2017/07/22

OSR: The Flame Pomerium (How to Run a Giant Mecha OSR Game)

Back in this post, I proposed that giant mecha fights could be easily run in most D&D-like games without changing any of the rules. All you need to do is change the scale.

Mortal Scale: the usual human scale.
Bulwark Scale: the giant mecha scale. 50x larger, but none of the values change.


I then tested the theory on the GLOG, on Lamentations of the Flame Princess, and on D&D 5th Edition, with varying degrees of success.

Since the mechanical side of things seems to be sorted out, here are my system-less notes on actually running a game using this method.

Group Structure

1. One Bulwark, Multiple PCs
The classic "starship" layout. One PC drives, one PC operates the guns, etc.
Pros: group cohesion, investment in common welfare.
Cons: "we've already fired the wand-cannon so you get to do nothing for the rest of the fight."

2. Multiple Mechas, One Per PC
The classic "group of high school kids save the world in an animated TV show" layout.
Pros: customized mechas, more feel of control, no one is left "idle".
Cons: less group cohesion, multiple mechas can solve problems more easily, more repair time.

3. Multiple Mechas, One Per PC, NPC crew
The classic "starship" layout, but with NPCs in most roles.
Pros: customized mechas, team uniforms, rivalries, and internal politics
Cons: more for the GM to track, traits can be diluted or flanderized by the squad structure

I prefer Option 3. For the rest of this post, I'm going to assume that's the default.

Scale and Features

-Bulwarks are mostly humanoid.
-In my mind, they are huge. 200-300' tall. Taller than a cathedral, taller than the Colossus of Rhodes. You can scale them up or down, and adjust the 50x conversion factor as needed.
-The things they were built to fight are bigger.
-Bulwark combat rounds are 1:1 with mortal combat rounds if Bulwarks in your game are between Evangelion speed and Pacific Rim speed. If your Bulwarks are slow and ponderous, a 1:6 or 1:10 ratio would also work.
 


Animation Budget vs Writing Budget

A lot of movies or shows with "giant robots fight things" start off in the same way. 
1. Evil monsters show up
2. Giant robots are built, fight them
3. More evil monster show up
4. More fights
5. Aaaaand then... beach episode? High school drama? Turns out it was all a dream? The very nature of reality is falling apart? The giant robot is powered by your mother or mashed kittens or, I don't know, the toenail clippings of a god? Things go sideways.

People very quickly figured out that, while your audience might say they want to watch a show about giant robot fights, you can only produce so much content before the well runs dry. Spectacle fights get kind of... boring after a while. Is anyone actually watching the fight choreography in most Marvel films these days? How much of professional wrestling, a genre ostensibly all about fighting, is fluff, backstory, drama, and entrance music?

The 40k Deathwatch RPG has this problem. The core loop is "Go on Missions -> Fight Aliens -> Spend Renown -> Get Better Items -> Go On More Difficult Missions". It's very difficult to do a highly skill-based combat system in an RPG without bogging down the entire game in rules. There are video games that are entirely about fighting and they work just fine, but in a tabletop RPG, you need something else. Deathwatch could have had an series of books to help you roleplay genetically-altered perpetual child-soldiers with god complexes and mythical backstories, but instead, more guns, more monsters, and more combat.

Spend your descriptive powers on the giant mecha fights, but spend your story-crafting, plot-hook-baiting, motivation-steering cunning on the human-scale plot.
The Old God of the Northern Mountains, Bjarke Pedersen

Bulwark-Scale Descriptions

Focus on the weight and scale.

Walking Events
1. A herd of sheep, in a blind panic, smashes a fence and flees across a broad plain, while their shepherd stands awestruck.
2. A flock of birds flutters past at knee-height.
3. Each step punches a pond into existence.
4. A row of trees bends next to your path, their roots shaken at your step.
5. You cross a stream in a single step, the wooden bridge creaking as you compress one of the banks.
6. Soil from your foot rains down with a gentle hiss, coating the land behind you.
7. A low cloud collides with your Bulkwark's shoulder and passes by, undamaged.
8. Ripples spread in the grass before you.
9. Flocks of ravens, drawn to your step, begin to congregate, hoping for a feast.
10. Your step causes a small landslide on a nearby hill or mountain.

Villages and Towns
1. Put shutters on their windows and sharpened logs all around their walls.
2. The old town abandoned; the new one buried into a rocky hillside.
3. Houses on carts, retreating towards the city.
4. A false-town, filled with meat and grain, to draw away the Great Beasts.
5. A festival of thanksgiving as you pass. Garlands of flowers wrapped around your feet.
6. Waving banners, in time to the heartbeat-step of your progress.
7. Music, played as loudly as possible, from the rooftops.
8. The bells in the church tower ring with each step, and tiles fall from the roof.
9. On a nearby hill, villagers build an effigy from sticks and cloth.
10. An open-air church service as you pass, the priest's arms waving in the air.

