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.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

"Secret Project" - BattleTech faction intros

After making this guide for new customers a few years ago, I decided that since I was doing a lot of factional research anyway to figure out manufacturing rates, I may as well create a beginner's guide to BattleTech's factions.

But what are factions even for in BattleTech? They have no gameplay effect; they don't constrain force composition; the product line isn't organized by faction; they aren't being used to organize paint schemes; and they do little for mid-game banter.

I think originally, and at their most basic, the factions exist as a way of communicating the scope of the setting and how games fit within that scope; then, as flavor text is added, they create the illusion of ongoing campaigns for the customer to aspire to. That, then, should be my goal: to give each faction all the trappings of a functional campaign environment, with as many hooks and tools to that end as possible, without assuming any particular rules or scale.

Don't know when or if I'll get around to finishing this, so, here's what I'm picturing:

The first column summarizes the House's most enduring social, political and military distinctions. It's culled mainly from the Housebooks and severely abridged. (No room, for instance, to mention how Federation traders have a reputation for fairness, or how the design of the Federation bureaucracy is meant to give each world a fair share of participation and services.) I got through Davion, Steiner and Liao before getting sidetracked.

The second column describes the major internal and external threats during the reigns of selected House Lords. Births and coronations can be dated, but not death or retirement; we want these plot hooks to feel open-ended. Upheavals (like Thomas' atypical centralization of the FWL, or Katrina honing the LCAF officer corp) are framed by how they position player troops for conflict, not by how they serve the NPC instigator.

This first page has a small, simple faction logo somewhere. Just big enough to be identifiable and to break up the text a little.

The top half of the second page is occupied by a map which shows the extent of the Successor State at its founding; during the Star League; probably (but not necessarily) 3025, 3050, etc; and the furthest extent of any border regardless of year. Minor worlds aren't marked at all, major worlds appear as icons, and as few as possible are actually named.

The bottom half of the second page lists manufacturing rates by era. Ideally, each column doubles as a random table of signature faction equipment (with "heirloom" and "salvage" entries indicating how much to reroll on other columns for a more representative mix). A two letter superscript could indicate which world builds each machine, with a numerical script indicating the year in which production began.

Aren't the official booklets good enough?

Not for a while now, no.

The first three editions of the boxed set are pretty good. Their historical brief is basically an elevator pitch, not even a quarter-page long; each House has less than a quarter page to describe the general strategic situation and any looming internal or external threats; a page and a half of mercenaries and bandits offers plot hooks and shows the limits of House control; and there's another page and a half describing the organization and conduct of an invasion. To get more, you had to look to the RPG.

The fourth edition decided to copy from the RPG - but it copied all the wrong things. Where the RPG focused its history on how the setting works, 4e focused on the big personalities of history; and while RPG players need to know how recent events turned out, the introductory boxed set - theoretically the first BattleTech product a nascent fan would encounter - gains nothing by tying those conflicts off. Why would you present the strategic situation as stable? Why have NPC bios instead of plot hooks? Where's the campaign overview?

The FanPro edition focuses the House briefs single-mindedly on a single aspect of national ideology. Pretty good at establishing a simple jingoistic stereotype for new customers to latch onto. They're more wishful than accurate, though, and bloated even by Catalyst's standards. This edition also doubles the length of its historical chapter by spoiling all the novels. It makes a little more sense now that Roc had stopped selling the novels, but it's the same basic problem as before: why here, and why this way? It doesn't fit the product.

The faction pages on the official website differ little from the fourth edition, and Catalyst's "Inner Sphere at a Glance" history and faction briefs use text identical to FanPro's.

Lest you think I just hate everything: there have been some positive innovations.

The fourth edition added a mini-TRO like you'd see in the video game manuals, which I like. (It's a little careless with facts and context though - the Assassin's ammo, the Cicada's and Cyclops' armor, the Zeus' purpose, and the relative armaments of the Vindicator, Clint and JagerMech.) The FanPro edition cleverly uses maps to break up its long text (a purpose "Inner Sphere at a Glance" seems to forget). "Inner Sphere at a Glance" doesn't bring the campaign overview back, but it does discuss space travel a little, and briefly describes FM:Mercs' mission types. Most recently, although Catalyst's "Primer" doesn't fix any of the outstanding informational issues, it does at least recognize how much bloat there was. It replaces 95% of the text with collages of reasonably good art.

I assume that "Primer" is the version that'll appear in the upcoming boxed sets. If they do try something new instead, then good on Catalyst for trying something new; if they don't, well, that's no knock against them. It's a tall order, and it's not like I've got my version ready to go.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

How MW1e Figures House Currencies

House Strength in...
 Stars Mechs Currency
Davion  507 7 9
Kurita 407 6 8
Steiner 439 5 11
Marik 332 5 7
Liao 209 4 5

When MW1e said House currency was "measured in terms of industrial strength and the availability of important natural resources" (p103), I had no idea there would be an actual equation behind it. Approximately:
(Stars - 'Mechs*60 + 173)*(9/256) = strength of currency
The number of stars in a realm seems to be a proxy for that realm's natural and industrial resources. That's pretty fair, I think. "Mechs" is 1/100th of the House's annual 'Mech production, and seems to be a proxy for the House's military production in general. So we've got a pretty clear "guns and butter" situation. Not, y'know, clear enough to base a domain-building game on yet, but it's a step in the right direction.

The 9/256 factor is very interesting. Remember how Periphery realms get four worlds for free and then need two companies of 'Mechs for every world after? Well, there's 9 companies in a regiment and (per BF1e) 128 'Mechs in a regiment, so to garrison 9 extra worlds you would need 256 'Mechs. 

I don't know what the 173 is. Could be a logistical term which varies slightly from House to House for reasons I've yet to discover. Could be a meaningless term invented to put the currencies on a more attractive scale.