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Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Adventures in the Canopy (System Neutral)

Known as the mega forests of  Cul Tur in my game world. Just East of the second dwarven  stronghold, nestled between the  mountains and the coast. Once home to loosely united Rakasta tribes, now just shadowy jungles left unexplored. No one has ever gone there in game, I doubt anyone will.

I guess it's safe to blog about my thoughts on one of the least talked about biomes in fantasy RPG's.

Lets Jungle....

The Forest Canopy:
When it comes to  real life biodiversity  the Jungle canopies are some of the most biodiverse places on earth. Keeping this in mind, it's easy to extrapolate that in a magical fantasy setting the canopy perched high above the floor of a jungle could be home to just about anything.

Native vs Non-Naitve:
One recurring theme in this blog will be that of native Jungle dwellers Vs visiting  travelers. The Native populations will have EVERY ADVANTAGE in this territory with the possible exception of technology. Most native societies in jungle terrain subsist via hunting and gathering. Everything they need the jungle provides. The technologies that helps other societies produce more things with fewer resources are just not necessary.
It would be easy for a party to think native people are somehow not as intelligent or capable as they are. That would be a fatal mistake.  The  Native populations in jungles are masters of their environment, they have to be. As such they do not suffer most if any of the penalties listed in this document. They hear better in the jungle, move faster, and see farther than visitors. They know what to eat and how. They know what's poison and what's not. A native population will use all of these advantages to help or hinder a party based on how the party interacts with them. It would be wise for a party to  approach the people living in the jungle with respect and  as possible allies. Anything else should be taken by the GM as a good reason to make the characters time in the jungle that much more difficult.

Native weapons:
Like I said the forest provides. Natives will used the  things they have learned living in the forest to their advantage when crafting weapons.


  • Blow guns are fast to aim and when treated with  poison from native creatures (famously poison dart frogs) lethal.  An effective range of 30 to 40 yards is a good place to start if you game does not have rules for blowguns.
  • Spears: Used to spear fish, sometimes poisoned for monkey hunting, rarely thrown.
  • Short Bows: Some tribes use very  compact bows made from wood, vines, and hide. These small bows are perfect for maneuvering in the clutter of a rain forest and in the hands of an expert are not hindered by the foliage in any way.   These bows can be treated as normal short bows for game purposes. Arrows are often light and poisoned.
  • Cudgels knives and clubs. Most simple weapons are well within the  capabilities of Jungle native, usually created from wood, or other natural materials. Some are ceremonial while some are reserved for wars with other tribes. Often good fighting weapons are not great hunting weapons.
  • Armor: Natives in a rainforest will rarely wear armor. Instead relying on their deep knowledge of the  terrain, surprise and mobility to protect them.
  • The use of poison is part of  jungle hunting culture. An art passed down  through generations. The climate of the jungle makes lighter ranged weapons advantageous Poison is a part of hunting  that ensures game kills by compensating for lighter ammunition. There is no morality about using poison in the jungle. Poison is how food is attained while expending the least amount of resources. Native warriors will not have any inclination to not use poison on an aggressor. Players beware.


Weather:
Just some quick hitters here: The average temperature of a rain forest is about 77° Fahrenheit but can
range up to 100 degrees during the day and drop back down to 50 Degrees at night. The annual precipitation of a rain forest is greater than 50 to 260 inches per year. During the rainy season as much as 4 inches can fall in a day of steady  unrelenting rain. Furthermore even more precipitation comes from the forest's own evaporation. The heat, daily rain, and condensation makes the rain-forest extremely wet and oppressively humid.

What does this mean for a party of adventurers? Trying to traverse this terrain in full armor of any beyond studded leather is pretty much suicidal. Metal items such as weapons and armor will suffer and need to be meticulously maintained. Chain mail and plate mail will stiffen quickly, within days of entering a rain forest. Blades will dull, over time even leather will begin to rot right off a character.
Armor and weapons can be protected vial oiling to keep away the moisture. This will have to be done daily.  Magical means of preservation are also a good choice if your game allows for it.
Magical weapons and armor should be allowed more time before any degradation occurs. If the DM wants to have the climate effect enchanted weapons I think saves vs the elements that get progressively more difficult as time goes on are a good way to go. Nature will have it's way even with enchanted items if given enough time.

Storms when they strike can be sudden and violent. Lighting strikes and falling limbs make it very wise for characters to find shelter as soon as they can.
If the GM determines a severe storm blows in. Any characters caught in the trees or outside on the forest floor must check each turn  to see if they are hit or at least threatened by blowing or falling debris. As a reminder heavy branches will and do fall, and from great heights. I feel these checks should  be cumulative, meaning the longer the character is exposed the better a chance something will fall on them.

Use the chart below to determine things that befall the characters when left exposed to a bad storm.

  • 1- 25 Loose debris, the character must spend a round dealing with getting the wind blow debris off of them.
  • 26 - 50 Small branch, the character must make a low difficulty check to keep their footing. 
  • 51 -65 Branch, the character gets whacked by a falling or blowing branch taking light damage.
  • 66 -73 Bigger branch: The character gets hit doing moderate damage and  losing their footing. there is a 15% chance the branch pins the character.
  • 74 -84 Vine fall: A group of vines have fallen on the character or party, they are effectively entangled. the  group might sustained light damage , if the  vines or  from high enough up.
  • 85-93 large branch: This falls at the character, give them a roll to avoid it for half damage otherwise they should take heavy damage, have a 40% chance to be pinned.
  • 94 - 97 Tree fall: A large tree uproots and falls. Hopefully not the one you are standing in. This is a big deal basically encompassing the whole chart in one roll. All hell breaks loose. Characters should save for half damage or  take a huge hit. Characters will be caught up and entangled 90% o f the time by the  mass of branches and vines that come down with the tree.
  • 98-100 Lightning strike: Lightning strikes a tree near the characters. They take electrical damage based on the system being used. There is a 10% chance a fire starts on the ground among the forest floor litter.
Small rain storms, and even longer soaking rains happen daily in a rain forest. Not every storm has to be violent. The Gm should mention rain at least once a day to remind player exactly how wet and oppressively humid their surroundings are.


