a lot of the presentation here. The typeface is a clean Helvetica (or similar), with good use of bold emphasis. After many sections is a note telling you where more relevant content can be found (e.g., "For more on combat, see p. XX"). With a lack of an index, this is quite helpful if something is left unanswered by the end of the paragraph. However, I've noticed that the PDF has no document links if you try to click on these. Hopefully that's something that will get worked into a future revision.

But probably the best bit of design is the character sheet. Holy shit, do I love the character sheet for this game. It literally walks you through the entire process of creating a character by effectively making it a flow chart. You can see it on so you know what I'm talking about. The concept is brilliant - just follow the arrows and you will cover all of your character creation basics. This minimizes time spent looking through rules. I have played some RPGs where entire sessions were wasted on character creation. For a game that isn't simply a variation of D&D, Mothership is efficient even by OSR standards.

The artwork is also quite good, although the style seems a touch inconsistent at times. I do have to give Sean a big kudos as he also did all the artwork, according to the credits.

As for the system, the game only uses d10's and the d10's which increase in multiples of ten. The latter is denoted by an underline, i.e., d10. This sometimes comes in handy for the massive amounts of damage some weapons can do, for example. The four stats are determined via a roll of 6d10. (expected value = 33.) This gives you a stat you often must roll under. So statistically speaking, you should succeed at things 1/3 of the time. Compared to Traveller's target number of 8+ on 2d6 (41.7%), Mothership seems to lean more difficult. However, there's also a skill system. Each skill you have can raise your stat check depending on what level skill it is.

In a mere 40 pages, there's also a stress/sanity/panic mechanic, rules for mercenaries, a bunch of space guns, and rules for building spaceships.

Let's talk about spaceships. In my experience, they're hard to incorporate into RPGs. There are either not enough options, or as is more often the case, they take forever and a day to design. Instead of the usual hassle, Mothership kind of treats spaceships as big characters, which is a smart move. The ship even has its own worksheet similar to the character sheet. A ship can be statted out fairly quickly, even if you don't immediately know its layout. However, the game provides you rules for drawing your ship's plans using the results of the worksheet. Undoubtedly a fun activity to do between sessions.

But there's one major thing that's missing from this game, in my opinion: what to actually do with all this stuff. I mean, I can appreciate the timeless tactic of simply coming up with things on the fly, but we're left with no ideas on what sorts of things to try with these rules, especially given the fact that it's a horror game. (You don't want to accidentally make things a cakewalk for your players.) There are plenty of examples demonstrating individual mechanics in action, but no sense of the game itself in action. I'm sure that once I came up with a good adventure idea, I could probably run this, but I have to admit it's a bit difficult to get my brain gears turning with the rules as they are. The mosnter cards that came with the print version definitely help, although you don't get these with the PDF.

To put it a different way, I'd hate to set out to run a Mothership campaign only to have it end up feeling like a Traveller campaign.

I'm curious to see the future of this game, especially since it's branded as an Alpha release. I expect that the developers will be refining and further developing the game in the future.

The good stuff:
- Layout and readability.
- Available as a pay-what-you-want PDF.
- Uses only d10's (I love d10's )
- most mechanics seem simple yet intuitive

The bad stuff:
- Typos and errors in the print version
- Not much guidance for the GM (or "Warden")

4/5 stars because that's what everyone does for everything.

More information to come if I actually playtest something using the game.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Tooth Faeries

Those who eat the fruits provided by the great bounty of the forest generally do not suffer any maladies for doing so. On some occasions, certain found specimens of berry and mushroom may prove to be poisonous, but generations of trial and error have determined which is which. All that is required is the knowledge of certain tell-tale signs, often handed down through oral tradition or the written word and illustration. Know what to look for, and you’ll be well-equipped to harvest edible flora as you pass through the forest.

Generally, the forest is happy to provide such sustenance because those who require it are considered honored guests. It is not unlike those who visit a stately manor being attended to by servants bearing bits of cheese, cured meats, and other hors-d'oeuvres. However, certain areas of the Twelve Great Forests are off-limits: divine cradles of pure, unmolested nature from the primordial days of the Earth. They are not the domain of mankind and you will find no welcome there. Indeed, what I will call the Primeval Gardens are barely known by any living humans at all.

