Friday, January 27, 2023

I think we just won . . .

 Just caught the news that WotC and the "Embrace, Extend, Extinguish" crew in their upper echelons publicly claimed the irrevocable status of the OGL 1.0a and released all of the D&D 5.1 SRD under Creative Commons. I hope it's true, and it feels like something of a real victory. 

I've never particularly trusted WotC, I don't much care for their products, and I never really had full trust in the OGL 1.0a, but it was an industry standard that made other publishers feel safe. I've used it in some of my books and declined it in others. I still don't trust WotC, but it feels like maybe, just maybe, we actually earned that big "W" despite what looked like a destined "L."

I'm gonna sleep well tonight, and I'll post some more Gathox goodies soon!

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Gathox Adventure Brainstormer

Sometimes you need a tool to help you get started, to shake your brain out of a rut, or just to get you thinking about adventures differently. Here's a tool I made for myself when I need a fresh idea for an adventure or scenario in Gathox.


handwritten tables for the generator


The Adventure Brainstormer table randomly generates seeds and hooks for new adventure ideas. If you're looking for inspiration to build new adventures or scenarios for your home Gathox game (or any other game, for that matter), this generator can help you get moving. 

How to use the Brainstormer: Roll a die chuck (1 die of each standard gaming die type), look up each die result on the table and jot it down on paper. These components, interpreted through the lens of your experiences, needs, and thought processes as a Slumlord, will form the essential components for designing your next adventure. Feel free to reroll any components or substitute table entries as you like - the whole point is to hasten the brainstorming for your next session.

1d4 - Campaign Frame
1 - Dungeon Crawl
2 - Wilderness Exploration
3 - Gangland
4 - Pyschosphere

1d6 - Mission Style
1 - Get the Mcguffin
2 - Escort/ Guard
3 - Mark/Assassination
4 - Mystery
5 - Conspiracy
6 - Heist

1d8 - Cause
1 - Treachery
2 - Guilt
3 - Covetousness
4 - Cold Practicality
5 - Obligation
6 - Hope
7 - Good Intentions
8 - Misunderstanding

1d10 - Omens
1 - Cells split into cells split into cells
2 - A worm crawls along the edge of a scalpel
3 - Skulls upon skulls upon skulls
4 - A forked tongue flickers in moon shadow
5 - A warm void between two candles
6 - Grains of sand melt to glass
7 - Fingers slip on a cliff's edge
8 - Silhouette of a sleeping beast awakening
9 - Open hands clasping
10 - A cold sunrise on firm ground

1d12 - Complications
1 - A lying ally
2 - A new faction intervenes
3 - An old friend falters
4 - A spy in the midst
5 - Past misdeeds brought to light
6 - Innocents at risk
7 - Opposing team pursues same goal
8 - Extradimensional forces take an interest
9 - Material resources dwindle
10 - A hunt for the PCs begins
11 - Personal tragedy at a crucial time
12 - Time suddenly begins to run out

1d20 - One True Thing
1 - Everything is as it appears.
2 - Enemies operate with deep prejudices.
3 - Allies have found reason for distrust.
4 - Ancient entities have laid the groundwork for this scenario.
5 - Mortal enemies have agreed to cooperate.
6 - Hidden rewards dwarf the risks.
7 - Social conditions ease the way.
8 - History repreats itself.
9 - No perfect outcome is possible.
10 - A new threat imposes its will.
11 - An old enemy returns with a vengeance.
12 - Many outcomes are satisfying.
13 - A historic cycle is broken.
14 - Social upheaval creates brief opportunity.
15 - Extreme danger lingers like a cloud.
16 - Alliances have fractured or grown more strained.
17 - Religious delusions have defined this scenario.
18 - Friends want to intervene on behalf of PCs.
19 - Enemies are doing the right thing.
20 - Truth has inverted itself.

1d4 - Campaign Frame - This is the modality of the adventure. Dungeon crawling - tactical decisions in interior spaces. Wilderness Exploration - planned travel to a destination with complications, can be across landscapes or cityscapes. Gangland - territorial decisions and subterfuge in opposition to other factions. Psychosphere - navigating weird spaces that break the laws of reality; highly hallucinatory.

1d6 - Mission Style - This is the means by which the adventure operates. Adventures often cross the lines of mission styles, so feel free to add to this roll as you like.

1d8 - Cause - This is the impetus for the adventure, the underlying reason events swing into motion.

1d10 - Omens - These are symbolic visual impressions, like inkblots in literary form. Use them to aesthetically or metaphorically  interpret aspects of the adventure as you see fit.

