Thursday, August 17, 2017

Urban Arcana: Firearm Weapon Properties and Some Spells

Modern firearms don't neatly fit into even the suggested guidelines in the DMG, so I am stretching out a bit into new mechanics in the form of weapon properties. This design had to consider the following points:

  • A property might need to be broad enough to cover similar properties of entire groups of firearms.
  • It also needs to be simple to remember.
  • It also needs to not break the hell out of the game.

That said, there's a lot of reasons firearms supplanted the archer, the knight, and the pike. Their incredible killing potential aside, it's really all about a relatively light amount of physical prowess required to kill a whole lot of dudes way over there. So it's okay that guns are dangerous in 5E Urban Arcana.

Anyway, here's a rough draft of what I've come up with.

An automatic firearm chambers a new round without needing to remove one's finger from the trigger, and can be used to perform two additional attack modes. When you make an attack using an automatic firearm, you can opt to perform a three-round burst. This attack grants you advantage on the attack roll, but consumes three rounds from your ammunition. You cannot perform a three-round burst if you do not have at least three rounds remaining in the firearm's magazine.
You may also attempt to perform a spray with a full magazine. The entire magazine is consumed when you make this attack. In lieu of making attack rolls, you may force a number of creatures in a cone with a range equal to the weapon's medium range to make a Dexterity saving throw or suffer the firearm's damage. The number of creatures you can affect is equal to the number of bullets in the magazine. The DC for this saving throw is 8 + your Dexterity modifier + your proficiency bonus.
 Most weapons are not automatic by default, and this property is typically bestowed upon a weapon by using a weapon modification kit. Automatic firearms are illegal in nearly all civilian environments, and owning one without sufficient clearance is grounds for arrest, confiscation, and/or fines by Earthly law enforcement entities.
Weapons with the loud property cannot be used for their traditional attack without causing a great deal of noise. Whenever you make an attack with a loud weapon that is not benefiting from a silencer or other means of suppressing noise, the sound of the attack can be heard up to 1000 feet away in open ground, or 300 feet away inside a typical building. 
Unlike the more punitive loading quality, you may make as many attacks as the weapon has in its magazine before you must use an action to reload the weapon.

Of course, a trained firearm expert is going to be able to reload a weapon rather quickly. Thus I also include a feat:

Rapid Reload
Prerequisite: None. 
Effect: Your Dexterity score increases by 1. You may replace the magazine on any weapon with the reload quality as a bonus action rather than an action.

Now, there's something to be said for some weapons not being able to load quite as fast as that. Loading up some kinds of shotguns might take you longer than the couple seconds implied in a bonus action (I know I'm inviting myself to be eviscerated by someone saying they can do it faster, but I am willing to eat crow on that), but like I say in the design goal bullet points, I'm trying to be broad and still reasonably accurate here.

Same with the Loud quality. I'm completely spitballing on how far away you can hear a gunshot. If you're in an open desert in the dead of a still night, you can hear gunfire from quite far away.  I leave those ranges open for correction, but incredibly loud firefights do provide some impetus to get close and dirty with your magic sword against the bugbear mafia when there's a god-baby with an apocalyptic scream sleeping in the crib upstairs.

That may or may not have happened in the old d20 Modern game I ran. Just saying.

Other things I may need to consider are ammunition type, since shot is different from slug which is different from sabot... you see where this rabbit hole leads. I need to be careful to remain true to 5E design goals and not turn firearms into an abyss of corner cases and specialty rules.

I've already got a bunch of weapon mod ideas for them and that's going to be bad enough.

As a bonus, I've converted a couple of spells so far from the old rules and introduced one new spell that I used in my old campaign (silver was important for overcoming damage reduction since magic weapons were still incredibly rare and being smuggled in from the magic world).

