The Skinsaw Murders, Part 5

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Revenant in the Attic, Ghouls in the Basement

The party continues to explore the haunted manor, room by room. On the second floor, they find more rooms with haunts and dangers:

  • A child’s bedroom burns Veshenga’s mind with a vision of huddling in fear, watching the battle between a torch-wielding mother and a tumor-ridden, knife-wielding father.
  • A musician’s gallery features more stained-glass windows, these hinting at spell components for necromancy.
  • A bedroom completely consumed with mold gives Veshenga and Taeva a fleeting vision that their own faces are being consumed by the illness, and it takes all their willpower not to try to tear their own skins off.
  • A bathroom features a precarious tub, which crashes through the floor as Taeva leaps away.
  • A master bedroom afflicts Taeva and Veshenga with a misogynistic wrath; Balekh calms their emotions before they can kill one another.
  • A gallery of paintings displays two families of Foxgloves, with a sudden cold haunt that reveals their deaths:
    • Aldern, a ghoul
    • Cyralie, his mother, burns and then breaks
    • Traver, his father, bleeds from a slice across the throat
    • Sendeli and Zeeva, still alive and in hiding
    • Lorey and Kasanda, the daughter and wife of the original owner, are turned into tumor-ridden corpses
    • Vorel, the first master of the house, erupts into fungus and tumors that tries to infect everyone in the room.
  • In an old bedroom, Taeva barely avoids the urge to take a spectral dagger and slit her own throat.

By this point, Haggor is steadfastly refusing to enter any rooms as they climb into the attic. This level features a number of storerooms and a loft of little interest. As they pass them, they hear a shriek of pain at the end of the hall, and rush to the room concerned. Within, the animate corpse of Iesha Foxglove seems trapped behind some crates by her own reflection in an old mirror. Based on these details, Balekh believes that she must have become a revanant, bent on destroying her murderer. He shares this fact with the rest of the party, and Taeva immediately decides to set her free by moving the mirror. Unthinking, the undead woman lets out a terrifying wail and begins to claw at the first obstacle between her and her wrath: Taeva. The gnome quickly re-sets the mirror, driving the woman back into her corner as the party discusses what to do. They decide to finish exploring the level, then set her free to lead them to Aldern.

Simple Dice System

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(Originally posted June 2009)

I had this idea for a dice system on the way home, designed for a low-granularity game:

For most rolls, you roll a d6 and a d8 and keep the highest result.
For rolls where you are skilled, you add a d10, still keeping the highest result.
For rolls where you spend a drama point, you add a d12, still keeping the highest result.
If you are specifically limited on the roll (hurt, have a flaw, etc.) you drop the d8.

Success is a roll equal or greater than the target number.
Critical is a roll equal or greater than the target number where you also got a 6 on the d6.
Failure is a roll less than the target number.
Fumble is a roll less than the target number where you also got a 1 on the d6.

If your highest result was less than the total number of dice you’re rolling (e.g., you roll a 3 on all four dice), you get a drama point.

If I did the probabilities right, they look like this:

Average Roll 2+ 4+ 6+ 8+ 10+ 12+
d6 3.5 83% 50% 17%
d6+d8 5.23 98% 81% 48% 13%
d6+d8+d10 6.77 100% 94% 74% 39% 10%
d6+d8+d10+d12 8.29 100% 99% 89% 64% 33% 8%

The Skinsaw Murders, Part 4

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Scarnetti had apparently been murdered yesterday or the day before, in the exact same manner. Relatively certain based on the latest clue that it is, indeed, Aldern Foxglove, the party also makes the leap that the targets seem to be misers, skinflints, and other greedy individuals. Balekh takes a moment to go talk to the local Thassilonian scholar and confirms that, indeed, the likely Thassilonian rune for greed did seem to also feature prominently on the bodies.

They take the rest of the day to prepare, then head out the next morning towards Foxglove Manor. The last path to the house is overgrown and treacherous, so the party scouts around to find some surviving farmers to leave their horses with before proceeding on foot. Within a mile, they are able to see the dilapidated house looming over a cliff. As they proceed past a burned-down outbuilding, they notice a deep well with unhealthy-looking crows perched on it. These birds fly off as they approach, and Balekh drops a stone down the well, confirming that it’s at least a few dozen feet deep and has water at the bottom. They decide not to risk jumping in, and just use their key to let themselves into the front door of the house.

The first sight that greets them is an enormous, mold and dust-festooned trophy room, the centerpiece of which is a stuffed manticore. Haggor smells a strange whiff of smoke, and Taeva thinks she hears crying upstairs. They wander through the center of the house, finding an odd monkey bellpull and skirting a weird patch of mold. The rear of the house is a large dining room with ornate stained glass windows blocking the view of the coast. They feature art of magical beasts being consumed by, in Balekh’s opinion, a necromantic, seven-sided box.