1d12 - Complications - These entries add additional conflicts to your adventure, warp them as needed.

1d20 - One True Thing - This is a fact about your adventure that holds true despite any other details you may add. Modify to your heart's desire.

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

New Gathox Mechanic: "Clear20"

 Howdy folks!

In my endless quest to make combat faster and less mathy, I've brainstormed a simple mechanic for attacking and saving that I believes alleviates two problems:

1) The absurd and seemingly endless statistical inflation of ascending armor class; and
2) The confusing and tiresome math of To-Hit scores combined with subtractive armor.

That mechanic is called "Clear20."

A Clear20 roll happens (surprise!) on a 1d20, where the player needs to roll a 20 or higher. It's used for combat and saves, as follows:

Attack Rolls
Once intitiative has been determined, PCs and NPCs may attack on their respective initiatives. Defense is passive; no one rolls for Defense. Combatants only roll to Attack, and this is achieved with the "Clear20" die mechanic.

Clear20: roll 1d20 and add the appropriate modifiers. If the resulting number equals or exceeds 20, the roll is a success.

In the case of attacking, a combatant adds the following:

1. Base Attack number. All L1 PCs begin play with at least 1.
2. The opponent's Defense value. This ranges from 9 at worst to 0 at best.
3. Situational modifiers.
4. Environmental modifiers (optional).

Situational modifiers include:
* All PCs add or subtract their DEX modifier to ranged attacks.
* Militants add or subtract their STR modifier to melee attacks.
* Mentalists add or subtract their INT modifier to physical attacks with magic weapons.
* Mutants add or subtract their CON modifier to physical attacks with bodily mutations.

Environmental modifiers include:
* -1 for fighting in fog, noxious clouds, rain, snow, loose debris (sand/rubble), starlight, or fighting from low ground.
* -2 for fighting in sandstorms, monsoons, confined quarters (less than 10' wide), mud, viscera, or while surprised.
* -3 for fighting in water/liquids, low/zero gravity, darkness, blinding light, the psychosphere, or while bound, flying, or falling.
* -4 for fighting after reduced to 0 HP and rolling for Death and Dismemberment (assuming the PC lives and can somehow fight).

The Slumlord may adjudicate additional situational or environmental modifiers as they see fit. The severity of additional modifiers ought to be in accordance with those listed above.

Saving Rolls
A Saving Roll is required when a PC is subject to a life threatening situation or condition. This may include falling, poison, shock, magic, being reduced to 0 or fewer HP, or deadly traps. Unless mandated by an effect, the Slumlord judges the necessity of a Saving Roll on a case by case basis. These rolls ought to be infrequent, and are also governed by the "Clear20" rule:

Roll 1d20 and add the appropriate modifiers. If the resulting number equals or exceeds 20, the roll is a success.

PCs making a Saving Roll add the following:

1. Their base Save score. All L1 PCs begin with a base Save of 4.
2. Their level.
3. Explicit modifiers from  gear, magical or technologically advanced items, magic, and psychic abilities.

The Slumlord may assign additional modifiers as deemed appropriate. Keep in mind that successful Saving Rolls may:
* negate a situation
* halve an effect
* forestall a condition
* avoid death
* create room for a less harmful outcome
* halt a perpetual or active condition which otherwise cannot be halted

Saving Rolls should not apply to:
* social interactions or roleplaying interactions
* negotiations or bartering
* melee or ranged combat damage
* carousing, downtime activities, or spending RP
* situations in which lethality is not of immediate, paramount concern

Let me know what you think in the comments!

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

Gathox, the OGL, and the new Gathox!

Sorry for the deep pause in posts! I've been in hibernation, working away on some new gaming products, tweaking my house rules, getting married, branching out into fine art, and getting some real mental health assistance which has been life-changing. I'm doing great, and I hope you are too!

I'm posting here today to let you know the following: I'm working on the Encyclopedia Gathoxica, a complete, all-in-one, Gathox tome with new rules, classes, spells, monsters, and adventures. Everything needed to play will be self-contained and the rules will be published under a copyleft license, not the OGL. If you've followed TTRPG news lately, you'll know why.

I've got hundreds of pages of gaming content scattered across three notebooks, ready to be compiled into a newer, faster, meaner, meatier, more mutated Gathox. It's my baby, after all, and no matter whatever else I work on, I find myself thinking, writing, and playing about Gathox. I'm super stoked for the future, and if the malice and anti-open source actions and intentions of the singular industry monolith provided me with enough fire and excitement to move out of the germination phase and into the make new shit phase, all the better. I honestly haven't been this stoked about working on gaming material since 2019. It's been a long time coming.

