Thursday, June 14, 2018

Varanus' Gun, the Riddick and the Unicorn, and Gobbo Feet

[Kind of a grab-bag this week. Hopefully next week will be back to more organized things.]

Varanus' Gun

When you made a character in my old high school play group, instead of purchasing starting gear, you got a witness to roll for each item you might have. Better rolls meant better items, and the luckiest I know was a kobold named Varanus who started with a one-in-two-million rifle.

It had every physical and magical enhancement listed in our price guide, plus two more:
  1. If it was within 10 yards, the owner could summon it irresistibly to his hands (something akin to dimension door). Fonzying at an opponent's head was a great way to switch from parley to combat. 
  2. A magic string was tied to its grip, with a matching string tied to Varanus' gold pouch; if someone tried to take whatever the second string was tied to, they would be attacked by whatever weapon the first string was tied to.
There may have been other features, but those are the two I remember.

The Poachers

Pretty standard heist quest, written quickly. The party wanted to acquire a certain rare animal from a group of professional monster hunters and couldn't buy it. (This is where the kid with the holy sword was hanging out.) Their collection included:
  • Roc Chicks: horse-sized fledglings used as mounts by the poachers. I described them as Chokobos and played them like velociraptors.
  • A Beholder: used for wrangling the other captives, and which might've had a lobotomy scar? It was in a complex harness with reins which allowed one of the poachers to direct its movements and eyes. The players were mostly unfamiliar with D&D so this was weird and exotic. 
  • A "Unicorn": the poachers said this was a unicorn, but when I described it to the players, I used the description of a rhinoceros. A PC did end up buying it, and commissioned a war chariot (complete with swords sticking out from the wheel axles) for it to pull.
  • The Riddick: among the cages containing giant rats and other dangerous beasts was one containing a muscular human in dark goggles. "Me? I'm just passing through." (I'd shotgunned Pitch Black and Chronicles of Riddick the night before, so I could do passable dialogue.) The players sprung him but he wasn't as much of a team player as they'd hoped. 
  • A Few Gremlins: trained for specific tasks, like fishing a potion out of your pack and feeding it to you during combat. Might also have played a collapsible snare drum and high hat. 
Robert "they should all be destroyed" Muldoon oversaw security from an open-air second story with a commanding view of the menagerie. I don't think the troop was commanded by John Hammond, but I do have a vague memory of negotiations proceeding with lemonade and southern hospitality.

Gobbo Feet

Originally in my high school group, players would only play goblin characters as a joke. Other monstrous races - ogres, trolls and lizardmen - were suboptimal but they had legitimate strengths and could generally intimidate peasants into treating them the same as other adventurers. Eventually, a later iteration of the group added special abilities to all the playable races. Goblins became a more normal choice and it became increasingly weird to me that they were getting hassled less than our ogres and trolls.

Around then I read chapter 211 of Berserk, which has a kelpie drenching a town in rain.

So I decided to make a town which hates goblins, put it in the party's path, and surround it in weeks of ceaseless rain. Now, one of the traits our goblins got was they could ignite small fires by dancing; so when the party met some of the townsfolk some hours outside of town, the townsfolk didn't pull out flint and tinder to light a fire; they pulled out a pair of severed baby goblin feet, hanging on strings like baby booties, and jerked them around to make them "dance."

I didn't want to actually spend the whole quest on the one goblin PC, though. So when these two townsfolk saw the goblin PC, they remembered the "gobbo horse" in the middle of town, and they jumped to the conclusion that if a goblin bites you, you become one.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Cricket Whistle

Spent too long examining the moral dimensions of a particular Star Trek character, so, no BattleTech this week. Instead, here's two ways to sound like a cricket:
  1. You know that thing in the back of your throat, that you use to gargle, and to make the Predator clicking noise? You know how most people whistle by exhaling through pursed lips? Trill that thing while whistling. (This doesn't work very well if your throat is dry.)
  2. If you can whistle by inhaling through pursed lips, do so with a little spit on your tongue. (My preferred method.)
It's a fun gag. Games occasionally have quiet pauses (a joke falls flat, or the group is hesitating indecisively) where a chirp can get a laugh.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Swords of Truth

[Nothing I want to put together for BattleTech or D&D can be put together quickly. So instead, here's some D&D-ish stuff from my old high school group.]