Burglar's Buddy
2nd-level illusion

Casting Time: 1 action
Range: 120 feet
Components: V, S, M (the cover of a camera lens)
Duration: Concentration, up to 10 minutes

You suppress the functions of electronic or mechanical alarm systems and sensors in a 15 foot radius centered on a point within range. The affected systems include, but are not necessarily limited to, motion detectors, pressure sensors, laser grids, and video cameras.

Cameras continue to broadcast the last thing they saw before the spell was cast in the area, but this spell does not create a visual "dead zone" if the camera itself lies outside of the range of the spell.

1st-level transmutation

Casting Time: 1 action
Range: Touch
Components: V, S
Duration: Instantaneous

You touch a device that contains electronic data, such as a computer or flash drive. All data upon that object is immediately and irrevocably erased.

Steel to Silver
1st-level transmutation

Casting Time: 1 action
Range: Touch
Components: S, M (a silver object about the size of a fingernail)
Duration: Concentration, up to 1 hour

You touch a single weapon, 20 arrows, 20 crossbow bolts, or a single magazine of bullets. For the duration of the spell, the weapon takes on a silvery sheen and strikes as though it were crafted of pure silver without sacrificing any of its durability or penetrating power.

At Higher Levels. When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 2nd level or higher, you may affect one additional weapon as outlined above for each spell level above 1st.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Pre-generated Characters for the Fantastic West

At a local home-convention run by industry coworkers, I occasionally get tapped to run RPGs for convention goers. About four years ago I ran a smash and grab dungeon crawl/card game using a slimmed down D&D and some treasure cards I made. It was called Dwarves: Conquerors of the Infinite Dungeons, and after some missteps with the treasure card mechanics (leading to fierce competition rather than cooperation for the incidental prize at the end) I opted for something a bit more cooperative for following years.

Two years ago, I instead ran Adventures in the Fantastic West, a fantasy western using 5th Edition D&D as the chassis and the gun rules in the DMG. With D&D mysticism and a pile of six-guns, the players had a ton of fun with the slapdash setting I threw together for the game, where a fantasy society expands outwards and runs headlong into a buried empire that the natives tried very hard to put down in their ancient history.

This year I've been called upon to run another game, so I'm going to run Return to the Fantastic West with a new batch of pre-generated characters. It also helps as a test bed for some mechanics I'm working on for Urban Arcana, so it's well-timed. Tonight I quickly whipped up the characters I'm going to let the sign-ups pick from, with an eye towards being fast and loose with the D&D rules and mixing in some altered class mechanics.

These were generally built with fun in mind and not min-maxing, so you'll see some odd choices and spell picks in the interest of ease of use for newcomers to D&D. This isn't the place to excoriate me for not playing to the meta. Power gaming is boring to me.

You'll note a few of the following bits herein:

  • Characters were generated using the standard array and don't utilize feats (they're only 3rd level).
  • The Firearms fighting style is simply the Archery fighting style, renamed
  • The paladin can smite with their shotgun, and their Oath is pseudo-custom.
  • The warlock's pact weapon is the Devil's Right Hand, a hellish revolver.
  • The rogue can always sneak attack with their seventh shot.
  • The ranger is using the Revised Ranger UA
  • The cleric is using the Life domain, but using the setting's "Order of the Golden Caduceus" secret society as a backdrop.
  • I'm loosely basing the Deadtracker's hunting rifle off of the .44 Winchester, but couldn't find a reliable source for how many cartridges it could hold before needing a reload. I guessed five. I'll keep looking for info and ask my Western historian friends when I can.
  • It should also probably be heavy, disallowing the halfling from using it without suffering disadvantage, but I'm letting it slide because it's cool.

Some day I may even flesh this out into an actual setting, but it's got enough issues and tough-to-tackle subjects that I might not try it. The evil undead empire underneath the Fantastic West could very easily be misconstrued for "spooky Indian burial ground" and other such tropes with unfortunate implications, when it isn't intended that way.

