Saturday, November 17, 2018

What are the Phlogiston Books? A DCC RPG (kind of) review.


What are the Phlogiston Books?

Time for a bit of shameless self-promotion: I was invited by the great Jose Masaga to publish an update version of my Sword & Sorcery DCC classes for the 2nd volume of the excellent Phlogiston Books. And yes that is my first published article for DCC RPG, thank you!

What are the Phlogiston Books? I’m glad you asked. Basically, they’re a Third Party product by Otherselves aimed at a very specific DCC niche: that nebulous moment between the Funnel (or 0-level adventure, where mere mortals become adventures) and a true 1st-level adventure. This is an excellent idea because it’s something that I think is sorely missing in DCC RPG. Because I wrote an article for the 2nd volume of the Phlogiston Books, here is what I’m going to do: I’m gonna give you a full review of the 1st volume (for which I didn't contribute), then I’m going to give a small resumé (for lack of a better term) on 2nd volume. Let’s go…



The Phlogiston Books - Volume 1: A Compilation of arcane material for the Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG is a 62 pages B&W PDF. This 1st volume is dedicated to a very specific fantasy that it dubs ‘rural fantasy’. I’m going to be frank that I’m not familiar with it, although I get a feeling that I read some books and short stories that could be examples of this genre (it certainly has a Cervantes vibe and there is a good deal of fantastic realism in Latin America that should fit it, like ‘O Defunto’, from Eça de Queiroz). Quoting from the sourcebook: ‘the countryside is not the idyllic scenery of pastoral novels or nice postcards; it’s a dangerous place, full of strange creatures, mysterious ruins, unfavorable climate, and tiresome travels’. It is a weird but interesting mix of Weird Fantasy with a realistic 16th-17th setting rural setting. It is a flavor, not a specific place, but it does fit nicely with most players’ view of villages and farms in a fantasy world. However, where most d20 fantasy games consider those places to be starting points for a campaign, the 1st Volume of the Phlogiston attempts to bring such kind of setting to life as the main spot of trouble and weirdness (if you’re also a player of LotFP go read No Dignity in Dead: The Three Brides).

After setting the mood and theme for its material, the 1st Volume brings us a new patron: the Gallow Tree. Basically, your spellcasters get to work for the Tree of the Dead, from Sleepy Hollow. It is an amazing and very flavorful (and pure Metal!) patron, that will fit nicely must DCC campaigns. It also presents a new spell (Human Hunt).

Next we get the Cultist, a new character class. This a d6-class with a Chaotic take on the cleric, representing those powers that really don’t care about healing or banishing. The Cultist, like mine own poor attempt at an Anti-Cleric, is another example of why the DCC Core Rulebook’s Cleric is weird if you try to build a Chaotic or now-Lawful divine spellcaster. It just doesn’t seem to work. Cultists suffer Mercurial Magic, can Spellburn and have very patron-like relation with their master (the example given in the book is Azi Dahaka, complete with a customized Disapproval Table). The Cultist is why I hope the future DCC Annual can “save” the Cleric as class (otherwise, I’m going to restrict my Clerics to Law). Finally, Cultists also gain some roguish skills. I still have to playtest the class.

After that we get some new magic items: a magic sword (or “The” magic sword), the Lamprey Scabbard (which is actually an extraplanar creature), and the Scarezombie (more of a setting plot than a magic item). Both the sword and the scabbard are good beginning magic items for a Funnel party. The Scarezombie is good bit of lore, if your Judge likes to explain who in the Nine Hells can humans survive in settings where things like undead exist. This is the weakest part of the 1st Volume and just occupy 3 pages (yes, this is a compliment).

The next session gives Judges some advices on using Animals as antagonists and flavor for DCC campaigns (which is very useful not only for Funnels but low level adventures). It presents different builds for wolves, including a clearly mythical/folkloric version and is an excellent example of how a simple animal can be more scary than a monster.

Now we get to Superstition. This sections fits nicely with the Scarezombie from above and presents rules for what some RPGs call ‘hedge magic’. Basically, that sometimes all that “peasant nonsense” such as crossing fingers or putting iron nails under the tongue might actually save your worthless 0-level life. The mechanics are simple and flavor, which a nice “price” (basically, if your adventure is using superstition to save his skin, he/she doesn’t deserve XP).

