17 September 2019

Super Duper Heroics

I ran a superhero* one-shot using the Super: Brains & Brawn one-page ruleset. The rules are quite solid for a short, free-form game, and offer a simple resolution for nearly any power you could think of. Unfortunately, they also allow the players to choose their own powers, which can lead to many flying bricks or other stock superpowers.

I wanted to try something different. The players could still choose between three powers or two powers and a sidekick, but then we went over to the Superpower Wiki, which has a handy button that can be used to give any aspiring cape a nice random power loadout. Of course, some deliberation is needed how to interpret or limit some powers, and stuff like Omnipotence or Author Authority should be rerolled outright, but generally it worked out well.


Case in point, Paper Princess rolled three powers:

High-tech Alien Exoskeleton: The power to own a high-tech extraterrestrial armour.
Paper Bullet Projection: The power to fire bullets of paper.
Illusion Manipulation: The power to create illusions.

She was a university student who happened upon a misplaced, mysterious book in the library. When she attempted to open the book, it exploded into a storm of loose papers that encased her in an armour of paper. She quickly learned that the armour transforms back into a book when doffed, gives her a little bit of strength and protection, and that she can shoot the surprisingly sharp sheets as blades or form various distractions by shaping the paper into objects and barriers.

She went on to become a hero, except that her decisions in the course of play were ultimately informed more by her huge student debt than by heroism.

 
Of course, not everyone ended up so consistent. Another player decided for the sidekick option and rolled Black Lips:

Shadow-metal Breath: The ability to release metal and shadow from one's mouth.
Indexing: The power to encode and preserve any and all sources or information, history, data, etc.

He was a teenage emo with perfect memory and pretty scary breath weapon. His mother forced him to take on Little Bugger, his younger brother, as a sidekick.

Awesome City child protective services failed hard here, as L.B. (not to be confused with B.L.) ended up as every rpg companion inevitably will, that is he was constantly sent to dangerous situations to "scout them out". Miraculously, he survived, unlike Black Lips.

From Astro City.
 
All in all, everyone seemed to have fun playing with an unorthodox powerset, and you could use randomized powers to inspire a build even in much more rules-heavy game. So, who would your villain or vigilante be?

*) More like professed superheros, really.

Critical Starting Gear

I like randomized starting gear much more than letting the players buy it from a boring shopping list. The table below was made for Encounter Critical, but should be appropriate for any science fantasy or post-apocalyptic game.

Roll three times on the list, plus get 3 rations, 3 torches and a bedroll.


