Friday, 14 December 2018

Making Monsters for Dungeon Crawl Classics

This post is the result of a request made on Reddit, asking for more information on designing Dungeon Crawl Classics monsters. While I would argue that this process is more of an art than a science, it is an art which, like all arts, is informed by rational principles. I’m going to break down the statblock first, and then talk about general design principles. Well, that’s the theory. As you will see, some general design principles are embedded in the statblock itself.

The Statblock

Init: Generally, human values run from -3 to +3. The easiest thing to do is to have an Init of +0. That way, when you roll the die in front of the players, what they see is what they get. However, if you have a monster which is known for speed, such as a cobra, increase the value to reflect that. For slower monsters, decrease the value. You are allowed to say “always first” or “always last”.

Remember, slower monsters are less likely to get attacks in before they are ganged up on by the PCs, but a slower monster with good defenses, or that is likely to get a surprise round, can be terrifying!

Atk: This is an easy one. List the kinds of attacks the creature can do, and then give them damage values.  Weapon ranges for damage are a pretty good starting point when determining what damage you should assign. Give bonuses (or penalties) for Strength as seems appropriate to you.

You will note a tendency to give the best attack bonuses to the attacks that do the most damage, at least when you examine creatures in the core rules. If you are going to do that, consider upping the creature’s Action Dice so that the secondary attack(s) get used. Another way to go is to make the less damaging attack more likely to hit, or to include some special effect, so that the judge (playing the monster) has a real decision to make about which attack(s) to use.

Ranged attacks make a creature far more dangerous, if it can choose a location that takes advantage of them!

Attack bonuses also have a synergy with Action Dice to define a creature. More on that later.

AC: How hard is it to hit this creature? Dungeon Crawl Classics uses static AC bonuses for various types of armor, starting with a base AC of 10. This should make choosing an AC simple. Equal to leather armor? That is AC 12. Full plate? AC 18.

AC can also be affected by things like size (small things are harder to hit, but big things might be harder to hit in a meaningful way if they are big enough), ability to dodge, and special qualities like being semi-corporeal. Make these factors clear in your monster description, if you can. That way, the players know why they are missing, and might be able to Mighty Deed or use a spell to alter the situation.

HD: You have two decisions to make here – how many Hit Dice, and what type of die. These decisions actually matter, because Hit Dice are ties to both hit points and critical hits. They may also interact with spells that affect creatures on the basis of their Hit Dice.

Imagine that you want a 26 hp creature. You could make this creature have 9d6 HD, for instance, or 1d50.  The first creature’s critical hits will be far more devastating than those of the second creature. One is M/d14, the other M/d6. The creature with 1d50 HD is also far more susceptible to spells which specify how many Hit Dice of creatures they affect.

You are strongly encouraged not to bloat the hit points of various creatures unnecessarily. DCC combat is fast and loose; don’t make every combat a slog!

But see also Action Dice, below, because there is a strong synergy between Action Dice and Hit Dice.

MV: An unarmored human moves at 30’, a dwarf or Halfling at 20’, and a horse at 60’. Gauge your monster’s speed by these benchmarks. It may also have one or more unusual movement speeds: fly, climb, swim, burrow, etc.

If converting from a game where the average human speed is 120’, divide by 4 and round to the nearest 5’.

Act: Here we get into some of the niftiest ways to play with DCC monster design.  They don’t apply to every monster, but when they do, they are useful. The basics for Action Dice are 1d20, with a critical hit occurring on a natural 20.

Multiple Dice: If you have more than one attack method, you can use multiple Action Dice to ensure that weaker attacks also get used. Action Dice can be used for movement as well, so a creature which is designed to move-attack-move could have two Action Dice. The description should tell the judge what behavior is expected.

Larger Dice: If you want a creature to get criticals a lot more often, consider using d24 Action Dice, with criticals occurring on a 20-24. This is how giants work. Even with a low (or non-existent) bonus to attack rolls, the creature can be horrendously effective.

Smaller Action Dice: A Halfling using two weapons gets a critical hit on a natural 16. That is not a normal thing. By dropping a creature’s Action Dice to 1d16 or lower, you can prevent it from gaining critical hits at all. This allows a cool synergy with attack bonuses – a creature with Act 1d16 but an attack bonus of +8 is going to hit almost every time, but it is never going to do more than its normal damage because of a lucky swing. This is a good option for small creatures where, in general, critical hits are unlikely to happen.

Synergy With Attacks: By shifting the Action Die up or down, one can alter the attack bonus to make hits more or less likely to succeed. What this really does is adjust the chance of a critical hit….from very likely to impossible, as you see fit.

Synergy With Spells: As with dragons, you can have an additional Action Die that can only be used for spells. This allows you to determine how likely the spell is to go off, and how powerful it will be when it does. Casting bonus is also important, obviously, but even with a high bonus, the chance of a natural “1” becomes increasingly greater the smaller the Action Die. You can have a creature which casts 1st level spells, for instance, using 1d3 with a +9 bonus. The spell goes off, weakly,  1/3rd of the time, is lost 1/3rd of the time, and has serious potential problems 1/3rd of the time.

