Sunday, 29 August 2021

The Joy of Swarms!

Swarms are some of the most dangerous opponents you can encounter...not because of the individual prowess of the swarm members but because they are cumulative. Sword, bow, and axe do little to dispel a swarm of yellowjackets, and even firearms cannot stop a tide of army ants. The mightiest warrior in the kingdom is no match for several hundred rats. 

It is not surprising, therefore, that swarms made the cover of several pulp-era adventure magazines. But what if you want to use some of these covers as the basis for an encounter or two in your adventure? The core rulebook offers statstics for four types of swarm: mundane bats, vampiric bats, insects, and rats. It does not, sadly, offer a swarm-specific Critical Hit table. If the judge uses Table M (Monsters) for critical hit effects, the results are often absurd within the context of the encounter. We will rectify that here.

In general, DCC swarms are enough creatures to occupy a 20-foot by 20-foot space. They take half damage from normal weapons and non-area effect attacks. When they attack, they make a single d20 roll (plus modifiers) against all targets in their area. Although swarms usually have a low number of Hit Dice, taking reduced damage from most attacks really makes them hard to disperse.

Every swarm in the core rulebook also has a special effect if it hits, requiring a saving throw to avoid it. In the case of rats and bats, this is the potential for disease. In the case of insect swarms, this is a venomous sting that can deliver additional damage. For some reason, bats care more interesting/diverse diseases than rats, but you can easily change that in your own adventures!


So far so good. Now, let's add a few swarm types from pulp-era magazine covers! If some of these seem silly to you, well, you are not alone.

Crab Swarm: Init +2; Atk swarming attack +1 melee (1d3 plus shred); AC 14; HD 6d8; MV 20’ or swim 20’; Act special; SP attack all targets within 20’ x 20’ space, shred (Reflex DC 10 or 1d3 extra damage), half damage from non-area attacks; SV Fort +5, Ref +2, Will -2; AL N.

Crab swarms are far more dangerous to slow characters or those who have been disabled due to injury. They attack with claws and bite, and shred flesh from opponents who do not dislodge them quickly enough. Some crabs also have a 20' climb speed.

Crab swarms occur in real life, although not usually as dramatically as they do in pulp fiction. There is some evidence that aviator Amelia Earhart, having sustained injuries in a crash landing, was eaten by giant coconut crabs. The most effective use of crab swarms I have encountered was in Allan Quatermain by H. Rider Haggard. I attempted to reproduce the effect in an encounter in Stars in the Darkness. Clark Ashton Smith's The Master of the Crabs is another inspirational source.

Flying Squirrel Swarm: Init +4; Atk swarming bite +1 melee (1d3); AC 11; HD 3d8; MV 30' or climb 30' or glide 40’; Act special; SP bite all targets within 20’ x 20’ space, half damage from non-area attacks; SV Fort +2, Ref +4, Will -2; AL N.

This is a bit of silliness, but it might make a good encounter in a forest of evil repute. Flying squirrel are not normally dangerous. Even the few reported "attacks" seem pretty tame. But for some reason the squirrels in the image are large, and out during the daylight, and apparently have a taste for meat. Do with it what you will.


Lizard Swarm: Init +2; Atk swarming bite +4 melee (1d2); AC 11; HD 3d8; MV 30’ or climb 20’ or swim 20'; Act special; SP bite all targets within 20’ x 20’ space, half damage from non-area attacks; SV Fort +3, Ref +3, Will -2; AL N.

10% of lizard swarms carry a venomous bite, requiring a DC 5 Fort save to avoid 1 point of temporary Stamina damage (heals normally).  

Lizard swarms are common enough in role-playing games, Individual lizards can and do bite humans, and some of them may have bites that are painful, or even dangerous, but you are extremely unlikely to ever encounter lizards attacking en masse in real life.

As a side note, I would prefer to have the images for each swarm alternate between the left side of the text and the right, but cover illustrators (or those who purchased these images in the pulp era) seem to prefer images that face right. They also preferred to tempt their presumed audience with a torn blouse or two.

Monkey Swarm: Init +4; Atk swarming bite +5 melee (1d5 plus disease); AC 13; HD 8d8; MV 40’ or climb 40’; Act special; SP bite all targets within 20’ x 20’ space, half damage from non-area attacks, fling feces and sticks, disease (see below); SV Fort +3, Ref +5, Will -2; AL N.

Monkey bites are unfortunately not at all uncommon. Monkeys can carry diseases such as tetanus and rabies. The judge is recommended to use the disease table for bats in the core rulebook. You could even pump up the risk, considering the virulence of some monkey bites, but if you do this you should make sure that the players have some way of knowing that monkey bites are dangerous.

An arboreal monkey swarm can also fling feces, sticks, overripe fruit, and the like at targets prior to melee attacks. These attacks allow the swarm to target all creatures in a 30' x 30' square, which must make Will saves (DC 5 +1 per additional round) to avoid fleeing the area. Of course, the monkeys can move faster than most targets, so fleeing is seldom effective. A monkey swarm can use this tactic to drive targets toward preferred attack sites, or away from their territory.

Piranha Swam: Init +0; Atk swarming bite +5 melee (1d3 plus frenzy); AC 15; HD 7d8; MV swim 40’; Act special; SP bite all targets within 20’ x 20’ space, half damage from non-area attacks, water protects from fire-based spells, frenzy; SV Fort +4, Ref +4, Will -2; AL N.

This doesn't have to be just piranha; this can be any relatively small but dangerous fish the judge desires. Are there swarms of freshwater eels? If the judge wants them, there are! Obviously, the easiest way to avoid these dangers is to not get into the water in the first place. Once you are attacked, the easiest way to survive is to get out of the water.

Water protects piranha swarms from fire-based magic and similar effects, granting a +2d shift on the dice chain to saving throws and reducing any damage suffered to one-quarter. The judge may rule that the medium allows electricity-based spells to affect all targets in range (including any potential PCs), and cold-based spells to affect all targets in half normal range, so long as they are at least partly in the water.

