Saturday, January 25, 2014

Dicey Stunts

In case you haven't checked out the latest issue of See Page XX yet, I've written an article on Dicey Stunts expanding on the "Dicey Moves" section of the 13th Age core rulebook.  Regular readers will notice a striking similarity to the Mazarbul Gamble.  It's essentially just a cleaned up version of that.  However, if you have a GM who is hesitant to incorporate homebrewed material from just anyone's blog, they might be willing to accept content from See Page XX.


Monday, January 20, 2014

13th Age Options: The Wizard (Part 2)

In Part 1 of this article I covered the first half of the Wizard's cantrip list.  Here are the rest of the spells.

This one should be pretty self-explanatory.  Daylight can ruin a vampire's day, and there's the obvious application of blinding enemies with a bright flash of light.  You could also look to mimic the effect of a blasting spell like Lighting Bolt and call it a giant laser.

Daylight (3rd level spell)
Ranged Spell
Effect: The area Nearby is illuminated in full daylight, to the detriment of any creatures adversely affected by the sun (like Vampires).  This illumination lasts for the duration of the battle (or 5 minutes if out of combat).
5th Level: The duration of Daylight is 1d4 hours, and it affects 1d4 rooms in a dungeon (or similar area outside of a dungeon).
7th Level: The duration of Daylight is 2d4 hours, and it affects 2d4 rooms in a dungeon (or similar area outside of a dungeon).

Glitterdust (3rd level spell)
Ranged Spell
Target: 1d3 nearby enemies in a group with 60 HP or fewer.
Attack: Int + level vs MD (Dazed/Blind only)
Hit: The target is Dazed (Save Ends).
Natural 16+: the target is Blind instead (use Invisibility rules - any attacks have a 50% chance of missing).
Effect: Any Invisible targets become outlined, losing the benefit of invisibility, and any attempts at Stealth take a -10 penalty.
5th Level: 100 HP or fewer.
7th Level: 160 HP or fewer.
9th Level: 250 HP or fewer.

Sunburst (3rd level spell)
Ranged Spell
Target: 1d3 nearby creatures in a group, and any allies engaged with them.
Attack: Int + level vs PD
Hit: Targets are Blind (use Invisibility rules - any attacks have a 50% chance of missing) (Save Ends)
Miss: Targets are Dazed (Save Ends)
5th Level: 1d3+1 targets, and on a Natural 16+ a Hard Save ends the Blind condition.
7th Level: Hard Save Ends on any hit.
9th Level: Allies engaged with targets get a +5 bonus to PD against your attack.

Mage Hand
Who doesn't love the various versions of good ol' Bigby's Hand spells?  This one was almost too obvious...

Forceful Hand (3rd level spell)
Ranged Spell
Target: 1 medium-sized creature
Attack: Int + level vs PD
Hit:  4d12 damage and you push the target back up to Far Away.
Miss: Half damage
5th Level: 7d12 damage, and the hand can push Large creatures.
7th Level: 10d12 damage and if the target is medium it is also Prone (can stand up as part of its move action, but must succeed at a Normal Save to reach its intended destination).  
9th Level: 2d12 x 10 damage, and the hand can push huge creatures and knock large creatures Prone.

Grasping Hand (5th level spell)
Ranged Spell
Target: 1 medium-sized creature
Attack: Int + level vs PD
Hit: 7d12 damage and the hand grabs the target.  While grabbed, the target cannot make opportunity attacks or ranged attacks, and suffers a -5 penalty to disengage checks unless it first attacks the hand (all attacks against the hand are made against the Wizard's MD; the hand has no HP).  You can spend a move action each turn to sustain the hand (and the grab), but if the grabbed creature escapes roll an Easy Save; if you succeed you can spend a standard action to move the hand over to it and make the initial attack again.
Natural Even Miss: the target is grabbed.
Natural Odd Miss: half damage.
7th Level: 10d12 damage, and the hand can grab large creatures.
9th Level: 2d12 x 10, and the hand can grab huge creatures.

This one could be tough, but one way to look at it is using spells that can set things right or undo alterations.  Maybe even grant some arcane healing if you don't mind challenging the niche protection of the Cleric, Bard, etc. (not that I'm going to go there).  Or, play off of the thread motif to create Web.

Dispel Magic (3rd level spell)
Ranged Spell
Target: 1 object or creature affected by a spell or other magical effect cast by a creature with 100 HP or fewer, or if the caster isn't present in a Adventurer tier environment.
Attack: Int + level vs MD of the caster (or a DC appropriate to the environment)
Effect: The effects of the spell or magical effect end immediately.  If used on an ally suffering from a save-ends effect, the condition is removed, no save required.
5th Level: 160 HP or fewer, or a Champion tier environment.
7th Level: 250 HP or fewer, or an Epic tier environment.
9th Level: 500 HP or fewer, or an Iconic tier environment.

Web (5th level spell)
Ranged Spell
Target: 1d3 Nearby creatures in a group with 60 HP or fewer.
Attack: Int + level vs PD
Hit: The target is Stuck (Normal Save Ends)
Natural 16+: Hard Save Ends
7th Level: 100 HP or fewer, and the spell can target groups of creatures that are Far Away.
9th Level: 160 HP or fewer, and the spell targets 1d4+1 creatures in a group.

"Tricksy" spells work well here, including any Illusion effects.  Honestly you can probably get away with quite a bit here without breaking theme, including any Conjuration spell you can think of, and arguably many Abjuration spells.