Anyway, enjoy the pre-gens.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Urban Arcana: Ballistic Baggage

While working on my Urban Arcana stuff, I've been considering the (re)introduction of the ballistic damage type. The DMG appendices referencing firearms list has them dealing piercing damage, which is fairly appropriate for the abstraction of 5th Edition combat. I can't pretend my layman's knowledge of modern firearms would stand up to professional scrutiny, but fortunately 5E combat doesn't concern itself with the stopping power of a specific gun/ammunition combo.

In d20 Modern, the ballistic damage type was its own thing, separate from the usual bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing physical damage types. There's something to be said for attaching a new damage type so that rider effects can be placed on it, without needing to heap on piles of conditional text.

That's a little vague. Basically, what I'm saying is that I could introduce spells, magic items, and technological gadgets that improve or provide resistance against ballistic damage without needing to say "piercing damage sourced by firearms from categories X, Y, and Z" every time I need the conditional effect. It could also help provide granularity for certain kinds of modern protective gear (such as certain styles of ballistic vests that are good for stopping bullets, but not necessarily knives).

Of course, there's some baggage involved with introducing a new damage type outside of the ones already provided. We've already got piles of them. It may warrant a general guideline with monsters and encounter building to say that if a monster is immune or resistant to non-magical bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing damage, it's thereby inferred that they are also resistant to non-magical ballistic damage.

My working documents are going to make the assumption that ballistic damage is a thing. My revised firearms tables will also take this into account, though they're still going to be grouped into fairly broad categories. The last thing I need is an internet argument with strangers over just how much better gun X is than gun Y of the same model, because frankly I don't know guns super well and 5E doesn't need that level of granularity.

That said, even the DMG's firearm damage is gonzo. Chances are extremely high -- with very valid justification -- that a 1st level character is going to be taken from full HP to zero with a single shotgun blast, not to mention a high-powered rifle. Encounter design should be handled judiciously for such campaigns, of course.

Anyway, I'm curious what others think. Am I missing something obvious with introducing a new damage type?

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Urban Arcana: Barbarian Path of the Streets

Among the archetypes Wizards introduced in their Modern Magic UA was the City domain for clerics. I was pretty fond of this idea, as an avid World of Darkness (and Werewolf in particular) player throughout the late 90s and early 2000s. It's very Weaver-esque, which I thought was a much more interesting conflict for a chronicle than the bog-standard Wyrm minions.

That said, I thought the concept of city spirits could be expanded to other classes, and thus was born the idea for the Path of the Streets -- a barbarian possessed by a local neighborhood spirit whose mood and powers change based on how the community thrives.

As always, first drafts, no playtest, yadda yadda constructive criticism et cetera.

Path of the Streets

The streets of dense urban centers can, after years of powerful emotions from the residents, develop their own spiritual guardians. Only dimly-sentient, the spirit tends to reflect the prevailing attitudes of the district in which they dwell. A harbor-side warehouse district, forever slick with the blood of victims of the mob that controls it, may shelter a violent and hateful street spirit. Conversely, a poor but honest inner city neighborhood whose residents make the best of their circumstances and support the virtues of community, education, and brotherhood can spawn benevolent street guardians.

Barbarians, as people with an already powerful emotion that gives them supernatural strength, are magnets for these spirits. Those who follow the Path of the Streets are conduits for their respective spirit. When you select this path, choose a community or neighborhood in an urban or suburban environment; this location becomes the source and home of your possessing spirit.

Righteous Force / Wrathful Brute

When you join the Path of the Streets at 3rd level, the spiritual possession is nascent and shows itself in subtle ways. You might not even realize the spirit is present within them at first. The exact nature of the spirit is contingent on the state of the neighborhood in question, and a spirit can be redeemed or corrupted based on actions within the community. Your Dungeon Master determines the state of your street spirit at a given point in time.

Repeatedly funding, encouraging, and participating in community revival projects make the spirit benevolent. In these cases, you may use Righteous Force while raging, giving allies advantage to attack any enemy you successfully strike in melee until the end of your next turn.

