Monthly Archives: October 2009

Of Chitin and Creativity Part III

Chitin And Creativity, Part III — In 3D!

And the bad 80’s references continue…

First, a quick catch-up for our audience (hah!) just now tuning in…

In Part I, I introduce the Cha’k, an insectile race being designed for 4e.

In Part II, there is slightly less random blather and a lot more actual design.

So here we are at Part III, where I will finish the Castes and move on to things like racial feats.

All the actual crunch is after the break…

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Of Chitin and Creativity, Part II

The Cha’k Part 2: Electric Boogaloo

My gods, I’m really dating myself with that lame "reference" to 25 year old pop culture.

Anyway, back to the Cha’k. (Hey, that rhymes!)

When last we left our intrepid game designer, he… that is, me… er… I… had begun statting out the Cha’k, an insectile race for my current 4e gameworld of Cret. We were still working on racial abilities. And we have no idea why we’re talking in first-person plural. I think it’s a mix of the editorial "we" and my feeling that, writing this, I am engaging in a conversation with the readers, as if they were here (as if they existed), working through a problem. I am also very inconsistent with regards to this, alternating between "I" and "we" with abandon. Consistency is, however, the hobgoblin battlemage of little minds.

That should be sufficient pre-article rambling. Time to actually get to work, after the break!


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Of Chitin And Creativity

The Cha’k

A Race For 4e and FantasyCraft

It’s not really my intent to make this blog nothing but an exercise in "Lizard talks about how much he loved Arduin back in 11th grade", but when I start tracing back my inspirations and thinking about where my ideas come from, an awful lot of them follow a winding path back to those three tan booklets. So it is with the Cha’k.

The what, you say?

When I do worldbuilding, I tend to start with writing essays and overviews and I don’t really think too much about what I’m writing. That is, I will throw out names, places, events, terms, and what-not, and only later go back and try to figure out what any of them mean. Often, a lot remains undefined, which is deliberate — to my mind, it makes the world seem more real if not even the DM knows everything about it, and I can always go back later.

So when I began working on my current world, Cret, for my 4e game, I found myself scribing the following paragraph:

Over time, Cret gave rise to several native intelligences — the lizardmen, the insectoid Cha’k, and of course, the great dragons, who in turn created the kobolds as their servants. Of these, the Cha’k were the most prosperous for a time, and their city-hives covered dozens of square miles each. Then came a dark plague, its cause still unknown, and all but a handful of the Cha’k perished, their organic city-hives crumbling and rotting without the millions of drones needed to sustain them.

And, pretty much, that’s all I had to begin with. Later on, I wrote:

North of it is Glimdrang, a nation ruled by arcane bioengineers who, building off the old Cha’k hives, have bred all manner of mutant insects and strange human/insect hybrids. Dragonfly riders, etc.

At the time I wrote the first paragraph, I knew nothing about the Cha’k except that they were insectile and mostly extinct by the time of the campaign; the second paragraph told me, or at least implied, that the Cha’k were masters of bioengineering, and that these techniques had been learned by other races. (I later decided ‘lifeweavers’ was a good term for masters of fantasy genetics.)

And, really, at this point, that’s all I know. I did do an article on grafts based on the Cha’k, but that just reinforced the two traits already mentioned — lost race, organic tech. The only other data point I can glean is that they had some kind of caste system, hence the "drone" reference.

Some people, reading this, might think that this practice of reading my own writing and trying to learn something from it, as if I was studying another author’s text, is madness. I do wish to be clear — I’m not some weird hippie visionary who tokes up on the wacky tobacky and produces some rambling, incoherent scrawl I have to look back on when sober and struggle to interpret. I have, in the words of Londo Mollari, "cultivated sobriety as my only vice". I usually have some idea in the back of my brain as to what I’m referring to, though it often shifts and changes, and leaving things undefined lets me define them as needed later on. Once I’ve "published", though, whether it’s to a blog or just to my own notes, I tend to think of that as fixed, and everything else has to fit in with what has gone before. So when it’s time to define something more fully — such as the Cha’k — I look back at what I’ve written, the established "facts", and see what they inspire. Regardless of the ideas I may have had percolating in my brain when I first drafted my notes on Cret, my only obligation now is to make sure whatever I come up with fits what has already been written.