Synergy With Hit Dice: Remember that number of Hit Dice determines what size of die is rolled when a critical hit occurs, while size of Action Die determines how likely a critical hit is to occur. If you want a monster that has horrendous criticals, consider “HD 10d3; hp 15” as a real possibility. That same monster is just harder to defeat with color spray if it has 1d16 for Action Dice, and is extremely likely to cause a critical hit if it has 1d24.

SP: Special abilities include infravision, bonuses to specific checks, and just about anything the judge can think of. A number of things that come up in General Design Principles, below, deal with special abilities. Did you give your creature some cool “Death Throes”? If so, include it here so that you don’t forget when you run the encounter.

SV: Saving throws. You can use a general law of averages, and divide up (say) 3 points of bonus per Hit Die, but that is rather boring. The better way, in my opinion, is to consider that an average gong farmer has +0 to each save, and then consider how much better (or worse) your creature is from that. You can also say that the creature should save like a 6th level warrior and look up those saves.

What do you want your creature to be susceptible to? What makes the most sense? Remembering that Will saves are tied to morale in DCC, it is completely okay to make a creature immune to mind-affecting magic as a special ability, but give it a penalty to Will saves because it is also cowardly.

AL: Weird Lovecraftian monsters, and things that disrupt the natural order are typically Chaotic. Things that are well organized tend to be Lawful. If you can’t decide, the odds are that it can’t either – Neutral is your friend.

General Design Principles

Really, this is nothing more than asking “How do I come up with cool ideas for new creatures?”

First off, there are tables in the Dungeon Crawl Classics core rulebook for making monsters mysterious – use them! That bit about “Death Throes” in the core rulebook? That is gold – use it!

Secondly, if you don’t have a copy yet of The Random Esoteric Creature Generator – buy one! Spend an afternoon or three just rolling up random creatures. You are not turning them into DCC monsters yet, and you are not deciding how to use them. You are just filling a few pages in a notebook.

And then, when you have done that, start deciding how to put the pieces together. Again, you are not devising encounters yet. You are just making a stable of interesting beings – some of which may not even be monsters in the traditional sense – to spur your creativity.

Other books I have found useful in this context include The Metamorphica and The Monster Alphabet.

Third, when you are reading some fantasy or science fiction novel (in Appendix N or otherwise), keep a notebook by your side. Jot down quick stats for the creatures you encounter. Some of these you might want to revise later for your own adventures. If you encounter an interesting idea, write it down! The very act of doing so will make it more likely to come to mind when you are stuck for ideas.

Finally, here are three things to keep in mind:

What’s the worst that can happen?

Really consider that question. And then make it happen…or, at least, make it possible that it can happen, and make sure the players realize that it is possible even if it never actually occurs. My first published DCC work includes a monster that can pull the skeleton out of your body while leaving you alive. Give some honest thought about what would terrify you. Make it possible.

Target something other than Hit Points.

Hit points exist as a buffer protecting your PC from harm. Not every attack should target hit points. A 1st level and a 10th level character are not that far apart when Agility damage slowly turns you to stone.

And the thing being targeted doesn’t have to be a statistic within the ruleset. You don’t have a stat for having your brain stolen by mermaids from Yuggoth, but that doesn’t mean it can’t happen.

Monsters don’t play by the rules.

In some ways, rules mastery can be a hindrance to creating cool critters. Instead of thinking “Here is a great idea. How can I make it work within these rules?” the poor designer ends up thinking “What can I design with these rules?”

Putting the rules before the design is a serious mistake. All it can do is limit your creativity.

You can get around this kind of thinking by taking creatures from very different games and converting them to Dungeon Crawl Classics. The less direct rules conversion you are doing, the better. Your goal here is to allow the idea of the monster to take precedence over the game statistics.  Then, and only then, do you consider how that idea interacts with the game mechanics that you are using.

For instance, imagine that you are converting a creature from a game system with mana-based magic, and that this creature consumes the mana of spell casters. That idea – that it is consuming not only magical energy, but the magical energy that fuels spells – is the important thing to keep in mind. DCC wizards don’t use mana, but they do use Action Dice to cast spells. Perhaps a successful attack from this creature should reduce the die used to cast spells? And perhaps this loss takes time to heal – the die increases by +1d per night of rest until it is its normal value?

Here’s an example of the “Potted Plant” converted from the Munchkin card game!


I would be remiss if I didn’t point out the tools on People Them With Monsters, or the excellent Monster Extractor Series by Inner Ham. More example monsters than you can shake a stick at can be found at Appendix M or on this blog.

Dungeon Crawl Classics gives you a surprising number of dials for the creation of monsters, as examination of the statblock shows, but those dials are almost all fairly intuitive. It is by trying to imagine the monster as a whole, outside the rules, where truly unique creatures begin to appear.

Feel free to ask questions in the comments. I will do my best to answer them. I’ve enabled some level of comment filtering because of the proliferation of spam, but I guarantee that any non-spam comments will be allowed through!

Tuesday, 11 December 2018

Doctor Who - The Tsuranga Conundrum

Cross-posted from Reddit.

Okay. The Tsuranga Conundrum.

The basic idea is good. There is a lot of dramatic potential.

The Doctor recognizing her selfishness is good...but over too quickly. The dramatic potential for self-realization? Kind of lost.

