Homebrewed D&D: Inked Flesh Magics

I’m a part of a group here in Philadelphia called Drinks & Dragons and GM a monthly game night at American Sardine bar (Spoiler alert! Don’t read further if you’re a player at ASB). I’ve been running Dungeons and Dragons 5th edition at these events for a number of reasons, but mainly because it’s what’s in demand, easily accessible, and most familiar to the majority of people who show up. I enjoy the unpredictability of magic in Dungeon Crawl Classics so I try and insert that into my 5e games where I can with house rules, such as…

Inked Flesh Magics

The Artist of Inked Flesh Magics

Agnon Reith is an old elf who is slightly off kilter due to years of magical enslavement. He practices a relatively unknown trade of inked flesh magics. Once renown for his skills he was imprisoned by a nefarious sorcerer and forced to provide his services to this unkind usurper.  Though this sorcerer is long dead and Agnon is free, he is hesitant to resume his old practice. The characters can only convince him to do so with questing or treasure of quality enough to impress the old, proud, and wary elf.

tpk-tattoo

How the Tattoos Work

The player chooses the design and the placement on their body.

Have all players make their rolls before revealing the results (Agnon will not tell them in advance). Let them know that there is a chance that things can go wrong for them.

While getting their tattoo the player must make a DC10 CON saving throw:

  • Success = 1d6 damage and gain spell associated with the design below.
  • Critical Success = as success, but the tattoo has d3 uses before it is exhausted.
  • Failure = 1d10 damage and roll on the infection table below.
  • Critical Failure = 1d20 damage, roll on infection table, permanent 1d6 loss to CON.

To “use” a tattoo the character’s spell casting ability defaults to their highest attribute. Any class/race can use these magics.

Once a tattoo is used it will be exhausted and disappear until after the character takes a long rest.

Tattoo Designs

Tattoos provide a single use (independent of spell slots) of the spell listed.

  • Eye with a triangular pupil (Detect Thoughts)
  • Sword made of stars (Magic Weapon)
  • Circle of flame (Flaming Sphere)
  • Solid black circle (Darkvision)
  • Torn leaf (Lesser Restoration)
  • A stick and a finger bone crossing (Augury)
  • Eye containing concentric circles for pupils (Clairvoyance)
  • Squirrel made from folded scrolls (Conjure Animals)
  • Wine bottle cork (Water Walk)
  • Two skulls facing each other (Mirror Image)
  • Broken key (Arcane Lock)
  • A skull with the sun in its mouth (Scorching Ray)
  • Skeletal jaw (Magic Mouth)
  • Severed fingers arranged in a circled square (Remove Curse)
  • Gargoyle (Meld into Stone)
  • Paw print patterned with veins (Locate Animals or Plants)
  • Rose wrapping a sharpened stick (Spike Growth)
  • Hammer balanced on a rock (Shatter)
  • Snake with its head severed (Protection from Poison)
  • Leaping Black Horse (Haste)
  • Shackles forming a circle (Enthrall)

Infection Table

  1. On the 13th day of the month an Illusory Gnome named Gavin follows you around the entire day incessantly asking inane but complicated questions
  2. Whatever part of your body where the tattoo appears twists 180 degrees for 1d24 hours. It’s slightly painful and very awkward. This will occur every month on the same day you originally got the tattoo.
  3. The tattoo travels along your flesh appearing on a different part of your body each day. You can feel it like an itch when it moves.
  4. Whenever your tattoo is visible you cannot tell a lie to whoever can see it
  5. Whenever your tattoo is visible you cannot tell the truth to whoever can see it
  6. The ink renders your skin invisible, revealing the muscle and sinew below it
  7. Whenever the part of your body containing the tattoo is in contact with a surface for more than a minute it leaves a black stain on that surface in the shape of your tattoo.
  8. The ink works its way into your veins and shows up as pulsing bright green streaks just below the surface of your skin. These streaks move throughout your body with your bloodstream.
  9. The ink pools together and moves into the whites of your eyes where patterns form in accordance to the tide of the closest shore.
  10. The tattoo replicates itself at an unpredictable rate. You often wake up to find a new copy on your body somewhere. Each one is slightly smaller than the previous.
  11. You suffer a high fever for seventeen days. On the 18th day you awaken, perfectly lucid and able to hear the words of an ancient god of hellfire in your ear, prophesying the end of ways. (*from Luka)
  12. Your blood is replaced by ink. Normal curative spells no longer have effect on you, but spells for mending inanimate objects do. You can now be sundered. (*from DungeonsPossums)