Visibility and Senses:
Leaves, massive tree trunks, branches, vines, all make it easier to hide. Furthermore there is a lot of background noise in a jungle setting. Checks to perceive threats are far more difficult for non native characters. Once above the ground in the canopy a character is lucky to see beyond their own tree and into the next 30 to  50 foot visibility at best. If the characters go higher to get above the canopy they will only see a sea of green below them stretching for miles. Good to see a tower or massive tree the party is looking for but not so good for finding that monkey that just stole their scroll case.

Range:
Ranged attacks again for non native shooters, should be heavily modified to account for the clutter of limbs and leaves the  character is trying to shoot through.
A smart party might offset some of these problems by gaining a height advantage on an opponent. There are ample opportunities to go upward when the  situation calls for it. Shooting down on your target will offset some of the negative modifiers.

Travel:
 The ground level  will be surprisingly devoid of apparent food, dark, punishingly humid and eerily quiet. For the  most part the  massive trees catch 90% of the sun, most of the rain, and keep the forest floor covered in a constant litter of  sound dampening leaves. The thick undergrowth of vines and stalk plants make ground travel difficult and slow.
Traveling on the forest floor at least keeps the party safe from falling out of a tree but it's best to  bring plenty of rations you can trust, or at least a knowledgeable guide.

  • A ranger Could make a moderately difficult check to know that this kind of forest will not offer good good chances to hunt large game. A guide or ranger can keep you alive via forage.
  • Foraging is at a disadvantage and or a high difficulty for those attempting it. Things are strange here, there are many dangerous plants and animals not found anywhere else.
  • Any fruit or plant eaten will have a chance to be poisonous. In the jungle everything gets eaten by something. Plants and animals have evolved unique, varied, and surprising natural defenses. In short everything is trying to kill you before you have the chance to eat it.
  • A knowledge check by a ranger or Druid can locate small sources of potable freshwater. Pitcher plants, wet moss, the undersides of large leaves, hollow stalks and some wet root balls are all options for fresh water. This check is to find safe fresh water, not just any old water.
  • Larger sources of water such as pools and streams, even rivers are also plentiful, and obvious. These also draw other animals, and are known by locals.  
  • Party members would be wise to  be wary of  water in the open, as it is likely to carry parasites. In this environment stick to boiling everything. ("purify food and water" can save a D&D style party!)
  • Making headway will be slow as the group will often have to chop their way through the underbrush. If characters are using their normal weapons to do this the GM should apply penalties to any character who does not  take time to maintain their weapons at the end of a day. (this compounds the damage the wet environment will do.)
  • A Druids magical abilities would be very useful in this environment.
Strenuous work, such as combat, hauling heavy loads, and even just walking if armored can cause great fatigue in the humid and wet conditions.

(One version of D&D lists Fatigue as: A fatigued character can neither run nor charge and takes a "-2 penalty to Strength and Dexterity. Doing anything that would normally cause fatigue causes the fatigued character to become exhausted"
and Exhausted as:
"An exhausted character moves at half speed and takes a –6 penalty to Strength and Dexterity. After 1 hour of complete rest, an exhausted character becomes fatigued.")
I don't think this way of handling things is all that bad.

 After every hour of  working in the  heat and humidity of the jungle have players make a check for their character with penalties applied for medium or heavy armor. If the check fails the character becomes fatigued. On the next check a fatigued player becomes exhausted, and if an exhausted character fails the check the character passes out cold.
Resting for an hour will bring a character from exhausted to fatigued and a fatigue character back to  normal.

If on a march in normal terrain the characters could cover 25 miles along a good road on a good day. In the  rain forest the same party might (Might) make 12 miles in the same day.  Bushwhacking is hard work and the  characters will have to take frequent rests. (see above)
Unless there are trails cut for the party horses are useless, mules are better but not by much.
considering we are talking about fantasy games there may be some magical native species that can act as beasts of burden. Examples might be giant lizards which can climb the trees, large bats, or whatever the GM can dream up.

Moving in the trees is another matter.
I wrote a post about falling a while back:
Things get more interesting in the  canopy high above the forest floor. The understory layer up through the canopy are worlds of damp  mists, foliage and predation. 

The  continuous layer of  dense foliage formed by adjacent tree tops is known as the canopy. This area  starts around 100 ft up and runs as high as 150 ft or for our uses 200 ft into the air. What makes the  canopy  interesting  for  adventuring parties is the overwhelming biodiversity of the place. Animals and plants adapted to living in the trees and nowhere else make the canopy a treasure trove of rare spell components and medicinal resources. 
Travel in the canopy is  dangerous. First things first, the characters are high above the ground. Add to that the unsteadiness of branches, the  inability to see, and an ever changing surface underfoot, falling becomes a very real threat.