Team TARDIS starts out injured? Good....but not really utilized. Only the Doctor is still hurt when the action starts, and it doesn't actually prevent her from doing anything.

Ryan is on a future medical facility, and never once considers that these people might be able to sort his disability. No one else considers that either.

Pregnant man needs a couple of folks there to cut his umbilical cords, but there isn't a lot of challenge for either Ryan or Graham in that role. The baby is not kept because it was brought into the world with difficulty, but because of how Ryan feels about his own father.

There was no reason that Yaz could not stun the P'Ting, punt it, stun it again, and punt it again, until she got it out the airlock. Using the bomb was actually a far riskier solution....and no one brought it up.

Why the General needs to pilot the ship, and her brother cannot, is...unsatisfying. There is a clear theme in the episode of the female characters being in charge, while the male characters perform supporting roles, and that is fine, but the General then needs to not only bring something to the table that her brother cannot, but this has to be seen. Better if the brother pilots the ship first, but the asteroid-littered region results in a number of collisions, forcing the General to take over. Specifically better if the General says something along the lines of "Just until we clear this field". Much, much better if the Doctor demanded that she didn't pilot, and then she did anyway while the Doctor was off dealing with the P'Ting. This would strengthen, not weaken, the theme.

Put these things together:

  • Injured Doctor doesn't recognize her selfishness until after first death. No chance to say sorry. The injury is affecting her ability to think. I would suggest short temper and some real animal-in-pain nastiness. Channel the Doctor at their most sarcastic.
  • Graham suggests that the future medics might be able to help Ryan's dyspraxia. They can, when they reach the hospital, but it is a year-long treatment. Again, the Doctor's selfishness can be highlighted. She can't wait a year to recover the TARDIS. She can promise to come back and get him, but Ryan has already seen how poorly her control of the TARDIS can be.
  • The Doctor demands that the General doesn't fly the ship; her brother can do it. She goes off to sort the P'Ting and the bomb with Yaz. The Doctor is angry with herself. "I'm thick! It's this injury, still not healed. Using too much of my mental resources to keep the pain under control."
  • Yaz has already done the stun-and-punt when the Doctor arrives, and has already worked out how to use it as a solution. But the Doctor already has her bomb-based solution, and shoots Yaz down.
  • Collisions cause the ship to shudder, making the Doctor worse and causing complications for the pregnant man. The Doctor almost blows up the ship extracting the bomb, and yells angrily, "Can someone get this ship under control?" The flight smooths out; the Doctor is pleased.
  • Pregnant man decides to keep the child because of the cost of bringing him into the world (effort, pain). Ryan can then tell his story about his dad. Now he is supporting pregnant guy, not convincing him.
  • When Yaz finds out the Doctor's plan, she is upset. After all, she was ready to punt the P'Ting out without any risk to anyone, and the Doctor could have blown them all up.
  • We find out the General took her brother's place flying the ship. The stress killed her. The Doctor is upset - she told the General not to fly - but has to acknowledge they would all be dead had she not.
  • The Doctor then gets to apologize. In a quiet moment she tells Yaz that the punting wouldn't have worked. The P'Ting was able to launch itself at the ship once; it could do it again. Giving the creature the bomb satisfied its hunger and let it nap. "Let's just hope we never run into an adult."

Tuesday, 13 November 2018

Cheat Sheets

Did your gongfarmer just become a wizard? Is your elven chandler now a 1st level elf? Want to know what you need to do to make the transition in an easy-to-use format? Enter the DCC RPG 1st level Cheat Sheets, hosted here, and made available to you, Gentle Reader, with the knowledge and blessing of the Dark Master himself!

Includes sheets for all of the core DCC classes.


EDIT: If the first link is giving you problems, you can try here instead.

Monday, 5 November 2018

Some Thoughts on the New Series (Season) of Doctor Who

I have been a fan of Doctor Who for a long time. I have watched every episode known to still exist, and have watched reconstructions of those no longer available…including the BBC animations. Small tributes to Doctor Who show up in my game writing. Some are obvious. Others are buried under layers of personal and literary reference. I have watched all of Torchwood, all of Class, all of The Sarah Jane Adventures, K-9 and Company, and even the K-9 spin-off TV series. I have read a large number of Doctor Who novels, and have listened to many Big Finish audio adventures, although I am nowhere near as much of a completist in that regard.

All of the above is to indicate my default positon: I love the program, for all its warts and protuberances. That’s where I’m coming from.

Also, obviously, Spoilers Sweetie.

The Female Doctor

First off, let’s deal with the gender change.

I’m going to hope that this isn’t an issue for the Gentle Reader, but if it is, it should be noted that the possibility was first brought up during Tom Baker’s run as the Doctor. In The Hand of Fear, Eldrad uses Sarah Jane Smith to pattern his body, and then regenerates into his more typical male form. When the Doctor expresses surprise, Eldrad tells him that, as a Time Lord, the Doctor should have known that this is possible.

The first named Time Lord that we know switches gender is the Corsair, who is mentioned in The Doctor’s Wife. The Corsair seems unusual in that they changed gender regularly. While this might be going on in the background more that it appears to be, the few Time Lords whose regenerations we have followed do not seem to follow this pattern: Romana, Borusa, Rassilon, Morbius, and River Song have not changed gender within the program. The Master and the Doctor did so once, and the reaction of the John Simm version of the Master seems to imply that it was not a welcome change. Similarly, in Hell Bent, the General clearly finds the change in gender an annoyance, albeit a minor one.