Combat
Every hit that deals 6 or more damage knocks a Bulwark-scale combatant 250' backwards, sideways, into the air, etc. This doesn't deal any extra damage, but it does allow for truly gigantic fights, positional play, and a chance to run away.

You Hit It
1. The attack drives the Great Beast to the ground. You lean over, pummeling its back with your weapon.
2. Your blow sends the creature flying through the air. An entire forest vanishes where it lands. It rises, shedding trees and roots, picking entire oaks from its flesh like splinters.
3. You stagger forward, pushing your shoulder into the Beast, then shove it backwards. Its claws for purchase in the soil, tearing new furrows in the fields.
4. You blow carries past the Beast and strikes the river. For a moment, the river's flow is stopped as waves travel in both directions.
5. One strike turns the Beast to your left, but the second strike knocks it to the right, sending it tumbling into a nearby hill.
6. You turn the Beast's attack against it, allowing its charge to glance off you and carry it, scrambling and flailing, into the ground.

It Hits You
1. You fly backwards, entirely off the ground for a few moments, but you land on your feet. You dig your weapon into the ground for balance, crushing a small barn.
2. You are knocked to your knees, sending a shockwave through the fields.
3. The blow spins you halfway around. You nearly lose hold of your weapon as it digs a furrow into the ground.
4. The Beast's charge knocks you flat on your back, an entire field away from where you were standing. It circles, waiting for you to rise before striking again.
5. You plant your foot, but the stone wall beneath your feet crumbles. You slip, and the Beast, seeing an opportunity, knocks you backwards.
6. You demolish an entire windmill or castle as you fall.


A 250' grid over real terrain.

NPC Crew

Generate these guys like standard hirelings, but alter them to suit the game and the Bulwark. Lean heavily on tropes. Mix and match as needed. Your Bulwark might have a crew of 10 or more, or it might be operated by a sole pilot. At the very least, even if your Bulwark is solo-crewed, you'll have a support staff at base. 3 NPCs per PC seems like a sensible ratio.

If the PC is young and bright-eyed:
1. A grizzled veteran, offers sage advice, dies tragically at a really inconvenient time.
2. A young but oblivious love interest, who only has eyes for...
3. A rival to the PC (better looking, richer, nicer teeth, smoother) but who is also (at face value) friendly. Not a bully, but just as infuriating.
4. A childhood friend
If the PC is old and experienced:
1. A young helper who reminds them of the good old days. Might die tragically. Will nearly die tragically a lot.
2. An old flame
3, A survivor from the War
4. A rascally dog

If the PC is morally ambiguous:
1. An allied rake to tempt them down the path of depravity. Meets a sticky but morally enlightening end by their own incompetence or something.
2. A moral guardian sent by a higher power, strict but caring, exposes flaws the PC never knew they had
3. A robustly innocent person, too dense to be tricked into anything, too good-hearted to torment
4. A rascally urchin

If the PC is morally upright:
1. A rebellious youth looking for a mentor
3. A real snake-in-the-grass spy-type character, whose motivations are always suspected, but who never acts overtly against the PC
3. A louche but incredibly competent assistant
4. Someone who is always getting up to bedroom hi-jinks with other peoples spouses, daughters, farm animals, etc. 

If the PC is from Foreign Parts or is another kind of outsider:
1. Someone else from Foreign Parts, on another PC's team, but from a rival tribe/family/clan/religious sect.
2. A genial oaf who represents the worst of local manner, or a fop who serves the same role
3. An obvious spy from the Monarch, here to ensure the PC stays in line
4. A local unwillingly assigned to the role of assistant and tour guide who gradually warms to the PC

If the PC is from Around Here:
1. A disreputable character from Foreign Parts, the only one capable of operating the Gnosis Engine or the Thaumaturgic Ray
2. A younger sibling who looks up to the PC
3. A parent who worked on the Bulwark and knows its secret inner mechanisms
4. A spy from another nation, pretending to be a spy from this nation

Stranger Structures:
1. The PC's Bulwark is operated and maintained entirely by one rambunctious family. Possibly all women; the men died in the War.
2. The Bulwark is crewed by a group of wizarding students. The PC has been elected Dean-Captain. The students are, as usual, drunk, rambunctious, lecherous, idiotic, and high-spirited.
3. A bunch of cloned Elves. Triplets or more. Weird, androgynous, etc.
4. The Bulwark is a living creature, either grown from the PC's flesh, or fused with their body.
5. The Bulwark is a chaotic, strung-together thing, crewed by pirates and reprobates.
6. Intelligent golems maintain the Bulwark. They have personalities and goals.