Moving within a tree is one thing. If a character climbs a tree and is reasonably careful while in the tree a game master may not need to ask for any checks. For example a character who  ropes off once he or she is in the trees and  states that they are taking  care when moving about should get the benefit of the doubt from the GM. The player who says "I'm gonna climb the tree and grab the orange fruit," without any expressed thought about safety should be asked to make checks.
Moving from tree to tree should always require checks. Running, jumping, or otherwise moving with haste or recklessness should be rewarded with harder checks.

When a Character is moving through  the canopy tree to tree.
  • Make a Check to see if the characters moved from  tree to tree successfully, apply modifiers for care  or  recklessness shown by the  character.
    • Passed: Good! The character has jumped to the next tree!. 
    • Failed:  Opps.. Roll 1d10.
      • 1-5 the character stumbles and falls to the next tree taking a small amount of damage. If the player chooses to continue moving without taking a moment (round turn however your game measures time) to gather themselves then they will take a negative penalty on their next movement roll. These negative penalties are cumulative each time a player fails a roll and decides the character should keep moving. The penalties are reset if the character does nothing but gather themselves for one round or turn.
      • 5-8 Minor fall: The character falls and lands on a lower branch! He or she takes moderate damage. and receives a penalty to any further movement unless the character stops to gather themselves.
      • 9-10 Full fall!: The character plummets to the forest floor taking full falling damage. This stops movement and just may stop any other biological functions the  character might have been trying to maintain.
Using D&D as an example Spells like   "Freedom of Movement", "Long Strider", "Find the Path", Transport Via Plants", and  definitely the druids "Tree Stride" are very valuable in this terrain. (Or whatever the equivalent spells would be in your system of choice)

Climbing:
Using a small rope and a crossbow to fire a small leed line into a tree, then using that leed line to pull up the parties studier climbing ropes is one of the best non-magical methods for getting ropes in trees. However it's not as easy as it sounds, the shot will be difficult and the character might need to make a few attempts before success.  Once the characters have a rope getting into the trees is a matter of brute strength. Most games represent a period before harnesses and  ratcheted foot ascenders climbing gear. Characters will be  pulling themselves up a rope and slipping it around their feet for support, not easy. If they are lucky the characters might know how to make a Prusik knot to assist in the climb (perhaps a ranger? or a survival skill check  depending on your system.)
Climbing could be a series of tests up to one per 10 feet as decided by the GM considering  situation and conditions.  With each failed check having a worse result for the character. A bit like the  D&D5th-Ed Death saves. 
  • First check failed the  character is tired, and slows down. 
  • Second failed check the character starts to slip back, losing grip and stability.
  • Third failed check the character falls from whatever height they had achieved.
The first two failures are an invitation to slow down and rest. A character could grab a limb and sit, put a spike in the tree and stand or otherwise figure a way to rest. resting  resets the failed checks, but also invites the GM to roll on a random encounter chart, or have the bad guys catch up. Time is a resource after all.
Hastily made harnesses and ropes tied off to limbs will mitigate falling damage. Though  falling, crashing through tree limbs and swinging like a screaming pendulum into a  nine foot thick tree trunk should not be without it's consequences.
Not to sound like a broken record but all this climbing business is old hat to the natives living in the jungle. They  will be just plain better at it even if a character hits their skill checks and has some form of training (Athletics, Acrobatics, so on.)
Medium or heavy armors are major hindrance when climbing. The extra weight is just not desirable when hoisting ones self into the air. A GM could ask for more checks from armored climbers or make their checks more difficult.

Free Climbing is the act of climbing  a tall tree without the  benefit of ropes. This works the same as rope climbing only the character does not get a chance to rest unless they find a feature in the tree which can support their weight. Free climbing is very dangerous and over armored or over encumbered characters shouldn't even think of trying it.

Rappelling is no easier:
Rappelling should work very much like climbing only  a characters dexterity or equivalent should be used rather than strength. A character can  mitigate some of the  risk by preparing to rappel properly.
If the player takes the time to  declare his or her character is finding a good tree to rope off to and can make a skill roll to set up an effective rappelling system. A ranger or guide would know how to set up for rappelling and  have a fair shot at doing it correctly.  If a character tries to set up a rappelling rig very quickly or thoughtlessly the GM can  give them negative modifiers to the characters checks on the way down.
Failed rappelling rolls Roll below 1d6
  1. Item of clothing stuck in the rig, the character is stuck swinging in the breeze some  distance from the ground. Make a check to repair.
  2. Rope slips! character drops  a bit but is otherwise OK. IF the character gets this result again re-roll.
  3. Frayed rope! The rope is starting to fray here ever it is tied off. If this is rolled a second time roll again.
  4. Rope snagged: All progress halts, the rope will need to be cleared. Make a check to repair.
  5. Rope breaks! the character falls unless they are roped off or have figured out another safety method.
  6. Rope really slips! Character falls quite a ways and the rig gets tangled. Character on the rig is stuck the rig is to far gone to repair from mid rappel.
Bridges and structures:
Native peoples may have built structures in the canopy. Bridges, rope swings, zip lines are all possibilities.
These structures are difficult to build, dangerous to maintain and take up a great deal of time that a jungle dwelling  person might  better spend gathering food, or hunting. As such these structures are never over built.

A well equipped party traipsing over a wicker bridge may make a GM want to  roll checks for the  integrity of the structure.