Gender changes in Time Lords are therefore not common, but also not unheard of. Moreover, the variance of change may be unlikely (the Doctor did not change gender during his first cycle of regenerations, and it is implied that the Master did not either) to highly likely (the Corsair).

The Doctor changing gender is therefore very much supported by the program’s continuity, and may well be a subconscious reaction on the part of the Doctor to the events in Twice Upon a Time. That seems to be the implication to me.

The Doctor Herself

I think that Jodie Whittaker has a lot of potential as the Doctor, but I don’t think that she has hit her full stride yet. That’s okay – it isn’t unusual for a new Doctor to need a few stories before they discover themselves.

I like that she has quiet moments – watching Ryan trying to learn to ride a bike in The Woman Who Fell to Earth, and being in the background at Grace’s funeral in the same story, are welcome. Life is not all frantic running about. Some of the best bits in the original series were actually fairly quiet.

I like that they have kept the Doctor’s selfishness and ego, and I wouldn’t mind seeing more of it as the character progresses. Unlike previous Doctors, the 13th seems to face some opposition to taking charge that she can’t just shout down. That isn’t necessarily a problem – there really are gender biases that the Doctor should be encountering – but she should be at least as capable as River Song or Romana in this regard. Or Yaz for that matter.  We see a little of that in The Woman Who Fell to Earth, and in The Ghost Monument, but the writing seems to be going more for “nurturing” than “strong”, and that is also a gender bias.

There are lots of nods to previous Doctors, going right back to the beginning of the classic series – four companions, humans kidnapped (albeit accidentally in this case), and the Hartnell-like appearance of the Capaldi outfit on Whittaker in The Woman Who Fell to Earth. Its rough appearance, having fallen from orbit, seems like a nod to Troughton to me. We’ve seen Venusian Akido from the Pertwee era, and the outfit seems rather Colin Baker-esque. The relationship to the companions seems to draw from Davison’s 5th Doctor, but without the exasperation and friction.

Jodie Whittaker is not a virtuoso of looking like she is running from explosions or laser fire. This looks a bit unbelievable in The Ghost Monument, for instance, where the robots would have to be worse shots than Imperial Stormtroopers to have missed her. It was also not convincing in The Tsuranga Conundrum. I can live with that, but I also think that the writers should take it into account. The Gentle Reader may feel differently, of course.

So far, the Doctor seems to be stepping back, perhaps to find herself, except when she needs to deliver a lesson or give a team inspirational meeting. That is not the fault of the actor. I hope that this will change as the series continues. More on this below.

Otherwise, I am very happy with the 13th Doctor. Jodie Whittaker is an accomplished actor, and, given opportunity, shines in the role.

The Companions

Graham, Yaz, and Ryan are all good. Let’s look at them individually, and then together as a group.

Doctor Who's Mandip Gill on Yaz's past & future | Den of Geek
Graham: I wasn’t sure that I would like Graham, given the way the actor was presented at the San Diego Comic Con panel, but I find that he is fantastic to have on the TARDIS. He is an older man, with a sense of humor, who is open to new experiences. He misses his wife, Grace, and this is very well played out in particular in Arachnids in the UK.

Yaz: Rookie police officer who knows that she could do more. And she could. Her family drives her crazy, but is well-intentioned and likeable. The idea that she wants to do more, but is being held back, would have been stronger had she not been a rookie. The implication is that she should have been allowed to just jump the “gaining experience on the job” part of being a police officer, and that sorting domestic disputes isn’t actually valuable. The dispute we first see her resolving is a real dispute, and people with the ability to resolve conflicts of this nature are important.

Ryan: Quiet young man, largely defined so far by his unwillingness to call Graham “Grandfather”, his own father’s unreliability, and his dyspraxia. Although this makes Ryan the first Doctor Who companion with a known disability, it isn’t a known disability, and while it has made some things difficult for him, it hasn’t really prevented him from doing anything other than riding a bike. In many ways, it is treated like Sarah Jane Smith’s fear of heights or enclosed spaces – something for someone else to encourage him through successfully every time.

Together: The group functions well together, and there are great moments of support and humor among them, but there is very little tension between them, or between them and the Doctor. And there are actually some obvious ways to bring this tension about:

Graham demands that the Doctor use the TARDIS to go back and save Grace. If Krasko could make minor alterations to try to prevent the Civil Rights Movement in Rosa, why can’t the Doctor do something similar, but for good? We viewers may know that it won’t work, but Graham shouldn’t be so accepting until he learns it the hard way.

When Yaz goes back, eventually, she is still just a rookie cop. If she doesn’t go back, she misses her family. She gave them up a little too easily at the ending of Arachnids in the UK; that should come back to haunt her. Her wanting to do more, but sometimes having to do the menial things, should also be a point of tension, because sometimes the small things are what we have to do. I could see the Doctor getting quite angry about this when Yaz tells her that she came aboard the TARDIS to do more. The growth arc for Yaz should include realizing how important her job was, even if she never returns to it.