Fomenting fear, intimidating residents, or encouraging the abuse of a neighborhood's resources or community will turn the spirit violent and hateful. When this is the case, you instead become a Wrathful Brute, dealing psychic damage equal to your Strength modifier to enemies adjacent to creatures you strike in melee.

Pillar of the Community

Also at 3rd level, when you join this path, you are recognized as a local resident of import within your spirit's neighborhood. You have advantage on Charisma ability checks when dealing with community residents, and can always find a safe house for you and a number of allies equal to your Strength modifier. Locals will be positively inclined toward you, though whether this is out of genuine appreciation or fear is contingent upon the state of the spirit and community itself.

One with the Streets

Upon reaching 6th level, the spirit's possession becomes more overt, granting a preternatural sense of urban or suburban environments, defined as anywhere with paved streets and at least one building of four or more stories.

You may spend 1 minute in contemplation while standing or sitting on pavement and allow the spirit within you to attune to the area, making it a sort of home away from home. For the next 8 hours, you gain advantage on Insight, Intimidate, Investigate, Persuasion, Perception, and Survival checks made in the neighborhood, and can use an action to disguise self at any time.

Community Service

At 10th level, you may directly call upon the spirit of the streets to aid you in battle. You may use a bonus action to cause a structure or local feature within 10 feet of you, such as a wall, street, stack of cinder blocks, exposed pipe, or even an overgrown community garden to spring to life and assail a target you can see within 30 feet.

You may elect to use this aid offensively, gaining advantage on attacks against the targeted foe, or use it defensively, causing any attacks against you from that opponent to suffer disadvantage. This effect lasts until the end of your next turn.

Urban Colossus

When you reach 14th level, the spirit of the streets within you allows you to perform feats of incredible strength. For the purposes of lifting, carrying, or throwing objects, you are treated as though you were Gargantuan (thus, a barbarian with a Strength of 20 can carry 2400 pounds, and push, drag, or lift 4800 pounds). You deal triple damage to artificial obstacles and structures, such as barricades, walls, and doors.

You may also pick up and throw objects or creatures as heavy as 4000 pounds -- about the weight of an average sedan -- with a range of 30 feet. Such attacks are made with disadvantage, but inflict crushing damage equal to 1d6 for every 200 pounds the object weighs. Medium or larger objects will leave difficult terrain in its wake.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Next Projects: Urban Arcana and a Birthright Campaign Module

Hey, folks! Not dead yet. Not for lack of the world trying, or anything. Buying a house is scary and intimidating. As is work crunch. For all this crunch, my abs don't seem any more defined, but I blame Thursday Belgian Beer night at the local watering hole for that.

Now that life is starting to back the heck off, I've had time to consider my next projects. My good buddy Brandes encouraged me to start work on an adventure module set in the Birthright setting, using my converted rules. Since Birthright doesn't easily lend itself to the "standard" module layout that Wizards established for 5th Edition thus far, it's proving an interesting challenge in module design.

Of course, due to the magnitude of that project, it's not going to be ready for some time. There's lots to go into something of that size, as you might expect. I'm taking some implied story hooks from the various Birthright products and expanding them into a full-fledged campaign arc/adventure book. It's proving to be very fun so far, and I'm making much better progress on it than I did on my ill-fated Ghostwalk conversion. Boo.

On the side though, I'm going to pump out some other stuff to keep my content from being too one-note (I'm sure casual readers are sick to death of me gushing over Birthright). Some comments have recommended checking out certain popular shows for inspiration and possible conversion, but what ended up happening was that I got a hankering for some urban fantasy. And sure, there are plenty of systems and settings already out there for it that use more narrative rules, but what I really wanted to see come back was Urban Arcana.

Some time back, Wizards themselves put out a little Unearthed Arcana entry, Modern Magic (PDF link), that was meant to evoke some of the fun of this sub-setting of the d20 Modern RPG back from the 2000s. I'd like to see more of it come back, but using some of the base classes from 5th Edition and not the (let's call them "controversial" and leave it at that) base classes from d20 Modern.