*11-12 were harvested from #gygaxian-democracy on the DIY RPGs channel on Discord.

These are obviously house rules for 5e, but as always can be adapted to your game of choice with designs and spells that fit your table in that beautiful never-ending cycle of homebrewing and hacking.

Incoming projects and a Zine Quest initiation

Kickstarter is running a feature for February specifically targeting RPG zines called Zine Quest. This has served to motivate me with opportunity and a deadline to get the gears rolling on a project I’ve been writing for quite some time.

ks-zine-quest-logo

I had been starting work on Void Crypt as mentioned in my first post and while the research I did for setting up formatting, printer options, etc. for that project will directly translate to this new one – it means that Void Crypt gets kicked to the end of the queue.

Speaking of queue, mine has started getting longer lately as projects new and old are demanding my attention. Though I have a lot going on, they are all exciting things I can’t wait to get out of my brain on onto paper:

  1. Getting this Zine Quest project up and running is the first priority: See below for the teaser reveal.
  2. Megarise” for Death is the New Pink: I love DitNP and I wrote this Judge Dredd/the Raid/Tank Girl inspired adventure some time ago. Last year I ran it through a few playtests with friends, at the bar with Drinks & Dragons, and at PAX Unplugged.  Mike Evans ,writer of DitNP and publisher behind DIY RPG Productions, had offered to put it out. However, I shelved working on it in anticipation of the 2nd edition coming out under Mike’s new DIY Rules. As you can see by its appearance on this list, it has since been taken back off the shelf. I’m keeping it framed within the 1st edition rules as the 2nd edition is a ways off. Plus, what I wrote is very much matched to the style that Into the Odd (the system that DitNP is based off of) provides. [As an aside, if you haven’t checked out either of these games I highly recommend that you do.]
  3. An adventure for Barbarians of the Ruined Earth: Mike is also heading to Kickstarter land in the coming days with a new DIY RPG title called Barbarians of the Ruined Earth. I was hooked on the idea when the pitch started with Thundarr, and pulled in deeper from seeing how it’s coming together with excellent artwork and layout that is very evocative of that Saturday morning fantasy cartoon weirdness. Mike recently asked me to write an adventure as an add-on for the campaign and I gladly accepted. Keep an eye out for the Kickstarter campaign to start soon!
  4. Void Crypt: I have a lot of ideas/feelings on this project. It will be a complete RPG contained in a zine format that uses what I think is a unique take on the original Ghostbusters RPG rules (which have an interesting history). Currently, Void Crypt is a lot of mashed together ideas and furious scribblings exploring Simulation Theory in an RPG that I’m excited to bring into this world. Unfortunately, it’s now on the back burner to other projects. When I get back to it I plan on doing all the writing, artwork, and layout myself.

These are just my RPG related projects related to publishing. I also Coordinate/GM a D&D 5e game here in Philadelphia with Drinks & Dragons as well as run a weekly home campaign of Mutant Year Zero. I’m also working on layout for my band’s LP that just got sent out for mastering after the final recording mixes were finished by John Dyer Baizley. Plus, as with most of us, the mundane job devours most hours of my days. But again, this is all work I’m excited to be doing.

Sooo… with that, I’ll reveal a teaser for my zine being produced for Zine Quest:

Ghostlike Crime, an RPG zine bringing magical realism, the paranormal, and cryptid terrors to a modern day dystopia using Dungeon Crawl Classics rules.

