Feb 23, 2015

Lore Garbage: Necrocarcerus

Alex Chalk tagged me into Lore Garbage, so here are ten things about Necrocarcerus that are purely self-indulgent setting pieces about it that rarely come up during adventuring:

1) The four utilities (Water, Power, Gas and Phone) are all elementally-aligned mega-corporations engaged in a bitterly cold war with one another. Water (HydroNec) is functionally destroyed, and now basically just an order of assassins obsessed with purity. Gas (PetroNec) makes most of the golems (out of plastic) and war machines. Power (Necrogen) is a bunch of ineffectual kleptocrats sitting atop a vast pool of elemental slaves. Phone (Necrotel) used to be Post (Necromail) until an internal coup by the partisans of an intelligent crystal re-oriented their business. They still deliver the mail.

2) Despite being very precisely 9998 years old, most of Necrocarcerus' history is lost due to an event just referred to as the Incident that happened about 3,000 years ago. Anyone who predates that isn't talking about it, and the only thing that's certain is that there was a higher baseline of technology and magic pre-Incident, as well as a different standard language than Regular. Most of Necrocarcerus used to be one giant urban megalopolis, and the wilderness only really came back after the Incident. That's why the capital of Necrocarcerus is referred to as "Downtown".

3) People from our earth go to Necrocarcerus when they die. There are Christians, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, atheists and everything else; cavemen and people from the 34th century. People who die on other planets in our future don't go there, only people who die on Earth. You can play yourself if you really want to, it doesn't matter to me.

4) Necrocarcerus has no "nature", and things like dogs, horses, deer, trees, rocks, etc. are crude copies created by the Guardians, who have never seen the originals, based on verbal descriptions and hand-drawn pictures by amnesiacs. It's not uncommon to find things like ancient artifacts with thick black outlines copied over from the original sketches. In general, the more like a children's scribble something looks, the older it is. A handful of later citizens who were formerly artists are responsible for most of Necrocarcerus looking "realistic", and you can tell who did what if you know its art history.

5) Necrocarcerus' sun is a giant light bulb screwed into the dome of the sky, and it has to be changed every thousand-odd years (by elementals employed by Power). The light doesn't kill vampires, though it does hurt them. Similarly, the "stars" are actually giant collections of giant glowing spiders who live on the dome and lay IOUN stone eggs. They move around a lot and are unfriendly.

6) The Guardians are kind of stupid and gullible, except for the handful that are pursuing malign alien motivations. The Guardians don't rule Necrocarcerus because they don't know how, though they've tried a couple of times and screwed it up. The Guardians don't know the purpose of Necrocarcerus because that part of the transmission was cut off, and they're not sure how to end Necrocarcerus because that part of the transmission was lost (or stolen, no one's sure). The Guardians are not entirely sure who the Creator is, except that it created them and must be obeyed. Guardians get smarter the longer they're around, but are still basically semi-sentient golem-like dopes at the end of the day. The Guardians don't have magic powers beyond what's available to other people, they just know how to create a few key kinds of installations that let them do the rest (incarnation temples, hylic manufactories, dream pyramids, posi-plants, etc.). They can make these out of basically any raw materials that are laying around, and they don't know how to teach other people how to build them.

7) The Association of Useful Citizens (AUC - the government of most of Necrocarcerus) is basically an autonomous bureaucracy that legitimises a huge number of petty warlords. Nobody is really "in charge", though a ton of people think they are. AUC's main source of power is that someone convinced most of the Guardians that AUC is the legitimate and correct government for Necrocarcerus, and so they control most of the Guardians' facilities. Otherwise, AUC is mostly a brand-name various tyrants franchise themselves.

8) Every thinking thing produces brain juice which can be distilled into nepenthe. Usually the Guardians drain people's memories when they're first incarnated, but citizens continue to produce more brain juice as they continue to exist, so it would be theoretically possible to extract it and turn it into more nepenthe. The undead are basically creatures whose brain juice has been contaminated by Nega-Energy, making it crystallise and otherwise function weirdly (skeletons and the like have had theirs evaporated into a mist that follows them around). Without distillation, all drinking brain juice does is give you XP as you absorb fragments of habits, skills and memories. It's distillation that makes the actual memories available.

