Monday, 6 September 2021

[GLOG] The Bardtillerist

In eras past, in the distant heights, the mountain kingdoms declared war on heaven. Keen to weaponise their strong bardic tradition, the people of the heights sought new instruments of war. Drums and bugles were all very well for rallying troops and cowing mortal foes, but they needed something more, something that could drown out a choir of angels and reduce a thrice-blessed bulwark to rubble with a single note.

Thus, the Ur-Horn. Thus, the venerable order of bardtillerists.

Art by the talented and handsome K25fF - thank you!

You and your trusty cohorn are alumni of the Warchestral Academy, trained in the care and operation of a Contradivine Ur-Horn. Despite aggressive funding in recent years, the modern public sees bardtillery as quaint and archaic, and your promised places in the army vanished the moment you graduated. At least they let you keep the horn. They were probably too scared to take it off you.

Class: Bardtillerist

Starting equipment: Matching fancy uniforms, three daggers, a tuning fork, a huge shabby binder half-filled with yellowing sheet music, and, of course, an Ur-Horn.
Starting skill: Music Theory, plus roll 1d6 for your cohorn's skill - 1) Binge Drinking, 2) Herbalism, 3) Slam Poetry, 4) Card Games (legitimate), 5) Card Games (cheating), 6) Military History.

A: Ur-Hornist, Cohorn, +1BD, +1 random Harmony, +1 Harmony of your choice
B: Sundering Resonance, +1BD, +2 random Harmonies
C: Torrent of Sound, +1BD, +1HD for your cohorn
D: Unison, +1BD, +2 Harmonies of your choice

A: Ur-Hornist
Your Ur-Horn is 12' long, made from heavily treated wood and various enchanted metals (it detects as magical), and extremely heavy. The Ur-Horn takes up a total of 12 inventory slots, but the burden can be spread among up to four people moving together. It is indestructible by anything short of direct divine intervention. It's also irreplaceable, so don't lose it. Deploying the Ur-Horn for combat or stowing it takes one full round, shortened to one action if your cohorn also takes an action to help; it cannot be moved while deployed, but can pivot around its mouth.
The Ur-Horn demands impeccable breath control. You have a stock of Breath Dice, or BD, which are d6s, representing your reserves of stamina and lung strength. Depleted Breath Dice are restored after a night's rest.
When you spend a round doing nothing but aiming and blowing your deployed Ur-Horn, you can invest any number of your BD, rolling them. If you roll a 5 or more on a BD, it's depleted after use. If any two BD results match, all rolled BD are depleted after use.
The base effect of the Ur-Horn deals [sum] sonic damage in a 5x[dice]' radius sphere centred within 300' and line of sight, with a Save for half. This can be altered by Harmonies.
You can also use the Ur-Horn to play deafeningly loud music of decent quality. This doesn't cost any BD, and is audible up to 10 miles away per Bardtillerist template you possess, terrain permitting.

A: Cohorn
You are accompanied by a cohorn, a lower-ranking bard who is nonetheless a skilled sonic engineer in their own right and vital to many of your abilities. Name and briefly describe them. They are a generic 1HD hireling, of the same race as you, with no equipment save what you give them. Your cohorn costs no upkeep and doesn't count towards your hireling limit. They trust you with their life - they need never check morale if they can see or hear you, but automatically fail morale checks if not. Cohorns always follow the same rules for death and dismemberment as PCs.
When you play your horn, your cohorn can spend the round assisting you by checking ranges and frequencies, adjusting the Ur-Horn's valves and enchantments, and offering moral support. When they do, before rolling BD, choose and apply one Harmony they know to the usage.
If you lose your cohorn, you can replace them only by spending time on a mountaintop, doing nothing but eating, resting, and blowing your Ur-Horn; one will answer your call in 1d3+4 days.

B: Sundering Resonance
You can now use your Ur-Horn out of combat to deal massive damage to stationary, inanimate objects, vibrating them into packed but easily workable dust. Invest your BD at the start, blow for ten uninterrupted minutes, then roll the dice and pulverise [sum]+[dice] contiguous cubic feet of material (doubled for wood, halved for most metals, impossible for lead or enchanted material).

C: Torrent of Sound
When you blow the Ur-Horn after blowing it the previous round, gain +1 to each BD roll. This is cumulative as long as you keep blowing.

D: Unison
You can now apply a Harmony to your own use of the Ur-Horn, in addition to the Harmony your cohorn may contribute. The two Harmonies must be different.

Bardtillerist Harmonies

  1. Breath Control. You may choose to reduce one rolled BD value by 3 after rolling, to a minimum of 1, possibly avoiding a 5+ or a double.
  2. Solo. Only affects a single target, but damage is doubled.
  3. Belter. Affects a 10x[dice]' long, 10x[dice]' wide cone emanating from the Ur-Horn.
  4. Bypass. Choose one mundane material, like wood, stone, or copper; the effect passes through that material as though it wasn't there. You must still have some way of finding your target, like a spotter or a really big mirror.
  5. Disrupting. Doesn't affect living creatures, but undead, constructs, and angels Save with disadvantage.
  6. Earthshaker. Grounded targets who fail their Save are knocked prone.
  7. Skybane. Flying targets who fail their Save are pulled 20x[dice]' downwards, taking fall damage as usual if they hit the ground.
  8. Coruscating. Damage dealt is fire instead of sonic, and can set flammable objects alight.
  9. Muffle. Damage dealt is nonlethal. Enemies reduced to 0hp are rendered unconscious and will wake up in an hour with 1hp.
  10. Fiend's Interval. Instead of damage, targets take a -[dice] penalty to morale checks for [sum] minutes.
  11. Rending. Instead of damage, targets take a -[dice] penalty to AC for [sum] minutes, to a minimum of their unarmoured AC.
  12. Prelude. Instead of damage, targets take a -2x[dice] penalty to their saves against your Ur-Horn for [sum] minutes.

