Sunday, March 1, 2020

Using the Rainy City in your Existing Campaign

The Rainy City works as a standalone setting, big and varied enough to be the home of multiple campaigns. So far, I've used it in three distinct long-form campaigns myself, plus a very large number of one-shots.

But what if you've already got a campaign going? How can you use this place? 

Maybe you want to have the PCs visit the place for a while. Maybe even come and go. Can you still do that? 

Absolutely. Let's start with the city as a self-contained place, and expand from there to some alternative visions of how to use the city in your own campaign.

The City as the End of All Possible Worlds
This is how I play it.

Some sort of magical catastrophe caused the world to start flooding. Then it spilled over into other alternative planes and dimensions. And it just... kept... spreading.

The city itself was probably the epicenter of the magical catastrophe. Many people in the city think that a wizard did it. The Grand Academy of Magic was here, after all, and now it lies flooded beneath the Murk, the foggy channel that separates the two islands of the main city. Someone in the Grand Academy made a mistake.

A Mistake, even.

It must've been a big one because all the many and diverse worlds of the multiverse are flooding, one by one, and their refugees keep showing up in ships year after year. (It takes a long time to flood a multiverse, and many sages believe there are infinite alternative prime material planes, so this could keep happening for a while.)

Once people arrive in the city, it's their new home. There's no leaving again. Some few people make it into the Nine Swells to Vagabond Bay, but no one ever heads out and makes it back. There's nothing but storms and sea monsters out there, forever. Most people don't survive the floods that destroy their worlds, and of those that do escape by water, even fewer make it to this one last port in the storm.

The Bermuda Triangle
In this model, you place the Rainy City anywhere in the seas of your own campaign world as a kind of "Bermuda Triangle" within the setting. Maybe it's distant, obscure, at the edge of the map, and no one knows about it. But there could be rumors. Lost treasure ships. Vanished explorers. A place no one returns from.

But wait. If no one has ever gotten out, how do we know about it? Give the PCs a map, tell them about the rumors, or just mark it on your campaign map somewhere. Maybe they'll want to check it out.

And maybe, in your campaign world, it's possible to get back out once you've gone in.

The Lesser Bermuda Triangle
As above, but people have gotten in and out -- it's just too stormy for regular trade routes, not too stormy for the very best sailors and adventurers to brave. This keeps it isolated, lets it have its own identity, but at the same time lets your PCs visit and return. Very powerful patrons might even pay adventurers to take the risk of entering the storm to find the Rainy City to take a message in, or to beseech one of its powerful wizards for something. Maybe someone on the outside hires your adventurers to go to the Rainy City, steal from a wizard, and come back.

The Elemental Plane of Water
If you have elemental planes in your setting, you can place the Rainy City in the elemental plane of water. Maybe not all the worlds are flooding, but some do get flooded and the survivors land here.

Or maybe it is the port between your world and the elemental plane of water. If you want to go to the elemental plane of water, first you have to sail successfully to the Rainy City. Then, after resupplying, you can set out from Vagabond Bay to sail the rest of the plane of water, returning to it as your safe haven and port back to your world.

A Dreamland 
The Rainy City could also be a dreamland, a place that can only be visited in dreams. Your players could be drawn there, for a time, and have to find a way to escape this dreamland. Or maybe they choose to go there to steal dream magic from the wizards of the Tower Cliffs.

Nine Swells, Nine Hells. Funny coincidence, that. And now that you mention it, you have to cross a body of water to get here. And once you arrive, you can't go back. And the place is full of ghosts and demons, in addition to a lot of people, none of whom, now that you mention it, seem to have the most morally upstanding of characters. And hey, no elves. Is that because elves don't have souls?

Hm. Maybe hell is just very, very wet.

Maybe the material component of a Raise Dead or Resurrection spell in your campaign could be... sail to the Rainy City, find your friend, remind them who they are, and get them out. Make an adventure out of it.

The Distant Future
This assumes that the first version is true -- the Rainy City is the city at the end of all worlds. But your world isn't flooding. Yet. And it might not flood for... a long time. Your PCs can visit the city through time travel. This may be the future, but it's not a future that affects their lives and homes directly.

