"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, October 31, 2012

Happy Halloween

And for all your patience and support, as well as a nod to this fairly awesome holiday and my return to the Land of Phantoms, here's an entry from the upcoming Volume 2. It's a preview of a monster in TA/TG. A new, yet familiar, take on an old standby -- The Demon!


Init +3; Atk necrotic scratches +8 melee (1d3 + 1 Sta; Fort save vs. DC 13 or permanent) or poltergeist activity; AC 17; HD 5d8; HP 25; MV fly 60’; Act 1d20; SP cold spot (if detected), manifestation, incorporeal, immune to non-magical weapons, possession, undead; SV Fort +6, Ref +6, Will +6; AL C.

Demons are malevolent, incorporeal spirits that embody the darkest and most evil demimondes of human existence. Unlike Demons in the Dungeon Crawl Classics roleplaying game, a Demon in Transylvanian Adventures starts out as a spirit entity. The initial goal of these demonic spirits is to possess and inhabit a mortal body to enact their will in the material realm. The act of possessing a mortal form creates a Demonopath (see below) which is a demon in human form.

Demons are frightening entities that manifest on the material plane as a result of a great evil or misguided sorcery. In their natural form, they are dark, shadowy creatures -- a cinderless smoke of malign intent. Demons can assume illusory manifestations for brief periods of time and often do so to lure victims away so that they can attempt to possess them. Demons are intelligent and enjoy frightening people. They are often mistaken for ghosts or wraiths and will frequently assume the tactics of one or the other to mislead potential victims.


  • The Demon’s primary attack is its necrotic scratching. It will often hide in shadowy places and then scratch a target from behind. This attack leaves a set of three razor-thin, parallel, necrotic burns on a target that do 1d3 hit points of damage with an additional 1 point of Stamina damage. More powerful demons require a Fortitude save at DC 13 to prevent the Stamina damage from becoming permanent.

  • The Demon may also create poltergeist activity. This includes throwing small objects at a target (+4 missile fire for 1d3 damage) and pushing or tripping targets (DC 13 Reflex save to avoid falling prone or being pushed 5’ in a direction of the demon’s choice).


  • Demons are incorporeal and can pass through walls and other physical barriers. Demons cannot be harmed by non-magical weapons and are immune to all forms of elemental damage such as fire, lightning, ice and cold. Demons are immune to critical hits from non-magical weapons, disease and poison. Demons are also immune to sleep, charm, hold and other mind-affecting spells.


  • Demons are infernal. This means that they can be turned, exorcised and banished from a location. Even though they are incorporeal, holy water still burns them.
  • Demons are nocturnal. They can operate in daylight but only the most powerful ones do so. Demons are unable to manifest in daylight. Frequently, their tactics involve poltergeist activity during the day.


  • Demons are crafty and have the ability to mimic voices, especially those of children. A Demon also has a passive form of telepathy and can generally pick up on a character’s name and background. This allows the Demon to call out a target’s name. Or mimic a laughing child. Or to cry for help. These are all tactics a Demon might use to prepare for a manifestation and possession (see below).
  • A Demon has the ability to manifest in an illusory form. Doing so lowers the Demon’s Armor Class to an AC of 10 and reduces its movement to only 30’. Therefore, a Demon is only likely to manifest to an isolated victim in order to minimize its risk. Demons often assume the visage of an innocent child, a seductive young maiden or someone the character may know -- especially if that person is dead. Note that the Demon is still incorporeal in this form.
  • In its illusory form, the Demon gains another attack: a paralyzing gaze. While in its illusory form, the Demon has reflective, twinkling eyes like a cat’s eyes in the headlights of a car. A character in presence of a manifested Demon must make a DC 10 Reflex save each round or look into the Demon’s eyes, resulting in the target being paralyzed by the demon.
  • The Demon’s flagship attack and raison d’etre is the Possession attack (see sidebar). A Demon failing a possession attempt is unlikely to stick around. There is easier prey to be had.
  • Demons stalk the living, hiding in the shadows of dark places until they can frighten their prey enough to split them up and give the Demon an opportunity to manifest and possess a victim. While being stalked by a Demon, the party can make a DC 20 Intelligence check to notice strange shadow movements that might alert them to the demonic presence. Until detected, the Demon is at +4 to all attacks and unless it is detected the Fear check DC is increased by +4 as well.
  • Once a Demon is detected, it will create a Cold Spot encompassing an area of 20’ x 20’. Everyone in this area must make a DC 13 Fortitude save or take 1 hit point of damage. While in the area in which the Cold Spot is created, the characters are at -1 to all rolls. The Cold Spot does not move and dissipates once the Demon leaves the vicinity.


  • Locals tell of an evil spirit or malevolent ghost that haunts a place and warn strangers to avoid going there.
  • Locals give characters holy symbols or cross themselves when the characters’ destination is revealed.
  • A local reveals necrotic scars from an encounter he had with the entity years ago.
  • Locals talk about ghostly children or a forlorn spectral maiden that haunts the location.
  • Characters hear voices (some familiar) calling their names.
  • Characters notice shadows moving in their periphery.
  • Characters feel a cold chill.
  • A character gets a set of scratches that burn with an icy heat.


  • Demons like to assume the form of children.
  • Necrotic scratches in sets of three are signs of demonic activity.
  • Demons are intelligent, curious and willing to bargain or do evil deeds but their asking price is often too high.
  • Demons are weaker in the daylight.
  • Demons tend to avoid confronting large groups. Stay close to your friends!

It's been a long time...

I'm baaa-aaaaack.