Moving on, they enter a parlor where dust is being strangely kicked up in front of the fireplace, as if by an invisible woman pacing. Taeva wanders up, hears a woman’s voice whisper “Lorey” and suddenly has to fight off an overwhelming urge to grab her child and escape the house, because of the horrible realization of what her husband is doing in the basement. The footsteps end after she resists this compulsion.

The next room is a bathroom, and Taeva puts down a bloated, tumor-ridden rat that seems to have gotten trapped in the tub. Moving on from that, they find a conservatory that is completely run down, featuring a nearly-destroyed piano. They look around, but nothing out of the ordinary happens, so they turn back into the entry hall to check the other side of the ground floor.

As the party walks back down towards the kitchen, Haggor brings up the rear. Out of the corner of his eye, he sees the manticore suddenly move. As he shifts to defend himself, it bursts into flame, its face changes to an unknown woman’s visage, and it stabs at him with its flaming tail. He falls to the floor and rolls to put out the fire, and as he jumps back up he sees that the monster is back in the same position as it started and his friends are looking at him like he’s crazy. He then shows off his new burn, convincing them that something strange just happens. They smash the stuffed beast, and throw the sawdust-leaking pieces out the front door. As they’re disposing of the body, they notice that there are significantly more crows perched around outside of the house, all looking in, intently.

Turning back inside and locking the door, the party proceeds again to the back of the house with no more manticore incidents, and turns into a room that is obviously a library. A fallen chair, a dropped scarf and book, and a blood-covered, broken bookend are testament to something bad happening here. Veshenga and Taeva examine the crime scene, being able to get little idea of what happened exactly, as Balekh tries to see if he can make out the subjects of the books without freeing them from their moldy embrace. As he gets to the bookshelf near the fallen chair, the scarf suddenly flies through the air and wraps itself around his throat. As he struggles to breathe, he suddenly sees a vision of Aldern Foxglove strangling him to death, and understands that he is filling the role of a woman named Iesha who was Aldern’s wife. Balekh struggles and finally the scarf falls to the floor as the vision ends, leaving raw red marks on his neck. He pockets the fallen scarf and the party moves on.

In the next room, a small study, a window is covered by a thick drape. Taeva decides to open it to look out, and sees a momentary flash of what she thinks is Veshenga behind her, but which she realizes is another Varisian woman before the apparition fades. It seems likely that this is Iesha, and Veshenga recognizes that as a Varisian name.

Moving back into the front hall, the party begins to decide whether to next go up or down… a discussion modulated by Haggor still seeing the spectral apparition of the absent manticore, a stuffed beast that is completely invisible to the rest of the party.

D&D 3.5: Level by Wealth

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(Originally posted May 2009)

I was thinking about how old school D&D awarded EXP primarily based on the GP value of treasure, not on kills: you were encouraged to figure out how to get the monsters’ loot without having to fight them, if at all possible.

Out of curiosity, I ran the suggested Wealth by Level guidelines against the EXP to level chart. It turns out, if you gave out 1 exp for every 1 gp the party is awarded, you’d stay fairly close to the suggested relationship between wealth and level (the party’s wealth spikes to double the expected amount towards 10th and then shrinks back to 94% of standard by 20th). For complete parity, you could just use the Wealth by Level chart (p. 135 3.5 DMG) instead of the EXP chart.

It might make for a very interesting, old-school feeling game to have high lethality but a story set to encourage the PCs to think their way around the opposition to get its money. It also might create some interesting intra-party dynamics as to loot distribution, equipment sale, and consumable usage if level was pegged directly to wealth-on-sheet rather than EXP being awarded at acquisition.

Here’s how a Level by Wealth setting might work:

The value of a man* is measured by the value of his possessions. Great men create, and enrich the world through their works. Poor men are unable to reach their potential, for they have not the capital to build upon. Rich men show their wealth as a sign of their accomplishments.

In this setting, the accumulation of wealth is sign and an enabler of power. “Levels” have an abstract relationship to the learning potential of wealth: it is left vague whether there is a clear mystical relationship between raw lucre and pure prowess, or whether great wealth is simply a sign of great deeds and an enabler of greater learning.

Yet some basic assumptions can be made.

A man cannot progress further in his career with no ready funds, save as a Commoner. If total wealth earned exceeds total wealth possessed, a man must once more build his value to the correct limit before continuing along his path. Wealth may be stored as equipment, land, buildings, furnishings, businesses, or liquid wealth: so long as a man may point at a thing and truthfully say, “this is mine, and I know its worth,” it may be considered wealth. True men of power exchange goods, services, and coin to the mutual enrichment of both.

As mentioned, a man that earns but keeps nothing is called a Commoner. Each coin of value earned contributes towards a man’s experience in a certain career, and income earned from careers a man does not wish to pursue serves merely to prevent losses from stopping progress. A Commoner, however, advances, woefully as that advancement may be, despite having a ready source of long-term wealth. Every coin that he keeps long enough to simply feed and clothe himself he still considers experience, and is made the poorer for it.