Lastly, there are going to be GLOG components in the Encyclopedia Gathoxica! I've chatted with Arnold Kemp from Goblin Punch (go read his blog, and then re-read it, it's dope), and I have his blessing to use GLOG components in the new edition! 


Wednesday, April 17, 2019

The Mutant Insurrectionist: Talking about zines

Okay, here's an awesome new thing I made for Gathox - it's a zine. I'm gonna post the link first, so you can go get a copy, and then I'm going to talk about this zine and other zines.

If the image link doesn't work for you, click here. 

The Mutant Insurrectionist

I haven't made a zine since the 90's, when I was going to all-ages shows in my old hometown and first figuring out how to use words and pictures. And honestly, I've enjoyed making this so much more than I expected and at least as much as I did when I was a kid. 

First off, the zine has gameable bits from my home campaign. Almost everything has been used at my table by myself or by players, and I know that they work. The Mutant Insurrectionist contains adventure seeds presented in the form of newspaper classifieds. There's also unique items, a fresh spell, a new class, a new adventure location, some hirelings, the dungeon encounter table I included in a previous blog post, and more.

Second off, since this is a zine, I get to play with the content in ways I couldn't for other books. The jokes can be overt and very much on the nose:

While I certainly included a generous portion of humor in both GVS1 and GVS2, there was no room in there for cheeky mock editorials featuring pickled pigs' feet and casual violence. Likewise, there was no room for diegetic hireling advertisements:

These brief, playable experiments get me stoked on the freedom of making things for their own sake, and I think that excitement shows through in the results. One of the key choices I made early on was to treat the authorial voice as if the zine existed in Gathox - it's a publication put together by the pompous and exploitative Turtle Tattlers Union Local 386, who has essentially cobbled together news bits and advertisements from around the city and repackaged them for their own profit. Sure, they've added some of their own content (mostly marks they've unsuccessfully attempted to hit), but by and large they're engaging in that laissez-faire casual theft which defines the attitudes of so many gangs in Gathox. 

Another facet of The Mutant Insurrectionist being a zine is that the pressure is gone of having to make 'the perfect thing.' Not that I've ever made a perfect thing, but the point of the zine is to experiment with the presentation of things I've made for Gathox and share those results with other folks. It's not meant to win any awards, it's meant to entertain readers and give me a chance to test new ideas. I love it, and I intend to make more of them.

Zines are good: go make the thing

Why a zine? Why not just put more content together in a bigger book? Why not atomize what you've got into individual blog posts?

Sure, I could have spent a year or more making tons of this content in the quiet recesses of my spare time, eventually toiling over a big tome of miscellanea. Honestly, that sounds daunting and I'd likely bog down on it. At the other end, I could have turned it into 20 blog posts, but I truly doubt I would have tied those ideas together in a cohesive manner. 

The zine is the right length for keeping things tight, keeping the gears moving, and continuing to make the thing. Should I attempt to write an interview with a wizard who wrote what essentially amounts to a glorified Pong spell? Make the thing. Should I write real estate advertisements for gangland territories? Make the thing. Making the thing is the answer to having ideas - ideas are a dime a dozen, but a thing made is an idea with follow-through.

I want to make the thing.

Friday, March 22, 2019

Underneath the Skin: Random Encounters for Gathoxan Dungeons

I'm generally one to make custom random encounter tables for each individual location - you can see examples of this in both the starter module in chapter 7 of GVS1 as well as in the tournament module GVS2. It makes sense - take only what you need for a customized location, stock it with a sensible array of likely culprits, and determine the frequency and odds of checks. Done and done.

However, I've been running a series of connected dungeons, including a megadungeon, in my home Gathox game for a number of years. I've got a bunch of screwy encounter tables from earlier iterations of these dungeons, and I've decided that enough's enough. No more mish-mash of incoherent and dubious rolls for these locations. I need a consistent master table of random encounters, and anyone who runs Gathox at home ought to have it as well. The master table is linked below along with a brief description of the design process.

