Monthly Archives: February, 2014

Defining Covenants

Saint Wolfgang and the Devil, by Michael Pacher.

Saint Wolfgang and the Devil, by Michael Pacher.

I’m still working my way around the edges of this, but I think it’s starting to come together.

A covenant is an agreement between two entities. The structure is fairly standardized, and while there may be some common exchanges, notionally each is a unique construct. Each Covenant consists at least two terms, and usually three or more.

The first term identifies the entities bound by the covenant, acknowledging their relationship.

The second term identifies and makes explicit the conditions under which the covenant may be terminated… or possibly that it is irrevocable, though that is likely uncommon, since it binds both.

After that come a number of terms, each identifying an exchange involved in the covenant. Each term can have several clauses specifying elements of how the term is to be implemented, and may identify a specific termination clause for the term. Very specifically it may include a clause outlining penalties for failing to comply or perform.

Note that there are many possible exchanges, and that while they do tend to be at least somewhat fair, there is room for negotiation. In principle both parties choose to enter the covenant, but circumstances can certainly cause entities to enter covenants that they might prefer not to.

The definition of covenant used above could apply to almost any contract in-game, really. A feudal covenant outlines the boons and duties on each side of the arrangement (simply, the liege grants land and support to a vassal in exchange for taxes and loyal service). A demon lord binds a lesser demon to his will, exchanging power for souls collected by his vassal. A god makes an aspiring immortal his herald, exchanging power and longevity for a mortal agent who can act on his behalf in the mortal realm.

Non-Class Development and Small Gods

I am exploring an idea to do with Small Gods. I’m considering having them form covenants, agreements of exchange, rather than simply grant spells as normal gods do for clerics.

On the one hand, this opens the door to having non-clerics have access to powers from small gods (which is ideal, exactly what I want). In D&D 3.x and Pathfinder this is fairly easy to manage from a character build resource point of view, simply make them feats.

For OSR-style games, though… what are suitable build resources to use? Simple experience point cost is probably unhelpful because of how experience point costs for levels change so fast (typically doubling; 1000 XP at first level is somewhere between really big and immense for almost all first-level characters, but fifth-level characters might hardly notice). An experience point surcharge (‘penalty’ is the wrong word here) might be better for abilities that scale well with level.

With d20-based D&D you might also use something like prestige (or better, ‘paragon’) classes, where you advance “covenant level” or something, but first, I don’t particularly like that mechanism, and second, in OSR games I don’t know that you can readily ‘mix in’ other classes readily.

Perhaps treat them something like (non-physical) magic items? You have to earn them (you can’t simply ‘buy them’ by providing gold, you have to do something to get them), they do something for you that may be fairly tightly constrained in applicability, and if you break the covenant, your agreement with the small god who is your patron, they go away.

I think I have an approach now, prompted by conversation online. Mongoose Press’ Classic Play: Book of Immortals addresses this very thing with the rules for covenants.

Classic Play: Book of Immortals Covenants

In Classic Play: Book of Immortals it is possible to gain the patronage of a more powerful entity (where ‘entity’ isn’t necessarily a god, it could be a collective such as the Unseelie Court or the nation of Thaslabad). Once you gain the attention of the entity it may be possible to negotiate a deal, a covenant, whereby you gain something in exchange for service.

Service is almost ideal for my purposes, and can be scaled to my purpose and the benefits gained from a small god. Rather than trade character build resources, pull it up in play from time to time. Unlike Book of Immortals the covenants don’t have to grant steps toward apotheosis, they can be limited to more mortal concerns, but the structure itself covers a pretty broad range of costs.

There are several kinds of service identified. I will include below a brief description of each type of service (taken directly from the book).