First off, I apologize for the hiatus. I've had a lot going on in life and time to work on TA/TG was unavailable to me. Things have been corrected now (or so I think) and I should have a little bit more time on my hands.

That said, the idea at this point is to split TA/TG into 3 books. The reasoning for this is that I can release the first book much sooner. It will still be a decent-sized book (easily over 100 pages, possibly over 200). But the rest of the "first book" that I'm working on appears to also be in the 200 page range. So rather than release 2 books (with a delay of 3+ months on the first release) with one book in the 500 page range, I'm planning to release 3 books. The difference between pricing a 500 page book and a 150-200 page book is sizable. So this will allow me to keep the cost down, which is important to me.

The first book will be a sort of "Player's Handbook". It will contain all the classes (except the Theorist who will still appear in the Transylvanian Grimoire. It will also contain all the rules addendum needed to run TA/TG at the table, as well as a 0-Level funnel adventure.

The second book will be a "Judge's Guide". It will contain the hexmap of Transylvania, new monsters and lots of charts and setting information. I may be able to put together a higher level adventure as well. Or maybe commission one.

The third book will be the "Spell Book". This will contain the Theorist class as well as all the spell charts for TA/TG. A few monsters and adversaries too.

There's more that will make it into each book but I think this is a logical split. It allows people who just want the classes and rule tweaks to buy only one book. Or those who just want the spellcasting systems to buy only one book. And it will keep pretty much all of the GM material in one book as well.

I'm also considering placing all three books under the "Transylvanian Grimoire" umbrella. Meaning they will all three be called "Transylvanian Grimoire" and separated by volume.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

What is TA/TG exactly?

Could you post a short description of what TA/TG is exactly? I know it's set in transylvania and has guns, but what is the tone of the setting? Is there Christianity? Are the adventures as "over the top" as the standard DCC senarios? What is the setting and the campaign going to be like?
Mark Brantingham posted this on the blog and I think it warrants some answers.

Could you post a short description of what TA/TG is exactly?
TA/TG is two books: Transylvanian Adventures and The Transylvanian GrimoireTransylvanian Adventures contains character classes, charts, rules addenda, a hexmap, a sample adventure, monsters, adversaries and advice for playing in a Hammer Horror style campaign using the DCC ruleset. The Transylvanian Grimoire, at this time, features more adversaries, monsters, a couple more charts, a few more classes as well as an entirely new spellcasting system and collection of spells for use with Transylvanian Adventures.

I know it's set in transylvania and has guns, but what is the tone of the setting?
I find it easier to describe the tone in terms of movies or video games that a group could emulate with TA/TG's ruleset. TA/TG lends itself to a roleplaying tone similar to movies such as Sleepy Hollow, Brotherhood of the Wolf, Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows  and Hammer Horror classics such as Brides of Dracula. A group could also emulate video games such as Castlevania and Fables 3. As far as tone goes, the default tone is late 19th century Gothic Horror with an Action-Adventure twist. Investigation and research is mechanically important in gameplay -- moreso than even in a game like Call of Cthulhu. Whereas most investigative roleplaying games rely on the Judge or GM to "script" the investigation. In TA/TG, it's part of the game -- like Initiative or Combat. This gives TA/TG games a different arc from the usual fantasy roleplaying games.

Is there Christianity?
Yes. Very much so. TA/TG doesn't make distinctions among denominations. There's just "The Church" but its trappings are very much Christian. TA/TG uses this as a default. But groups can do whatever they want. There's a good deal of word count in the book on how TA/TG treats religion -- both explaining why I went with a nominally Christian church as well as how to change things up in a way that suits one's own religious preferences. TA/TG assumes a default but doesn't prescribe it. It's an element of flavor, but not a requirement.

Are the adventures as "over the top" as the standard DCC scenarios?
In play, not really. TA/TG tones down the gonzo-ness of standard DCC. The magic in The Transylvanian Grimoire draws more from books like Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell and traditional, fictional depictions of magic and spellcasting. There's alot more unseen forces and goat's blood and a lot less prismatic spray and chicken heads.

In publication, the 0-Level adventures are slightly different in tone but play similarly. There's nothing slated for release beyond TA/TG. TA/TG would have to do really well for me to convince my wife that I need to write more adventures to support it. Or I'd have to get enough interest to warrant hiring a writer to put adventures together.

What is the setting and the campaign going to be like?
The setting is like those movies I mentioned. A gray, misty land with vampires, werewolves and worse lurking in the dark forests and remote castles. I have a whole chapter describing what a campaign would be like. Mostly it's a series of arcs incorporating research, investigation, exploration and adventure. 

In terms of the usual fantasy roleplaying adventure, take the standard "dungeon" and cut it in half. So adventuring in crypts, dungeons and caverns might take one evening in a three-session adventure. Or an evening and a half. The rest of the adventure would be spent researching, investigating and finding clues that would help the characters once they finally discover where the monster's lair is located.

Following each adventure, there is a brief "mini-game" that depicts what happens to characters between adventures. This could include anything from falling in love to getting married to discovering a new spell or a litany of tragic results. This mini-game helps to give the Judge/GM inspiration to use for a follow-up adventure as well help to answer the question of what a party should do next.

I hope that answers some questions. I'll try to post more in the future.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

13 Chapters, 5 Appendices

grald_the_hunter over on the DCC/TA-TG forum requested that I do some blogging on the status of Transylvanian Adventures' doneness. So here I'm including the Table of Contents with some notes on the status of each of the sections. In future blogposts, I'll go overly briefly what each chapter contains, as well as highlighting which portions can be used independently of TA/TG.