Transplanar Climatology presents tables for weird country weather and possible destinations for lost planar travelers. Just two tables, but both very flavorful and giving tons of ideas. Now we move to Disturbing Rural Encounters, this table has 14 options… I wish it had 50 or maybe 100. This is the “soul” of what I believe is rural fantasy. There’re great ideas here, but the table feels small. Moving on we get Names for cults! Or other weird organizations, which is a three column table for generation (you guess) cult names.

Beaten Cooper is a 0-level adventure for 16-20 characters and covers the rest of the sourcebook. I only say one thing: it has a dragon (it also has 3rd Edition era kobolds if you like them). Yup, it is a wonderful bloodbath and I can’t way to use it. The maps are excellent and the entire adventure is very well written (and hard).

I can’t recommend enough the 1st volume, particularly considering the PDF’s price. OK, now to the 2nd volume. Because I contribute to it I’m going to give you just a small tour.



The Phlogiston Books Vol. II: The Stone Heir is a 58 pages B&W PDF. Its is a bit more expensive than the 1st volume. The inner art and layout are professionally done. Here is what you get:

  • Girl, you’ll be a woman soon. This is my favorite part of the whole thing. This is a series of small Lifepath-like tables (1d6 entries), separated by class, telling what happened after your Funnel adventure and before your first mission as a 1st level character. The tables are excellent and provide plenty of flavor for your characters (besides potential hirelings).
  • Pigs from the Pit is a 1st-level adventure still with a Funnel feel. It was built to be a kind of “follow-up” to whatever Funnel the party went through.
  • The Stone Heir is another 1st-level adventure, but that clearly denotes the party as “famous heroes” (after all, in traditional DCC RPG fashion, 1st-level PCs are exceptional).
  • Adventuring Ties is an interesting idea. It provides a few tables, with “adventure party” templates. After surviving a Funnel, what does your party fights for? Law? Chaos? The Eternal Struggle? Gold? Each options provides ideas for PC replacements, advantages and drawbacks.
  • 0-level initial equipment provides alternative equipment for 0-level PCs.
  • Finally, Sword and sorcery classes for DCC RPG is my stuff, basically a more developed version of this post.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Bonus material for the Death Aquatic! adventure



I finally managed to realize one of my dreams by contributing to this year’s Gongfarmer Almanac. It was an amazing experience and G+ community is made of such welcoming and encouraging people. I was really motivated during the entire work and wish I had more time to help or contribute.


You get the Gongfarmer Almanac here or you order a printed version at Lulu here.

My contributions were slightly revised versions of the Sage, Scout and Berserker classes, an article about Birth Augurs and my first adventure made for a zine - Death Aquatic! In fact, the entire point of this post is feedback about the later. I never wrote an adventure before so I really would like to know what you think of it? Did you liked it? Most importantly: what you didn’t like? My thanks to Keith Garrett, who edited my nightmarish text.

If you liked the adventure, here is some extra stuff for it...

Bonus Material: Sandboxing in the Shores of Flesh

If you really want to run Death Aquatic as a funnel, you can create a small sandbox environment on the Shores of Flesh, before upgrading any survivors to 1st level. Here are a few factions/locations to steer things up.

1) Pirates! Your ship was not the only one devoured by the Leviathan. A crew of mad reavers, guided by the dreaded Green Woman, was also taken. In fact, maybe the Green Woman summoned the Leviathan. She is a cultist of the Great Old Ones (use the witch stats from DCC Core Rulebook) who wants to reach the Leviathan’s brain and thus gain control over the creature, throwing it against civilization. She is served by a crew of some 20 pirates. The Green Woman bears the King’s Black Nail, a relic that allows here to mark the Symbol of Kong over a humanoid male and change him into a berserking man-ape (the Green Woman needs the relic to keep control over them after the transformation). The Green Woman desires information and will try to recruit the party (and have any males marked with the King’s Black Nail). She’s bizarrely fond of dwarves. The crew use bandit stats or jungle ape-man stats when transformed.

The Green Woman

2) Deep Ones. A party of deep ones is searching for lost relics of their deity (these are the same relics that can be found by rolling on the DEATH AQUATIC! LOOT TABLE). Bizarrely, these deep ones are not interesting in a fight and just want to get out of the Leviathan (they don’t know how, but believe that the psionic dwarf kraken might know the way out). Their leader still remember his “dry days” as a lowly gongfarmer and might help the party if they get the lost relics for him. However, the deep ones are hungry and that may disturb negotiations.

