Monday, August 13, 2012

Magic in Weird opera

These are my house-rules for Magic in the Weird Opera campaign. Most of the rules are cobbled together from various sources, mostly Swords & Wizardry and Labyrinth Lord.

In Weird Opera, there’s no distinction between arcane and divine spells. However, many spells are kept secret by the Guilds or other powerful groups. For example, most spells on the Druid spell list are kept secret by the Druids of the Ancient Mother. Often the only way to learn such a spell is joining the group, or steal it.

Spells and Spellbooks: A spell is an semi-living thing with a disposition and instincts of its own. When a Mage memorizes a spell, it actually leaps off the parchment into the wizard's mind, where it waits impatiently to be released. During that time it’s no longer in the Mage’s spellbook, leaving behind a blank page.
When it’s released, the spell reappears on the page of the spellbook, unless in the meantime something else was written on that page. If a spell is unable to return to its page, it starts wandering and is lost to the Mage.

Spell Casting: The number of memory slots a Mage has is equal to the sum of his INT bonus and his experience level. All memory slots have equal value. The higher the spell level, the more slots that are required to memorize it. One slot equals one spell level. For example, to memorize a  4th level spell a Mage must use 4 slots.
If you don't have enough slots to even memorize the spell, then it's too advanced for you to attempt to memorize it. Otherwise, there’s no restriction to what spell levels a Mage may memorize. A Mage of 1st level with an Intelligence score of 18 (INT bonus +3) may use his 4 memory slots to memorize a single 4th level spell, for example, as long as he has that spell in his spell book or on a scroll.

Knowing Spells: A beginning Mage’s spellbook contains detect magic plus four other first level spells, determined by the DM. Since the Mage received these spells as an apprentice, the DM should take the Mage’s teacher into account when selecting these spells. Beginning spells do not require a roll to see if the Mage can understand them.
New spells are found during play; a wizard must find the higher-level spells in dungeons or musty libraries and copy them into a spellbook, or trade copies with other Mages. If a Mage finds scrolls of spells or other Mages’ spell books while adventuring, these spells can be added to the Mage’s spellbook. There is no limit to how many spells a wizard can learn at a given level.
Check each new spell to see if the Mage can learn and know it, by making an Intelligence check modified by the spell's level. For example, to learn a new 5th level spell, the Mage must make an Intelligence check with -5 penalty. Each time the magician gains a level (if the DM permits) he or she may re-check the spells not understood before, to see if increased experience has granted new understanding.

High-level Magic: In Weird Opera, spells go up only to 6th level. All the higher-level spells are rituals. To learn and cast a ritual spell is a serious undertaking of magic, requiring research, adventuring, and the expenditure of huge quantities of gold. There are books to be found and studied, expensive arcane components to locate, particular times of the year or lunar cycle when the magic can be performed, runes to know, circles to scribe, and other strange and forbidden knowledge to be researched.
As a rule of thumb, learning a ritual should cost at least 1,000 gp, and casting the spell would require about 500 gp per spell level.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

I'm Back

I can't believe it's been a month since I posted here! (And a couple of weeks before that too.)
Well, the summer holidays are over, and I'll have more time to work on my D&D stuff in the coming weeks. I expect semi-regular updates twice a week or so.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012


Description: Miles of the Necharan coast six rusty iron fortresses rise up from the waters of the Heart Sea.  These large strongholds guard the great elevators that give access to the underwater cities of Subagua.

The six cities were built in ancient times, but it is unclear who built them. Some say they were surface cities that sunk into the waves during the Great Deluge. Others claim they were built by an unknown species of aquatic fairies. Now, the Subaguan cities are primarily inhabited by humans, who live in artificial air pockets created by noisy machines of massive size and made of stone. Whole districts are completely submerged, and are home to sea devils (sahuagin), haimaidens (shark mermaids), weeds (aquatic botanoids) and other intelligent water breathing species.
Ruler: The cities of Subagua are dictatorships, ruled by the members of the Unbreathing Court. Court members travel between the cities without an established schedule, ruling a city for an unpredictable time before leaving for another. Sometimes two or more Unbreathing are in the same city at the same time, and they either work together, or start a small scale civil war. Although the court doesn’t really have a leader as such, most Unbreathing obey Ayafun the sea witch, a shape shifting creature of unknown origin, often appearing as a beautiful maiden or a terrifying squid-like monster.

