Sunday, October 27, 2013

Halloween 3: Decorating your Undead

I went on and on about how zombies aren’t tough. But they’re essential, right? So how do you make them tougher? Here are a couple of ideas on how to make skeletons and zombies different enough to seem like they are more dangerous. Not sure that every one of these actually makes them tougher!
1. Cover your skeletons in a glowing powder. This actually makes them easier to hit in the dark, but it gives them an additional eerie/horror quality that might be enough to make the civilians flee. They aren’t normal skeletons; no, they’re magical glowing skeletons.
2. Bolt steel and iron onto your zombies. Necros know about anatomy; after all, they play with skeletons all the time. They know where the bones are and would be able to bolt iron and steel pieces onto the zombies without “hurting” them. This can be as simple as armor pieces (assuming your game does not demand skill to use armor), or can be as easy as bolting a couple of horse shoes onto each hand, making the fist attack seriously dangerous.
3. Spiky zombies. Like the previous idea, place some manner of sharp object stick out of the zombie and tell it to wrestle people. While the zombie is on the enemy, damage will occur from the spikes. If they are barbed spikes, then the zombies could effectively weigh down the enemy, even if it has been re-killed.
4, Poisons. Undead are resistant to poisons, so why not outfit them with poison. Put a poison packet in the zombie’s mouth - every time it bites it will be coating its teeth with poison. Sharpen the skele’s finger bones and fill them with poison - kind of like a quill pen. The living have to be careful with poisons or they can get hurt, but the undead don’t have that issue.
5. Skeleton animals. Humans are not the best creatures for combat. Imagine how more effective a skeleton or zombie bear might be. Bigger (assumed more powerful) with naturally big teeth and claws. The zombie bear’s fur might even act as a natural armor. I’m against skeleton flyers, because their wings won’t work, but there is the possibility of skeleton bugs, even giant ones. After all, their carapace is part of their skeleton, so it would stay with them.
6. Thinking zombies. For one mission, I had a necromancer who used a “titan chemistry set” to create a drug that allowed zombies minimal thought. They became about as “smart” as skeles - still not independent thought, but not the total idiots they normally are. As such they could use weapons, were slightly faster and generally surprised the “good guys”. They weren’t that much more effective, but sometimes the unexpected is enough of an advantage.
7. Shadow mummies. I’ve been trying to flesh this one out (no pun intended), but I like the idea of mummies have some manner of shadow powers - maybe the ability to hide in shadows (magically, not like a thief). That one solid hit from surprise can turn a battle.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Halloween 2: Zombie Campaign

After going through all that on Are Zombies Tough, I thought of a good idea for a campaign. I have often said that there has to be something wrong with a person to make them an adventurer. Why would a normal person decide to risk their life for money? Are there really no better options for earning a living?

OK - so here is how this one sets up. The GM makes up a whole bunch of characters, but not adventuring types - civilian types. I know, those games that don’t recognize civilians make this hard. Might be time to switch to an actual role-playing game (like Legend Quest). Anyway - say there are a dozen playable characters, and the players take one or two each. Then their town is assaulted by a pack of zombies. The zombies are barely together. They wander the open town, attacking those they see, but can be found wandering in ones and twos and dealt with by gang ambushes. The GM should kill some of the playable characters not controlled by the players, just to show it can be done.

OK - put the survivors aside and next game session - a new town, a dozen new playable characters (again civilians) and another pack of zombies. This pack might be a little better organized, maybe they have a goal of some sort, like the church (probably where all the non-used playable characters are hiding). Again, team work and tactics should win the day, but now they understand that the zombies were not really attacking the town, but instead the church.

Third session, third town, third team of civilians, third zombie attack. This time, a necromancer is discovered and captured. Under questioning, it is revealed that he is a disciple of some evil god who is trying to have a war with the god who’s churches are being attacked. Yes, it took three attacks, but now they know there is a holy war brewing between the god of necromancers and the god of the farmers (a god of light? agriculture?, whatever).

OK, so now, the players get to look at all the survivors from the three towns and choose the “posse” that is going to go out against the necromancers’ base. Now they are adventurers. Now they can start thinking about arming themselves with real weapons and armor. Why do it this way? Well, every campaign needs to start somehow, and this beats the whole, “You all meet in a bar”. This writes their character history while starting the campaign. This team will find that the first necromancers’ base is only the tip of the iceberg. They will have to work against the cult to avoid a holy war, and possibly avert a civil war or necromantic coup. Once they accomplish all that, they will be mid-level adventurers and will likely stick together to adventure. They might also be approached as soon as this is done to take on another undead threat, being seen as the region’s local band of undead hunters. I may write this up as one of our Campaign Starter Kits, but you have all the ideas here.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Halloween 1: Are Zombies Tough?

I like zombie movies; I really do. Don’t know why. Might be that the first horror movie I ever saw without getting nightmares (age=8) was Night of the Living Dead.

Anyway - zombies. You know the monsters in all the zombies movies? Yeah, they aren’t zombies. They’re ghouls. Zombies don’t make more zombies when they bite you. Ghouls do. So what do we know about zombies? They’re mindless. Well, if they’re mindless, then they can react. They can react to instructions given and react to stimuli (like getting hit in the head with a shovel). But they cannot plan.