A man that earns his bread through work and prudent saving may be called an Expert, for he has mastered the goal of turning hard work to hard coin. It is a long path, and a cautious one, but an Expert can reap great wealth and great reward for long discipline in his trade.

A man that earns his bread through military service, be it in defense of a city, support of the law, or time in the army may be called a Warrior, for strength of arm allows him to earn a fair wage. As many men of the sword have their physical needs cared for as part of their contracts, a prudent Warrior may grow powerful by careful investment of his salt.

A man that earns his bread through mysticism may be called an Adept, for the rites mysterious were ever a fine way to grow in wealth and power. Serve he as priest of the flock or wise man of the tower, his earnings are prudently invested back into his research.

A man that earns his bred through the sweat of others, be it his vassals or his forebears, may truly be called an Aristocrat, for the surest road to power is a steady source of tithed or inherited wealth. Aristocrats are amongst the most powerful, for they have much time to hone their skills when not making sure their coin continues to grow in value.

These five careers make up the bulk of the careers of men, but they are merely a stage show for the true road to power. True men earn their bread through danger, through cunning, and through great deeds in times of darkness. These men are called Adventurers, for their path to power truly is peril and passion.

A man that earns his coin through trickery, through unearthing long-buried gold, through reward for great deeds, or through deadly combat may learn the secret arts of the Adventurer. Only in those forged through such dangers do the true powers both mystical and martial emerge. But the road of the Adventurer is a difficult one: a normal man may some day allow shrewd investment and much-requested but easy labor to carry him onward and upward, but an Adventurer must always defy death in the pursuit of his own wealth or abandon the great rewards of his profession.

It is a terrifying road, but a rewarding one. When you find your first goblin hoard or receive your first monetary commendation for valor, think hard whether it is a road you truly wish to begin down. Once started, it is difficult to leave.

* The society so detailed can be assumed to gender neutral. However, the use of pure income as a gauge of level makes me feel all Bioshocky, so please forgive the masculine pronouncements.

The Skinsaw Murders, Part 3

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Misgivings

After clearing out the last of the ghouls, the party investigates the ransacked farmhouse, skirting around the rotting form of the enruned farmer in the center of the living room. Thinking that the ornate key might go to something in the house, Taeva eventually finds a locked strongbox under a floorboard in the bedroom. They try the key, and it doesn’t fit. Taeva goes ahead and picks the lock, finding several thousand silver pieces obsessively arranged into uniform bags of coin. In her professional opinion, this is the hoard of a miser.

Finding it odd that there was no key, eventually Balekh decides to search the farmer’s rotting corpse after all, and finds a key that does go to the strongbox. Considering the ghoul’s key, he thinks about the crest and eventually remembers that it’s probably something to do with the Foxgloves. For now, they discount that even if the guy is creepy, it doesn’t make sense that someone they had to save from a goblin would be the threat that was stalking the streets of Sandpoint, leaving murder in his wake.

Making a sweep through the farms, the party checks all the remaining scarecrows and then obliterates any ghouls they encounter. Very soon, they come across a victim that has not quite succumbed to ghoul fever yet, a young farmer that Haggor recognizes from town. As they’re carrying the feverish man further down the path, they happen across a large mass of ghoul scarecrows struggling to get off their posts and attack. As the party deals with them, the three ghouls that had fled earlier make their move and emerge out of the skeletal fields to attack Veshenga from behind. A tense fight ensues, as the “healthier” ghouls attempt to eat the ranger and rogue while the cleric and monk deal with the wave of ghouls ripping themselves down from their posts. Eventually, the ghouls are dispatched, but not before they’ve left a few more wounds on the party.

As the sweep continues, a few more lone ghoul scarecrows are easily dispatched, and the party finds another living survivor: the other survivor’s girlfriend. The two of them were apparently captured together recently, and the party arrived just in time to save them from ghouldom. As the party is tending to the girl, several more ghouls nearby manage to rip themselves down from their posts, and come charging through the rows, only to be put down one by one via arrows, crossbow bolts, and a charging wrestler.

Satisfied that they’ve cleared the last of the scarecrow ghouls, and with the light failing, the party recovers their horses and begins to ride back to town. They arrive late in the evening and barricade themselves in the garrison. They have two heavily infected survivors, a madman still in danger, and three party members who have been bitten and who aren’t feeling too well. Veshenga uses her healing skills throughout the night, with Balekh and Haggor doing what they can to assist, and when dawn breaks they’re convinced that everyone is out of the woods (with the two farmers still in a bit of danger, but nothing the local priests can’t handle). Everyone passes out for some much-needed rest; except Taeva, who slept soundly while everyone else took care of the doctoring.