  • Allegiance: When an Immortal agrees to abide by an allegiance term  in  a  covenant  he  accepts  that  other  beings have the ability, if they follow the proper rituals, to command his time. The covenant must specify what beings can demand the character’s attention and what steps they must follow in order to do so.
  • Bond: When an Immortal agrees to abide by a bond he agrees to do everything in his power to foster a specific set of  conditions  in  the  world.   These  conditions  will usually  favour  the  granting  power  in  some  way. However, they may also relate to expanding the role of one of the four mythic powers or to furthering the processes embodied by the abstract powers
  • Commitment: The Immortal commits to the performance of specific practical  duties  on  behalf  of  the  granting  power. These duties require at least 10% of the character’s time.   The  duty  always  involves  some  physical  or magical action. Most duties involve something the granting  power would  have  to do  anyway  or needs done by a third party for some metaphysical reason.
  • Nemesis: When  an  Immortal  agrees  to  take  on  a  nemesis  he dedicates himself to the destruction and humiliation of  a  particular  opponent,  race  or  people.   He  must do  everything  in  his  power  to  bring  his  foes  low, even sacrificing himself if it is required of him. The granting power will bind the Immortal to a nemesis that opposes its goals; it may even be a former friend or colleague from the Immortal’s mortal days.
  • Offering: The  Immortal  agrees  to  make  regular  offerings  of a  material,  magical  and  metaphysical  nature  to  the greater glory of the granting power. The Immortal makes  offerings  in  public  and  in  private.   Public offerings must be remarkable, impressive and flashy enough  to  attract  attention.   Private  offerings  must involve  deep  personal  sacrifice,  to  the  point  where giving up the offering actively pains the character.
  • Quest: When an Immortal agrees to undertake quests as part of a covenant he must immediately undertake an epic quest in addition to the challenge he just completed. Once  he  completes  this  quest  the  granting  power may,  at  its  option,  call  upon  the  hero  to  perform  a similar quest every decade. These secondary quests do not count as challenges for the Immortal, although they may aid or oppose challenges taken by others.
  • Ritual: The  Immortal  agrees  to  enact  specific,  meaningful actions  at  specific  times  each  year.   These  actions relate  in  some  fashion  to  either  the  world’s  mythic history  or  to  the  processes  governing  the  universe. Failing  to  properly  enact  a  ritual  can  have  dire consequences: the seas may turn into blood, ancient demons from a forgotten time may escape from their prisons or the sun may lose its flame.

Obviously for my purpose the scope of each need not be so large, nor the consequences — the rewards are smaller, after all — but the structure of it looks like it holds a lot of potential for my purpose.

It pleases me that these are largely system-agnostic, as well. It doesn’t matter if the rules are used in a system that has or does not have feats, having to spend three days a month performing a duty is an inconvenience to the character. It might be handwaved in practice (a particularly character might simply be unavailable during the nights of the full moon), but I think I would like it to come up at least part of the time.

Similarly, it doesn’t necessarily matter what class a character is, and in fact it could be interesting to find a role filled by different characters over time. In The Dresden Files the Winter Knight is a role filled by at least two characters with some significantly different personalities and abilities, with their primary similarity being that they can Get Things Done.

Patreon Support: Mark Gedak and Monsters of Porphyra II

While it’s been quite a while since I announced a Kickstarter project I was backing (though that hasn’t stopped me from backing Kickstarter projects), I think it may be time to start announcing Patreon artists I’d like to support.

Today, it’s Mark Gedak, primary mover behind Purple Duck Games and the Grand OGL Wiki. He’s started a patreon… campaign? (I’m not so certain of the vocabulary here) to gain some patronage for creating “Monsters of Porphyra II”, recovering and upgrading monsters from earlier OGL releases that might otherwise be lost and creating new ones.

Seeing how I love monster books, it’s obvious why I want to see this succeed.

Mark is good people, firm supporter of the OGL and Pathfinder (and DCC, and a few other things), helpful, and produces some excellent game references (I dread his product announcements because they ultimately lead to my wife yelling at me about DriveThru purchases… again). The highest-tier pledge ($5.00 per monster or template) might almost pay for itself in free PDFs during the patronage period, closely enough that I’m trying to decide if I should jump at it or not.

The milestone goals are commendable, too. At $8 per monster or template — and he’s almost halfway there as I look — each one goes up on the Grand OGL Wiki for free download. At $25 there is new art for each conversion — which means he’s not simply pocketing the money, he’s rolling it into the produced material, I’ve seen what bespoke art can cost!  At $45 per monster there are at least two new ones per month suggested by patrons, and these are a lot more work.

I’ll be backing this one as soon as I can figure out how to avoid the ire being raised at home.

Alchemical Hound, by Kristen Collins

Alchemical Hound, by Kristen Collins

Race and Class, or ‘Favored Class’ Mechanics

D&D 3e opened the door (in D&D-land) to any race/class combination. To encourage archetypal combinations they introduced the ‘favored class’, where characters of each race could (potentially) enjoy reduced experience point penalties when multiclassing with their favored class — with no effect whatsoever if they didn’t multiclass at all, regardless of class or favored class.