The Near Future
Or maybe the floods are immanent. Doom is on the doorstep. The end of the world is nigh. The PCs might travel to the Rainy City to try to figure out what caused the floods so they can go back to their own time and stop it before it's too late.

Using the Rainy City with 5e

Let's bring this series full circle. We started with the OSR/classic era version of the world's oldest RPG. Today, in the last major post in this series, let's look at how to adapt the Rainy City to 5th edition.

Choose a Background, Race, and Class
One strength of 5e as a game is the menu of big, broad, interesting decisions it provides you when making a character. The backgrounds, races, and classes of 5e provide broad strokes character concept material that can inspire a diverse range of character concepts. When you start combining them, the emergent possibilities for characterization are very rich. One of my favorite modeling games to play when prepping a new campaign is "what is an 'elf' in this setting?" -- and the Rainy City is no exception. The Rainy City also has its own list of "peoples" -- the most populous groups that make up the city.

Let's jam these things together and see what happens!

In my home campaign, I call elves, dwarves, and halflings the "remnant" peoples because they're the iconic fantasy roleplaying races that are not always front and center in the city these days, where so many other diverse peoples have found their place in the city. The remnant peoples have still made their mark on the city, however! 

Let's start with the obvious. Boggies are halflings. They were halflings when I ran the Rainy City with the Rules Cyclopedia. They were halflings when I ran it with The Fantasy Trip. They live in round houses (which I picture looking a lot like big beaver lodges). Their neighborhood is called "Bog End." You don't need any help adapting them, other than that I would make them entirely immune to Will o' the Wisp enchantments.

The next remnant people is the group known in the city as the "Mine Goblins," who toil beneath the Tower Cliffs and have a goblin market in the Silver Falls Mines. It helps here to remember that a "people" need not be mapped one-to-one to a specific single race in a game like 5e. I'd treat the mine goblin people as encompassing a shared cultural mélange that includes a mix of dwarves, gnomes, and goblins. I personally tend to picture them all as fairy-tale like beardy little mine people, so I'd happily throw kobolds into the mine goblin people with the same aesthetic. But if you'd rather keep the 5e look for kobolds, you could leave them out of the Mine Goblin people. More iconic 5e kobolds could be swarming all over down by Wormswell in the Sump, in service to the worm. A classic kobold would also probably make a very good Puddingman, if they went up and joined the Puddingman's Union out of Old Town.

Elves. I'm going to include elves, eladrin, and drow here for simplicity. Most people say there is only one elf in the Rainy City, the Grey Elf, who lives in the Mids and hires "divers" (adventurers) to escort him on dives into the underwater ruins of the Grand Academy of Magick. No one knows what he seeks. However, some people whisper that the town is filled with elves, who have secret doors hidden throughout town and only move in hiding. It's not that the Grey Elf is the only one -- just he's the only one people know about.

This is a great hook for one or more players, and maybe you'll all figure out the truth (for your campaign) about the elves when someone makes one. It is a lot of fun to be the last member of a particular group left, or one of only a few. And it's a lot of fun to know a secret that the rest of the city doesn't know. 

As to the other races? Well, one fun aspect of the city is how the turning of the seasons affects the water-breathing peoples, but 5e's water breathers tend to be amphibious. Only deepsies -- the people who are infected by that fishy infection -- can freely breathe both air and water in the Rainy City setting, and that provides them with a unique niche. They're diseased, and marginalized because of it, but they have an ability that no one else has most of the year (except during the Rainy Season). This helps them get by in some jobs, and in some cases even find ways to prosper.

I'd use triton as is for deepsies.

Oh, hey, remember when I said a "people" didn't have to map one-to-one to a particular 5e race? It goes the other way, too -- a particular 5e race doesn't have to map one-to-one to a single "people" in the Rainy City.

Because I think I'd also use triton for mermaids and mermen.