Design Notes

What if a military weapons team had an alphorn instead of a machine gun?

The Bardtillerist's toolkit is perhaps more robust than a standard wizard's, only losing dice on a 5+ or a mishap and suffering no other penalties for mishaps. My hope is that they pay for this in awkwardness. The Ur-Horn takes time to set up and tear down, you're very limited in what you can do with it, and you need the help of a fragile, difficult-to-replace ally to get the most out of it.

One night's work. Probably needs refining, but I absolutely had to get this written down the moment the idea struck.

Thursday, 5 August 2021

[OLOG] Them's Fightin' Orcs - the Marine and the Wrestler

Wrote two more classes, two of the three fighter splats: the Marine and the Wrestler.

Italics are for things that are explained in the rules doc outside the class itself.

OLOG Class: Marine

All orcs can fight at least a little, but your training in the art of combat is a cut above the rest - you're a marine, a hardy, versatile protector of the waterways. Your beat is local, and you know your own few hundred miles of canal network like the back of your hand, but you've left it all behind to venture north to the High Badlands. There are threats to the world up there far greater than any pirate cartel.

Marine Virtues

(More on virtues here.)

If your first class template is Marine A, you begin play with one of these virtues at random (roll 1d3). If you have Marine templates, you may choose these virtues as aspirations.

1) Marine’s Cunning
Active: Invoke to reroll an Attack with a different weapon from the last one you Attacked with.
Passive: +1 Initiative.

2) Marine’s Steadiness
Active: Invoke to reroll a Save against any effect that would move you against your will.
Passive: +2 hit points.

3) Marine’s Vigour
Active: Invoke to reroll a Check based on physical exertion.
Passive: +1 inventory slot; this slot can’t hold items, only fatigue and other abstract baggage.

Marine Abilities

Starting equipment: Spear (reach weapon), boarding axe (hand weapon), crossbow with 20 bolts, hide armour, 50’ coil of rope, vial of wakewater (basically smelling salts), flask of canal rum (old military recipe, tastes atrocious, smells even worse).

A: Focus, Arsenal
B: The Best Defence
C: Combined Arms, Hot Streak
D: Implacable

You have an extra attribute called Focus, which starts at 6 and can’t go below 6. At the end of each combat round, increase it by 1 if you missed with an Attack that round, and decrease it by 1 if you didn’t make any attacks that round.
Whenever you make an Attack roll and the natural result is less than your Focus, increase it to that number before applying modifiers.

Once per combat round, you may swap an item you’re holding with an item in one of your quickdraw slots as a free action unaffected by pressure. (Pressure is OLOG's replacement for attacks of opportunity - basically, if you're within melee range of an opponent, any action that's not pressure-exempt consumes your entire turn unless you're willing to eat some automatic damage.)

The Best Defence
Each time you make a melee Attack, you take 1 less damage from melee Attacks until your next combat turn. The same is true for ranged Attacks.

Combined Arms
You may make an extra Attack per round, which must use a different type of weapon from your first Attack. Unarmed strikes, shield slams, and manoeuvres each count as one type of weapon.

Hot Streak
Each time you score a knockout blow, increase your Focus by 1 immediately.

You may accept a point of strain to succeed on any one Save or ignore any one source of damage. You must make the decision before rolling. Once you’ve used this ability, you can’t use it again until you eat lunch or get a night’s rest.

OLOG Class: Wrestler

You cut your teeth in the crucible of combat sports. Orcish wrestling, brutal though it may be, is never fought to the death, but, to be a really good faker, you need to know how to kill and maim for real. You might have retired in honour, disgrace, or obscurity, but the roar of the crowd never really left your ears, and now you stand ready to paint your knuckles with demon blood.

Wrestler Virtues

If your first class template is Wrestler A, you begin play with one of these virtues at random (roll 1d3). If you have Wrestler templates, you may choose these virtues as aspirations.

1) Wrestler’s Grit
Active: Invoke to reroll a damage roll against you that would otherwise cause a Severe Injury.
Passive: +2 Fortitude Save.

2) Wrestler’s Passion
Active: Invoke to reroll a Save during combat against any effect that would force you to stop fighting (paralysis, unconsciousness, compulsions).
Passive: +2 Will Save.

3) Wrestler's Pluck
Active: Invoke to reroll an unarmed Attack or manoeuvre Attack against an enemy with more HD than you have levels.
Passive: +2 Reflex Save.

Wrestler Abilities

Starting equipment: Custom mask (describe it, +1 to Defence and all Saves while worn), 3 vials of gutroot (a potent but taxing stimulant).

A: Brawl, Thick Hide
B: Hearty
C: Beatdown, Kayfabe
D: Showstopper

If you have at least one hand free and are not overencumbered, you may make an additional Attack per round, which must be either an unarmed strike or a manoeuvre. Your unarmed attacks deal 1d6 damage if you have advantage, or the usual 1d4 otherwise.