When characters are successfully attacked by the swarming bite of piranha, they must succeed in a Luck check, or the piranha attack in a frenzy that round, doing an additional 1d5 damage to all targets that failed their Luck check. For creatures without Luck scores, assume a base score of 10. Particularly cruel judges may have "exploding" frenzy damage. Each time a "5" is rolled, add an additional 1d5 damage. In this way, cattle - and adventurers! - may be stripped to the bone in seconds.

Serpent Swarm: Init +5; Atk swarming bite +2 melee (1d3 plus venom); AC 10; HD 6d8; MV 40’ or climb 20’ or swim 30'; Act special; SP bite all targets within 20’ x 20’ space, half damage from non-area attacks, venom; SV Fort +3, Ref +5, Will -2; AL N.

Crack open the core rulebook and pick your favorite snake venom from Appendix P. If the serpent you want isn't there, you will find a few additional options in 50 Fantastic Functions For The D50...less than half of them are serpent venoms, though, because the article details venoms from spiders, reptiles, insects, and even mammals.

If you have not had a chance to check out Primal, it comes highly recommended as a DCC-type adult animated series. And by "adult" I do not mean risqué, I mean that it deals with strong themes and violence. Anyway, the second episode is River of Snakes, and despite being drawn almost cartoonishly, the sense of horror is effective.

Spider Swarm: Init +2; Atk swarming bite +1 melee (1 plus venom); AC 9; HD 4d8; MV 20’ or climb 20'; Act special; SP bite all targets within 20’ x 20’ space, half damage from non-area attacks, venom; SV Fort +0, Ref +10, Will -2; AL N.

As with the previous swarm, you can find potential venom effects in Appendix P of the core rulebook or in 50 Fantastic Functions For The D50. Or you could simply choose to have a DC 5 Fort save to avoid an additional 1d4 damage. Spider swarms are not going to have webs strong enough to capture PCs, but they may impede vision or slow characters down. 

For other versions of the spider swarm, see Tales From the Magician's Skull #1 and Both Foul and Deep.

Turtle Swarm: Init -2; Atk swarming bite +3 melee (1d5); AC 20; HD 5d8; MV 5’ or swim 20’; Act special; SP bite all targets within 20’ x 20’ space, half damage from non-area attacks; SV Fort +7, Ref +2, Will -2; AL N.

These turtles can apparently leap up from the water, and I am tempted to give them an extra ability where a hit requires a DC 5 Will save to avoid fainting for 1d5 rounds. 

As with piranha swarms, the easiest way to deal with these is to get out of the water if you can. Easier said than done if you are trekking through a swamp. Needless to say, although turtles can bite - and snapping turtles can sever digits - being attacked by a swarm of turtles isn't something you need to worry about in real life. Well, all of these stats are a bit more gamist than realist. 

If your swarming turtles are not large, snapping-turtle types, consider reducing the damage to 1d3 or even lower. Turtles with softer shells might even have a lower AC.

Weasel Swarm: Init +3; Atk swarming bite +3 melee (1d4 plus blood drain); AC 12; HD 6d8; MV 40’; Act special; SP bite all targets within 20’ x 20’ space, half damage from non-area attacks, blood drain (any target wounded by the swarm takes an additional 1 damage per round until entire swarm is killed or dispersed); SV Fort +1, Ref +8, Will -2; AL N.

For some reason, swarms in these covers love attacking anyone who ventures into the water, even if the creatures attacking are not normally aquatic. Nonetheless, in a world where some might bond with Mulferret, Queen of Weasels, things like this just might happen. In fact, I think I included weasel swarms in her write-up, and as I do not have the book in front of me at the moment, they may be different.

Final Note - Swarm Criticals and Fumbles

When a swarm rolls a "20", that is a crit against everyone. That is, perhaps, a bit over the top and breaks suspension of disbelief just a little. I recommend that, if a swarm rolls a "20", each character is given a Luck check to avoid the critical effect. Each character who fails has a critical effect rolled, so that everyone is not always the recipient of the same effect.

When a swarm rolls a "1", that would be a fumble in all of its attacks. Rather than trying to figure out what that means, consider having the swarm just break of its attacks and/or disperse. A 5% chance per round of getting out of a swarm attack alive, just by luck, might not be realistic, but it is true to the nature of pulp fiction. 







Tuesday, 10 August 2021

Challenge Accepted

Jack-a-lope: Init +3; Atk antlers +3 melee (1d3); AC 14; HD 1d3; MV 40’; Act 1d16; SP see below; SV Fort -3, Ref +6, Will +0; AL N.

Go West from Sour Spring Hollow a good step, or find yourself slinging lead on some Weird Frontiers, and you just might encounter a jack-a-lope. Truth be told, the glow deserts of the post-Apocalyptic future are as good a habitat for these critters as any, whether it be in Umerica or Terra A.D.

Of course, you shouldn't assume that every jack-a-lope you might encounter is the same. So roll that d14, and see how the one you encountered is different!

1. Bounding: This pinkish jack-a-lope can leap up to 40'. If it does so as part of an attack, it gains a +1d bonus on the dice chain to both attacks and damage. Legend says that this type of jack-a-lope can also teach new-shorn lambs to dance with the rattlesnakes, although exactly what that means is a mite unclear....

2. Al Mirage: This jack-a-lope has only a single horn, but does +1d damage with it. It can teleport using an Action Die up to 60' away. Finally, it can create illusions of standing water within 120' (Will DC 15 to disbelieve) once per hour.

3. Carnivorous: Gains a bite attack for 1d4 damage, and Action Dice increase +1 step up the dice chain. Crits as a monster with twice its Hit Dice.

4. Giant: Increases Hit Die, Action Die, and damage by +1d on the dice chain. Gains +2 hp per Hit Die. Gains +10 move (+20 if rolled a second time, then +30, etc.). Each time this is rolled increases Fort save by +2 and decreases Reflex save by -1.

6. Beloved of Radu: Blessed by the Prince of Rabbits, this jack-a-lope has a +10 bonus to all saves and 6 additional Hit Dice.

7. Tibbar-kin: The jack-a-lope drains the life of other creatures, and can target any creature within 120'. Roll a Action Die +4 to determine the Fort DC to resist. The jack-a-lope drains 1d7 hp, which are added to its hit point total, unless the target saves.