With one change, that is -- they have to remove their "shawl" (their tail, which becomes a shawl they can carry around) to breathe air and have legs (unless it's the Rainy Season, of course), meaning that they have to switch back and forth. Fairy tales are filled with stories of mermaids having their shawls stolen. Personally, I'd never steal from an adventurer, mermaid or not -- but then again I'm not one of the grasping, short-sighted NPCs of the Rainy City.

What about dragonborn? I think they're the result of someone making a deal with the Worm in the Sump and not carrying out their end of the bargain. If you betray the worm, you're cursed to take the form of a dragonborn, and the Worm still considers your debt unpaid. The Worm might also offer status as a dragonborn to someone who wants it. In exchange, of course, for a service.

As for tieflings, they're right at home here -- the town is filled with demons, devils, and other invisible beings. Sometimes these beings incarnate for a time, forgetting most of themselves and living as a mortal. Some do this over and over, living and dying, then incarnating again for new lives and experiences. These are your tieflings (and aasimar). Also, the classic trope of a demon paramour is right at home in this town, so you can have classic tieflings, too.

One more fun one. Gulls. The gulls of the city -- sentient seagulls about the height of a halfling -- are one of the major peoples of town. I'd just use aarakocra stats for these guys.

Finally, it's a city where refugees from all the worlds and all the planes can potentially wash up when even their infinite planes somehow flood. So any people of any setting or supplement could find a place in the Rainy City.   

Divine Magic
There are a lot of divine casters in 5e. What do we do with them? I talked about this same basic issue in my Zweihänder post, and the options here are similar.

First, maybe you like the fact that the gods aren't around and don't grant spells to priests. It's part of the flavor of the town. Try running a 5e game without divine magic! Healing gets rarer, and the texture of the town is emphasized. The acolyte and charlatan backgrounds will take care of most of your needs for cult and religious leaders. Oh, and warlocks and bards, both of which make great cult leaders. I would, myself, also still allow the divine classes, just noting that any divine magical powers don't work. You might think that means no one would ever play one, and you're probably mostly right, but I wouldn't discount the possibility that a player might see this as an interesting hook to hang a character on. A Paladin from another world who has been separated from his god and his god's gifts? That's a fun concept. (You could also capture this with the Acolyte background and Fighter class if you want to use the concept without taking the hit in character abilities, of course.)

Ok, but what if you and your players really don't want to go without divine magic? I'll offer the same solution I did for Zweihänder -- you can keep it by bringing the gods down to our size. Replace the default model of a pantheon of powerful gods with the ten thousand petty gods and demons of the ten thousand cults of Levee Town. Small, demanding, and very, very present, these beings could grant divine spells to their worshippers.

But to prepare yourself to pray and regain spells between excursions, you must go into the presence of your god, physically heading to Levee Town to pray to your diety. Maybe that sun god you worship stands on a box in Littleshrines preaching his own doctrine to anyone who will listen. Times are tough, ok? It makes him shine just a little when you stop by! Look at you. You made your god happy. That's a good deed!

If you want divine magic in the Rainy City, petty gods and demons are a great approach. It's a lot harder to look your god in the eye when they are disappointed with you when you actually have to go stand in the rain on a busy thoroughfare in Levee Town and look them in the eye, you know?  

The Harmonious Chantry of Alchemists is, arguably, the most powerful single organization in the city. I think in 5e, it probably has the monopoly on training all legal Artificers of every subclass, not just the Alchemist subclass. Any artificer who works outside the bounds of the organization is probably doing so in secret. The rest of this, I think, takes care of itself.

Weather Magic, the Seasons, Fire, Larvae... 
Rather than repeating myself, I'm going to point you here for some thoughts on weather magic, fire and the seasons, larvae, and so on -- these apply equally well to 5e as they do to old school editions of the game.

There's a start on 5e! 

Saturday, February 29, 2020

Using the Rainy City with Zweihänder Grim and Perilous RPG

Daniel Fox's Zweihänder is another good fit for the Rainy City. It has an evocative, grotty style and a great range of character options that would, I think, draw attention in play to the religious and class conflicts of the town, and remind us of the randomness of life and death in the city.

Let's get grim and perilous.