Bulwark-Scale NPCs

Too weird to adapt to player characters, too cool not to include.
1. Dungeon Bulwark. Stats as a Lich. All shall cower! All shall fear! Its eyes are Beholders. Its breath, a swarm of stirges! Its bones are tombstones, its muscles are chains! Its pilot is an insane but patriotic lich.
2. Dragon Ally. Stats as an iguana or crocodile that can fly, with a 1d6 breath weapon.
3. Gigantic Tentacle Monster from the Local Lake. A legend. Stats as a thrown poisoned dagger. Toss it at the approaching Great Beast.
4. Giant Golem. No need for those annoying Bulwark pilots now! The giant golem will be completely obedient, free of fear and... oh no! It's loose! How could we have foreseen this?
5. The Mountain That Walks. Stats as an Earth Elemental, property damage as a meteor strike. Changes geography forever.
6. Serpents of the Earth. Vast primordial snakes. Stats as snakes. They're kind of cute from way up here. Not so much at ground level.
Bamiyan Buddha, Afghanistan. Destroyed 2001.

Extra Ideas

Didn't fit anywhere else.

1. A shadow council directs the Bulwarks. Masked representatives of 10 different nations, unable to unite publicly.
2. Hangars carved into a mountainside. Entire villages surround each Bulwark.
3. A magic chainsword. Each tooth is a mortal-scale magic weapon.
4. Blinded pilgrims, hauling a spells-croll canister across the desert, ready to load its deadly contents into a Bulwark.
5. A gatling wand-cannon, each wand carved from a wizard-treant.
6. Allied rocs act as scouts, carrying war-boats full of cartographers.


Battle Ideas

1. Something to Protect (a village, a town, a city, a caravan, a downed Bulwark)
2. Surprise! There Are Two Of Them (ambush from above or below, a trap)
3. A Familiar Enemy With A New Twist (it grows wings or shoots lasers or regenerates)
4. Set Piece Fight! (a flowing river, a collapsing canyon, an ancient megastructure)
5. Emergency Deployment (no time for the usual prep work. And also, one of your weapons is missing, your usual crew is unavailable, or your arm still hasn't been reattached)
6. Bulwark vs Bulwark (they corrupted one of your NPC allies, raised one from the dead, or you need to show off your moves to get a hot date).
Giant 4, Chenthooran Nambiarooran

Secret Metaplot and Endgame Ideas

Why are Great Beasts crawling out of the sea, out of caves, out of the sky? These types of stories always have a convoluted metaplot.

1. A secret portal between dimensions or planes. Close it, or cross over and find out who is behind this. Then punch them with your giant mecha.
2. It really is the Apocalypse. The Gods are angry at your defiance. Climb into heaven and kick them to the curb.
3. The Folly of Man. Some ancient wizard, potions of giant growth, forbidden magic, etc, etc. Turns out the people who you report to supported him as well. It's all a cover up! Find out the truth and reveal their treachery to the people.
4. Hell wants to take over the world. It's like the Apocalypse, except the Gods are on your side. Descend into Hell and kick Satan in the goolies.
5. It's all allegorical. The world is already in Hell or something. Maybe this is training for the real war in Heaven? Maybe it's a way of shriving your sins?
6. There a really evil wizard out there. He's just a really bad dude. Nothing complicated, go chop off his head. Oh wait, he's already dead or something, or immortal, or the step needed to kill him are very obscure. There might be a prophecy.



Ideas for Feature Equivalents




Mortal Scale Bulwark Scale
Boarding Actions Disease Rules
Pit Trap Canyon covered in a tarp, sinkhole
Dart Trap Giants with flaming bows and arrows
Poison Gas Trap Underground coal fire, huge urns
Potion of Healing Liquefied mana burst


Great Beasts

Here are 4 particularly horrifying Great Beasts. Each one is an apocalypse.


Promotional Image, the BFG

1. The Wretched

Stats: as Goblins
200' tall, but they do not walk like men. They crawl on long fingers and toes, pressed low to the ground, scuttling around hills. They only attack at night. Pale white fingers with black nails flitting by your window, peeling the roof from your stables to eat your horses. Red staring eyes the size of a hut staring, unblinking, through the rafters. The smell is horrifying, but they use the wind to conceal their approach. If you can smell them, it is too late. Somehow, they move silently.

Their weapons are scavenged from fallen Bulwarks.

They own the hills. Captive villages toil to raise flocks for their consumption. They take hostages, perform feints, set traps. They are cunning, these giants, these wretched things. Cunning but always hungry. If you see one, ten more wait. They are a locust plague.


Helix Spitzer, NASA

2. The Tyrant

Stats: as a Beholder
A fallen moon. A corrupt sun. A 250' diameter sphere of scales that eat light. So dark it makes a mockery of midnight. And then the stars appear: ten stars on ten stalks the size of ancient trees, waving slowly. There is a central eye, but it is closed, for now. It only opens to bring utter and final death to its target: a city, a nation, a group of Bulwarks. A world. There is a mouth full of black teeth, carved with invisible runes, sharpened by invisible spells. You will not see the mouth until it is too late.

Every hour after the Tyrant is sighted on the horizon, one of the effects below occurs, in order. Each hour, a new eye-star ignites. Each time the Tyrant is reduced to 1/2, 1/4, and 1/10 its starting HP, there is a 50% chance it will activate the next ability listed ahead of schedule.