The main thing about Paladins in our old high school homebrew was their holy swords. Small damage buff (huge buff against unholy creatures), glowed in the presence of unholy creatures, and injured the wielder anytime the wielder lied, cheated, disobeyed orders, desecrated the dead, or fought dishonorably. If you were especially cruel (and tough enough to survive the sword's punitive zap when you reclaimed it), you could impale an enemy, then heal the wound around the sword so they'd get zapped if they lied under questioning.

Our most memorable NPC paladin was a puzzle. The party was under his command, and we kept getting more and more indirect and circumstantial evidence that he was treasonous and breaking the paladin code, but we could never catch him red-handed. His holy sword was genuine and I don't know if we ever learned how he avoided offending it - maybe he just took the damage and was good at hiding it.

The next most memorable such NPC wasn't a paladin, it was a merc brat whose holy longsword was too big for him and who - despite obviously getting injured every time he lied - still attempted all the mischief and bravado you'd expect from an adolescent hanging around with mercs.

Translating these swords into Pathfinder (for my evil rat), the GM wanted to make the punitive zaps do bleed damage, but that doesn't seem sound to me. (Not that I have the best grasp of Pathfinder/D&D balance.)

It never came up in play, but I intended my rat's sword to have lore ties to the oracular statue in my city quest. I envisioned the big oracle sword as a "purer" version - instead of relying on the bearer's perception of truth, the oracle judged objective truth. It could be used in civil and criminal trials, and the wealthy could pay beggars to test other claims. The players proposed testing the oracle with a paradox; I figured that would turn them undead instead of killing them. The players didn't find that as logical as I do, but whatever - oracles aren't meant to be fair or straightforward.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

First Look at 3025 Davion 'Mech Manufacturing

[Skip to the bottom to see my estimates.]

from House Davion: The Federated Suns
Seeing as how every other faction with complete-ish manufacturing data (that is to say, everyone but Kurita and Liao) builds all three of the Locust, Wasp and Stinger; and that Achernar of New Avalon builds only the Locust and Wasp (and Phoenix Hawk) but not the Stinger; I think Aldis of Terra's unnamed 'Mech production is likely to be Stingers; and I suspect the Weimalu proposal is a hedge against loss of access to Aldis in the upcoming Fourth Succession War (and is ultimately supplanted by the Hornet line on Talon).

Remember how, on the MW1e 'Mech Lance tables, the frequency of Liao, Steiner and Kurita 'Mechs line up with the frequency of those factions on the Character Affiliation table (400, 500 and 600 respectively), but Davion was 675 instead of 700? I notice that Aldis of Terra supplies the Federated Suns yet is independent of them - 25 'Mechs/yr from Terra would cover that gap nicely. It's a little on the small side, as 'Mech manufacturers go, but that's fitting; Terra never comes across as a big military supplier in 3025 material.

I also notice that 25+50+75+100+125+150+175 = 700. If we look Davion manufacturers, Independence of Quentin falls between 50 and 75; the two manufacturers above it don't give numbers, but Corean of New Avalon's 130 is close to 125; and Dorwinion builds exactly 150 (6000 over 40 years). So the Davion Weapon Industries pages not only order manufacturers by size (as do the Steiner, Kurita and Liao books), but also rates them in fairly predictable intervals. 