Illusory Image (3rd level spell)
Ranged Spell
Attack: Int + level vs MD (attack made against any target that interacts with the image, with a failure indicating that they recognize it as an illusion).
Effect: You create an illusory image about the size of a medium-sized creature or smaller somewhere Nearby.  The image is purely visual, projecting no other sensory information.  You can sustain the image with a standard action, and it lasts as long as you can concentrate on sustaining it.
5th Level: You can create the image Far Away (provided you have line of sight to it), and the image can either be Large or smaller OR be Medium but with sound.
7th Level: You can create a Large or smaller image with full sensory information (except tactile).
9th Level: Your images can be Huge or smaller, with full sensory information (except tactile).

Obscuring Mist (3rd level spell)
Ranged Spell
Effect: You cause the space Nearby to fill with dense fog or mist.  Any creature in the mist, or attacking something inside of the mist, treats targets as Invisible (50% chance to miss outright, before even rolling an attack).  Targets engaged with each other in the mist can attack as normal.  Engaging or evading someone within the mist requires an appropriate skill check (likely Wis) against the target's MD+5.  You can sustain this spell with a Standard action each round, and the mist lasts 1d3 rounds after the first round it's not sustained.
5th Level: You can conjure the mist somewhere Far Away that you can see, and it fills the space Nearby to its center.
7th Level: The mist lasts until the end of a battle (or 5 minutes outside of combat) without needing to be sustained, and for 1d3 minutes after that in calm weather.  If exposed to moderate to strong winds, the mist instead dissipates in 1d3 rounds unless you use a Standard action to sustain it.

Because the Wizard already gets Fireball, which is the most obvious souped-up application of Spark, this cantrip might be somewhat redundant.  Of course if you're going for a Pyromancer-themed Wizard you can simply change damage types on certain spells.  Turning Acid Arrow into fire damage is a really easy way to make a Flame Arrow or Produce Flame spell.  Lightning Bolt might be a Flaming Sphere rolling its way across the battlefield.  A fire-based version of Denial might entail you summoning a bed of hot coals beneath the feet of your enemies.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

13th Age Options: The Wizard (Part 1)

I'm going in a different direction for this installment of 13th Age Options.  Instead of a list of new options for the Wizard, I'm going to explore an existing Wizard talent, Cantrip Mastery.  Any player who wants more variety of spells, including getting more control out of their Wizard, should seriously consider choosing Cantrip Mastery.

The simple fact is that this talent already gives a player carte blanche for creating new spells.  Instead of re-inventing the wheel, I'll provide some examples of new spells that can be created in this way, including some iconic ones that were not included in the core book.  These aren't meant to be a comprehensive list; use them as a baseline to create your own.  Not all of these spells are going to be geared toward use in a conventional fight, and some will be very situational, but that's the whole point.  A Wizard can create arcane formulae to solve whatever problem is at hand, and it makes sense that someone who can manipulate the very fabric of reality should be thinking outside the box.

As it turns out, I had a lot of ideas for cantrip-derived Wizard spells.  And they're pretty time-consuming to create.  Therefore, I'm splitting this article into two parts.  Click here for Part Two!

Cantrip Mastery

When turning Alarm into a daily option, the obvious routes are either defensive spells (though Wizards already get a lot of these, including the most iconic ones) or sonic-based spells (which can also apply to Ghost Sound).

Magic Circle Against Evil - see the 7th level Cleric spell "Circle of Protection."  Change it to a Standard action (because we don't want to upstage the Cleric).

Repulsion (3rd level spell)
Close Spell
Effect: For the rest of the battle any enemy that attempts to engage with you or an ally that you're engaged with must succeed at a Hard Save.
5th Level: An enemy that fails the save is bounced back and knocked Prone (they can stand up as part of their move action, but must succeed at a Normal Save to reach their destination).
7th Level: Enemies are bounced back with such force after failing a save that they take 4d10 damage.
9th Level:  6d10 damage.

Soundburst - see the 1st level Bard spell (starting at the 3rd level version).  Keep the damage dice, but don't add an ability modifier to damage (again, we don't want to upstage another class).

Arcane Mark
I immediately thought of the "Symbol of..." and "Power Word..." spells of previous editions of D&D.

Power Word Stun - (3rd level spell)
Ranged spell
Target: One nearby creature with fewer than 100 HP.
Attack: Int + level vs PD
Hit: The target is Stunned (save ends)
Natural Even Miss: the target is Weakened until the end of your next turn.
5th Level: 160 HP
7th Level: 250 HP (or 2 targets with 125 HP or fewer)
9th Level: 500 HP (or 2 targets with 250 HP or fewer)

Symbol of Sleep - (3rd level spell)
Special: takes several minutes to cast (so outside of combat).  You inscribe a magical rune on an object.
Trigger: a creature looks at the rune, reads it, touches it, or passes over it.
Effect: all nearby creatures (except you, if you're present) with 60 HP or fewer roll a Normal Save.  On a failure, they fall into an enchanted sleep for 3d10 minutes, and can only be woken up before that by magical means.  
5th Level: 100 HP
7th Level: 160 HP
9th Level: 250 HP

Ghost Sound
I can see this cantrip being used as a baseline for necromancy spells (things might change when the actual Necromancer class is published) and, like Alarm, sonic spells.

Ray of Enfeeblement (3rd level spell)
Ranged Spell
Target: 1 nearby creature
Attack: Int + level vs PD
Hit: 5d8 negative energy damage and the target is Weakened (Save Ends)
Miss:  Half damage
5th Level: 8d8 damage
7th Level: 8d12 damage, or 2 targets for 3d12 damage each.
9th Level: 4d4x10 damage, or 2 targets for 2d4x10 damage each.