3) Crusaders! Another “victim” of the Leviathan. These fanatics are stuanch enemies of Chaos. Unfortunately for them, “Chaos” means anything that isn’t like them. Their leader is the Blind Prophet, a mad paladin whose detect “evil” talent is so heightened that he can pinpoint the exact location of chaotic creatures, wizards, elves, dwarves, halflings and such “abominations” within a 100 ft. His crusaders are currently waging a war against the Green Woman’s man-apes and the Kerasoi. The crusaders use the knight stats from the DCC Core Rulebook. The Blind Prophet is too old and feeble and should be harmless when alone (but if killed, please change him to a ghost).

I hate those guys...

4) A lonely wereshark. This lycanthrope calls itself Teeth and has been trapped for some time in the Shores of Flesh. He knows and deeply fears The Mistress, so he avoids the Kerosi and never leaves the various shipwrecks. All that Teeth wants is some company, so he’ll probably kidnap a PC or two. Unfortunately he’s also a wereshark, so he’ll keep biting any prisoners (just small “inofensive” bites) until they become lycanthropes. Teeth has a considerable treasure hoard hidden. The bugbear stats from the DCC Core Rulebook work nicely for our wereshark, just change ‘mace’ to ‘bite’ in the Attack, add a bleeding effect (1d3 hit point per action taken by the bitten victim is a good start, the bleeding can be healed with clerical magic or a strong bandage) and let our lycanthrope regenerate 4 points per round (unless grappled and prevented from moving).

"GIMME A HUG!"

5) The weird galleon. This ship reached the Leviathan’s mouth intact. Unfortunately the entire crew is dead because the ship has a vampire. The good part is that the vampire can’t cross water and thus is bound to the vessel. There’s some treasure aboard and perhaps some magic stuff. The vampire will try to bargain with wizards or elves to have his coffin transported to the Shores of Flesh. He will, of course, betray the party in the future, but until that the “Hey, we got our on pet vampire!” is a go. Use wrathofzombie’s great vampire rules.

6) The Mermaid Looters. A gang of mermaids wait for ships to be wrecked inside the Leviathan’s mouth, then proceed to pillage any treasure (particularly items made of metal or glass) and finish dying survivors. These mermaids are cowards and won’t attack unless if cornered. They will try to throw a faction against another. The mermaids are bastards but know a lot about the Leviathan and the Tower of the Horn. If the Judge is feeling nice, he can have a mermaid trapped inside a shipwreck. For our cute mermaids use deep ones stats, but give them the harpy’s song ability (both from the DCC Core Rulebook).

7) The Lost Lighthouse. WHAT?! A friggin’ lighthouse? Yes! The party see a slightly tilted lighthouse in the Shores of Flesh. And it’s beacon is lit. And it’s is actually a lighthouse taken from our Earth, during the Roaring Twenties. There is a Cthulhu cultist, quite mad, feeding the beacon with the corpses of Kerosi, survivors and even the own flesh of the Leviathan. He has a revolver, dynamite and a forbidden tome. Nice stay! (The lighthouse can be a safe haven for the party or even a disputed location in the setting)

8) A Stormrider encased in ice! A storm...what? Stormrider! If you don’t know what a Stormrider is please check here then go read the amazing Malazan Book of the Fallen books. This Stormider in particular was wounded in battle before being sucked by the Leviathan. To heal she created a sphere of ice around herself. The party can find this mysterious sphere of glowing ice and see the humanoid shape inside of it. If freed and healed, the stormrider can be summoned once to help. The rider will appear and help the party for 1d4+1 rounds. Don’t mind giving the rider stats… if they party is in trouble due to combat, allow the rider to help them by shaping the waves and hitting enemies (like a water elemental from the DCC Core Rulebook). Remember: Stormriders are alien creatures; they don’t understand, for example, that their innate cold hurt most humanoids (so if the party saves the Stormrider, she’ll probably give “a friendly hug” to her savior, dealing 1d6 points of cold damage in the process without noticing).

Bonus Material: Knight of the Eight Class

Pick this excellent art by Savedra and add a baroque Golden Age Sci Fi to it!