Thief and rogue types can  go ahead of a party checking the structure. Use normal find traps protocols for a  Thief looking for structurally weak areas. If the  party has a dwarf that is skilled in building, more the better.
Breaks in canopy bridge should have some fore warning. Cracking noise, shaking of the structure, and planks plummeting to the ground. Those kind of tips might let a wise party know to  slow down or to travel one at a time.
Naturally when a party is taking it safe and are strung out one at a time over a long bridge 200 feet in the air, that's the perfect time to attack them.


Fighting in the canopy:
Source
Each game system is going to apply its own penalties for  fighting in strange environments. For fighting high in the canopy I would use your systems  penalties for unsteady footing, and limited vision just to start. Keep in mind that  any creature or person native to the  rainforest is going to understand verticality, and take advantage of higher ground whenever possible. Imagine if you will a paladin cowering under her shield as enraged apes rain coconuts down on her form 150 feet up.



Ranged weapons while limited due to cover, can be superior in a canopy fight due to the difficulties involved in closing with and engaging  enemies physically. Again, native creatures will be able to disengage and retreat more effectively than non native warriors will be able to advance through the  canopy. Wise players will try to force or lure enemies to the  ground where the  fight is more on the  characters terms. This may or may not be easy to do, as rappelling from trees is as dangerous as climbing them.

Disease: 
The mosquitoes are inescapable, and some fo them carry disease.
While I think it would be harsh to give a player character Malaria, I do think it could make a nice story hook to have to find a cure for some NPC's horrid case of Dengue fever.
It would be fair to make a character make a check once every three days to avoid a tropical fever or a mild disentairy. I am not suggesting that Fair Fillred the Paladin should shit himself to death in some god forsaken jungle, that's a terrible way to loose a character.
What I will suggest is that any  character who fails the check should pick up the  "Fatigued" state until they are cured or can rest for  three days. Making them fatigued will make them get exhausted quicker, and will generally be  a pain in the player's ass.
I also suggest that for every player that gets ill due to a failed check , an NPC or retainer should get severely ill, or even die. Just so the player realize disease is serious business.

Another consideration for any character wearing boots, or god forbid armor all the time is "Trench foot" or Immersion foot. Caused by wet foot conditions and bad hygiene, this little marvel can cause gangrene and  loss of a foot if let go.

I would  say that when the  players have a rest and  start a camp fire the GM  should ask if they are  taking off boots and Armour. If they constantly say no, then each day they have 10% +2 percent chance of developing Immersion foot and or a horrid fungal infection of the feet. This will half their daily movement, and if let go will start to drain "Health" at a slow rate each day. (based on your  chosen game)
The Idea here is that players should be aware of their environment and after a few hints be willing to shed armor and dry off tier covered parts. It's not to punish the players but to drive home that the jungle is not  their normal stomping grounds. Helpful natives will offer sandals, or even directly tell the characters of the danger of never taking off their clothing in the jungle.
Again magical healing and good guides will help tremendously.


As always  If your game of choice has good rules for disease, use them.

Opportunities:
One major reason a party might enter a rain forest is gather and locate materials for spells and potions. The  Rain forests have been called earths pharmacy  for their diversity of mostly undiscovered medicinal plants. A wizard or apothecary might pay premium rates for  plants gathered from such a hostile locale. For example the Cinchona Tree is used to make quinine, a cure for malaria, treating stomach problems, stimulating the appetite as well as treating blood disorders, leg cramps, and varicose veins. This is just one such example out of Thousands of real life examples. As a Gm build off what's real and extrapolate it.
The oils of the  Annatto Tree can be used to make a natural sunscreen, but in the hands of  Blodot the wizard it can be used to make a potion which renders an individual invisible while in the sunlight, and incorporeal in the moonlight.

Simple exploration: The party is hired to explore this new land "discovered" by a local sovereign. An expedition must be organized and executed.

Finding the explorers: Remember that expedition from before... Well they never came back.. so go track them down.

Lost city found: Anything can remain hidden for a long time in the jungle, a lost city has been found and your group thinks it is a great idea to  try to gt to it before any one else. Unfortunately there is a rival group of explorers with the same idea!

Encounter ideas:
I don't  use "giant" insects all that often in my game however, the hot humid oxygen rich environment of the canopy is exactly where I would start dropping them, and in  great numbers. The canopy being one of the very few in game areas I think would provide both the food and conditions suitable for large insects colonies.

Some  Plants and insects have developed symbiotic relationships, where as a species of  beetle or bee is the only species that pollinates a particular tree, or distributes a tree's seeds. In return the insect benefits from the tree as a source of shelter, protection, or nourishment.
Play this up as a GM.
For example:
  • There are large thousand year old, 70–80 meter tall emergent trees that tower over even the  general canopy. Some specimens are as big around as a small house with  circumferences topping 90 feet. These trees have an upper canopy  made of  thick broad leaves.
  • These trees are a form of beech nut tree. The seeds of these trees is prised by apothecaries, native people, and magicians as a medicine and a spell component. 
  • Unfortunately the seeds are locked away in large highly poisonous fruit high in the trees upper branches. Eating the fruit can be deadly, causing  pain, blistering, swelling of the esophagus and eventual asphyxiation. Just don't.
  • The  primary transporter of these seeds are giant leafcutting beetles
  • These insects can be as as large as a goat. The maintain nests made of cut leaves high in the  trees foliage. The insects feed on the highly poisonous fruit pulp of the trees and leave behind the hard seeds. 
  • The fruit of the tree is poisonous, and because it's the only thing the insects eat they have in turn become poisonous. their mandibles can inflict a poison bite that is difficult to resist and causes blistering and discomfort along with some damage..
Having a 60 foot around 45 meter tall tree tip over is another good use of the large canopy producing trees. Such a tree could be hollowed out by any manner of creature. Used as a shelter by native humans, carved out by giant termites, home to  a large trap door spider, or a colony of smaller dangerous insects. One thing is for certain in the damp gloomy forest floor region even a large stump would be temporary given the variety of fungi and molds that can develop. No matter what the size of the tree it would rot and be reclaimed by the forest relatively quickly.