9) Everything in Necrocarcerus is made of one of two substances, or a mixture of the two: Hyle and Pneuma. Hyle is psychically inert matter, pneuma is psychically & magically active matter. Most non-living material objects are made of hyle - swords, tables, buildings, etc. So are most bodies, though brains are crafted from pneuma (greater or lesser amounts determines your degree of sentience). There are people called "dream smiths" who can create items entirely out of pneuma in their dreams, but they're mostly imprisoned by the government and used for nefarious purposes, with teams of artisans being psychically projected into their minds to create complex horrors that can be then extracted back into Necrocarcerus. The most common origin of non-undead, non-golemic monsters is someone dumping unused pneuma in the wilderness where animal-likes stumble across it and mutate.

10) There are portals to the living worlds all over the place. It's just most people don't know about them, or how to use them, so they're at the mercy of whichever few happen to be open at a given time. The phone company mostly prevents them from opening & closes ones that are open because they interfere with cellular reception. Most of these portals open at best intermittently, or require rare keys, etc. Also, most folks are loosely aware that if you jump through a portal without proper preparation (whatever that means), you can only stick around in the living worlds for a short while before you're sucked back into Necrocarcerus.

Feb 6, 2015

Psionic Combat Rules

From the psionics document I'm working on. A power pool is composed of dice of equal type and number to a creature's hit dice, and are expended to manifest powers, and dedicated (removed from the pool temporarily) to maintain powers. Powers can't be maintained when a creature rests.

Psionic Combat

Any psionically active creature may engage in psionic combat, even with creatures that are not themselves psionically active. Creatures must have minds, even if very rudimentary ones. Constructs, unintelligent undead, and most plants are immune to psionic combat.

To begin psionic combat, a psionically active creature must have line of sight, or must be able to perceive the creature through some other means (clairvoyance, seeing through dimensions, a psionic scan, etc.)

Creatures attacking in psionic combat are dazed during the round psionic combat occurs – they may not move or act, but are not helpless for the purposes of being easily coup-de-graced.

Psionic combat occurs in normal initiative order.


The psionic attacker chooses a target, and an attack mode. The defender chooses a defence mode, if they possess any. Only one attack or defense mode may be chosen by each side in a single exchange of psionic combat. If the defender is not aware of the attacker, is surprised, stunned, asleep, unconscious, etc., they may only defend themselves if they possess the Cognitive Labyrinth defense mode.

Spellcasters with memorised spells may choose to sacrifice memorised spells to add a bonus to their defense roll equal to the total level of memorised spells sacrificed.

Participating in psionic combat does not count as manifesting a power, and does not cause dice used in it to be expended.

Each side rolls their current power pool. They may choose to only roll a portion of their available power pool if they wish. Each roll is summed, with the higher total winning the combat.

If the attacker wins, the defender comes under their psionic control. If the attack mode causes any additional effects, they take place. The effects of attack modes that endure beyond the initial attack last so long as psionic control is maintained.

If the defender wins, the attacker loses a die from their power pool and is stunned for one round. Any psionic control the attacker is exerting over other creatures ceases immediately. The defender may move and act normally (including launching their own psionic counter-attack if they wish to and are capable.


Attacker chooses target and attack mode
Defender chooses defense mode
Spellcasters defending choose whether to sacrifice memorised spells
Each side rolls their current power pool and sums the rolled dice
The attacker either establishes psionic control or is rebuffed and loses a die from the current power pool

Attack Modes

Mental Stab: Mental stab is a blast of focused psionic energy lashing out at the conscious thoughts of the opponent. The die type used by the attacker is upgraded by two using the following scale. 1d4 – 1d6 – 1d8 – 1d10 – 1d12 – 1d20

Personality Invasion: The attacker attempts to replace the defender’s personality with their own by merging their minds. Upon a successful mental attack the target is mentally possessed by the attacker, who may operate their body as if it was their own. The puppet receives a saving throw if commanded to perform actions that endanger them.

Psionic Wave: The attacker radiates a wave of willpower affecting multiple opponents. The attacker may attack multiple opponents simultaneously. The defenders count as conducting a group psionic operation. Upon a successful attack, the attacker may use a single action to maintain psionic control of all of the defenders simultaneously. When relinquishing psionic control, all defenders must be released simultaneously.