d200 Starting Items:
  1. large backpack,
  2. 1d4 throwing knives,
  3. 1d4 javelins,
  4. landmine,
  5. pair of handheld radios,
  6. tool belt with tools (screwdriver, pliers, hammer, ...),
  7. wrench,
  8. flashlight,
  9. 2d6 torches,
  10. 1d6 empty injectors,
  11. duct tape,
  12. lighter,
  13. 1d10 000 credits of debt,
  14. coil of rope (20 m),
  15. length of chain (5 m),
  16. coil of barbed wire,
  17. coloured chalks,
  18. claw hammer and nails,
  19. grappling hook,
  20. canteen or flask,
  21. canister of petrol,
  22. 1d6 tins of (d4) baked beans / mystery meat / sardines / spinach,
  23. 1d6 iron rations
  24. padlock,
  25. handcuffs,
  26. walking staff,
  27. tent,
  28. winter sleeping bag,
  29. 1d6 iron spikes,
  30. wooden stake,
  31. Swiss knife,
  32. bear trap,
  33. shovel,
  34. rubber waders,
  35. sunglasses,
  36. hand saw,
  37. bucket,
  38. fishing rod,
  39. pouch of ball bearings,
  40. pouch of caltrops,
  41. vial of strong glue,
  42. pick axe,
  43. ice pick and climbing irons,
  44. wrist watch,
  45. heavy steel tongs,
  46. tin foil hat,
  47. net,
  48. metal file,
  49. lock picks,
  50. magnifying glass,
  51. hand mirror,
  52. vial of perfume,
  53. scented soap,
  54. binoculars,
  55. ball of twine,
  56. pencils and notepad,
  57. ink, quills and parchment,
  58. card deck,
  59. dice set,
  60. board game,
  61. fake jewels,
  62. cooking pots,
  63. frying pan,
  64. paint spray can,
  65. whistle,
  66. musical instrument of your choice,
  67. interesting novel,
  68. old magazines,
  69. law books,
  70. spirit stove,
  71. matchbox,
  72. snowshoes,
  73. skateboard,
  74. snowboard,
  75. surfboard,
  76. slingshot,
  77. bandages,
  78. bottle of hard liquor,
  79. keycard,
  80. pouch belt,
  81. fedora,
  82. hatchet,
  83. sewing kit,
  84. lead pipe,
  85. very sharp scissors,
  86. towel,
  87. cigarettes,
  88. waterproof bag,
  89. winter jacket,
  90. ammo belt,
  91. mittens and bobble hat,
  92. wetsuit,
  93. roller skates,
  94. ice skates,
  95. protective leather gauntlets,
  96. steel-toed boots,
  97. human skull,
  98. knuckleduster,
  99. welding mask,
  100. clown mask,
  101. knee and elbow pads,
  102. handmade fur hat,
  103. balaclava,
  104. bicycle,
  105. compass,
  106. face paint,
  107. flippers and snorkel,
  108. goggles,
  109. abacus,
  110. dosimeter,
  111. oxygen tank,
  112. gas mask,
  113. small keg of beer,
  114. handheld game console,
  115. poncho,
  116. first aid kit,
  117. very, very long knitted scarf,
  118. spork,
  119. expendable baton,
  120. box of tampons,
  121. lasso,
  122. periscope,
  123. metal detector,
  124. waterproof tarp,
  125. crowbar,
  126. can of grease,
  127. three meter pole,
  128. strong magnet,
  129. holy symbol,
  130. locket of hair,
  131. bag of turnips,
  132. wheel of expensive cheese,
  133. chisel,
  134. fancy set of clothes,
  135. tobacco and pipe,
  136. make-up set,
  137. old uniform,
  138. life vest,
  139. inflatable raft,
  140. oil lantern,
  141. incense,
  142. wig,
  143. donkey,
  144. 1d6 sheep,
  145. companion chatbot cube,
  146. cool-looking scars,
  147. falcon,
  148. briefcase of counterfeit money,
  149. top hat,
  150. camera,
  151. boom box,
  152. straight jacket,
  153. tooth necklace,
  154. bear hide,
  155. blowtorch,
  156. paints and brushes,
  157. crutch,
  158. jockstrap,
  159. razor blade,
  160. 2d6 cats,
  161. wheelbarrow,
  162. voodoo doll,
  163. pony,
  164. spyglass,
  165. broom,
  166. rag doll,
  167. atlas of Vanth,
  168. many keys on a ring,
  169. small but vicious dog,
  170. dried herbs,
  171. red herring,
  172. stolen signet ring,
  173. alms bowl,
  174. bolt cutter,
  175. loyal peasant,
  176. evidence kit,
  177. 2d6 chemical light sticks,
  178. fire extinguisher,
  179. forged papers,
  180. scalpel,
  181. audio recorder,
  182. sack of flour,
  183. luchador mask,
  184. recycling suit,
  185. headlamp,
  186. wineskin of cheap wine,
  187. jug of pickled eggs,
  188. pouch of salt,
  189. 1d20 candles,
  190. monkey,
  191. gardening tools,
  192. bag of various seeds,
  193. drinking horn,
  194. 1d4 doses of a drug,
  195. 1d4 grenades,
  196. power cell,
  197. potion,
  198. gadget,
  199. tricorder,
  200. jetpack.