Player's Sections

I: Introduction - (done, under review)
II: Rule Enhancements - (done, under review)
III: 0-Level Adventurers - (done, under review)
IV: Character Classes - (done, under review)
V: Equipment and Wealth - (done, under review)

Judge's Sections

VI: Skills - (done, under review)
VII: Magic - (done, under review)
VIII: Transylvania - (redrafting, about 80% done)
IX: Campaigning - (drafted, needs redraft)
X: The Hexmap - (drafted, needs redraft)
XI: Monsters and Encounters - (outlined, needs draft)
XII: Adversaries - (outlined, needs draft)
XIII: Sample Adventure - “Horror on Starkweather Mountain” - (done, under review)


Appendix A: Research & Investigation - (done, under review)
Appendix B: In Between Adventures - (done, under review)
Appendix C: Random NPC Chart - (done, under review)
Appendix D: Random Name Charts - (done, under review)
Appendix E: Combat Events Table - (done, under review)

Extra Material

0-Level Character Sheet - (done, under review)
Character Sheet - (done, under review)

The reason the Monsters and the Adversaries chapters are still in outline stage is because I didn't get a look at how DCC was going to handle monsters until the final draft was made available. This is the first chance I've gotten to compare my notes to DCC because I've been very busy finalizing the character classes and the copious charts included with Transylvanian Adventures.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

He's NOT a Coupon!

I jest but this is the first thing a player asked me when investigating the classes during a play test of Transylvanian Adventures.

"The Redeemable? What is he? A coupon?"

The Redeemable is the rogue with a heart of gold. These swashbuckling ne'er-do-wells fly through life on a chandelier, leaping from adventure to adventure inspiring admiration and envy among all those who cross their paths.

You've Met This Guy/Gal Before

The Redeemable is ubiquitous in almost every genre of fiction. From Han Solo to Flynn Ryder to the Dread Pirate Roberts. He (or she) is the rakish rapscallion out to clear his name, right a wrong or party hard and have his name writ large in the book of legends.

How Does One Buckle a Swash?

  • The Redeemable is VERY lucky.
  • The Redeemable climbs better than the DCC Thief. In fact, her Climbing Class Feature is called "Like a Spider Monkey". Yeah, I'm rocking that.
  • Just when you think the Redeemable is down, she can pull victory out from the jaws of defeat. Unlike The Valiant, The Redeemable's ability comes into play a lot more often but is slightly less effective. This makes the Redeemable a little more annoying to a Judge. Whereas the Valiant just shows up big to save the day once in a while. The Redeemable's ability more often than not saves her bacon.
  • The Redeemable also has Mighty Deeds. It's a fun mechanic. And Redeemables tend to have the most fun with it.
  • The Redeemable is good at forcing opponents to miss her. In playtest, I had a Redeemable holding a Velociraptor at bay with a musket. I bet you're wondering how those Velociraptors got to Transylvania…
  • The Redeemable also has tried-and-true abilities familiar to most role-players. Notably picking pockets, escaping from bonds and reducing the damage of a fall.

Where Do I Sign Up?

The Redeemable is a whole lot of fun. And most certainly NOT a coupon. The Redeemable seems pretty stacked but there's a lot going on here. I can't say the Redeemable steals the spotlight a whole lot. It's more like the Judge rolls this, this and that and says "Aha! I got you!" and then the Redeemable's player says "No, ya don't…" So the Redeemable is kind of like the Bugs Bunny of the party. Or the Jerry to the Judge's Tom.

If you've ever had a player who has enjoyed playing a character that really gets under your skin, then the Redeemable is for him or her. As a Judge, you'll have to exercise restraint not to throw dice at that player. I know I have.

Upgrading a Redeemable is fairly straight-forward. And how a player upgrades the character depends more on what the player likes to do with it. Redeemables could be very useful skill-monkeys. And while they aren't as good in combat as the Hunter, Charger or Survivor, upgrading the Redeemable's combat abilities put him on par with the Exotic and Half-Breed for sure. There aren't many other directions to take him, unless you're upgrading his good fortune in which case he could become sort of like a Jester or Gambler class.


The inspiration for the Redeemable is listed above. But there are examples of the Redeemable all over fiction of all genres. Almost everyone is familiar with the trope of the lovable rogue and the Redeemable does the best job of modeling that character that I've ever seen in a roleplaying game. Not to talk myself up or anything.

Other Uses

If using the Transylvanian Adventures rules and classes outside of the setting or genre, the Redeemable is immediately recognizable as a Thief. He's not a jack-of-all-trades like the traditional fantasy roleplaying Thief. And in some ways he could be a little under-powered compared to that class. But he hasn't seemed that way in play test. And the Redeemable really does model that Errol Flynn sort of character that swoops in, saves the girl (or guy) and makes the villain look completely foolish.

A traditional Thief can do all that stuff but isn't really modeled to do so. Of the two, I'd have to say I prefer the Redeemable. He's less backstabby and less inclined towards Chaotic Stoopid than the traditional Thief can be -- while at the same time modeling more closely the fictional representation of a twu wascally wogue.

Ruritania Is On The March

About a month ago, I stumbled upon a very good post by someone on the intarwebs that goes by the name of Melan. It gave me a lot to think about and I'm sure anyone interested in Transylvanian Adventures likely would find his post interesting as well.

Melan may not know (or remember) me but I know of him. We've communicated a bit on various RPG forums, including the Troll Lords forums during Castles & Crusades' early days and whatnot. So I would not think that his post is directed at me (or my game) specifically. But I think it raises interesting points.