  • A very large tree has fallen opening up a small swath of the forest to sunlight. 
  • The  downed tree is now covered in a veritable botanical garden of  hollow grasses, vines, flowering plants, and young trees taking advantage of the available sunlight. If you didn't know what the  fallen tree was you might miss it all together.
  • Inside the stump and the remains of the tree termites and burrowing beetles have been hard at work hollowing out the vast fallen tree.
  • The interior of the tree is now a series of hollow chambers. 
  • These chambers have become home to  several  budding green slimes.
  • The locals have cut a hole into the  hollow stump and covered its gaping roof with animal hides. They have used fire to harden the interior of the stump and are excavating the  dead trees vast root system. They are looking for a rare fungal deposits which are used by their shaman to make a hallucinogenic ritual beverage. The roots and the digging have formed a complex multi level cavern.

Predation:
The  Understory or layer of  foliage from the ground up to the canopy proper is home to a myriad of predators. Not least of which are the great cats. Large cats in a heavily wooded area create their own set of issues for a party.

  • The great cats are stealthy, ambush predators who use the short lines of sight lines the jungle to their advantage.
  • In a fantasy game the great cats will go for surprise every time.
  • Ocelots: Small fast hunters, not likely to attack a human, but  perhaps. An Ocelot might  hit a small character (half-ling, Gnome, Elf) then take off, being able to easily outpace most characters.
  • Panther: Medium sized, Hunts in the trees. Think about that, IN THE TREES. The characters think they are all safe camping up in the  tree limbs.. guess what.... Panther.
  • Tigers: Huge, Nocturnal hunters , almost silent when they stalk prey, can easily kill a man. 
  • Jaguars: The Swiss army knife cat, stealthy, fast and  powerful. Attacks first with a massive bite aimed for it's preys neck. Deadly if a character does not see it coming.
  • As a GM I would give a great cats the equivalent of your games snake attack bonus on their first strike.
  • The pelts and sometimes the teeth of great cats can often fetch a party high prices outside of the jungle.
  • Some tribes may worship great cats, perhaps even one exceptionally large and strong individual cat.
  • Dire versions of  great cats and Saber toothed cats are listed in many games standard monster lists.
Monkeys and Apes:
I made a random monkey generator a while ago.
The  Disoriented Ranger wrote about Apes and a module called Monkey Business not log ago.
Apes and Monkeys move about the canopy with a grace and speed that would make any adventurer jealous if it weren't so scary. Apes and monkeys are naturally smart, add to that the  trappings of a fantasy  game and the  characters could have their most fearsome opposition.


  • Apes will always have advantage in combat while in the trees. They can hang upside down, run up trees, throw things, and jump great distances. Fighting a pack of monkeys in the  canopy is a bad decision for the party.
  • Gibbons: Small fast, travel in packs. They steal stuff and run away.  Mostly harmless unless fought in a pack. In this case use your games swarm rules.
  • Chimpanzees; Strong and agile. They use advanced pack tactics to confuse and isolate characters. Individuals will flank and go for sneak attacks. They are smart enough to target the face , eyes and throats of  characters. Each individual can get multiple attacks per round. Will eat meat.... Will eat characters.
  • Gorillas: Usually peaceful gentile giants, They live in troops of females generally lead by one
    NOPE
    large male. Sometimes younger males will be present in the troop. Troop leaders will defend their territory. Massively strong, they will throw heavy objects, Charge, grapple, swing limbs, had out massive bites with their huge canine teeth and  basically wreak house. They don't attack in and organized way, but their individual bulk and power make them deadly even to mid or high level characters. 
  • Give Gorilla's Fighter or warrior levels. 
  • Unlike monkeys, Gorillas tend to build nests on the ground.
  • Orangutan: the most solitary of the great apes. These long armed apes are more likely to run from adventures than anything else. These can be the wise old men of the forests. If I were going to  create a hedge wizard ape it would be an Orangutan.
  • There are hundreds of small monkey species, most are just an omni-present nuisance in the jungle.
  • Dire, Giant, and primitive variations of apes are possible. Extra intelligent Apes are a great idea.
The preceding blog post represents just the tip of the ice-burg for jungle adventures.
Giant spiders, Cayman, Naga, lizard-men in the rivers, Troglodytes in massive moss caves, Giant snakes, and so many other  creatures could make an appearance.
Though for my money it is the terrain and the environment that provides the greatest challenge. How will your adventures navigate such a foreign dangerous place?

Thank  you for reading...
-Mark

Here's some stuff I looked at while prepare this piece. There are more ideas lurking there than I used.

Pathfiner info
Medicinal Plants
Climbing the  tallest trees.
Account sort of our history is not grand folks.
Rappeling
Biome info, and here
Six things to know before you hit the rainforest.
disease info
Tropical disease
Blowgun arguments
D&D wiki
cats Run the internet.

Monday, September 19, 2016

A thought about "Invisible Sun" by Monte Cook Games.