Thick Hide
You gain +2 Defence when unarmoured (your mask does not count as armour). You’re immune to contact hazards unless they’re in contact with you for at least one full round – you could touch a demon’s burning-hot skin with bare knuckles with no ill effects, for instance.

You may ignore the first point of strain you suffer each day. If you open a fight with a war cry at the top of your lungs, you may ignore the first 1d4 points of damage you suffer that fight.

You gain another extra Attack per round, with the same conditions as Brawl.

When you gain this ability, choose Knight or Beast. You gain +2 to all Saves as long as you follow the listed code; if you break it, you lose the bonus permanently. Your allies need not follow your code. When you level up, you may atone and regain a lost bonus, or you may turn, switching to the other code.
Knight: Always accept offers of parley or surrender before combat. Honour your word.
Beast: Never leave a foe alive if you’ve fought them and you have the opportunity to kill them. Never offer parley, though you may accept it if it’s offered to you.

If you hit a single living enemy with three unarmed strikes and/or manoeuvres in the same round, you may incapacitate the target instantly with a flashy, overblown series of moves, no Save allowed. If you’re a Knight, you may choose to knock them out for 1d6 hours or kill them; if you’re a Beast, you kill them. This always triggers a Morale check for any allies of the target that are subject to Morale.

Monday, 2 August 2021

[OLOG] Medic Class and Strain-Limited Healing

Orcs don't really do magical healing - their thaumobiology makes them unsuited to the kind of magical precision it takes, and many look upon it disdainfully as the domain of the gods. Instead, they study mundane medicine, one of a few scientific fields in which they're actually more advanced than humans. Thus, OLOG needs a new framework for healing; inspired by the System Strain mechanic in Worlds Without Number, here is my take, and a Medic class to go with it.

OLOG: Health, Healing, and Injury

First things first: fiction-wise, hit points are not "don't get hit" points, as they are in some other games. They may represent glancing blows, flesh wounds, bruising, mental stress, or all manner of things, but, in OLOG, if you lose hit points, you got hurt.

An orc character begins play with 1d6+4 base hit points, plus possible small modifiers from virtues - even a relatively inexperienced orc can take a hit or two. Each even-numbered level adds an additional 1d6 base hit points; each odd-numbered level allows the character to reroll all their hit dice, reapply modifiers, and keep the new result if it's better. Base hit points can't usually go above 20.

As per usual for GLOG, if you suffer damage that takes you into negative hit points, roll for death and dismemberment. (The DnD table for OLOG will probably be pretty standard, so I'm not including one here.)

Here are some ways to heal.

  • Lunch - Takes 1 hour. May benefit once per day, requires a ration. Heals 1d3+1 hit points and refreshes a virtue. Does not cause strain.
  • Night's Rest - Takes 8 hours. May benefit once per day, requires a ration. Heals 1d3+1 hit points, refreshes all virtues, and clears one point of strain. Does not cause strain.
  • First Aid - Takes 10 minutes. May benefit once within the hour after a battle in which you took damage (or an out-of-combat injury), requires medical supplies (1sp each, stack to 3). Heals 1d4 hit points, 1d4-1 if you're applying it to yourself. On a natural 3-4, the supplies are expended.
  • Herbal Cocktail - 1 action, purchasable at any orc settlement for 2sp. Heals 1d8-1 hit points. If this isn't your first herbal cocktail of the day, Fortitude Save or suffer nausea (-2 to all d20 rolls for an hour).


Each time a character receives healing from a source other than lunch or resting, they take one point of strain immediately afterwards, even if they healed for 0 hit points. They take an additional point of strain if the healing they received would take them above their base hit points - if you have 6 hit points remaining vs 8 base, for example, healing any more than 2 hit points will induce extra strain.

A character's current strain is applied as a penalty to each further instance of healing they receive, besides lunch and resting. For instance, if you have two points of strain, a potion that would normally heal 1d6+2 hit points instead heals just 1d6. This can reduce the healing total to zero, or even to a negative number, draining hit points instead of restoring them as the character's overtaxed system rebels against the treatment - the character still takes strain regardless.

Strain dissipates slowly and naturally, one point per night's rest. There are ways of mitigating how much strain a character suffers, but very few ways of clearing it once it's there.


Long-term injuries, of the kind inflicted by Death and Dismemberment, can sometimes be healed or mitigated through surgery. Orc surgery is a risky but relatively effective process.

Surgery requires a trained surgeon (1d6x5gp per operation if you're hiring one), a clean, quiet place to operate, surgical tools, anaesthetic, and 1d6 units of medical supplies. The surgeon chooses one of the subject's long-term injuries and conducts an operation that takes 1d3 hours. At the end of that time, the surgeon makes a Check, and the subject makes a Fortitude Save penalised by their current strain. What happens next depends on the results of those two rolls.

If the Check succeeds, the injury is cured. If it fails, the injury isn't cured, and any subsequent surgery attempts on the same one suffer a cumulative -4 penalty to both rolls.

The subject takes 2d4 points of strain regardless of the result of the Save, but, if the Save fails, one of these points is permanent, and will never dissipate.

Further circumstantial notes on surgery:

  • Surgery by an untrained person is incredibly dangerous, imposing disadvantage on both rolls.
  • Surgery without proper anaesthetic requires the subject to be strapped down, imposes disadvantage on the Save, and causes an extra 1d4 points of strain. A heavy dose of alcohol may be good for morale, but provides no actual benefit.
  • Amputation is very reliable - half price if you're hiring a surgeon, and automatic success on the Check. Basic wood-and-ceramic prosthetics cost 1gp each, but aren't fully functional: prosthetic legs impose -2 Movement, and prosthetic arms don't have functional hands, though they do come with a screw-fit harness that can hold a weapon (at -2 to Attack), shield, torch, or similar. Advanced prosthetics with no such penalties are known, but cost at least 100gp and are not widely available.
  • Removing demonic mutations isn't usually possible without magical aid.

