Thursday, December 23, 2021

Near, Far, Wherever You Are

I've been thinking about something to make rpg combat easier to handle, both for the GM that doesn't want to have to prepare a full battlemat for every fight, and the player that has difficulty with pure, abstract "theatre of the mind" play. This is my attempt to resolve that tension. I remember The One Ring had something like this, so I may be just reinventing the wheel, but oh well it kept me occupied for an afternoon.

The basic idea is that a combat is split into three bands: Engaged, Near, and Far.

(You can click to see the image at a slightly larger size.)
Anyone in the Engaged band is, um, engaged. Anyone can hit anyone else, and it's a proper mêlée. That frog person is in trouble. Although it's a brawl, you may decide that "small" ranged weapons such as pistols and thrown weapons are effective in this section.

Anyone in the Near band can hit characters in Engaged and Near with ranged attacks. Engaged characters can attack those in Near with ranged attacks, but may face penalties or free attacks or similar from others in Engaged. Characters in Near can hit each other with ranged attacks, but for anything more up close and personal see NEE. Most ranged weapons, like bows or SMGs, fit in here.

Characters in Far are probably out of the fight but may have extra long range weapons that can affect the battle and hit anyone in any band. This is where your long distance spells, high-tech sniper rifles, or siege weapons come in.

You'll note that the guard (Near) and the zombie (Engaged) are adjacent on the "map", but remember this is abstract positioning and they are in different bands. In "reality" they could be 100 metres apart.

Characters can move between bands by using their basic combat move, as defined in your game of choice. Leaving Engaged will require some sort of dodge or fighting withdrawal action to escape the mêlée without harm. It takes one action/turn/whatever to move between sections; if your game allows double moves or sprinting, then you can move two bands.

Get the Archers!
My thinking is that if you want to go and stab the archers, you use your move action as normal, and that instead "pulls" the archer from Near to Engaged. It's a bit fuzzy because they haven't moved, rather the fight has sprawled and they've been sucked into its periphery. Don't think too hard about it; this is supposed to make combat simpler!

Backstabs work as normal, I think. The stabber makes a stealth test -- which probably makes them ineligible for being attacked, even if Engaged -- then tries their sneak attack. It should all be compatible with this approach.

Flanking and similar sort of tactical positioning is abstract and simple: if your side outnumbers the opponents in the Engaged band, you can gain a flanking bonus if your game has one.

You can handle running away as normal for your game. Or... If someone wants to flee combat, then they need to move from Engaged to Near to Far, and then once more to get "out" of the Far band, for a total of three movement actions.

None of this should make any difference to your game's imitative rules, but I would consider applying some sort of penalty to those in the Far band. Perhaps they go last, or get a -10, or something like that, to represent their distance from the action.

If one Near character decides to engage another, then I suggest putting them in a temporary Near-Engaged Enclave (NEE). They are still at a distance from the main mêlée but are Engaged with each other. They can still attack those in the Engaged band, but would face the same penalties as someone attacking from Engaged to Near would. As soon as their personal duel ends, the survivors return to their Near status.

I don't think anything here should affect surprise, unless your game has some weird surprise mechanics.

That's it! I haven't tested it yet, but I'll try to use it as soon as I can. It will be interesting to see what effects if any it will have on gameplay. I imagine one thing it could encourage is a greater emphasis on marching order, with the elf ranger -- for example -- hanging back so she can take up a Near position if combat starts.

If you have a chance to try it out, let me know how you get on!

Thursday, December 16, 2021

A Compulsive Liar Who Has Betrayed Every Single Person He Has Ever Had Any Dealings With

This is old(ish), but it seemed appropriate to post it now.


Philosophers claim that Prevaricators arise when someone lies again and again and is never found out, so that reality shapes itself to fit the falsehoods and the liar becomes a twisted monster. As examples, they point to how a jury can define someone as a criminal even if they did nothing, or how what was a planet yesterday is a dwarf planet today. Philosophers are dangerous idiots and this origin story is nonsense, but what is true is that whatever a Prevaricator says is believed by anyone that hears it.