8. Just the Bait: The jack-o-lope has a symbiotic relationship with a nearby monster, drawing in the curious and distracting them so the other creature can attack. Possibly descended from an escapee of a spaceship that crashes in some peaks....

9. Better, Stronger, Faster: +1d to Action Dice and damage. Speed increases by +20'; Reflex saves and Initiative increase by +4. Jack-a-lope gains an additional Action Die.

10. Luck Thief: If you spend Luck within 100' of this jack-a-lope, make a DC 16 Will save, or the jack-a-lope gains hit points equal to your spent Luck, and there is no other effect.

11. Luck Eater: Every successful attack made by the jack-a-lope permanently consumes 1d3 points of its victim's Luck.

12. Bunny Combo A: Roll 1d6 and 1d8. Apply both results. Identical results stack.

13. Bunny Combo B: Roll 1d6, 1d8, and 1d10. Apply all three results. Identical results stack.

14. Bunny Combo C: Roll 1d6, 1d8, 1d10, and 1d12. Apply all four results. Identical results stack. If you roll a "12". that means you also gain Bunny Combo A for a total of 5 modifications.


Wednesday, 4 August 2021

Evil Birthday Cake

 

Evil Birthday Cake: Init+3; Atk bite –2 melee (1d12); AC 8; HD 10d3; MV 0’ (20'); Act 2d20; SP uncanny senses 200'  range, enslavement, mesmeric influence, aging to heal; SV Fort +8, Ref –5, Will +12; AL C.

Some people never get the attention they feel they deserve. Their desires coalesce on their birthdays, bringing into existence an evil birthday cake. There is also said to exist somewhere a Book of Pure Evil which can bring such a vile confectionary into existence. Regardless of how it comes to be, the one who desired it is the evil birthday cake's first victim, as it is enslaved to do the cake's bidding. The cake's first command is always the same - to be put upon some form of mobile platform, because the cake has no legs. The 20' movement speed indicates being pulled along on a relatively smooth surface using a flat dolly or some sort.

Uncanny Senses: An evil birthday cake is somehow aware of everyone and everything within a 200' radius around it. The cake cannot be surprised, even if it is part of a surprise party.

Enslavement: The evil cake can enslave one being within 200', unless they succeed in a DC 15 Will save. The being who called the cake into existence gets no save. An enslaved being is dominated by the evil birthday cake, and does whatever it wishes, but cannot go more than 200' from the cake without the enslavement being broken. only when the current slave is released (by being forced away from the cake) or killed may the cake attempt to enslave another.

Mesmeric Influence: An evil birthday cake can use an Action Die to attempt to mesmerize a victim within 100'. That victim must make a DC 20 Will save or use its move and/or any Action Dice to come as close to the cake as possible. The cake uses this ability to bring prey within biting range and/or to make foes lose potential attacks.

Aging to Heal: An evil birthday cake can use an Action Die to heal 3d12 hit points. When it does so, its causes its enslaved victim to age 1 year per hit point gained. An evil cake without an enslaved victim cannot use this ability.


Sunday, 1 August 2021

Reddit Prompts New House Rule


This Reddit post asks a pretty important question. I am going to paraphrase it here:

How can you use the Dice Chain to make sense of things like Strength checks, where an 18 Strength should have a real advantage over a 13 Strength?

This prompted me to write:

You could say that each additional attempt is made at -1d on the dice chain, which prompts players to let the strongest go first. (In fact, I will be using this from now on for checks like opening locks as well.)

 

And there you go. New house rule. Thank you, bored-n-curious, for making me think about this! I would never have come up with this solution without your prompting!

The Doctor, Susan, the Time War, and TARDIS Telepathic Fields

If you do not love Doctor Who, or love discussing the minutia of the program, you may wish to skip this post. You have been warned!

This post is largely to encapsulate two threads from Reddit: This one, and this one. While the idea that events from The Day of the Doctor might have influences the Doctor's abandoning Susan in The Dalek Invasion of Earth, speculating that the TARDIS telepathic fields may have something to do with how companions leave the program was notably less well received.

I for one prefer to look at the program from the standpoint that what is actually seen on the screen is true (within the context of the fictional universe). and then work from there what it means. I realize that some people prefer to work from what they want to believe is true, and then ignore contradictory data and/or complain about it being a mistake from the "obvious truth" of whatever they want to believe.

The Doctor and Susan


We know that thirteen Doctors (the 1st through the 12th plus the War Doctor) help to move Gallifrey to a pocket universe at the end of the Last Great Time War. We also know that Doctors earlier than 12 will forget the specifics of the time lock, because 12 is the senior Doctor present. When I talk about Time Lord memory, below, I will argue that 12 also does not recall what happened initially; only when that event occurs for his incarnation will he be able to recall it.

I am going to venture that the 1st Doctor became aware of the Time War during the end of The Dalek Invasion of Earth, and that he flew into his part of it shortly after (perhaps having put Barbara and Ian to sleep or out of the way in another part of the TARDIS), and before The Rescue. Thus, the 1st Doctor knows why he left Susan behind, but does not remember the specifics at the start of the next story.

The 1st Doctor then encounters a much older Susan in The Five Doctors. Although he is (again) doomed to forget the specifics of the adventure, we really do not know how long he travels with Susan between the end of this multi-Doctor story and the resumption of his original timeline. It should be noted that the Doctor encounters the older Susan after leaving her from Susan's point of view, but before leaving her from the Doctor's.

When he finally encounters the 12th Doctor in Twice Upon a Time, he no longer has any memory of his own later incarnations, which he has met at least twelve of.

Even so, I would posit that the Doctor leaves Susan both because (1) he has an intimation of the Time War, and (2) he knows that he will do so. He may have no direct memory of either when he leaves Susan, but he does have at least a partial intimation that guides his actions. Even his speech about returning may be prompted by a subconscious knowledge that he will encounter an older Susan - and that may be why the speech starts The Five Doctors!

Time, the TARDIS, and Parallel Universes


From a basic, four-dimensional standpoint, the universe is expanding. It started as a near-singularity, and will continue to expand until it reaches heat-death. At this point, from an outside vantage point, the universe will once again resemble a near-singularity, and any continued outward pressure will cause another big bang, resulting in a new universe.

