May 24, 2012

Randomized yet Customized Familiars

Wizards and witches and familiars and random charts and probabilities and how to make them all work just right. 

I've been pondering on this for a while now.  Like years actually.  I've never found the perfect solution.

The right answer is that there is no right answer, or more precisely that the right answer depends upon the exact setting and the overall tone that you are trying to achieve with your particular campaign.  There is a certain alchemy to mixing an infinite number of players to an infinite number of campaign settings, and I'd be a fool to think that I've found the perfect chart.

Yet, I have this thing.

It relies heavily on DM intervention and player imagination, but it seems to work.  I mean that it works in that myself and my players all seem to enjoy the results.  I share it in the hopes that you and your players might enjoy it too. 

This ... thing was originally designed to be used with a Beast-Master class, but that was never fully designed.  I've ended up using it for Wizard familiars and Druid/Ranger animal companions.  It's a bit gonzo and I'm sure it's not for everyone, but if you're still interested, here it is.

Spellcasters below level 4 use the "Uninspired Familiars Chart".  You know, the one with cat, rat, owl, toad, raven; and all that stuff on it.  Max of one Familiar per caster (unless you are a Beast-Master).  Any spellcaster who is 4th level or above can choose to remove (500xp/level) to use this "Super Secret Familiars Chart".  Assuming that you like spellcasters to roll a bunch of weird dice and are willing to wing it.  It goes like this.

The spell casting character casts the spell, does the rituals, or whatever.  At the end the character is in a trance-like state and imagines the particular creature they are trying to summon as a familiar.  The player describes the desired creature to the DM.  Then, the player rolls one of every die.

The DM (who is probably me unless someone else is crazy enough to try this) says "OH! That's interesting." and writes down the six results in order of lowest to highest.  Then the DM consults this system/chart/thing that they keep behind the DM screen.

Player Rolls:  d4 + d6 + d8 +d10 + d12 + d20.  

Lowest Number: = (special abilities + # Attacks/round)
2nd Lowest Number: = To-Hit Bonus (THAC0 20)
3rd Lowest Number: = Bonus to all Saves (0-Level Saves)
3rd Highest Number: = highest damage from a single attack
2nd Highest Number: = max HP (+1 per caster level)
Highest Number: (this number divided by 2; round down) = AC

The end result should be somewhat similar to what the player described, but you know... let the dice speak their peace.  Remember that HP can represent luck, combat reflexes, size, or whatever.  Give the player their desired aesthetic and everybody wins.  I don't let the players see exactly what I'm doing because it amuses me that they think I have a chart with over ten thousand familiars on it.

I guess the hardest part is to determine what the lowest number means.  What counts as a "special ability"?  I just sort of make it up as I go, but here is a partial list.

* +1 Attack per round (default of zero)
*Flying/working wings: (damageable, but faster than running human)
*Floats/Levitates: (innate, but slower than running human)
*Breathes Air AND Water
*Big/Ridable (can carry a PC)
*Breath Weapon (or special attack you'll allow)
*Speaks Common or Whatever (human face optional)
*Casts a Spell (nothing flashy, once per day)
*Other (whatever's clever dude)

Now, I haven't mapped the probabilities for every possible roll, but I'm sure the curves are sexy.  I do know that the probabilities for the lowest roll (Special Abilities/# of Attacks) are:
1 = 57.14%
2 = 27.86%
3 = 11.51%
4 = 3.49%

The probabilities for the highest roll (AC) are:
1 (AC: 0) = 0.0002%
2 (AC: 1) = 0.01%
3 (AC: 1) = 0.14%
4 (AC: 2) = 0.73%
5 (AC: 2)= 1.82%
6 (AC: 3) = 4.03%
7 (AC: 3) = 5.75%
8 (AC: 4) = 8.82%
9 (AC: 4) = 9.04%
10 (AC: 5) = 11.29%
11 (AC: 5) = 8.75%
12 (AC: 6) = 9.58%
13 (AC: 6) = 5.0%
14 (AC: 7) = 5.0%
15 (AC: 7) = 5.0%
16 (AC: 8) = 5.0%
17 (AC: 8) = 5.0%
18 (AC: 9) = 5.0%
19 (AC: 9) = 5.0%
20 (AC:10) = 5.0%

Hmmm.  Maybe some examples would help?