The setting implied by the Zweihänder profession list is a good overall match for the Rainy City. Boatmen ply the Murk and deliver supplies from neighborhood to neighborhood along the coastal docks. Mariners sail the seas and fill the Admiralty's ranks, fighting seaborne exchanges with the Buccaneers of Rickety. The streets are filled with Beggars, Bonepickers, street Costermongers (use Cheapjack), Footpads, Rakes, and more. Many, many professions simply work. 

Others work with just a bit of thought as to how they might fit in.

First, there are a few professions that are intrinsically equestrian. For these, swap out horses (which are rare and not much used), replacing them with the riding and coach-pulling beast of the city, the noble ewt. Ewts are large (pony to horse-sized) salamanders favored for their ability to move smoothly through the city's rain slick streets and transition seamlessly from street to waterway. Ewts pull carriages, and profession build around riding can be adapted to ewt-back. For example, while there is little in the way of mass battle in the city (but, see below), there are plenty of people who put on airs, and an order of ewt-riding Dragoons who patrol and parade in the waterways of the Sump, with high helms on their heads and wet muskets at their side, would be right at home -- and the Dignified Sodality of the Mire-Yoot will do just fine.   

Court-related and noble careers exist in the context of Embassy Row and the Tower Cliffs. Even though the real feature that makes one an Ambassador (resident of Embassy Row) is vast amounts of filthy lucre, this does not mean the city is without the pomp, ceremony, and posturing associated with a hereditary aristocracy. Quite the opposite! No one has any demonstrable claim to aristocratic lineage within the city itself, making it all the more important to make said claims boldly and with as little self-reflection as humanly possible (which is to say, perhaps, none at all!).

Some of the more rural professions from Zweihänder may be a bit rarer, at least in the ranks of NPCs, but most could still be found in parts of the Sump and the Headlands.

There are no standing armies or wars, beyond the street level fights between rival guilds, gangs, and clubs, but the city still has its companies of armed mercenaries. Some arrived as refugees from places with larger scale warfare, setting up business in their common trade and finding work for the guilds and gangs. Others have been founded within the city itself. War will find a way. There's money in it! So it is possible that, when the honor of the Humdrummers' Club is slanderously questioned by members of the Spouters' Club, the dispute may be settled honorably. By proxy. A pitched battle between the Stalwart Servants (in service to the Spouters) and the Order of the Armored Rose (on behalf of the Hummdrummers) in Public Square at a pre-arranged time should do the trick. Gamblers, make your bets. (Just between you and me, I'd put my money on the Order of the Armored Rose.)

Zweihänder's profession list also features watchmen and other agents of law. The absence of a centralized, city-wide police force in the Rainy City need not mean there is no work for Watchmen and Executioners. They just have more immediate employers, as Pump or Wheelhouse Constables, private security forces of the Harmonious Chantry, and Boxmen of Embassy Row.

Some specific professions need a little thought, but there's even a fit for those. Here's another example. It always rains, and the clouds never part, which you'd think would make life difficult for an Astrologer. Luckily, no one can see the stars, so who's to say that the sky charts, calendars, and mathematics of the Grand Conclave of the the Celestine Lights are wrong? (The Contrary Order of the Heavenly Bodies, sure, but nobody listens to them.)

Finally, anyone, from anywhere, can find a home somewhere in the city. Refugee ships bring people of all backgrounds, and with a little creativity and an appetite for peril, anyone from any profession can find a place here. Remember when that Viking raiding party arrived in Vagabond Bay a few years back? Now, the Sons of Arne have a steady protection racket in Brining Lane, providing good, honest work to Berserkers in need of a welcoming home. 

You get the picture.

Divine Magick
The model where big, distant, powerful divinities provide magical powers to worshipers is a bit at odds with the default assumptions of the Rainy City. But Zweihänder, and many RPGs, do have divine magic. What are your options?

First, maybe you like the fact that the gods may not be around, and certainly don't grant spells to their priests. If you do, you can still keep all the divine professions. The city is filled with cults, especially down in Littleshrines in Levee Town. One way to keep the divine professions in place in this context is to simply replace any divine magick traits with an analogous arcane magick trait, or with a social trait like "Confidence Trick," from the Charlatan profession.