But the average traveler need not worry, for the Great Forests have in place ancient enchantments as old as the Earth itself. No one can accidentally stumble upon a Primeval Garden without pure luck dictating that they miss it entirely. Much like one magnet repelling another of similar polarity, the human explorer is driven away from those hallowed sites and is never the wiser for it.

Occasionally, however, wizards just have to come along and fuck things up.

A wizard is nothing if not a surveyor of loopholes in the contract that humanity has with reality. Even learning of the protective wards guarding the Primeval Gardens is a remarkable feat in itself. Yet, through any of an infinite number of incomprehensible magical means, it is sometimes possible to break through the enchantment and actually set foot on that sacred ground.

However, although the enchantments can occasionally be broken temporarily, absolutely no magic that any living being can channel will obscure the actions partaken by the offending wizard—or their companions—from the Great Forest's Watcher. Awakened by any disturbance in the primeval enchantment, the omniscient Watcher records all deeds—and especially misdeeds—performed until the offender is once again outside the sphere of the enchantment's domain. However, as the Watcher is omniscient but not omnipotent, She will inform any offenses immediately to the appropriate Enforcers.

Enforcers comprise a wide variety of magical entities who are eternally bound in service to the Great Forest itself. Earth elementals, ancient demigods, and even certain legendary animals can be Enforcers, depending on what offense has occurred and if any Earthly magic has been removed or corrupted. The primary goal of an Enforcer is to restore balance to the Primordial Garden by any means necessary. I don't have to tell you that, depending on the nature of the disruption, the act of restoring balance can be... unpleasant.

However, there is a curious case that arises when an intruder actually eats something from the Primordial Garden. Once any fruit, herb, or other food is consumed orally, its magical essence does not transfer to the consumer, or live in their gut somehow. Instead, without fail, it is transferred to the teeth upon chewing. There it will lie forever dormant, unusable even by a wizard. The only means of reclaiming the Garden's essence that was lost is to extract the teeth. And seeing as how no one would risk a direct assault on a wildly unpredictable human wizard—or one of their friends—by removing a set of teeth by force, the Enforcers in such cases are Tooth Faeries.

Tooth Faeries are well acquainted with the neurological workings of human nervous systems, such that ensuring they stay asleep for a complex, painful surgical procedure is no challenge. In fact, they are such skilled Enforcers that they can harvest a full set of teeth and install a nearly identical replacement set in just under two hours. When the subject wakes in the morning, the most they will ever know is that they taste a hint of blood and perhaps a bit of an aching jaw. These symptoms usually pass within an hour. In truth, Tooth Faeries are some of the most effective Enforcers ever to serve the Watchers and the Great Forests when establishing balance to the Primordial Gardens.

The problem is that, because they're Fey, they're usually tricksters and perverts.

What follows is a catalogue of the multitude of effects known to befall some victims of Tooth Faerie trickery. I fear the list may be incomplete, but the list below should nevertheless be accurate.

1) The victims may hear sounds previously recorded from the past 24 hours. It is unknown whether the Faeries or someone else in the Primeval Garden is listening via the teeth and playing the sound back, or whether one of the teeth is actually some sort of enchanted stone. However, it is able to transmit the sound via bone conduction through the jaw. No one other than the victim will be able to hear the sound, although the victim will be utterly convinced it is real.

2) The teeth are able to transmit electrical impulses through their roots nerve endings directly to the victim's erogenous zones. Minor muscle spasms can ensue. The Tooth Faeries almost certainly are monitoring the victim in some manor, because every report of this effect has occurred during a socially stressful and public scenario.

3) The teeth can trigger the release enzymes in the digestive tract to disrupt the normal passage of food. Projectile vomiting or diarrhea can occur in extreme cases, although one of the most common reports of this effect is potent flatulence.