OLOG Class: Medic

Medic Virtues

More on virtues here.

If your first class template is Medic, you begin play with one of these virtues at random (roll 1d3). If you have Medic templates, you may choose these virtues as aspirations.

  1. Medic's Acumen
    Active: Invoke to reroll a surgery Check, or a Check to identify or diagnose a disease, poison, or similar malady.
    Passive: +2 Initiative.
  2. Medic's Resourcefulness
    Active: Invoke to reroll a healing die roll for any healing you personally administer.
    Passive: +1/2 inventory slot.
  3. Medic's Tenacity
    Active: Invoke to reroll an Attack against a target that's threatening a downed or vulnerable ally.
    Passive: +2 hit points.

Class Abilities

Starting equipment: Dagger, crossbow with 10 bolts, medic satchel (holds 6 units of medical supplies in 1 slot, starts full), surgical tools, flask of ether, flask of medical alcohol, flask of vodka.

A: Patch Up, Surgeon
B: Gentle Hands
C: Anatomist, Bedside Manner
D: Second Opinion

A: Patch Up
When you apply first aid, you only expend medical supplies on a natural roll of 4. You can perform first aid on yourself without penalty.

A: Surgeon
Step down the damage die of any weapon you wield, but increase its critical hit range by one point. Also, you are considered trained in surgery.

B: Gentle Hands
Whenever you roll a natural 1 while conducting first aid, it doesn't induce strain, and you may immediately conduct first aid again on the same subject.

C: Anatomist
If you have advantage on an Attack for any reason, your damage dice explode. (If you roll the maximum on a die, keep that result and roll again, adding to the total until you don't roll the maximum.)

C: Bedside Manner
If you spend 10 minutes tending someone's wounds and talking to them before they bed down for a night's rest, they heal 1 extra hit point from resting and may ignore the first point of strain they suffer the following day. You can do this for up to six people per night; you can't do it to yourself.

D: Second Opinion
If you can reach an ally within a minute of them failing a Save of any type and spend a round tending to them, they may make another Save of the same type. On a success, the effects of the initial failed Save are undone as though it had been successful - damage taken is retroactively halved or negated, compulsions are lifted (though any actions taken in the meantime aren't reversed), mutations dissipate, dead characters are revived, and so on. This induces two points of strain, one of which is permanent if the subject was revived from death.
Once you've used this ability, you can't use it again until you eat lunch or get a night's rest.

Design Notes

OLOG characters are, in absolute terms, tougher than those of some other hacks, but injury stays with them longer, and the constant accumulation of bruises, scratches, and patch-up jobs can take a heavy toll. The standard game loop implies long expeditions thick with potentially dangerous encounters, on which adequate supplies are a real concern and characters will take a serious beating.

I'm walking a difficult line with the Medic. There is a very real risk, in any game with any sort of healer class, that it will become all but mandatory to have one in the party. I'm hoping there are enough ways to heal with items that a canny party doesn't strictly need a Medic, without making them completely obsolete.

Incidentally, if you're wondering where the Medic's starting skills are, those aren't a thing in OLOG. Your class counts as a skill in itself, and you get a random background at character creation, but these don't give you any numerical bonuses, they just let you do things that people with your class and background should be able to do.

Saturday, 31 July 2021

[OLOG] By Sheer Virtue (Virtues v3)

"Discourse on virtue, and they pass by in droves."
- Diogenes, 3rd century BC

"I think I need to rework this system again. Let me tell you all about it!"
- Orc Rehab, 2021

I've made two previous attempts at a virtue system here and here. Both have their merits, but I don't think either is what I'm after for OLOG. Just to recap, OLOG is an orc-focused GLOGhack which doesn't have ability scores. Here's a third attempt.

Orc Laws of Glory: Virtues, Version 3

An orc character is defined by personal virtues, the positive qualities they seek to embody and display in life. A character starts with three virtues, and may gain more as they grow in experience and wisdom.

Each virtue has two components, passive and active. A virtue's passive benefit takes the form of a permanent increase to one of the character's numerical stats. An active benefit allows the virtue to be invoked to reroll a specific kind of roll (including, in some cases, rolls made by others). You can invoke a virtue after seeing the initial die roll, but must take the new roll even if it's worse for you. You can never invoke more than one virtue on the same roll.

Once a virtue has been invoked, it is tapped and can't be invoked again until it's refreshed. Its passive benefit still applies. There are three basic ways to refresh a virtue.

  • Eating lunch refreshes one tapped virtue.
  • Rolling a natural 1 on any d20 roll - and letting the 1 stand - refreshes one tapped virtue. (OLOG has no critical fumbles, so a natural 1 always fails but isn't any worse than a normal failure.)
  • A night's rest with a proper meal refreshes all tapped virtues.

Sample Virtues

There will be a whole table of these eventually, with subsections for the traditional virtues of each of the five major orc clans. For now, here are a few proof-of-concept examples.

Active: Invoke to reroll a damage roll when you have a height advantage or the element of surprise.
Passive: +1 Ranged Attack.