On the other hand, Zweihänder's divine magick is dangerous, and dangerous magic can be a lot of fun at the game table. What if you want to keep it? You can do that by replacing a small pantheon of gods writ large with the ten thousand gods and demons of the ten thousand cults of Levee Town. Small, petty, demanding, and very, very present, these beings could grant divine magick to their supplicants. However, you may have to go to a Levee Town basement and prostrate yourself directly before the THE BONE GOD to learn new prayers. It isn't easy, being lowered into the basement a that rope, but it's worth it. Only the HOLY ROPE ensures that THE BONE GOD stays in the basement to answer supplicants (for a modest tithe, which can be left with the cult master). For in spite of his great power, THE BONE GOD cannot quite get the hang of climbing a rope.

You don't want to have to go down into that basement to atone, though, friend. They... raise the rope.

If you want divine magick in the Rainy City, I'd say drown them in petty gods and demons, all of whom want something from you in exchange. And it's probably not nice. 

Alchemy can be run by the book, with the Apothecary profession serving well for a member of the guild. The Harmonious Chantry produces fewer potions in Zweihänder than in some other games, and fewer healing potions in particular, but this doesn't really hurt their overall social and economic dominance of Old Town and the city. They still have the monopoly on boiling salts, and they still provide some of the limited magical healing that is available. Besides, the riches in their vaults allow them to hire mercenary companies to maintain their power base. Nothing like a little violence to ensure that ones organization is treated with appropriate respect. And let's not forget that the Harmonious Chantry will always be the only home of the Rainy City Opera. (Or the Stalwart Servants may stop by to remind you.) 

There's a lot more that could be said, but this should get you started. 

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Using the Rainy City with Blades in the Dark

In one city, it is always dark, and tends to be rainy and windy. In another city, it is always raining, and tends to be dark and windy.

Both cities are somewhere between modernity and something older.

Both cities are isolated. If you draw heat, there's nowhere to run.

Both exist in the aftermath of something apocalyptic.

Both are haunted.

So let's talk, just a little bit, shall we, about Blades in the Rain.

John Harper's Blades in the Dark is a great match for the Rainy City. They almost feel like sister cities, in a way -- I suspect there is some overlap in the inspirations they draw from. They're certainly distinct places, with different moods, with Doskvol perhaps the more serious and the Rainy City, I think, the more whimsical (and sometimes even silly) of the two. Still, they share enough to make the Rainy City a great fit for the Blades in the Dark system. One of these days, I'll run a Blades in the Dark campaign set in the city -- I want to learn more about the side of town that a Blades game would cast its shadow over.

Fully developing the district and faction content for Blades in the Rainy City would be a larger project -- its systems are tightly interwoven with setting -- so this will just be a sketch.

Here are some thoughts on how I'd use the one with the other.

Let's Start with Playbooks
All the BitD playbooks work for the Rainy City. The only thing to watch out for is that the seasons could inadvertently limit a Hound if you're not careful. Fires only light normally one season out of the year (Firelight). This can be easily handled by just making sure your Hound has some combination of a bow, hand crossbow, and heavy crossbow in addition to firearms. It'll be extra fun when the Hound gets to break out the guns during Firelight, but you want to make sure the playbook is still fun to play all year round.

Law and Order, Incarceration, and Heat
There is no central Law and Order in the Rainy City -- no city-wide police force. Thus, there is no equivalent to the Bluecoats, and no central prison. But BitD has a tight cycle between Heat, Wanted Levels, Incarceration, and Entanglements, and you have to make sure it still works.

So what do we have to work with? Well, each neighborhood does have its power players. There are Pump and Wheelhouse Constables in Levee Town. There is the Admiralty in Vagabond Bay. There are the Boxmen of Embassy Row. And there are the Guilds and their heavies. Some have local, short-term lock houses to throw you in, but that's not prison.

So how does Incarceration work?

Let's replace it with Transportation.