Transylvanian Adventures, in the Setting chapter, points out explicitly that what it deals with is the pop-culture representation of Transylvania -- which has no basis in reality. None. Zip. Zilch. Even vampires are more Slavic than Transylvanian. Look it up. I can wait.

Here's a few other things that TA/TG does that maybe will help Melan and those who share his viewpoint feel a bit better about Transylvanian Adventures.

  • It identifies the setting as a caricature and mythologized version of Transylvania that has nothing to do with the real Transylvania. 
  • It acknowledges that this depiction isn't fair and apologizes for this -- despite plowing forward. Same with the Gypsies.
  • It does not portray Transylvanians as less intelligent than Westerners. If anything, they're smarter. Westerners need to go to them for information and parties can expect to develop relationships and common purpose with the people of Transylvania. On that end, it probably treats Transylvanian natives in a better light than most of the material I'd used for inspiration.
  • Where possible, it uses elements from Transylvanian history and folklore. There's a really awesome forest on that hex map for you all. Anyone from or familiar with Transylvania probably already knows the forest I'm talking about. Ooooo-Weee-Oooooo.
  • In an effort to distinguish between the real Transylvania and what we're playing in, I frequently refer to the setting as "Mythic Transylvania". Because it doesn't exist. I try to hammer that home when possible (pun intended).
  • It does not refer to the character Count Dracula as Vlad Tepes. The historical Vlad and the fictional Count are two completely separate entities. While some elements of Vlad Tepes' history are used in the Count's backstory, I'd like it to be clear that the historical Dracula and vampire Dracula are very, very different.
  • Some might wonder why TA/TG uses Saxon names for towns and cities. Well, there's a couple of reasons. First off, the material upon which TA/TG is based uses the Saxon names almost exclusively. And second, I felt it was a nice delineation between, again, the real Transylvania and the Transylvania depicted in Transylvanian Adventures. No one's going to call Fagaras, Fugreschmarkt anymore. So if anything, this lets you know (yet again) that there's a clear delineation between the fun we're having at historical Transylvania's expense and the real place which is a real home for real people.


  • Westerners do not have to be the default "heroes" for a campaign. They are assumed to be so based on the inspiration for the game. But a group could easily have a game of Chinese Vampire Hunters in Transylvania. Or even have the heroes for the campaign be Transylvanians themselves if they wanted.
  • If the hex map and setting aren't to your tastes, it's pretty easy to ignore it. The classes, rule enhancements and spells are Transylvania agnostic. Most of the material could be used in a "Vampire Hunter D" style game. Or in a more traditional Sword & Sorcery game.

Why Continue This Meme?

Initially, TA/TG started out with a setting that was "inspired" by the Transylvania depicted in the novels and films upon which the game is based. But this felt wholly disingenuous. In the same way that recasting the Christian symbology used in those films and books into some made-up religion felt cheap and hollow. So I decided to draw the line.

And I'm glad I did.

  • I learned more in the last 18 months about Transylvania -- the real Transylvania -- than I'd ever thought I would. I developed a respect for the tolerance and resilience of Transylvanians and an appreciation for their history that transcended what I thought was possible. I hope some of that comes through in Transylvanian Adventures. It's certainly seeded with more of the real Transylvania than any Hammer film or Stoker novel ever was.
  • In the end, I felt it was more of an insult not to use Transylvania. Why? Because these tropes are so ubiquitous in pop culture (globally even -- see Vampire Hunter D, Castlevania…), that I felt a "made-up" Ruritania would propagate those tropes just as much as using Transylvania. Because even if I called it Vansyltrania. Or Draculstan. Or Salemarnia. Everyone would know it was Transylvania. I wouldn't be fooling anyone. So why pretend?
  • I didn't feel that watering TA/TG down religiously or geographically served anything except deflecting criticism from my ego. I'd rather make a great game than keep my self-image in a hermetically-sealed padded cell. 

Does that make me a racist? Well, that's sort of like admitting I'm ignorant. If I'm really ignorant, I wouldn't know. And if I call myself ignorant, I'm probably not really admitting I'm ignorant but just playing footsies with self-deprecation. And if I contend I'm not ignorant, it's likely I'm far more ignorant than I know.

And that's just too much loopy thinking for me. I'm focused on making what I feel is a really amazingly awesome and fun game. Like the best thing to happen to fantasy roleplaying since they dropped THAC0. The only place I could think of that was awesome enough to call this game home is Transylvania. And that makes this game kick butt all the more.

Hopefully Melan, for whom I have a good deal of respect, understands my position and doesn't judge me too harshly. And for my part, should we ever sit down together for a game of TA/TG he can play an awesome Transylvanian character, we'll forget all about vampires and dive right into the Hoia-Baciu.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Back Into the Fray

Last Friday, we did another playtest of TA/TG. It went well but I felt it dragged in spots. Here's some notes from what went down:

The Good

  • I made a point to put the characters (all 1st level at this time) into a really tough fight that might've dropped a typical 1st level party. One did get dropped (which illuminated a couple of other issues I've noted below) and the party all rolled terribly. They made it through the encounter but just barely. I felt this was important because I didn't know how much more powerful characters in TA/TG were compared to DCC. The answer? They're roughly the same. I wouldn't say it's a 1:1 sort of thing. But a similar party of characters in DCC would've had about the same amount of difficulty with the encounter as the TA/TG group had.
  • Leveling up was a love-fest. Everyone liked it. A couple of options were identified that deserved another look-through. But everyone commented on how simple and awesome gaining a level in TA/TG was. I would say this was a light-bulb moment. After leveling up their party, all the players "got it". It was fun, made sense and had that addictive quality to it that I was hoping for.
  • TA/TG really plays like DCC with a few twists. Not all the twists will be to everyone's tastes. But none of them make it patently unrecognizable as DCC. I like that and think it helps create an enjoyable experience.
  • Guns were awesome. A little odd because the players rolled so poorly with them. But they worked very nicely.

