"Oh cool... So you're STILL working on this?" -- A guy at GenCon

"If I see Drah-koo-lah, I will. kick. him. in. the eye!!!" -- My 4 (almost 5) year old daughter. She GETS it!

"Meatpie Forever!" -- A playtester at GenCon 2013

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Last Man (or Woman) Standing



Into the fray with the Charger…

The Charger is a stalwart warrior seeking to sharpen himself against the whetstone of destiny. The Charger chooses not to back down from any adversary and pursues the thrill of battle for its own sake.

Whence fore the Charger?

Most people who are familiar with the tropes of Hammer Horror and Gothic Fiction are probably scratching their heads right about now. Where exactly did this Charger notion come from? The Charger is the only class with such a conspicuous absence from the books and movies upon which Transylvanian Adventures is based. Up and down. Left and sideways. No Chargers.

Why is that?

The reason for the Charger involves another tenet upon which Transylvanian Adventures stands: playability. It became noticeable early on in Transylvanian Adventures' development that there was a hole in the spectrum of classes. Transylvanian Adventures lacked the prototypical "I hit them with my axe" class.

During playtests with DCC, I also noticed there were some players who wanted to play more of a Fighting Man and for whom Mighty Deeds weren't appealing. These players were quite happy to go the "hit 'em with my axe" route. It was sheer serendipity that these two issues intersected so well.

So What is a Charger?

The Charger is an old-school Fighting Man. Not in the vein of a DCC Warrior either. The Charger is a straight-up Fighter. He (or she) jumps in, bashes things around and walks away ready for the next combat.

Whereas the DCC Warrior does all this fancy fighty stuff (like tripping people, disarming them and sundering weapons), the Charger just plays whack-a-mole. And does it very effectively. The Charger is a veritable Cuisinart of Minions.

Thus far, the Charger has been well-represented in playtests. He does what he does and reduces the need for his player to really think all that much. That's not a bad thing, in my opinion. More a matter of taste.

The Charger is accessible and, most importantly, very easy to play.

What the Charger Does

Compared to the other Transylvanian Adventures classes the Charger doesn't appear to do that much. But the Charger is very effective at those things it does…

  • The Charger's game is one of attrition and the Charger's player banks that she can reduce you to zero Hit Points before she gets there. In most cases, the Charger wins this bet.
  • The Charger has an anemic path for Weapon Upgrades but is terribly effective with the weapons he uses. The reason for this? The sole reason for the Charger's existence: "I hit you and you hit me until one of us falls over".
  • The Charger has an intimidating presence on the battlefield. It is bluntly obvious to everyone that this is not a person you'd want to mess with.
  • The Charger has one of the only "healing" abilities in Transylvanian Adventures. It's a self-healing ability called "Dutch Courage". Thanks to bholmes over on the DCC forum for that name.
  • Did I mention the Charger was terribly effective with the weapons she knows? A weapon upgrade for a Charger is a "game-changer". That's why they tend to cost a little more. When you play the Charger, you'll see how effective you are with a club. Extrapolate that to a two-handed sword…
  • Putting the Charger smack in the middle of a bunch of low hit-die monsters is very bad for those monsters' future prospects of living. Think an OD&D Fighting Man with something like 8 arms. As of yet, only one "minion" has survived close up combat with a Charger. Well, to put it another way, only one minion that was in close combat with the Charger was not killed by the Charger. He threw himself out a window. To get away from the Charger. And died from the fall. This was a 1st level Charger.
  • No one does free whacks like a Charger. Those familiar with the most recent version of the Fighter from the most recent edition of the "World's Most Popular Fantasy Roleplaying Game" will have an idea of why this is so. If a Charger locks you down, you best stay put. Or jump out a window.
  • The Charger is strong. Or rather the Charger has an inner toughness and drive that translates to great feats of Strength and Stamina.


Where to Go From Here

The Charger just does one thing. And how a player wants to make the Charger better at that one thing varies. For some players, the Charger is a breath of fresh air. These players don't really want to get involved in machinations, intrigue, mysteries, magic or lots of rules. They just want to kill things and be really good at that. The Charger serves this purpose beautifully.