The sheriff comes in and receives a brief description of the previous day. He asks Taeva if she wants to see if they can’t work together to figure out what’s going on, and the two of them hit the taverns for breakfast. It doesn’t take long before they find someone who remembers the story of Foxglove Manor—the Misgivings—and the terrible murder-suicide 20 years past that left Aldern and his sister orphans. Though it was widely considered haunted, Aldern had come back recently to try to renovate it, with the help of a caretaker whose description matches the lead ghoul at the farmhouse. Taeva decides to go wake and inform the party, while Hemlock follows up on the Scarnetti lead.

Just as Taeva is finishing telling her groggy friends the news, Hemlock returns to the garrison with a grim expression and another love letter for Veshenga:

You continue to ignore my invitations, my love. Did you not sense my need for you that evening after we hunted?

Pathfinder/D&D: Tradeskill Reputations

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(Originally Posted May 2009)

One of the changes to 3.5 that carried into the new Pathfinder RPG is the simplified tradeskill mechanic. If a character is trying to make a living at a trade, the GM is encouraged to give out half the check result in gold pieces. Unfortunately, this simple-to-remember system has a few problems:

  • The scale of this income is linear, while the scale of a character’s adventuring income is exponential. A character that specializes in a tradeskill will make an average of 10 gp a week at first level, and an average of 20 gp a week at 20th level. The extra 10 gp is probably not enough to justify sinking a skill rank into the skill for 20 levels.
  • Perform is on an entirely different, much harder to remember chart.
  • Crafting is actually on an exponential scale if you can convince your GM to let you craft specific items for sale rather than taking the ad hoc award.

This last point is the most troublesome. Once a character can regularly hit a DC 20, it’s far more profitable for a Crafter to make masterwork items than to use the ad hoc award. For example, a blacksmith that regularly rolls 20s can make a masterwork weapon in around 7 weeks. This weapon is worth over 300 gp with about 200 gp of that being profit. Meanwhile, if he’d been using the ad hoc award, he’d have made around 70 gp. If he can sell his masterwork item for at least 60% of its price, it’s far more profitable to craft individual items. In theory, there’s a chance of failure that means that invested materials cost more, but a canny player can figure out the risk-reward ratio and make far more money.

Professionals don’t have this option. Taking a Profession is far less useful than a Craft under the default system.

The easiest way to fix this would be to institute a system of raises: when just trying to earn money, the base DC is 10; failing earns nothing. For every extra 10 points the player adds to the DC before rolling, the income is doubled (e.g., a roll of 26 would earn 13 gp with no raises, 26 gp with one raise to 20, and no gp with two raises to 30).

But we can do something with that to add color to the setting.

Tradeskill Reputations

If this optional rule is in effect, tradeskill users develop a reputation in their home cities based on the quality of their work. This represents how widely known their work is for quality and what kind of prices their creations can command in the market or with patrons. For this system, all three tradeskills earn money in downtime in the same manner.

When attempting to make money from a tradeskill, the character’s check result is compared to a DC equal to his or her current reputation. If it equals or exceeds the check result, the character’s reputation increases by one. If it does not equal the result, or the character does not craft for a given period, the reputation might go down. As a character’s reputation in a skill increases, he or she becomes known for it and earns more income for practicing the craft. This income is commensurate with crafting items for sale at higher DCs.

Reputation Levels:

  • 0-9 (Unknown): The character is barely known in the city for his or her work. He or she only earns half the standard result (Check result x 1/4 gp per week). The character’s reputation is reduced by 1 for every week in which he or she does not engage in the tradeskill or does not meet the reputation DC with his or her crafting.
  • 10-19 (Known): The character has developed a reputation for quality, and can command normal prices for his or her work. He or she earns the standard result (Check result x 1/2 gp per week). The character’s reputation is reduced by 1 for every month in which he or she does not engage in the tradeskill, or every week he or she does not meet the reputation DC with his or her crafting.
  • 20-29 (Respected): The character’s reputation is shining within the city, and his or her goods or services are highly requested. He or she earns double the standard result (Check result x 1 gp per week). The character’s reputation is reduced by 1 for every year in which he or she does not engage in the tradeskill, or every week he or she does not meet the reputation DC with his or her crafting.
  • 30-39 (Master): The character is known throughout the city as the preeminant master of the skill. He or she earns three times the standard result (Check result x 1.5 gp per week). The character’s reputation is reduced by 1 for every decade in which he or she does not engage in the tradeskill, or every week he or she does not meet the reputation DC with his or her crafting.
  • 40-49 (Grandmaster): The character’s name is spread far and wide as the first choice for those that can afford it. He or she earns four times the standard result (Check result x 2 gp per week). The character’s reputation is reduced by 1 for every century in which he or she does not engage in the tradeskill, or every week he or she does not meet the reputation DC with his or her crafting.
  • 50+ (Legend): The character’s fame at the skill will be written into the history of the world. He or she earns five times the standard result (Check result x 2.5 gp per week). The character’s reputation will never fade.