Population: The inhabitants of Subagua react to the chaotic, ever-shifting rule of the Unbreathing by living their lives as rigidly structured as possible. Every Subaguan carries with him a calendar and a day planner, which are consulted multiple times a day. A common joke about Subaguans says they even schedule the times they consult their schedules.
All Subaguans have pale skin, often with small fish scales on their hands and feet. Relationships between the human and non-human populations are good, and half-breeds are common. They have developed a bizarre religion around the act of drowning. They believe water is the same substance spirits are made of, and the sea consists of all souls that died or will be born. Sea priests regularly drown in religious rituals, trying to gain visions of the future by staying under water for the longest possible time.

Cascade: In Subagua, Cascade is known as the seventh city. It isn’t connected to the surface by elevator as the other cities are, and its ruler isn’t part of the Unbreathing Court. Cascade is the home base of the dreaded submarine pirates who regularly attack ships on the surface and raid the coastal cities of Necharan and Terre Sainte.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Very Little Time

I'm very busy this month, so blogging has fallen a bit by the wayside. Hopefully I'll find some more time next week.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

The Guilds

The cities of the Weird Opera world each have a multitude of craft associations, business organizations, and trade guilds. However, when an inhabitant of Seralin mentions a Guild, he is usually talking about one of seven worldwide organizations.
The Guilds each have their own distinct culture, which is often visible in areas influenced by a Guild. Just like the Catholic Church in medieval times, the Guilds bring their own symbols, rituals, traditions, and so forth, which modify local customs and way of life.
Company, Inc.: Also known as simply “the Company”, Company, Inc. is the only multinational conglomerate on Seralin. Originally it was a large trading company like any other, but in recent decades its power grew to include all commerce in the broadest sense of the word. In addition to trade, Company Inc. is in the business of production and manufacturing of goods, mercenary hiring, real estate, prostitution, opium smuggling, slaving, and tourism.
Benefits: A member of the Company can expect to pay the best price for any purchase he makes from another member.

Druids of the Ancient Mother: The order of druids exists since the earliest days of mankind. The druids are servants of nature, which they call The Ancient Mother. They revere – and bargain with – the pagan nature spirits of the dark forests to gain knowledge of the mysteries of Seralin. They have many ancient rites, some involving human sacrifice.
Druids have a worldwide organization. One enters the order as initiates. The titles of Druid, Archdruid, Great Druid and Grand Druid are won by challenging higher level druids in ritual combat.
Benefits: Without joining this Guild, a character cannot gain levels in the druid class.

Knights of the Ark: Also known as amazons and sometimes as valkyries, the Knights of the Ark is an all-female knightly order. Their home base is an ancient ship called Utnapishtim, which some say is the same ark build by Deucalion to save mankind in the Great Deluge.
The knights are champions of neutrality, trying to preserve the delicate balance between Law and Chaos. As such, they often come into conflict with lawful Guilds like the Temple and Company, Inc.
Benefits: One has to be female to join the Knights of the Ark. A Knight of the Ark may apply either her DEX or CHA bonus to AC. She may borrow special equipment needed for a quest or adventure for a period of one week. If the borrowed equipment is lost, the knight is responsible for replacement.
La Révolution: Depending on whom you ask, La Révolution is either a terrorist organization or an army of courageous freedom fighters. The Guild is opposed to hereditary rulership, and believes people should be able to choose their own leaders. Of course, in nations where the government is chosen democraticly, La Révolution claims the regime is corrupt and should be overthrown. There’s just no pleasing some people.
La Révolution is organized in small, localized cells. Each cell claims to be independent, but it is often rumored the Guild is under the influence of a single individual; someone using the revolutionaries for his own political purpose.
Benefits: Because of their free spirit, members of La Révolution gain a +4 on saving throws against charm, domination, and similar mind-influencing effects.

The Secret Masters: The Secret Masters are an order of political assassins. The Guild’s masters steer the course of politics and diplomacy by assassinating specific targets, often letting others taking the blame for the murder. The Guild can be hired, but it only takes on an assignment when the elimination of the proposed target agrees with the Guild’s master plan for the world.
Benefits: Members of the Secret Masters may petition for people of authority to be assassinated. The member must present his case for a lesser Guild official, basically having to convince him that assassinating the target is in the Secret Masters’ benefit. If the Guild agrees, the target will be killed in 3d10 days. PC members of the Secret Masters may be placed in influential political positions at higher levels.