1. Pacify. No humans within 750', unless actively protected by magical shielding (such as a Bulwark) can take any hostile action against the Tyrant. Instead, they feel compelled to worship it in calm, unfocused rites. Many blind themselves, the better to see the transcendant darkness of their new master.
2. Reverence. As Pacify, except the effect now applies to all animals, beasts, and lesser monsters. They bow down before the Tyrant. The range slowly spreads to 2000'.
3. Rest. The light from this eye is dim, but flares like a lighthouse if the Tyrant is threatened. It is a Bulwark-scale sleep spell, with a single target. 1000' range.
4. Control. Bulwark-scale telekinesis. 6.5 tons of matter at once. As the Tyrant moves, it smashes villages, uproots forests, dams rivers, topples windmills. The force-pressure of the effect is always visible as a moving crater, like a pen pressing into a map and leaving a furrow. It orbits the Tyrant in winding patterns, like a child idly dragging a stick through an anthill. 1000' range.
5. Fear. A stabbing flicker of light. On the Bulwark-scale, a normal fear effect. On the mortal scale, anyone weak-willed must hide from the light, or give in to the siren song of the Tyrant and begin to worship it. Riots. Gibbering panic. The reign of Saturn. Range is line of sight - and at a great distance, at night, it might be mistaken for just another star, low to the horizon.
6. Slow. The air thickens in the light of the seventh eye-star. Bulwark-scale creatures are affected as the slow spell, but can Save each round. On the mortal scale, there is no Save. You move underwater, hideously slow, trapped in amber, and prey to the other lights. 2000' range, radiating in all directions.
7. Lesions. A needle of light, thin like a laser, but deadly and precise. Reaches down and pops people one by one, sliding white-glass beads along its string of light and cracking them open. Roves, searching for the most fearful and isolated. Against a Bulwark-scale target, cause serious wounds. 2500' range. The opening salvo.
8.  Death. A brilliant white beam, solid like a bar of iron. A death ray to Bulwark-scale creatures. To anything smaller, it's just death, simple, absolute, and unavoidable. Rivers stop flowing. Fires go out.
9. Petrify. A sweeping spotlight of death. Grass, flesh, wood - all solidfy into spongy grey stone instantly. Ash flakes through the air. Worshipers are petrified where they stand. Bulwark-scale creatures get usual saves against this flesh to stone ray. Mortal-scale creatures are not so lucky. 1500' range.
10. Immolate. A second white spotlight, racing after the first, flickering on and off. Bulwark-scale disintegrate. Village evaporate. Hills are planed flat. The ash cloud becomes a hurricane, whipped by the light of the Tyrant. 1000' range.
11. Apocalypse Ray. The central eye opens wide and floods the world with light. 7000' range. A mile-long beam of pure destruction. Matter, being tied up in magic to some extent, simple ceases to exist. Grey, dull stone might remain, but worked stone, soil, flesh, and air evaporate into nothingness. The Tyrant sweeps the beam from side to side, leveling mountains. Bulwarks and other immensely magical creatures treat this as an anti-magic ray, but also require a secondary save not to die.
Soul of Innistrad, MTG

3. Corpseworm

Stats: as a zombie
200' long but 200' high, a bent, hunched figure. A mass grave, raised from the dead, fused into one will and one purpose. A tangle of shipwrecks. A mortuary-construct with temple eyes. It lurches, slowly, dropping smaller corpses. The entire thing is a dungeon, and it has a heart you can kill.


Threshold of the Gods, Sam White

4. Raised Angel

Stats: as a Wight
A dark mirror of a bulwark. Celestial armor, pitted with metorite strikes. A flaming sword that went out eons ago, now just drips with the raw absence of fire. Immortal flesh, raised from the dead, sent to blight the living. Its touch poisons farmland, freezes rivers, cracks trees. The winds flee before it, carrying storms. Apocalypse cults worship it as their deliverance, or spring up in its wake.



2017/07/21

OSR: Medieval Correspondence Part 1: "Now I will write him such a letter that, when he reads it, he will die."

The title of this post is taken from the Romance of the Three Kingdoms, chapter 100. I'm cheating a little bit. This post isn't based on that famous and useful work. Instead, it's based on a bundle of letters written between 1200 and 1250.

I recently stumbled across "Lost Letters of Medieval Life: English Society, 1200-1250". Despite the cost, if you're at all interested in medieval history, you should buy this book. All the reviews I've seen agree. The book is a collection of letters on every topic, from wine to forestry to adultery, buttressed by thorough scholarship and explanatory notes. I don't want to spend this entire post praising the book, but I will say that it's the most immediately useful sourcebook on life in the 13th century I have ever read. It's new too - published in 2013.

How can we apply these letters to fiction?

Structure of a Medieval Letter

Structured communication is important. It's often overlooked in game design. A well-crafted message, read to your players, can do more to establish setting and tone than pages of boxed text. It describes the structure of the world and the problems of the people in it. It rewards players for understanding a structure and playing along in their response - a minor reward, but a very satisfying one.