These reputations mean slightly different things based on the character’s tradeskill:

Craft: As a crafter’s reputation improves, his or her maker’s mark becomes more commonly known and more and more individuals come for masterwork crafting. Even the crafter’s simpler wares command higher prices as they are known for quality or as objects of art. Eventually, all the character’s time is spent creating works for the richest individuals in the city, at commensurately high prices.

Profession: As a professional’s reputation improves, he or she becomes known as a worker that is more effective than a team of similar workers. Employers or patrons go out of their way to hire or patronize the character, and the character easily performs at a quality far beyond what would be expected from a normal member of the profession, ensuring future work. Eventually, the character works directly for the richest individuals in the city or has them as patrons for his or her service.

Perform: As a performer’s reputation improves, he or she becomes famous for the quality of his or her art. Whenever the character announces a show, the audience becomes more and more packed. Eventually, the character regularly sells out huge venues or plays directly for the richest individuals in the city.

Reputation is somewhat transitive: nearby cities may or may not have heard of the character. Depending on how much commerce of goods and information occurs between two cities, reduce the reputation of the character by 5-10 for each “step” between a home city and a new city until the character is once again starting from 0. For example, a crafter with a reputation of 25 might only have a reputation of 15 in the next big city and a reputation of 5 in the next city beyond that. If a character sets up shop on a more permanent basis in a new city, the reputation begins improving again from this level.

Characters may improve faster than one level of reputation per week with exceptional check results or relevant roleplaying, at the GM’s discretion. A character that can regularly create master quality results may not have to wait the better part of a year to grow back into his or her reputation.

Other skills might be tracked for reputation in a similar manner to determine how well known the character is for the use of that skill. Even if the skill does not offer income during downtime, it may affect roleplaying scenarios. For example, a character known as a master Diplomat may come to the attention of the local nobility for purposes of negotiations, while a master of a knowledge may be considered the preeminent scholar of that field.

The Skinsaw Murders, Part 2

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Meanwhile, Veshenga and Haggor speak to the two men downstairs. Ven is obviously destroyed by his daughter’s death, and Haggor immediately discounts him as a possible suspect. They talk to him for a few minutes, learning that he believed Harker was a terrible skinflint of a man. He blames himself for not keeping his daughter away, as he knew she was likely to come to a bad end if she kept up with the mill owner. Ibor is also easy to discount as a suspect, but has more interesting information after Haggor forces him to talk: Harker was embezzling from the mill, and, essentially, stealing from the Scarnetti noble family (who had a silent partnership in the business). He thinks that, if anyone would have killed Harker, it would have been over his cooking of the books. While they’re downstairs, the party confirms that the bodies of the con men are desecrated identically to Harker, including evidence of humanoid claw marks.

Getting Ven set free to return to his daughter, the party reconvenes for lunch. They discuss their information, and realize they have three useful leads remaining: the Scarnettis, the use of the Sihedron Rune, and the insane bodyguard of the con men. Passing back by the garrison, Hemlock suggests that they ask Brodert Quink about the rune, while he makes more diplomatic inquiries to the Scarnettis.

Brodert is as effusive as ever, though quickly realizes that the party has been holding out on him about the ruins they’ve been exploring. He gives them a brief rundown of what Thassilonian scholars know about the era (which isn’t much). He does inform them that it’s widely believed that the era was one of wizard kings (called Runelords) that each was heavily specialized in a school of magic. Interestingly, each school of magic was tied to one of what are now the deadly sins, and embodying this sin seems to have given the Runelords more power. He believes that, originally, the sins were seen as the virtues of rule, and it was only because the Runelords were so terrible that they began to be associated with sin.

With that angle taken care of, the party ventures out to the insane asylum to speak to the man found near the previous murders. The keeper of the asylum is reticent to let them in until Taeva quietly picks the door lock and Haggor is suddenly in his face. It quickly becomes apparent to all that the subject, Grayst Sevilla, is suffering from Ghoul Fever on top of being quite mad, and that the sanatorium keeper knew about this and was watching him slowly become a ghoul. On seeing Veshenga, the insane man becomes somewhat lucid, enough to rant about his master’s love for her and wish that she come to a place called the Misgivings. He then attacks, and has to be restrained. The party takes him back to town for medical attention, and Taeva locks the sanatorium staff into the building while they report to the Sheriff about the grisly goings on. Unfortunately, Hemlock is not sure what he can do about it, as the law is not especially concerned with what happens to insane brigands confined to a madhouse. The party also cannot learn any more about the Misgivings besides the fact that it is some kind of haunted house in the region.