If the 'Mechs named on the Davion industries pages show the same 270 : 230 split (common unseens vs. less shared factional designs), then Kallon Industries must produce only 55ish Enforcers and JagerMechs combined (230 minus Valkyries, Atlases, etc). If the Suns produce 700 'Mechs/yr and the industries pages show only 230+270, then 200 'Mechs aren't being shown, and the remaining Enforcers must be among those 200. TR:3025 puts the primary Enforcer/Dervish factory on a world called Dorwinion - since Cal-Boeing of Belladonna is also at a place called "Dorwinion," I'm taking them (and their production rate of 150/yr) as an intentional analogue for Achernar of Dorwinion.

Norse of Marduk is tricky; I don't want to outshine the combined output from Defiance's two sites. I'm less concerned about outshining Nanking's Wolverine line, since that one isn't operating at full capacity in 3025. It helps that I can count some of Norse's production as being at a second site.

My first estimate of Davion manufacturing rates is below. What's really neat is that if you add up all the tonnage, and divide by 49 tons (the average mass from the FWL book), it comes out to a hair under 675 'Mechs' worth of 49-ton 'Mechs. It makes me think the final numbers will end up being pretty close. (Well, that, plus how hard it is to change things without skewing light.)

I've been taking it for granted that the "130" Valkyries and "20" Marauders (and so on) mentioned in the text really are exactly 130 and 20 (and so on), but I have to wonder if they aren't being rounded off.

I've included Javelins and Blackjacks in the table because the Marik and Steiner books include designs like the Spider and Goliath that're even deader in TR:3025.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

2000 Stalkers in 3025

The Stinger, Wasp and Locust are the three most common light 'Mechs. They are a certain fraction of all light 'Mechs. Perhaps the most common assault 'Mechs (the Stalker, Banshee and Charger) are an identical fraction of all assault 'Mechs?
  • Per TR:3025, "five thousand or more" Stingers survive to 3025. Adding Wasps and Locusts in the MW1e ratio of 51:42:32 should bring us to 12500 (5100+4200+3200).
  • I count 55000 'Mechs total in 3025. BF1e says 30% (which is 16500) are light and 10% (5500) are assault weight. 
  • Per TR:3025, about 500 Chargers, 5000/3 Banshees, and a larger but unspecified number of Stalkers survive in 3025.

12500/16500ths of 5500 is exactly equal to 500 Chargers, 5000/3 Banshees and 2000 Stalkers. That's a very plausible number of Stalkers; and if any of my premises going into this were wrong or arbitrary, the number shouldn't have come out as such a clean integer. I kinda wonder if the assault 'Mech fraction was picked first and then the light 'Mech fractions were reverse-engineered to match.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

My Favorite Monster

I first used these (way back in high school) to pop up from under loose floor tiles. Just a small ambush to make the party wary. Then, in the middle of a big room with a high ceiling, the PC ogre who'd been bringing up the rear felt his helmet lift off his head. He turned around. Saw nothing. The rest of the party saw two of these things daisy-chained from the ceiling, holding his helmet, while a third clung to the ogre's back. (And shortly after, to the ogre's face).

The second time I used these (a few years later), the party was looking for lost children to rescue. They'd heard movement or indistinct voices a couple times, and a couple other times they'd opened silent wardrobes or drawers only to have these critters jump out at them. Eventually, the party got strung out down a hallway: a decoy fight at one end, an ambush through an open doorway in the middle, and two kid-sized lumps hiding in a pile of laundry at the other end. One PC defends the laundry pile; he hears voices from it. "Yeah, what is it, kid?" he asks over his shoulder. The response is indistinct, so he glances back, and it isn't kids it's two of these critters with laundry on their heads mimicking kid-sounds with their mandibles.

It worked so well these first two times that I can't resist trying again whenever enough new players cycle in. It's how the the larval tank beetles in my second Pathfinder run were supposed to play.