(At this point, you may be wondering where the Arduin connection comes in. ‘Tis simple. One of the more bizaare, and thus interesting, races of the original Arduin Trilogy were the Phraint, mantis-like beings who were aliens, the descendants of survivors of a crashed starship, with all sorts of sub-breeds and vague hints and very little hard detail, just the way I liked it. As a result, I tend to have some race of insect-people in most of my fantasy worlds, just because they’re cool. How much the Cha’k will resemble the Phraints is indeterminate now, but hopefully, not much, aside from drawing on them for the initial seed of inspiration.)

Anyway… on to the actual race building! Over the course of the next few days, I’ll basically work out the race in both fluff text and game mechanics, for both D&D Fourth Edition and FantasyCraft. We shall begin…. here. (After the break)

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Moebius Adventures

Moebius Adventures

An RPGBloggers Network Small-Press-Week Entry

So I joined RPGBloggers Network a month or two ago. Someone decided it would be a good and fun thing to have bloggers give small press games (and when you consider the size of the ‘big’ press in this industry, small press is Very Small Indeed!) a little coverage, not in a shilling/advertising way, but as a means of calling attention to Cool Stuff that might otherwise be easily missed. I scanned down the list of smaller companies interested in participating, and saw Moebius Adventures, a universal RPG.
I love universal RPGs. They’re one of my main passions, and one reason I tend to greatly dislike Forge-style games, which are by design anti-universal — they’re often extremely narrow in scope and are only capable of resolving conflicts which the designer decided ahead of time should be resolved. (Or they have some incredibly vague and generic mechanic which is barely a step above “Roll two dice, if the red one is higher than the blue one, you win!”) I freely admit to preferring more “simulationist” systems, because I am an insane worldbuilder, and I want a system to handle any idea I have, to turn any concept I can come up with into game mechanics I can rely on. If I attack a hamster with an Uzi, I do not want the game to tell me this is a “Conflict Of Violence” and apply the exact same resolution mechanic (“Compare your Heart to the Tragedy Rating of the current Interlude. You may spend Hope.”) as if I’d attacked a tyrannosaurus with a flint knife. Sure, you can go way too far the other way (Spycraft teeters right on the edge of ‘too complex’; something like Phoenix Command plunges way into the abyss), but I find it’s easier to strip rules than to add them, and the perfect game, for me, is one where I can find a rule for anything I might reasonably need to resolve, and the rule reflects, to at least some extent, the perceived reality of the conflict — a wall covered in grease is harder to climb than one which is not, a large animal takes more damage than a smaller one, a strong-willed dwarf is harder to persuade than a cowardly kobold, etcetera.
We’re digressing, of course, but if you’ve read anything in this blog before, you’ll know I’m the Tristram Shandy of bloggers, which is amusing since I utterly despised that piece of incoherent dreck when they made us read it in college.
Enough about why I like universal games, then. Let’s look at Moebius Adventures. I will try not make this review/chargen too one sided.
Get it? Moebius? One sided? Thank you, I’ll be here all week. Don’t forget to tip your waiter.
More after the break!

Dragon Magic (Part I)

Dragon Magic

Well, it is now Saturday, so this has been another embarassing week for Breakfast Crunch being on-schedule. I’m hoping to do some quick catch-up and be back where I want to be by Monday, where the cycle of geting off-schedule can happen all over again.

One of the things I really liked about 3.5, and for that matter about almost older editions of AD&D, was that dragons weren’t just big scaly lightning-breathing lizards, they were big scaly spell casting lightning breathing lizards. This, in turn, opened the door to spells which only dragons could cast, or which they might teach to a few dedicated followers (such as kobolds, usually). Arduin (see how often that name comes up?) actually had some very cool spells of "Dragon Magick" in one of the later volumes.