Here's the  kickstarter page, for record.
if you are into games (and you must be if you landed in this tiny blog backwater) or if you are into
what can be done in the world of  game publishing at its upper limits, check out this kickstarter.
"1,846 backers pledged $664,274 to help bring this project to life."
I wrote thsi a few weeks ago and let it sit in my drafts folder. I waited to post this until the kickstarter campaign was over. Not that this wee little blog in the  corner of the  internet would be able to slow that supporter train down. Regardless I didn't want to confuse anyone into thinking that I was trying to slow that train down.


Now my disclaimer:
I like Monte Cook Games and their products very much. I feel they are an upstanding group  running an outstanding company. The quality of their products, and the obvious time and attention they give each project has been impressive. I own the Numenera book. It ranks among my top gamebooks when it comes to the quality of the physical thing and the overall presentation.
I think their latest project "Invisible Sun" looks amazing. I know it will be a success, the  kickstarter is funded, and as a company they have a great reputation for  fulfilling kickstarters above and beyond backer expectations.

Now my point:

It's a deluxe product to be sure.  There is A ton of cool stuff in that black box.
From the  kickstarter page:  Inside the specially designed cube you will find four books, a folding game board, a resin monolith, a metal medallion, four special dice, player handouts, tokens, and hundreds of cards to enhance your gameplay.


Even with all the above blandishments in mind when I look at the  Kickstarter, I know it's not a game I could play.
Again from the  kickstarterLet’s be upfront, though. Invisible Sun is not a game for everyone. Not because it’s difficult, but because it’s involved. It’s not really designed for casual, fire-and-forget sorts of play. It is character-focused the way a good novel or television series is character-focused, with individual story arcs, deep development, complex motivations, nonlinear narratives, and asymmetrical play. If you’re the kind of player who enjoys musing over your character between sessions, thinking deeply about the setting and events in the game, and making interesting choices, then Invisible Sun is the game you’ve been waiting for all this time.
I would love that kinds of game. I might have been able to play that kind of game 20 years ago. I just know it's not going to happen with everyone's current schedules and our attention spans. Our game hours are constantly being cut short by our real life concerns. On the surface it sounds almost too ambitious for a group of 40 (plus the double buffalo) something gamers to even think about tackling something as ambitious as The Invisible Sun.

We break out less stuff than is included in the black cube for most of the board games we play. It's an RPG, and I'm going to assume, (perhaps incorrectly) that not everything in the cube is necessary to play. I had the same feeling with Fantasy Flight's war-hammer RPG when it came out. I saw that war-hammer came with 30 custom dice and 300 cards, it just kind of left me cold to the whole thing.
Even if our group went in on the game together and all committed to playing. I'm not sure we could ever give this deluxe product the treatment it richly deserves.

The  kickstarter does address these concerns, though I would have to  see it all in action  to know  exactly what would work for the group I game with and what wouldn't.

Again from the kickstarter found here: We live in the modern world. We know what it’s like to try to get a group together on a regular basis—work, family, schedules, and other aspects of that nasty thing we call real life always get in the way. Invisible Sun, at its very core, is designed around overcoming that with gameplay options that deal with missing players, solo play integrated with group play, playing online, and more. 
Invisible Sun is a game that encourages players to think about the game away from the table—and rewards them for doing so. Not just on game night. This is a game for people who enjoy real investment in character and story. It’s not just a hack-and-slash, bash the bad guy sort of thing. Those kinds of games are fun, but this is something different.
Players (individually or in groups) can devise and stage side scenes or even flashback scenes to accomplish their goals. The rules of the game address these in a way that is separate from but compatible with the main narrative. In addition to the flexibility this gives in group storytelling, it means that there are many opportunities to play the game and advance the characters and the narrative even when the whole group can’t meet.

Here is where I am treading  a line, I don't want to write anything negative about a company and people who I feel are completely awesome. I respect the project, agree with the price point , and I know MCG will fulfill every darn thing shown on that page to every backer.

The  best way I can put my  thoughts is this kickstarter feels like a game designed by and for game designers or people who  have the luxury of playing games for a living. I'm not sure the average  table of gamers could ever really interact with this game the way it is intended to be interacted with. It almost has a feeling of,  "designed be cause we can," or "design because we are one of the only companies that could." It's like the Foie gras terrine of RPG's. Design for design's sake. Perhaps it's game design as art? which would leave the game itself up for interpretation. I don't think this means there is any lack of  integrity or lack of love  going into the game. to the contrary the designers are clearly putting tons of energy and love they have into the project. The question is what audience are they directing all that energy and love?

I don't know. I wonder if this is the  direction new RPG's are going to take for a while. Success breeds imitation, an I can image that after a kick starter raises more than 600k, there are bound to be some other companies that want to give the  "delux RPG" treatment a try.

The game, judging by the kick starter is already a success. MCG will fulfill the kick-starter and the product will be awesome. I sincerely wish them the best of luck.  I'm just not sure I can appreciate a deluxe RPG product in the manner of Invisible Sun. Perhaps that will change if I ever get a chance to play it and really see what it's all about underneath all the deluxe trappings.


Thanks for reading
-Mark



Sunday, September 18, 2016

Death, Dying , and Characters in RPGs

This post was inspired by  two  sources. 
Primarily my friend Neal putting my brain to work about a game I wrote which he has played with  other people that I will likely never meet. So naturally he asks a lot of good interesting and useful questions about the game.
Secondly This Post from the Pits Perilous blog served to further my thinking.

I'm going to write a bit about  character death and just some of my thoughts on the subject. I will directly relate some of those thoughts back to a game I wrote. Other points will be more general. I'm afraid this  post will likely be a meandering mess, please forgive me.