Shatter (3rd level spell)
Close Spell
Target: All Nearby crystal, glass, ice, or objects of similar material.
Effect:  Target items shatter, and any such structures that a creature is standing on or under (i.e. standing on the surface of a frozen lake) must make a Hard Save to avoid damage (see p.186 Impromptu Damage chart) or other negative effects.
Special: this spell doesn't automatically get better by leveling, but when you're in higher-tier environments the impromptu damage will go up.  You'll also be hindering the plans of your higher-level enemies.  In practice, just prepare this in your lowest-level spell slot (whatever level that may be) and call it a day.
Note: Yes, this spell will destroy potion vials.  Unless the PCs take special precautions to insulate their potions, they should stay at Far Away range when the Wizard sets this off.

Soundburst - see the 1st level Bard spell (starting at the 3rd level version).  Keep the damage dice, but don't add an ability modifier to damage (again, we don't want to upstage another class).

If Knock normally helps you get through mundane doorways, a daily version might manipulate planar doorways.  Or if your vision of knock involves smashing the door open, then there's all kinds of object-destroying potential to be had.

Banish/Dismissal (5th level spell)
Ranged Spell
Target: 1 Nearby creature with 100 HP or fewer.
Attack: Int + level vs MD
Hit: The target is removed from play, sent to a dimension or plane of your choice.  Of course ripping holes in the barriers between realities usually results in some side effect.  You gain 1 cursed die (see the Bard's Balladeer talent) with the Icon associated with the banished creature, or with another Icon of the GM's choice (the Archmage, Diabolist, High Druid, Crusader, and the Great Gold Wyrm are all good candidates).  A roll of 1 or 2 might mean that something else came through the barrier, you opened another tear somewhere else accidentally, or the Icon has sensed what you've done and...taken an interest in you.
Miss: You gain 3 cursed dice with an appropriate Icon.
7th Level: 160 HP or fewer
9th Level: 250 HP or fewer

Destroy Object (3rd level spell)
Ranged Spell
Target: 1 Nearby object of any material, no bigger than a humanoid creature.
Attack: Int + level vs PD of the object's wielder (if applicable); true magic items are only destroyed on a natural 16+, otherwise on a hit they're taken out for the scene or battle.
Effect: The object is destroyed violently, and any creatures engaged with it are hit with shrapnel (see p.186 of the core rulebook for the Impromptu Damage table).
Level 5: The affected object can be Large or smaller.
Level 7: The affected object can be Huge or smaller.

Monday, January 13, 2014

13th Age Options: The Sorcerer

To an outside observer a Sorcerer and a Wizard might look like they're doing pretty much the same thing (slinging around arcane spells), but as an archetype the chaotic, random, untrained Sorcerer stands in stark contrast with the organized, studious, and intellectual Wizard.  In 13th Age the Sorcerer class lends itself well to being the "simpler" spellcaster, with a strong emphasis on destruction and raw, elemental power.  While the options at the class's disposal are consistent with that, there are a couple of issues with them from the perspective of some players.

The first is that since the Sorcerer is all about blowing stuff up as opposed to using utility and control spells, you reach a thematic saturation point pretty quickly and as a result the Sorcerer's spell list is much shorter than the Wizard's.  The problem isn't that this is the case, but rather the degree to which it's true.  At second level a Sorcerer isn't so much choosing which 5 spells out of its pool to use so much as which 1 spell out of its pool of 6 not to use.  That really doesn't make for much of an actual choice, as it basically boils down to: a) will I need Resist Energy? and b) if so which of these three at-wills can I live without?  More lower-level spells are most certainly in order.

The second problematic point is that while the Sorcerer talents are as a whole really well-done, the Wizard has some really awesome improvisational tools at its disposal in Cantrip Mastery and Vance's Polysyllabic Verbalizations.  Sure, it's consistent with the "well-prepared, over-planning, I-have-a-tool-for-everything" vision of many Wizards, but whose to say improvisational spellcasting is inconsistent with the Sorcerer's schtick?  As the beginning of the class description points out "Sorcerers are self-taught genius freaks with an intuitive mastery of magic and possibly some brain damage.  They tap into the icons' power with or without the icons' permission."  Emphasis mine.  Magic is quite literally in a Sorcerer's blood, so why shouldn't they be able to manipulate raw arcane energy into non-standard effects through sheer force of will?  The answer is, quite simply, there's no reason to bar the Sorcerer from that kind of power.  Hence, the Spell Shaper Talent for players who appreciate that kind of playstyle.

It's also worth considering that while Dicey Moves (or an expansion of that concept like The Mazarbul Gamble) are available to all PCs, such rules are more easily (and more commonly) applied to physical stunts.  That's not to say a GM can't use them to allow players more creative freedom in manipulating their spells, but it's less intuitive and it feels more like "breaking the rules."  Since magic isn't real we don't have any reference point as players for how it should work; we rely much more heavily on the mechanics and descriptions of things in the rules.  For physical stunts it's easy for a GM to make a ruling because things probably work much like they do in the real world (or the exaggerated and more cinematic world of action movies; either way it's something most GMs are familiar with).

New Sorcerer Talent

Spell Shaper
This talent functions much like the Wizard's talent "Vance's Polysyllabic Verbalizations," but without all of that stuffy, snooty spell re-naming.  Rather, when you spend a quick action (in addition to the standard action it takes to cast the spell) you're taking a little extra effort to pull in some extra, possibly unrelated, arcane energy from elsewhere in the aether.  Or maybe you're just twisting and contorting the existing arcane energy into something similar but slightly different.  Only Daily and Recharge spells have enough raw power to be affected in such a way.  You and your GM should collaborate on a mechanical effect to match the narrative description of how your spell is being altered.  

Unlike the more formulaic alterations that a Wizard makes by adding a few words, a Sorcerer's spell shaping harnesses the raw arcane forces present at that particular place, in that particular time.  Therefore, the extra effects produced are more likely to draw from the Sorcerer's present environment, the situation at hand, or even the people or creatures present.  It's very unlikely that a Sorcerer can produce the exact same extra effect twice, though different effects may be modeled by the same mechanics (for example, Dazed is a good workhorse Condition that can model a wide variety of things).  

