Monday, December 17, 2007

Dark Tide: True Vampires

The Dark Tide is a name for a gothic vampire-hunting setting I worked on with another fellow for a time- perhaps we'll have a finished d20 Modern supplement to show for it someday. At any rate, one of my creations for the setting was a sort of alternate vampire conception, the heaviest inspiration for which was manga Hellsing. Read on for the template and some related material.

Creation: A True Vampire is created when a human possessing sufficient force of will has their blood drained by another True Vampire or a No Life King.
Appearance: At first True Vampires appear just as they did in life. However, their true appearance often changes over time; those who have seen several centuries often appear notably greyed and emaciated, while those who have gone berserk too often tend to have hard, feral features remniscent of wolves. Their are a number of other subtle clues; most vampires cast no shadows and do not appear in mirrors, as well as the fact that their eyes are red and in fact emit a small amount of light.

“Vampire” is an acquired template that can be added to any humanoid or monstrous humanoid creature (referred to hereafter as the base creature).
A vampire uses all the base creature’s statistics and special abilities except as noted here.
Size and Type: The creature’s type changes to undead (augmented humanoid). Do not recalculate base attack bonus, saves, or skill points. Size is unchanged.
Hit Dice: Increase all current and future Hit Dice to d12s.
Speed: Same as the base creature. If the base creature has a swim speed, the vampire retains the ability to swim and is not vulnerable to immersion in running water (see below).
Armor Class: The base creature’s natural armor bonus improves by +3.
Attack: A vampire retains all the attacks of the base creature and also gains a slam attack if it didn’t already have one. If the base creature can use weapons, the vampire retains this ability. A creature with natural weapons retains those natural weapons. A vampire fighting without weapons uses either its slam attack or its primary natural weapon (if it has any). A vampire armed with a weapon uses its slam or a weapon, as it desires.
Full Attack: A vampire fighting without weapons uses either its slam attack (see above) or its natural weapons (if it has any). If armed with a weapon, it usually uses the weapon as its primary attack along with a slam or other natural weapon as a natural secondary attack.
Damage: Vampires have a slam attack, dealing 1d6 bludgeoning damage.
Special Attacks: A vampire retains all the special attacks of the base creature and gains those described below. Saves have a DC of 10 + 1/2 vampire’s HD + vampire’s Cha modifier unless noted otherwise.
Blood Drain (Ex): A vampire can suck blood from a living victim with its fangs by making a successful grapple check. If it pins the foe, it drains blood, dealing 1d4 points of Constitution drain each round the pin is maintained. On each such successful attack, the vampire gains 5 temporary hit points.
Create Spawn (Su): A humanoid or monstrous humanoid whose Constitution is drained to 0 or lower by a vampire will rise again in one of two forms. If the victim was a "dog", they rise again as a ghoul 1d4 rounds after their death (See the Ghoul entry). If the victim was a "human", they instead slowly transform into a vampire, reawakening 2d10 hours after their transformation and immediately entering a blood fury (see below).
Special Qualities: A vampire retains all the special qualities of the base creature and gains those described below.
Blood Fury (Ex): In an action that is extremely dangerous to both their enemies and themselves, a vampire may spend two point's worth of blood to draw upon their savage inner instincts and enter a berserk rage. This is a free action that may be performed at will, but a vampire must also make a DC 15 will save to avoid berserking involuntary whenever they lose more than half their remaining hit points to a single attack. While in a blood fury, a vampire gains a +8 bonus to Strength, a +4 bonus to Dexterity, a +3 bonus to their natural armor, 3 additional points of Fast Healing, 2 temporary hit points per level, and a bite attack. This bite attack deals 1d6 points of damage plus the vampire's strength modifier; a vampire that successfully deals damage with a bite attack may attempt to initiate a grapple as a free action without provoking an attack of opportunity. (Note that the circumstances in which a vampire may drain blood are unchanged) While in a blood fury, a vampire cannot use any Charisma-, Dexterity-, or Intelligence-based skills (except for Balance, Escape Artist, Intimidate, and Tumble), the Concentration skill, or any abilities that require patience or concentration, nor can he cast spells or activate magic items that require a command word, a spell trigger (such as a wand), or spell completion (such as a scroll) to function. He can use any feat he has except Combat Expertise, item creation feats, and metamagic feats. A vampire remains in a blood fury for a number of rounds equal to their level, though they may simply choose to renew the berserk state once more. A vampire may prematurely end his blood fury with a DC 15 will save, attemptable once per round; the berserk state also ends prematurely if the vampire is reduced to 0 hit points or less. At the end of the the blood fury, the vampire loses the various modifiers and restrictions as well as 2 hit points per character level. In addition, the blood fury has another dangerous drawback. Whenever a vampire enters or renews a blood fury, they lose 4 points of intelligence, wisdom and charisma. The amount of points lost is halved, rounding down, every hour that the vampire goes without entering a blood fury. When the penalty would be reduced except that it has already reached -1, the vampire instead must make a will save (DC 10+the number of hours they've spent in a weakened mental state). If they succeed the penalty is negated, but if they fail the final -1 penalty to all three ability scores is permanent. If the the penalties from a blood fury ever equal or exceed one of the vampire's mental ability scores, they immediately fall unconscious and must make another DC 15 will save or reawaken the next round as vampire spawn (See the Vampire Spawn entry).
Blood Reserve (Su): Vampires's bodies do not naturally produce blood; they must steal it from others. A vampire's supply of blood is dependent upon their strength and dexterity scores; every point's worth of blood they spend is represented by a -1 penalty to both scores. These penalties stack and can only be healed by draining points of constitution, on a 1 for 1 basis. If the penalties ever equal or exceed a vampire's strength or dexterity they fall into a coma, their bodies slowly drying out as they take on the appearance of a mummified corpse. Even a single drop of blood upon their bare skin is enough to reduce the penalties by one, allowing the vampire to move about once more.
Curse of the Dawn (Su): From sunrise to sunset, vampires are disoriented, taking a –2 penalty on attack rolls, saving throws, and skill checks. In addition, exposure to even the smallest amount of direct natural sunlight causes the vampire to lose all fast healing and take 2d10 points of damage per round. A vampire reduced to -10 hit points by this damage erupts into flames and burns to ashes, permanently destroyed. Even normal light interacts oddly with a vampire; they cast no shadows and do not appear in mirrors.
Curse of Gaia (Su): Piercing weapons made of any sort of plant material (typically wood) may deal critical hits to vampires. Not only that, but on a natural 20 to confirm a critical hit the weapon pierces the vampire's heart, paralyzing them until it is removed. Also, wild garlic repulses the vampire, forcing them to make a DC 15 will save in order to enter a 5-ft. square containing it or to attack something bearing it. If the vampire's fangs pierce wild garlic, it paralyzes their jaw and negates their fast healing.
Curse of the Holy Sigil (Su): A character with sufficient faith in an organization of order and virtue may make use of their symbol; this could be a religion (Possible symbols include the christian cross or the star of david) or some other group (Most commonly the nighthunters, though everything from an army a civil rights group has been known to function in the same capacity). Vampires must make a DC 15 will save to attack character who have allegiances to good and an organization whose symbol they prominently display, as well as any object that the person spends 10 rounds inscribing the said symbol upon. If such a symbol is marred or otherwise destroyed the effect is lost. Also, when such a person places a holy symbol within a vampire's mouth or inscribes it upon their head the vampire's fast healing ceases to function.
Damage Reduction (Su): A vampire has damage reduction 10/silver, wood and magic. A vampire’s natural weapons are treated as magic weapons for the purpose of overcoming damage reduction.
Fast Healing (Ex): A vampire heals 3 points of damage each round so long as it has at least 1 hit point.
Refuge of the Grave (Su): A vampire may choose to "sleep" in an small enclosed space (traditionally a coffin) containing a small amount of dirt or other material from the ground where they died and/or rose as a vampire. The vampire sleeps for as long as they choose, though they may make listen checks with a -15 penalty and can awake with a DC 10 wisdom check if they hear something or are physically contacted. While sleeping a vampire loses no blood, heals the ability damage of a blood fury at twice the normal rate and gains a +4 bonus on will saves to avoid permanent mental ability damage. Under no other circumstances may a vampire "sleep."
Resistances (Ex): A vampire has resistance to cold 10 and electricity 10.
Turn Resistance (Ex): A vampire has +4 turn resistance.
Abilities: Increase from the base creature as follows: Str +8, Dex +4, Int +2, Wis +2, Cha +4. As an undead creature, a vampire has no Constitution score and use their Charisma score for Concentration checks.
Skills: Vampires have a +4 racial bonus on Bluff, Handle Animal, Hide, Intimidate, Listen, Move Silently, Sense Motive, and Spot checks. Otherwise same as the base creature.
Feats: Vampires gain Alertness, Combat Reflexes, Improved Initiative, and Lightning Reflexes, assuming the base creature meets the prerequisites and doesn’t already have these feats.
Challenge Rating: Same as the base creature +4
Allegiance: A Vampire's first allegiance is to Evil, and other allegiances are shifted in priority (or if there is not room, removed) as necessary. A Vampire may still have an allegiance to Good.
Advancement: By character class.
Level Adjustment: Same as the base creature +6.