Terrible things creep in the shadows and cryptid terrors stalk humanity. The Cabals of the Corporatocracy have hoarded the magic of the world for themselves to inflate their power and secure control over the dull-eyed placated masses. Magic cannot be trusted and its manipulation has repercussions. Where the wealthy and powerful are kept protected from these consequences, the rest of the population is exposed to the dangerous things crossing over into our world. There are those that will fight these incursions, adventurers who will face the unknown, revolutionaries that will challenge the powers that be – join them now!

The adventurers are monster hunters and defenders of humanity from paranormal threats. They are not a part of any government program, but an autonomous and clandestine group that also works to keep power out of the hands of oppressors. They are the nail that sticks up. This parallel reality is a dystopia where magic exists, but open practitioners are unheard of. Wealth hoards magic and these usurpers who cannot wield it enslave those who do.

gcz-coverv1

*art on the cover by Carly Onofrio, she will also be one of the artists for the zine itself.

Gameable Exhibits: The Bodidd

The constant mental filter of a GM will have you ask of pop culture deluge – “Is this gameable”. It turns out a lot of things are.
While listening to “Who Do You Love?” (first the Townes Van Zandt cover, then going back to the Bo Diddley original) I caught some sinister lines that I had never noticed before.
I walk 47 miles of barbed wire
I use a cobra-snake for a necktie
I got a brand new house on the roadside
Made from rattlesnake hide
I got a brand new chimney made on top
Made out of a human skull
Tombstone hand and a graveyard mine
Just 22 and I don’t mind dying
I rode a lion to town, use a rattlesnake whip
Night was dark, but the sky was blue
Down the alley, the ice-wagon flew
Heard a bump, and somebody screamed
You should have heard just what I seen
Those are the lyrics with the familiar parts taken out. Until focusing on those lyrics I had never realized that the “who do” in the “who do you love” refrain is meant to be a reference to Hoodoo. I blame the prevalence of the George Thorogood version for my oversight.
Throwing together some surreal dark imagery and magic intentions of the song I hacked together this image and put some Dungeon Crawl Classics/Mutant Crawl Classics stats to it:
boddid-tpk50
The Bodidd: Init +1; Atk snakebite +3 melee (1d6 + 3/Poison) or tombstone hand +3 melee (1d8 +3); AC 15; HD 3d10 + 3;MV 30’; Act 1d20; SP Poison on a successful snakebite attack (DC16 Fort save or lose 1d4 Stamina); SV Fort +1, Ref +3, Will +2; AL C.

A Look At: Mothership – A Sci-Fi Horror RPG

MoSh-cover

The first time I was exposed to Mothership I was lucky enough to do so in a cozy after-hours game at GenCon run by the creator, Sean McCoy. From the start it hit a lot of my buttons with quick character creation and an easy to grok rule set. The theme of the game was also an easy sell since Alien and Event Horizon are movies I consider a good social barometer saying: if you don’t like them –  we’re probably not friends. All of this comes together in a small zine format with some excellent and innovative graphic design.

Mothership is a new system created by Sean and operates with a percentage based stats and rolls (d%, d100). I’m personally most familiar with d% from the BRP (Basic Role Playing from Chaosium) system used in Call of Cthulhu/Delta Green and to be honest, that’s contrary to a selling point for me. I spent many years running CoC and enjoyed it quite a bit for the scenarios and theme, but this was in spite of the d% rules system. Once I got a hold of Trail of Cthulhu and the Gumshoe system it effectively fired CoC. The d% system didn’t work that well for investigation and times when Delta Green required action, the characters just felt like useless failures. BUT, Mothership doesn’t come off like that. With some modern tweaks such as the much loved (by me at least) advantage/disadvantage modifiers, adaptable skills, and a simple system for critical success/failure (roll doubles on your d%, i.e. 22 or 88) it mitigates the blandness I usually associate with percentage dice rolls.