The Bad

  • The absence of magic in the party was pretty obvious. We're going to want the Theorist sooner, rather than later. And I'm not sure how throwing a spell-slinger in there will affect the party's efficacy.
  • Getting dropped failed to pass the Awesome test. I'd also left out a couple of pertinent details about getting dropped that I was publicly kicking myself for not being able to find. Better that I find those things now.

The Ugly

  • Fear turned out to be fearful. One character nearly killed herself from fright. I tried to explain how it should (in theory) get better as the party increases in experience but I did have to go back and massage those rules a bit. I don't mind there being a lethal element. But players shouldn't get whooped too badly by one bad roll.
  • When players roll poorly and monsters follow suit, combat can really drag. I think that's true for any edition of "the world's most popular fantasy roleplaying game". And it's very true here as well. This inspired me to go dust off a chart I've been using as a DM for decades to spice up dull encounters. I'll be adding this to TA/TG.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Through the Looking Glass Darkly

In response to some suggestions from Liu Jen Hao over on the Goodman Games TA/TG forum, I posted a lengthy response detailing how to work with disruptive players in a game of Transylvanian Adventures. In short, TA/TG is much like any other roleplaying game. I don't know of a single game where the nightmarish nihilism of Chaotic Stoopid couldn't derail an evening of play.

A lot is covered over on that lengthy response. And I suppose a lot can be gleaned from it that's completely unrelated to the matter of disruptive playing styles. I'll try to summarize here:

  • Transylvanian Adventures does not have any "genre enforcing" mechanic outside of the default awarding and penalizing of Luck as described in the Dungeon Crawl Classics rulebook.
  • Alignment is expressed (usually) by a character's position in relation to ruling elite of the time period. Lawful, Neutral and Chaotic can have different applications to each of the classes with the chief concerns of a Lawful Hunter being different from those of a Lawful Redeemable or a Lawful Charger.
  • There is a Gypsy Curse chart.
  • There is a type of monster/encounter known as a Haunting, which is different from the usual Ghost found in fantasy roleplaying games.
  • There are Adversaries and Rivals. They work against the characters throughout a campaign.
  • There are charts that players roll on to determine what happens to the characters in between adventures. These charts can award XP. They can also do things like help your character find "true love", which can benefit the character mechanically. I'd also like to add that it happens almost entirely "off camera". The In-Between Adventures stuff is like a mini-game in itself, featuring a number of charts.
  • Research is how characters get a leg up on the monsters. Without Research, characters are flying blind and at a significant disadvantage.
  • Becoming a monster isn't a goal in Transylvanian Adventures. Monsters are not super-powered PCs. They are PCs that are not entirely under the control of a player. Sure, a monster PC might get some benefits from her special abilities (and the option for a Werewolf PC or Vampire PC is under consideration for TA/TG). But the Judge/DM would take over and drive quite a bit. Most players don't like this at all. So the simple answer is: Don't become a monster. Or re-roll a character that does.
  • Dracula is a bad ass. As he should be.
  • There are guns in TA/TG.
  • There is no armor in TA/TG.
  • There is no magical healing in TA/TG.
  • TA/TG draws a line between the forces of darkness and, well, everything else. But doesn't moralize or force a group to be on either side. Players should understand, however, that actions have consequences. And it is through consequences to their actions that characters will be confronted with the fruits of sociopathic behavior.

Now the Why, There's Always a Why

I can't take full credit for what I would consider a fairly enlightened approach to Grimdark Roleplaying. Much like Liu Jen Hao, there was a time when I wanted (even demanded) that a System (Capital "S") police player choice. But then I entered a long and eye-opening discussion with a guy named Mike Holmes who has helped many would-be roleplaying authors and game masters improve their games, their play and their philosophy on roleplaying.

I've long since lost those notes, which pertained to a version of the Heroquest system to be used in Fantasy Flight Games' Midnight setting. I've also lost contact with Mike over the years. But the crux of his message remains with me today. Memory is imperfect but, as I recall, it went something like this: "If roleplaying is all about making meaningful choices, why write something into a game that takes those choices off the table?"

That was pretty heavy, especially 6-7 years ago when I would've written something verbatim to Liu Jen Hao's post.

But instead of forcing a mechanic on players that they'll most likely resent, circumvent or avoid entirely (ala "Humanity" in Vampire), Mike showed me what I consider the better way. Give the players what they want -- a story arc for anti-heroism. Joseph Campbell gave us the Hero's Journey. Well, Mike Holmes gave me the "Villain's Journey". And it's pretty much what the Grimdark Nihilist could expect at my table.

The first act is a misstep. And Mike cautioned (and I agree) on penalizing players too harshly for it. This time, maybe they get away with it. Or fly under the radar enough to avoid immediate consequences.

The second act is the first step to villainy. Perhaps the characters are just powerful (or cruel) enough to get attention and a degree of infamy. But there's still a chance for redemption. Present the group with heroic adversaries that they themselves might have become. Or maybe some bounty hunters that make them look like Boy Scouts. But also give the players an opportunity to step in and fight something more cruel/evil/cynical than themselves. There's still the opportunity to turn it around here. But the choice remains with the players.