12 September 2019

Encounters in the Unchartable Woods

Here are some sites and sights your players could find in the yellow and red zones of the Unchartable Woods.
 
d50 Encounters in the Unchartable Woods
  1. A well. Old and moss-covered, but the winch still seems to be working. You can also just about make out an opening half the way down the shaft.
  2. A lamp post, just like the ones along the caravan trail, except here it sits in the middle of a meadow. Permanently alight.
  3. A stone bridge over a ravine so deep you cannot even see the bottom. A rather friendly troll lives in a tiny cave below the bridge. It won't demand toll, but loves presents. It also really, really hates goats.
  4. An orchard of fruit trees maintained by a suspicious but otherwise friendly robodroid. He keeps the trees for masters that left and never came back. He distills a strong obstler that his body can burn for energy.
  5. A witch hut on chicken legs, the witch nowhere to be seen.
  6. A feral robodroid, damaged and believing itself to be a cannibal savage. It hunts humanoids with obsidian spear, then attempts to eat them.
  7. A severed arm is crawling to the east. It's scaly and wears a signet ring.
  8. Giant gold spiders gathered in a massive swarm, spinning their webs high above between skyscraper-sized trees, with a king's ransom of gold trapped within. Not aggressive unless disturbed.
  9. A slumbering demon-goddess in a dilapidated temple, served by a cabal of debauched Vulkins. They keep the goddess asleep with incessant chanting, and draw her blood with silver needles, injecting it to their veins to experience heightened emotions unadulterated by logic or shame. It would be very bad if the players made every last of them stop chanting.
  10. A castle of wax, full of bee girls. This must be the fabled Apian Acropolis, where the royal jelly capable of curing all ills and even prolonging one's life is produced.
  11. A perfectly circular lake of mercury.
  12. A space-time vortex, leading to anywhere and anywhen. If the GM wishes to derail the campaign completely, I suggest they pick at random from all the setting books and modules they own. Otherwise, it might perhaps lead to the Asteroid 1618.
  13. A crashed spaceship, long ago overtaken by nature. It will never fly again, but maybe there is still some high-tech wonder left intact.
  14. A lighthouse. The crashing of sea waves and the cries of seagulls can be heard while inside.
  15. An asphalt highway. It will lead you (d4): 1) out of the red zone in much less time than possible, 2) to the unknown highway (yes, on the other side of Vanth), 3) to a random other encounter, 4) back where you started after 1d6 days of uneventful travel.
  16. A foothill of a high mountain with snowy peak. No one had ever heard about it, nor seen it even from the blimps that sometimes cross over the forest. There seem to be buildings high on the mountainside and shadows moving between them, but not humanoid shadows.
  17. A towering crystal spire, with a narrow staircase chiseled into its side. Standing at the top, you could see all over Vanth with crystal clarity, and even chipped-off piece of the crystal can serve as a powerful spyglass.
  18. A titan, bound by adamant chains with a single link larger than a grown man. It speaks with rumbling, sorrowful voice. It will offer anything and everything if you can set it free.
  19. An area frozen in time. You can just barely make out some humanoid silhouettes inside, through the dirt and rain that gathered on the edges of the effect. Surely the time field could be broken?
  20. An idol of black stone, half sunk into the swampy ground. It has two fiery jewels for eyes.
  21. A well-kept hedge around a homely cottage. Dire sheep who can mimic human voices lurk nearby.
  22. An old graveyard. Anything dead brought inside will spring back to life (including leather armour or cured meat), but only for as long as it doesn't leave the graveyard.
  23. A factory complex, devoid of all life but full of phasic fumes. There is an insane medibot running around trying to cure anyone it can get its many manipulators on. It's actually really skilled in medicine and surgery, except that it puts everyone to hospital beds deep within the polluted complex, where they then asphyxiate.
  24. A feast table full of lavish foods, expensive wines and exotic liquors. If the PCs taste anything off the table, they realise it heals their wounds, restores crippled limbs and revitalizes spirits. The next time they sleep, they will dream of beautiful people dancing with them through the night, and wake up 1d10 years older per every food or drink consumed.
  25. A shrine and a pedestal with a gemstone of death. Intelligent, remorseful and very valuable. It glows ominously and will scream at anyone coming near not to touch it. A skin contact kills with no Save, and nearly all materials will rot, rust or crumble with prolonged contact.
  26. The forest floor becomes covered in meaty tendrils and vines, until the PCs come upon a large, cancerous mass of flesh and fused carcasses, with a sphincter-like entrance. Might be a biomancer's laboratory, might be a temple of the God-Flesh, or even a portal to Xor.