The next morning, as the party has mostly stayed in the garrison to help treat Grayst, they hear a frantic knocking. Hemlock lets in an old farmer, who, terrified out of his mind, recounts a horrible tale of scarecrows stalking through the fields and an ill-advised investigation of the farmhouse that seemed to be the epicenter of the monster attacks. His friends obviously attacked by ghouls, the party sets out at once to deal with the new incursion.

As they get closer to the Hambley Farm, other farmers become obviously more scared, speaking of the scarecrows that have been attacking throughout the Soggy River area. The party finally gets close to the farm, and finds a shockingly large number of scarecrows propped up amidst the skeletal stalks of previously-harvested grains. The first they see is violently attacked, only to explode into straw. The second begins to struggle as they approach, and attacking it quickly reveals that it is a ghoul dressed as a scarecrow and tied to a post (likely infected as a mortal and left there). The party proceeds cautiously, taking out several other ghoul scarecrows before reaching the farmhouse.

Approaching the farm leads the party right into an ambush, as ghouls swarm around the barn, from out of the fields, and from inside the house. One particularly finely dressed ghoul, wearing a large key around his neck, tears into Haggor. Taeva and Veshenga perforate several ghouls as Balekh manifests the might of his god to drive them away. Once most of the creatures are turned, it is short work to destroy the rest of them, though Haggor and Veshenga both take vicious wounds that are in danger of infection. The other members of the party also notice that Taeva seems to be able to sneak attack these creatures, against the common wisdom.

After the ghouls are defeated or have run off, the party checks the inside of the house and finds a several-day-old body, killed in the same style as the other murder victims. Pinned to him is yet another note for Veshenga:

Take the fever into you, my love—it shall be but the first of my gifts to you.

ASIFRP Intrigue System for D&D

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(Originally posted April 2009)

The intrigue (social combat) system in the A Song of Ice and Fire RPG seems pretty good… good enough to simplify and repurpose for D&D. I included the options that made the most sense for D&D (and were simplest to convert when I was staying up late trying to do it).

D&D Intrigue System

Traits and Defenses

Intrigue Defense

3e: Total of mental modifiers (Int, Wis, and Cha) + Level + 10

4e: Will Defense

Composure

3e/4e: Highest mental trait

Influence

3e/4e: 1d6 (+1d6 for every 5 margin of success over Intrigue Defense)

Basics

An intrigue is a social exchange between two or more characters attempting to gain advantage. Typically, an intrigue only occurs if all characters in the intrigue want something that they believe can only be provided by social interaction with the opposing side (characters that know they only stand to lose from an intrigue will typically fight or flee instead of negotiating). There are three levels of intrigue:

  • Simple: A single exchange of tests is made, with the winner achieving his or her objective. A simple intrigue typically only happens when one party is easily cowed.
  • Standard: Several exchanges are made, until one side loses or exits the intrigue. Standard intrigues cover most intrigues.
  • Complex: Several standard intrigues are played over an extended period, with victory going to the side with the highest net successes. Complex intrigues cover long-term plots and machinations, often between whole factions.

When beginning an intrigue, both sides should determine objectives, scene, leaders, and disposition.

Objectives

All intrigues require both sides to have a general objective (such as making friends, gaining information, exacting a service, or sowing lies). A side’s objectives determines what tactics make sense for the exchanges and, more importantly, which skill is used in the exchange:

  • Diplomacy: If your side genuinely expects the results of an intrigue to be mutually beneficial (or at least not seriously detrimental to the opponent) and plans to deal fairly, then use Diplomacy.
  • Bluff: If your side expects to lie and cheat when dealing with the opponent, likely resulting in far more benefit to yourself than the opponent would expect, then use Bluff.
  • Intimidate: If your side expects to use fear and threats (of direct harm from you or from some other impending doom), but otherwise deal honestly with the opponent, then use Intimidate.

If objectives shift midway through an intrigue, a different skill might be used for the remainder.

Scene

The setting of an intrigue can impose a circumstance bonus or penalty to rolls for tactics that are very appropriate or inappropriate. This bonus should normally be the standard plus or minus two, but might go as high as 10. For example, a seduction is much easier in a tavern than in a church. In addition, offering something the opponent wants might grant a circumstance bonus, while offering a very poor deal could apply a penalty.

Leaders

Each side of an intrigue must designate a leader that will be the primary speaker. In two-person intrigues, these leaders are easily chosen. When more than one individual represents a side, whoever will be doing the talking and making the decisions will serve as leader, and allies can use actions that assist (but cannot directly affect the opponent’s Composure).

In some circumstances, leadership may be split between a speaker and a decision maker (such as a major domo speaking for a lord). In this case, the speaker rolls against the opponents, but the opponents roll against the decision maker.

Sometimes, multiple intrigues will occur simultaneously that involve a group of allies. In this case, a different leader should be selected for each intrigue, with non-leaders able to float between intrigues and assist different leaders from exchange to exchange.