A Knight of Eight is a elite warrior from an ancient race of intelligent octopuses “do-gooders” that are actually from another world. They roam the Multiverse fighting the Great Old Ones and their servants, although most Knights of Eight also enjoy battling Chaos. A Knight of Eight can live on land or sea without any problem. They’re very smart but also extremely naive.

I couldn’t find any proper art, but imagine an intelligent octopus wearing a baroque Golden Age-like science fiction helm and gear (usually energy lances, disintegration grandes, force shields, gravitational helmets etc).

Hit Points: A Knight of Eight gains 1d8 hit points at each level.

Alignment: Law or Neutral.
 
Weapon training: A Knight of Eight is trained in the use of the crossbow, dagger, flail, handaxe, javelin, lance, net, polearm, shortbow, longsword, sling, spear, staff and trident. They are also proficient with any technological weapon (Judge’s call). A Knight of Eight doesn’t wear armor, except for their big helms that work as chainmail (and many also use one or even more shields).


Level
Attack
Crit Die/
Table
Action Die
Refl
Fort
Will
Battle Cornucopia!
Pearls
1
+1
1d8/III
4d
+1
+1
+1
-
1d2
2
+2
1d8/III
4d
+1
+1
+1
-
1d3
3
+2
1d10/III
4d
+2
+1
+2
1d4
1d4
4
+3
1d10/IV
5d
+2
+2
+2
1d4
2d4
5
+4
1d12/IV
5d
+3
+2
+3
1d6
2d4
6
+5
1d12/V
6d
+4
+2
+4
2d6
2d6
7
+5
1d14/V
7d
+4
+3
+4
2d6
2d6
8
+6
1d14/V
7d
+5
+3
+5
1d8, 1d6
3d6
9
+7
1d16/V
8d
+5
+3
+5
1d8, 2d6
3d6
10
+8
1d16/VI
8d
+6
+4
+6
2d8, 2d6
3d8

Action Dice: You’re a fighting octopus with 8 arms! Here is how it works - your first action in the round uses a 1d20, the second action uses a 1d16 and so on, following the die chain. There are two exceptions:
  • If you want to move you must use an Action Die and roll it. The result is how many feet you can walk or climb that round. On water you double your movement.
  • Attacks require a lot of concentration for a Knight of Eight. Any attack requires 2 Action Dice. That means that a 1st level Knight of Eight could attack twice in the round (with a d20 then a d16) but wouldn’t be able to move.
A Knights of Eight can use a shield like any other character. However, he can spend 1 Action Die to use a second shield, improving his AC.

Grapple and Squeeze: Knights of Eight gain a +1 die bonus to grapples (or to avoid grappling), escaping bonds or squeezing through spaces a lot smaller than them.

That is a lot of arms: Knights of Eight always roll a d20 for any action that could benefit from lots of “hands” or arms. This usually includes opening things, climbing or holding on to something (to avoid falling), handling delicate items, locks or mechanics, writing, typing.

Amphibious: Knights of Eight work just fine above or below water.

Telempathy: Knights of Eight can learn to talk humanoid tongues, although their voices are horrible and hard to understand outside of water (many prefer to write their intent on sand or another similar substance… they can write really fast). However, Knights of Eight are telempathic and can transmit emotions, feelings, sensory information and even small flashes of memory (like photos). This usually requires an action and an Intelligence check (DCs between 10 an 20).

Here are a few suggestions of what a Knight of Eight can do with telempathy: sharing what you’re feeling with another creature you can see (this task should cost an action but be automatically successful most of the time); inducing/reducing an emotion, sensory input or feeling on a target you can see; detecting the presence (but not the exact location) of any creature capable of emotions or feelings (won’t work on mindless creatures).

Unwilling targets resist with a Will save. If a Knights of Eight rolls an natural 1 or a target saves with a natural 20, the telempathy ability is shutdown until the Knight can rest. If the Knight of Eight tries anything that seems too powerful or fanciful, the Judge is within his rights to increase that margin of error by +1, +2 or more. For example: if a Knight wants to induce fear in a group of 5 bandits around his party, the Judge can declare that the margin of automatic failure is now 1-5 (or 15-20 in the Will save). Very risky.