Inspiration

There really aren't many fictional inspirations relevant to the genre to list out here. The Charger could range from a Pit Fighter to a Knight, really. Just based off my typical entertainment one might say Brienne from the Song of Ice and Fire series could be built as a Charger. The more muscle-bound, cinematic version of Conan could too.

Other Uses

If using the Transylvanian Adventures rules and classes outside of the setting or genre, Chargers are the easiest fits. They are Fighting Men, in contrast with the Warrior class in DCC. They'd make good Dwarves, Half-Orcs or Half-Ogres. Or Barbarians. Or Bezerkers. In classic terms, the Charger would be considered a Barbarian/Fighter with either side gaining more traction based on how the player upgrades the character over time.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Hunt or Be Hunted


Without further ado, the Hunter…

The Hunter is a person who is singularly devoted to finding and slaying creatures of the dark. The Hunter possesses a driving vendetta against the supernatural and unmatched skills dedicated to their destruction.

What the Hunter Does

  • In a nod to some of the derring-do that Peter Cushing laid down as Dr. Van Helsing, the Hunter gets Mighty Deeds and is quite good at them.
  • The Hunter can cast rudimentary rituals and also turn the unholy, although the Hunter is not as good at either as the Polymath.
  • The Hunter starts out with a good selection of weapon trainings -- the best in the game. And the option to become a sort of weapons master is definitely open to this class.
  • The Hunter is always alert and is rarely caught off-guard by the forces of eeeevil.
  • The Hunter is a master at infiltration and sabotage and has a nifty little MacGuyver sort of ability that is one of my favorites in the game.
  • The Hunter is armed with a weapon of unique ability that can strike fear in the hearts of the unholy.


Where to Go From Here

Of all the classes, the Hunter is the one most defined by where the player chooses to customize. A player could certainly apply a broad spectrum to upgrades and have a generalist that might be reminiscent of someone like Lara Croft. Or a player could focus in on specific areas to upgrade and wind up with a Weapon Master or more of a Ritualist or a guy with a fancy silver sword or whip or something whose legend carries almost as much renown as his own. The Hunter also lends itself to a MacGuyver type of character that may be okay at combat and such but is generally more useful at breaking and entering lairs, crypts and tombs.

Inspiration

The Hunter is a fun one. It's inspirations are fairly obvious. There's a bit of Peter Cushing's Van Helsing here. As well as MacGuyver. Captain Kronos and the Bellmonts from Castlevania. Solomon Kane. Lara Croft.

I'd said initially that I would explain how, say, Captain Kronos and Solomon Kane might be created from this class. Well, it's not as hard as one might imagine. Kronos is obviously dumping his upgrades into his weapon and probably weapon trainings. Maybe some infiltration too. Whereas Solomon Kane would dump his upgrades in being alert, turning the unholy and some weapon training.

It really is that simple. And what's encouraging is that I'm playtesting a group at the moment that features a Hunter. And she's working really well. Sort of the Swiss Army Knife of the group. I don't know where this player going to take her Hunter (although my bet thus far would be she'd go the Ritualist route). But it's nice to see something translate so well into play.

Other Uses

If using the Transylvanian Adventures rules and classes outside of the setting or genre, Hunters are a bit like a Paladin/Thief. I know that sounds nutty. But it's true. In the same way that a Ranger is kind of a Fighter/Thief or a Bard is a Wizard/Thief, the Hunter translates really well as a Paladin/Thief. Have fun with that.

Friday, May 11, 2012

He May Be A Monster, But He’s OUR Monster: Part III


With Great Power…

The Half-Breed is one of the more interesting classes when it comes to abilities or "class  features". What separates it from other classes is that its class features and upgrades can be chosen randomly. They don't have to be. But for some players, there's an element of fun in not knowing what the Half-Breed can do. The only other class that has this element of randomness available to them is the Exotic -- who can randomly add Exotic Weapon upgrades in the same fashion.

There are a few common abilities that all Half-Breeds share. All Half-Breeds can jump farther and move faster than normal humans -- a class feature I've called "Spring-Heeled Jack" for now. All Half-Breeds have low-light vision and are the only class to have that ability in TA/TG. All Half-Breeds have also picked up a Sneak Attack/Backstab ability in the last re-write that should be familiar to most.