DM: "You cast the spell and enter a trance-like state.  What creature is your character picturing?"
PC Wizard:  "The floaty eel thing from the bad guy in Aladdin!!!"
DM:  "You mean Xerxes?  The eel thing that followed Mozenrath?"
PC Wizard:  "Yeah! That thing was awesome!"
DM: "Yeah, he was.  Go ahead and roll one of each die."
Player: *Rolls*
d6: 3
d8: 7
d10: 7
d12: 3
d20: 11

In Order: 2, 3, 3, 7, 7, 11

Lowest Number: Floats + Bite Attack
2nd Lowest Number: = +3 to Hit (or THAC0: 17)
3rd Lowest Number: = +3 to all 0-Level Saves
3rd Highest Number: = Bite Damage (d6+1)
2nd Highest Number: = 7 HP max (+1 per caster level)
Highest Number: (11/2 round down) = AC 5
End Result: 3 foot long Floaty Eel Thingie 

DM: "You perform the ritual and enter a trance-like state.  What entity is your character picturing?"
PC Wizard:  "A Mini-Me!!!"
DM: "Sure, OK.  Now roll one of each die."
Player: *Rolls*
d6: 5
d8: 4
d10: 4
d12: 10
d20: 2

In Order: 2, 3, 4, 4, 5, 10

Lowest Number: Speaks Common + Casts one spell per day (out of your spellbook, just like you; I'm being generous here.  It should really be a specific spell, but since you called it a clone thingy... whatever)
2nd Lowest Number: = +3 to Hit (or THAC0: 17)
3rd Lowest Number: = +4 to all 0-Level Saves
3rd Highest Number: = No Attacks/It abhors physical violence
2nd Highest Number: = 5 HP max (+1 per caster level)
Highest Number: (10/2 round down) = AC 5
End Result: 1 foot tall Caster Clone/Homunculus 

DM: "You spend a day meditating in the grotto.  What image does your character call to mind?"
PC Druid:  "Jabberjaw!!!"
DM: "Wait, what?"
PC Druid: "You know, the talking shark guy.  Didn't you ever see that cartoon?"
DM: "The shark guy who won't shut up and walks around on his tail fin?"
PC Druid: "Yeah!!!!!"
DM: "Ummm, Ok.  Sure, whatever; just roll"
PC Druid: *Rolls*
d4: 3
d6: 4
d8: 6
d10: 6
d12: 9
d20: 6

In Order: 3, 4, 6, 6, 6, 9

Lowest Number: Bite Attack + Breathes Air and Water + Speaks Common
2nd Lowest Number: = +4 to Hit (or THAC0: 16)
3rd Lowest Number: = +6 to all 0-Level Saves
3rd Highest Number: = Bite Damage (d6)
2nd Highest Number: = 6 HP max (+1 per caster level)
Highest Number: (9/2 round down) = AC4 
End Result: 3 foot tall Walking Shark Dude

DM: "You commune with the great Willow Tree and seek to find your soul-mate.  What are you picturing in your mind?"
PC Wizard: "A little butterfly"
DM: "A butterfly?  Like, just a normal Monarch Butterfly?"
PC Wizard: "No, it's white with blue spots on the wings."
DM: "Okey Dokey.  Now roll one of each die."
d4: 4
d6: 6
d8: 3
d10: 3
d12: 7
d20: 11

In Order: 3, 3, 4, 6, 7, 11

Lowest Number: Flying Wings + Big enough to Ride + Dangerous Proboscis
2nd Lowest Number: = +3 to Hit (or THAC0: 17)
3rd Lowest Number: = +4 to all 0-Level Saves
3rd Highest Number: = Proboscis Damage (d6)
2nd Highest Number: = 7 HP max (+1 per caster level)
Highest Number: (11/2 round down) = AC5 
End Result: 10 foot wide White Butterfly with Blue Spots

DM: "You call out to your dark masters.  What servant is your character imagining?"
PC Cleric:  "A Demon Scorpion"
DM: "Um, what does that look like?"
PC Cleric: "It's big and black, and has fangs and shit."
DM: "Wow.  That sounds badass.  Roll it up."
PC Cleric: *Rolls*
d4: 4
d6: 6
d8: 4
d10: 6
d12: 5
d20: 9

In Order: 4, 4, 5, 6, 6, 9 (that's a nice roll) 

Lowest Number: Claw/Claw/Tail Sting + Big enough to Ride
2nd Lowest Number: = +4 to Hit (or THAC0: 16)
3rd Lowest Number: = +5 to all 0-Level Saves
3rd Highest Number: = Tail (d6), Claw (d4), Claw (d4)
2nd Highest Number: = 6 HP max (+1 per caster level)
Highest Number: (9/2 round down) = AC4 
End result: 6 foot long black scorpion with a human face, red eyes, and sharp teeth

May 12, 2012

Bizarre Safari: A Traveler's Guide to Goblin Land, Pt.4

The Nature and Astronomia of Goblin Land

I don't understand Goblin Land quite yet.  I cannot easily explain it's mysterious flora, fauna, or stars.  I've found the celestial curiosities especially inscrutable.  I'm afraid that the best I can do for you is to simply describe the things I've seen.  Even then, I'm sure to do it poorly.  What words of ours will help me paint the colors which I've had to train my eyes to see?  One feels them first at the back of one's eyes. After a time the eyes will then adjust.  Can I then train my pen to write them down?  I shall try my best.