Active: Invoke to reroll an Attack against an enemy at least twice as big as you.
Passive: +1 Melee Attack.

Active: Invoke to reroll a Save vs. fear, or have an ally within earshot reroll one.
Passive: +2 Will.*

Active: Invoke to reroll a melee Attack if you've taken damage since your last turn.
Passive: +1 Melee Attack.

Active: Invoke to reroll a Check involving full-body coordination or balance.
Passive: +2 Reflex.*

Active: Invoke to reroll a Check involving precise tool use.
Passive: +1/2 inventory slot. (This can hold one of any item that's normally stackable.)

Active: Invoke to have an opponent reroll an Attack against you if you've taken physical damage since your last turn.
Passive: +2 Fortitude.*

Active: Invoke to reroll a Check to do something against the clock.
Passive: +2 Movement.

* OLOG uses the three 3e save types because, for all 3e's sins, I think it's a pretty good classification. Sorry.

Gaining and Replacing Virtues

My current framework has OLOG characters starting with three virtues:

  • one rolled randomly on a master virtue table (d66),
  • one rolled randomly on a specific subset of the virtue table, depending on their ancestry,
  • and one rolled randomly from a small unique group (d3) determined by their class.

You start with a fourth, empty virtue slot, and gain a fifth slot when you reach level 5 (the first level at which you don't gain a template).

At character creation, you also choose an aspiration, a virtue you would like to embody more than you currently do. You do not actually have this virtue yet, and gain none of its benefits. Once per day, when you succeed on a roll that would have allowed you to invoke your aspiration, without invoking any virtues you already have, you can make a mark against your aspiration.

For virtues that affect enemies' rolls, like Resilience, this is triggered when an enemy fails such a roll against you. For virtues that affect non-d20 rolls, like Acuity, a roll counts as a success if it's strictly better than average (4+ on a d6, 8+ on 2d6, etcetera).

When you've made three such marks, you gain the aspiration as a new virtue; if you have no free slots, you gain the new virtue only if you forfeit an existing one. You can choose a new aspiration whenever you fulfil your current one or gain a level.

Example: Izec is a Crowbar, a cunning, resourceful ruffian with an arsenal of tricks, but she longs to be better at the technical side of her vocation. Izec's aspiration is Ingenuity. The first time each day Izec succeeds on a Check involving precise tool use - the type of roll she'd be able to invoke Ingenuity on - she makes a mark next to her aspiration. When she gains her third mark, she gains the virtue of Ingenuity.

You are allowed to choose a virtue you already have as an aspiration, and can have multiple instances of the same virtue if you're willing to spend the slots on them. The passive bonuses stack, and each one is invoked and tapped separately. If you want a character with five instances of Swiftness, faster than the eye can follow but no better than average at anything else, feel free to work towards it.

Design Notes

Many OSR games have an implicit or explicit theme of learning to live with the hand fate deals you, building on it through class choices and smart decisions. If we take this as the default human mindset, then the default orc mindset is more about looking at the hand fate just dealt you, grabbing fate by the lapels, and applying violence and/or shouting until it gives you something that fits better.

The assumed campaign frame in OLOG is kind of an extended rite of passage. There's a demon invasion up in the high badlands, and it's caused all sorts of second- and third-order problems. The Clansmoot has organised a response, and sent out a call to all orcs everywhere to come forth and prove themselves in the crucible of crisis. It's the perfect place to find out who you really are, decide you don't like that person, and kill them, that you may be reborn.

I don't want this process to be easy. The aspiration system is meant to incentivise taking specific kinds of risk in pursuit of an ideal, and I want there to be tension between that and survival instincts. OLOG characters are a bit hardier than characters in many other GLOGhacks, but not by a massive amount; wrong moves can still see them dead. If there weren't real risks involved in chasing your dreams, there wouldn't be much Glory in the Orc Laws of Glory.

Wednesday, 28 July 2021

[Skyhack] Dwarves (In My Wall)

My principal inspiration for Skyhack dwarves is the following Flork of Cows comic.

Veyl's Complete and Accurate Taxonomy classifies dwarves as a type of earth elemental. In Alacrity Sower's Earthen Menagerie, they are listed as distant cousins of humans. Udsoe and Udsoe's controversial Beings of the Deep Sky sorts them alongside moles and hedgehogs, with a few mealy-mouthed notes about a possible familial link to orcs. None of these classifications are correct in themselves, but the truth likely lurks somewhere between them.

Dwarves are stubborn, industrious, probably-sapient creatures, easily recognised by their stature, their stony, slightly iridescent complexions, and their huge wiry beards. Nothing makes a dwarf happier than transforming an untamed swathe of underground into a structurally sound, geometrically pleasing network of chambers, tunnels, and shafts. They would probably be confused if you asked them about the purpose of these structures, but this is immaterial, because you can't ask them - communicating with dwarves is notoriously difficult. They understand beings other than dwarves as confusing, dangerous moving parts of the landscape, which respond semi-predictably to shouting and/or violence, and not as discrete beings in their own right. Dwarves are not inherently violent, but they are very, very bad at de-escalation.


HD: 1+1
AC: as chain
Move: normal, burrow half normal
Morale: 9
Intelligence: like a very smart child who's just discovered coffee
Speech: Transrunic
Damage: by weapon
Special: ignores any instance of exactly 1 damage; telepathic feedback (see below)
# Enc.: solitary, gang of 2d3, or front of 2d4 gangs

Most dwarven weapons are repurposed mining equipment - simple pickaxes, hammers, and shovels. There's a 25% chance that a gang will have one member carrying a refraction drill, a gemstone-powered beam weapon. Firing a refraction drill takes two whole combat turns for both the operator and an adjacent assistant. The beam deals 2d8 damage to everything in a 30' line, doubled against inanimate objects. Save for half. Non-dwarves can't operate refraction drills, but the small gemstones that power them are worth 2d3gp apiece.