The flagship of being a Half-Breed, though, are the abilities it has inherited from its "other" parent. You know, the one with the fangs, scales and bad attitude. I've called these "Dark Gifts" for now. And they're pretty bank. I'll list them below:
  • With "Harrier", the Half-Breed gets a boost to Initiative and a better chance to ignore free whacks. As the name suggests, this allows the Half-Breed to zip around the field of combat like a ferret on “V”.
  • With "Supernatural Linguist", the Half-Breed acquires the ability to speak with one random creature based on the Half-Breed's alignment. Maybe the Half-Breed can talk with snakes or rocks or cats or ravens. Or corpses or ghosts or demons. Or Owls. “Who’s on first?” never gets old for them.
  • With "Leech", the Half-Breed gets the one power that everyone is most interested in -- the half-vampire power. The Half-Breed gets a limited capacity to heal herself by drinking blood from a living human and a nerfed sort of immunity to some mortal concerns.
  • With "Dark Shadows", the Half-Breed gets the ability to meld into shadows and move unseen under the cover of the night. Creepy, no?
  • With "Feral", the Half-Breed sprouts claws (retractable or not).
  • With "Elemental", the Half-Breed takes a step towards being impervious to the effects of heat and cold. This ability also allows the Half-Breed to survive underwater for a length of time -- breathing or not as the player decides.


…Comes Even Greater Power

And then there's the upgrades. Each class has the opportunity to select which abilities it wants to upgrade. Multiple upgrades can be used on almost any class feature, up to a maximum of four upgrades on any one feature. It just gets silly after that point and, really, the usefulness of the upgrade flattens out past that point. Here's some indication of how the abilities listed below become more awesome with upgrades…

  • Low-Light Vision -- called "My Dark Eyes" at this time -- upgrades to all sorts of weird. There is, of course, the obligatory darkvision upgrade. But the Half-Breed also can upgrade to see around corners (without looking around them) and other weird things like that.
  • With the second upgrade to "Feral", the Half-Breed acquires the ability to change into an animal form. This is the path to becoming a Half-Werebadger.
  • Other abilities become more generally useful and easier to use successfully with upgrades. Jump farther, move faster, roll higher. All that stuff.

Who's Your Daddy?

And now to the last question that Zdanman had: How do you determine what you're half of? The unsatisfyingly vague answer is "It depends on the player". If a player wants to be a "half-demon", he could grab "Feral" and "Dark Shadows" as his 1st Level Dark Gifts and have a go at it. On the other hand, the player could, instead, roll his Dark Gifts randomly and, say, end up with "Supernatural Linguist" and "Elemental". Let's assume he rolls such that his character can talk to Snakes. So now he's got something that could easily be a Half-Serpentman. Or another Half-Demon. Or a Half-Eelman-From-The-Deep.


It's entirely possible that a player decides he doesn't know what his character's other half is. And he just rolls randomly on the Dark Gifts table for new powers and upgrades each time he spends an upgrade on Dark Gifts. Maybe it's a storyline he wants to explore over time.


Or maybe not. Maybe the player just wants to play a Dhampir. In which case, "Leech", "Harrier" and maybe "Feral" are where he’s headed.


That's why I say a Half-Breed is like a box of chocolates. As a Judge, you never know what you're going to get.



P.S. The Dark Gifts table is in a constant state of flux with new abilities added, removed or amended fairly regularly. Just an FYI. There's no guarantee that any one will make it into the Transylvanian Grimoire unchanged. And there's a good likelihood that new ones will be added over time.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

He May Be A Monster, But He’s OUR Monster: Part II


Continuing from Part I yesterday, I'm finishing up with some text from the Transylvanian Grimoire that deals directly with the Half-Breed's worldview and place in society. This is something to consider in terms of the Half-Breed's relationship to the party and the world at large. And the Half-Breed's alignment plays the greatest role in defining it. Here's a snippet from the book:

Having lived outside of human society for most of their lives, Half-Breeds often exhibit an unhealthy ignorance or disregard for its mores and laws. But Half-Breeds are not necessarily malign. In fact, it’s rare for Half-Breeds to fully embrace their dark side.
  • Lawful Half-Breeds are those who were found and raised in seclusion. Generally in a monastic order of some sort. By nature, Half-Breeds are uncomfortable around religious iconography but some religious sects have successfully trained them to be monster-killing machines.
  • Neutral Half-Breeds comprise the majority of their kind. These Half-Breeds usually find themselves left to survive in the wild at a perilously young age. Some are found in the forest by hermits raised as sons and daughters. Others might be raised by wolves or bears. Of all the alignments, Neutral Half-Breeds are the most adrift. They are the ones most likely to question the nature of their bloodline and explore what it means to be human to the greatest extent.
  • Chaotic Half-Breeds were raised by mad Sorcerers, Witches or Warlocks to harness and align with the forces of darkness instead of fight them. These Half-Breeds were taught to have no regard for the oppressive laws of a human world of which they were never a part. At some point, however, their education backfired. Something within the Chaotic Half-Breed caused him to rebel against his mentor. While Chaotic Half-Breeds always have that kernel of contempt for the mortal world, they recognize that they can only be safe and self-sufficient by increasing their power. And they can only grow more powerful -- and thwart being hunted by powerful mortals -- by destroying monsters themselves.

Hammer Don't Hurt Them

The second part of Zdanman's question concerned how plausible a Half-Breed would be in a Hammer-inspired setting. The answer, while a bit of a cop out, is they are as plausible as the group wants them to be. The idea of a half-human/half-something monster-hunter is a fairly recent genre trope and there aren't any solid examples to lean on in Gothic fiction (at least what I've been able to read) or in Hammer's films.


But I think we could draw adequate inspiration from contemporary examples such as Blade from the Tomb of Dracula comic books, Vampire Hunter D from the book series and films and Alucard from the Hellsing anime. Even the Castlevania video game series featured a Half-Breed character.


If a group is leaning towards a hard-line, kill-all-monsters mindset, then the Half-Breed may not be the best fit. It's easy to leave the class out if that is the case. The same is true with the Theorist. A lot depends on the group. But I think that can be said about most roleplaying games.




We're finishing up with Powers and Upgrades for the Half-Breed tomorrow...

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

He May Be A Monster, But He’s OUR Monster: Part I


Okay - I will go into this. I would like a more detailed blogpost on the Half-Breed and their possible interaction with the rest of the party. Would the class be playable in a Hammer-like setting? After all - you are a monster of some sort and the more devoted members of the party would probably still kill you. Also more info on the monster powers and being half-something etc. Is this chosen at attaining first level or not?-- Zdanman

I solicited topics for a new blogpost on the DCC Transylvanian Adventures forum on the Goodman Games website and Zdanman came through with a good one. Zdanman wants more information on the Half-Breed and I can't blame him. The Half-Breed is one of the most enigmatic classes in The Transylvanian Grimoire. Here's why Zdanman's question is a fantastic topic for a blogpost

  • The Half-Breed is the only class in Transylvanian Adventures that qualifies as non-human. It's sort of a demihuman class/race but, before we grow too concerned about a class-race mix, I'd like to assure everyone that the Half-Breed deserves its own class.
  • The Half-Breed, Charger and Theorist are the only classes in TA/TG that aren't well-represented in the source material. Transylvanian Adventures is inspired by the Hammer Horror films of the 50s, 60s and 70s as well as Gothic fiction from the 18th through 20th centuries. How does the more modern notion of a half-vampire or half-werewolf fly with the tropes of older source material? Better than the Charger, in my experience.
  • The Half-Breed isn't the only class with extraordinary abilities but is one of the only classes whose abilities are without-a-doubt supernatural. There is no way a Half-Breed with his mojo working is going be mistaken for a normal person doing something cool.
  • Following my last playtest, I had to do a rewrite of the character classes in TA/TG and the Half-Breed is one of those classes that got a significant overhaul. This post will give me an opportunity to show a little bit of what changed.