Examples: You're fighting Drow with poisoned weapons, and harness the nearby poison energy to turn your Breath of the White from Cold to Poison damage.  In doing so, you've stripped all the poison from 1 enemy's weapons and/or person.  

In an iron-rich cave system, your Lightning Fork magnetizes some of the iron ore, causing a nearby enemy wearing metal armor to be yanked toward the wall, Stuck for a round.

Later on, while fighting in the open under an overcast sky that threatens storms, your Lightning Fork causes a thunderstorm to spring up then and there, restricting visibility and making the ground a muddy mess.

Adventurer Feat: Once per day after you've gathered power, you have enough raw arcane potential to use Spell Shaper on a double-strength at-will spell.
Champion Feat: You can use Spell Shaper on an at-will spell after gathering power twice per day.
Epic Feat: Once per day instead of gaining the normal benefits of Spell Shaper, you can pull an expended Daily spell out of the aether, but you must use it during this battle or it's lost.

New Sorcerer Spells

Chromatic Orb (1st level)
Ranged spell
Target: 1d3 nearby enemies in a group

Attack: Cha + level vs PD
Hit: 2d10 + Cha damage, roll a D6 to determine which color was active upon impact.
1: Red - Fire damage + 5 Ongoing
2: Orange - Thunder damage and the target is Dazed (normal save ends)
3: Yellow - Lightning damage and roll an attack against one additional nearby enemy determined at random.
4: Green - Acid damage + 5 Ongoing
5: Blue - Cold damage and the target is Stuck (normal save ends)
6: Purple - Psychic damage and one target is Confused until the end of your next turn.
Miss: Half damage

3rd Level: 4d8 damage
5th Level: 6d10; red and green deal 10 ongoing damage, Orange becomes Weakened instead of Dazed, Blue becomes Stuck and Dazed.
7th Level: 2d6 x 10; Red and Green deal 10 ongoing damage, Orange becomes Weakened instead of Dazed, Blue becomes Stuck and Dazed, Purple becomes two targets.
9th Level: 4d4 x 10; Red and Green deal 20 ongoing damage, Orange becomes Stunned instead of Dazed, Blue becomes Stunned instead of Stuck, Purple becomes two targets, and Confused becomes normal save ends.

Flame Mantle (1st Level)
Close Spell
Target: Personal

Effect: For the rest of the battle, any enemy engaged with you at the end of their turn takes 2d4 fire damage.

3rd Level: 2d6 damage, and you gain Resist Cold 12+ until the end of the battle.
5th Level: 3d8 damage, and this spell can now be cast as a quick action.
7th Level: 5d8 damage, and your Resist Cold increases to 16+.
9th Level: 7d8 damage, and you take half damage from all natural odd attacks.

Ball Lightning (3rd Level)
Ranged Spell
Recharge 16+
Special: When you cast this spell, you can choose to cast it recklessly.  If you do, gain a chaotic benefit as if you'd gathered power.
Target: 1d2 nearby enemies in a group.  If you cast recklessly, this increases to 1d3+1 enemies in a group, but allies engaged with any of the targets may take damage as well (see below).

Attack: Cha + level vs PD
Hit: 5d6 + Cha lightning damage
Miss: Half damage
Reckless Miss: Your allies engaged with the target take one fourth damage.

5th Level: 4d10 damage
7th Level: 6d12 damage
9th Level: 10d12 damage

Ice Javelins (3rd Level)
Ranged Spell
Recharge 11+
Target: 2 nearby creatures.

Attack: Cha + level vs PD
Hit: 2d8 +Cha Cold damage and the target is Stuck until the end of your next turn.
Miss: Half damage.

5th Level: 4d8 damage
7th Level: 6d8 damage
9th Level: 8d8 damage

Adventurer Feat: Stuck becomes Normal Save Ends.
Champion Feat: On a natural even miss the target is Stuck.
Epic Feat: This spell becomes Recharge 6+ and on a natural 16+ the target is Stunned instead of Stuck.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Fate Accelerated Edition (FAE): First Impressions

I recently purchased PDFs of Fate Accelerated Edition and Fate Core because Fate appears to be a really popular game right now, and I was intrigued by the concept of using its Zones for 13th Age.  They're definitely worth picking up even if you're only slightly interested, because they're Pay What You Want on DriveThruRPG, and that includes free.  I'll tackle FAE first because at 48 pages (and it's not a particularly dense book), I was able to breeze right through it.

Fate is a highly narrative universal RPG that uses Fate or Fudge Dice, though you can easily use regular d6s as well.  FAE is the "lite" version of the game, with minimal rules ideal for players who don't like a lot of "crunch."  It appears to be a good game for introducing new people to RPGs (if they're the type who will latch onto the storytelling aspect of the hobby), and especially kids since they can let their imagination run wild and there are simple mechanics to back up their crazy ideas.

Each character has 3-5 Aspects (free-form statements about that character that can be invoked and compelled for mechanical benefits), a rating in each of 6 Approaches (a more active, narrative version of ability scores), one or more Stunts (like Aspects they're narratively driven, but they're much more specific), a Refresh rate for Fate points, and a Stress/Consequences track.  That's it.

To perform actions that carry a risk of failure you roll 4 Fate/Fudge dice, add any bonuses from your relevant Approach, any Aspects that you can invoke, and/or possibly a Stunt, and then you compare the results to the Ladder (DC/TN) or your opponent's roll.  While each PC has a list of Character Aspects, Aspects also come into play with situational environmental conditions, advantages created by a PC's actions, or Consequences (which are Aspects created when you suffer negative consequences from the opposition, such as taking damage).