Slaying a Vampire

Vampires are notoriously difficult to permanently destroy. Reducing a vampire’s hit points to 0 or lower incapacitates it, but doesn't destroy it; the vampire cannot be reduced below -10 hp and will heal at the rate of 1 point per round. One can sever a vampire's head with a coup de grace as long as the damage is sufficient to reduce their hit points to -10, but even then the body slowly regrows; the vampire regains one hit point per hour and is fully regenerated when it reaches 1 hp, at which point the vampire regains consciousness and may move about normally. (For the first hour a vampire's head will reattach to the body in a round if replaced, but after this point the body disintegrates into ash and the new one begins to grow.) The key to bringing about a vampire's Final Death is the exploitation of their various curses. The nighthunter's traditional method has been to sever the head, set a nighthunter crest upon the tongue, close their teeth upon flowers of wild garlic, and place the head upon a pike to await the sunrise. During large-scale batles in the days of old, nighthunters would create multiple "funeral pyres", massive bonfires into which they would throw undead and fallen comrades alike. Numerous soldiers would stand guard in a circle to make sure none of the occupants escaped before the dawn.

Vampire Special Abilities

Vampires have a startling array of powers, and it is rare for any two to posess the exact same abilities. Their weaknesses also tend to vary. A Vampire has one power every four character levels, rounding down. He may also select up to two additional powers in exchange for a corresponding number of flaws. They may also increase their powers by taking the Improved Vampiric Abilities feat.

Vampire Powers:
Alternate Form (Su): A vampire can assume the shape of a bat, dire bat, wolf, or dire wolf as a standard action. A vampire chooses which form they can take on when they select this power; the vampire may select this ability a second time to gain access to the other forms. The ability is similar to a polymorph spell cast by a 12th-level character, except that the vampire does not regain hit points for changing form and must choose from among the forms mentioned here. While in its alternate form, the vampire loses its natural slam attack, children of the night and compelling gaze abilities, but it gains the natural weapons and extraordinary special attacks of its new form. It can remain in that form until it assumes another or until the next sunrise. (If the base creature is not terrestrial, this power might allow other forms.)
Blasphemer of the Dawn (Su): A vampire takes only a -1 on attack rolls, saving throws and skill checks during daylight hours and instead loses hit points at the rate of 1 per minute. They appear in mirrors and cast shadows from any artificial form of light.
Blasphemer of Gaia (Su): A vampire is immune to the effects of wild garlic and has a 50% chance of not being paralyzed when their heart is pierced.
Blasphemer of the Sigil (Su): A vampire recieves a +8 bonus on will saves against the effects of the Curse of the Sigil and gains a +2 morale bonus on will saves for 5 rounds whenever they destroy a functional holy symbol.
Blood Bond (Su): A vampire can offer two point's worth of blood to a willing creature to drink. Doing so places the victim under a permanent Charm Person effect, causing them to regard the vampire as their master and a trusted ally. Resisting one of the vampire's commands requires a succesful will save. Vampires with this ability often use it on newly created progeny to insure loyalty. The effect is a curse, and requires the standard degree of magic and will to remove. Also, a vampire with this ability may telepathically command all ghouls they have created within a radius of 100 ft. per character level.
Children of the Night (Su): Vampires command the lesser creatures of the world and once per day can call forth 1d6+1 rat swarms, 1d4+1 bat swarms, or a pack of 3d6 wolves as a standard action. These creatures arrive in 2d6 rounds and serve the vampire for up to 1 hour.
Compelling Gaze (Su): A vampire can subvert an opponent’s will just by looking onto his or her eyes. This is similar to a gaze attack, except that the vampire must use a standard action, and those merely looking at it are not affected. Anyone the vampire targets must succeed on a Will save or fall instantly under the vampire’s influence as though by a dominate person spell (caster level 12th). The ability has a range of 30 feet. Note that paralysis does not prevent the use of this ability.
Gaseous Form (Su): As a standard action once per day, a vampire can assume gaseous form at will as the spell (caster level 5th), except that the vampire appears as a semitransparent outline and has a fly speed of 20 feet with perfect maneuverability. A vampire may take select this ability a second time; if so, they may use this ability additional times per day at the cost of two point's worth of blood each, and may automatically do so when reduced to 0 hit points or less.
Improved Resistance (Su): Instead of silver, wood, and magic, a vampire's DR requires holy weapons to bypass.
Monstrous Fervor: A vampire refuses to collapse even in the face of massive physical damage. They remain standing between -1 and -9 hp and can take one standard action each round.
Monstrous Strength: A vampire's enhanced physical might allows them to more easily handle weapons of all kinds. They treat their size as large for the purpose of determining how they wield weapons.
Semblance of Life (Su): A vampire may expend blood at the rate of one point's worth per hour in order to create an illusion of having normal biological processes. Their body is warm, their pulse is normal, they breathe, and their eyes even resume their old color. They still must remember to blink, however.
Spider Climb (Ex): A vampire can climb sheer surfaces as though with a spider climb spell.
Thaumaturgic Rites (Su): A vampire may use the stolen lifeblood flowing through their veins to augment their eldritch power. As a move action, they may spend up to half their level in blood; this increases their effective caster level by an equal amount for one round per character level. A vampire who has spent a sufficent amount of blood may use part or all of this augmentation to instead apply any metamagic feat they possess, sacrificing two points of the increase in caster level for each effective level that the metamagic feat would increase the spell by. When using skill-based magic, the vampire instead gains an enhancement bonus on all skill checks to cast spells.