Society for Language, Vocabulary and Idiom (SoLVI): The common language on Seralin is a constructed language. The members of SoLVI are the ones constructing it. Once every decade or so they update the vocabulary and grammar of the common tongue and publish the updated rules in a new edition of the Green Tome.
Common was supposedly designed to be easy to learn and understand for native speakers of all languages. However, the correct spelling of words has changed so much over time, nobody except SoLVI members is really sure what is correct.
Benefits:  SoLVI members can automatically comprehend languages and read languages, both once per day.

The Temple: On Seralin, philosophy is much more important than religion is. Most people are either atheist, follow philosophies like Humanotheism or the Path of the Self, or use their faith in higher powers as part of the quest for self-improvement and Enlightenment. As a result, most gods have only a small area of influence and are worshipped very locally. To protect their faith from the rising threat of atheism, several churches banded together to form one large meta-church, known as The Temple.
The Temple consists of many different orders, all dedicated to a single god or pantheon. However, all churches within The Temple make use of the same holy symbols and rites, often with minor variations. Cathedrals of The Temple have many shrines and chapels dedicated to some of the better known gods, as well as to important local gods and saints.
Benefits: When joining The Temple as a priest, a character gains a granted power according to his faith. Mage-priests gain access to the large libraries of The Temple, as well as many secret spells the churches possess, including some normally reserved for clerics. (The cleric class doesn’t exist in the Weird Opera campaign.)

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

International Anklebiter Illustrator Day

Zak from Playing D&D with Porn Stars declared today to beInternational Anklebiter Illustration Day. Since I have a 6-year old gamer running around the house, I put him to work.

The first drawing I commissioned was the obligatory drawing of a displacer beast. Mathijs also drew the castle it lives in.
For the other drawing, I asked Mathijs to design a sub-level of the castle for me. The way he went about it was fun: He drew the first room, and asked me: ‘What do you do?’ When I went west, he drew the next room, and there I encountered either a monster or a statue. So I played through the entire dungeon, and he stocked it in the process. So this will be the Displacer Beast Level of Castle Verge:
The black squares are statues. At the foot of the statue in area #5 is a healing potion, in area #10 there’s a note saying ‘go to area #8’. The little sun symbols are treasure chests containing gold pieces.
In area #6 there’s a statue that is actually a troll with stony skin. There’s another troll in area #13. There are displacer beasts in areas #2, #7, #10, and the big room without a number in the south. Area #9 has a sugar monster (variant rust monster), #11 has a dust monster (another variant).

The very long corridor between areas #10 and #15 is an underground stream with a bridge and treasure in the water. My favorite feature of the dungeon is area #14, which is just the negative space between rooms with doors leading to it.

In area #5 there’s a trodon, a giant humanoid with two bellies, so it can eat two people:
Trodon (1d4): AL C, MV 90’ (30’), AC 4, HD 5+2, #AT 3 (1 bite and 2 claws, or 1 weapon), Dmg 1d8 (bite), 1d10 (claw) or by weapon, SV F5, ML 10, XP 500.

Swallow whole: On an attack roll of 19-20, the trodon swallows the target whole. There’s room for one medium-sized creature or two halflings in each of his stomachs. A swallowed creature takes 1d10 damage each round.

Precision spit: After a swallowed creature is digested (brought two 0 hp), the trodon can spit out its remains as a ranged attack (short 20’, medium to 40’, long 60’, Dmg 1d6).

After I left, Mathijs apparently continued playing with his mother, because later on I found this map. The ‘)’ symbols on the map are cupcakes.