Pathfinder did a better job of it, I think, allowing a small but not overpowering benefit (+1 hit point per level or +1 skill point per level of favored class). Things have changed more from there, with races having more than one favored class, and with (race, class)-specific benefits.

Now, it looks like core races have ‘favored class’ options for _all_ core and advanced classes, and I’ve seen third-party publishers include ‘favored class’ options for all the core races (which I think is a good thing if ‘favored classes’ are a thing).

I’ve asked a question similar to this before, but I think circumstances have changed a bit. ‘Favored class’ options that exist for all combinations seem misnamed.

Perhaps it’s time for racial archetypes on the classes. They’re still optional, so you’re not forced to take them, but half a half-orc bloodreaver (barbarian archetype — and others are possible) instead of picking between +1 hit point per level, +1 skill point per level, or +1 round of rage per level.

Random Leads to Awesome

Tome of Adventure Design

Tome of Adventure Design

I really, really don’t want to see this lost. Grey Knight went through some of the places I posted yesterday and described them. It looks like adding ‘small gods’ as an option when naming a place leads to some pretty inspiring thought.Creepy thought, some of it, but I can very much see using these. In fact, I can almost see these being places in the Seekers of Lore campaign setting, or Jesophs, or places associated with Jesophs.

I had a script randomly generate names, GreyKnight made them awesome, so I’m posting this in his name. He deserves the credit.

— kjd

Here are some entries I did manage to write up. Some of them went to Creepytown: consider this your only warning, faint-hearted readers!

Grey Monastery of Tholzakles, The Echo in the Pathways Below: The corridors of the Grey Pathways are cut perfectly square, three metres across. They twist and turn at exact right angles throughout the bedrock of the plains; the network of tunnels stretches for uncounted miles in every direction away from the Monastery. This building was constructed over the only known entrance to the Pathways, acting as a base of exploration for the scholar Tholzakles. One day he did not return from his investigations, and gradually his building fell into disrepair. But when certain opportunistic wanderers entered to try and find valuables, they discovered the scholar’s echoing voice still roaming the corridors below. Frightened, they fled to the nearest town to relate their tale. Gradually it became apparent that the scholar had found something in the depths; or that something had found him. Although physically he seems to be only a voice, Tholzakles has the all-seeing powers of a god, and a small cult of monks has moved into his old base to commune with him.

Waterborne Cairn of Toleshtua, The Prince of Sorrow: This heap of stones mysteriously floats on the surface of a great swamp. The air is close and unpleasant, and trees covered in dank green moss lean at precarious angles. Here is the place where Toleshtua cut out his heart and threw it away, to escape the fears and worries of a mortal’s life. Some dark power in that foetid place entered where his heart should be and made him into the undying Prince of Sorrow. Feeling no emotion himself, his disturbing presence makes the bravest warrior quail. It is said that he could be laid to rest if someone could recover his discarded heart from beneath the cairn, but the swamp has claimed all who attempted this deed.


Some More Randomness

Tome of Adventure Design

Tome of Adventure Design

The more I work with Matt Finch’s Tome of Adventure Design, the more I like it.

In fact, I’ve been meaning to review it. Another time, I’m busy right now.

In fact, I’m busy messing with the tables and how they interact. Some time ago I posted a list of 500 Random Old-School Adventure Sites that I’d randomly generated (using scripts, of course) using tables based off those in Tome of Adventure Design.

The book originally presented Table 1-1a: Locations (Overview). One column for the d100 roll, four more for content. Roll four times, picking from each column in turn:

Die Roll Structure’s Description Structure Feature (first word) Feature (second word)
01 Adamantine Abbey of the Anti- Abbot
02 Aerial Aerie of the Ape- Actor
03 Amphibious Asylum of the Baboon- Alchemist

… and so on. Dead easy, and it gets acceptable results. There is more, however.


Review: Eureka (from Engine Publishing)

Eureka Cover

Eureka Cover

I’m always on the lookout for adventure ideas, and in 2010 Engine Publishing (the publishing arm of Gnome Stew) released Eureka: 501 Adventure Plots to Inspire Game Masters.

This is a good book to have, and I’ve got the physical book on my list of books to buy.

This is a tricky review for me to write, though. The book delivers, in spades, what it aims to. After having finally read the book, though, I find that what it aims to do does not align well with how I design scenarios. I do not wish for my biases to affect the review, so will try to identify explicitly where they align and are in conflict.