Ryan is on a 67th Century medical ship, and not once does he ask whether or not they can cure his dyspraxia? Another obvious source of tension: Ryan blames himself after his dyspraxia prevents him from succeeding in something more important than riding a bike! What if someone dies as a result? What is someone is critically injured and might die? And when are we going to learn why he refuses to bond with Graham?

Those great moments of support between the characters would be more powerful if we first saw those characters divided by their own conflicts. The Tardis crew under Peter Davison or William Hartnell offer plenty of examples to draw from.

The Adversaries

The Woman Who Fell to Earth:  Tzim-Sha of the Stenza has an imposing first appearance, and a certain “ick” factor, but the Stenza themselves are not nearly as menacing as, say, the original Sontarans, the Cybermen, or the Daleks. They would need a lot of development to be a serious threat to the Doctor.

The DNA bombs, on the other hand, and the data-gathering coils, were excellent.

One benefit of Tzim-Sha was that it allowed the full sarcasm of the Doctor to shine through when she kept referring to him as “Tim Shaw”. OTOH, when she moralized about Karl kicking him off the crane? (1) There was nothing stopping Tzim-Shaw from grabbing Karl and teleporting away otherwise. (2) If Tzim-Shaw could teleport away (as he did), then Karl wasn’t actually necessarily harming him in any way.

That the Stenza keep their victim-trophies in stasis between life and death, and that this is the condition of a specific human girl in the plot of the episode, doesn’t even seem to register with the Doctor. I hope that we see some resolution to this in the future.

The Ghost Monument: We learn a little more about the Stenza in passing, suggesting that they may be the main baddies of this season.

The planet Desolation is said to have been made “cruel”, and the weapons developers on that world have tried to make it inimical to life. They really haven’t succeeded very well. In terms of a deadly environment, Desolation is put to shame by places the Doctor has encountered going back to Skaro…or even primitive Earth in An Unearthly Child. At least on Desolation, the problems nicely compartmentalize themselves, and are pretty easily defeated. Facing Remnants? Here is a handy pocket of gas to defeat them with!

Ilin is the guy who set up this version of The Amazing (Intergalactic) Race. Well acted, but compromises too quickly when the Doctor suggests a solution from The Hunger Games. The story would have been made far stronger had he refused to compromise. Nonetheless, he is a “villain” who is worthy of reprising his role.

The Desolation robots have the worst aim and tracking skills of any science fiction robots I have ever seen. Because they recover quickly from the Doctor’s EMP, her solution is only marginally better than Ryan’s.

The Remnants were a great idea, but I wish that they had been used to do more than provide exposition. This episode could really have used some “red shirts” to demonstrate how dangerous the threats really are. They seem to be location-specific, so unless Team TARDIS returns to Desolation, we are unlikely to see them again. The set-up for this monster, where it is seen on-screen several times before it is revealed to be an adversary, was effective.

Rosa: The main villain, Krasko, is pretty two-dimensional, and racist bus driver James Blake is like a character from the Mirror Universe version of The Andy Griffith Show. For actual menace, police officer Mason steals the show.

Arachnids in the UK: If the data coil from The Woman Who Fell to Earth is the best visual in the new series (and I think it is), the CGI spiders here come a close and creepy second. Sadly, there is no mention of Metebelis III (“I’ve met bigger”) and how the Doctor intended to kill them humanely isn’t explicated.

The queen spider dying at the end is a wasted opportunity. Imagine if the Doctor wanted to trap the spiders in the Panic Room so that she could materialize the TARDIS around them (in a holding cell of some sort) to transport to a world where they could survive. (Note: Not Metebelis III!) Then, when the queen is dying due to respiratory failure, she can realize that she cannot get the TARDIS there in time to save her. Robertson’s solution of shooting the spider becomes, in fact, the most humane thing she can do.

Robertson himself is smarter cartoon Trump.

The Tsuranga Conundrum: The P'Ting was kind of silly to look at, and, although people died as a result of its actions, it was cute enough that kids were happy it survived at the end, its tummy glowing from the energy of a bomb it absorbed. Because of that bomb, The Tsuranga itself was a kind of an adversary, and one with far more dramatic potential than we got to see on-screen.

Direction, Filming, and Sound

Visually, the new series is a real treat. Compared to the effects of, say, the Colin Baker years, we have come a long, long way in telling stories visually.

The sound is mostly good. Sylvester McCoy’s Doctor got to deal with the worst sound problems in the program’s long run, but there are bits of dialogue and exposition in The Tsuranga Conundrum that I found hard to make out.

The Writing

Here is where the new series really falls down, as far as I am concerned. Most of the stories fail to have the rising tension required to keep them from falling flat. The inter-companion dialogue is great, for what it is, but also lacks interpersonal tension.

The Woman Who Fell to Earth: As a regeneration story, this was pretty solid. The Doctor and companions had plenty to do. There was some actual light conflict between them. There were some excellent quiet moments. The Doctor uses what is at hand to solve the problems she faces – this was very, very welcome. Looking back at the series so far, this may be the best episode.

The Ghost Monument: The Doctor and companions have to seek out the TARDIS on a planet making lackluster attempts to kill them. They are in the company of fierce competitors who are actually only making lackluster attempts at competing with each other. One has a legendary ability to nap that is only used to introduce a monster.