All dwarves wear hard hats. These hats are made from base metals, and serve as both protection and good-luck charms. Dwarven hard hats can be disarmed like weapons. A hatless dwarf has armour as leather and disadvantage on all d20 rolls.

Any creature that attempts telepathic contact with a dwarf, or otherwise attempts to affect its mind directly with magic or similar powers, fails in the endeavour and is stunned for 1 round, no Save.

Dwarves speak Transrunic, a dense atonal torrent of syllables with no resemblance to any other known language. Non-dwarves can't learn Transrunic, and many report a strong feeling of nameless discomfort upon hearing or reading it; prolonged exposure can cause headaches and panic attacks. Almost any being that knows a language can recognise the basic sentiments of many dwarf exclamations, which usually amount to "stay back" or "get out of our way".

What's He Building?

Dwarves build, and they build big, far bigger than they actually need. A gang of dwarves, left to their own devices, will readily hollow out whole islands and create sprawling city-scale networks of tunnels without ever moving their beds and possessions out of the first two or three chambers they dug.

Dwarven architecture is semi-functional. If you moved in enough dwarf-sized folk to occupy a whole dwarf network, it would fit their living needs (with the possible exception of food), but they would find it a confusing existence. Design decisions might seem arbitrary, pointless, or actively hostile.

My recommended process for mapping a dwarven tunnel network is to take a dungeon layout generator, analogue or digital, and use it as rigidly as possible. Do not sand off rough edges, do not tweak connections or room placements that don't make sense, and never reroll dice. If something doesn't fit, make it fit. For a little extra flavour, pepper the results with a few extra bits of weirdness (Google "architecture fails" for inspiration), and scale the whole thing down about 25% to match dwarven proportions.

Over time, a front of dwarves may develop its own distinctive architectural style. Roll 1d4+2 to determine a front's lucky number - they will incorporate this number and its multiples into their buildings as much as possible.

Dwarf Society

Dwarves are staunchly collectivist. They have no personal names, no discernible leaders or hierarchies, and it's unclear whether they even understand themselves as individuals or parts of a greater whole. The basic unit of dwarven society is the front, a collection of about twenty dwarves working towards a single architectural project. Fronts fluctuate in numbers as dwarves die and are born, but one that gets too large will often form a splinter group, a single gang of dwarves splitting off to build a ramshackle skyboat (which rarely survives its maiden landing) and strike the earth on a new isle.

Dwarf reproduction is poorly understood, but seems to be linked to the living mineral flakes that fall like dandruff from their beards. These flakes seem to clump together and grow into new adult dwarves, complete with basic understanding of masonry, the Transrunic language, and how to make a dwarven hard hat from whatever metals are available. A newly minted dwarf seeks out its peers, finds a hammer, fashions a hat, and gets to work without ever needing direct instruction.

Dwarves are not aggressive folk. They live to build, and violence is destructive, not to mention unpleasant and dangerous. However, their linguistic mores and penchant for digging and building under established settlements lead to a lot of misunderstandings, and they will not hesitate to remove a troublesome obstruction by force if shouting fails. (Concerted Transrunic shouting is surprisingly effective.)

Monday, 26 July 2021

[Skyhack] Spore Elves

Skyhack is the current name for an extremely work-in-progress skyworld setting I've been working on, heavily inspired by Aaron A. Reed's Skycrawl.

The elves of [Skyhack Setting] all struggle with the same deeply inconvenient truth: left unchecked, they will outlive everything that matters to them. Their primary differences manifest in how they deal with this truth.

Everything rots. At least, in the spore elves' eyes, everything should. They have embraced an imagined role as caretakers of the sky, venturing forth from their ever-growing, ever-collapsing fungal strongholds to seed decay and bring low what stands high. As part of embracing the cycle of death and rebirth that seems to come naturally to the other peoples of the skies, spore elves add themselves to it. A healthy elf can live for millennia, but spore elves rarely last longer than two centuries, as they warp, scourge, and ultimately destroy their bodies with carefully cultivated fungal infections.

Spore Elf

HD: 2
AC: as leather
Move: normal
Morale: 10
Intelligence: human-level, but twisted by weird zeal and fungal narcotics
Speech: Txaa (Elvish), illiterate
Damage: by weapon
Special: all weapons deal +1 poison damage; clade special ability
# Enc.: mob of 1d3+1, or crew of 2d6+2 plus a Monitor (as above with 1d3+2 HD) and 1d4-2 Cousins

Spore elves favour close combat, usually with edged weapons. Curved, barbed, and serrated blades are common - treat these as swords with +1 critical range. They carry shortbows but rarely use them unless forced, preferring to close the distance.

One in three regular spore elves carries a puffball bomb, a one-shot thrown splash weapon that deals 3d4 poison damage in a 5' radius. Save negates. Spore elves are not immune to these bombs, but have no qualms about getting caught in their own explosions.

Spore elves breathe very loudly, and are thus usually incapable of stealth.

Like all elves, spore elves are hermaphroditic.