Prevaricators are weak, and look and smell horrible, but even so are often found at the heart of communities or organisations, bleeding them of resources until the whole socio-political structure collapses and then the nasty thing at the centre of the whole mess slinks off to start afresh somewhere else. Even if discovered the wretches are difficult to root out because they almost always convince their persecutors that there’s nothing to see here, nope, but there is something over in the next village that needs urgent investigation.

PREVARICATOR: Armour 12, Move 120’, 8 Hit Dice, 36hp, Ragged Claw 1d4, Morale 7

The baby-faced monstrosity has a smooth voice, like honey, with a hint of the upper classes to it. The things it says are often not true but listeners believe them to be so, which is good enough. Be creative with the lies. Have fun. That’s what the Prevaricator does! The cherubic abomination understands and speaks all languages, even those of animals, fungi, and plants.

Characters can save versus Magic to disbelieve the Prevaricator’s words, but only if there is good reason to do so. If the creature tells them that quite a lot of treasure is in a cart that left not two minutes ago and if they go now they can catch it, then they probably won’t get a saving throw. If the statement is demonstrably false -- “You can’t see me” for example -- then a saving throw is appropriate.

Of course, a save versus Magic is of no use if the thing has already told fifty armed villagers that the characters are here to take all their children and sell them to a Duvan’Ku cult. You can’t disbelieve your way out of a stabbing.

Spells and abilities that interfere with the creature’s capability to speak or an audience’s capability to listen, such as Confusion or Silence, will be effective against the thing. Spells like Heal and Remove Curse can make a victim unbelieve what the Prevaricator has told them.

Prevaricator brains are in high demand by alchemists and wizards for use in magical research into speech and language. Mash a brain up with some rosewater and paprika, for example, give it a shake, and you’ve got a potion of Comprehend Languages.

Why the bastarding thing has the face of a child, no one knows. Maybe the philosophers have an idea.

  1. Food! It’s hungry or greedy or both, and wants to be fed.
  2. Worship! It speaks like a god, so why should it not be treated like one?
  3. Sex! If it was human once then it maybe still has sex organs. I don’t want to think about it, to be honest.
  4. Money! Money buys anything and opens every door. It is also shiny and makes a pleasant clinky noise.
  5. Power! Being able to tell people what to do and how to feel is thrilling, like a drug!
  6. Drugs! Also like a drug. Obviously.
  7. Chaos! It’s quite fun seeing everything fall apart and the little people panicking.
  8. Friends. Horrible monsters can be lonely too.

I created this monster for LotFP's GenCon catalogue in 2019 -- which now feels a lot longer ago than it was -- so if you weren't there, you're getting a bit of an exclusive. At the time there was a bit of a fuss because some people got the idea in their heads that the Prevaricator was some sort of defence of Zak S. In fact it's a parody of Boris Johnson, which I would have thought was obvious; I even tried drawing the thing with his hair. Oh well.

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Mince Pie Fest 2021: The Results!

Well, I say "results", but I will continue to eat mince pies well into 2022, and I will provide scores for anything new I devour over the next few festive weeks, so there may yet be a surprise.


The best (generic high street) mince pies of 2021 are, in reverse order for the artificial generation of tension:

#3: Iceland Luxury and M&S Classic. Nothing can separate these two heavyweights, just like the final shot of Rocky III.

#2: Sainsbos Taste the Difference. A hefty, boozy, flavourful pie, for the semi-posh.

#1: The big winner, the champion of champions, the PRINCE OF MINCE is...

COOP Irresistible! What a glorious pie. Bold, confident, and full of beautiful festive flavour. A chunky champion.

The day after I posted my review, people across the country reported that the pies had all sold out at their local COOPs. I'd like to believe that is my influence.