Disposition

Both leaders in an intrigue should determine their dispositions to one another. A disposition is a summary of how the character feels about his or her opponent. Disposition generally persists between meetings, but can be modified by the results of the intrigue. A character that likes an opponent is easier to influence, but finds it easier to deal diplomatically with that opponent. A character that dislikes an opponent is harder to influence and finds it easier to intimidate or lie to that opponent, but finds diplomacy much harder.

Find your character’s disposition on the chart below. Subtract the DR entry each time Influence is applied to your Composure. Add the listed modifiers to skill rolls you make.

Disposition

DR

Bluff or
Intimidate

Diplomacy

Affectionate 1 –2 +5
Friendly 2 –1 +3
Amiable 3 0 +1
Indifferent 4 0 0
Dislike 5 +1 –2
Unfriendly 6 +2 –4
Malicious 7 +3 –6

If you have just met a character, you begin as indifferent to one another. If the character makes his or her status and deeds known to you before the intrigue, roll an appropriate knowledge skill to see if you know whether these facts are true (DC is equal to the target’s level + 10). If you fail, raise your disposition by one level friendlier.

Your opinion may also be adjusted by obvious features of your opponent. If applicable, adjust your disposition by the levels indicated in the chart below:

Factor Modifier
Opponent is attractive +1 step
Opponent is known for honor +1 step
Opponent is known to be just +1 step
Opponent is from allied group +2 steps
Opponent is ugly –1 step
Opponent is known for decadence –1 step
Opponent is known for cruelty –1 step
Opponent is hideous –2 steps
Opponent is known for treacherousness –2 steps
Opponent is from enemy group –2 steps
Opponent is from a distant land –1 step

Exchanges

Each exchange represents several minutes (possibly up to an hour or more) of conversation, or whatever length of discussion seems appropriate from a roleplaying standpoint. Leaders and allies should roleplay what their characters are doing in the conversation, or simply give a general idea of their conversational techniques to the GM. This roleplaying will help determine the choice of tactic, and can give a circumstance bonus or penalty to the roll (up to plus or minus six).

Initiative is not tracked; Composure losses are not tallied until the end of the exchange. If both sides are defeated in the same exchange, both sides achieve their goals if not mutually exclusive. If only one can win, a tie goes to the side with higher social status (represented by actual status, level, or pure Charisma).

In each exchange, the leader will likely engage in a tactic (but may choose a support action) while allies engage in support actions. Tactics are the only way to reduce the Composure of the opponent, but support actions assist in this goal.

Tactics

There are seven main tactics in an exchange. Characters will generally use the same tactic for the duration of the intrigue, but might switch based on circumstances within the conflict. After attempting a tactic, roll the appropriate social skill against the target’s Intrigue Defense. If successful, roll the Influence dice, subtract the opponent’s DR (from disposition), and apply the remainder as damage to the target’s Composure. If the target is reduced to 0 Composure or below, the effect of the tactic occurs in addition to any other roleplaying gains from the intrigue.

Tactic Effect
Bargain Target gives discount or exchange based on disposition (see chart below)
Charm Improve target’s disposition by one step and +2 on tests against target in next exchange
Convince Target assists in a particular task or trial, but (with low disposition) may be looking to betray you
Incite Target’s disposition to another target drops by your Charisma modifier
Intimidate Target flees if possible (becomes Amiable if not) for the scene, then drops to Unfriendly or worse
Seduce Improve target’s disposition by Charisma modifier and engage in carnal acts if friendly and compatible; target’s disposition drops by one rank per day until one less than original unless maintained
Taunt Target performs taunted action (if reasonable for disposition) then disposition drops by one step
Disposition Bargain Effect
Affectionate Target gives you the goods or service for nothing in exchange.
Friendly Target gives you the goods at discount (Cha mod × –10%) or for some minor service in exchange.
Amiable Target gives you the goods at discount (Cha mod × –5%) or for a very easy service in exchange.
Indifferent Target gives you the goods at discount (Cha mod × –2%) or for a service in exchange.
Dislike Target gives you the goods at discount (Cha mod × –1%) or for a service in exchange. The target may renege on the bargain if the demanded service is dangerous.
Unfriendly Target gives you the goods at normal price or for an equal service in exchange.
Malicious Target sells you the item at normal price but foists off a shoddy or damaged good. Target may perform the service but renege if he or she can get away with it.

Secondary Actions

Allies (or leaders seeking an advantage not available through tactics) may use their actions in an exchange to try secondary actions. These actions modify the tactics of the leaders.