Some examples of Aspects:

  • Sarah has my back (Character Aspect)
  • Suncaller of the Andral Desert (Character Aspect)
  • On Fire (Situation Aspect describing the environment)
  • Distracted (Boost, which is an aspect created when a PC used a Create Advantage action)
  • Broken Leg (Consequence)
Again, as a universal system you can do pretty much any setting or genre with this game, though some will work better than others.  One of the main examples throughout the book is a Harry Potter type game (without actually coming out and saying it), and as I was reading the rules I couldn't help but think how perfect it would be for that purpose.  I've always been surprised that an official Harry Potter RPG has never been published (at least not to my knowledge), but every time I've thought about it I couldn't help thinking what a nightmare it would be to come up with spells and actually have them translated to RPG mechanics.  That was thinking from the perspective of a more crunchy baseline, though.  In a narrative game like Fate, spells are easy; they just do what they do in the Harry Potter books.  

Of course since this flexibility is a direct result of minimal mechanics with a high narrative burden, it puts a lot of responsibility on the players and, especially, the GM to keep the game vibrant and interesting.  Everyone at the table is going to have to judge what kinds of Aspects best fit with the collective vision for their specific game.  This goes beyond the example in the book of "don't define an Aspect that lets you use magic if magic doesn't exist in the setting."  Because Aspects are so broad, they can model things as disparate as class features in D&D, investigative abilities in Gumshoe, or Smallville's Relationships.  Games of dungeon-delving murder hobos, investigative mysteries, and character-based soap opera games are all very different styles, and while they're all valid, they probably won't mix well in the same party.

This sort of comes with the territory of a narrative game, but it's especially important to keep in mind in a universal game like Fate.  Dungeon World is a narrative game, but it has a pretty clear style in mind and specific mechanics to support that style.  Unfortunately the GM section of FAE is really sparse.  This helps to keep the page length down, but for what would otherwise be a very good introductory game for new players I would hate to GM for the first time based solely on what FAE offers.  Even experienced GMs more accustomed to traditional games could benefit from more guidance here.  My guess is that Fate Core is more substantial on this front, and while that means FAE might not be a "complete" product for some groups, at least the Fate Core pdf can be picked up for free.

Closing Thoughts
The main reason I was interested in this game was to use some of the ideas from it for 13th Age.  While FAE touches on Zones only briefly, knowledge of Aspects can also help when crafting and adjudicating 13th Age Backgrounds and One Unique Thing.  I'm not sure whether or not I would actually run a Fate game, but if I were to try to sell my group on running this style of game FAE would be an ideal starting point.  It's dirt simple, doesn't require much effort or buy-in to get started, and by its very nature it only contains the most important, core concepts of the system.  My players would definitely want more crunch, but narrative-defined mechanics like Aspects are their own kind of fun.  

It's also a nice game to have in your back pocket.  If half the group can't show up to a session of your regular game, or if the GM TPK'd the party halfway through the session, FAE would make a great backup since character creation is super-quick and you can just jump right in and get down to business.

I'm expecting to get more out of Fate Core (when I get around to reading that; I've got a substantial reading list at the moment), but FAE has its own niche and I can see why some groups really like it.

Addendum: I've since played the game, and posted an article with further thoughts.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Mazarbul Bestiary: Large Solo Black Dragon

After reading a series of articles about re-structuring the way solo monsters are handled in D&D 4E at The Angry DM (The D&D Boss Fight Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4), I began to think about how this concept might be applied to 13th Age.  In short, the Boss Fight system consists of splitting a solo monster stat block into 3 different stat blocks with 1/3 of the HP of an appropriate solo.  This splits the fight into 3 stages which keeps the fight dynamic and provides a better sense of progress.  Later-design (post MM3) sensibilities are also followed, such as increasing the action economy, spreading out solo actions, and giving them resistances to certain control conditions.

In 13th Age solo monsters don't really exist as their own discrete category.  Rather, a Large monster is designed to be as powerful as two same-level normal monsters, and a Huge monster is the equivalent of three same-level monsters.  In practice, I've found that they don't function that well if run as true solos, though I have heard of people using monsters several levels higher than the party as solos and having it work.

Another key to a good solo battle is a dynamic environment, which is covered in the D&D Boss Fight articles but also addressed directly within the monster design with the Worldbreaker system on the blog At-Will.  Consider the difference between a generic fight with a red dragon in its treasure hoard where it simply trades blows with the party (given that a major complaint about 4E solos is that they were just "sacks of hit points" leads me to believe that this is a common scenario) and the action-packed final sequence from The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (which, while arguably over-the-top, would make a pretty awesome RPG boss battle).

To kick things off I'll design a solo version of a Large Black Dragon, which is a Double-Strength Large  (yep, I'm stacking them) 6th Level wrecker in the core rulebook.  I've taken elements from both Boss Fight and Worldbreaker, though I've opted to keep things simple and avoid splitting the dragon up into 3 separate stat blocks when just 1 will do.  Mechanically, the Solo Speed trait does a lot of the heavy lifting in terms of making this Large creature function as two enemies without changing around the dragon's attacks too much, as it now acts on two different initiative slots.  While debilitating control effects are less of an issue in 13th Age compared with 4E, Draconic Toughness is still a good way of preventing the PCs from wrecking its action economy and turning it into a big sack of hit points to be beaten down with impunity.

