Saturday, September 3, 2016

Earth-3 Project: Time Travel

I'm currently reading through The Great Darkness Saga (a well-regarded Legion of Super-Heroes story arc). Naturally, reading stories about the far future of the DC universe made the gears turn on how time travel works on Earth-3.
I fucking love these 90s colors.

There's some stuff I could draw on to fluff Earth-3's future eras like the Super Syndicate from One Million. I definitely want to throw in Waverider and an Armageddon 2001-esque little metaplot. But beyond that, I feel like time travelers from the future could undermine some of the roleplaying potential of Earth-3. If everything is shiny and lawful in the 30th century, would Underground or Syndicate grunts really feel the need to keep fighting?

While such issues can be handwaved in static fiction, I think it infringes a bit on player agency and emergent storytelling in a roleplaying game. Therefore I'm putting a bunch of characters I like (Booster Gold, O.M.A.C., the Legion, Zoom) into cold storage. It feels like I'm cutting out some potential fun but I think it's for the best.

On the other hand, I think that allowing time travelers from the past can add a lot to the story. A character from a pre-Syndicate era can be horrified or awed by the modern world while also providing a different perspective to present-day mutahumans.

RPG design and open minds

As a warning, today's gonna be a two-fer day. Raining, pouring, etc.

As I said in my last post, I'm working on an OSR thingy. Here's an excerpt from my outline for myself (which may see print if I ever finish the damned thing, although the typoes will be fixed by then, I assure you):

How is this game different from other OSR or retro-clone games?

3. It purposefully avoids detailing traditional Races (such as Dwarves, Elves, Gnomes, and Halflings) and traditional Classes (such as Clerics, Fighters, Theives, and Wizards). This is not because I hate them (except for Gnomes, which I’m iffy on) but rather because I feel that with the many, many versions already available on the market I don’t need to cover them.
I'm mostly sticking by what I said about the races although I might make some Eldar/Elric/Hellboy 2-inspired Elves to serve as monsters. But the classes part is something I've started reversing on. When I started brainstorming it seemed like the four iconic classes really were superfluous. But then I changed a mechanic specifically the BAB/THAC0 one (I'm still waffling over which one to use). From there, I began idly wondering how a Fighter would work with my alterations while still feeling like a Fighter. Then there was the Thief/Rogue. Idle brainstorming formed into a pretty solid concept of a master tool-user. The Wizard was sort of already in since I was planning on making an Illusionist based on the original version that appeared in The Strategic Review. But then I stumbled upon the Arcanist, a class from Pathfinder. I hare Pathfinder but like the spellcasting system the Arcanist uses; it's a good medium between pure Vancian (which I'm not a fan of) and purely spontaneous (which has always felt poorly-implemented in a D&D context). Now I'm toying with the idea of splitting the cleric into three classes each dedicated to a specific archetypical theme like healing, necromancy, and fighting/monster-hunting.

The point I'm trying to make is that if and when you start to write something, be willing to go back and revise things when you make a change. Don't think of such revisions as "giving in" or "selling out"; rather, think of them as explorations of other avenues.

Friday, August 26, 2016

The creative dilemma

Fair warning, this is going to be one of those weird introspective posts I occasionally do.

I'm sketching out an OSR/retroclone-y fantasy game. I'm using a bunch of mechanics that most people will probably dislike: Attribute checks replacing saving throws and skills. Having recently "discovered" THAC0 and realizing that it's a just a matrix, I want to throw something like that and descending AC in there too. I want to simplify weapon types so that there are only a dozen or so that cover everything an adventurer could ever find. Weird races like living crystals and boar-men. All characters being proficient with all weapons.

I would, of course, want to sell this. Maybe for $1 or so. But the more and more I begin to develop this, the more and more I think that no one would really want to buy this besides me. I'm thinking that it's a little too weird, too eclectic, too idiosyncratic with my own tastes.

I don't know. I just don't want to make something that only one person will ever use.

Enough of that then. I'll be back later with some new stuff.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Body, Bone, Soul: Necromancy in Tarfel

Two posts in one day! I better pace myself or I'll collapse from exhaustion. Truth is I've got a minor backlog of 21-ish posts at completion levels ranging from 0% to 25%. I try to knock out one every so often.


Carnomancy is the magic of the flesh. It makes wounds heal or fester, it restores withered limbs or makes healthy ones rot on the body. Carnomancy is the most common form of healing magic and also the least restricted.  Carnomancers are also employed as animal and monster trainers, using magic to sharpen or dull some biological responses; they are also sometimes found working as torturers or loansharks, able to mete out and heal injuries. Carnomancers with an interest in undead can animate dead flesh, creating stereotypical zombies. Such zombies are sluggish because the magic coursing through them only animates their flesh, not their bones; without a skeleton to support it, undead flesh is limited to a slug-like locomotion. Needless to say, such activities are not well-regarded both for their desecration of the dead and the risk of disease.