Can't We All Just Get Along

Zdanman asks how the Half-Breed interacts with the rest of the party, given his demi-monstrous nature. Zdanman also points out that a zealous party-member might be inspired to kill the Half-Breed because of its unnatural parentage and wonders how that would affect the party social dynamic.


In the last playtest, we had a player who played a Half-Breed. Most of the complications for his character were from interactions outside the party -- NPCs and such. There was very little friction within the party. A lot of this has to do with how the Half-Breed is played and who is playing it. In a traditional game of D&D, many people have experienced that guy who is playing the Barbarian who hates magic and, at some point, tries to slug, kill or maim the party's spellcaster. 


I think it's possible that a player who is playing a Hunter or Polymath to the hilt might want to go down the same path. So a little bit is in the Judge's/DM's hands to gently remind the player that we're all working together to have fun. It's not necessarily fun for someone to have their character marked for death by another player's character. But TA/TG doesn't force party cohesion on any group of characters. It's just as easy for a zealous Polymath to want to off a Theorist. Or a xenophobic Valiant to want to off the Exotic. Or a righteous Paladin to want to off a Thief. Or a Wizard.


But, regarding the state of their monstrous nature, I think it's important to remind the party of a few things about the Half-Breed.
  • Half-Breeds are really useful. They can see in the dark. They're really fast. They can be a trump card for the party against the forces of “evil”. Especially when the torches go out.
  • Half-Breeds aren't unholy. Despite their demi-monstrous heritage, Half-Breeds cannot be Turned and are not harmed by holy water, etc. If they were really bad monster things, you could turn them. And holy water would mess them up too.
  • Adventuring in TA/TG is such that the party is likely working on behalf of a larger organization. The party will not always be able to choose its traveling companions. Think about Alucard from the Hellsing anime. Even though he's a straight up vampire, the characters in the show work alongside him. A TA/TG party may have a similar relationship with their Half-Breed. He may be a monster. But he's our monster.
  • If a player is hung up on the Half-Breed being a “monster”, it might be worth it to remind the party what a REAL monster is like. Cue random encounter featuring a monster that has 5 Hit Dice more than the party’s level. "Oh yeah, I totally agree. Marc's character is absolutely tainted with the mark of Satan and we should really just kill him here and now especially since he's tied up.... OHMIGODITZANUMBERHULKRUN!!!!" You'd be surprised how much of an icebreaker that can be.
More info on the Half-Breed in Part II tomorrow...

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Level, the First


I ran a group of five willing participants through an adventure with 1st Level Transylvanian Adventures characters. First off, the adventure was a huge death trap for 1st Level characters. I used Raid on Black Goat Wood with some fleshing out in the pre-dungeon phase. I went a little light on the wandering monsters but still…

No characters died.

The party of five 1st level characters killed 3 Satyrs. And successfully navigated a Black Pudding.

And no characters died.

These were 1st Level characters. With no spellcasters.

In a setting with no magical healing.

Wha?!

The characters in the party included:

  • Berthold, the Albino Artist, now a 1st Level Half-Breed
  • Tito, the Outlaw, now a 1st Level Redeemable
  • Sybilla, the Scout, now a 1st Level Exotic
  • Snorri, the Savage, now a 1st Level Charger
  • Buffy, the Vacationer, now a 1st Level Hunter

What Worked

  • Well, making the characters more survivable worked. Too well, in fact. And it wasn't so much the Hit Points changes. It was more the changes around Dying that messed things up. Some changes weren't even used because other changes were so effective.
  • The tables and such for Research worked well. But could use some polish. I mean, when they worked, they worked awesomely. But there were times when it was difficult to figure out how best to use them. Considering that section isn't fully written yet. It was good feedback to have.
  • The Cleavage Rule still rocks. Yes, oh yes, it does.
  • Turning the Unholy. With 100% more Hammer.
  • The Skill Check rule changes also worked well and came up with a surprisingly satisfying frequency. It's like getting your Gumshoe on with your OD&D.
  • Magical healing is absolutely superfluous in TA. So no need for a Cleric-type class. That's good news to me. Because I didn't write one.