This is easily the worst writing in the series to date. Sadly, it would have been very easy to fix:

  • First off, make it two episodes, because you should be fitting a lot in here.
  • Companions have just been kidnapped from Earth. There should be some conflict/tension as a result.
  • Competitors are either going to get rich or die. There should be some real tension as a result. We should never be allowed to forget how this ends.
  • Cigar-guy has more than one cigar. Almost kills them all in an acetylene field. This makes the resolution to the Remnants more believable.
  • Someone almost dips into the water before the Doctor realizes it would kill them.
  • Robots start as slow/poor shots, but get better over time. Never give up pursuit. The area requires more debris, things to hide behind, turns, etc., to make the characters’ survival believable.
  • Ilin refuses to accept that both contestants win. One must believe that the other will share the prize. This gives cigar guy an opportunity to grow. When Ilin disappears with the winner, leaving cigar guy and Team TARDIS, the Remnants and robots are closing in. The TARDIS appears the run, and only then does the Doctor remember that she has no key. After a panicked moment, she clicks her fingers and the TARDIS door opens.
  • The Doctor uses the TARDIS to trace back the teleporter, confronting Ilin and demanding that the other contestant keep her word. She does….if cigar guy will help her rescue her family from the Stenza-ruined world they are on.
  • The Doctor admits to Graham that she got the sunglasses from the charity shop where she got her clothes. “My pockets were empty when I fell into your life, remember? Where else could they have come from?”

Rosa: Mostly positive. I am glad that the Doctor didn’t turn out to be the cause of history. Although it may seem like a wasted opportunity that the Doctor wasn’t the white woman Rosa Parks was supposed to give up her seat to, I am glad that wasn’t the case. The villain was one-dimensional, and the least effective part of the story. Ryan making coffee is a good parallel to early Doctor Who stories where Polly did the same.

This would have been a better story if it had been done as a true historical. The TARDIS breaks down, and the Doctor must seek repairs. Team TARDIS’s actions set up the potential break with history. The Doctor is devastated when she realizes that they have to set history back on track by increasing local suffering. Is there another way?

Arachnids in the UK: Mostly positive, although why the hell Yaz isn’t worried about her family in the apartment complex is beyond me. She gives up her established life at the end far too easily. That needs to come back to bite her. The companions accepting that they would have to interact with these creepy, creepy, and altogether creepy things was far too easily come by.

I’ve already mentioned, earlier, how the answer was too pat. Were all of the spiders in the hotel when the panic room was filled? Or were some of them ranging afield? How was the Doctor going to deal with them humanely? There was some indication (sealing them into the hotel, for instance) that the spiders had a form of intelligence. Exploring that would have been cool.

The Tsuranga Conundrum: Mostly positive. I liked Yoss. Again, the Doctor uses what is at hand (yes!) to solve the problem, but it is surprising that magnetic containment fields as a means of holding the P’ting didn’t even come up. The story would have been helped had the Tsuranga had more patients, even if we didn’t get to know them, or even if they were just implied – see Smith and Jones, The Empty Child, New Earth, or The Invisible Enemy for examples.

Also, if you can stun the P’Ting, wrap it up, and then punt it down the corridor, can’t you simply repeat these actions all the way to the airlock?


Very much looking forward to more Jodie Whittaker.

Very much liking the companions filling out the TARDIS crew.

Love the nods to earlier Doctors.

The visuals have been awesome; make sure that the sound is clear.

Hoping for improvements in the writing, especially tensions in Team TARDIS itself. Remember that resolving these tensions is the heart of the best episodes in Doctor Who, and that they have existed in the program since An Unearthly Child.

Glad to see new worlds, new adversaries, and things that the Doctor doesn’t know. The universe is a big place!

Friday, 2 November 2018

Riot: Narita

On the flip side of all these cool heavy metal/hard rock album covers I've been turning into DCC and MCC content, there are the albums whose covers just don't rock. In fact, they kind of suck.

And those can be fun to work with, too.

What happens when you give a red sumo wrestler the head of a giant lemming, a big axe, and a taste for human prey?

Enter the atiran, a species of crimson humanoids looking for some folks to snack on. They are impossible to trip, throw, push, or knock backwards due to their sumo stances. Otherwise, like the album cover, they are not very impressive.

Atiran: Init +1; Atk battleaxe +1 melee (1d10+1) or bite +0 melee (1d4+1) or unarmed strike +1 melee (1d3+1); AC 9; HD 1d8+2; MV 30’; Act 1d20; SP sumo stance; SV Fort +4, Ref +0, Will +0; AL C.

What about that airplane in the background? A bit of overkill considering what it is facing. You can find statistics for air vehicles in The Umerican Survival Guide or Crawling Under a Broken Moon #7. We can build some usable statistics from the ultralight entry in the zine.

Fighter plane: Init +5; Atk machine guns +3 missile (1d12, up to five targets); AC 20; HD d14; Speed Level cruise 4/ max 8/; Height cruise 4/ max 8; Act 1d20; SV Fort +3, Ref +4, Will NA; Fuel Tank 1d20; Guzzle 1.
Basic Traits: Bomb Rack, Bombing Sights, Good Instruments.

Machine guns have ranges of 120/240/360, and each comes with a clip of 100 rounds. Automatic fire does 3d12 damage to a single target (Reflex DC 10 for half; uses 10 rounds).