Vampiric Flaws:
Call of the Beast (Su): A vampire needs spend only a single point's worth of blood enter a frenzy, but they take a -4 penalty on will saves to avoid doing so involuntarily and the penalty to their intelligence, wisdom and charisma is -5 instead of -4.
Curse of the Nosferatu (Su): The savagery inside is reflected in the vampire's exterior; they appear warped and feral, taking a -4 penalty on diplomacy checks and a -10 penalty on disguise checks to make themselves appear human.
Curse of the Sea (Su): A vampire cannot cross over running water of their own will, although they may be transported over it while sleeping.
Fear of the Curse (Su): Vampires cannot bear to even look directly at that which weakens them. When the target is bearing a mirror, wild garlic or a functional holy symbol the vampire must treat them as though they have one-falf concealment, incurring a 20% miss chance.
Respect for the Host (Su): Vampires may not enter a private domain without proper invitation from a qualified source, often the owner or a resident.
Slow Partaker (Su): A vampire may only drain one point of blood from a subject each round.

Improved Vampiric Abilities
You have succesfully tapped further into the dark power which drives you, and have learned much as a result.
Prerequisites: True Vampire, character level 6th.
Benefit: You either lose a vampiric flaw, gain a new vampiric power, or gain two new vampiric powers and one new flaw.
Special: You may gain this feat multiple times.

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Saturday, December 1, 2007

10 Campaign Ideas #3

Someone requested that I update, so I've started digging up alot of different notes from these past several notes and making them presentable. By the way, I don't think I've mentioned this here before, but with brainstorming threads like this I almost always have more to an idea than what I write here; if you want me to elaborate on something, maybe give some more details or stat things out, ask.
Jonah and the leviathan. The PCs are crew on an exploratory sea voyage, when they get eaten by a MASSIVE sea monster (Think in terms of miles/kilometers) and find that there is another world inside- an ecosystem of strange man-zized symbiotes and glowing fungi as well as civilization in the form of the descendants of other groups of survivors. Escape is supposed to be impossible; for most of the people in this civilization, the outside world is nothing more than a creation myth. And perhaps other, more sinister sentient beings exist in this realm- beings with long lifespans and large plans, plans involving seizing control over this massive creature and using it for their own ends...
"I'll see you in hell"- there's more to the expression than you might think. Here's how the theory goes: there's a layer of hell reserved for those who, while bastards guilty of many a sin, still had some sort of morality that drove them to seek justice for individuals who tended to make them them look like angels by comparison. Well guess what? Whether you killed that son of a bitch or he killed you, you're *both* somewhere in this desert wasteland. And while there's plenty of suffering to be had here- heat stroke, hunger, all manner of horrible bodily harm- there's only one thing that can really take you down, and that's your nemesis. What happens after you die again is anyone's guess- maybe you go to somewhere that's *really* bad, or maybe those kooky bastards who think we're in some kinda purgatory are actually onto something.

Oh, there are demons; take the civilized ones who wear clothes, pass you by on the street and hang out at the bar. They're reliable folk- always in it for themselves and they don't make no bullshit about it, so if you think one's your friend then you deserve to get sold out. It's the feral ones who're the nasty pieces of work, rip your guts right out if you're not careful- stay outta the wastes and hope the town you're in can hold it's own if a pack or two pays a visit. But in the end, stranger, it's like they say- Hell is other people.

(Note that this may have a western feel, but it still works with both fantasy and modern-day settings).
The players are U.S. Navy personnel serving belowdecks on an aircraft carrier during a WWII battle in the Pacific, when a series of explosions throws them into darkness. They manage to crawl out of the wreckage, band together and start working their way through the shattered decks to get out of the ship- but as they go, they start encountering strange bloodstains and the like, followed by freaky creatures (Try going for a combination of Silent Hill monsters and the cursed crew of the Flying Dutchman in Pirates of the Carribbean). Eventually they make it out onto the deck, only to confronted with a collection of horribly wrecked battleships and carriers. For now, no avenue of escape offers itself; they can try making their way to other ships, searching for one that's still operational or salvageable even if it means using a PT boat. No life rafts are in sight- it could be that they were all unconscious for some time, and that any other survivors already fled long ago. The game plays out similar to a post-apocalyptic survival scenario; the creatures are belowdecks on almost every ship, but only emerge during the night. For added tension, the players find themselves gripped with a deep and pervading sense that the water of the open sea is not safe to touch with your bare skin.

There are two possible explanations for what's really going on: That some supernatural force was either disturbed or brought into play during the battle, and wound up destroying both sides, or that the players are actually dead and in a sort of purgatory, where if they manage to survive and overcome some personal symbolic barrier they may continue to the afterlife, but if they sink down into the water they'll be trapped in the crushing black forever. If the latter is the case, perhaps the creatures will brutally savage the players but never actually kill them.
14th century Earth: Medieval Europe is invaded by another world. As GM, you know the world is roughly the equivalent of a D&D setting except that it 1: Has no humans and 2: Has been taken over by Illithids in the service of Thoon, who are now directing their various subverted forces through gates that emerge deep within the wilderness. Humanity is forced to match ingenuity and relatively advanced technology (Gunpowder, crossbows, full plate armor) against forces of orc barbarians, elven archers, halfling sabotuers, half-tamed beasts and monsters, and much more. The attacking forces burn towns to the ground with fireballs and alchemist's fire, leaving nothing but ashes in their wake.

The PCs are all young men and women in noble families, whose lands are the first to be attacked. The game begins with them encountering signs of the incursions- large numbers of strange tracks in the woods while on a hunting party, or the ashes of a small village with a strange weapon or two to be found. After the suspense has been built up enough, they run into a medium-sized force (a hundred orcs led by an elvish mage, for example) and must flee for their lives. When they finally reach their estate, they find that few are willing to believe their fantastic story.

As the campaign moves on they lose their lands to the invading forces and are taken in by the king, who offers their families a chance to reclaim their titles and new lands if the players serve well as field agents. Adventures might include guarding fleeing bands of refugees, accompanying and advising a team of royal assassins on a mission to take out a particular warlord (since until now they've only dealt with humans), acquiring the spellbooks of more and more powerful mages so that humans can keep learning more magic, and so on. A further development could be figuring out how to free the grunts of the invading forces from the control of their illithid masters, gaining allies in the fight and thus a fighting chance.
A colony ship is thrown off-course when its FTL malfunctions, but has enough power to get themselves to a system with potentially habitable planets- only to be faced with a fully-inhabited D&D-style world. Elves, dragons, medieval society, the works. The ship lands, and attempts to stay on good terms with the locals; more and more members are taken out of stasis to keep things running, while the captain wavers on whether to pursue their original mission or just stay in the city-state that's beginning to establish itself around the ship. Players work for the ship's leaders- they could be medieval adventurers, members of the ship's crew, or a mix.
A big question here is how to handle humans- do they exist here? If not, that makes the explorer's presence all the more novel, and it's the version I recommend. But if they do, that then begs the question: How long have said humans been here? If history says they showed up a few centuries/millenia ago, maybe they somehow came from earth; and if they've always been here and the tech level never changes like in most D&D settings, perhaps this is where Earth's humans came from. And if that's the case, maybe there's a deity that keeps the tech level from advancing like in the Forgotten Realms. Such a being wouldn't take kindly to these visitors...
The PCs are invited to join a new sort of venture- a mass adventuring expedition, where a caravan of merchants, healers, etc. serves as a mobile base of operations for ten or so adventuring parties who go out and explore. The caravan normally journeys for about a week, then stops for a week in a promising area- more if the region is both secure and potentially lucrative. Everything is handled in a largely democratic fashion, though the expedition leader has the final say. The destination of the expedition is a big factor; you could, as expected, have it be an unexplored jungle region like the stuff of pulp adventure. The players would be up against angry natives and mysterious guardian constructs as they explore remote ruins of a lost civilization- or raid the intact temples of a still-thriving one. To shake things up more for a higher-level game, you could have the expedition be to more dangerous locales like the underdark (because raiding drow cities for fun is the best idea ever) or another plane (because the nine hells are a fine substitute when Menzoberannzan's booked). Don't forget that this allows for politics, intrigue, and even “murder on the orient express”-style mystery if some of the other adventurers are particularly backstab-inclined.
The party goes adventuring in some unexplored realm- this could quite easily be combined with the previous idea, if only to give you more npcs to kill off- and begin to be stalked by some hidden menace. Mutated humanoids, perhaps, surprisingly stealthy and organized as well as being led by some huge monstrosity. The keys to the horror during this first segment are isolation and an enemy that's only barely glimpsed- in fact, I'd suggest you consider *never* revealing them in their entirety, except maybe to someone who has accepted that they're going to die and has no hope left.