  27. The gravity just stops. An area of the forest experiences zero g. Maybe the culprit, be it a wondrous item or a miracle machine of stupendous science, could be found?
  28. A distress call. Pick some form of communication available to the PCs; a radio, telepathic message, etc. It might lead to a ransacked camp, a replacement PC, or an ambush.
  29. The end of the world. You found a cliff going straight down towards a starry void.
  30. Three Amazons have a small cabin and several fields of coca plants here. They found a relatively reliable path out of the forest and enjoy the seclusion that allows them to run their drug trade in peace.
  31. An ancient circle of standing stones and some modern scientific equipment laid out inside. There is no air within the circle, only vacuum, as anyone unlucky enough to enter will quickly discover.
  32. The ruins of a lecture hall, with a ghostly professor endlessly talking about possibly quite interesting topics.
  33. The wellspring of love. Any creature that drinks from the waters will be overwhelmed with the desire to mate and will produce viable offsprings no matter how incompatible their partner should be. Many hybrid creatures lurk nearby.
  34. A small village stuck in a loop. Not a time loop, they just repeat the same activities day after day and know nothing about the outside of the village.
  35. A bunker connected to an abandoned nuclear silo. The hidden launch door are buried and stuck, but the nuclear missile is still in working conditions. Another adventuring party might have arrived just before the PCs, intent on taking the weapon for themselves.
  36. A humongous mecha, half-buried in the ground where it fell ages ago. It could still be repaired, but the time and resources necessary depend on how much you want your players to have a gigantic mecha.
  37. A vanta rose field. They suck light out of their surroundings, plunging everything into absolute darkness. Not even magical light or sight can pierce it.
  38. A random magic weapon in a stone. Anyone can pull it free, but anyone who does will firmly believe that they were chosen by this act as the true king or queen of a kingdom also lost in the Unchartable Woods, and that the weapon will reveal the path to their promised land to them. There is no kingdom and the wielder will just get themselves and the party lost.
  39. A haphazard heap of electronics and scrap metal covered in moss speaks to the party in synthesised voice. It wishes to send them on a rather pointless fetch quests of medium difficulty, but for every fulfilled quest, it will allow one PC to pick a cybernetic augmentation and have it implanted. It won't tell that it can receive data from and remotely control the implants later.
  40. A rusty iron cage, apparently empty. Except it's not. A close examination reveals extraordinarily powerful enochian sigils and runes of warding under the rust, strong enough to hold even an angel of the sixth choir.
  41. The dread gazebo. It's actually completely normal except for a warding that envelops it in a fear aura. Once you get inside, the effect no longer affects you and you can enjoy the safety of a gazebo that the monsters are too afraid to come near.
  42. A recently fallen star in a shallow crater. Her leg is broken, but otherwise she's unharmed, if frightened and baffled by her fall.
  43. A space suit is reclining over a fallen tree, as if in respite. If opened, a torrent of swarming, ravenous insects will pour our, leaving inside only a skeleton gnawed clean.
  44. The party wakes up dirty, exhausted, hungry and injured. They don't recognise their surroundings and 1d6 days worth of supplies are missing from their backpacks. Close by, a brain-like monstrosity lies slain by the PCs' own weapons.
  45. The trees and undergrowth give way to enormous fungi, mushrooms and mycelium. Any open wounds will get infected with mould, and should the party stay longer with no breathing protection, the airborne spores will start to germinate even in their lungs.
  46. A pair of lovers argues viciously before one assaults and kills the other. Then suddenly the whole scene flickers and starts again - the party will find a faulty holovision stuck endlessly replaying a short bit from some old soap opera.
  47. A spawn of Shub-Niggurath merchant has her wares displayed and will be very eager to trade or talk, as business is quite slow around here.
  48. A combination of shrubbery and briar forms a maze of narrow passages, large enough that circumventing it would take a long time. The surrounding forest seems very quiet, but once the party delves deeper into the maze, they will start hearing nearby footsteps or slithering sounds.
  49. A sign is nailed to a tree. It unfortunately brings bad news - there is a minefield somewhere around here.
  50. Lonely snowflakes fall on the party and as they continue on their path, it starts to get colder and colder. If they don't double back and choose a different route, they will wake up to a winter morning the next day, with heaps of snow and biting cold. It's not just a fluke in the weather, the time jumped forward to the next winter.