Subconscious Subversion: The target’s basest impulses are turned against itself. Upon a successful attack, the attacker may choose to frighten the opponent, as per the Fear spell. This effect persists even after the attacker ceases psionic control.

Synaptic Overload: The target’s own psionic energy is redirected against itself by the force of the attacker’s will. Upon a successful attack, the defender takes damage equal to the sum of the dice it rolled to defend itself.

Defense Modes

Barrier Mantra: The defender fills their mind with repetitive images and phrases which provide a decoy for the attack. If the defender loses the psionic combat, they are stunned for one round instead of falling under the psionic control of the attacker.

Blank Mind: The defender empties their mind to make it harder for attackers to locate. The attacker must make a saving throw. If they fail the saving throw, the attack automatically fails, and they lose a die from their current power pool.

Cognitive Labyrinth: The defender’s mind is a warren of mental traps and illusions. The defender may defend even when unconscious, surprised, resting, asleep, dazed, etc. so long as they are not already under psionic control.

Imagination Swarm: The defender creates a swarm of imaginary thoughts that seek out nearby minds. The defender may choose draw allied non-psionic creatures into the psionic combat. The defenders count as conducting a group psionic operation. The allies are dazed for one round. If the attack is still successful, then the attack affects all equally. Psionically active creatures may also use this defence mode to participate in a psionic combat that is targeting an ally they can see.

Pinnacle of Will: The defender beats back the attack through willpower. The die type used by the defender is upgraded by one using the following scale: 1d4 – 1d6 – 1d8 – 1d10 – 1d12 – 1d20

and on psionic control:

Psionic Control

Psionic control is the state a creature is in when their mind has been successfully attacked through psionic combat.

Once established, psionic control over a creature may be maintained either by dedicating a die from the controller`s current power pool to it, or by the controller using an action each round. If the controller is dedicating an action to maintain the control, they must remain able to perceive the creature each round, but if a die is dedicated to it, the link will be maintained until the controller chooses to relinquish it.

A creature under psionic control has their current power pool reduced to 0, and they are helpless unless the controller permits them to act. The controller may not dictate the creature`s actions, they may merely declare whether they are allowed to act or not.

Any psionic powers the creature is maintaining cease when psionic control is established over it, and dice used to maintain them are expended.

Psionically attacking a creature under psionic control automatically attacks the controller, even if they cannot be seen or otherwise detected.

Feb 2, 2015


I believe that one of the critical flaws with using traps in old school games is the lack of clarity around being forewarned of them or clear guidelines for detecting them, outside of a few powers. This causes traps to often feel unfair, but also to be somewhat uninteresting, because there is almost no player agency involved, with the exception of if it is a big set-piece trap-puzzle combination. The later are fine, but are comparatively difficult and time-consuming to design, so traps tend to occur rarely.

I would propose that an adaptation of my wandering monster table design may assist. The main advantage of using such a table would be to populate it with forewarning of the traps ahead. While there would still be the occasional risk of a trap with no forewarning, this would be considerably reduced and would now exist on a spectrum. One could either use such a table dynamically, or to populate the dungeon with traps.

Here's an example modification of the table to become a trap table. Click on it to see a larger version.

Once again, one rolls 2d6 to determine the trap, and 1d6 to determine which element of the trap is discovered.

Triggers mean PCs have either immediately triggered the trap, while Danger Zone means that they are in or about to enter the area where the trap can affect them. Depending on the trap, Danger Zone may mean it is activated as well, or merely that it if it is activated, anyone within it will be harmed. A result of "Corpses" mean the PCs encounter people who have been slain by the trap, while Detritus is various bits of suggestive dungeon scenery that imply a trap without necessarily making clear what kind. Active Warning means the PCs receive a bit of forewarning if they are actively searching, or begin actively searching the area, while Passive Warnings are elements that are immediately obvious, but not necessarily clear enough to act on without further information.

One side effect of using tables is that PCs will often encounter, through Detritus and Corpses, evidence of traps whose actual location is nowhere near them. I prefer to handle these situations by treating them as indicating the presence of a disabled or previously-activated trap, or one might alternately treating them as where the final evidence of the trap ended up and generate ideas related to how and why the severed half-foot is two corridors down in a pile of rat dung rather than next to the trap itself.

The above table doesn't include the stats of the traps, but any version I use has their stats, relevant saves, etc. to the right, organised by relevant row.