The expansion of the universe, on the small scale, causes the phenomenon in quantum physics of particle-wave duality. The expansion is such that a particle spreads into a wave until acted on, where the energy from the interaction is enough to allow it to collapse back into a particle.

Although it is more complicated than that, this is largely why you remember the past but not the future, and why there is an arrow of time at all. Moving backwards requires not only the energy for the motion, but also the energy to deal with the expansion, and that requires more energy that you can obtain.

The TARDIS deals with this problem by side-stepping it. Rather than fight the expansion of the universe, the TARDIS slips into the Vortex, and then slips out at the desired time and place. Because the universe is expanding, though, the TARDIS has to compensate. Experienced subjectively from within, Planck's constant does not change. Objectively, from without, the constant is smaller in the denser past than it is in the expanded future. Eventually, the speed of light is also detectably affected; it was faster in the past during the early expansion and will slow to just over the Planck's constant just prior to the final heat death of the universe.

(This is not easy for the TARDIS to compensate for, which is why the Time Lords are forbidden to go too far forward or too far back. Also, the transduction barriers protecting Gallifrey probably break down at these extremes.)

BTW, that method of dealing with time, and the requirement to also match the "relative dimension" of the universe when the TARDIS materializes? It is part of the name, TARDIS. It is also seen to malfunction in Planet of the Giants.

Each of the potential variables where a particle may collapse from a wave creates a potential parallel universe. Most of these become "bubble universes" that collapse almost instantly. Some, like Pete's World, have more staying power. The wibbly-wobbly ball of timey-wimey stuff is a direct consequence of this. Free will is real in Doctor Who, and it selects which of those potential universes become the prime universe, which become full parallels, and which collapse. The past is no less changeable that the future. The expansion of the universe causes possibility to come into existence, and creates a 5th dimension, a kind of "temporal space" that Susan could not adequately describe to Ian.

For terrestrial Ian, the answer to the problem was simple and fixed. For Gallifreyan Susan, the answer to the problem was complex and variable.

The important point of this is that the skein of the current configuration of the prime universe hangs on certain events - fixed points - while everything else is in potential flux.

The TARDIS, too, understands this flux...better than the Doctor does if The Doctor's Wife is accepted at face value. The TARDIS understands the ramifications of the Doctor landing where they do. The TARDIS takes the Doctor where they need to go. The TARDIS also has an agenda, which it stole the Doctor to fulfil. The TARDIS also has access to the Doctor's most private thoughts (see The Time Monster). All of this has ramifications after the Time War.

The Transduction Barriers


Gallifrey is "oblique to time", largely due to the transduction barriers. These were created by Rassilon to set Gallifrey apart from the standard flow of time, protecting the past of the Time Lords from being tampered with. 

Normally, it doesn't matter when a party approaches Gallifrey - it is always the present. To illustrate this better, imagine that you visited Gallifrey. Then you boarded your TARDIS, went 2 million years into the past, and took a starliner to visit Gallifrey again. Not only would it still be the "present" on Gallifrey, but the amount of time you spent in travelling is the same amount of time that has elapsed on the planet since your last visit. Simply put, the timeline for Gallifrey is independent of the timeline of the universe.

This is also true, in general, for those travelling in TARDISes. Thus, the 7th Doctor can know the Rani's age by knowing his own, and Romana can correct the 4th Doctor about his age. Other Time Lords - the Monk, the Rani, the Master - are always encountered sequentially, so that their timelines match up. This obliqueness to time is so strong that the 1st Doctor was able to visit the same event several times without encountering himself. Presumably, the Rani was able to avoid detection by the Doctor, although they had been at the same events, simply because their timelines were not in sync. Gallifreyan Standard Time (as it is sometimes called) has to sync up in both 4th-dimensional and 5th-dimensional time.

There are some exceptions to this, but they are rare: multi-Doctor stories and Clara managing to meet the child Doctor are the only ones that occur in the televised series. 

The TARDIS operates in at least 7 dimensions, three of which are spatial and 4 of which are temporal. Standard operations only deal with 4 of these dimensions, but the time scoops used in the Death Zone (or to bring The Three Doctors together) operate using 5-dimensional engineering. The height of Gallifreyan technology, the Transduction Barrier around Gallifrey, using 6-dimensional engineering, which is why you might encounter a parallel like the Inferno world or Pete's World, but do not normally encounter parallel versions of the Time Lords or Gallifrey.

The Time Lord object to the experiments of Kartz and Reimer in The Two Doctors not merely because they object to others gaining time travel, but they object to others gaining time travel that can violate the transduction barriers. The Kartz-Reimer experiments clearly do this, allowing two versions of the same Time Lord to meet with potential repercussions that could destroy the universe.

Time Lord Memory


We know that the Doctor claims, on multiple occasions, that the human brain is small. However, the Time Lord brain appears to be the same size. It might be possible that part of the Time Lord's mind is augmented by the TARDIS....effectively, a Time Lord uses the telepathic circuits like a gigantic hard drive.

Another possibility is that a Time Lord's brain has more than four dimensions, and is therefore actually larger than the human brain. This possibility might explain how the Doctor (and other Time Lords) are able to perceive time differently than humans do. It also might explain why the Doctor apparently forgets most of what happens in multi-Doctor stories.

Your personal memories, proceeding one to another, follow a four-dimensional track. This would be true even if you were able to travel in time; your memories would still follow a line. So long as the evens occurred in the past of that four-dimensional track, you can remember them.

A Time Lord's mind has both a four-dimensional track (as does ours), and a five-dimensional track. If an event has occurred in the past of both of these tracks, the Time Lord can remember them relatively easily. It an event has occurred in the past of one of these tracks, but not the other, the differential makes it hard for the Time Lord to recall, even though they have lived through those events. This is similar, in a way, to how short-term memory and long-term memory work in humans.

Another result of this is that an effect can travel up the 5th-dimensional track without following the 4th-dimensional track. Proximity is important. This is why turning the 2nd Doctor into an androgum affected the 6th Doctor without changing every event of the Doctor's fourth-dimensional experience in-between.