4) Assuming they can write, occasionally the victim may find that they are unable to control the content of their writing, transcribing certain nonsense phrases, such as "milk shake" or "chicken man," in an otherwise totally sensible passage. This effect is particularly disruptive to wizards, who must destroy spells in order to transcribe them into a permanent grimoire.

5) With some sort of monstrous shock to the nervous system, the victim loses all control of their muscles and falls prone for a period of up to two minutes. This is seemingly rare, but particularly dangerous. For example, death can befall anyone crossing a shallow stream or riding their horse at a galloping speed. It could be the case that victims simply don't live in order to report it.

6) For some victims, saliva production temporarily magnifies at least ten fold. This is such a massive increase that the victim must slobber excessively or else choke to death. An additional concern for these victims is drinking enough to prevent lost fluids.

7) Some victims report that their sense of taste is randomized. Savory foods are instead sweet, sweet foods are sour, and so on.

8) As 7, but instead the sense of smell.

9) A limited symptom, but victims reported that they were unable to keep their teeth from chattering loudly once they found themselves in a situation which demanded silence, such as passing a sleeping baby or dog.

10) Occasionally the teeth will simply fall out after a time. It is unknown whether this is intentional trickery or just shoddy work on the part of the Tooth Faeries.

Sadly, while most victims have eventually reported that the above maladies eventually cease, it is unknown what eventually gets the Tooth Faeries to stop. Based on the patterns I have studied thus far, it is quite possible that they give up once another person finds and eats something from the Primeval Garden. Or maybe they just get bored, choosing a different mischief in which to partake. It is my intention to investigate this matter further; perhaps I can find a wizard and some unwitting test subjects.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

The Priest and the Narcoworms

Slouched against a withered tree is a degenerate priest, clad in the earth-stained clothes of one ill-acquainted with finery. He venerates the Octopus Goddess, although if pressed for details he will know far less about Her than a holy scholar should. He is also a drug addict. Rich, black soil fills his small sack, with a small colony of narcoworms feeding on a sweet-smelling fungus.

Narcoworms are long, slender worms that writhe at a glacial tempo. They appear purple at first glance, although there is a rainbow oil sheen to them upon closer inspection. If you happen to grind a living one into a fine paste which you then desiccate in a crucible, the resulting ashen powder is hallucinogenic if ingested or snorted through the nostrils. No one knows who originally worked out this procedure.

In faraway cities, there are worm dens where only the most degenerate and wealthy fuel orgies of hallucinatory stupor. Plush couches and pillows allow you to recline at the height of comfort while you observe your mortal body writhing in sweet agony. Outside the cities, few have even heard of the narcoworms' secret, and the procedure for preparing the worms has only been spread via ciphered notes disguised as children's drawings.

Like common earthworms, the narcoworms are simultaneous hermaphrodites. Their reproduction, which occurs about once every six weeks, is assisted by an excreted jelly which carries egg and sperm until their union. The presence of a mixture of this jelly and sea salt during the aforementioned preparatory procedure also maximizes its narcotic effects, although this secret knowledge is guarded carefully amongst the small, secret cabal of Worm-Givers.

Our friend the priest has learned, by a stroke of luck, to grind up those worms which are in the mating process when he can, along with a pinch of salt. He is a bit too slow-witted to realize how much of a profit can be made with this knowledge. He is slower still to realize that there are other Worm-Givers out there who would slit his throat for not providing them their due share of the profits from what must surely be a stolen secret.

When the PCs meet the priest, he will offer "enlightenment" to them, in the name of the right splendid Octopus Goddess. Anyone who partakes gains a +1 to their Wisdom for the day, but suffers one of the following effects:

Narcoworm Effects Table (d6)
1. Migraines, which last for one week. Each day, succeed a Saving Throw or else suffer a -1d4 penalty against all rolls for the day.
2. Hallucinate 1d4-1 additional NPCs/monsters per encounter. Roll with each new encounter. Lasts for the rest of the day.
3. All love everywhere is here eternal now living together through you and me. Lasts for the rest of the day or until cured.
4. Environmental confusion. Determine a climate type and weather at random. The character hallucinates that they are present in such an environment and takes appropriate action (such as changing outfit or seeking shelter). Lasts for the rest of the day.
5. Kleptomania or pyromania (DM's choice), 2d10 turns.
6. Every verbal communication that the character hears is perceived as a lie, meant to trick the character into peril. 3d10 turns.