Osseomancy is the magic of bones. It restores bones to their original condition, reshapes them and strengthens them, or warps into instruments of torture or violence. Ossemancers in civilized lands mainly work as bonesetters and surgeons. Like Carnomancers, some Osseomancers get involved in seedier business relations but they demand higher pay than Carnomancers. Their cost makes criminal Osseomancers somewhat of a novelty. The stereotypical undead created by Osseomancers are magically animated skeletons of all kinds. In most civilizations, Ossemancers make a point of avoiding the animation of humanoid remains, preferring to animate animal skeletons. Skeletons never cause as much panic as a zombie but they aren't exactly popular either.


Animancy is the magic of souls. It alone is the only component of Grand Necromancy that is nigh-universally outlawed, hated, and feared. Animancers manipulate souls, changing personalities, imposing terrible curses or dubious blessings, and denying souls their eternal rest by turning them into monstrous spirit-things. Wraiths are one of the many vile creations of Animancy.

Least Necromancy

Least Necromancy is the most common form of "True" Necromancy. Least Necromancers have a knowledge of both Carnomancy and Osseomancy as well as mundane sciences such as surgery and medicine. Least Necromancers rarely tend to be the types who raise an army of undead or what have you; they tend to operate openly as healers and secretly use undead they create as servants, orderlies, and test subjects for treatments that are too dangerous or illegal to practice on living people. The only dark side of the Least Necromancers is that they need bodies for all those assistants and test subjects. They acquire them most often by grave-robbing, although some don't mind murder either. Greater Zombies (or Fast Zombies as the unimaginative call them) are an example of a Least Necromancer's craft.

Lesser Necromancy

Lesser Necromancy is generally what people are thinking of when they hear "Necromancy". Lesser Necromancers know Animancy and either Osseomancy or Carnomancy, but never both. Lesser Necromancers can (and do) create small armies of undead. Because they taint Carnomantic and Osseomantic magic with Animantic elements, most undead they create tend to possess an instinctual hatred of the living and kill them whenever possible. Lesser Necromancers who master Animancy and Ossoemancy may eventually transform themselves into Liches; those who pursue Animancy and Carnomancy tend to create monstrosities such as the Blood and Flesh "Elementals".

Grand Necromancy

If Lesser Necromancy is the popular face of the discipline in the eye of the public, Grand Necromancy is the popular (and most feared) face of Necromancy among Mages. Grand Necromancers unify Animancy, Carnomancy, and Osseomancy in a terrible synthesis. While Least Necromancers tend to be eccentrics and Lesser Necromancers are little more than local nuisances, Grand Necromancers can topple entire kingdoms. Thankfully, few individuals are focused and skilled enough to master all three of this discipline's components and so they are thankfully rare. Grand Necromancers can create exceptionally powerful undead such as Mohrgs, Mummies, and Vampires.

The Tyranny of Freedom: or, why I kinda hate PWYW

Note: Sean over at Power Score did a post that touched on this topic from the publisher side. This post isn't a response to it but it did kinda inspire me. My post is customer-oriented, unlike his. And I'm pretty sure his PWYW stuff is good if his blog is any indication of his typical creativity and writing skills.

"Pay What You Want" RPG products are a trend that has exploded pretty recently. I don't like them.
Or rather, I don't like the execution of the model. Usually I have to decide before I buy whether I'm paying or not. It feels like going to a restaurant and having to tip the waiter and the start of the meal. What if I pay and the product turns out to be shit? What if I don't and the product turns out to be something great that I want to pay for? I'd feel bad if I gave the waiter a lousy tip at the beginning of the meal then offered me exemplary service. As far as I know, the onebookshelf juggernaut doesn't allow you to re-purchase the same product so I can't correct my quality product-induced guilt. "But Buzzclaw," the gentle readers says, "Surely you can buy another product from the same publisher?"
Sure, in theory, I could. But what if the PWYW product I got was worth $5 in my estimation and the only other products they sell are all $10+?  What if I absolutely hate the concepts of all their other products? Screw that. And if I pay for a turd there's not going to be much of remedy since it tends to be a while between my purchase time and actual reading time.

tl;dr: Like Free, like Paid, HATE PWYW.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Shapeshifter Personalities

Anyway, I've got some "new" ideas for you guys. These personalities are general descriptors of how shapeshifters interact with non-shapeshifters in their territory. All are based on multiple "skinwalker" stories popular on certain imageboards. As such, they're more suitable for types of shapeshifters that live in the wilderness (mainly Fey creatures in D&D terms) as opposed to more urban shapeshifters like Mimics or D&D Doppelgangers. The images are ones that I felt fit the general concepts I'm presenting and they come from, a website I highly recommend.