Spore Elf Cousin

HD: 6
AC: as leather
Move: normal, climb normal
Morale: 12
Intelligence: sub-sapient, flashes of humanlike cunning
Speech: incoherent grunts and squeals, understands Txaa
Damage: 1d8 slam / 1d8 slam
Special: heals 1d3 hp each time it takes weapon damage, except critical hits; enhanced clade special ability
# Enc.: solitary, pair, or part of a spore elf crew

Midway through a spore elf's second century, the compound stress of all their fungal infections begins to take its toll. Most retire to waste away in relative quiet, but a handful relinquish their bodies fully to the fungal colonies nesting within. Monitors know secret rites that let them direct the growth of these hybrids, and the results are Cousins, fearful monstrosities treated more like living weapons than valued peers.

Spore Elf Clade Generator

1d8: Primary Colour

  1. Violet, brightening in heat.
  2. Bone, etched with rippling patterns.
  3. Blue-green, patchy like bread mould.
  4. Sepia, darker at the edges.
  5. Crimson, with white dots.
  6. Dark green, flecked with beige.
  7. Yellow-brown, oily and shiny.
  8. Clear, showing bare flesh beneath.

1d10: Breathing Tells

Spore elves' fungal infestations tend to give their breathing a distinctive sound.

  1. Rusty wind chimes.
  2. Broken plumbing.
  3. Stone scraping on stone.
  4. Metallic keening.
  5. Bubble-wrap popping.
  6. Wooden creaking.
  7. Arpeggiated whistling.
  8. Low, regular thuds.
  9. Subsonic humming.
  10. Babbling whispers.

1d12: Clade Special Abilities

All spore elves of a clade will have this ability. Spore elves are always immune to the harmful effects of their own special abilities. (C:) indicates the enhanced version Cousins get.

  1. Choking spores. When injured, adjacent creatures suffer -2 to all attacks and checks for 1d4 rounds (C: 2d4 rounds). Doesn't stack. Save negates.
  2. Scalding hot skin. Touch attack (instead of a weapon) deals 1d6 fire damage, ignores armour, and can melt metal with prolonged contact, though it's too damp to start fires. (C: Add the fire damage to the Cousin's standard slam attacks.)
  3. Fungal miasma. Mundane ranged attacks have a 50% (C: 75%) miss chance against the elf.
  4. Caustic spit attack. 10' range, 1d6 acid damage. Useable once every 5 rounds (C: once every 2 rounds) in addition to normal attacks.
  5. Thaumic disruption. Spells cast within 10' of the elf have a 25% (C: 50%) miscast chance, though the spell still goes off.
  6. Camouflage. The elf is functionally invisible if it's been standing still for at least 5 rounds. The sound will still give them away within 10'. (C: Completely silent, too.)
  7. Puppeteer. After killing a humanoid enemy, the elf can spend its whole next turn breathing fungal life into the deceased, raising it as a zombie loyal to the clade. On average, a group of elves with this ability will be encountered with one zombie per four elves already in service. (C: Kills rise automatically on the Cousin's next turn, no extra action needed.)
  8. Paralytic moan. Once per day, 20' radius, inflicts paralysis for 1d4 rounds. Save negates. (C: 40' radius.)
  9. Regeneration. 1hp per round. Cold damage suppresses it for 1 hour. (C: Instead of this, adaptive healing improves to 1d6 per weapon attack.)
  10. Ripper spores. Melee damage caused by the elf won't heal naturally for 1 day (C: 3 days).
  11. Biomancy. The elf may forfeit its normal attack to control mundane plants and fungi within 60', attacking through them. They deal club-equivalent or knife-equivalent damage depending on their size and shape. (C: Up to three biomancy attacks per round.)
  12. Death blossom. Dies instantly at 0hp, exploding in a 10' (C: 20') radius. 1d4 Intelligence damage. Save negates.

Spore Elf Society

Spore elves divide themselves into independent colonies called clades. Each clade consists of 1d4+3 crews of spore elves, plus roughly half as many noncombatants as there are warriors. Noncombatants are mostly children and those too wracked by their infestations to fight, and they spend most of their time tending fungal crops and mutagenic cultures, though warriors will pitch in with these tasks too when they're not marauding. Nominally, leadership usually belongs to the eldest Monitor, but, in practice, most clades are anarchistic. Crews often end up being semi-autonomous, developing their own subcultures and sometimes even their own heraldry.

The clade makes its home in a sprawling village-sized bastion, spliced together from sky detritus and caked in mycelium and weird fungal glue. Spore elf bastions tend to be brittle, but assaulting one is a hellish task thanks to its labyrinthine layout and profusion of noxious traps.

Spore elf crews conduct their expeditions aboard polypore sloops, oddly beautiful half-living craft propelled by violent spore jets. A typical clade will have access to half as many sloops as it has crews, rounded up. There may be rules for these in a future post, once I've worked out what aero-naval combat looks like in this setting.

Spore elves are spiritual, exalting the cyclical nature of death above all else, but they seldom follow gods. The half-lucid "wisdoms" that sometimes arise among their ailing elderly are the closest things they have to a priesthood.

Whatever their ideological pretences, spore elves are raiders, often indistinguishable tactically from common pirates. They target anything they've identified as outliving its natural life, but, being elves, they have a rather warped view of how long anything "should" live. Visibly battered ships and settlements in decline or stagnation tend to be their favourite targets. (The fact that these tend to be easier fights is not lost on them.) Once a crew has purged or driven out the population and torn down the structures, the spore elves will seed the area, and particularly the corpses of ally and enemy alike, with a carpet of fast-growing fungi, ensuring a flourishing new ecosystem in the wreckage of the old one.