This doesn’t work so well in 4e. As Solos, it’s hard to add a class template to a dragon. Just substituting one power for another and saying it’s a "dragon spell" lacks a kind of something to me — it just seems like it might as well just be some kind of alternate power, possibly as a result of the dragon getting too near to the gamma ray testing facility. The idea that monsters should be designed, mechanically, only for their five rounds "on stage" also undermines the idea of giving them powers mostly useful for explaining their various plots — even "NPC Focused" rituals are discouraged, with the argument being anything that happens offscreen doesn’t need rules.

Anyway, after pondering this a bit, I hit upon something interesting: Draonic Cantrips. A Draconic Cantrip is a fragment of draconic magic, a remnant of the mighty spells woven by the Dragons Of Olde TM. These minor bits of lore are traded among dragons, or sought out by them, as a means of enhancing their power. A dragon may know many cantrips, but may only have a few readied for use at any one time — the rituals to enact and bind them are time consuming and it takes a great deal of concentration to keep the power at hand. As a consequence, a dragon may have only one cantrip per tier in any given encounter, though if he survives the battle he may have some different ones prepared for the next time he faces his foes. The cantrips themselves are designed to scale (no pun intended), so you may see a [T] in the descriptions — this is a short hand for "multiply this number by the tier", ie, 2d6[T] means "do 2d6 at Heroic, 4d6 at Paragon, and 6d6 at Epic". [T5] means the cantrip increases at mid-tier (and should not given to a dragon below fifth level), so 2d6[T5] means "2d6 from 5-14th level, 4ed6 from 15-24th level, and 6d6 from 25th level onwards". I hope that’s clear.

OK, enough digressing. On to the cantrips, after the break!

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Ooze Dragon

Ooze Dragon

It is difficult to say with certainty precisely how the creatures known as Ooze Dragons came to be. The dominant theory is that they were created by the Demon Lord of Slimes, most likely in mockery of a certain former demon who managed to jump herself up to godhood via the worship of the chromatic dragons. Another theory is that the first Ooze Dragon was an accident, the result of a battle between a dragon and an ooze, most likely a black pudding, in some area of high and wild magic.

Ooze Dragons, while sapient, are not very bright. They are among the stupidest of the dragons, and their soft, malleable bodies are more revolting than fearsome. An Ooze Dragon cannot even fly — its wings are great sheets of slime, constantly dripping, and they cannot catch or hold the air. It can, however, slowly climb up or down almost any surface.

Like all dragons, Ooze Dragons enjoy their hordes, but their acidic bodies reduce most treasure to useless goop. Any items which survive are likely either ceramic, some jewels, or powerful magic. The most intelligent of Ooze Dragons will actually have their hordes managed and maintained by servants, usually kobolds who can’t find a more respectable dragon to grovel under.

Ooze Dragons are asexual. They reproduce via the Ooze Drakes which split off from their bodies when they are wounded. Very rarely, an Ooze Drake will slither away from its "parent" and will, eventually, become an Ooze Dragon Wyrmling and then age normally.


Full stat blocks for the Ooze Dragon and his Ooze Drakes after the break!

(A side note — I’ve been using image files instead of text blocks due to nightmares with trying to paste the formatted text into my Joomla editor. I hope this isn’t problematic for anyone.)

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Ooze Dragons

Ooze Dragons

So I had a plan for Tuesday, and that was that I’d dig up some other strange old third party supplements from the 1970s and see what kinds of wonky dragons I could find in them. Well, that lasted until I started thinking about my Green Slime Golem, and my general love for all things oozy in D&D, and came up with the Ooze Dragon, to which this article is linked. I am by no means claiming that such beasts did not exist in other works and possibly lodged in my subconscious decades ago; it’s just that I didn’t deliberately set out to copy/update/reimagine some paritcular take on it.

A few design notes — this is an Elite, not a Solo, because, well, an Ooze Dragon just seems to be a lesser sort of beast. I am perhaps overly proud of how the Ooze Drakes spawn and can then be reabsorbed — I can see some good uses for mobility powers to keep the Dragon from constantly healing as his babies are splattered. One mechanic I was toying with before I hit on the Ooze Drakes was a ‘splash’ effect, where every time the dragon was hit, everyone nearby would take damage, but I decided that the Drakes were more fun and interesting.