I think, with a few modifications and updates, it could be a great little project. I hope you enjoy the next few entries, I'm going to attempt to pick up the pace a little and hope that the homebuying process that is still ongoing doesn't kick me in the shins too hard.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Project Updates and General Rambles

Hey folks! After a few months picking at it like a fussy eater, I think I need to table my Ghostwalk work for now. It's not coming together quite like I'd hoped after multiple iterations, and long gulfs between when I can work on it are certainly contributing to its splotchy implementation. The perils of the day job, I fear.

Nevertheless, I am intent on doing more conversions, even if this one didn't pan out. After how well Birthright and Council of Wyrms went, I guess two out of three ain't bad. Unless you're being graded in American school systems, in which case that's still a D, depending on state.

For my next trick project, I am actually a bit adrift. I'm not sure what else is speaking to me, so I'll happily take suggestions. Something may spring out to me in the meantime, but really, the sky is the limit.

Recently I've also become enamored of Robert Schwalb's "Shadow of the Demon Lord" product line. To friends, I have likened it to Warhammer Fantasy without the heavy doses of self-parody and bombastic insanity that it enjoys. And well, as a child of the 80s and 90s, grimdark and edge are still part of my gamer DNA, and I don't know that modern sensibilities will ever really change that.

The fact that I enjoy it should not come as too much of a surprise to me, since I also loved his Song of Ice and Fire RPG that he did for Green Ronin. The games don't have much in common with one another, in terms of completely different focus and challenge resolution; in SIFRP you are navigating the political landscape of Westeros and spending most of your time in roleplay and intrigue, while in SotDL you start out as level zero commoners in a world on the brink of a demon invasion apocalypse.

I also find the system quite kitbashable into other things; I briefly fiddled with a Mass Effect RPG conversion over the course of a weekend, but one of those already exists using FATE. A canny traveler can still find it floating around in the archives of the internet in a post cease-and-desist world. I'm no fan of FATE, but the effort was sound before it got the hammer dropped on it. Let that be a warning to the enthusiast who uses the intellectual properties and copyrighted artwork of notoriously litigious companies. They don't care if you're doing it because you're a mega-fan, sadly.

Additional time investments of late include the Kickstarter for the Heroic Fantasy and Barbarian Conquerors handbooks for Autarch's Adventurer Conqueror King System. The teased content is rich and delightful, and though ACKS's adherence to ye olde systemes makes it challenging to rope groups into playing it, the expanded content offered by the new Kickstarter is going to be wonderful and I look forward to giving it a spin.

That's all I got for now. Since the day job is consuming most of my creative energies over the last month or so (and into the next one), it'll be a little light over here until, say, July. Not that it's been particularly busy or that I have a vast and demanding viewership or anything.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

The Magic of Torment

Like many, I am a huge fan of Planescape: Torment, which was recently released as an Enhanced Edition by Beamdog Studios.

Having finished my nineteenth playthrough of the game (really) with this new Enhanced Edition, which makes the game more bearable to play on modern PCs without needing to download a bunch of mods and get them working properly, I felt inspired to whip up a document that imports many of its unique spells into 5th Edition.

Playtesting is non-existent at this point, but if you ever do mess around with these, let me know what you think. Or if you see immediately bizarre formatting or balance issues. I tried to keep them in line with other spells of their level, but a few (Enoll Eva's Duplication and Tasha's Unbearable Derisive Laughter, for example) may be crazypants or not good enough.

In addition to the spells, I wrote up some flavor stuff in the front half of the document for giggles. And because I love the game. A lot. A whole lot. It's my favorite.

Hope you enjoy it. You can get it here, for free as always, as well as on the links bar.

Special thanks to Harbinger of Doom and Aryxymaraki for sanity checks and feedback. :)