The structure below, like many writing outlines, fits on a sort of bell curve. On the far end, incompetent, unsure, or new letter-writers followed the structure closely, line by line, bullet point by bullet point, like grade-school students writing an essay. In the broad middle, the structure was adapted to the needs of the letter-writer. The Introduction could be dropped, the Body altered to follow a more loose narrative, and or the Petition made as blunt as possible. On the far end of the curve, scrupulous ecclesiastics, masters at colleges, and clerks followed the outline to the minutest detail, introducing subtle and pleasant variation where required.

Letters often employ long, simple sentences and common stock phrases.

Greeting (salutatio)
A formal statement, highly ritualized. The most important person is listed first.
"A King to his Sheriff, greetings."
"To my friend John (a higher-ranked priest), Peter (a lower ranked priest), greetings."
"A priest to a priest, greetings." (both of equal rank)

Introduction (exordium)
A brief summary of the correspondence so far, and/or a religious quote, allegory, or incidental story. Larger petitions require more elaborate introductions.

Body (narratio)
The main bulk of the letter. Usually this is a step-by-step narrative for longer requests, or a short summary for simple requests.

As with many cultures, important people are pluralized. This is easy enough in English when an important person is writing to an inferior "We regret to inform you...", but sadly, the singular you (thee, thou, etc.) has fallen out of use. Don't bring it back. Ye Olde Medieval Writinge can be very trite. Instead, use an honorific. "If my noble lord would care to remember...", "On the last occasion of His Majesty's visit...". It's much more natural.

Petition (petitio)
What the letter is actually asking. Usually starts with, "Therefore..." 

Conclusion (conclusio)
Courteous flattery, blunt commands, or even threats. Usually brief. Could be as simple as "Farewell," or "Your servant,"
Cannot locate the source of this image.


Example Letters

The text speaks for itself here. In the book, each letter is accompanied by a very useful summary essay on the topic (wine, bloodletting, bishops, horses, etc.) and beautiful references. 

Real Example 1: An Archdeacon Sends Word to a Dean About an Impending Visitation by the Bishop
An archdeacon to a dean, greetings. I received yesterday a writ of the lord bishop that I should warn all priests and incumbents in his diocese that each of them, according to their custom, [is to] assemble [to pay] respects to him. For he will come to these parts within six days, and he wishes to stay at first with me, and later with you. Because of this I am cautioning you to be stocked up for his arrival with all sorts of food, so that when he arrives at your house he will find lodging and an appropriate table. And I hope that you will act in a such a way that he will not have an excuse to speak badly of you.
This is a letter of friendly warning, from a superior to an inferior. It also covers medieval hospitality. I really should discuss hospitality at some point. If you thought taxes were unfair, just wait until you find out what you have to do to keep your lord happy, warm, and fed.

Real Example 2: A Lord Responds With Threats to Attacks on His Dependents
A. greets B., as much as he deserves. I marvel and am completely astonished at the impudence that might have motivated you to do harm to my men, since you know that I am a man in full possession of my powers and perfectly secure in my position. But I want you to know that you will have me for a mortal enemy unless you promptly make satisfaction to me for the injury you caused. Therefore, if you are wise, you should see to it that you come to a settlement quickly, so that your offense is not followed by the punishment it deserves. Farewell.
One lord addresses a rival, possibly another lord, in the bluntest possible terms. No formal plurals or titles are used. It's a blunt, "you have fucked up, now pay me, or I'll get medieval on your ass."

Real Example 3: A Steward Write to His Lord About a Gravely Ill Knight Whose Wife and Daughter Have Gone Elsewhere
To his respected lord, W. de. G., his steward [sends] greetings. Let Your Discretion know [that] Sir. R. de B. is seriously ill, and I think he is more likely to die than to live. You should also know for certain that Lady A., his wife, with her daughter E., and a servant, has gone to stay at A. Therefore, send me word what your wishes are concerning that message. Farewell.
This is more than local gossip. The lord could have rights of wardship, our outright reclaim, the knight's property. Wardships could be traded between courtiers and nobles. The Lady A. would also become a valuable and sought-after heiress.

Real Example 4: An Earl Orders His Steward to Send Him a Supply of Wine and Ale
A., earl of Gloucester, to his faithful C., greetings. I order you that, when you have seen these letters, having put aside every argument and delay, you have two barrels of white wine and two flasks of chestnut wine and one tun of filtered ale sent to me by the bearer of this letter. You shall know that I and my countess are having our blood let at N. Therefore, see to it that you do not move us to anger by your negligence. Farewell.
This is a blunt letter of command, the sort of thing the PCs could expect to receive if they are not highly valued servants, or have recently displeased their lord. It is not rude, by the standards of the time, but the Earl does not owe his steward any courtesy.
Messenger, France, 13th century.