Thing is, that's just the beginning. The PCs eventually escape- they get a lucky break, perhaps, and catch a ride on a friendly ship heading home. But the menace follows them. Creatures attack from the sea, slaughtering the valiant crew. The PCs barely survive and reach their home in civilization, but there is no escape. The menace keeps pursuing them, while also attacking society as a whole. See, you know how sometimes colonists would bring a species of animal along with them, and it would wind up dominating the ecosystem and causing the extinction of several native species? It's like that, but with humanity as the native species that's screwed because the Deep Ones followed you home. Great job there guys. No, no really- way to go.
Don't go off the path. Specifically, the one path allowed to the outside world as a method of transportation through a mysterious realm occupied by a fearsome, powerful people (/dragons/giants/no one knows for sure). Said path could be a roadway, or perhaps a canal if we're going to match the pretty picture. It's an amazing journey that many a seasoned traveler will recommend you make at least once in your lifetime- the wonders you'll witness must be seen to be believed. Thing is, you must take care to never stray from the allowed region for any reason- the powers that dwell within this realm have mandated that nothing that enters can ever leave. So naturally, you'll have to figure out some way to have this happen to the PCs. A cool and heroic way to do it would be to have one of their number accidentally trespass territory (or be pushed), and have the rest of the PCs accompany them rather than abandoning them. You've got a group of travelers from a foreign realm trapped in a mysterious realm that can hold pretty much anything you want. The eventual objective could be escape (a cruel GM could, once again, combine this with the previous idea), but it certainly doesn't have to be; maybe the characters eventually come upon the civilization within this realm and are offered a chance to be incorporated within the society, the important thing not being that they've trespassed but that they not be allowed to share this ream's secrets with the outside world.
To reverse the perspectives: Say that the players are natives in a relatively primitive culture, one that has a strong ties to the nature spirits- spirits that have protected and watched over their people for centuries. Meanwhile, colonists have landed- more than one group in different neighboring areas, each with their own differences- say one's a bunch of xenophobic conquest-happy jerks, while another is composed of pious refugees and the third is expeditious but friendly and cooperative. However, the nature spirits eventually declare that all three are a taint upon the land that must be purged.

It's a shades of grey scenario; on one hand, though some of them seem genuinely well-intentioned, colonists definitely have a tendency to spell bad news for natives. On the other hand, the nature spirits are really just trying to prevent the player's civilization from advancing and thus becoming more independent. Theirs is a symbiotic relationship with humankind, not a benevolent one. The players develop relations (friends and enemies alike) with people on both sides, and in the end the course of their people will be up to them to decide.
Some of the fairly evil gods in a large pantheon are planning an epic backstab of a coup. One god catches on, but is caught and "killed" before he can spread the word and warn any others. But death for a god does not take as easily as it does for a mortal. In this case, the dying god was able to transfer fragments of his power and consciousness to his most devout worshipers. There's just one catch: This is, or was, a humble NG god of farming. A lower-tier deity whose most devout worshipers are those who work humbly in the fields all day long. So the players are all a bunch of level 5 commoners of various ages, with heroic ability scores but absolutely nothing in the way of an epic background beyond a parent who's a retired footsoldier or something. Each of them is a humble, pious individual; their deity helps those who helps themselves and others in equal measure through hard work. And now each of them feels a deep-seated compulsion- come to a certain shrine in a certain village, where only they will understand the ravings of a local priest who absorbed the brunt of the knowledge the god was trying to convey. The players, on the other hand, got the brunt of the power. This would likely be a Book of Exalted Deeds campaign, with players gaining extra abilities- bonus exalted feats, for example. Players must struggle to comprehend their new inner nature and unravel the mystery as they free from mysterious assailants (agents of the traitor gods sent to wipe out any potential traces of the god's power).

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Thursday, November 8, 2007

Hunter Stats

d20 statistics for Half Life: Episode 2's Hunters. Fairly self-explanatory.

Size/Type: Large Living Construct
Hit Dice: 10d10+30 (84 hp)
Initiative: +3
Speed: 60 ft. (12 squares)
Armor Class: 23 (-1 size, +3 Dex, +11 natural), touch 12, flat-footed 20
Base Attack/Grapple: +7/+18
Attack: Slam +14 melee (2d6+7) or Flechettes +9 ranged (
30' range, 1d6+2d6 force)
Full Attack: Slam +14 melee (2d6+7) or Flechettes +9 ranged (30' range, 1d6+2d6 force)
Space/Reach: 10 ft./10 ft.
Special Attacks: Flechettes
Special Qualities: Living Construct traits, damage reduction 10/adamantine, darkvision 60 ft., low-light vision, spell resistance 20
Saves: Fort +8, Ref +6, Will +6
Abilities: Str 25, Dex 17, Con 16, Int 12, Wis 17, Cha 4
Skills: Intimidate +11, Jump +19, Listen +10, Search +16, Spot +16, Survival +17 (+19 following tracks)
Feats: Awesome Blow, Great Fortitude, Improved Bull Rush, Power Attack, Track
Environment: Any
Organization: Solitary or pack (2-3)
Challenge Rating: 9
Treasure: None
Alignment: Always neutral
Advancement: -
Level Adjustment:

Hunters are a type of bioengineered Combine shock troop, typically deployed in harsh terrain and heavily forested environments innavigable for a standard Strider unit. Standing about 8 feet tall, they travel on three quadruple-jointed legs and see via two bioluminescent, vertically aligned blue eyeports. Much swifter and more agile than a Strider, their tripedal configuration also allows for lateral movement, jumping and dodging. Hunters communicate among themselves in a their own language, which consists largely of grunts, roars and growls. They weigh roughly 600 pounds.

Hunters typically begin combat by hanging back and attempting to pick their targets off with flechettes from a distance. If their target is evasive or too close, the Hunter may lower its 'head' module and charge like a bull, either butting the target away into terminal range of their flechettes or knocking them down to fall victim to their deadly foot talons. Observation of their ‘body language’ and vocalizations during battle has led to speculation that they may well experience frustration if they’re unable to quickly dispatch their targets.

Flechettes (Ex)
A Hunter's primary weapon is a dual barreled flechette launcher, which fires two-pronged darts in rapid salvos from its eyeports. Upon striking a target, the darts explode, dealing an additional 2d6 force damage to anything within a 5-foot radius. Those not hit by the darts can make a DC 18 reflex save for half damage. The save DC is constitution-based.

A hunter has a +4 racial bonus on Intimidate, Search, and Spot checks.