Although the COOP ones are -- officially, scientifically -- the best, any of those top three/four will see you right this Chrimble. Enjoy!

Here's the rest of the top 9. It's a top 9 because the next six are all 3.5 and I don't want to bore you with mediocrity.

("Mediocrity" is a bit harsh, as I'm a fan of all mince pies and am happy with any variety. Except the McDonald's or Tesco rum ones. I'm not sure I could face those again.)

And for those of you interested in a bit of light statistical analysis...

COOP has upped its game (or my tastes changed). The clear winner in 2021 only scored 3.5 in 2018 and 2020.

Good Housekeeping did a taste test and its top three were: Morrisons Best (I scored them 3.5), Iceland Luxury (4) and M&S Collection (3.5) as joint second, and Tesco Finest (3.5) and Lidl Deluxe (3) in joint third.

The Grauniad's top three were: Sainsbos Taste the Difference (4.5) in first place, Waitrose Brown Butter (3) in second, and M&S Collection (3.5) in third.

Huffpost UK's top three mince pies were: M&S Collection (3.5) at the top, Waitrose Brown Butter (3) in second, and COOP Bourbon and Orange (N/A) in third, which is just mental.

All of which tells us little except that the M&S Collection are consistent.
If you've enjoyed my mincey odyssey, please consider bunging me a couple of quid so I can do this again next year:

(Obviously I will do it again next year whether you bribe me or not, who am I kidding?)

As mentioned above, I'm going to continue to munch on mince pies for the next few weeks, so it's not quite over yet...

#mincetagram #MincePieADay #MincePieFest2021

Monday, December 13, 2021

Mince Pie Fest 2021: Iceland Luxury

Straight outta Reykjavík!

The 24th (!) mince pie of the season is a strong late entry. The pastry is a tiny bit on the crunchy side for my liking, but is otherwise sweet and tasty, so I'll let it off. The real star is the generous filling, which is a delightful mix of juicy fruitiness, zesty zing, and a boozy swagger.

I'm quite impressed by these, to be honest. Well done, Iceland. 4 out of 5.

#MincePieADay #MincePieFest2021 #mincetagram

Saturday, December 11, 2021

Mince Pie Fest 2021: Heston Large Spiced Mince Pies With a Lemon Twist

What's posher than Waitrose? HESTON from Waitrose, that's what.

At least these don't have ocelot spleens or something in them.
There is much more spice than lemon in these, to the extent that you'd be forgiven for missing the lemon entirely. Not a bad taste but the festive spice hit is so heavy, like falling face first into your grandmother's pot pourri (not a euphemism), it needs something else for balance, and the lemon isn't quite there.

The pies are hefty and chunky, which takes the edge off the usurious mortgage you'll need to buy them. They have a pleasant bite, but they are also a bit claggy; you'll want a cup of tea or mulled wine to go with these.

The crumbly topping means I must decry these as #NotAMincePie but they are also not, as the box claims in a bizarre aside, Sussex Pond Puddings. That Heston is such a scoundrel! 3 out of 5.

#MincePieADay #MincePieFest2021 #mincetagram

Tuesday, December 07, 2021

Mince Pie Fest 2021: M&S Collection

I was sure I'd already done these this year, but it seems not.

The filling is lovely and fruity, with a tangy citrus flavour and a pleasant cognac aftertaste. The pastry has a good, crumbly texture, but the taste is an odd mixture of crunchy sugar with a salty kick, and that particular combination doesn't work for me. 3.5 out of 5.

#MincePieADay #MincePieFest2021 #mincetagram

Curtailed Cthulhu

A while ago I had an idea for simplified Call of Cthulhu characters. For some reason I never put the idea into practice, so here I am, er, putting the idea into practice.

All of the following characters are based on how they appear in the fifth edition Call of Cthulhu rulebook.