I have a game, It's called Amazing Adventures and Incredible Exploits. Check out the labels on this post to read more about it. The facts are the game started as a joke among the people I game with and myself, and it has grown a bit like an unpredictable weed.

The  premise being  that for every successful character in D&D,  Swords and Wizardry, dungeon world, or whatever your game of choice is  there are many more wanna-be adventurers out there. Some of these folks shouldn't be pushing their luck in cavernous ruins and  ruinous caves. Some folks are better off staying on the  farm. Those second class adventurers are who you get to pay in AAIE.
With that premise in mind, every character is rolled up completely randomly so some  characters end up truly ill equipped for their adventures, the game is deadly.

How deadly?

  • Darwin the dwarf got offed in one shot. I would argue that charging at the big bad monster was not the best tactic, but he was a warrior and a dwarf. Now he's dead. 
  • Unchecked doors with traps have  killed at least one NPC and one character that I can think of.
  • Recently two died while hiding under a rock outcropping. Roasted via lightning bolt.
  • Vud the Minotaur met his end after a round of combat, only to be upcycled as beef rations.
Some of the characters mentioned above were simply the victims of the random character generation. If you end up with 5 health, wicker armor, and wielding a dead chicken things are going to be difficult. I have seen players run such characters then wisely retire them after the first game. Those characters having gotten one taste of adventure realized, "This shit is dangerous!"

On the  other side of the  coin there have been the occasional, "Fletch the Minotaur warrior" type. Fletch is the  poster child for the random character generation dropping a gem.

To understand Fletch, please read the  following italicized bits in the voice of "Happy" Draymond Green.
"Minotaur? yup."
"Strong as can be, Yeah"
"warrior? Yup"
"Tons of health and armor? All-right"
"Weapons? Yop"
"combat? We run dis."

So anyway ... Fletch was a randomly  generated beast. Just the right mix of  attributes, abilities and equipment. I  mean  the  player was describing Fletch throwing axes into the backs of enemies then punching through them to retrieve the weapon. In context it made perfect sense. I don't think I could have killed Fletch with the monsters I rolled up for that adventure if I tried too. Fletch was an adventurer. He could make it to the big time. ***

When the game got into the wild (as in Neal ran it for strangers) the initial report was, "The  game is too deadly. Armor classes are too low and the monsters potentially* do too much damage." I am safe to assume no one  rolled up a "Fletch."

Which leads me to  the post from "Pits Perilous" and a quote from Neal.
"Nobody likes it when their character gets killed during the first combat."

While I can go back to the second paragraph of this post and outline again how such a sudden, violent death fits the game's initial design concept. That same sudden death breaks all the rules of "fun." It especially breaks the rules of fun when the  group playing the game were not there for the ideas genesis, and are not steeped in the inside humor that the game came from**.

Feedback being the golden liquor that we all run on, I feel I should honor it and address any issues brought up. I have adjusted a few things, such as scaling the monster damage, and more clearly illustrating the amount of freedom the GM has to modify the random enemies. 


All this is to say popular opinion is correct. It's NO fun to die early and often in an RPG.

The  base concept of  AAIE is that the failures of past characters will make it that much sweeter when a great character falls into your lap. A bit like the DCC funnel. The survivors of the attrition will endear themselves to the players.  If  it's a lucky character build like Fletch, or just some plucky human shlub who manages to survive a few games. The survivors should in theory grow on the players. Unfortunately it has not always worked out that way.  My game doesn't have the advantage of DCC's funnel in that players don't run a group of  under equipped victims. Each player runs one character and so it's almost impossible to see that character as just fodder. The length of character generation **** makes it sting a bit when the character dies. The random characters mean that every character is not a player's own special snowflake. After a few fast deaths it could become a game of, "I'll play characters until I get a good one." Which is not how the game was intended.The intention was players creating their random characters and trying to make the best of what they get. Again, bad design means it doesn't always work out that way.

Those are weaknesses in  my own game design.

Now for a blind defense of death.
Old school D&D has a great deal of death. I remember rolling up a level one magic user "Simlin" in Advanced dungeons and dragons. Simlin having a 9 AC and 4 hit points.  I knew before the ink was dry that I would have a hard time playing that sort of character simply because I'm not careful enough. I played the character and he eventually did die at the hands (or rather the  pole ax) of a gnoll. I was not careful (I got too close), the party did not scout well enough, and the initiative went the other way. He died. The character however lived on, because we joked about that sorry bastard for quite a while afterwards. Our next magic user was told in serious tones, "be careful.. or you'll get Simlin'd." The character became part of  the game in death when he honestly had zero impact while alive.
At low levels in old D&D (pre 3rd ed) there is no chance of rolling up a fletch, and not enough options as a player to  use your knowledge of the game system to make your character more viable. IN old D&D all first level characters are squishy. Simlin was not a bad character, he was just a low level character, played badly. This is where the  idea of player skill starts to seep into our discussion of death in RPG's. I think Player skill is a subject better left at the least to another post. More wisely it is a subject that should be left to writers smarter than I am. It serves my purpose to say that I believe player skill  is a real thing in RPG's and a bit of skill can help even weak characters avoid death. That's unless we're playing blood bowl, in which case it's the Ef'n dice... every damn time.....

Dramatic death is important to  RPG's but also limiting. If a player has played a character for a few years and meticulously leveled them up to a heroic level. That character's death if it happens at all should be a story changing plot defining moment. It should be important to the  overall narrative. It shouldn't be, "Well Frank's dead, take his stuff.. dibs on the mace. Anyone know where can we find another 15th level  priest to fill his  sandals?"