Ink Cloud: Knights of Eight won’t admit it but they can produce an ink cloud (on air or water) to blind their enemies (and allies). Every target on a 10 ft. radius must pass on a Reflex save against DC 15 or become blinded for 1d4 rounds (the blinded target can spend an entire round cleaning her eyes). After using this ability the Knights of Eight must roll a 1d4 Usage Die (if a 1-2 shows up, downgrade the die to 1d3 and then to 0). Food and an entire night of rest restores the Usage Die.

Battle Cornucopia!: Knights of Eight are warrior sent by their Deep Lords to fight the Great Old Ones and their minions. At the beginning of each adventure (as dictated by the Judge) a Knight of Eight can enter a deep telempathic trance and request armament and equipment from his superior. These items are them teleported to the presence of the Knight, based on his level and roll (check the class table).

ROLL
Items sent by the Deep Lords
-
Pearls. These are techo-arcane charges used by Knights of Eight to power their gadgets. Pearls can also be thrown as impromptu arcane grenades, using a range attack roll and dealing 1d6 of damage on in a 5 ft. radius. All targets can save with Refl to negate damage. The Judge is encourage to create all kind of weird effects, sudden explosions and phlogiston disturbances if a Knight fumbles while carrying lots of unloaded pearls, suffers a dispel magic assault or something like that.
1 2
1 Exalted Pearl. These pearls were made to be thrown as grenades. Roll a 1d4 to find their extra effect:
  1. 2d4 damage, half with a Refl save.
  2. Targets that fail their Refl save are stunned for 1 round.
  3. Targets that fail their Refl save are stuck to ground with goo until they succeed at a Strength check DC 15.
  4. Targets that fail their saves are thrown 10 ft. away.
3
Energy Lance: Works as a polearm (1d10) that can’t broken. Can hold 5 pearls of charge. After hitting an enemy in melee, a Knight can spend one charge (and only one) to add +1d6 to the damage. Another option is spending one charge to fire a ray attack of 1d10 (range 60 ft.).
An energy lances burns when a fumble is rolled (and potentially explodes of there are still more than 3 charges, dealing 3d6 in a 10 ft. radius, Refl DC 15 for half damage).
A Knight of Eight can set an energy lance with 5 charges in the ground and command it to detonate. In 3 rounds the lance will explode opening a small crater or hole in a stone or even metal wall (Judge’s call).
4
Energy Shield: This small disk of stainless metal adheres to the skin and is controlled by the Knight of Eight’s telempathic powers. It must be charged with pearls before combat but is activated mentally. It works as moving and flying energy shield (+2 AC) for a number of rounds equal to charges used. It also blocks magic missiles, although that drains 1 extra charge.
5
Gravitational Pseudopod: A set of ring attached to one of the Knight’s tentacles. It must be charged with pearls before combat but is activated mentally. Once activated it gives the Knight a fly speed of 30 ft. for 1 minute. Each activation requires 1 charge.
If a Knight spend his entire round concentrating he manipulate one within 100’, weighing no more than 50 pounds. This second use for the pseudopod burn 1 charge per round.
6
Material Trans-Oscillator: This small silver ovoid artifact requires a free hand/tentacle and telempathy to activate (an action). It burns 5 charges and allow a Knight to teletransport to any spot within 100 ft. The Knight appears in the next location in 1d4 rounds. If they location can’t hold the Knight, she dies.
7
Disintegration Lance: Works as energy lance but it can hold amazing 10 charges. For ray attacks, the Knight can spend more than one charge, dealing a maximum of 10d10 on a hit. Ray attacks of 5d10 or more can easily disintegrate castle walls.
8
Paradox Anti-Continuum Inductor: This small gold ovoid artifact requires a free hand/tentacle and telempathy to activate (an action). It burns 10 charges and allow the Knight the ignore the cause-and-effect of one specific event of the last round. For example: the attack that disintegrated the party’s cleric, the villain escaping with teleport, the destruction of the bridge, the poison applied to the princess etc.
If a Knights of Eight rolls the result for an item he already have (except exalted pearls), give her 1d4 pearls instead.

On exploding peasants and alien tech: if a non-Knight of Eight tries to use any of the above items, the Judge is within his rights to declare the action as a failure. But players being players, they’ll try to come up with weird ideas for activating the lance and the grenades. Let them roll a 1d10 and remember that a natural 1 is a fumble.