Fictional Example 1: A Baron orders a Knight to Make A Full Account of a Dungeon

A baron to a knight, greetings. Because we trusted in your good faith and loyal service, you have evidently been behaving otherwise than you ought.  We have been informed that you have been keeping treasure found in our lands for yourself, and sending us less than the portion agreed upon, and also that you have kept the company of outlaws and bandits. Therefore, we order that on the day after the Feast of Fulvic you are to come to us ready and prepared to render your account. We charge you to also bring with you two wizards, our sworn servants, who will tell us the truth of all the things we have heard. If what is said about you is false, we will give no credit to those who have said such things about you. Farewell.
A PC has been hoarding treasure, and the local Baron has heard about it. The tone of the letter is not hostile, but the use of the formal plural emphasizes that the knight is of lower status. The last portion of the letter assures the knight that they are not doomed already, and that the Baron will hear a full and honest account of whatever has taken place.

Fictional Example 2: A Baron Summons His Knights To Service in Foreign Parts
Edmund, Baron of Bayle, to all his knights and military servants, greetings. We, putting the highest faith in trust in your love, order you that, for the sake of our love, you appear before us with horses, arms, and supplies on St. Galbin's Day. You shall know that the King has also caused us, like many others, to be summoned, and we are to take ship with him with all our men, as we desire his love. Therefore, I trust in you that you will act in such a way that that my love for you will be rewarded.
This is the formal declaration of a muster for war. Rumours would have preceded it for weeks. The Baron would probably send a copy to any battle-wizards in his employ, even if he doesn't name them directly. The knights would then be responsible for sending similar letter to their vassals.

Fictional Example 3: A Wizard Asks a Colleague To Take Her Son as an Apprentice


To Thomas, Joan sends greetings. Since I have the greatest confidence in your friendship, I send my beloved son to you, asking that, for my love, you receive him into your service, knowing for certain that his of good character, prompt, ready, and loyal. I have trained him in a few of the arts know to our profession, but I ask that, in your good judgement, you complete his training. Therefore, please act in such a way, for the sake of our request, that the bearer may think that our wishes have found favour with you. Farewell.
The end of this letter is a formulaic request. It's a great way to introduce new characters, hirelings, or complications.
Curse of Strahd official art, WotC, taken from here.
Fictional Example 4: Burgomaster Indirovich's Letter
This letter is the first thing given to the players in 5th Edition's Curse of Strahd module. While CofS has always been set firmly in the "Year of the Rat", the tone is aiming for gothic feudalism. Here's the original letter:
Hail to thee of might and valor,
I, a lowly servant of Barovia, send honor to thee.
We plead for thy so desperately needed assistance. The love of my life, Ireena Kolyana, has been afflicted by an evil so deadly that even the good people of our village cannot protect her. She languishes from her wound, and I would have her saved from this menace. There is much wealth in this community. I offer all that might be had to thee and thy fellows if thou shalt but answer my desperate plea. 
Come quickly, for her time is at hand! 
All that I have shall be thine! 
Kolyan Indirovich
Burgomaster
Separating the components:
Hail to thee of might and valor,
I, a lowly servant of Barovia, send honor to thee.

We plead for thy so desperately needed assistance. The love of my life, Ireena Kolyana, has been afflicted by an evil so deadly that even the good people of our village cannot protect her. She languishes from her wound, and I would have her saved from this menace. There is much wealth in this community. I offer all that might be had to thee and thy fellows if thou shalt but answer my desperate plea. 
Come quickly, for her time is at hand! 
All that I have shall be thine! 
Kolyan Indirovich
Burgomaster
Greeting (salutatio)
Introduction (exordium)
Body (narratio)
Petition (petitio)
Conclusion (conclusio)

There are clearly a few things wrong with this letter (from the point of view of a medieval letter-writer). The greeting is straight out of dinner theater. The petition is put first, which is an grave sin in requests like this, even today. It's fine for commands, but not for begging for help. And there are many, many stylistic errors:

-"We plead for thy so desperately needed assistance" is a turn of phrase that barely makes sense in modern English, let alone a pseudo-medieval formal letter.

-Also, the burgomaster would only use "we" if he's addressing inferiors, and since he's using "thee" and "thy", and begging for help, that's not the case. He's not using "we" to speak for the entire village either. He's a burgomaster! It's his job to speak, in the very feudal singular, for the entire village.

-"love of my life" doesn't work in the feudal structure. Everyone has a place, and that place is not defined by love. The "love" referenced in those earlier letters is more like "trust and obligation". It's the love you feel for your favorite hairdresser, not for your children.

-"an evil so deadly" hasn't killed her, so it's merely dangerous. She could be threatened by a deadly evil, but not afflicted by it, as afflicted implies direct action, and the direct action of a deadly thing is to kill. The letter could be using one of the more archaic (to humble, to harass), but then it's a tautology, like a very minor case of serious brain damage.

"She languishes from her wound, and I would have her saved from this menace." is two separate sentences rolled into one. Under the circumstances, forgivable.

-Burgomaster Indirovich refers to his village incorrectly. He's a burgomaster, so it's not "our village" it's "my village" if he's talking to an inferior or "the village of Barovia" if he's talking to a superior. "Our village" implies he's merely a villager, and what's the point of being a burgomaster if you can't flaunt your status?