What Didn't

  • The classes were flavorful but unexpectedly gimped. A big reason for this was their limited capability, especially when it required a situational context. I thought I was being clever. Instead, I just messed up. The game still played well. People were into their characters. But it felt more Call of Cthulhu when I wanted more Castlevania. I hope that makes sense. It's something I intend to correct.
  • The Fear rules just plain sucked. They were too easy to avoid and when they did come up… Meh? It was just one more thing tacked on to a thing that may not need to be a thing. They were more fun at 0-Level but they need to be more fun at any level, IMO.
  • Some of the rule enhancements around Damage and Dying made characters harder to kill. But also didn't come up a whole lot. I was expecting more… I don't know… fun? Again, the group seemed to enjoy themselves. But I felt some rules left more fun on the table than necessary. Fear and the Damage/Dying rules were the biggest culprits.


What Needs to Change

  • The classes need more cool. I've re-examined my approach to the classes and, well, I was just wrong. It happens.
  • The Fear rules need to be simpler and more present. I'm not going for a Sanity death spiral. But something that injects fun and is always at least a short-term threat.
  • Hit Points, Death, Dying all need to be rethought. I'm not sure whether Hit Points will be completely changed. I actually like them as they are. But the death/dying/damage stuff? It's not simple enough. And there isn't a good point where the existing rules will come up. That needs to change.


Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Dr. Van Helsing, I presume


Thus far, we've covered The Valiant, The Half-Breed and The Exotic. Now I'd like to introduce you to another class that will be appearing in Transylvanian Adventures. I apologize for the detour into the pages of the Transylvanian Grimoire with the Exotic and Half-Breed. But you must understand, it is so easy to get lost in these woods.

May I present, to you, the Polymath!
The Polymath is a learned scholar whose broad knowledge has come to account for those things which philosophy and metaphysics cannot explain. The Polymath is an expert at distilling fact from folklore and using that information to his or her advantage.

What the Polymath Does


  • Polymaths are masters of Ritual Magic. They can even circumvent other types of magic with their mojo. Making them kind of the magical "trapfinders" of the party. Oh dear, I've said too much.
  • The Polymath is the only class at 1st level who knows how to Stake a Vampire. That could be useful, no? Other classes just beat them down and put a plank of wood in their chest. The Polymath knows how to kill them for good.
  • Polymaths can advance into Alchemy or one of the other magical disciplines that will be covered in The Transylvanian Grimoire. But they can't do "quick cast" spells. These would be spells like Magic Missile or Fireball.
  • The Polymath is amazingly fluent in a plethora of spoken and written languages. An inventive player should find all sorts of wonderful opportunities to use the Polymath's mastery of language.
  • The Polymath helps prevent allies from dying and can assist allies in healing in a way that differs from the Exotic. If the Exotic is the "nurse" of the party, the Polymath would be closer to an EMT.
  • The Polymath is a master researcher and can remember facts and folklore off the top of his head.
  • The Polymath has an extensive network of friends, acquaintances and penpals that he can use to find equipment and information for the party.
  • The Polymath doesn't do a whole lot of flashy stuff in combat. He's not bad. Just doesn't have a lot of flashy things to do. He's very useful, though. And really nice to have around in all sorts of situations. 
  • The Polymath would appeal to those who like to plan and strategize -- setting up various wards and rituals to use as environmental advantages in an epic battle.


Inspiration

The obvious one is the wizened, old Dr. Van Helsing from Bram Stoker's Dracula and the litany of old codgers who pour over books and scrolls to find out how to defeat the forces of darkness -- from Gandalf to Giles. Another inspiration for the Polymath was Sherlock Holmes. Maybe not the pit-fighting, Muay Thai boxing Robert Downey Jr. version. But, hey, how you play it is how it's real. If you want to have your Polymath do MMA fights... well... um... inspire me to write a bit about "multi-classing" in The Transylvanian Grimoire.

Other Uses

If using the Transylvanian Adventures rules and classes outside of the setting or genre, Polymaths are a good approximation of a wizard. They do Rituals. They study. They wear spectacles. If I had to do a traditional fantasy RPG comparison, the Polymath would be somewhere along the lines of a multi-classed Wizard/Cleric.