The "senior Doctor" in the events that saved Gallifrey in The Day of the Doctor was the 12th Doctor. The War Doctor, 10th Doctor, and 11th Doctor therefore never know that Gallifrey was saved. This is also why we see the 12th Doctor initially not know where Gallifrey is; until the 5th dimensional differential is sorted out, he doesn't have clear memory of those events.

The War, 10th, and 11th Doctor then meet an unknown potential future Doctor played by Tom Baker (the Caretaker). If the Caretaker actually is a future Doctor, they will forget that event after it is finished.

This is also why Queen Elizabeth is so angry at the Doctor - his promise to return and marry her took place during the entanglement of 5th-dimensional memories, and he simply forgot that he had done so once it was over.

(The 10th and the 11th Doctors, by the way, offer perfect examples of how the post-Time War, pre-Restoration of Gallifrey Doctor views physical encounters very differently than any pre-Time War, or post-Restoration Doctor does. More on that to come.)

The Time War


One of the neat things about the Time War is that it probably started with the 4th Doctor's being interrogated by Davros and trying to alter Dalek evolution, but several other stories (both in later and earlier Classic Doctor Who) can be seen as portions of the Time War. This includes the idea that the Daleks would send a deceased Master back to Gallifrey in the TV Movie and multiple scenarios where Skaro and/or the Daleks appear to be defeated forever.

The Daleks not only have time travel, but they are one of the few species with time travel who are capable of being encountered out of sequence. I.e., Dalek time (unlike that of most of the universe) does not match Gallifreyan time. That might be a key to their surviving the Time War, but it also means that the Time War can be used to explain not only continuity differences between the Classic series and the New, but continuity differences in the Classic series itself. Once the Time War started (in 6th dimensional time) it had always been (in 4th and 5th dimensional time).

To both Time Lords and Daleks in the new series, the Time War is in their (relative, 5th dimensional) past. Only the fact that no Dalek in the new series believes the Time War is yet ongoing allows us to maintain with any confidence that the Daleks did not, in fact, gain a greater mastery of time than the Time Lords themselves.

TARDIS Reproduction, Time Lords, and Telepathic Circuits.


The TARDIS is designed for observation, and to allow its occupants to blend into societies without altering them. It is also designed to have six pilots. The basic argument here is that the TARDIS telepathic field suppresses romantic interest under normal circumstances. When that field is not operating in full force, it can cause over-compensation.

In the classic series, the "no hanky-panky in the TARDIS" rule meant that the Doctor's companions were not romantically attracted to him. In the new series, post-Time War, that early rule is out the window. Suddenly the Doctor is attracted to Rose, who is attracted to the Doctor. This continues with multiple companions until Gallifrey is restored, and the TARDIS no longer has a driving need to create new TARDISes. And it just stops. Completely.

The most obvious examples of this dynamic are in the TV Movie and in Human Nature/Family of Blood. In both cases, we see the Doctor severed from the telepathic circuits of the TARDIS, develop romantic feelings, and then see those romantic feelings simply disappear when the connection is restored.

Another clear example: Travelling with the 3rd and 4th Doctors, Sarah Jane Smith clearly saw the relationship as friendly but not romantic. Post-Time-War, when Sarah Jane Smith encounters the 10th Doctor, her memory is altered to the point where she believes that there really was a romantic attachment, and that she could not simply get on with her life. Both K-9 and Company and her appearance in The Five Doctors demonstrate that this was not true. She was definitely getting on with her life.

TARDISes are symbiotic with Time Lords. For most of the new series, the Doctor is not only the last Time Lord, but the TARDIS can be assumed to be the last TARDIS. No new Time Lords, no new TARDISes. The TARDIS has a vested interest in nudging the Doctor and his companions together.

(For that matter, it is relatively clear that the TARDIS telepathic circuits were used to push Donna Noble into creating the Metacrisis Doctor in Journey's End! The TARDIS also locked the doors, preventing Donna from leaving, in order to do so.)

Enter River Song


We can also talk about River Song, who is conceived in the TARDIS, becomes a Time Lord, and actually marries the Doctor.

Remembering that, in The Doctor's Wife, it is clear that the TARDIS remembers the future and takes the Doctor where he needs to go, but is also apparently not bound by predestination. The TARDIS knows that Ganger-Amy is a Ganger. The TARDIS knows that Ganger-Melody is a Ganger. The TARDIS knows that the Doctor and River will have romantic meetings and spend a great deal of time off-screen together. There is, in fact, no reason to assume that they do not have children at some point. Say, a 24-year long evening on Darillium? Or during the hundreds of years the 11th Doctor spends off-screen?

We have already talked about how the future is not predetermined for the TARDIS, but exists in potentialities. If you accept that, you can also understand that the TARDIS can select those potentialities to some degree. The creation of River Song is not just some random thing that happens; the TARDIS is a part of it. And the TARDIS then goes on to have a fantastic relationship with River, allowing her to borrow the TARDIS whenever she needs to, and making sure that the TARDIS is there to rescue her when required.

Remember, the TARDIS takes the Doctor where they need to go.

(We can also assume that the pre-Hartnell/Timeless Child used the same TARDIS, which is why it became stuck as a police box again as soon as was feasible. In this case, the 1st Doctor almost steals the wrong TARDIS, but Clara puts him back on track without really realizing why that particular TARDIS was so important.)

The TARDIS remembers the future, but most of the future exists in potentiality (no matter where you are on the timeline). The 8th Doctor says, "The universe hangs by such a delicate thread of coincidences, that it would be useless to meddle with it, unless like me you’re a Time Lord.” Even moreso than the Doctor, the TARDIS has the ability to meddle with the future. 

We are to believe that the 7th Doctor can manipulate Ace all he wants, and manipulate Davros into destroying Skaro, but the TARDIS doesn't manipulate its passengers? Even when we watch events unfold, repeatedly, which are otherwise inexplicable?

More On Those Telepathic Circuits

We know that the TARDIS telepathic field can:

  • Make you think you hear your native language.
  • Make you think the speaker's lips sync to that language.
  • Make you think written text is in that language.
  • Make you not notice the above. (This is a plot point in Masque of Mandragora.)
  • Affect the emotions of those it is in contact with. (This is a plot point in The Edge of Destruction, and includes feelings of paranoia strong enough to make Susan attack/threaten Barbara with scissors.)