The third act is the final transformation into a true, unredeemable villain. Note that there are other villains out there too. And villains are a terribly selfish and egocentric lot. There's a lot of opportunity for betrayal and intrigue among a pack of power-hungry sociopaths. And the party may still not be the worst of the lot. Players should be able to witness how the world changes, inevitably for the worse.

They should also become the targets of "heroes" looking to stop them or overthrow them. There's nothing in TA/TG that says your Rivals need to be bad guys. A character on the wrong end of some bad decisions could easily find himself with a certified hero (or group of heroes) as a Rival.

The climactic end of the Villain's Journey is their defeat. They are stopped, slain or otherwise rendered powerless. The anti-climactic end is their victory. And that comes largely in two flavors: the villain accepts his position as a servant to a greater power or the villain assumes his role as The Greater Power. Neither of these ends are greatly satisfying. But I think it's worth noting that the endgame of the Villain's Journey in this regard is pretty similar to the Adventurer/Conqueror/King path of the traditional fantasy roleplaying hero.

Look, I'll be the first to admit that this type of game isn't the greatest fun for me. It's pretty banal and power-trippy until the second or third act when I can start throwing heroes at the party. And there's no doubt that a party like this is split between doing really vile and really heroic things -- which sometimes can make it fun and sometimes can make it excruciating.

But this sort of campaign really is gazing through the looking glass darkly. It's the mirror image of a story arc that players have gamed through for decades… and of which they may be tired.

So, I'm resolved to stick to my guns with the "no sledgehammer mechanics" in TA/TG. First off, the groups that could moralistically use them the most would ignore them. And the players who butted their heads up against them would resent them and steel their resolve to make the rest of the game suffer.

Ultimately, the game should be fun for everyone at the table. And sometimes that's a compromise. Hell, it is always a compromise. My games never turn out 100% the way I want them to. And players rarely pop out on the other end with the exact character they'd dreamt up in the beginning.

If a group wants to play a bunch of Dracula cultists, I'd say okay. There will be other cultists who rival them. There will groups from more heroic organizations who try to stop them. Maybe a few who will try to redeem them. And ultimately the villainous party may fail. It's not the kind of game I would envision from writing TA/TG but if we all work together I have no doubt we'd have a great time.

Alternately, if a group has that one guy (and it always seems to be a guy) who is set on being the most horrible pretend human being ever. Well, that character will be dropping Luck points left and right and most likely would not be long for the world anyway.

I remember a player of this mold in a group I ran at a comic shop. He was completely over the top. I mean he was like Gregor Clegane and Leona Helmsley's bastard child. If there was a way he could wield four katanae and wear two trench coats he would have. Half the time I think he was just trolling us. He did everything in his power to derail every session and sometimes he did. Obviously a disruptive player but I couldn't tell him goodbye because I was running an open game at a comic shop for a friend who had ask me to run an open game at the comic shop that he owned.

Inevitably, this player's decisions began to catch up with him. And believe it or not the rest of the party began rooting for (and helping) the heroes who would show up to stop him. It was funny, at times. And even the player got a hoot out of it. Finally he was slain in a climactic battle. The end was satisfying for him and cathartic for the other players too who had wanted his character dead more than any villain I had ever thrown in front of them.

I'll add, however, that this kind of intra-party tension is usually fatal for the one causing the disruption in TA/TG. The way Hit Points work and the way the party is inter-dependent during play tends to support party cohesion better. There aren't any "Clerics" but in their own way each class is as "important" as a "Cleric".

And with the In Between Adventures stuff, it's difficult-next-to-impossible to remain the loner-orphan-with-no-name-in-a-trenchcoat in TA/TG for long. That kind of character is Werewolf bait.

That said, he would make a good Charger.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

First I Was Afraid, I Was Petrified...

Gloria Gaynor FTMFW!

The Survivor’s life has been shaped by tragedy and misfortune. These individuals are pariahs among their own kind, possessing an oddness about themselves formed by their encounters with the most primal and ancient of horrors.

You Got Something Against Beyonce?

(No, not really)

The Survivor has sparse (yet prominent) representation in Gothic horror. I mean, she's there in the biggest of the big influences (Mina Murray in Dracula). But you don't see her much anywhere else. There always seems to be someone that's victimized by the guy in the black and red cape. But they aren't always as super-charged as Mina was in the end of Bram Stoker's Dracula. And this Survivor is really freaking super-charged.

Okay, Make Me Care

The Survivor is a class (perhaps the only class) I gave considerable thought to pulling out of Transylvanian Adventures for good. It just wasn't inspiring me. And if it wasn't inspiring me, then how could I share it with all of you. But that isn't the case anymore. With the last great Class War in TA/TG, some roles opened up and some concepts were spread out a bit (some from the Half-Breed) that really made the Survivor shine.

So, irony of ironies, the Survivor did just what it was designed to do: Survive!

  • The Survivor can pick up most weapons and whack the unliving crap out of anything that goes bump in the night. In fact, her weapon training is rivaled only by the Hunter.
  • The Survivor is really, really hard to scare. In fact, the Survivor might admire the rainbow-colored reflections off the eyes of a newly risen Cthulhu. Or take a Man-Bat for a pet. The Survivor has seen the worst and is stone cold.
  • In line with that, the Survivor is resistant to mortal threats. She won't freak out. Or panic. Or tell you anything. The Survivor would sit beneath a Chinese Water Torture device for 90 days like it was a 3 month spa treatment. She'd take bamboo under the fingernails like a manicure. The Survivor knows there are far worse things out there than mere mortals can dream of. And if she shared her dreams with you...
  • Much like the slasher in a Slasher Flick, the Survivor just won't stay down. Life is done with her. But death don't want her. Eyes pop open. She sits up. Survivors can be really cool like that.
  • What's more, a Survivor is like a Monster-Sniffing Bloodhound. You want to know if a vampire has been down in the servant's quarters. The Survivor can tell you his street address. Want to know if a Werewolf was what killed all the chickens? The Survivor can tell you his cell phone number just by walking around the chicken coup.
  • The Survivor is really unhappy with supernatural creatures. When she "hulks up" on one, they become a bug on her windshield of vengeance. She may not be as good a fighter as the Hunter, Charger or Redeemable. But she's easily the class most likely to break a Dragon's femur with a garden hoe.

