Cursed Items

Posted on : 12-05-2010 | By : Brian | In : 4th Edition, D&D, FATE, House Rules, Indie Games, Links

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There’s some talk over at Critical Hits about cursed items, and whether or not they have a place in 4e. Personally, I really like the idea of cursed items, but I’m not a fan of how previous editions handled them. I don’t like items that are just arbitrarily bad and nearly impossible to get rid of; that’s not fun for anyone. What I do like are items that give power for a price.

For my money, these rules work pretty well for modeling cursed items in 4e. I like the idea of magic items that are somewhat more potent than others at their level, but come with a trade-off that could occasionally screw you. However, I’d probably make one change to the way cursed items worked in my own game: I’d make the effect of the curse inextricably tied to the most potent aspect of the item.

I’ve mentioned in the past that I like the idea of aspects in D&D, though the implementation in my own game left something to be desired. I think that cursed items are a perfect place to use aspect-like mechanics; namely, the ‘compel’ action that the GM can use in games like Spirit of the Century. Effectively, the cursed item would have an aspect that could be compelled from time to time by the DM, forcing the player to act in a certain way . . . if he accepts the power that comes with the compel. Here’s an example of what I mean.

The Blood-Soaked Blade
Considered an ill omen by most, the blood-soaked blade demands to be soaked in the blood of the innocent, but grants power in exchange
Lvl 5
1,000 gp
Weapon: Light Blade, Heavy Blade
Critical: +1d6 necrotic damage, or +1d12 necrotic damage if the weapon’s curse is active.
Enhancement: +1 attack rolls and damage rolls
Property: This item gains a +2 item bonus on damage rolls against bloodied targets while the curse is active.
Power (Encounter): Free action. Use this power when you hit with the weapon. The target takes ongoing 5 damage and you can spend a healing surge. This power can only be used while the curse is active.
Curse: The blood-soaked blade demands to be soaked in the blood of the innocent. In order to activate the curse, you must slay a sentient, innocent being. This causes the curse to become active until the start of your next short rest. If, in addition, you spend a short rest (5 minutes) bathing the blade in the innocent’s blood, the curse becomes active until the start of your next extended rest.

In retrospect, the curse on this item bears only a passing resemblance to a true compel, though the idea is the same: do something that the item wants you to do, and you’ll be rewarded. In the case of the blood-soaked blade, you are offered fairly considerable combat prowess (extra damage against bloodied targets, extra crit damage, and an encounter power that deals ongoing damage and heals you), but in order to gain access to any of it, you have to actively engage in an act that is unequivocally evil. If you don’t satisfy the curse, you’ve effectively got a +1 magic sword, and not much else.

If you hand out a weapon like this, try to make sure it falls into the hands of someone with an alignment and personality opposed to to such an act, and tempt the hell out of them. Play up the weapons malevolent influence, suggesting courses of action to the player (in the voice of the weapon) that would allow the player to satisfy the curse. If you really want to put the screws to the player, put them in a situation where those powers would come in really handy, and let them know about the situation beforehand so that they have the opportunity to satisfy the curse.

Design Diary: Bulldogs!

Posted on : 08-05-2010 | By : Brian | In : Bulldogs!, Design Diaries, FATE, Freelance, Indie Games, Links

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I’ve been doing some freelance writing lately for Brennan Taylor of Galileo Games. I did some freelance work for him a while back, during the 3rd Edition/d20 era. He had published an RPG called Bulldogs! using the d20 system, and I wrote a psionics supplement for it. Bulldogs! is a sci-fi space opera game. The flavor of the setting is very cool, something a little different from Star Wars. I feel that the d20 system was at odds with the flavor of the setting, though, and Brennan did, too. To that end, he decided to make a 2nd Edition of the game, using FATE as the system for it. He put out a call to freelancers to help him out and, to make a long story short, I’m co-writing the core rulebook with him.

Overall, I feel that FATE is a much better fit for the setting than d20 ever was. While writing the chapter on alien species, it was much easier to capture the flavor of each species using aspects and stunts than it ever was using d20 mechanics, and it’s simpler to boot. Check out the entry for the Ryjyllians from the 1st Edition rules of the game:

Racial Traits
Ability Scores: +2 Strength, -2 Wisdom. Ryjyllians are physically powerful, but they tend to be hotheaded and rash, acting before they think things through.
Special Characteristics:

  • Rage: Ryjyllians are able to enter a combat rage. They gain great strength and durability, but lose control of themselves and are less able to defend against attacks. A Ryjyllian in a rage temporarily gains +4 to Strength, +4 to Constitution, and a +2 morale bonus on Will saves, but suffers a -2 penalty to Armor Class. The increase in Constitution raises the Ryjyllian’s hit points by 2 points per level, but these hit points go away at the end of the rage when the Ryjyllian’s Constitution drops back to normal. (These hit points are not lost the way temporary hit points are.) While raging, the Ryjyllian cannot use skills or abilities that require concentration, such as moving silently. He can use any feat he might have except for Expertise, item creation feats, and Skill Focus (if it’s tied to a skill that requires patience or concentration). A fit of rage lasts for a number of rounds equal to 3+ the character’s (newly improved) Constitution modifier. The Ryjyllian may prematurely end the rage voluntarily. At the end of the rage, the Ryjyllian is fatigued (-2 to Strength, -2 to Dexterity, can’t charge or run) for the duration of that encounter. The Ryjyllian can only fly into a rage once per encounter and only a certain number of times per day (his level divided by four). Entering a rage takes no time itself, but the Ryjyllian can only do it during his action, not in response to somebody else’s action. A Ryjyllian can’t, for example, fly into a rage when struck by a blaster in order to get the extra hit points from the increased Constitution, although the extra hit points would be a benefit if he had gone into a rage earlier in the round, before the blaster hit.
  • Low-light Vision: Ryjyllians can see twice as far as an Arsubaran in starlight, moonlight, dim light, and similar conditions of poor illumination. They retain the ability to distinguish color and detail under these conditions.
  • Claws: All Ryjyllians have retractable claws at the tips of their fingers and toes. In combat, these can be used as weapons, and Ryjyllians are automatically considered to be proficient in their use. The claws deliver 1d4/x2/slashing damage.
  • +2 racial bonus to all Climb, Jump, and Move Silently checks. Ryjyllians are cat-like and able to perform athletic feats with little difficulty.
  • The Ryjyllian Code of Conduct: Ryjyllians adhere to a strict warrior’s code. They refuse to flee combat, although if ordered to withdraw, the code requires them to observe the command. They must never show fear in the face of danger, but instead challenge it boldly. If challenged to a fight, a Ryjyllian may never refuse. Ryjyllians never use what they consider dirty tricks or deception to win in combat; the fight must be fair to be honorable. The code also requires a Ryjyllian to follow the orders of a superior without question or hesitation, although if ordered to do something that violates the code, the Ryjyllian is likely to commit suicide after he has carried out the order. If a Ryjyllian is ever humiliated in combat, or violates the code by accident, suicide is generally the response. They must make a Will save vs. 20 to break the code.
    Size: Medium. As medium-sized creatures, Ryjyllians have no special bonuses or penalties due to size.
    Speed: Base speed for Ryjyllians is 30 feet.
  • Languages: Ryjyllians all begin with the ability to speak both Galactic and Ryjyllac.
  • Favored Class: Fighter. A multiclass Ryjyllian’s fighter class does not count when determining whether she suffers an XP penalty for multiclassing. Fighting is the Ryjyllian raison d’etre, and they naturally fall into this profession.

That’s a lot of mechanics to remember. It tells you something about the Ryjyllians as a people, but a lot of that real estate above is devoted to matters of physiology, and relatively little is devoted to things that provide character hooks. Now, compare this to the stats for Ryjyllians in 2nd Edition Bulldogs!. (DISCLAIMER: The following mechanics are not final, and are subject to change.)

Typical Ryjyllian Aspects:
The Ryjyllian Code of Honor
Warrior from a Warrior Race
Loyal to My Clan
Last to Retreat
Cat-Like Reflexes
Short Temper

Typical Ryjyllian Stunts:
Ryjyllian Combat Focus
Some Ryjyllians train in special combat techniques that allow them to enter into a sort of battle trance that inures them to pain and makes them more deadly combatants. Once per session, the Ryjyllian can spend a fate point to enter into this state. While in this state, the Ryjyllian automatically generates one extra shift on any attack roll made to deal stress. In addition, the Ryjyllian gains an additional physical stress box, which can be filled as normal. However, if the extra stress box is filled, when this state ends the Ryjyllian takes an immediate consequence that is one step more severe than it would otherwise be. The Ryjyllian can exit this state at any time; otherwise it lasts until the end of the scene.

There’s a lot less real estate devoted to mechanically explaining what a Ryjyllian is, and almost all of that real estate provides character hooks. Each aspect gives you an idea of what kind of species they are, and even the stunt provides more info than the Rage ability did in 1st Edition.

Furthermore, all of the above is optional when you’re playing a Ryjyllian. In 1st Edition, everything listed was mandatory for your character. This meant that, if you wanted to play a Ryjyllian, you had to deal with all of that complexity, and your Ryjyllian would look a lot like all the other Ryjyllians out there; there was little room for variance outside of class choice. In 2nd Edition, we provide recommended aspects and stunts, but you’re perfectly free to ignore them and come up with your own stuff. We provide a baseline that you can use to start from, but your Ryjyllian is, first and foremost, an individual, and you can build that individual however you want to.