Dr Henry Armitage
Hit Points: 10 (+5 spawning points)
Sanity: 55 (0 spawning points)
Profession: University Librarian 80
Hobbies: Occultist 35, Polyglot 50

Randolph Carter
Hit Points: 15 (-20 spawning points)
Sanity: 50 (+5 spawning points)
Profession: Former French Foreign Legionnaire 60
Hobbies: Book Lover 50, Dream Explorer 25

Harvey Walters
Hit Points: 15 (-20 spawning points)
Sanity: 45 (+10 spawning points)
Profession: Occult Journalist 80
Hobby: Amateur Pilot 60

The main changes from the original post are that "build points" are now "spawning points" because it's Call of Cthulhu not Pathfinder, and I've increased the points available from 120 to 150, because otherwise the characters were a bit weak in comparison to their CoC5 versions.

I think there's some potential here. I need to think about what happens if a character's "skill" doesn't apply in a situation; what sort of default value would I use then? I think it may be easiest to fall back to the basic skill values from CoC5, but that's something to ponder.

The basic concept here is to make quick characters that retain compatibility with existing Call of Cthulhu materials, but I'm going to explore the possibility of turning this into its own game system. I have some ideas...

Monday, December 06, 2021

Mince Pie Fest 2021: COOP Bourbon and Bitter Orange

These are bonkers.

A chaotic cacophony of (very sweet) flavours, I've eaten a whole pack and I'm still not sure if I like them. I find it impossible to give these pies a score, but that's okay because they are #NotAMincePie so I can dodge that bullet for today. 🐠 out of 🇱🇧.

#mincetagram #MincePieADay #MincePieFest2021

Sunday, December 05, 2021

Chaos for Chrimble?

JB's Comes Chaos, for which I drew most of the pictures, is available now in print!

You can find the links to buy in both pdf and print at JB's blog.

It's not the most Christmassy thing I've done, but at least it starts with the same letter.

Saturday, December 04, 2021

Mince Pie Fest 2021: Waitrose

More Pies For Poshos™ except these are for slightly less posh poshos than yesterday's posh pies.

Alas, the contempt for the slightly less affluent Waitrose customer is evident in the pastry, which is crispy (ugh) and has a strong, bilious taste.

The generous filling has a good flavour; fruity and saucy and tasty, although there's no hint of alcohol, which, to be fair, may be a selling point for some. As nice as the filling is, the sickly crust overpowers it and leaves a nasty aftertaste. 2 out of 5.

#MincePieADay #MincePieFest2021 #mincetagram

Friday, December 03, 2021

Mince Pie Fest 2021: Waitrose Brown Butter (Bam-Ba-Lam)

Recommended by The Guardian -- quelle surprise -- these are big, chunky, and heavy pies that look impressive.

They have a satisfying, hefty bite, but the famous -- "ooh, you have to try it!" -- brown butter pastry turns out to be a bit bland, almost dusty, and the filling struggles to make an impression at first, letting the cognac aftertaste do most of the heavy lifting. 3 out of 5.

#MincePieADay #MincePieFest2021 #mincetagram

Wednesday, December 01, 2021

Mince Pie Fest 2021: Caffè Nero Double the Fun!

A festive double header from the high street coffee shop everyone forgets about!

This is the fancy one. Softish pastry with a bit of bite, but bland flavour. Well, I assume it's bland, but it's difficult to taste anything over the Almond Shotgun that goes off in your face. Crushed almonds in the crumbly topping and what is probably half a litre of amaretto in the filling.

This one gets 1 out of 5 from me, because it turns out I really don't like the flavour of almonds. Aside from that, it's probably a 3 out of 5 as it's not bad, but even so the crumble topping means it's #NotAMincePie by my rules, so it's disqualified.

This one is much more sensible. No crumble topping. No almond flavour. You can taste the pastry on this one, and while it's still a bit bland, there is a touch of sweetness. The filling is nothing special but it's got a fair bit of flavour, a bit of bite, and no weird aftertastes swaggering in to ruin everything. 3 out of 5.

#mincetagram #MincePieADay #MincePieFest2021