Where to Go From Here

The Survivor may not seem to be loaded down with abilities and such. But she's kind of a killing machine with monster radar and a "Get Out of Hell Free" card. She doesn't need a whole lot of zazzle to be awesome.

The Survivor could be made even more of a killing machine. Or could take any of her supernatural abilities in directions to make her kind of this inhuman walking dead type person. Like Michael Myers in Halloween. Or she could be upgraded such that she works sort of like a Psychic Detective.


The inspiration for the Survivor came from the same fictional character in two separate publications. The character: Mina Murray-Harker. The first publication is obviously Bram Stoker's Dracula. That's where the Survivor gets her "bloodhound" senses. The second? Mina Harker in Alan Moore's League of Extraordinary Gentlemen comic. Not the movie. Please erase that from your mind. But the comic... this character class has all the toughness of Mina in that comic. And then some.

Other Uses

If using the Transylvanian Adventures rules and classes outside of the setting or genre, the Survivor might be a good fit as a type of demi-human. Something like a Half-Orc. Or a weirder race even. The Survivor could easily be a fantasy class of monster-fighters like an Avenger or Witch Hunter.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Happy 5000th

It's hard to imagine that the marketing blitz for Transylvanian Adventures began over on the DCC RPG forums. It seems a long time ago. I suppose it was. Just since that thread started a whole lot has happened in my personal life.

But that's a blog for another time. I still seem to be doing okay, even with a rough 6-8 months behind me. And TA/TG keeps rolling along.

The interest in TA/TG, meanwhile, has been inspiring and humbling. I do appreciate everyone who takes the time to follow that gargantuan thread on the DCC forum and reaching 5000 views is amazing. In gratitude, I wanted to share something out of the books and asked over there what you all would like to read about. 

grald_the_hunter was the first on the scene and asked about multi-classing in TA/TG.

So here goes...

Talking about multi-classing in TA/TG is complicated. It's slated to be included in the Grimoire -- which is still in development/ideation/awaiting draft. So I'm putting to pixels something that exists in notes, observations and outline form. That doesn't make it any less real. But it does mean things might be subject to change, although I don't foresee any dramatic changes on the horizon.

Multi-classing in TA/TG is difficult to discuss as well because one would have to first understand how TA/TG classes "level up" to understand multi-classing. This is something that is drafted in Transylvanian Adventures, so that's pretty easy to share.
Each class has several unique Class Features that help reinforce their archetype and allow players to customize characters in a number of different ways. Each Class Feature comes with optional Upgrades that can be purchased when a character reaches a level where an Upgrade is available. No Class Feature can be upgraded more than three times because it just gets silly after that point. An upgrade may also be used to receive training in new weapons and increase a character's Wealth by one level.
Classes in TA/TG advance by level along some familiar axes -- Hit Dice, Attack Bonuses, Saving Throws, etc. But the special abilities the classes have don't necessarily do so. Think about, say, a Ranger's tracking ability. Well, extrapolate that out as if the class had 4-5 abilities in different areas.

So when that Ranger went up a level, his Tracking ability doesn't necessarily increase. A player, instead, may choose whether she wants that Ranger to get better at Tracking or Trick Shots or something.

To accomplish this I had to make the base abilities good. I mean, REALLY good. The reason for this was so no one felt gimped by an ability they had to "pay" to increase. Comparing the power level of a DCC Thief to a TA/TG Hunter is not a 1-to-1 comparison. There's another layer there. It's almost like you'd have to compare them at different levels. A 1st level TA/TG Hunter might be as good as a 3rd level DCC Thief at opening locks. But after a couple of upgrades, that 3rd or 4th level Hunter might be better than a 10th level DCC Thief at opening locks at the expense of improving his Signature Weapon or Trapmaster features. In contrast, some 1st level TA/TG characters might be as good as a 5th level DCC class at a similar task.

In short, I had to make abilities something that weren't weak out of the gate and waiting for an upgrade. TA/TG characters start out fun. They aren't the superheroes in chainmail that you'll see in some later editions of the world's most popular fantasy roleplaying game. But this isn't your grandpa's 1st level either.

Another thing I had to do to make the "upgrade" paradigm work was kind of level the abilities out against each other. To sort of iron out the loopholes that could really break things. Granted it's pretty much a given that something is going to slip by. So, much like any other roleplaying game, it's going to be up to the Judge and the group to be good tablemates and play nicely together. But an unintended side-effect of this playtesting, redrafting and analysis emerged: the abilities began to look... interchangeable.

This gave rise to the notion of a "cross-upgrade" and led me to ask all sorts of questions such as "What if that 5th level Hunter spent an upgrade to acquire the Charger's 'Aura of Badass' feature?" That's a fun question to ask. And really, who wouldn't want to acquire an 'Aura of Badass'? I guess that's open to interpretation...