Most shapeshifters are at first just truly curious about the strange new creatures that enter their domain. Precocious shapeshifters tend to copy the appearance of a non-shapeshifter and then interact with an individual or the group. They will sometimes temporarily incapacitate the person they are mimicking but they tend not to. When the shapeshifter's trickery is discovered, it will quickly flee. Precocious shapeshifters will avoid combat if at all possible.


A few Precocious shapeshifters with enough self-awareness and empathy will eventually develop a Helpful personality. Such shapeshifters help those who travel through their territory by indicating dangers, food, water, and good campsites. Helpful shapeshifters may have good intentions but they are not always well-equipped to communicate with passerbys because they often have an incomplete understanding of common languages. Additionally, Helpful shapeshifters loathe direct mimicry, instead preferring to create a unique shape based on a combination of many individuals. Because of their ignorance, these form can end up quite strange and disconcerting, like a male Dwarf's head on a Human woman's body. Helpful shapeshifters will help their charges in combat and flee if their charges attack them, but they will rarely hold grudges.


For some Precocious shapeshifters, the fear and desperation that non-shapeshifters feel in reaction to their activities becomes intoxicating. These Mischievous shapeshifters engineer situations to agitate and frighten non-shapeshifters as much as possible, often given rise to legends of haunted or cursed woods. Despite their apparent sadism, Mischievous shapeshifters rarely plan or execute plans that may be lethal to their victims. They reason that too many deaths may scare potential prey away and so rein in some of their more destructive impulses.


Some of the Mischievous eventually grow tired of non-lethal pranks; sometimes they merely seek a stronger and more exquisite form of fear. Other times they find the color of their victims' blood and the taste of their flesh to be even more intoxicating than fear. Almost as often, a Precocious or Helpful suffers great harm from a non-shapeshifter and settles into a vengeful demeanor. All these possibilities can create Malevolent shapeshifters. Malevolents always try to kill. Some do so slowly and methodically, relishing the fear they produce in their victims. Others kill quickly, rampaging through campsites and killing as many as possible before escaping into the night.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Genies & Indians: The Caliph, Khan, and Sultan

Back when I was an undergraduate, one of the courses I took was a history of early modern India. In case you're wondering, it's a time period that stretches from the foundation of the Delhi Sultanate to about the point when Europeans started seizing provinces. I was reading some of the AD&D entries for Noble Genies and something clicked in my head with them and the tidbits I remembered about Mughal Emperors and Delhi Sultans.

The Great Caliph of the Djinn

The Caliph is a blend of two Mughal Emperors, Akbar and Shah Jahan. He is even-handed and treats his subjects well, even if they are not Djinn. He is mighty in war but prefers to engage with the arts and philosophies. He is greatly beloved by non-Djinn who serve him. At the same time, some of his Nobles doubt him. Would it not be best for the Caliph of the Djinn to place above others? Is elevating "lesser" beings to the same level as Djinn not the same thing as degrading the Djinn? Is he truly seeking an agenda of peace or is he creating a status quo where he is the master and all others are slaves? His unwillingness to discuss such issues and his half-hidden alliance (or subservience) to Chan, the Elemental Princess of Air, causes much worry among the Caliph's Djinn subjects.

The Great Khan of the Dao

The Khan is Muhammad Tughluq as viewed through Ibn Battuta's memoirs. He is sometimes beneficent, sometimes malevolent, but always dangerous. Seriously, go read Battuta's accounts of the bribery and corruption of the Tughluq court and then read about how the Khan's court acts. The Khan is someone to be greatly feared. His subjects constantly try to strike a balance where they overachieve just enough to seem diligent but enough that they seem ambitious, lest they be executed.

The Sultan of the Efreet

The Sultan is quite like Aurangzeb. He is harsh, he is tyrannical, he looks with scorn upon his non-Efreeti subjects. Yet he is also very reliable, unlike the fickle Khan. His subjects know that once they receive a law from the Sultan it won't change, both for better or worse. He is also popular among a moderate portion of Efreeti due to his proactive stance on many issues ranging from commerce to war. On the other hand, many Efreeti and non-Efreeti rebel against him, either supporting the former Sultan (who was not quite as racist or heavy-handed as the current one) or their own right to self-rule.
Unfortunately, his constant war efforts have severely taxed his treasury and with each passing day it becomes harder and harder to keep his subjects obedient.