In just our last game I had a player trip a trap with an eighth level character who has been a big part of the  campaign's current story arc. The trap which may not have been initially deadly, hurt that character enough that encounters latter in on the game were much more dangerous. Imagine for a second if I had rolled max damage on that trap and  killed him out-right?
The story arc he was in would have been over in a non climatic fashion, that game sessions direction blunted.  In fact the last blog post I wrote about the majestic end of Wilhelm would have never happened. His burnt corpse would have been laying in some god-forsaken underground tunnel below the city of Torin. Yet in many classic RPGs and their clones the possibility of an ignominious death is always there, even at higher levels.
What does a GM do? Protect the character make sure he at least makes it to the  final battle, then let the dice fall where they may? Nerf the opposition to the point where they are no longer opposition but only window dressing?  None of that feels right.

Most GM's, myself included skin crawl at the idea of  fudging rolls to save characters. One of the defining aspects of paper and pencil RPGs is the need for players and GM's alike to roll with the punches when it comes to random results. The possibility of emergent situations and emergent play are what set live RPG's apart form just about everything else. Character death is part of that emergent game-play. And while I agree with  both  the players from Neal's AAIE game and the Pits Perilous blog, that it's no fun to get wiped out in the first combat of a game. I also think that sudden death and high mortality at low levels has been part of RPGs from the very beginning and likely will always be an issue with games designed with an old school aesthetic.

Thanks for reading that meandering pile of shit I passed off as a post.
-Mark

* The monsters are rolled up randomly as well, once the stats and name are generated how it all comes together is left wholly to the  GM.
** AAIE was never initially meant to be played beyond our group, but it caught on and we played it quite a bit. Neal decided to play it with some other folks and  It's a great example of "designing with blinders on." The game hits the right notes for our group as it was intended to.  Outside of that group rough edges will start to show and  bad design decisions will fall apart. There is a long story about AAIE and ho it effected the  other thing I was  trying to put together, but I will save that for a rainy day.
*** the big time being defined as being an adventurer in a real RPG. Like  D&D or any of the other thousands of published fantasy RPG's out there. Someday I will write AAIE to 5th ed conversion rules, but that will be a lot of fiddly  work not yet worth doing.
**** Neal solved much of this problem by creating a "character generating program" which is an ongoing project. I still think generating the characters at the beginning of the game round robin style is a fun and important part of the game. But if  Shmoe the human fighter dies mid game... Neal's generator is 100% the best way to get back in the game.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Ending a character.

This  might  tangentially  tie into The Disorientated Ranger's latest post found here:

There has been a trend for a while no within the group I game with. Some of our characters come with endings. Even if the  end game is known it doesn't mean we know how the game will end.

The wilhelm example:
In our last game Wilhelm the  Dwarf, finally tracked down the band of thieves who "ruined his  life.*"
The party gained entrance to their hideout, talked to a massive snake, avoided some traps, stole a large nutria, bashed some heads and cornered the thief guild's leader. After some talking, the thief leader offered to  restore the connection between wilhelm's wrist and his hand. The thief leader also offered to bring Wilhelm into the guild. They could work together and make some money on Wilhelm's triumphant return. I'm going to be honest here. I really thought Wilhelm was going to growl something dwarfy and hit the weasel thief in the face with his hammer once he got his hand back.

What happened instead was a great end to a character.  The dwarf  told the guild master, (I'm paraphrasing now) "Since you  ruined my life all those years ago, I've built a new one for myself. It's a life I'm proud of and a life I love. I don't need my old life, this hand, or you." Wilhelm then ripped the freshly bonded and not quite ready for prime time hand back off his own wrist, threw it at the guild master
Only then did he proceed to start hitting things with his hammer.. because D&D dwarf.

source
Wilhelm was basically refusing the resolution to his quest.  A quest that has taken him from  level 3 to level 8 and spanned many months of real game time. The  player latter described that he pictured Willhelm thinking about all of the things they did to get to the point of him getting his hand back. Large Battles fought, drained a lake into a bottle, saw their friend violently killed by a remorhaz, killed that remorhaz, settled a town,  turned ruins into a jungle, poisoned by naga, and  so on .. Wilhelm did and saw more on his quest than he ever could have done as a rugby star.

It was an excellent example of the  player looking at the character from afar and asking, "How is this character built? What really makes this character tick?" To me that is the ultimate in player agency over their character. Not just the ability to  do go anywhere or  partake in whatever part of the game world they want. The player having the freedom to look at their character more deeply just their alignment or what the  game's backgrounds say. Then the player using that insight to  conclude, "This is what that character would do based on their experiences and motivation in any given situation and here's why."

So what of Wilhelm? At the end of the game he got in a skiff and sailed alone into the city of Torin. Intent on  wandering a bit more to clear his head.
I can  see in the future a "lost adventures of Wilhelm, game being run," or something along those lines. I will implore Jay to NEVER LOSE THE CHARACTER SHEET, because I know we will see him again.


Thanks for reading 

-Mark.








There's a story here, TLDR version: Dwarves are rare in my game.  Wilhelm is a dwarf and was an athlete. Picture rugby or  blood bowl, being the  only dwarf playing  he was damn good at it. His friend Clavin embroiled him in a gambling scheme with the thieves guild, when things went sour the guild cut off his hand with a cursed knife. Having only one hand effectively ended his sporting career and sent him into a life of wandering, plotting violent revenge, and hitting things with a hammer.