We can further extrapolate from decades of the program that:

  • The telepathic field includes perceptual filters that encourage people to ignore it when it materializes....this is discussed a bit in the first episode of Torchwood, where the effect is partially transferred to a paving stone due to the energy discharge in Boom Town as well as being transferred to Martha, the Doctor, and Jack in The Sound of Drums.
  • The language translation may not always be perfect, due to the limitations of the people being spoken to. What sounds like bafflegab to us might actually make sense if we had the Doctor's knowledge. Similarly, when Susan said the 5th dimension was "space", that was the closest the TARDIS could translate to a concept that Ian would understand.
  • This alteration of appearance may go even farther. Linx, in The Time Warrior, was well aware that the Doctor was not human, and responded to his description that the Doctor would look that way "to your eyes". The Doctor never suggests that a companion "Looks Time Lord" before the Time War. It may be that differences he is normally aware of are being "smoothed out" by the TARDIS telepathic circuits.


For that matter, the racism of the past is more honestly depicted in Rosa than in Thin Ice. it is a serious question how much the TARDIS telepathic circuits play with the perceptions of the TARDIS crew and the people who encounter them. History may indeed be a white wash, and we do see signs of this in other stories (The Girl in the Fireplace comes to mind), but it also may be that the TARDIS really likes Bill and wants her to feel comfortable.

ROSE: They all speak English.

DOCTOR: No, you just hear English. It's a gift of the Tardis. The telepathic field, gets inside your brain and translates.

ROSE: It's inside my brain?

DOCTOR: Well, in a good way.

ROSE: Your machine gets inside my head. It gets inside and it changes my mind, and you didn't even ask?

DOCTOR: I didn't think about it like that.

Perhaps you also didn't think about it like that either?

In Conclusion

When a companion leaves the TARDIS, the connection to the telepathic field is reduced (in some cases, probably, eliminated). The companion, having had their romantic inclinations suppressed, may feel a sudden upsurge in those feelings, over-compensating by falling for potential mates in ways which would, barring this explanation, be inexplicable.

Likewise, following the Time War, the TARDIS telepathic circuits were used to encourage reproduction, and led to the successful creation of another Time Lord in the person of River Song. When Gallifrey was restored, this effect ended immediately.

Obviously, this is not "official canon". Yet.

Thanks for entertaining these rambling thoughts!


Friday, 30 July 2021

How Not To Join A Game

You may or may not know that I am currently running a multi-player, multi-party game on Discord. It is very much open to just about anyone, but (for obvious reasons) everyone cannot play at once. There is currently one closed expedition, two active expeditions, and one expedition in the planning stages. There are also a number of people waiting in the wings to get into a game, and some open spots in the Fourth Expedition.

I received a PM in Discord a while back, and this is the absolutely wrong way to go about joining a game. Anyone who has read my blog (I should hope) knows that I strongly believe that the GM has obligations to their players, and that players have obligations to the GM. Expecting the GM to respond within 24 hours to your expression of interest? Expecting the GM to tell you what rooms in a Discord channel contain so you don't have to look yourself? Not the way to go about it.


I believe that the roles of players and GMs are based on mutual respect. They are not entirely the same roles. The GM is not just another player, and the GM has to put in more work than any given player if the game is to be satisfying. But both sides of the screen deserve respect. And both sides have both expectations and obligations.


Because the GM does most of the heavy  lifting, finding guides to help you be a better GM is not difficult. As of this writing, I have written six volumes on that topic.

Finding advice on how to be a great player is a little bit more difficult. I address it in Dispatches from the Raven Crowking, now available. 

Within, you will find advice for players of these games. I also try to show how the game differs from the players' and the GM's perspectives, which I believe is useful for anyone to understand.

It is currently only available in pdf, but the pdf is Pay What You Want, so feel free to give a copy to all of your players! And, if you think the contents are worth it, leave something in the tip jar when you do so.


Friday, 2 July 2021

Magic Items From Facebook

Here are three magic items for use in your campaigns, based on images from the Internet (two from Facebook) which I do not own. Enjoy!

Scroll of Bafflement: Whoever tries to read this scroll must roll under their intelligence on percentile dice or remain baffled as to its meaning for the next turn. Each turn, the would-be reader has a new chance to realize that it is meaningless and break free from the curse.

Otherwise, until personally attacked, the scroll is destroyed, or the reader collapses from sheer exhaustion, the curse carries on turn by turn, preventing the reader from taking any action whatsoever.

The Spinal Cat of Nine Torments:  This weapon is +3 to hit, causing d3+3 damage plus DC 15 Fort or Will save or lose next Action Die due to unbelievable torment. If save is successful, the target can act, but at -1d on the dice chain.

The Spinal Cat has animal intelligence and is Chaotic, communicating with empathic glee whenever it hurts something.

The wielder can choose to take temporary Stamina damage to increases the damage die, at a rate of 1 point per step (heals as normal) to a maximum damage of 1d16+3.

The Brick of Pleasure and Death: This enormous boxed set causes 1d30 damage to any creature it falls upon, plus 1d6 damage per full 10' fallen. 

Should an intelligent creature survive the bludgeoning damage caused by the heavy and prodigious materials therein, they must succeed in a DC 20 Will save or spend the next 1d3 hours enraptured by the contents. If another intelligent creature comes upon them during this time, it too must save or be enraptured for a like amount of time.

Every time no more creatures are enraptured by the contents, roll percentile dice. On a roll of 01 the red and bloated sun goes out.

Every time a new sentient creature discovers this item, the cycle begins anew. Even creatures unable to read are affected, because the art is stunning!

EDITS: The Brick of Pleasure and Death is even larger now, as its goals stretch forth. As a result, it does an additional 1d16 damage when it falls upon a target. As its goals stretch farther and farther, this damage may increase!

When the Brick of Pleasure and Death falls on a target, half the gold carried by the target disappears, absorbed into the Brick and never to be seen again. There are those fated to meet the Brick, who suffer this loss months before the Brick actually drops. These are known as Backers of the Brick. (With thanks to Jason Menard!)

Wednesday, 30 June 2021

Once More Into the Breach

Maybe you have seen this meme floating around. Maybe you have come across it as a reaction to the dumpster fire that is the New New TSR's public relations. And I put that mildly. 