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Thursday, November 1, 2007

10 ideas for tweaking zombies

Starting with a basic option: Headshots don't work. Maybe you need to take out the heart/other weak spot, or just destroy it entirely. 9 more ways of tweaking zombies in order to keep players from being jaded after the link.
The players catch the occasional glimpse of a zombie who will eat other zombies. It's no dramatic affair- it simply walks up to a zombie and then seizes onto it. The "prey" will attempt to push them off and get away with typical zombie slowness, and the "predator" will usually overpower them and simply crush/break the body until it stops moving before it starts chowing down. It goes after the closest prey, zombie or human. Over time these zombies become more noticeable because they're more fleshed-out; their body type doesn't change, but their muscles are fully formed as though they were in excellent shape and died yesterday. It's not clear right away, but the more they eat the stronger they grow. They also regurgitate "hairballs"- half-digested hair, scraps of clothing, bone fragments, etc.
Here's one that you don't give your players any exposition for: The zombies show basic stalking behaviors. They deliberately stop moaning when approaching an unspooked prey, will intentionally feign death, are more likely to remain hidden/inactive when the prey has the advantage in terms of numbers. . .this can just be an explanation for the use of several scare tactics, but the realization that they possess this sort of cunning can be quite disturbing in the right circumstances.
The zombies possess varying degrees of clumsiness, and those that are often active seem to improve their coordination over time. The key is, those with better control over their bodies aren't moving like humans- instead, they're prowling about on all fours. They can't climb bare walls or anything fantastic, they're just. . .purer reflections of the inner feral nature that now dwells within what was once a person.
For a larger thematic change: The zombies retain some of their past nature. Not exactly intelligence, mind you; more like a patient with a severe brain injury. They experience a limited degree of emotion and even some pain, will mumble to themselves and make the same idle gestures and absent-minded responses that they might otherwise. . .but when prey appears all that there is to be seen is a vaguely expressed mix of malevolence and desperate determination.
The zombies are only predatory during the night. During the day, some are almost normal- most act in a confused and dreamlike fashion, not quite realizing any mortal injuries they have or blood on their hands. Start killing them then and they'll panic, scream, etc. And there are some who are so close to a normal person that you aren't sure whether or not they're still alive; maybe none of them are actually dead, it's just some mysterious curse that makes most of humanity into cannibalistic monsters when the sun goes down.
At times, apparently corresponding to some sort of cycle, the zombies seem to have an urge to congregate at the highest or lowest places possible. For several days they'll climb trees (an awkward trail-and-error process, mostly error) and stand around on building rooftops doing what amount to king-of-the-hill to get on top of the ventilation boxes. The next week they've started massing together in culverts and sewers. It alters how survivors travel, and also allows for plenty of DEATH FROM ABOVE attacks- "Zombies fall. Everybody dies".
The zombies' behavior varies based on the weather. During an overcast day they behave like a typical zombie's supposed to do. Sunlight agitates them, while light rain makes them quieter and more active. At night they're fairly docile, which means that the players will have to consider doing travel/errands during that time since you're a bastard like that. It's during downpours and thunderstorms that they go completely apeshit, smashing crap up and actually running after people. The rain makes it hard to tell who's human and who's a zombie, too...
The zombies begin as docile. That is, all throughout the world the dead emerge from their graves and then do nothing but wander around, feigning death if they believe they're being observed. People are aware, it's all over the news; but there's just too many of them to immediately deal with each and every one, or even more than half. People are urged to stay away from the walking dead since they probably carry diseases. Some wonder if the zombies are migrating with a purpose. Whatever their reasons, something- a code in a radio broadcast, lunar cycles, weather (see above)- eventually makes the zombies go OM NOM NOM like normal. Can make for a very tense intro.
The zombies are not hungry, but instead hate all living beings- animals and humans alike. They are driven to attack any living thing in close proximity. Perhaps they're attracted to heartbeats, or perhaps there's a supernatural cause at work- they can sense life forces, or some similar explanation. Either way, players see zombies attacking cats and dogs as well as people, stopping as soon as the battered victim has passed on.

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Thursday, October 25, 2007

On Zombie games

This material is largely not my own- rather, it represents what I've taken away from numerous discussions on the topic of zombie survival horror games, and in turn offer as advice to others. I've found myself repeating it enough that I figured I ought to just stop and write it all out. If you want an exhaustive discussion of all the different ways you can do things, there was an amazing thread in the d20 modern section of the wizards forums. If nothing else, it should still be in the archives...

So. Here's my primary recommendation: Have the zombie plague be a disease- spread by contact between body fluids, usually saliva to an open wound- that begins with the victim being flushed and irritated. This state builds up slowly and then escalates sharply, with the diseased flying into a berserk, adrenaline-fueled rage which lasts for several hours. Eventually the subject's body simply gives out, and they collapse, reviving as a body about half a day later. This has a few benefits for you as GM; it accounts for the torn-up condition of both the world and the zombies, while also giving you handy shock troops to shake things up.

And you always want to shake things up- give the players safety mechanisms and then take them away, never let them be sure a safe haven will last, have the zombie's vulnerabilities and abilities not be quite what they expect. (Note: At this point I started naming more examples of how you could do this and couldn't stop. I'll post it as a separate example in the next post). A lack of uncertainty and/or speculation makes it very hard to scare someone- don't be afraid to let the game evolve as characters, locations, and circumstances change.

Any gamer worth his salt will relish the chance to play in the most genre savvy ways he can imagine. If you'd rather have them assume the role of people who weren't geeky enough to already have a plan for dealing with zombie outbreaks, make sure everyone understands this going in. Personally, though, I relish savvy players- especially when details like the origins of the outbreak are left unknowable. Every time they circumvent a challenge, it's a chance for me to take another set of gloves off. Look at the direction they're trying to take and work off the challenges that goal will naturally entail. You want to hide in the wilderness? You'll need get your hands on camping gear and other supplies, then make your way out of the city. You want to stay out here? Then you'll need to make regular food runs, and any number of events could force you to move. . .