Some notable changes from the published stat block are the replacement of ongoing damage from the dragon's main attack to a more narrative secondary effect that lets the dragon use its environment to its advantage.  The effect of having 3 stat blocks is replicated by the addition of two special trigger powers that separate the 3 stages of the battle.  While somewhat clunky, negating overflow damage on the dragon and the PC respites (both from Boss Fight) are written directly into these powers; this is probably less clunky than 3 stat blocks, though.  The first trigger power also increases the frequency of the secondary trigger on the dragon's main attacks (in later stages it's no longer toying around with the PCs, but trying to use the environment to wreck them), and the second trigger power swaps out the Draconic Grace trait with Acidify Environment.  By stage 3, the dragon is injured and desperate, bleeding and spitting acid just about everywhere.  It should probably be making judicious efforts to escape unless the PCs are hanging on by a thread.

As far as balance is concerned, the fact that this dragon is getting two free action trigger powers might make it seem more powerful than 2 regular large black dragons, but the PC respites probably balance this out, plus there's the fact that 2 dragons would have two chances of using Draconic Grace each round.  The solo is probably a little tougher than 2 core rulebook dragons, but not by as much as it would first appear.  The more hand-wavey, narrative trigger of the dragon's main attack also gives the GM more leeway to take it easy if the party is having a tough time, or really showcase the danger of the environment if they're doing too well.

Large Solo Black Dragon
Double Strength Large 6th Level Wrecker (Solo)
Initiative +13
Vulnerability: thunder


This dragon has all of the traits that a Large Black Dragon from pg. 220 of the core book has, including Escalator, Flight, Draconic Grace, Intermittent Breath, Water Breathing, and Resist Acid 16+.  It also has the following Traits:

Solo Superiority:  The Dragon has two initiative slots, one at its rolled initiative result and the other at its rolled initiative +10.  It can make saves at the end of both turns, but it only takes ongoing damage on its first turn (Initiative +10).

Draconic Toughness: All Saves that this dragon makes gain a +5 bonus.  The Dragon immediately rolls a Hard Save (Normal with the bonus) if subjected to the Stunned or Confused condition.  On a success, it's Weakened instead.

Claws, bite, or tail sweep +11 vs AC (2 attacks) - 18 damage
Natural 16+, or Natural Even Hit if ≤ 214 HP: the target is flung into a dangerous or inconvenient environmental hazard.  Choose an option from the Sample Environments section, or improvise your own to match your game's narrative.
Natural even miss: half damage if the target was a different enemy than the last one the dragon attacked, including if the attack made on the dragon's previous turn.
Special: the dragon gains a +4 bonus to AC vs opportunity attacks if it moves after making this attack, including if it uses its first action on its next turn to move.

C: Acid breath +11 vs PD (1d3 nearby enemies) - 20 acid damage, and 10 ongoing acid damage.
Miss: 10 acid damage.

[Special Trigger] Murky water flyby - When the dragon is reduced to 214 HP it disappears (remove it from play), ignoring any damage from the triggering attack that takes it below 214 HP.  Each PC can spend a Recovery and either regain a 1/battle power OR immediately roll to recharge a power.  After 1 round (during which the Escalation Die does not increase), all PCs make a DC 25 Perception check.  If they succeed, they can take an opportunity attack against the dragon.  If they fail, they take 4d6 damage.  Place the dragon anywhere nearby, and give it an additional use of Acid Breath.  Note that the trigger of its claws, bite, or tail sweep attack also changes at this point.

[Special Trigger] Wrath of the injured - When the dragon is reduced to 107 HP it immediately uses Acid breath as a free action, even if it normally would not have any more uses of it, and ignores any damage from the triggering attack that would take it lower than 107.  It also counts as Staggered, loses the Draconic Grace trait, and instead gains the Acidify Environment trait.  Each PC can spend a Recovery after the attack from an increase in morale at seeing the dragon visibly injured.

Acidify Environment: Any enemy that ends its turn adjacent to the dragon automatically takes 10 acid damage.  After one round of possessing this trait, any nearby unengaged enemies also automatically take 5 acid damage.

AC 22
PD 20             HP 320 (214, 107)
MD 18

Example Environments:
Deep Water with Mucky Bottom - The PC makes a DC 20 check to avoid becoming stuck in the muck and to swim to the edge of the deep water in 2 move actions.  If the check beats a DC 25 instead, the PC does this in a single move action.  If they fail, they're stuck underwater until the next turn.
Thrown against a Wall - The PC takes an additional 2d12 damage and is Prone.  Standing up can be done as part of a move action, but if you wants to move anywhere else you must succeed at a Normal Save (11+).  While prone you are Vulnerable to melee attacks, but ranged attacks made against you take a -2 penalty.
Thrown Behind an Obstacle - The PC is on the other side of a pit, a geyser, high on a ledge, thrown off a small cliff, etc.  Usually this will take a DC 25 skill check to overcome the environment in a way that makes narrative sense.  Depending on the environment, a failure should either result in 10 damage or cause the PC to take two move actions instead of one to get back in the fight.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

New Year, New Game Sale at DriveThruRPG!

The sale items can be found here.  In total there are 88 items that are half off, with some examples that caught my eye being Call of Cthulu, Dungeon Crawl Classics, Pendragon, Legend of the Five Rings, Leverage, Numenera, Savage Worlds, Savage Suzerain, Spellbound Kingdoms, and Werewolf: The Apocalypse.  I've been meaning to check out Spellbound Kingdoms for a while now, and at that price there's no reason not to!

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Mazarbul Bestiary: Iron Sea Lobster Behemoth

This is the first article with the "Mazarbul Bestiary" tag.  This series is pretty self-explanatory; I'll provide unique monsters, enemies, or NPCs for the various game systems that I cover.  We'll kick things off with a custom creation for 13th Age.