-Similarly, "There is much wealth in this community." is a strange sentence that only makes sense in D&D-land. It's not the burgomaster's wealth. It's either the villagers' wealth, in which case he would have to attach their separate petitions, or the Baron's wealth, in which case the burgomaster just said, in writing, "come steal the Baron's stuff." Bad idea.

We can (with the guidance in "Lost Letters of Medieval Life") rewrite it to:
To any friends, Burgomaster Indirovich sends greetings. In these dark times, where can the afflicted turn, save to the kindness of strangers? Beasts surround my village, and a cloud hangs over the sun. My daughter, Ireena Kolyana, is threatened by a great and terrible evil. She has been wounded and I fear she is near death.  I offer all the wealth I possess if anyone who finds this letter will come to my aid, and quickly. Farewell.
-[seal]
This letter is still bizarre, because (for plot reasons?) the burgomaster doesn't want to give any useful details. He also addresses his letter to "any friends" (Karissimo amicis suo, Burgomaster Indirovich salutem.) (pretty sure that's close enough in Latin). In a feudal structure, letters are never sent "to whom it may concern." You always know the person it concerns.

Anyway, when the PCs later receive letters from Strahd or other NPCs, they will follow the same format, with subtle deviations to get the PCs thinking.

(I'm kind of tempted to rewrite CofS as a "straight" feudal module. Chuck out all the vampires, werewolves, and tragi-comic backstory. Leave in wolves, witches (dubious) and a real jerk of a Baron. You know the type: waxing hovels, carrying off defenseless mustaches, burning maidens, that sort of thing. Not capital-E-Evil; just powerful and unrestrained. His oppressed subjects ask the PCs to start a revolt.)


Summary

-write letters to your PCs
-use the structure of letters to reinforce the structure of feudalism
-use letters to develop plot points, add hirelings, or chastise wayward PCs
-buy "Lost Letters of Medieval Life" 

2017/07/20

OSR: The Flame Pomerium Part 3: Giant Mecha Fights in LotFP and D&D 5th Edition

I'm trying to show that you don't need any specialized subsystems to run giant mecha-based games. All you need to do is change the scale. In the previous post, I tested my theory on Arnold K's GLOG system. Now it's time to take on two mainstream juggernauts: Lamentations of the Flame Princess and D&D 5th Edition.


Age of Conan Concept Art

Lamentations of the Flame Princess

I'm still going with the "One Mecha Per PC, NPC crew" idea.

1. Roll Stats
2. Pick a Class
3. Pick Alignment
4. Starting Gear

I've rolled up a usual mortal-scale character: Benta, the Specialist. I now want to roll up Benta's Bulwark.

1. Stats

No changes here.

STR: 11
DEX :13
CON: 11
INT: uses Benta's stat -> 14
WIS: uses Benta's stat -> 12
CHA: 7

2. Class

Cleric seems like the most difficult to adapt, other than Specialist, which I'd probably just ban/ignore at the Bulwark scale. Maybe there's a way to make it work really well that I'm not seeing.

HP: 5
Saves (13,11,16,12,15)
Spells: 1

3. Alignment

Doesn't really matter for giant mechas.

4. Starting Gear

The Bulwark starts with 9x10sp of "Bulwark-scale" money used to buy "Bulwark-scale" stuff. Benta's going to spend 50sp on two pistols, 10sp on two bandoliers of shot, 25sp on leather armour, and 5sp on a dagger.

Bulwark-Scale Pistol:
Damage: 1d8
Short: < 1,250'
Medium: <2,500'
Long: <5,000'

Spells:
We're going to waive the requirement to have a hand free. A mecha with two giant cannon-arms is just too cool. Most spells do not need any changes, provided target is Bulwark-scale.
1. Bless: probably scatters minor spirits and demons.
2. Command: anything not Bulwark-scale near the target (birds, peasants, etc.) will probably also obey the command.
3. Cure Light Wounds: no changes.
4. Detect Evil: no changes
5. Invisibility to Undead: no changes, but to be honest, it's a giant mecha. Hard to hide. I'd remove this one from the list.
6. Protection from Evil: no changes.
7. Purify Food & Drink: no changes, but not that useful on the Bulwark-scale. Remove this one too.
8. Remove Fear: can also be used to stop an army from routing.
9. Sanctuary: can be used to remove boarders*
10. Turn Undead. Undead not on the Bulwark-scale also flee.
*boarders use the Disease rules

Other Changes:
XP: remove the "Recovering Treasure" section, increase XP given by creatures by 10x.
 

Total Edits:
1. Remove alignment

2. Change ranges
3. Remove a few spells

Otherwise, it looks like this system scales up very smoothly. There aren't any mandatory LotFP-specific mechanics that wouldn't scale to Bulwark scale.