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Friday, October 12, 2007

10 Character Ideas

A villain successfully completed a ritual he found in an ancient tome; the ritual was meant to defend a long-lost civilization, but he instead intended to use it for his own fiendish ends. He interpreted the text as saying that the ritual would bestow upon him the powers and nature of a mighty warrior; this translation was technically correct, but lacked some important subtleties. Upon completing the ritual, the villain's mind was completely overtaken by that of a warrior who had agreed (out of patriotism) to have his spirit bound for use in the ritual's creation. The warrior was able to pick up enough from the villain's suppressed mind to determine the man's intentions and learn that his own civilization had long-since fallen (And get a decent idea of how to speak Common while he was at it). He could simply relinquish his control of the villain's body and move on to the afterlife, but that would be a bit of an anticlimax, not to mention it would mean unleashing a total bastard upon the world once more. No, he's going to stay in this body and live out the life he gave up when he was bound all those years ago.
A psion who believes that she's dreaming and comes from another world, the details of which she can't quite recall "because I'm not awake". Almost certainly insane, yes, but it is odd that any efforts to figure out her past and where she came from produce nothing in terms of results. Still, in the end she's just a young woman with more psionic potential than her mind could cope with. That's why she occasionally uses words and then can't define them when asked what she means, words like "skyscraper" and "gun". All there is to the story, in the end.
You wouldn't think it, but the common-born fellow in handwoven clothes before you is actually one of the greatest magical geniuses of his time. His defining character trait is humility; he's never sought recognition, never shows off his spells or prattled at length about the details of their casting. Nor has he ever gone out of his way to acquire magical knowledge or power. He casts spells in a minimalistic fashion without fanfare, and generally plays down any comments about his abilities as though he was just riding a horse or whittling a piece of wood. Perhaps he's even taken a vow of poverty (with GM-allowed exception for his spellbook, clothes and writing tools). His true genius is simply that his abilities match those of wizards who obsess over textbooks for years, with only his own occasional bits of research to fuel his development.
A necromancer who has an outlook similar to that held by many doctors. He has great respect for the sanctity of life, but takes the long view with regards to his research. His ambition is discovering new, effective, non-evil way of prolonging one's life as a sentient being (whether or not this involves a living body). However, he's well aware that experimenting with life and death tends to attract mobs of torch-and-pitchfork wielding villagers. The solution: join a heroic adventuring party. You get a reputation for good deeds and powerful allies who'll stand by you if things go south. He's also found that adventuring tends to fuel his research nicely. So many adventurers tends to take for granted the extraordinary creatures, artifacts and enchantments they come across; but not this mage!
A character who grew up poor and became involved in the criminal underworld, eventually working as a high-class enforcer for a powerful crime lord. At the same time, he had a better side in the form of his family- an elderly adopted grandfather and a younger sister, whom he always made sure were taken care of. Eventually, however, the crime boss decided to collect a bounty and send a message to his subordinate in one swoop; he forced the man to kill his grandfather by subtly holding his sister hostage. The enforcer made the hit, and did so mercifully and to the old man's face. He then trained himself rigorously and made a few other preparations over the course several months before sending his sister off to a far-off city and then immediately attacking and taking down his superior. Since then he has largely worked as a vigilante against the rest of the criminal underworld and others who similarly exploit the weak, playing them against one another using fear and intimidation as much as physical force.

They key for this character is that while good-aligned, he is not driven by righteous fury or empathy for innocent victims. Instead, he is simply sick and tired of dealing with those who oppress and seek to control all that is around them. He doesn't consider himself some grand hero, he just focuses on wiping out the next group of scumbags.
A ranger/fighter/horizon walker-type character who's practically obsessed with cartography- the subtleties of surviving, navigating and fighting in a given type of terrain and the production of maps whose proportions are honestly accurate on a large scale. He's very intense about all this, giving it a great deal of thought and writing pages of notes in a tight, indecipherable scrawl. However, he also keeps to himself about it except to offer the occasional valuable suggestion (Max ranks in knowledge(geography) and (tactics), not to mention survival), so others tend to regard it as an impressively intellectual hobby.

The truth of the matter is that the character has grand ambitions- ambitions that involve leading armies to victory and conquering massive amounts of land. The notes he takes and books he reads tend to concern things like the logistics of supporting an army in a given environment and the specialized tactics available. He's always careful with his finances, building up gold for when the day comes to raise his forces...
Once every ten years, a certain monastery selects one of their most promising members- one that has learned their teachings well but is still relatively young- and sends them out into the world. The purpose of this exercise is to test their disciplines and beliefs- not the mental strength of the disciple, but the worth of the teachings themselves. The monk sent out in this manner is afforded a unique status: he is free to do as he thinks best, though he is asked to return and report on an annual basis. After the space of a decade, he may return to the monastery once more if he wishes, and will be admitted regardless of how he has changed.

This is how the character came to leave his monastery a few weeks ago. Raised in the monastery for as long as he can remember, he marvels at the wonders of the world around him and, as is his duty, constantly reflects on how the lessons of his elders apply to his own experiences and strives to achieve new levels of understanding. (Said lessons can include buddhist doctrines, zen teachings, vows from the BoED, or whatever else you think might be interesting to try out. This is a case where the character is *expected* to evolve. Don't try to plan it out; have them keep an open mind and see where they go!)
A fearsome swordfighter from the north with numerous wolflike tendencies- beyond the superficial things like a tendency to growl and a preference to hunt down his food, he also places great importance on supporting his "pack" (adventuring group) and working as a team. He is fully human; the animalistic nature is not genetic but mental, as his father was a werewolf. As a boy he wished that he was also a lycanthrope, but his father sharply reprimanded him for these wishes, instead urging him to recognize and emulate the values he admired in wolves without losing control over his own humanity. To this day he isn't sure he understands what his father was attempting to get across to him, but he has remained fully human in faith that the wisdom of his father's directions will become clear someday. Still, more and more he finds himself dreaming of discarding civilization and escaping to the wild.
At a young age, the character (an only child) was taken by their dying parent across the country and into the desert, eventually reaching the lair of an ancient dragon. There, the parent identified the character as the dragon's great-great-great grandchild, and requested that the dragon take the character in rather than letting their own bloodline end with a helpless orphan dying in the street. The dragon accepted, his pride in his bloodline stirred more by his descendant's sheer chuptzah than anything else. Though perhaps statistically a normal member of their race (being 1/32nd dragon doesn't grant a ton of bonuses), the character has a very draconic set of views, including a tendency to hoard valuable items and speak in grand terms.
In a medieval setting with a relatively realistic social structure, a soldier falls in love with a woman while on a foreign campaign, and she with him. Although relatively well-off, she leaves her household to return home with him and live a humble life with him as a farmer and her as a housewife. After some thirty years of happy marriage, the husband dies, and the children are all dead or gone. She sells the farm (or is forced to relinquish it if) and, approaching the age of 50, finds herself without a home or clear purpose. The role of a wandering hermit is one option, but she decides to try her hand as a low-key adventurer instead, drawing on her training as a warrior from her youth. It's an odd role in this culture, but she finds it enjoyable- the risk makes her feel more alive than she has in years.

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10 Campaign Ideas #2

One day while in a relatively remote area, the players come across tangled, easily climbable strands of vines that appear to be dangling down from the clouds. Assuming they bring proper supplies (food and hammocks, mostly) they should be able to make their way to the top in a matter of days. There they find a massive floating city, apparently abandoned and partly overgrown, with strange architecture they've never seen before. Almost immediately, their way back is lost- a storm rips away part of the vines, leaving them with no clear way down. What follows is a game focused more on exploration and investigation than combat. Searching for food, figuring out how to use strange artifacts, investigating the mystery of the city itself, making your way towards strange structures in the distance, fending off various more aggressive members of the ecology that's developed here (one that bears a close resemblance to the Elemental Plane of Air, with a good deal more in the way of birds), searching for another way down- and, occasionally, catching a glimpse of something across the rooftops or through a window that makes you suspect that you might not be alone after all...
On top of a mesa lies a self-sustaining city (farms, functioning wells, etc.), ruled by a religious order which teaches that the mesa is a promised land given to them by the gods, and that this gift is what elevated them from a miserable life as primitive savages. Fog clouds permanently surround the mesa in all directions, concealing the outside world; on the ground a dungeonlike labyrinth extends off in all directions, perhaps forever. Some adventurous souls, gripped by the possibility of there being more to the world, risk exploring outwards through the labyrinth. If discovered, these explorers are executed as heretics. Still, those who know where to ask kind can find not only merchants dealing in adventuring gear but even a few brave souls who collect reports and draw up maps in an attempt to provide guidance and advice to successive generations of adventurers. Of course, such an individual could always be an agent of the religious order spreading misinformation, so don't get too cozy.