I created the Iron Sea Lobster Behemoth to be a solo that isn't a solo.  The main body of the creature is a Huge 5th level creature, but it has two claws that act as 4th level spoilers, as well as 6 tentacles that act as a group of 5th level mooks.  So while it's mechanically multiple monsters, it's narratively just one.  This solves the action economy problems of solos in D&D 4E, but it's admittedly not an elegant solution for every large creature.  It works for a giant lobster because everybody's seen crabs walking around on the beach with missing claws, and it's feasible to say that even if the body is killed the claws might still reflexively attack (though I'd advise any GMs running this to just end the encounter when the body is killed, even if there are claws and/or tentacles left).  Plus the tentacles are supposed to evoke a Cthulu-esque vibe.  I certainly wouldn't use this option with a dragon, for example.

Iron Sea Lobster Behemoth Body
Huge 5th Level Troop               Initiative +7
Fear Aura 24 HP
Stomping Scuttle + 10 vs AC (3 attacks) - 18 damage
R Acidic Brine (1d4 nearby enemies in a group) +10 vs PD - 15 acid damage and 5 ongoing.

Resist 16+ Fire

AC 20
PD 19               HP 220
MD 15

Claws x2
4th Level Spoiler                 Initiative +8
Special: the claws can intercept independently
Grabbing Claw +9 vs AC - 14 damage
Natural Even Hit: The target is grabbed (-5 to disengage checks unless the target hits the claw with an attack first, and the target cannot make opportunity attacks or ranged attacks)

AC 21
PD 19             HP 56
MD -

Tentacles x6
5th Level Mook                  Initiative +8
Special: the tentacles can intercept independently
Stinging Grasp + 10 vs PD - 8 damage
16+: The target is also Dazed.

AC 20
PD 18            HP 18, 36, 54, 72, 80, 98
MD -

Building Battles
By default an Iron Sea Lobster Behemoth is most likely going to be encountered on the rocky shores east of the Sea Wall.  As a solo it's designed to work alone, and since it's a pretty mindless, hunger-driven monstrosity it's unlikely to have any allies.  Perhaps it could pop up as a 3rd party during a conflict (drawn by the sounds of battle, or by the scent of blood).  To increase the threat level have the encounter take place in shallow water (or have the tides rapidly flow in during the battle).  This way the claws can hold a PC underwater after they're grabbed, changing the tactical landscape to "lop off that claw before Bob dies!"  Also keep in mind the ability of the claws and tentacles to intercept melee PCs.  The lobster behemoth will do all it can to protect its soft underbelly, and that means keeping potential threats at a distance (or at least Dazed).  It will probably seek out the squishiest PC to make a meal of, softening them up with its acidic brine, but it won't foolishly consume an unconscious meal while being attacked (it may try to drag it underwater though!).

The Diabolist: While the origins of Iron Sea Lobster Behemoths are unknown (as is the case with most of the monsters that drag their hefty forms out of the Iron Sea), the tolerance that the creatures have for fire have led some to suspect that they're spawned in underwater Hellholes.  The Diabolist probably knows whether or not that's true, but she's not letting anyone else in on her secret.  Some whisper that that's because even though they're of demonic origin, she's failed to control them.
The High Druid: Her forces have been guarding the Dragon Empire (or perhaps more accurately, the Wild Wood) from anything that gets over the Sea Wall.  That includes these creatures, if one were to ever venture far enough from the sea to be a threat.  Oddly enough, smugglers have brought back rumors of druids and their agents going beyond the Sea Wall to take lobster behemoths out.  Such tales lend credence to the "demonic origins" theories, or at the very least suggest that they're not natural.  Or maybe the druids are harvesting body parts for some ritualistic reason...
The Lich King: Didn't expect his name on this list, did you?  He definitely animates skeletons, and exoskeletons are skeletons too.  He's the only icon to have exerted control over lobster behemoths, albeit after they were already dead.

Adventure Hooks
Sea Wall Ruins - A scholar from Horizon has been reading up on the history of the ruins along the Sea Wall, and has reason to believe a legendary weapon lies there, after its wielder was slain defending the doomed fortress.  What he didn't know was that the Iron Sea has recently eroded the shoreline right up to the walls of the fortress, which a lobster behemoth has claimed as its lair.
Quest for Caviar - A druid from the Blood Wood has put a call out to adventurers to collect lobster behemoth eggs.  Several groups have already been sent out, but none have returned yet.  Are the PCs hired by the druid to do what others could not, or by someone else who wants to see what the druid is up to?  Does the High Druid herself even approve of this quest?
Origin Story - A hellhole near the Iron Sea (perhaps the mapped one south of the Spider Wood) has started emanating a briny, sea-air smell.  Has it become flooded?  Is there a lobster behemoth spawning there?  Is the Lich King using this as a staging area for the creation of (exo)Skeleton minions?  What does the Crusader have to say about the prospect of hellholes beneath the surface of the Iron Sea itself?  These are the types of questions you'd have the luxury of asking if your pay grade was higher.  Too bad you're just the guy they hired to scout it out.
Retrieval - Imperial soldiers patrolling the area outside of the fort on Cape Thunder were attacked by a lobster behemoth.  One of them was killed, dragged underwater, and presumably eaten.  Sad as that was, he happened to be carrying something very valuable that his companions would like back.  They're sure as hell not going after the beast themselves, though.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Asteroid Mine Ambush

This is the first article with the new "set-pieces" tag.  So what does this tag mean?  Episode 11 of the Order 66 Podcast (titled "The GM Holocron") promotes the idea of GMs keeping a campaign binder filled with various "set pieces," which are generic scenarios that you can inject into your game for when your players go off the rails, or if you tend towards a more improvisational style of GMing.  Each set piece has some enemies statted out that can be re-skinned to fit the current situation, as well as a dynamic environment with plenty of things for the PCs to interact with.  In short, it lets you add "planned" encounters to your game when you're winging it, preventing the boring or unbalanced stuff that a GM may come up with on-the-fly if they're put on the spot and can't think of anything interesting.