Just because the cover isn't the best, it doesn't mean that the album isn't good. You can listen to it here.

Wednesday, 31 October 2018

Helloween: Better Than Raw

Charity Desire

The vampire-witch known as Charity Desire lives in a semi-ruined castle, from which she comes forth in bat form to find mortal lovers to consume. Although she is particularly active in the autumn, attractive men and women may attract her attentions year round.

The vampire-witch has a blatant sexuality that is difficult for mortals to resist. In general, a DC 15 Will save is needed to avoid feeling attracted (with modifiers up and down the dice chain depending upon the normal proclivities of the potential victim), but actually becoming her lover is a matter of choice. A mortal who has relations with Charity Desire rolls 1d7, modified by Personality and Luck:

(1 or less): The mortal is transformed into a pumpkin-imp, and caged for Charity’s later use or consumption; (2-3) Charity drains the victim of blood equal to 1d5 temporary Stamina damage, and the mortal must succeed in a DC 15 Will save or automatically return the next night; (4-5) Charity drains the victim of blood equal to 1d3 temporary Stamina damage; (6-8) Charity drains the victim of blood equal to 1 temporary Stamina damage, but the victim also gains 1 point of Luck which must be used before the Stamina damage is healed or it will disappear; (9-10) the mortal gains 1 point of Luck which must be used before the next moonrise or it will disappear; (11-12) Charity is pleased enough to offer 1d3 drops of her own blood to her lover, each of which heals 1d3 HD of damage or conditions if immediately consumed, and  her lover also gains 1d3 points of Luck which must be used before the next moonrise or it will disappear; (13+) Charity offers her lover immortality. Unfortunately, while this means immunity from aging, disease, and death from natural causes, the thrall who consumes enough of her blood to gain this boon must also succeed in a DC 20 Will save each time they wish to disobey or work against the vampire-witch, and will take 1d5 damage each round they are exposed to direct sunlight.

The vampire-witch is not herself damaged by sunlight, but she cannot regenerate or change form within it. Away from the sun, she regenerates 1d3 hp each round, and can transform herself into the form of a gigantic bat or a fearsome wolf.

As a witch, Charity Desire can issue a curse as an attack action. The victim receives a DC 16 Will save to resist the curse. See Appendix C in the core rulebook for suggestions.

If killed while even one of her pumpkin imps still lives, Charity’s soul flees to the pumpkin imps’s body, which runs away to restore its power to fight another day. The pumpkin imp slowly transforms into Charity Desire’s new body over the course of a year.

Charity Desire, Vampire-Witch: Init +2; Atk staff +3 melee (1d4+1) or bat’s bite +4 melee (1d6) or wolf’s bite +4 melee (1d6+2) or curse or spell; AC 15; HD 5d6; hp 11; MV 30’ or fly 40’ or 40’ as wolf; Act 1d20; SP alternate forms, attraction, take mortal lovers, regenerate 1d3/round, familiar imps, curse, spells (+8 spell check), loss of some powers in sunlight; SV Fort +5, Ref +5, Will +8; AL C.
            Spells (+8 spell check): Charm person, forget, demon summoning, paralysis, and second sight. As with all witches, Charity Desire can make magic items as if they had the appropriate spells (mix potion, sword magic, etc.).

Pumpkin Imps

Creations and familiars of Charity Desire, pumpkin imps stand no more than a foot high. A former lover who is transformed into a pumpkin imp is caged, becoming subservient to Charity Desire over the course of 1d3 months. Until it is completely subservient, a rescued pumpkin imp might be restored by the intervention of divine magic.

Pumpkin imp: Init +0; Atk by weapon +0 melee (1d3) or claw +1 melee (1); AC 14; HD 1d4; MV 20’; Act 1d20; SP infravision 30’, +5 bonus to climb and stealth checks; SV Fort +2, Ref +5, Will +3; AL C.

Listen to the full album here.


Monday, 29 October 2018

Helloween: Straight Out of Hell

In the final days of the Great Disaster, the weapons deployed by the Ancients were horrific beyond the understanding of those who survived their usage. So terrible were these weapons that in places reality itself was torn asunder. Passages to other universes, with strange physics and metaphysics, were opened. From some of these portals, even stranger things emerged. The jacks-o-war were among these beings, summoned forth straight out of a hell plane. Although the portal to that hellscape has long since sealed itself, the jacks-o-war remain. Worse, they are able to reproduce within the ruined world left by the Great Disaster.


The jacks-o-war are green uniformed beings, humanoid in form, but almost skeletal. Their hard skin is like black metal, except for their rotting jack-o-lantern heads. They are armed with weapons of war – metal batons, grenades, and sometimes even firearms. They are capable of emitting a sickening orange radiance within a 20’ cone before their heads, with a 20’ base. All natural living creatures within the radius take 1d3 damage each round (DC 15 Fort save each round negates). Although they are not immune to critical hits, they are immune to the secondary effects of most of them. That is, they take increased damage, but even caving in their rotting pumpkin heads does not kill them, or seemingly inconvenience them in any way. Their metallic skin grants them a DC 10 Fort save to completely negate any severing of limbs, broken bones, or the like.