The truth is that the labyrinth and flight/sight-blocking clouds were both created hundreds of years ago as a defense mechanism for the city. Eventually a mad, isolationist king ordered the roads in and out removed, which in turn let the religious order acquire power through the use of magic to create food and save a starving populace. There were secret ways to the outside world, but any record of them has long since been lost or destroyed...
In a world where orcs have become a recognized part of civilization (after a century of progress begun by a visionary leader similar to Obould Many-Arrows), a small counter-culture movement has emerged. The players are a part of a handful of orcs who argue that the orcish race is suppressing their primal nature and leading meaningless lives due to the peer pressures of civilization. Rather than living a cultured life as a noble gentleman or an honest job as a cratsman, they live as adventurers and draw upon their primal instincts to get the job done. Think of them as a cross between hippies, the Fight Club and Conan the Barbarian, with a slogan looted from NEXTWAVE; they're healing the orcish nation by beating people up.
The short-sighted human perspective is that nature wants to simply tear civilization down. But nature is about survival of the fittest, and is more concerned with adapting to the circumstances. Just as weeds, gulls and rats thrive in a city, certain hardier breeds of nature spirits now seek to find a place in a developing city built on the land they're bound to. Dryads, Mephits, Sprites. . .exchanging past bonds for an attachment to a street corner or slum neighborhood, they band together and find a place in this new society by working as mercenaries or forming allegiances with the mortal races. Perhaps they fight to protect a small section of a city park, or perhaps they become more and more urban. Are they an an evolutionary dead end? Well, that's up to them.
The players are adventurers and have normal adventures, with one small wrinkle: instead of being a part of normal society, they're a part of draconic society such as the one found on the continent of Argonessen in Eberron (draconic society, of course, doesn't usually bother with the activities of the lesser/mortal races). Where normal adventurers clear out warrens of goblins and engage half-fiends blackguards in the ashes of a battlefield, they take on strongholds of Storm Giants and engage Balors in battles that level forests. At the beginning of the game the humanoids are gathered into tribal nations of varying sizes, but over the course of the game (which involves century-long intermissions where the players hibernate in their lairs and attend to various personal concerns) a roman empire-like civilization comes into being; perhaps it might seek to hire their services, or capture them. Then again, if the players play their cards right they could be worshiped as gods...
An experienced mastermind villain who successfully conquered a nation and ruled it for several years before being overthrown is back, and only the PCs have discovered his evil scheme. Though they foil his efforts, the nefarious genius is not so easily daunted and is soon back with another scheme, and another. . .

The truth of the matter is that after the man conquered the world he found himself irrevocably bored, and missed the company (such as it were) of the heroic individuals he once battled so much that he made arrangements to ensure their escape, knowing that it likely meant the end of all he'd worked for. He now appreciates how the world needs heroes- and believes that, in turn, the world needs villains in order to bring these heroes about. He is careful to avoid doing serious harm, except where he takes credit for/associates with the activities of real villains in order to sic the PCs (or other adventurers) on them. Perhaps one day he'll reveal the truth of his motives to he players; but probably not.
Eberron campaign setting. The players were each one of the thousands of undead created by the Blood of Vol's necromancers to fight for Karrnath during the Last War. However, through accident, coincidence and/or unexplained phenomena each of them retained or gained sentience instead of being a mindless drone. Expected to play the role of the slave in the wake of the Last War, they have rebelled; the question is, what to do after escaping? Normal people might see them as horrific monstrosities, hated soldiers of an enemy nation, or even blasphemers against the teachings of Vol. For extra hilarity, have them inadvertently cause a schism with the Blood of Vol, leading Erandis Vol to demand their heads for screwing with her plans. They might find ironic allies in the form of warforged groups- though enemies on the battlefield, they now share a common place in society (or lack thereof).
A potentially mad medieval genius convinces a king to fund his dream: a railroad. What makes this dream seem especially ridiculous is that the railroad would run through territory that people would normally travel through only with skilled guides and heavily armed guards. The PCs are hired to help fulfill the "guard" role, helping forge a path for the train in a similar tradition to real-world frontier adventurers. They may well find themselves negotiating pacts with tribal groups instead of just attacking them, or going beyond their station and arguing with the heads of the expedition about the proper course of action. And of course, the train is also a way of clearly establishing borders in favor of the king's nation, which can lead to lots of hostile forces and maybe some political intrigue...
The PCs are D&D characters who find themselves in a post-apocalyptic modern-day world that's beginning to stabilize as a tribal culture. Perhaps they'll join one of the tribes and defend them; if the players seem concerned mainly with returning home, you could hint that the source of the apocalypse somehow cam from their own world, giving them the goal of figuring out just what happened here a century ago.
The players are all hired as experts and consultants for a well-mannered contractor who is designing a dungeon, perhaps the first to be deliberately constructed in such a fashion. They are well paid for their services and sent on their way. Said contractor was actually working for an evil ruler who begins using the dungeon to oppress the populace by forcing innocents to proceed through it as an example to others. One or more of these innocents is a friend/relative of the PCs, which leads to them discovering their hand in things. The contractor, meanwhile, has found this to be his big break and is getting hired by many other sadistic, powerful individuals to construct bigger and better deathtraps. His conscience loses out against his greed, ambition and professional pride as a craftsman; he becomes more and more deranged, eventually using his amassed fortune to fund his own "research" into creating bigger and better dungeons- said research often involving tests with lots of victims. As his enablers, the PCs may feel obligated to stop him- and if not, he may come after them (either to rehire them or test his twisted designs against more capable prey). Though the man or woman steadily becomes more and more sadistically insane (eventually calling themselves the "Dungeon Master"), they always hold on to a sense of fair play; there's no point to a deathtrap where the prey doesn't have a chance.

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Friday, September 28, 2007

FF7 Game Idea

Here's a random string of ideas spawned by this video and then this article. To start: Final Fantasy VII has an interesting setting that's not easily categorized- a sort of modern magipunk, perhaps. Is there the makings of a decent game in there? It seems like there are two ways you could go. There's a small collection of individuals who are outright superpowered- first class SOLDIERS and the like, who can practically fly and take on hundreds of normal individuals. And then you've got collections of people who are a little more "mundane" (Turks, Barrett and Cid) but still have some very thrilling adventures. Most (Maybe all) of the superpowered individuals seen so far in the setting are the result of Shinra's experiments, but I'd rather not do a game that ties players to the main plotline/characters or steals their thunder. So, here's an idea for an overall plot:

The players are a group of young adults, all in a similar age group; say 18-21. The game takes place about 15 years after the events of Final Fantasy VII, so the kids know about the history in theory but don't have much in the way of personal memories. The game will be based in the city/settlement of Edge (The setting for Advent Children), with the players having lived there all their lives, probably as street urchins. There are numerous opportunities here- you've got a sort of frontier urban setting, with the ruins of Midgar literally next door; you could easily have the whole game take place within these boundaries. If you want to say that the city of Edge is having to really fight to survive, then just exploring the ruins to salvage supplies is a valid adventure hook. There can be bandit hideouts and other sinister agents lurking in the shadows. In Dirge of Cerebus, the enemies are "Deepground" soldiers who were trapped in complexes underneath the city and brought out of cyrogenic sleep by the personality of the mad scientist Hojo, preserved on the facility's computer network; the dungeon opportunities don't get more clear-cut than that.

The plot twist, which allows you to move into a more superpowered game if you feel so inclined, is that the players were all exposed to Mako as kids in the same way as members of the SOLDIER program. However, in their case this wasn't due to any deliberate experiment; instead, they were all children living in the slums around the generator that was destroyed by the player in the beginning of Final Fantasy VII. The GM can give the players unexpected reserves of strength, similar to the young Cloud at Nibelheim (2:00 to 2:30). At the same time, you can use elements of Mako Poisoning as a plot device/motiviation- the players are suffering from a strange disease, so how can they cure it? It also serves as a way of providing exposition- as the players explore the ruins of Midgar, they might find themselves experiencing memories that aren't theirs.