The sky here is not blue at all, but an obstinate shade of green.  It's green like a pool of stirred algae, green as a bright jade stone.  The days are lit by a pair of suns.  The larger is perhaps the same size as our yellow sun, but colored instead a piercing bluish white.  Close beside it is a second sun, tiny by comparison and colored in a deep crimson.  These suns change position a bit each day.  They take turns leading one another across the sky.  About once each week the small red sun hides and is not seen at all, perhaps afraid of the blue who swells up with anger making these days hotter than most.  On the next day the red sun emerges again and seems to have calmed his blue friend a bit.  No matter the day, the blue sun is always painfully bright.  To my eyes, it's light has a certain thickness.  The colors of our clothes and skin all seem slightly skewed.

If anything the nighttime sky is even more bizarre.  The stars are all wrong and I can't make sense of them at all.  I see none of the familiar constellations.  The stars here show far more variety; some of them shine in colors that I've never seen before. 

The nights are lit by three different moons.  You might not see all three in a single night, but to go until dawn without seeing at least one is very rare indeed.  At first glance they each appear to be the size of our familiar Luna.  By stretching out an arm and holding up a thumb for measure, one can see slight differences in their size.  I've compared all three against my thumb on many nights, and impossibly they all seem to take turns at being the smallest and largest moon.  One of these moons is rather blueish, but a thick white-gray haze slowly creeps across it's face; it looks to me like a great milky blue eye now blinded by cataracts.  The second moon is a moving patchwork of color with shades of purple, black, and blue; this moon is the darkest of the three.   The last one is the brightest, and reminds me most of our familiar Luna.  It is mostly white with spots and splotches of grey and black.  Perhaps this is our Luna with her face turned away from Goblin Land, but recently I've come to think of this moon as the lost sister who once was Luna's twin.

Artwork by aanonymvs

The procession of days, nights, and seasons seem to pass much the same in Goblin Land.  The time you spend here is equal to the time you've lost back home.  However, these two worlds have their schedules misaligned.  While England is having a rainy dawn, Goblin Land might have clear green skies with the double suns riding high at midday.  I don't see any obvious pattern to these discrepancies, but I haven't yet made much of an effort to study them.

On the whole Goblin Land seems to be a drier place than England, but at least the clouds and weather seem familiar.  Storms come and go much as they did back home.  When the heavens open, it is good pure water that falls.

Mostly I've seen scrubland and rolling hills, but I've seen lakes and forests too.  The plants here are not green at all, but instead a variety of purples.  Leaves, needles, sprouts of new growth; all purple.  Also, I do not recognize any of the twist of branches or shapes of leaves.  These are not simply purple oaks and pine, but something altogether new.  Among the trees I've found some fruits to eat, and others to avoid.  The most common type of grass has tufts of thick fat purple leaves shaped similar to aloe.  If you find yourself in dire need you can boil these down until they are soft enough to chew.  It's not very pleasant, but it is safe to eat and easy to find.

The most common animals by far are lizards.  Well, either those or bugs.  They scurry here and there in infinite shapes, colors, and patterns.  Some of these grow to enormous size, there are ants here larger than men.  Gone though are the mice, and bats, and bears, and boars, and basically anything with fur.  There are cats now, but we brought those here.  Oh, and once I saw a kind of rabbit thing, but it had big bulging compound eyes like a horsefly so it may have been some manner of hairy insect.

Stay sharp if you head out into the wilds.  Watch for the large flying lizards, they'll sometimes carry off man-sized prey.  Tread careful when you aren't on rocky ground, occasionally a great toothy worm will burst up from below.  Also be wary of large nests that lie upon the ground.  The eggs might belong to a six legged Frostilisk who can freeze you solid with a glance.  Many dangers in the wilderness can be avoided if one just stays alert.  Yet even if the path is known, a wise man hires guides.

May 9, 2012

Bizarre Safari: A Traveler's Guide to Goblin Land, Pt.3

The Focus of my Fear

My first journey beyond the portal to Goblin Land was most disagreeable.  The strangeness of the place turned my dungeoneering instincts into paranoia.  Danger is no stranger of the strange, and so I know to be wary of weirdness.  But here, everything is an oddity.  Each look I took fed my fear and tension.  I was jumping at shadows, and raising my shield at the buzzering clicky-clucks of the buggybirds.

Artwork by Sjemenka

As it turns out, I needn't have worried so much.  I hope these written accounts of mine might help set your mind to ease.  The dangers of Goblin Land are similar to those of England.  To get a sense of it, just replace the desperate bandits with burrowing death worms who have toothy mouths at both ends, and instead of vicious soldiers there are four armed red men flying on pterodactyls who will drain the fluids from your living decapitated head to fuel their strange machines.  On second thought, "similar" might be the wrong word. 

What I mean to say is that the dangerous things tend to be obvious.  I haven't seen a tree or rock eat anyone yet.  I'll grant you that it's not an idyllic place, but at least there are no kings and queens to scrape and bow to before you're caught in the middle of their stupid war and die.  We make our own way here.

Excerpts from a strange travel book left at the Abbey of St. Emmet within Jeff Rients' Wessex campaign "A Surfeit of Lampreys", as written by my character, Vithujin the Elf.