Hacking a System, the Consensus Method

One thing that I’ve been trying to do lately is talk with the players before each session about how they feel about the system and the various mechanics that I’ve been coming up with. It’s a good time for it because we’re generally just eating some dinner-type food, the kids are getting ready for bed and we’re all getting warmed up for hucking slave-slaads down slime-pits and then lowering the halfling down said pits on a rope.

Anyway, the player who’s playing the arcane spellcaster was talking about how because of the aggravated wound system connected to casting spells, that although it made magic mysterious and dangerous, it also resulted in the party just taking whole weeks off to rest up so that they can get rid of those piled-up wound points because, in a system where death is just one or two swings of an axe away, having those points missing is pretty huge. Although I was initially resistant, I could see his point, we had to take the efficiency of the meta-game into account just as much as¬†verisimilitude, and that doesn’t necessarily mean sacrificing the latter for the former.

So we added a new damage track.

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The Great Southern Swamp, a brief primer

Fenrecz lies directly north of a large delta that eventually turns into a much larger bay. The delta is a mix of swamp and marshland with some large channels/rivers cutting through it. A relatively high treeline and heavy fog impair visibility and the constantly shifting courses and currents of the channels, even the largest ones, make navigating it via boat a tricky endeavor, although one that’s attempted on a regular basis as it is still the best way to transport goods to and from Schelotto and other points south[1].

The most dangerous aspect of the Southern Swamps are the residents, most particularly the warring tribes of lizard men that are the dominant sentient inhabitants. Although many of the tribes have legends of when they fought with strange, demonic-like frog men, those times are well beyond living memory and most of their conflict is with whatever travelers attempt to move through the region or more frequently, with other lizard men.

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Bake Your Own Combat

Last time I covered how I’d cobbled together a magic system, which has been one of the two major mechanical issues I’ve had after deciding to “roll my own”. The other is combat, which I’ve decided to essentially wing, starting with something as simple as I can make it and adding stuff from there with the idea of coming up with something functional without being totally arcane.

Base actions have been pretty easy. An attack roll is Strength or Agility + Weapon skill. It is then compared to a target’s defense. Defense = Agility roll, unless the target is using an action to Dodge or Parry in which case it becomes either Agility + Athletics/Dodge or Agility + Weapon respectively.

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Ye Olde Magick Hacke

I mentioned earlier that I had been hacking a number of systems together for my current campaign. For magic, I had borrowed wholesale from the original Ars Magica because it’s still one of the most compelling magic systems out there and lends itself fairly easily to the cortex system and its basic methodology of multiple, often mis-matched dice.

The appeal of Ars Magica is mainly that it has an air of mystery and forbidden knowledge around the magical arts, creating a situation where the caster is truly a dispenser of esoteric and eldritch power rather than the D&D model, which tends to trend toward the banal in that casters become dispensers of certain pre-determined effects as the system’s been played for so long by so many people that there’s definitely an optimized “build” — as an example, any first-level magic user who shows up without Sleep (or possibly Prismatic Spray in Type 2) is generally given the hairy eyeball.

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In the Land of the Obliviax Eaters

From the desk of Humberto Malladonnina, scholar of Schelotto:

Obliviax, or “memory moss” is one of the most intriguing specimens for scholars of magical flora. For one thing, the most important attribute of the moss, the ability to absorb memories, is the most dangerous aspect of studying it.

There are two facts about obliviax that most people are unaware of:

  1. Those who ingest obiliviax moss in a certain amount gain not only the memories contained in the moss; they also develop a dependence on the moss, becoming consumed with the desire to attain more memories, through the moss if possible; through other means if necessary.
  2. An obliviax colony, having grown to a certain size and having attained a certain amount of memories, achieves sentience of its own, of a sort[1].

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Some Questions Answered

The excellent noisms made a post with a bunch of questions for RPG bloggers and even though this’ll wind up being the third post on the blog, anchors aweigh!:

Book binding. (I can’t be the only person who bemoans the way new rulebooks tend to fall apart like a sheaf of dry leaves after about 5 seconds of use).

The only books of mine that are falling apart is an original Unearthed Arcana that I got second-hand and the binding was failing well before it was passed on to me. All of my modern books are in pretty good shape; this is because I generally use pretty hacked-together systems and discourage use of books for anything other than looking up prices for things.

This is a general problem as books have been more and more crappily bound as they’ve become more mass-market (and because a lot of the old book-binding glues were toxic to work with and now we have some sort of workplace protection for people (this also applies to shoes, my uncles know the exact year cut-off for when Chuck Taylor All-Stars went from “the canvas will go first” to the soles constantly flapping off)).

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Fenrecz

Fenrecz is the main campaign city for the game that I’m currently running. Geographically, it sits in the middle of the Viridian Cliffs, a long stretch of sheer wall caused by some unknown seismic shift or magical disaster far in the world’s past. Here, a mighty river has carved a box canyon and a small settlement on the river banks has become a huge and complex city that takes up the whole of the box canyon, from wall to wall and from top to bottom. It’s loosely intended to be evocative of Vienna/Budapest of Early Modern times and is ruled by a mysterious Duke and his imposing copper-masked guards. The land to the north is scattered duchys and small holdings, southward is a great swamp delta where lizardmen and human bandits prey on merchant shipping.

As you may have guessed, Fenrecz is heavily influenced by Vornheim, as I bought Zak S’s supplement prior to designing it. As such, it’s chaotic and heavily vertical — not only are most of the buildings towers like you see in Vornheim, the entire city is build on top of older versions of itself, creating The Warrens, a labyrinth of causeways,¬†aqueducts, old buildings and foundations that sits underneath the city proper, where the Duke’s men dare not trespass and where the lawless of the city reside, although there are pockets of relative safety. There are also giant cisterns carved beneath the city, used mainly for eel-breeding (and, it is rumored, for the ready disposal of unwanted corpses). The main architectural feature of Fenrecz is a snake-like switchback road that criss-crosses the whole of the city, allowing trade goods to be transported to and from the docks that serve as the city’s north and south borders (the southern docks are well outside the city walls and essentially serve as a second, smaller and far more dangerous hamlet).

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