I also approve of these, if you want more encounters for the woods.

11 September 2019

Unchartable Woods

There is a saying in Vanth, that lost things travel west, until they eventually all reach the so called Unchartable Woods. This wide swathe of forest stretches along the western edge of Vanth, even reaching as far as the great west road and towards the shunned towns. Many things fey and foul reside within the vast woods, and they are truly uncharted and uchartable. Not only are they wild and filled with monsters, but the landscape itself seems to shift sometimes, landmarks tend to disappear, distances are variable, rivers flow in circles, some areas are bigger on the inside or suddenly don't exist, and space and time seem to be more malleable than set.

The forest is dangerous and has already claimed all too many lives, but it blocks off rich trade routes and hides much that just waits to be discovered (or maybe rediscovered), from treasures and people to places and civilisations. Every year, more and more fools come hoping to find a fortune beneath the branches, but for every adventurer that profits, ten will loose friends, limbs or sanity.

And the woods are expanding, ever so slowly.


The edge of the Unchartable Woods is known as the green zone, a relatively safe area with low amount of weirdness and wealth. The parts of the forest that reach into Vanth are exclusively in the green zone, though that doesn't stop them from being as dangerous as any deep, wild woods might. Still, even the green zone provides timber and game of exceptional quality and size, and it is by no means monster free.

Yellow zone is the most common destination of adventurous ventures and the largest part of the Unchartable Woods. This is the area where the trees get larger and sunlight might have problems penetrating the canopy, where maps and compasses become unreliable, pathways treacherous and monstrous life ubiquitous. This is also where many a lost treasure, strange relic of the past, unknown magic or plainly weird stuff may be found. A more insidious danger of the yellow zone is that there is no obvious sign of coming close or crossing into the red zone, as the changes in the surroundings may be subtle at first, until the hapless pioneer gets confused and lost, or wanders into some unforeseen danger.
 
 
Red zone is deeper into the woods, where the trees grow taller than imaginable, supporting whole villages of beastmen or vegepygmies, where cities of ancient civilisations may be found overgrown by trees and vines and shrubbery, where the forest may give way to gigantic mushrooms, natural briar mazes or areas of petrified trees, and where animal, plant and monster life alike will make attempts at the explorer's life. Some even claim that the very air of the red zone is inimical to normal life, and anyone who stays too long may find themselves warped into a more monstrous self.
 
Horrors of the Silent Woods by ThemeFinland

Black zones are hearsay locations far, far beyond the places from where any expedition has managed to successfully return. Only rambling madmen rescued by other adventurers have been heard talking about black zones, claiming to have lost all their companions or decades of their life there. It is said that as you approach a black zone, the trees will become mutated and unnatural, even animated and aggressive, but in the zone itself they are replaced altogether with tall black monoliths pointing at a dark purple sky with alien stars. There is no Sun in a black zone, and the air is thin and barely breathable. Even many natural forces and laws, such as gravity or linear time, will start to loose hold.