So here I go. Again.

There is a limit to tolerance, but the argument in the meme suggests that the only solution to intolerance is to be equally intolerant. Intolerance, like tolerance, occurs on a spectrum. It isn't necessary, or even desirable, to tolerate too much of it, but it is far more desirable to help the intolerant join the tolerant than it is to just thrust them outside the protection of the law.

It is also notable that, when we look at something like speech (or any other rights, for that matter), allowing people to have those rights when you disagree with them - ESPECIALLY when you disagree with them - is the only thing that safeguards those same rights when they disagree with you.

And let's be clear - if you lose a right when it is inconvenient, it was never a right to begin with. It was always just the illusion of a right. Rights are tested by the worst case scenarios, not the best.

And, Crom on His Mountain, when you start trying to silence other people, it always ends up with your being silenced. Always. Every. Bloody. Time.

Sorry. I think Karl Popper (at least as translated by this meme!) is way off-base here. There is a large difference between some sheltered idiot who is afraid of people different than themselves and Adolf Hitler. When you begin to equate the two, you join the list of people who have decided that they have the right to change people's beliefs by force.

That is not something that I can tolerate.

For instance, I have no desire to be associated with the New Coke TSR, but that doesn't mean that I think their attitudes should put them outside the law.

Their actions might cause them legal troubles. They are very likely to cause them financial troubles. But someone being a transphobe should not mean that they wind up in prison ("outside the law") for their beliefs.

Being tolerant of the intolerant doesn't mean giving their ideas a chance. It means giving them a chance to evolve better ideas.

Intolerant actions, of course, are a whole different thing. And that does include attempts to encourage others to intolerant action.

Saturday, 26 June 2021

Context and Player Responsibility

I was involved in a recent reddit thread, which was related to a situation where a GM allowed a vampire (I presume PC) to be murdered as the other PCs stood around in shock and did nothing. I am of the opinion, unequivocally, that the GM did nothing wrong in the situation as described. 

The gist of it was this: The PCs decided to intimidate a group that they didn't realize were expert vampire hunters. Then they decided to threaten them with their vampire friend. Although the details are not given, I picture the result like an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer while the other players stood by and did nothing. The GM then expressed regret that they didn't make the consequences/context clear enough to the players before they decided to act rashly.

I have written a long piece about Context, Choice, and Consequence, which you can find here (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3). There is no doubt that the GM's job is to provide context for choices, but the question is: Whose job is it to determine if there is enough context to make a choice?  In other words, if the players make assumptions about the situation, is it up to them to check their assumptions, or is it up to the GM to ensure that their assumptions are correct?

I argue that this is part of the players' game. A role-playing game contains both informed and uninformed decisions. It is not always easy to tell which is which (which is why rumor tables often contain false or misleading information). Part of play is trying to figure out how much you know. There is a reason why divination spells exist.

There is also a big difference between an informed decision that is a sort of "devil's choice" (hazards all ways) and one where there is clearly a "right choice". If there is a "right choice", and the players uncover it through their actions, then finding it and utilizing it is their victory. If there is a "right choice" and the GM warns them every time they choose something different, then the players might as well not play through those events. The GM can just narrate the choice they are "supposed to" make and move on. In short, providing this sort of context is just another form of railroading, which removes agency from the players involved.

So, yes, a lot of this post is just my Reddit comments with slight reworking or additions. Here we go.



If you want the players to learn that thuggish tactics work unless you tell them otherwise, by all means make sure that you telegraph when they should tread lightly. If you want the players to learn to think before acting, continue to allow the natural consequences of ill-considered action to occur.

It is not the GM's job to make sure that the players understand who any particular NPCs are. It is the players' job. The GM's job is to ensure that the means to figure it out exist.

This is no different than their being thuggish in their tactics and not helping their friend. It isn't the GM's job to adjust things to their tactics. It is their job to adjust their tactics to what they are facing.

Now, there were some disagreements, as happens. In particular, the claim was made that this position encouraged murderhoboism and harbors mismatched game expectations. 

Muderhoboism

Players being required to think before they act are not encouraged to be murderhobos. Quite the opposite. Allowing players to assume that they can simply murder anyone they meet  encourages murderhoboism.

The GM is under no obligation to tell the players which NPCs they can successfully murder and which they cannot before combat begins. In fact, doing so reinforces murderhoboing. I don't know if that can be overstated.

Mismatched Game Expectations

Likewise, mismatched expectations are a result of expecting the game milieu to adapt to you, rather than expecting play to adapt to the situations you encounter.

This doesn't assume that the players and the GM will come to the same conclusion about a specific situation. It assumes that it is the player's responsibility to draw conclusions and act accordingly. What the GM wants, does not want, or expects has nothing to do with it. If the players come up with a way to completely and utterly defeat what the GM had imagined was going to be a major challenge - good for them! We will discuss this again in reference to player agency later.

Likewise, it is the player's responsibility to seek out information. It is not the GM's responsibility to hand it to them on a platter. Not surprisingly, if a player doesn't realize that committing murder has consequences, the root cause is either

(1) the GM never enforces rational consequences, or

(2) the player really isn't thinking things through.

In case (1), yes, the GM is to blame. Because consequences are not "obfuscated"; they are pretty direct. Otherwise it is entirely on the players involved.

The GM might want to ensure that he communicated that a chasm was 100' across before the thief tries to jump across it, but the GM is not obligated to remind the thief that they can't make that jump. That decision is made by the player. Not pointing out that the thief cannot possibly make that jump (barring magic or some unusual circumstances) is not obfuscating information, and it is not failure to communicate.

The disagreement is not about whether or not the players know there will be consequence; it is about whether or not they should know what those consequences will be before they act.

If you are playing a traditional role-playing game, you can examine things like the combat rules to know how absurd it would be to expect fully informed decisions. If you decide to attack, you do not know whether or not you will hit until you roll. You do not know how much damage you do (if you hit) until you roll (in most games). The game itself is designed to prevent you from knowing the outcome.

(Including the GM. They may know AC, attack modifiers, damage range, hit points, etc., but they are not omniscient. They don't know how things will play out until the dice hit the table - in some games moreso than in others!)