Further, they should probably never get to attack from surprise, because they are too stupid. They would roar/moan before attacking. Now, you’re game might have them silent, and that would be cool. Adds to the eerie factor. If they are mindless - Then they should be affected by whatever non-skilled modifiers are in your game. They cannot have a skill with a weapon because they lack the ability to learn. Now you might be tempted to let them use whatever weapons they used in life (woodsman’s axe, pitchfork, etc.), but I don’t think that should be allowed either. Just because they didn’t throw it down when they became a zombie doesn’t mean they know what to do with it. In fact, some of them would probably try to claw or bite their enemy, even if they had a sword in their hand. I let people arm the zombies, but everything the zombies use is considered an “irregular weapon”. In other words, if a zombie swings a sword, it is most likely that it will use it like a club and not like a sword.

So they’re slow, easily avoided. They cannot effectively use weapons, reducing their attack even if they are considered to be strong. They are stupid, and in most games (Legend Quest included) smart adds to your ability to detect stuff around you. This means they are easily ambushed or tricked in other ways.

Do they have any strengths? Most zombies can take a beating, especially when compared to a civilian. They don’t bleed to death, they don’t get scared, and they don’t even care if lop off one of their legs. They’ll bite your kneecaps! Then again, role-playing wise: No one should have any problem killing one. If a zombie shows up at the house, no one is going to think twice about planting an axe in its head. “Right between the eyes.” This makes it more reasonable for civilians to “kill” them in cold blood. This works unless the zombie is someone you know/knew. Then it becomes incredibly difficult to attack it, even if you know it is no longer Grandma, but instead of a monster; it looks like Grandma! There is something to the intimidation factor. Here is a corpse, walking around. For people who don’t intentionally wander into tombs and dungeons seeking to risk their lives for money, monsters are scary. When confronted with a monster, you run away. As long as the encounter occurs in a far off dangerous place, the fear factor should be minimal. After all, the adventurers came here expecting monsters and bad guys; a simple zombie shouldn’t make them pee their pants. But if a mass of zombies starts wandering through town, the initial reaction should be to run away. Sounder minds may prevail and they may gather together to fight the zombies off, but flight before fight. Zombies make an excellent monster for civilians to face - for all the reasons given here. A little planning and you can ambush them. Their slow movement makes them easy to hit by those not experts in weapons. But do they stand up to seasoned veterans? Not really. Sure they take a lot of damage to put down, but not so much that they are a real threat - more of a distraction. What do you think?

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Stipends or the benefits of being nobility

Let’s assume for a moment that there is a king who controls a kingdom 50 miles by 50 miles. In true feudal fashion, he has four counts who each control 25 mile x 25 mile tracts. Each count has five barons who control 125 sq miles of land. Each baron has five knights who control 5 mile by 5 mile portions of land. What if a count simply wants to build a town and a mill along a certain stretch of river? That piece of land is controlled by a knight who really isn’t cut out to manage land and peasants. So the count cuts him a deal: The count gives the knight a house in the capital and a stipend of 500 per year - forever! Why? Well, the count is sure he can break up the knight’s lands and charge far more taxes than he was getting from the knight, especially now that there will be a mill there. Probably makes 500 a year just on the mill and the rest is gravy. Meanwhile, the knight is now happily living in the more glamorous capital with income and no responsibilities. OK, fast forward a couple hundred years. There are three counts; the queen controls the fourth county. Many of the knights have had their lands taken away (in exchange for stipends) by all levels of nobility above them. The queen looks around her and her capital is filled with these supposed noblemen who are receiving these stipends and have been for generations. Now in the olden days, if a soldier did the kingdom a huge service, they would be knighted and given a shire, but there’s not land left to give. (There is, but she’s not giving any of her land away.) So she decided to knight someone and just give them a stipend, as though they had been given land and then she bought them off. There, now the new knight is on equal footing with the other lay-abouts. This isn’t uncommon - but what does it do for game masters? It creates a level of nobility who have nothing to do all day but pester the king/queen and attend court. While some nobles might have managers back at their lands administering to everything, these guys just get their money on the royal welfare system. Now in theory, they are collecting their fair share of income on their ancestral lands, but it gets harder and harder to tie the nobility to the reason for their titles. This actually gets complicated. Six generations later, you have someone who holds four titles, three of which are receiving stipends. Well, that might be interesting, but what does it really do for game masters? For those of us devoted to classic literature, the adventurers are always these well to do nobles who have nothing but time on their hands. They are already rich, or at least well off, and looking for something to do. They are bored at court and will happily take on missions for the queen (or king). They might start off as seemingly minor issues - diplomatic missions, etc. - but quickly turn into action packed spy adventurers dealing with foreign courts and exotic criminals. Meanwhile, you never have to worry about how they live, because the crown is making sure the stipend is delivered to their chief butler who is maintaining the home. This type of campaign isn’t for everyone! First - It demands that the players and their characters actually show some class. Barbaric behavior is not going to be tolerated at court. Just because someone is your enemy, you do not get to whip out your sword and behead him, especially not on the queen’s new carpet. Second - The action is downplayed and the role-playing is brought forward. It’s often more of a murder mystery type adventure - a whodunnit. While fighting can still be integral, it is not the end-all/be-all. This can be a lot tougher on the game master too. Now you have to actually develop personalities for all the bad guys, not just how many points to kill. But when it works ... it is a ton of fun and will keep your players interested for years! Board Enterprises is working on Lifestyles - a book that will allow game masters and player characters to declare how they live by picking their level of home, meals, etc. A couple of quick choices and you know what it costs to live between adventures. Stipends are a short cut when you want to look at things like this. The heir of an ancestral manor lord would easily have enough cash every month to live on without having to worry about finding a job or spending their loot.