Saturday, 10 July 2021

[GLOG] Jousteian Demiclasses

Recently, some passing acquaintances and fairweather allies of mine on Discord pointed me towards the works of Canadian artist jouste (to whom I credit all the visual art in this post). Someone joked about a GLOGhack where this portfolio was the class list. Here's what I've come up with in response.

Each of these classes is inspired by one of jouste's pieces. They're just like regular GLOG classes, except that you can only enter them at first level, you don't have a race / species / ancestry if you take one, they come with special dietary requirements, and they only have A and B templates. Fill out your other template slots with other classes.

Class: Epistolemure

Starting skill: 1d3 - 1) Bureaucracy, 2) Calligraphy, 3) Debating.
Starting equipment: Knife, fountain pen, signet ring (draw your sigil), blank 100-page notebook, indefinite supply of black ink, up to 1oz per day of molten wax secreted from your chest cavity (1d8th colour of the rainbow, black on an 8).
Diet: Ten sheets of ordinary letter-sized paper equal one ration. High-quality paper counts double. Spellbook pages count quintuple, but are dangerous (Save or gain a random mutation). You don't need to drink.
A: +1 Stealth. You can't wear armour, but your hardened skin and agility count as Leather that doesn't encumber you. As an action, fold yourself up into a flat form with the size, weight, and general appearance of a letter, or unfold yourself to full size. Equipment doesn't transform with you. In letter form, you can't see, speak, or move under your own power, and are indistinguishable from a letter unless someone tries to open you or sets you on fire, at which point you instantly revert to normal.
B: +1 Stealth. You can write (but not necessarily read, speak, or understand) any language you know about. You may allow yourself to be opened, and know how to write on yourself such that the message will appear in the opened letter. If you ingest a dose of poison as you transform, it doesn't affect you as long as you stay in letter form, and, if anyone reads you, you transfer that dose to them in full, losing the poison yourself and forcing them to Save against it.

Class: Fueldrake

Starting skill: 1d3 - 1) Arsonist, 2) Mechanic, 3) Stage Technician.
Starting equipment: Wrench, tinderbox, lizard leathers (armour as leather), two jerry cans. Each can holds up to 30 pints of liquid and consumes one inventory slot per 6 pints or part thereof. One contains 1d6+3 pints of lamp oil, the other 1d6+3 pints of [1d6 - 1) vegetable slurry, 2) glue, 3) acid, 4) magenta paint, 5) blood, 6) cheap, horrible sake].
Diet: One pint of lamp oil equals one ration. You can substitute any flammable liquid that would give you the same amount of burn in a lantern - no solids. You don't need to drink anything else.
A: +2 Movement. You can speak with fuel. Most fuel isn't terribly bright and its memory is limited to a day, but it's enthusiastic and overconfident to a near-suicidal degree.
B: +2 Movement. You are telekinetic, with strength and speed equal to your own and reach as far as you can perceive, but it only works on things that are currently on fire.

Class: Crystopian

Starting skill: 1d3 - 1) Hazardous Materials, 2) Mad Science Power Source, 3) Particle Physicist.
Starting equipment: Unstable raygun (range as bow, 1d3 or 2d3 damage, 3s explode, each explosion deals 1 damage to you), two metal legs, one metal arm.
Diet: Spending an hour in direct sunlight or consuming an ounce of radioactive material counts as one ration. You don't need to drink - in fact, you can't drink.
A: +2 Defence, -2 hp. You're immune to ionizing radiation. You can't wear armour, but your crystalline body and scavenged metal limbs count as Chain. You can replace any limb with 10 minutes' work and a suitable replacement, or spend 10 minutes to re-engineer an arm into a leg (but not vice-versa). Anything metallic, articulated, and roughly the size of a human limb works as a leg, but arms need some sort of manipulator. You can have up to three limbs in any combination at any given time. Each leg beyond the second grants +2 Movement. One leg halves Movement. You can't move at all with no legs.
B: +2 Defence, -2 hp. You can now support up to five limbs at a time. While you have at least three arms, you gain an extra attack per round, but you must make it with a different limb from your first.

Class: Rogue Ultrabenthic Tendril

Starting skill: 1d3 - 1) Angler, 2) Longshoreman, 3) Pirate.
Starting equipment: Rusty hook on a chain (as flail), sealeather jacket (armour as leather), 1lb bag of salt, symbiotic starfish companion, 3 jars of dead plankton in brine (1 ration each, to you), vial of sapient water from the Ultrabenthic Flowmind (telepathic, hates you).
Diet: You drink saltwater as much as a human drinks fresh water, and you can only eat creatures that live in it. You can drink fresh water and other liquids, but they don't sate your thirst. (For reference, half an ounce of salt turns one pint of fresh water into saltwater.)
A: You sink in water, and can breathe underwater indefinitely. You gain an extra attack per round with your stinging tentacles, useable only at very close range. On a hit, the target Saves vs. paralysis and becomes unable to breathe, vocalise, or use breath-based abilities for 3 rounds on a failed save or 1 round on a success. This duration stacks with itself, and a creature thus affected for 10 consecutive rounds dies. All ordinary sea life is mortally terrified of you.
B: If you hit with a tentacle attack, you can make another one immediately. You can speak telepathically with any creature that breathes, but will always come across as aggressive and hateful, whatever your actual sentiment.