The same thing goes for skill checks. Checking for traps does not necessarily mean finding traps. Trying to climb a wall does not mean that you will even be able to start, let alone offer a guarantee that you will not fall.

The GM's job is to provide the context for choices made by the players. The players' job is to make choices (including seeking out more context). The GM then determines the consequences of the choices (either through die rolls or some other method), creating the new context for the next set of choices.

It is, emphatically, not the GM's job to determine whether or not the players understand the situation outside of information their characters have. It is the job of the players to decide how much context they need. If they feel they do not have enough context, the game is full of ways to gain more. Asking questions and proceeding cautiously is just the most obvious.

None of this means that the GM cannot add context without player input; but it is emphatically NOT unfair if the GM does not.

The GM does not have to remind you that a dungeon might have traps, or that your roll to check for them might have failed, or tell you that opening the door will release a spear trap that might kill you.

I am not a child. I do not need you to hold my hand.

Player Agency

If the GM believes that players need their hands to be held, and does not enforce rational consequences for player choices, then that GM will need to warn about consequences, repeatedly and often.

On the other hand, if the GM believes that their players do not need to have their hands held, then enforcing consequences for decisions allows the players to take responsibility for their own actions, for good or ill.

Both are self-fulfilling propositions. The first GM will need to continue hand-holding; the second GM will not. In both cases, it is the actions (or lack thereof) of the GM that sets expectations for the players. Of course players are going to be shocked if the GM holds their hands again and again and suddenly does not. Of course the players are going to assume that their might be consequences before they act if they have encountered that in the past.

I am not saying that one group of players is better than the other. I am saying that the GM of the first group is artificially preventing their players from reaching their full potential. Literally, the GM is robbing the players of agency by ensuring that their choices align with the GM's expectations before they can be resolved.

If, as a player, I said I tried to open a chest, and the GM stopped me and told me that it might be a mimic, then when I failed to search the room stopped me and told me that I might be missing some treasure or a secret door, I would not want to keep playing in that game. The player gets to make decisions, and the player owns the consequences for those decisions, for good or for ill. So what if I missed the treasure? So what if the mimic killed me? At least the outcome was based on the choices that I had made.

And, maybe next time, I would prod a suspicious chest with a 10-foot pole before opening it. Or maybe I would defeat the mimic against all odds, or be able to open a dialogue with it. And, if so, or if I found that treasure or secret door, the victory would be mine. Because my choices mattered. Because my reading the situation and realizing that I needed more context mattered. I am actually playing the game.

Paradoxically, the GM who prevents you from failing also prevents you from succeeding. After all, success is only success because failure is possible. The GM who prevents you from making bad choices by layering on information until you make the choice they want you to is really just playing your character for you.

In the end, that isn't why we play these games, is it?

What the Players and the GM Know

Some people will argue that the players only know what the GM tells them. This is patently untrue in most game systems.

Unless the world/system is completely different, the players know that there will be trees, and horses, and rabbits, and a sky. They know that there will be people, and that those people will usually behave to one degree or another like people behave.

They will know that stabbing a creature with a sword does not generally improve its health. They will know, from the rules, what kind of creatures they might encounter (at least to some degree), how magic or technology works (at least to some degree), etc.

They will have a basic understanding of gravity and other laws of physics, from their own experience and from the rules. A PC might be able to survive a greater fall than would be likely in the real world, or defeat creatures in single combat that one would not expect a real person to succeed against, but the rules will make these things clear...or at least clearish.

If you can buy a sword, that not only implies that swords exist, but that creators of swords exist, and that sellers of swords exist. Indeed, the players know a great deal about the world before they sit at the table for the first game session.

They know the general picture. What they do not know are the details. Some details they will learn as they go on. Some will remain forever hidden. Some the GM will tell them upfront ("Beyond the door is a 30-foot square room with a chest near the center of the room") and others they must discover through their actions (the secret door in the far wall, the treasure buried beneath a loose flagstone, that the chest is a mimic).

Likewise, the GM is not omniscient. Until the PCs lay their plans, and the dice hit the table, the GM definitely knows more about the situation. But no one knows how the situation is going to unfold. Some GMs will fudge die rolls and change monster hit points in order to control the outcome. I have written a lot about this topic. I don't think I need to rehash it again.

One of the joys of a swingy system like Dungeon Crawl Classics is that I never know how an adventure - or even an encounter - is going to play out. Comparing this to a "finely balanced" game that relies on GM fudging to provide the balance, and I definitely prefer the Chaos of a finely unbalanced engine of adventure!

Player Intelligence

By and large, players are not stupid, and do not need to be treated like children.

It is the hand-holding GM who imagines their players foolish, not the GM who allows them to take responsibility for themselves. Players by and large adapt to the GM. If the GM hand-holds, they will adapt their strategies to take that into account. If the GM does not, they will likewise take that into account and behave accordingly.

Players are smart. They are going to play intelligently the vast majority of the time. The GM who thinks they need to handhold their players or those players will not be able to know there are consequences for rash actions is the one who imagines that they have stupid players. If your players are unable to play intelligently, it is because they are faced with a game that does not require intelligent play, or that rewards dumb play. 

That is not the fault of the players. That is firmly the fault of the GM.

Conclusion

In one video game analogy made in the reddit thread, the players are mashing buttons without trying to find out what they do beforehand, and ignoring the consequences of what mashing those buttons do. This is not the GM's fault. At all.

And the GM in the original post didn't simply decide what was "going to happen". There were plenty of opportunities for the dice or player choices to change the outcome. Again, this speaks to how the GM is not omniscient. 

Those who imagine that because the players try the "I intimidate" button and it doesn't work, they should just keep mashing it, and either the GM is supposed to tell them it isn't going to work or just make it work to match player expectations would certainly be surprised in any game I run.

The NPCs in the OP didn't just jump out of nowhere and kill the PCs. There was an interaction. There was communication. The players did not pick up on it. When it became a fight, what was happening was also communication. The players still did not pick up on it. None of that is the GM's fault.

Frankly, if the elite vampire hunters in the OP didn't do something about the PCs willfully consorting with - and threatening them with! - the undead, the GM let them off extremely lightly.

And that, maybe, is the GM's fault.