Monday, May 28, 2012

New Monster: Blistering Beast

My brother Jorrit and I decided to start a new project together. Over the coming weeks, we’ll be creating some new monsters; I’m writing them up for old-school games (as well as drawing them), and Jorrit does Pathfinder stats. Here’s the first one.
Blistering Beast
Armor Class: 3
Hit Dice: 7
Move: 90’ (30’)
Swimming: 90’ (30)
Attacks: 1 bite + special
Damage: 2d8
No. Appearing: 1 (1d3)
Save As: F3
Morale: 7
Treasure Type: See below
Intelligence: 2
Alignment: Neutral
XP Value: 1,250
The blistering beast, also known as the river boiler, is a magical monster most commonly found in subtropical rivers. It is about 20’ long, and has a hard, stony shell both for protection as well as camouflage.
When hunting, the beast lies in waiting just below the surface, the numerous humps on its back showing above the water. To passersby, the beast’s back looks exactly like convenient stepping stones to cross the river. When a potential meal uses it as such, the blistering beast will wait patiently until the victim reaches the middle of the river. Then it attacks.
The blistering beast can cause its Shell to become extremely hot, burning any creature touching it for 1d6 fire damage, and boiling the water within a 10’ radius. Creatures in the boiling water take 1d6 damage each round until they reach safer waters.
Blistering beasts normally don’t have treasure, but the possessions of previous victims might be found in the water.
BLISTERING BEAST              CR 7
XP 3,200
N Huge magical beast (aquatic, fire)
Init +3; Senses low-light vision, darkvision 60ft.; Perception +4
AC 20, touch 7, flat-footed 20 (+13 natural, -2 size, -1 dex)
hp 85 (9d10 + 36)
Fort  +9, Ref +4, Will +3
Immune fire
Weaknesses cold
Speed 20 ft., swim 30 ft., sprint
Melee bite +14 (4d8 + 10) plus burn, grab
Space 10 ft.; Reach 5 ft.
Special Attacks Boil Water, Burn (2d6, DC 18), Heat
Str 24, Dex 8, Con 18, Int 2, Wis 12, Cha 6
Base Atk +3; CMB +18; CMD 27
Feats Improved Initiative, Improved Natural Weapon, Run, Skill Focus (Perception, Stealth)
Skills Perception +4, Stealth +6 (+14 in water); Racial Modifiers +8 Stealth in water
SQ Water Dependency
Environment subtropical rivers
Organization solitary or pair
Treasure none
Boil Water (Ex) The blistering beast’s heat boils the water within a 10’ radius. Creatures in the boiling water take 1d6 fire damage each round until they reach safer waters.
Heat (Ex) Merely touching or being touched by a blistering beast automatically deals 2d6 fire damage.
Sprint (Ex) Once per minute a crocodile may sprint, increasing its land speed to 40 feet for 1 round.
Water Dependency (Ex) Blistering beasts can survive out of the water for 1 minute per point of Constitution. Beyond this limit, a blistering beast runs the risk of suffocation, as if it were drowning.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

5E: Killing Monsters and Taking their Stuff

I’ve seen this description of the game about a million times: D&D is about killing monsters and taking their stuff. I disagree strongly, and I think it hurts the game.
It was the slogan for the Munchkin card game, a parody of D&D. Somehow people thought it was an accurate description of Dungeons & Dragons itself, and started to use it as a slogan for D&D. I think that’s wrong: using the slogan for a parody to describe D&D turns the game into a parody of itself. That is what 4E is (except it isn’t funny).

In the TSR versions of the game, you don’t have to kill the monsters: You can try to talk to them; charm them; sneak past them; lure them into a trap; lock them in a prisoner cell; trick them into killing other monsters for you; or in some cases, play the monsters themselves. There are many different solutions to an encounter. Making a choice between these solutions or thinking up completely different ones, that’s the game.

The 5E Playtest rules at least acknowledge that players might want to take a different approach to encounters besides fighting. But why should they? The characters have too many hit points and too much free healing, so fighting still seems the safest option. Other approaches can be taken, but are often depended on the DM and success is not guaranteed. At least when you fight the monsters, you know you’re going to win.