MoSh-chCreating something that is rules-lite while still being dynamic is an art form for RPGs and I feel like Mothership succeeds there. I enjoy playing a lot of different games to scratch the itch for varied genres or different mechanics. With that, learning a whole new rule set and setting (or really, expecting all the players to as well) just isn’t going to happen all that often. It’s invaluable to have a game that you can sit down to for the first time as a player and fully engage character creation, understand how to play, and know the setting in less than 20 minutes. I see a lot of games being created these days that are focusing on these traits and I hope that the eventual result is more games like Mothership to carry that along. I’m not a fan in general of crunchy rules and bloated settings and Mothership is a great counter to that.

The design of Mothership is amazing in its ability to be both aesthetically pleasing and functional at the same time. It’s clear that a lot of thought went not only into the presentation, but also how to make the layout easy to use on the fly. This is important in ways that I’m not sure why it’s overlooked in so many games. The character sheet specifically encapsulates these principles with its flowchart-like layout that makes it easy to create a character, understand specific rules, and quickly reference during play. Sean’s artwork throughout is excellent and evocative as well. The one criticism I’d levy here is in regards to the standard load-out bundles (which remain a great way to speed character creation) that took a lot of game interrupting page flipping to get to know what each item did. To mitigate this I made my own reference from hacked together pieces from the rulebook (find them here).

MoSh-dpDead Planet is a supplement to the Mothership core rules. It’s not necessary to run Mothership, but it’s not to be missed. Sean’s co-creators on DP, Donn Stroud and Fiona Maeve Geist, do a great job in rounding out some of the core concepts for running the game while being evocative for the GM bringing it to the table. Jammed into this small package is nothing less than a full adventure, a sandbox, rules expansions, plenty of random tables (I’ve used the Jump Drive Malfunction table gleefully many times), and even an excellent random Derelict Ship Creator that’s worth the price of admission by itself. All of these aspects are done in a manner that holds up the original tenants of the game (great design, functional content, and fun theme) while sparking a lot of creativity instead of holding your hand and enforcing it’s will.

After running Mothership a number of times I found running it smooth both mechanically and adaptable on the fly. Every player I’ve gotten this in front of also expressed how much they enjoyed it. To avoid spoilers, I’ll just explain that using a very small subset of the start of the Dead Planet adventure I was able to have three vastly different stories play out. A couple of these game sessions ended in ways that that while the immediate goals were reached and tension eased they still didn’t feel safe – giving implications for where the next session or a campaign could take them. One particular game ended in my favorite way to end a horror game – one character went quietly insane and killed everyone else in the crew at the first chance given.

If you want more information on Mothership, here’s a recent AMA on Reddit to check out.

 

Enter the Plague Keep

Welcome.

This is where I intend to spew thoughts about role-playing games and game design. While it can be said that blogs may be antiquated in some regards, I think that there’s a lot of value in how they create a community – even if it’s not a legion of thousands (signal to noise and all that). So, here’s my contribution.

I’ve been playing and running these things for nearly three decades and they still take up too much of my free time and brain space. I’ve played a lot of different systems over the years and I enjoy giving most new systems that come out at least a read through. If they pique my interest I’ll move them to my table or crib ideas for my own games. I feel that there’s a lot of amazing content out there and different systems serve different purposes both tried and true or innovative experiments. I like to explore how these variations and concepts play out. Counted amongst my favorites I’d be pressed to narrow the list to Dungeon Crawl Classics, Gumshoe, Mutant Year Zero, Savage Worlds, D&D (retroclones and 5e), Monster of the Week, Into the Odd… all with their own nuance as to why I gravitate towards them.

Currently I’m running my weekly home campaign through Mutant Year Zero. It’s an excellent system for a campaign and I’m sure I’ll expound upon that in a later post. I also run D&D 5e once a month at a bar as a part of Drinks & Dragons here in Philadelphia as well. Plus some one-shots and shorter campaigns when I can.

I have a number of game design and graphic design projects in the cauldron that I’ll throw up details on the development process as they come along. I love when others do that, so hopefully someone will find value in my musings as well.

With that here’s a teaser of my latest in progress project:

voidcrypt-cover-idea