Friday, November 18, 2011

One Important Ingredient for Weird Fantasy: Total Disregard

Disregard for the rules, disregard for the PCs, disregard for the "campaign plan." Some stuff just is, and how the players work around it (or choose not to) becomes perhaps the defining element of play.

In Dragon #16, J. Eric Holmes said the following about his earlier The Lovecraftian Mythos in Dungeons & Dragons article from Dragon #12 (and mad, mad props to my homeboy over at Zenopus Archives for bringing this stuff to our royal attention) :

In an early version of “the Gods” I said “if Cthulhu breaks out of R’lyeh, everyone in the world must make a saving throw or go insane.” I later reduced this as being a bit too gross.

Too gross? Totally. He was going to let people make a saving throw? That's some Monty Haul bullshit right there.

(I kid, I kid... sort of. But not really. At least in his article the universe ends if Azathoth is killed. No saving throw. Seriously.)

But there seems to be a hedging of bets when it comes to this sort of thing, then and now. "Let's take the edge off, because really, that's not fair. And we need to stat everything even though the text clearly implies some things aren't really meant to be fought, let alone defeated."

Enough of that!

One of the effects in Death Sparkle Doom that I'm putting together at the moment:

"Reverse Character's XP"

So if your character had 1,009 XP, he now has 9,001. Or if he was a high level badass with exactly 100,000 XP, congrats, he now only has 1 XP!

(just my luck that the PC that triggered this effect had 101 XP at the time... that was totally no fun!)

PCs can also have their permanent HP maximum increased, or decreased, d100%. Not such a huge deal either way for a first level character... totally game-changing for a high level character.

The Dancing Queen in Yellow has three possible endings: A great extradimensional elder thing under the control of a depraved cultist, a great extradimensional elder thing under the control of a PC, or a great extradimensional elder thing under the control of no one and going on a rampage. Because it's coming. The summoning happened the day before you found out about it. It's just the controlling ritual that has to be done at a specific time yet to come...

And I can see the red pen being taken to the Monolith adventure when Refs see what its guardian is like. Oh yeah, just by looking at the Monolith PCs gain a level. Refs, do not yet despair for your campaign, for the players will not much like why that happens.

Or maybe as I finish these projects and play them more and start to revise them, I'll chicken out. But if I announce some Constantcon/FLAILSNAILS style Skype playtests with the instruction "roll d20 to determine your character's level at the start of the adventure," you'll know I haven't.

(you don't need sanity mechanics if your goal is to drive the real-life players crazy, you know?)

(I'm on the jazz, man)

(if I didn't have this stuff to do and a few other things I should be doing, I'd do the second Against the Giants review about I3-5... perhaps the best of the early D&D "adventure paths" but for how three small details are handled which largely unravel the whole thing.)


  1. So, any idea when you'll be joining Constantcon?

  2. When something is pretty much wrapped up and ready for final playtesting. I don't really enjoy the whole online gaming thing too much, so I want to pick my spots and make it useful.

  3. Cool stuff Jim. I don't have Holmes Basic, but looking at Moldvay, a normal man saves vs death ray or poison at 14 or greater, so if that's the save he's talking about, you'd have a world with 2 insane people for everyone sane one on average. That's more messed up than everyone going insane automatically, because you wouldn;t know the difference.

  4. Only one of those I don't like is the reverse XP idea, because it's TOO meta-gamey. It seems arbitrary to me as a player; seeming arbitrary/unfair to the characters is not an issue.

  5. You know you wanna use d30 for their level.

  6. Pretty close to true. The only regard that is sacred is to the dice.

  7. the only downside to any of that is that it sounds like it's fun for one person only: the DM.

    Most old-schoolers don't mind their characters being abused, but take it too far and suddenly you're that dickhead DM from Jr. High who no one would play with. but who knows...maybe it's all in the delivery.

  8. >Only one of those I don't like is the reverse XP idea, because it's TOO meta-gamey.

    The effects are grouped in categories... one category deals with Destiny, which is always a meta-concept. Goofing around with XP seemed a good way to mess around with a character's destiny.

    >the only downside to any of that is that it sounds like it's fun for one person only: the DM.

    There has to be an element of fairness about it to be viable in a game. Proper warning, a way for PCs to succeed.

    ... but there is also a... I guess you could call it a genre convention?... that an adventurer in a weird fantasy/horror game is pretty much volunteering to be exposed to some very heinous conditions.

  9. Thanks for the mention Jim - gave me new 6 new followers in one day! More Holmes-Cthulhu stuff to come.