Because I've already expanded the scope of this blog since its inception (which was to cover D&D 4E), I'm planning on supporting multiple systems with this tag, and hopefully the set pieces will be generic enough that they can be injected into any game of similar genre.  But to kick things off, we'll keep in theme with Order 66 and do a Star Wars set piece.  Since a common problem that some players have with the system is making space combat exciting, the PCs will be piloting starfighters.

FFG's Star Wars: Edge of the Empire (or Age of Rebellion), though it can be pretty easily adapted to any space opera or sci-fi setting.

The PCs are in a facility that's part of an asteroid mining complex when it's attacked by some capital ships or warships.  There's a starfighter hangar attached, and the PCs need to fly fighters to the main hangar to either get to their own ship, or find a ship with hyperdrive capabilities and escape.

A defense array with many turrets will funnel the fighters below their scaffolding, forcing everyone to fly amongst pipes, support beams, and some geothermal vents.  This is where all the dogfighting is taking place.  A capital ship is bombarding the main hangar, so there's time pressure to get there before it's destroyed.  Optionally depending on the situation, the facility's inhabitants as well as the attackers are both adversaries to the PCs (I used this in game where the PCs were imprisoned in the facility)

The mining complex is sited on a large asteroid at the edge of an asteroid field.  There are multiple buildings on its surface, but the two main ones that concern the PCs are the one that they're in (which contains a small fighter hangar), and the main hangar.  These buildings are at opposite ends of the defense system; flying above it would be suicide, so the PCs will have to maneuver through the support structures.  Going around the defense system will place them in the asteroid field (the turrets cover all of the clear space), which will not only take longer but may arguably be more dangerous.

Optionally, the PCs may have to fight their way through the starting building to get to the starfighter hangar.  This may be because the attackers boarded the facility already, or the defending inhabitants are simply adversaries of the PCs.  They'll have to make their way through a large warehouse room containing crates upon crates of whatever materials are being mined on the asteroid (the crates stop about 2/3 of the way to the hangar doors, at Medium range from them).  A large pipe has fallen from the ceiling due to a heavy hit from one of the capital ships, and is now on the ground across the warehouse venting hot steam (at Long range from the hangar doors).  A loader crane sits on one side of the room (near the wall left or right of where the PCs start from) just before the pipe, and at the other end of the room are the hangar doors (at Extreme range from the starting point), which can be opened via computer terminals on the walls to either side.

Once the PCs get into their fighters and exit the hangar, they'll need to make it to the main hangar.  While traversing under the defense system, PCs should be faced with at least 3 "checkpoints" where they'll need to make rolls.  The first should be Piloting checks (Normal or Hard) to test how well they're able to maneuver through the support structures (failure should result in a minor collision).  They should also move through an area of heavy dogfighting and be engaged by enemy fighters (with any maneuver requiring a Piloting check while dogfighting amongst the beams and pipes; add setback dice to this), and the third checkpoint should be moving through the geothermal vents (or broken piping that's venting flaming gas).  After making it through, they'll need to either deal with the capital ship, or make it in and out of the hangar before it's completely destroyed.  Remember to lead each "checkpoint" with some colorful narrative description to paint a vivid picture of how these fighters are forced to weave around all of these obstacles.

Once the PCs are in a ship and flying out of the main hangar, they should make a Piloting check as the capital ship blasts half of the exit apart.

In the facility, the PCs should see the silhouettes of a minion group on the other side of the steaming pipe.  They can sneak past them by using the crates for most of the way, or they might use the crane or computer terminals to their advantage somehow (reward creativity!).  If they stop the steam at one of the terminals, their enemies will know someone's present (but if they don't, they'll need to make Resilience, Coordination, or some other appropriate physical check to resist being scalded when they pass through).  If they give away their position a stronger foe joins the fight (this will probably happen once they leave the cover of the crates even if they successfully bypass the minions).

When I ran this, I used B2 super battle droids for the minions, and a droideka for the strong enemy.  Other options from the core rule book are Apprentice Bounty Hunters and either a Journeyman or Master hunter, Stormtroopers and a Stormtrooper Sergeant, or Pirate Crew and a Pirate Captain.  The Pirates in particular make good generic enemies that can be reskinned as almost anything.  Note that unless the group is very combat-capable, they should probably try to get past the strong enemy as quickly as possible as opposed to killing it.

For the starfighters, make sure that the opposing forces have different types (this is really easy if the attackers are Imperial, as they were when I ran this for my group, since you can simply use TIEs).  It's important that whatever is in the hangar available for the PCs is not hyperspace-capable (because that would defeat the purpose of getting to the main hangar).  CloakShapes and Headhunters are both good options, but I also threw in a double-seater Y-Wing without an astromech to make potentially engaging with a capital ship (I used Nebulon B's) less suicidal.  I've found that running starfighters in minion groups of 2 or 3 makes for more exciting starfighter combat.  Also remember that if the PCs opt to take the asteroid field, you'll want to spice it up by having a squadron of enemy fighters chase them in there.

If attacking or being pursued while in the starfighters, blow up some support beams, a pipe, or an asteroid (or fly close to them if just Piloting) such that debris hits enemy ships, causing a minor collision.

In the warehouse, an action that might reasonably cause one of the crates to topple spills crushed ore somewhere really inconvenient for the enemies (perhaps even on top of one of the minions).

While Piloting, you suffer a major collision after being struck by debris or clipping a structure or asteroid.

If flying through the geothermal vents, the heat causes your cockpit to fog up, impairing vision.