If the narcoworm was mating and prepared with sea salt, roll twice on the chart and gain +1 Wisdom permanently.

Consuming the narcoworm powder repeatedly will build a cumulative chance (suggested 1% per dose) for the character to develop psionic powers. If a person with psionic abilities eats live narcoworms, they will gestate in the stomach and release invasive embryos into the bloodstream. These will eventually attack the blood-brain barrier and mutate the host into an Illithid, or whatever non-trademarked name you give a Mind Flayer. This, coincidentally, will please the Octopus Goddess.

The Narcoworm Priest:

- Sack of narcoworms (3d12) in soil
- Cudgel
- Wooden holy symbol
- Worm preparation kit: crucible, mortar, pestle, tongs, and an alcohol lamp
- Poorly-written pornography
- 3 sp
What he wants:
- To gain followers to his religion.
- To bond with people over hallucinations.
- To learn more about these worms.
What he doesn’t want:
- To be exposed as a charlatan.
- To kill anyone.
- To incur the wrath of the Octopus Goddess.

[Note: the above blog post is an expansion of an idea first discussed in a previous entry]

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Skills revisited: Dice pools and the LotFP playtest rules

So obviously the first thing I should do once I say that I want to play some more 5E is to start analyzing the rules for Lamentations of the Flame Princess.

Just a few days ago, I grabbed a copy of LotFP's Free RPG Day supplement for the year, Eldritch Cock.  It has a whole bunch of spells in it, but also what I think is the first unrestricted release of the LotFP playtest rules, a set of backwards-compatible rules changes for the game.

One of the coolest things, in my opinion, is the update of Saving Throws. They are now based on a d6 dice pool. Number of successes determines the result (2+ = full save, 1 = partial save, 0=fail). The only variable is, are you saving against a magical effect or not? I am a bit biased since I love dice pools inherently, but I think that this is a great improvement, at least on paper. Saving throws have always been a high hurdle to clear for lower-level characters. I want to see exactly how this plays out at the table.

Meanwhile, of all the great things in LotFP, the skill checks were the one thing that I never really liked. you have an n-in-6 chance, a single d6 roll. So (a) you want to roll low, and (b) you could end up with a 6-in-6 chance to do something if you buy enough of a single skill as a Specialist.

I mused on a potential upgrade to that here.

The playtest document (at least the one I scanned a while back; I don't know if James updated the rules in Eldritch Cock since I don't have it on me right now), essentially boils down to the following paraphrased rules:

- One random skill starts with a +3 bonus, and another begins with +2. If this is the same skill, it adds together to only be +4. (Target number for everything is 6 on a roll of d6, by the way. So in this case, failure only occurs on a 1.)

- For each bonus skill point (affected by INT), determine the skill randomly. negative modifiers start wiping out the starting bonuses from the last step.

- Specialists get 4 +1 bonuses to distribute at will at level 1, and add +2 per level.

- Roll 2d6 with 2x6's/2x1's being successes/failures if your total bonuses for a particular skill are less than 0/greater than +5. (Don't worry if I wrote it out confusingly because I kind of ignore this moving forward in my thought experiment.)

I wanted to see if I could keep the dice pool idea going from my original idea, and then see if I can adapt the playtest rule to follow the same model. We're already set to use a dice pool for saves, so why not skills?

(Forgive me because I'm now kind of writing this as I go...)

So first off, realize that the default skills follow a linear progression. 1 skill point is the same value (a 1-in-6 increase in probability) for all time. Your chance of success is 16.7%, 33.3%, 50%, etc. So in these playtest rules, every character has a 66.7% of success at a single skill, and a 50% chance on a second skill. Or they get the same result twice and get a single skill at 83.3%. Everything else stays at 16.7%.