Black zones are also allegedly filled with unimaginable treasures, from wellsprings of pure magic to fully operational spaceships left behind by parties unknown, so some reckless, insane or suicidally brave venturing parties have delved into the woods specifically to find a black zone. Some have returned without ever reaching their goal, others have not returned at all.
 
Smalltown Grove by SebastianBockisch

There are very few safe(ish) routes through the woods.

A so called "caravan trail" leads westward from the icy lake of Hori, skirting the North Mountains before plunging into the deep woods. Once built with massive expenditure of gold and lives, it is the safest way of crossing the forest. As the name suggests, it is frequently used by trade caravans travelling to the western lands, and the prodigious tolls they pay for the passage are in turn spent on maintaining the road and all associated facilities. The road itself is embanked and paved with stone, or raised on wooden platforms over the marshy parts of the forest, and followed by a line of lamp posts. A company of lamplighters, well-trained and well-armed professionals of some combat prowess, light these lamps every night to keep the monsters at bay and provide guidance to late travellers.

However, few people will travel the caravan trail at night, when the lurking danger is most oppressing and imminent. There is a series of safe houses built roughly a day's journey apart along the road, once again maintained from the travelling tolls. They offer shelter, lodging and stabling, and oftentimes are full-fledged inns, except enclosed in high walls. Most explorers wishing to venture deeper into the forest will first take the caravan trail to one of these houses, and the most popular adventuring sites will have a safe house with a blacksmith, salesmen or middlemen for nearly anything an adventurer might need, and probably even a brothel.

Deep in the red zone.
 
There are other roads in the Unchartable Woods, but rarely can you be sure that they won't disappear halfway through, that no monster made a lair right by the path, or that they still lead to their original destination. The woods and erratic and perilous, and many a pioneer was lost trying to find their own way and map the Unchartable Woods.

Apart from the roads, a railroad cuts a more or less straight line southwest from the shunned town of Prosperity all the way through the forest to the city of Algherra far west, every meter of its rails etched with runes of warding and pathfinding. Its construction was a great success for the mechanists of the shunned towns, and the newly opened business opportunities made Prosperity truly live up to its name.

The railroad constitutes the fastest route through the Unchartable Woods, but as of late the number of bandit and monster attacks have been increasing rapidly. Thus there is always work for adventurers willing to hire themselves out as train guards or protection for railway work crews.

Finally, a rare sight indeed is one of the western blimps soaring high above the trees.
 

d6 Quests in the Woods
  1. A train loaded with black hole metal ingots is soon to depart from Prosperity, and the proprietor is looking for some top-class guards to protect the incredibly valuable cargo. Or maybe the PCs would rather like to lay a trap to the train once it's far enough from civilisation?
  2. An entrepreneur has gained a licence to open a branch of the Hobling Postal Service in the far West. Now all she needs is a group of people willing to repeatedly make the highly hazardous journey through the Unchartable Woods, and loose not a single letter.
  3. A caravan owner is looking for mercenaries, but she has a secret. The caravan will be transporting a highly unusual cargo - twenty cages of various monsters for the gardens of the satrapa of Y'Thalla. Surely nothing will go wrong and the caravan will attract no unwelcome attention from either the customs officers or the monsters of the woods.
  4. A well-known adventurer was murdered in one of the safe houses after returning from two unusually successful ventures within a single month, and claiming to possess an enchanted map of the woods that actually works. Is it true or was he just a lucky braggart? Who has the map now? And most importantly, how can you profit?
  5. Bartholomew Benjamin Harper, a lizard noblemen and explorer, has gone missing on his trip over the forest in a balloon. His sister Priscilla Elinor Harper is offering a rich reward for a successful rescue mission, or at least for confirming his death and returning the family signet ring that would allow her to take over the whole family wealth.
  6. A hobling general is offering a generous pay to anyone who enlists for an expedition into the woods, to assess the danger of the deepest reaches. The party discovers the truth far too late: The general fell into disgrace with the hobling emperor and was given a choice. Either be exiled and forever tarnish the honour of his extended family, or die as a hero on a bogus expedition. No one is supposed to return alive.