A potential employer for the PCs is the World Regenesis Organization, which is a mix of charity organization and private militia. The organization's goal is to help rebuild the planet, and they're based in Edge. The founder, Reeve Tuesti, makes for a good "boss" who gives the kids jobs which involve searching for some lost piece of technology that he recently got a lead on or something. He could also be aware of their condition and be observing them out of a sense of responsibility (Or a concern that they might snap and go on an overpowered rampage).

In terms of system, I'd be inclined to use 2nd Edition M&M for a superpowered game involving and d20 Modern for a more normal one, maybe mixing in some spycraft 2nd Edition. Either way you'd want to make the flavor clear beforehand, getting the players to think about the character first rather than taking these flexible systems in ways that don't fit the setting.

With regards to this game idea, my preference is to start things on a small scale and then escalate from there. Begin as d20 modern characters and only drop hints about their Mako abilities, the sort of details that only get noticed when they look back later. As things step up, add on the benefits of M&M levels. The advantage of this setup is that the players have gotten this boost in power through a route previously unseen in FF7, so the GM can dictate how things work without having to worry too much about previous canon.

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Thursday, September 6, 2007

7th Circle: Potential Iconics #1

Here are 5 potential iconic characters for the 7th Circle game- the equivalent of D&D iconics such as Redgar and Lidda, characters used in examples and anecdotes.

John Hallidae
World: Wild West equivalent of the Urban Arcana campaign setting.
Crunch: LG Elven Ranger/\Tough Hero\Gunslinger\Frontier Marshal
Supplements: d20 Past, Oriental Adventures

Special Bonus: Quick-Draw Attack (Uses the Iaujitsu Focus skill from Oriental Adventures, but with one-handed firearms instead of swords) and Lay Down the Law (Can Smite Chaos in the same manner as the Smite Evil ability of a paladin of his level).
Background/Personality: John's father was a half-elf veteran of the Mexican-American and Civil Wars, who came west with his wife and worked as the sheriff of a fierce frontier town for over a century. John wanted nothing more than a steady job as a ranch hand, but when his father was killed in a shootout with a troll bandit known as Ike Rothide, he felt obligated to take his father's place as lawman. In the eighty years that have followed, he has com
e to understand the reverence his father held for the law. Now that his home has become increasingly civilized, he welcomes the chance to more good elsewhere.
Abilities: John is a crack shot with two pistols (Two-weapon fighting combat style, Gunslinger), but is also experienced when it comes to
nonviolent methods of conflict resolution (Field Marshal, Law Enforcement occupation). He is regarded by many as one of the toughest elves they've ever met (Tough Hero), a quality he usually credits to his human grandmother.

Takano Reeves

World: Modern-day gothic urban arcana.
Crunch: LN Human Warlock/\Dedicated Hero\Arcane Arranger
Supplements: Complete Arcane
Special Bonus: +2 save DC against chaotic outsiders and evil outsiders (Stacks against CE
Background/Personality: Since the age of six, Takano has been a loyal earthly agent of Hell- or at least, one of its factions. Specifically, he served the devils in his world's equivalent of the Blood War- not an endless conflict, but a revolution by Lucifer and his demons that was only a few centuries old and fast coming to a close with the devils on the losing side. While the demons sought only to pursue their own sadistic inclinations,
Takano's faction still sought to follow their assigned role in the grand cosmology, testing and strengthening humanity through trials instead of seeking to do them ill. At any rate, to make a long and complicated story short Takano's masters lost the war. In the warlock's own words, there's nothing left for him back home, only a life of revenge he'd rather not get sucked into.
Abilities: In addition to the formidable eldritch power he channels (Warlock) Mr. Reeves has a knack for dealing with supernatural communites- occult undergrounds and the like (Empathy talent, Arcane Arranger). In addition. he has an uncanny ability to sense troub
le long before it arrives (Intuition talent tree).

Sir John Anton
idus Cadderly
World: Victorian-Era Mild Supernatural
Crunch: Male Kalashtar Cleric/Psion/Elocator/\Fast Hero\Acolyte(Cleric)

Supplements: Eberron Campaign Setting, Expanded Psionics Handbook.
Special Bonus: Slippery Mind, can simultaneousl
y cast spell an manifest power as metamagic feat (+2 spell level)
Background/Personality: A decade ago the man Sir John once was was attempting to conduct a séance together with other members of a gentleman's club dedicated to researching the occult. Rather than contacting the spirits of the deceased, they found themselves being plunged into the dream-world of Kadaath, where a group of benevolent spiritual entities had cried for aid. In the end Anton and his fellows decided to merge with a few of the dream-entities in order to defend them from the approaching Quorian horrors, resulting in beings who were the fusion of man and dream-entity.
Abilities: Anton was a young man with great psychic potential, while the quorian he merged w
ith was a high priest of their kind. As such, even in the material realm the being resulting from their fusion possesses great reserves of both psionic and divine power (cleric and psion). The sight of him striding forwards through empty air with grim purpose is a frightening image indeed, especially when one of these steps can somehow bypass normal space and take him right to your side (Elocator).

Emily Ad
World: Modern Day Paranormal Conspiracy
Crunch: NG Halfling Scout/\Smart Hero\Spec Ops
Supplements: Complete Adventurer, Urban Arcana Web Enhancement
Special Bonus: Reduced price increase for future-era equipment, cover bonus to AC increases by 2
Background/Personality: Emily was a trained government
operative, similar to the FBI agents of our world but with a more militaristic bent. Her career experienced an abrupt shift in direction when she not only witnessed but prevented an alien abduction. An agent that just wanted to do her job now found herself in the center of a mess of cloak-and-dagger politics. Life as an interloper agent has proven a welcome alternative.
Abilities: Though smaller than many of her compatriots, Emily has a knack for quickly navigating hostile terrain while remaining undetected (Scout, Spec Op) and is an expert in the field of demolitions and sabotage (Spec Ops, Smart Hero). In combat she tends to use her old pistol but is quite proficient with a sword as well; in either case she uses sound tactics, keeping behind cover and lashing out when her opponent's guard is down (Scout, Tactics talent tree).

Dawn Kedrickson
World: Dystopian Cyberpunk
Crunch: CG Human Rogue/Reaping Mauler/\Tough Hero\Thrasher
Supplements: Complete Warrior, Complete Scoundrel
Special Bonus: Cybernetic arm gives +2 strength and functions like brass knuckles, as well as being enchantable like any normal weapon.
Background/Personality: Although highly disillusioned and cynical, Dawn has an altruistic streak she can't seem to keep under control; it compels her to stand up for the underdog and, in her opinion, is much more trouble than it's worth. IN her homeworld she was an excellent arena fighter and did a more than a little detective work when money was tight, but neither occupation ever appealed to her as anything more than a way of making ends meet.
Abilities: Dawn is a surprisingly tenacious close-range combatant, able to take a hell of a beating (Tough hero and Thrasher) and give as good as she gets with an arsenal of dirty fighting moves (Improved Feint combined with Sneak Attack, Ambush feats and Knockout Punch). Though she tends to sell herself short, Dawn is also talented in the areas of infiltration, hacking and thievery (Rogue levels, Investigative occupation).

As always, your opinion would be highly appreciated. Which characters do you find interesting?

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