Jacks-o-war cannot heal or repair damage, but like the un-dead they are inexorable, requiring neither food nor rest. Shamans, sages, techno-wizards, and AIs knowledgeable about such things believe that the jacks-o-war consume the souls of those they kill. They will pause for 1d5 rounds over any fresh corpse; perhaps this is when and how they feed. In any event, a body that is successfully recovered once a jack-o-war has paused over it has a permanent reduction of 1d5 points of Personality, in addition to the normal effects of recovering a body.

Jacks-o-war reproduce by locating a pumpkin field, or a field of similar gourd-like plants. There they shine their sickly radiance upon the plants, and over the course of 1d6 hours 1d5 pumpkins transform into new jack-o-wars, per jack-o-war shining over their field. The rest of the plants wither and die.

The judge can adjust the difficulty of an encounter by the weaponry available to the jacks-o-war, as well as by their numbers.

Jack-o-war (DCC): Init +0; Atk metal baton +3 melee (1d6+1) or metallic claw +3 melee (1d4+1) or grenade +0 ranged (2d6/special) or assault rifle +0 ranged (1d10/special) or orange radiance (special); AC 18; HD 3d8; MV 30’; Act 1d20; SP infravision 60’, orange radiance, crit resistance, cannot heal, feed off souls, poison immunity, reproduction; SV Fort +5, Ref +2, Will +7; AL C.
            Grenade: 2d6 damage, -1d6 per 5’ away from point of impact.
            Assault Rifle: An assault rifle can target 3 creatures, or do 3d10 vs. one creature (Reflex DC 10 for half). Criticals do 6d10 damage. -1 to initiative, ranges 1 00/200/300, ammo capacity of 30 (a burst uses 10 shots), and a weight of 12 lbs. Without ammo, they are very expensive clubs (1d5 damage).

Rules for assault rifles and grenades (handheld bomb) taken from Crawl! #8.

Jack-o-war (MCC): Init +0; Atk metal baton +3 melee (1d6+1) or metallic claw +3 melee (1d4+1) or photon grenade +0 ranged (6d6) or lazer rifle +0 ranged (heat 6d6) or orange radiance (special); AC 18; HD 3d8; MV 30’; Act 1d20; SP infravision 60’, orange radiance, crit resistance, cannot heal, feed off souls, poison immunity, reproduction; SV Fort +5, Ref +2, Will +7.
            Photon Grenade: TL 4; CM 4; Range 30’ radius; Dam 6d6. Photon grenades are high-yield incendiary devices useful for both blowing things up, setting them on fire, or bringing down force screens via massive heat-based damage.
            Lazer Rifle: TL 4; CM 4; Range Line of sight; dam Heat 6d6; Power C-Cell (5), F-Cell (10), Q-Cell (U). Lazer rifles fire focused beams of coherent yellow-white light, causing heat-based damage. Lazer rifles consume double the power cell charges of lazer pistols, and hold up to two power cells.

Rules for lazer rifles and photon grenades taken from Mutant Crawl Classics.

Jack-o-war (Umerica): Init +0; Atk metal baton +3 melee (1d6+1) or metallic claw +3 melee (1d4+1) or percussion grenade +0 ranged (2d6/special) or assault rifle +0 ranged (1d10/special) or orange radiance (special); AC 12; Armor Die d7 (inherent); Fumble Die d4; HD 3d8; MV 30’; Act 1d20; SP infravision 60’, orange radiance, crit resistance, cannot heal, feed off souls, poison immunity, reproduction; SV Fort +5, Ref +2, Will +7; AL C.
            Grenade: 2d7 damage, blast radius 15’, Ref DC 20 for half damage, 10% chance of failure to explode.
            Assault Rifle: An assault rifle can target 3 creatures, or do 3d10 vs. one creature (Reflex DC 10 for half). Criticals do 6d10 damage. -1 to initiative, ranges 1 00/200/300, ammo capacity of 30 (a burst uses 10 shots), and a weight of 12 lbs. Without ammo, they are very expensive clubs (1d5 damage).

Rules for assault rifles and grenades taken from The Umerican Survival Guide.

Zekulon Orange

You will notice a number of gas masks on the album cover. Zekulon Orange is a thick poisonous gas which obscures vision as well as poisons targets. For every 10’ away a target is in a cloud of Zekulon Orange, attacks against it have a -1d shift on the dice chain. These clouds are mobile, drifting along at a rate of 10’ per minute, with a typical radius of 30’, reaching to a height of 20’.

Creatures caught within Zekulon Orange take 1d4 damage per round, and must succeed on a DC 15 Fort save or take an additional 1d3 points of temporary Strength damage. Worse, Zekulon Orange clings to skin and synthetic materials (including rubber and similar substances), staining in green and causing the effects of the poison to continue even outside the cloud for 1d5 minus Luck modifier rounds.

Battle Standard of the Jacks-o-War

This has no special powers, but if you want to ensure that you are the target of all the monsters’ aggression, playing “capture the flag” is a good way to go about it. If the battle standard is destroyed by any means, all jacks-o-war within sight must make an immediate Morale check. If they succeed, however, they need make no further Morale checks no matter what happens. They will try to kill you until either you die, or they do.

Give it a listen here.

(And, yes, I am doing these because of the time of year.)