I think next time, I'll have the players trying to meet or find an NPC, but everybody in the NPC's location has evacuated to certain well-known mines or tunnels. The PCs come alongside a deep shaft, where a small figure in a (blood stained) cloak clings desperately to a chain hanging out of the party's reach, with a heavy metal elevator or slab or something sitting against one of the other walls, too high to be useful. If (when) a PC jumps or falls onto the free hanging chains, weights will shift; the heavy metal will rise, unsealing a tunnel and freeing the swarm of critters therein; and the cloaked figure - another of the critters - will attack the PC as their chains sink into darkness.

Shriekipedes, Centipede Mimics or Jack in the Box Bugs

Never had a good name for these critters.

For D&D5e, I think I'd start with "Giant Spider" as a template, make CON 8, HP 18, AC 15, double its damage when it attacks with surprise, ignore all the web abilities, and bump the poison save high enough to scare the party tough guy.
[Easter Edit: CON 6, HP 12, AC 17? In our homebrew they were agile and strong-shelled, but couldn't survive more than one or two typical hits. Not sure how to translate that to 5e. /Edit]

Lurking: these things are three to seven feet long, can fit through any hole a typical dog can, and tend to trap themselves in chests and cupboards; they're great at pulling lids or doors shut but crap at pushing them open again. They're more likely to chew or dig their way out through a back corner.

Face Grabbing: PCs hate having stuff latched onto their faces, so that's what these things go for. If the attack succeeds, the PC is likely blind and/or suffocating; if the attack is stopped by a helmet, there's a good chance the helmet will be pulled off; if the attack misses, the bug might latch onto a nearby wall or something by accident.

Backwards and Forwards: the head and the tail are difficult to tell apart, and they're both good at grabbing stuff. When one side latches onto something big (like a wall or a medium size creature), the other end gets advantage on strength checks. The bug can't voluntarily let go of something without making a DC 10 INT check.

Shrieking, 3x per long rest to: cast Counterspell or Dispel (with a +3 ability modifier), combo with another bug's bite attack to count as a magic weapon with the sonic damage type, add d8 Bardic Inspiration on the next bug action against a chosen target, inflict d8 Bardic Disinspiration on the target's current action... other sonic effects aren't out of the question.

I don't know what the "challenge rating" for these would be. Low, I imagine; I think I tend to fall back on them where other people would be falling back on  basic skeletons or zombies.
[Easter Edit: I forgot! Because our high school group had so many mages, these were highly resistant to magic. For 5e, I'd give them advantage on spell saves, and if they get 20 or more on the save or counterspell roll, the spell reflects back on the caster.

...their "challenge rating" might be higher than I think.

I like how jump-scare monsters can make the players paranoid. I try to prime them before the quest to consider half-heard noises nonthreatening, and by the end have them paranoid enough for friendly fire against already injured NPCs doing their best to hide from the monsters. I sometimes also try to deescalate their paranoia afterwards, but rotating GMs from week to week makes that less of a factor.

PS: Happy, hoppy Easter Eve?

Monday, March 26, 2018

BattleTech ABCs

[A filler entry while I work on other things this week.]

A is for Amaris, the Usurper detested.
He killed all the Camerons, then by Kerensky was bested.

B is for Blake, Blest Minister of Communications,
Told by the Great Lords to restore HPG stations.

C is for Cameron the Royal and ComStar the Holy,
Once forging, now hoarding much lost technology.

D is for Davion and for DeChevalier.
One a great general, the other just cavalier.

E is for Light Horse, the warriors Eridani.
Most noble and skillful of soldiers mercenary.

K is for Kurita and also Kerensky.
One killed Amaris. The other, Kentares.

L is for Liao, cunning and oily.
S is for Steiner, prodigious industrially.

M is for Marik, and for malfunction.
Coalitions and widgets break at this junction.

W is for Warlords, the five Successors.
They tore down the Star League to become its possessors.

I is Invasion and IlClan, Nicholas' blood.
In their eugenic utopia our names are all mud.

F is to forget all others alphabetical.
Fortresses fallen, and futures inescapable.