The Master Dungeon Encounter Table

First, I categorized and grouped all the monsters in GVS1: Gathox Vertical Slum by their Hit Dice Equivalent (HDE) as determined in Chapter 8 of Swords & Wizardry White Box. Then I laid out the HDE spread for each of 6 dungeon levels like so:

Level 1: 1-4 HDE
Level 2: 1-5 HDE
Level 3: 2-6 HDE
Level 4: 2-7 HDE
Level 5: 3-8 HDE
Level 6: 3-9 HDE

This spread keeps the imbalances and variability of encounters intact without ridiculous results, like having 9 HD creatures roaming level 1 or half-HD creatures roaming levels 4-6. Monsters with HD ranges may be encountered on multiple levels with appropriate shifts in HD, and groups of lower level monsters increase their ranks the deeper they're encountered.

And at last we come to the master encounter table, which streamlines a lot of the mess I had made earlier and hopefully dispels future headaches. Enjoy!

Let me know if you find this useful. If you think it's too underpowered or that you'd like tables that extend deeper than 6 megadungeon levels, let me know. I'll be publishing this table in my upcoming 'zine, The Mutant Insurrectionist, so your feedback is always appreciated!

Saturday, March 9, 2019

From the Mutant Insurrectionist: Interview with a Cosmic Doctor

So I'm starting a Gathox 'zine called The Mutant Insurrectionist, featuring news snippets, gang territories, new items/spells/classes/monsters, playable locations, and absurdist advertisements. Here's a news snippet from the monthly magazine for the rich part of town, which includes a custom 1st level Mentalist spell:

Excerpted from the Vaclavellian Digest for the Month of Morning Fog:

. . . and after bypassing the Riddle of Chitin in Cheery Orchard, our crew finally caught up with renowned Cosmic Doctor, Arimena the Parallelizer. What follows is a distillation of that momentous interview.

VD: My god, I've never even seen a Zhezhn before, let alone pass through an entire grotto of them . . .

AP: I'm sure you haven't!

VD: The thrumming down here is turning the stomachs of my crew, and one just had a seizure from the pulsing lights. Any way you could dismiss those . . . things?

(AP smiles wryly and emits a series of polyphonic grunts - the Zhezhn phase through the floors and our sickness subsides.)

AP: You're a daisy for coming down here. What can I do for you?

VD: We're writing a feature on the Deflector fad. The spell's being used for new toeball game variants, public duels, drinking contests - it's on fire! How did you develop your namesake spell?

AP: And here I was, thinking you wanted a sneak peek at my Doppleganger Invasion manuscript! (chuckles) So anyway, in my travels I noticed a trend - each technologically advanced species eventually develops 'lightbox' technology, and shortly thereafter devises games for lightboxes.

VD: You're talking about face-screens?

AP: That's what the Mokron call them, yeah. The true marker of an advanced civilization is developing a lightbox game wherein two opponents compete by passing a dot back and forth using lit up lines or paddles. If a player sends the dot across the box and their opponent does not return the dot with the paddle, they score a point. Each advanced civilization across this galaxy has developed this game independently. I don't even waste my time trying to communicate with species that haven't developed it somewhere in spacetime.

VD: So this lightbox game inspired the spell?

AP: Yes. The Deflector is a three dimensional representation of one of those paddles, useful for deflecting incoming attacks. It works even better than the game version, because it automatically rotates around the body to intercept strikes or missiles. I wanted to make sure that even the least experienced of Mentalists could access the spell.

VD: There's been a glut in the market recently, so many scrolls of Arimena's Deflector are available on the cheap. There are even variations with custom colors and pyrotechnics! Did you think you'd set off a sea change in the spell market?

AP: Well, if you can cast at all, folks on the surface take notice pretty quickly. If you don't seek the protection of a gang, and sometimes even if you do, as a Mentalist you have to watch your back at all times. The Deflector is a great way to put up real resistance against a team of ruffians trying to steal your wizard brain for their boss. It makes sense that the Deflector is making the rounds, and I'm just chuffed!

VD: You should be! We risked life and limb to get the scoop on the Deflector, because our audience loves the spell so deeply. We'll be offering a briefing on your Deflector alongside this interview in the next issue of the Vaclavellian Digest. I want to thank you so much for your time, Arimena!

AP: Thanks for the house call, Vaclav! Here's a Gate back to the surface . . .
(air ionizes, lights pulse rapidly)

VD: No, wait! Aaaagh!

Arimena's Deflector
Spell Level: M1
Range: 5' radius
Duration: 5 rounds

This spell conjures a rotating quarter-globe paddle of thin, crackling magical energy which can quickly move around the caster to intercept physical attacks. The Deflector can automatically intercept up to 3 +1/lvl attacks per round. The Deflector requires an opponent's attack to first overcome the Deflector's AC of 5 before rerolling a To-Hit caster’s AC. Lasts 5 rounds.