One of the "problems" I sometimes have with 4e design is knowing when to stop. Given a concept, such as "It’s a dragon… but made of slime!", my mind immediately runs to simulationism, trying to think of everything a slimey dragon could do and how it could react to almost any type of attack, producing overly long power lists and finicky sets of immunities, vulnerabilities, and so on. While there’s no absolute restriction on how much stuff you can plug into a monster, 4e makes it clear that a design should focus on the highlights — come up with one or two things which say "Slime Dragon", and just do them, and save the other things for something else.  

(Clever readers might note I said I had a plan for Tuesday, but this is Wendesday. Believe it or not, the Ooze Dragon/Drake stats were all done bright and early yesterday morning, actually meeting my Breakfast Crunch goals. Before I could get around to uploading, Real Life intervened, and it’s been intervening ethusiastically until about… now. I’ll try to catch up with a double post tomorrow.)


TheOoze Dragon, ladies and gentlemen!

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Violet Dragon

Violet Dragon

For details on how and why this beast came to be, please read Dragons and Dungeons.

Violet Dragons are curious and strange beasts, possibly a form of elemental dragon. They are extremely rare, and are sometimes confused with Purple Dragons, though there is, in fact, no relation. They are, as one might expect, a deep violet in hue, with the tone deepening and darkening with age, from an almost lavender shade as wyrmlings to a deep, dark, color, nearing black, for an elder wyrm. They are distinguished by the single row of sharp ridged plates which line their back, plates which crackle with energy even when the Violet Dragon is at rest, which is not often.

Violet Dragons are extremely active. While most dragons are content to sit in their lairs and count their coins, venturing out only occasionally to hunt, terrorize, or command, Violet Dragons will venture forth daily. A few have no lairs at all, but roam the world, demanding and then destroying tribute from whatever areas of civilization they pass. The breath of a violet dragon destroys magic, and once an item has been rendered inert by this beast’s exhalations, it can devour the essence of it. Unlike some creatures, such as rust monsters, there is no residuum storage within the dragon; whatever process it uses leaves nothing behind. Thus, Violet Dragons are seen as a true test of courage for would-be dragon slayers, as those who face it risk more than their lives — they risk their magic items! (In a world where Raise Dead scrolls are cheap and +5 swords are not, property is indeed worth more than life itself!)

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Dragons and Dungeons

DRAGONS (and Dungeons)

So there I am, 14, and flipping through a friend’s Monster Manual (First Printing of First Edition, the one with no illustration for the Eye Of The Deep, and of course the classic Sutherland cover, and my attention was focused not on the topless monsters (oh, boys and girls, there was nudity back in those days in our gaming books… mmm…. Loviatar….), but on the dragons. It utterly and completely fascinated me that there were ten types of dragons (plus two uber-dragons). My semi-Asperger’s adolescent mind was enraptured with the categorization scheme — colors for evil, metals for good, each with levels of power, and of course each dragon had eight age groups to which it could belong. (Indeed, a large part of the appeal of the Gygax era was, to me and to many others, the codification and classification of fantasy. To some folks, especially hoity-toity modern day artsy-fartsy new-age hippie commie ‘indie’ game designers, this is blasphemy and anathema, the destruction of wonder. To me, though, it’s the candle to the moth of my interest. The world of Gary Gygax, the world of color-coded dragons and numerical demons, of oozes and trappers and lurkers above, is the world that first grabbed hold of my consciousness. Thinking of it now, it occurs to me that the obvious artificiality of it was a huge part of the appeal — it was so self evidently a designed world, a world made up by a modern mind for the purpose of being made up, that it told me “You can do this too!”. Mythology was not just something inherited or absorbed, with no known origin and no credited creator; mythology could be made up by anyone.)

OK, major digression there. Anyway…. Dragons.

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