Benta's Bulwark

Its name is "The Cathedral That Walks." Stone bones, spires, copper and lead sheets. A marble tomb-mask. Leather plates stitched from a thousand holy oxen, painted lead-white. Both arms end in pistols the size of siege cannons. Each takes 2 NPC crew to load (deaf-mute monks, powder-scorched and irritable). The cannons fire giant stone spheres carved with the images of the saints and lines from scripture. The Cathedral That Walks is filled with icons, relics, and the raw power of prayer. Even moderately holy pilots are hauled off to heaven at inconvenient times, so Benta, a skeptic, sinner, and thoroughly un-saint-like woman, was selected to pilot it.
Ojha, GoldenDaniel

Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition


I'm only using core PHB stuff. No errata; can't be bothered, probably isn't relevant anyway. This is a more hasty exercise. Feel free to stop reading.


1. Race
2. Class
3. Stats
4. Describe Character

5. Starting Equipment

1. Race

Rename the races for Bulwark scale. They are now chassis. Any subraces that boost Wisdom or Intelligence are going to be suboptimal. That's fine by me.
Dwarf -> Bastion

Elf -> Striker
Halfling -> Urbanmech

Human -> Brawler
Dragonborn -> Lancer
Gnome -> Ambusher
Half-Elf -> can't think of anything even slightly interesting, so banned.
Half-Orc -> Smasher

Tiefling -> Infernal

Oh thank goodness. We're done. Let's go with... Halfling.

So +2 Dex, about half the size of a normal Bulwark, slightly slower, Lucky (seems a little broken, but OK), Brave (not applicable), Nimble (seems handy if you're dealing with really Great Beasts). Right.

Oh wait I have to pick a subrace. Stout Halfling -> Squat Urbanmech. +1 Constitution, and resistance to poison. Since poison = boarding actions at the Bulwark scale, I guess that means the mecha is extra spiky or full  of bees. Actually, let's go with that. Bees, trained ferrets, and traps.

2. Class

The classes look like they would work without any significant edits. I'd probably ban Bard (mechanics would scale up in a very silly way) and Sorcerer (the random table... doesn't feel right at Bulwark scale).

Let's go with Ranger.

HP: 10+Con modifier
Saving Throws: Str, Dex
Skills: ignore
Equipment: scale mail, two shortswords, a longbow and 20 arrows
Favoured Enemy: no edits needed. Let's go with "undead."
Natural Explorer: no edits needed. I'm going to pick "mountains".

All the rest of this stuff doesn't kick in until higher levels, so I guess we're done?

That seems weird. Screw it. We're going to level  up this guy, because seriously, if you're going to pitch a game about heroic explorers, at least make them kind of interesting to start with. It might be interesting to have Bulwarks get Classes while the actual PCs don't get class features (or alternatively, have the Bulwarks level faster)

Level 3 Ranger

HP: 10+3xCon modifier+2d10

Saving Throws: Str, Dex
Equipment: scale mail, two shortswords, a longbow and 20 arrows
Favoured Enemy: undead
Natural Explorer: mountains
Fighting Style: Archery. No scaling issues with the others.
Spellcasting: 3 1st level spells

Ranger Archetype: the "Hunter's Prey" archetype seems pretty decent for Bulwark-scale play, but the "Beast Master" archetype is just too hilarious to pass up. I need to pick a beast no lager than Medium and has a Challenge Rating of 1/4 or lower. A hawk seems good. At this scale, it's some sort of Emperor Roc.

Spells:

Ranger Level 1 Spells
Alarm (fairly useless but not broken)

Animal Friendship (can't make friends with Great Beasts)
Cure Wounds
Detect Magic
(not applicable on this scale)

Detect Poison and Disease (not applicable on this scale)
Ensnaring Strike
Fog Cloud

Goodberry (wat)
Hail of Thorns
Hunter's Mark
Jump
Longstrider

Speak with Animals (not applicable on this scale)

Really, at this point, all the rest is irrelevant. I've learned what I needed to learn.

Total Edits

1. Rename and edit Races
2. So many edits to Classes. So many.
Actually, that's as far as I need to go, I think. You can use this system with 5E, but there's a weird issue.


5E seems to be trying really, really hard to make characters capital-I-Interesting, mechanically. Unlike in LotFP and the GLOG, just "being a giant mecha made of stone and pewter" isn't.... comparatively interesting. It feels like having a Fighter Bulwark with a Fighter pilot would be OK in LotFP, but if you did it in 5E, you'd see so many "doubled" mechanics that it would get... boring.

Somehow, making a giant robot out of a 5th Edition character feels less interesting than running one as-written. I'm not sure if that's a failure of design or a success. Imagine a magic can of spray paint that will always coat your deck furniture evenly, but can't be used for graffiti, miniatures, or getting high. Responsible, very sensible, but very carefully crafted to be one specific thing.


Plus, there are so many things to keep track of. So many possible scaling issues.

Kukulkani character concepts, Georgios Dimitriou


Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition

I'm not going to run through this idea, but it occurred to me that you could have a game where the PCs are rolled up via an OSR system, but their Bulwarks are rolled up using 4th edition. The weird mechanical hard edges of 4E are smoothed out by the increased scale and changing the people into piloted giant robots. Might be worth considering.