So imagine we're using dice pools instead. The default of +0 Dice to a skill still gives you a base success chance of 16.7%, so that's good. In order to get closest to a 66.7% and a 50% chance for two separate skills, we'd need to add +5 dice and +3 dice, respectively, to each skill to yield success chances of 66.5% and 51.8%, the probabilities of success of dice pool sizes of 6 and 4. Let's accept that as our baseline, pre-tweaking value of dice for everyone.

Then comes Specialists. They get four +1 bonuses that they can arrange to taste. It's not easy to convert this to a dice pool, since they could add all +4 to a single skill, making a 1-in-6 chance a 5-in-6 chance. In dice pool terms, that's adding 9 dice to get your chances of success up to 83.8%...

(Before we move on, here's the incremental success percentage increase with each new die added to your pool: 2nd die = +13.9%; 3rd = +11.6%; 4th = +9.6%; 5th = +8.0%; 6th = +6.7%; 7th = +5.6%; 8th = +4.7%; 9th = +3.9%; 10th = +3.2%. If we average all these, we get about 7.5% per die.)

So back to Specialists. It looks like, to keep the +4 starting bonus consistent, we should convert it to +8 or +9 dice in my suggested dice pool system. They would clearly have the most benefit if you spread them all out over eight or nine different skills, with each one getting, therefore, a 31% chance of success. In this extreme, they're almost twice as effective as the +4 dice of the playtest rules. The playtest dice are more effective per skill (33.3%>31%), but you can only apply that bonus to four skills at most.

I... actually kind of like that approach. I think that the jack-of-all-trades seems more consistent with my idea of what a Specialist class brings to the table, which is the guy you hire to do the tricky stuff. I'm going to assume players will game the system, most likely spreading their bonus dice far and wide. However, if they want to tailor their character to fit a particular archetype, they can shift that pool around quite a bit. (Translator, Sailor, Acrobat, etc. are all merely different skill distributions.)

One last thing that I really like: in keeping the mechanics of skill rolls consistent with that of saving throws, not only are we unifying mechanics a bit, but we can also introduce variable results for skill rolls. 2+ successes means the skill is executed perfectly, whereas one success means there is a complication that develops. The downside to this, of course, is that most skills used by non-specialists are going to forever remain at 1 die, leading to automatic complications. I don't know how I feel about that yet.

What remains to be seen after this first thought experiment: (1) Do I want to tweak the amount of bonus dice for non-Specialist classes? It depends on whether the Specialist seems too crucial compared to the Fighter and Magic-User. (2) What about that INT bonus? Keep it consistent? Again, more playtesting required. (3) Maybe I'll give fighters bonus dice for Leadership, another new skill.

Blog update after about half a year

A lot of things have happened since my last blog entry. I will try to summarize them here:

- For various reasons, I moved away from D&D-centric fantasy roleplaying games. I got pretty heavily invested in Call of Cthulhu. While I think there is a lot of crossover, I didn't feel the desire to post anything here since it's not really a house-rule game the way the DIY RPG scene is.

- Owing to perhaps some combination of the winter season, a loss of free time, and financial problems (which are entirely my own doing), I stopped following RPGs nearly altogether.

- I started collecting comic books and collected editions, which was a refreshing new hobby, although it worsened said financial stress.

- both comics and RPGs contributed to my new drawing pastime.

I won't go into my drawing in depth, but know that I am available to illustrate for RPG material. I am also cheap.

You can find me here:
instagram (most active)
fineartamerica (prints for sale)
patreon (currently least active since I have no patrons. I plan to revisit this at some point in the near future.)

I would also like to resume creating content for RPG material, which means I need to run actual games. I think I want to try running 5E once again since it was such a huge draw on Free RPG Day. On that day, I ran a DCC game for which a single player signed up.

Also, if you have a strong opinion as to whether I should include Call of Cthulhu content on my blog, please let me know in the comments.

As a parting shot, here's my first commission. It's available as a print but I'd be happy if you just looked at it because I am quite proud of it.

Art Prints