But it also turned multi-classing on its head. It isn't multi-classing. It's cross-upgrading. It's turning a Polymath into a kung-fu fighter with the Exotic's unarmed fighting abilities. Or turning a Survivor into a bad luck charm with the Theorist's Hex feature.

Is that multi-classing? The end result feels like it. But it's also painless. I still don't believe it fits together as easily as it seems to.

That said, there are some features that belong to one class and only one class. That can't be selected by other classes. And I think that should be expected to a degree. But the number of non-selectable cross-upgrades at this point in time is 3 or less. I'm thinking they'll probably grow over time but I can't imagine there'll be more than 5 problem upgrades by the time The Transylvanian Grimoire is done.

So there's multi-classing. I hope it made sense and continues to fire up the grass roots for TA/TG. I'm hoping this can be a really fun and interesting addition to the DCC line.

And thanks again for all your support. Just reading this blog means a great deal.

Happy 5000 and don't forget your vial of Holy Water!

I Have a Hypothesis...

Introducing the Theorist...

On the cusp of the new trends in Metaphysics and Science, the Theorist experiments with all manner of alchemy, steamworks and revivification to test the boundaries of what is known.


The Theorist isn't easily found in movies and fiction upon which Transylvanian Adventures is based. Much like the Charger, the Theorist attempts to fill a role for the sake of making the game fun. In short, the Theorist is the magic-user of Transylvanian Adventures. The Theorist is the only class that casts "spells" in a similar manner to how a Wizard or Cleric might cast a spell in more traditional fantasy roleplaying games.

But that's not all.

The Theorist is more versatile than a traditional Magic-User. While the types of magic in Transylvanian Adventures is anything but set, The Transylvanian Grimoire will likely present Theorists with the capability to cast world-shattering Rituals, concoct recondite Potions and create arcane fabrications. The Theorist combines capabilities traditionally associated with a Wizard, Alchemist, Sorcerer and Mad Scientist.

In truth, multiple types of magic-wielding classes could have been created for Transylvanian Adventures. But as the Theorist began to take shape with the rest of the classes in Transylvanian Adventures, it became clear that customization was the best way to allow players to create the type of spell-caster, mad scientist, alchemist or demonologist a player wanted a character to be.

Why the Wait...

Along with the Exotic and the Half-Breed, the Theorist completes the triumvirate of classes that will be introduced in The Transylvanian Grimoire. The reason for this is because what was originally intended to be Transylvanian Adventures needed to be split into two volumes: Transylvanian Adventures and The Transylvanian Grimoire. This happened due to a number of concerns that would've impacted Transylvanian Adventures' price.

The most natural division of the material was one book with the rules enhancements, hex map and most of the classes and another book with a few classes and all the spells. I could foresee situations where people might want one or the other. Splitting them helps to insure that neither is too cost prohibitive and it also helps to speed up the time-table for Transylvanian Adventures' release.

What the Theorist Does

  • The Theorist casts spells in much the same way as a Wizard in Dungeon Crawl Classics. The Theorist can also make potions, create things and is the best Ritual caster of all the classes. The Theorist is also the only class that can use Spellburn in Transylvanian Adventures.
  • The Theorist is a master of arcane languages. This allows her to read and understand languages that would drive a normal person to the brink of insanity.
  • The Theorist influences the fate and destiny of those around her and can turn Luck against her opponents.
  • The Theorist is well-versed in the magic of Faerie and can use cantrips and illusion to alter her appearance -- sometimes drastically.
  • The Theorist's exploration into alchemical substances have made her a master of poisonous concoctions. The Theorist can brew poisons and has built up a near-supernatural tolerance for them.
  • The Theorist is a master at decoding codes and secret messages, as well as encoding communications in seemingly mundane missives such that only her intended recipient can understand them.

Where to Go From Here

The directions in which a Theorist can go depend a great deal on how many spell casting variations I can put into The Transylvanian Grimoire. An alchemist is certainly one such direction. A more traditional spell caster would be another. But other considerations include Mad Science, Steamworks and high-powered Ritualism.

Based on the features currently associated with the Theorist, the options are available for the Theorist to become almost Assassin-like with her specialty in poisons. Or more of a scribe with her mastery of codes and languages. Or even a bit of a Sorcerer with her influence on Luck and glamouring abilities. The Theorist would make a very good arcane spy with a combination of these abilities. Sort of like James Bond meets Jonathan Norrell.


Not much in the way of inspiration exists in the literature or films upon which Transylvanian Adventures is based. Moving outside of the direct influences, however, there are a number of resources that point to Theorists in The Transylvanian Grimoire, as well as what might be expected from the magical abilities in that book.

The greatest inspiration is probably the wizards in the book Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. Rupert Giles from the Buffy the Vampire Slayer series is also an influence, as well as Ethan Rayne. The movie, The Raven, featuring Vincent Price and Peter Lorre is a campy influence but an inspiration nonetheless. And there are a number of other books, films, comics and such from which the Theorist was cobbled together.

Other Uses

If using the Transylvanian Adventures rules and classes outside of the setting or genre, The Theorist would best fit as an Artificer, Alchemist or Warlock. The Theorist has some sneaky elements to him but isn't quite a Wizard/Thief. Generally, the Theorist is a mildly tougher Wizard which is best defined in the setting by what sorts of magic a group agrees should be available. The Theorist could, without a doubt, be used alongside the Elf and Wizard in Dungeon Crawl Classics and is, perhaps, one of the best options thus far to do so. There is nothing stopping a group from using a Theorist within the context of the spellcasting in DCC, as either a supplementary spell-casting class or a full replacement for the Wizard class.

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.


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.


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...