As long as fights in the game are rigged in favor of the PCs, combat will be the default option in dealing with monsters. Combat shouldn’t be the best option; it should be one of many. By making combat just as dangerous as other options, the game will encourage players to consider other approaches to overcoming challenges. This is good for the game: the adventuring day will be longer than 15 minutes, characters will be allowed to shine at different moments, combats will be shorter and less boring, listen and spot checks will have a purpose again, and so on.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Dharma, Karma, and Reincarnation

The concepts of karma and reincarnation are part of the teachings of almost all philosophies and religions on Seralin. Humanotheism, the Path of the Self and the Obedience of Law are all paths to self-improvement and Enlightenment, and many religions teach that the only true way to Enlightenment rests in the worship of its god.
Karma is a form of cause and effect between this life and the next. It proposes that good actions will cause good consequences, and bad actions will cause bad consequences. Dharma is a man’s obligation in life. It helps him to achieve good karma by fulfilling the duties to which he is bound by his station.
If he leads a good life, performing the duties his dharma dictates, he will be rewarded by a better position when he is reborn in his next life. If he leads a bad life he will be punished by being reincarnated as a beggar, slave, or maybe even as an animal.
A PC's dharma is a combination of character class and alignment. In order to follow his dharma, a character must behave according to the alignment guidelines given in the Player's Handbook. These tenets must be followed strictly, or the character will suffer a karma penalty (see below). For example, a Lawful Good character who participated in the theft of a magic sword would be violating his dharma, for he would be breaching his duty to respect the laws of the land,
Characters should follow the behavioral guidelines of his alignment strictly. In addition to alignment, each player should work with the DM to define his character’s dharmic duties, using his race, class, social status, philosophy, religion, and any other important elements in his background. Example dharmic duties are given below.
Assassins: Get the job done, no matter what. Never let emotion come in the way of an assignment.
Druids: Revere nature. Never harm plants or animals without reason.
Fighters: Always be brave. Never flee from danger while an ally fights on.
Humanotheism: Strive for perfection, both physical as mental.
Knights: As fighter. Fight with honor. Always help the weak and needy.
Mage: Pursue knowledge and pass up no chance to learn new spells or acquire magical items.
Merchants: Attempt to acquire wealth for your own benefit and for your family.
Nobles: Serve your lord. Protect your vassals.
Path of the Self: Place yourself above all others.
Priest: Devote yourself to your god and your church. Recruit followers for your faith whenever possible.
Rangers: As fighter. Revere nature. Never harm plants or animals without reason.
Thieves: Attempt to acquire wealth, either for your own benefit or to help others. Rely on stealth, trickery and cunning.
A character gains a point of karma every time he goes up in level. If his dharma and karma played a big role in the gaming session, the DM may reward another karma point to the character. If a character violates his dharma, he loses a karma point.
It is entirely possible for a character to have conflicting dharma requirements. If, for example, the dharmic duties for a character’s class go against those of his alignment, violating either still results in the loss of a karma point.
After the character dies, his player doesn’t create a new character, but rolls 2d6 on the table below to see what he comes back as.

Karma Points
Giant snail*
Ape* or Baboon*
Pig* or Porcine*
Pig* or Porcine*
Human+ or paragon*
*: Create a new character of the indicated race. Transfer the old character’s INT, WIS and CHA to the new character. All other stats are rerolled. The new character starts at level 1.
+: Transfer the old character’s INT, WIS and CHA to the new character. All other stats are rerolled. The new character starts at a level 1d4 lower than the old character.
++: Transfer all stats of the old character to the new. The new character starts at one level lower than the old character.
+++: Transfer all stats of the old character to the new. The new character starts at the same level as the old character.
Enlightenment: The character is elevated to a higher state of existence. Create a completely new character. The new character receives a +2 bonus to all saving throws.

The new character will show up after 1d6 days. The character starts with 0 karma points and has only vague recollections of his previous life.
The reincarnation spell grants a roll on the table above, but the player rolls 1d6 to determine the new character’s level, and the character starts with a number of karma points equal to his level.
Raise dead or similar spells used on the previous character’s body will raise him normally, causing the new character to die. The character is taken out of the reincarnation cycle, and will never reincarnate again, not even with the reincarnation spell. People living outside the reincarnation cycle are known as beimaan (cheaters). Beimaan are seen as unnatural creatures equal to demons. Beimaan are considered chaotic outsiders for purpose of all spells, magic items and spell-like effects, in addition to their actual alignment and race. When in conflict, the chaotic designation takes precedence.
Notes: These rules were inspired by existing rules, and were reworked and restated for use in my Weird Opera campaign. The reincarnation table was written for the world of Anderove, which has no elves, dwarves, or other common demi-humans. DM’s wanting to use these rules in their own campaign should devise their own table.