Action Effect
Assist Bluff, Diplomacy, or Intimidate (same as leader’s skill) vs. target’s Intrigue Defense; if successful, apply a +2 to leader’s next roll (cumulative from multiple allies)
Fast Talk Bluff vs. target’s Intrigue Defense; if successful, apply a -2 to target’s Intrigue Defense until the end of the next exchange (not cumulative from multiple allies)
Fight Intrigue ends and combat begins
Mollify Diplomacy vs. target’s Intrigue Defense; if successful, target’s opponent regains Composure equal to your Charisma modifier
Quit Leave intrigue (with possible social ramifications)
Read Target Sense Motive/Empathy vs. target’s Bluff +10/passive Bluff; if successful, learn target’s current disposition and planned tactic for the next exchange

Resolution

Once one leader is reduced to 0 or less Composure during an exchange, the intrigue is over. The winner achieves his or her goal, at least for now.

The Skinsaw Murders, Part 1

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Game Time: Late Fall, 4707
Real Time: May, 2009

Love Letters for Veshenga

It’s been a busy few weeks, as the winter sets in. Balekh has been busily crafting magic items for the party, meanwhile starting up a romance with Shayliss, the girl who approached him previously about her rat problem (this time, the dating is with her father’s permission). Taeva has been practicing her craft as a locksmith. The both of them recently moved to Ameiko’s manor house to leave her a couple of extra rooms to rent in the inn. Haggor, likewise, moved out of the inn and is trying to practice his asceticism by living in a cave for the winter. Veshenga remains in town, spending more time with the other Varisians, gaining more of a role in their culture.

She wakes early one morning to the Sheriff knocking at her door in the inn. He asks her to find Haggor and meet him at the town sawmill to help with an investigation. A deputy meanwhile wakes Balekh and Taeva for the same purpose. Taeva claims that she’s going to ignore it and sleeps in, but winds up joining the other three on the way back down the hill to town as she overhears them being imprecise.

A small crowd has already begun to gather at the sawmill by the time the party arrives, and townsfolk begin to bother them for gossip as they head in. Taeva yells at them to go home in her most intimidating manner, and scatters several of the less-dedicated gawkers. Hemlock takes them aside and out of earshot to explain that he’s brought them here to investigate a double-murder: the mill owner and his assumed lover. Balekh quickly realizes that this is likely the older sister of his own girlfriend; Hemlock gives him the opportunity to bow out of the investigation, but he decides to proceed anyway. The Sheriff notes that this is the second murder in this style in the past few days, and that they should come by the garrison after they’re done investigating to interview the witnesses/suspects and look at the previous evidence.

Hemlock also shows them a note left for Veshenga on the body, written in blood:

You will learn to love me, desire me in time as she did. Give yourself to the Pack and it shall all end. – Yr. Lordship

The inside of the mill is an abattoir. Before they notice anything else, they notice the destroyed body of a young woman fallen across the log splitting saws. Balekh confirms that it is Katrine Vinder. The guard on duty turns their attention to the other victim, most likely Harker, the mill owner. He has obviously been murdered in a ritualistic fashion, hooked to the wall, his face and jaw flayed off, and a seven-pointed star carved into his chest. The party immediately recognizes this symbol as a match for the carvings and magic items found at Thistletop, which Balekh identifies as the Sihedron Rune. Further investigation reveals several clues:

  • The struggle was between the two victims and a barefoot man.
  • The murderer was there for Harker; Katrine arrived unexpectedly, tried to swing an axe to save her boyfriend, and was shoved into the saws.
  • There is a horrible stink to the bare footprints and the axe used to attack the murderer while Harker’s body includes several claw marks made by a humanoid hand; the murderer was most likely some kind of corporeal undead.
  • The murderer waited across the river, watching, for a long while then crossed to the docks and climbed into the mill through an upper window. It is likely he swam or walked along the bottom of the river, because there is no trail away from the site by land.

Confident that they have uncovered the available clues, the party splits up. Balekh goes to break the news to Shayliss about her sister, while the rest return to the garrison. There, Hemlock points out that he has two potential witnesses/suspects in the cells: Ibor Thorn (Harker’s business partner) and Ven Vinder (Katrine’s father). He also has the evidence from the previous murder. Taeva stays upstairs to review this evidence while Veshenga and Haggor go down to question the witnesses.

Hemlock outlines to Taeva that three bodies desecrated in the exact same manner were found two days previously. They were dead in a farmhouse and only discovered because their crazed and delirious bodyguard assaulted guards patrolling nearby. Based on the note found on their person, they were identified as local con-men and persistent ne’er-do-wells. Before today’s murder, Hemlock had simply assumed they had been killed in revenge by someone they had wronged, so had not brought it to the party’s attention. Their bodyguard had been remanded to a local insane asylum. The note on the bodies was written in a similar hand to Veshenga’s letter, though in ink this time:

Messrs. Mortwell, Hask, and Tabe —

A deal has come about that I need capital in. It involves property and gold, and though I am not at liberty to tell you the exact details, it will make us all rich. Come to Bradley’s Barn on Cougar Creek tonight. We can meet there to discuss our futures. – Yr. Lordship