The city is surrounded by the "Nine Swells," the storm-tossed seas that bound as far out of the city as one can sail before being lost. It is from beyond the Ninth Swell that new refugees sail out of their own stormy flooded seas into the city. Within the Nine Swells, there are regions, much as there are districts and neighborhoods in the city. One example is Rickety, the floating pirate haven. Another is the Bobber Sea, a doldrum area.

At the far end of the Bobber Sea lies Endswell, an area where the winds die, the sargasso grows thick, and ships that enter become trapped. It is filled with rotting hulks, and the currents and waves beyond it (except if one approaches through the center of the Bobber Sea by rowboat). When someone causes enough trouble to the wrong people in a neighborhood, they may find themselves handed off to the Admiralty, who happily sails to edge of the Bobber Sea and sends them on a rowboat through the sea to the edge of Endswell, dropping them off for a time.

I didn't know Endswell was there before Blades in the Dark asked me a question. But now that I've answered it, it feels like it was always there, at the edge of the Bobber Sea, and I just hadn't noticed it. This is another example of how looking at a setting through a particular lens brings aspects of it into sharper focus.

Now, you'd still need to do some tailoring of the results of the Incarceration table, but this is a start.

The Visitor's Guide to the Rainy City is filled with factions. For Blades, they need to be assigned Tiers and Hold. A full accounting is far beyond this post, but here are just a couple examples:

Kyllonen and Son's Nekromantia0S
The AdmiraltyIVS
the Compassionate Association of ExorcistsIIIW
The Flood Street DescendantsIIW
The Flood Street GentlemenIIW
The Harmonious Chantry of AlchemistsVS
The Honorable Association of LiarsIS
The Port AssociationIIIW
The Puddingmen's UnionIIIS
The Renovators' AssociationIIIW

For the districts, broadly defined, as reflected in the Visitor's Guide, here are some district traits. If I were doing this fully, I'd actually do each neighborhood within each district separately, but for now, tentatively, I might do something like this.

DistrictWealthSecurity & SafetyCriminal InfluenceOccult Influence
Embassy Row4400
Levee Town1213
Old Town2221
Rickety in the Swells1042
The Headlands3112
The Mids3310
The Sump0032
The Tower Cliffs4104
Vagabond Bay2222

I've been running games in this city for years. I know its neighborhoods, its streets, and its people. I've run an entire faction-driven campaign (the founding of the Rainy City's first parliament), where I tracked factions and their interactions backstage. 

But I've never thought about certain aspects of the city in exactly the ways I've thought about them in writing this post. Using a game system to run the city reveals things about it, and I can't wait to hear what you discover about the place by running it in your way, with your group, with your favorite game. 

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Using the Rainy City with Risus: The Anything RPG

S. John Ross's Risus: The Anything RPG can do anything. It says so right on the tin.

And, if it is anything, the Rainy City is certainly something!

But because something isn't exactly anything, we'll need to narrow things down just a little.

The kit.
  1. First, grab Risus
  2. Next, grab the Visitor's Guide to the Rainy City, which you can't, strictly speaking, physically do yet (though you can buy it!). So for now, just grab a copy of the map from the Kickstarter page, and the free sample neighborhood spreads for Vagabond Bay and the Tower Cliffs, and then mine the tag "the rainy city" on this blog for ideas while you wait for the summer release of the actual full zine. 
Ok, take Risus. The house rules to apply are:
  1. One of your clichés should include your district, unless you're a recently arrived refugee (and possible also even if you are a recently arrived refugee. 
    1. There are no restrictions on how few or how many dice you put in the cliché for your district. Maybe you're not very well established or well connected or well liked in the district (1), or you just never fit in (also 1). Maybe you're a paragon of the district or a Very Important Person (4). Maybe you've been trying your whole life to show that you aren't like those other people in your district but everyone still knows you're from there (4). Maybe you just got here, but the place just clicks (4). You know how to write a cliché. Use that. 
    2. You can have more than one district cliché if you're from one district but have moved to or spent a lot of time working and living in another district. There's no real limit here other than your imagination. And I suppose, also, your total number of cliché dice. 
  2. That's it! That's all the house rules. Unless you want house rules, in which case, use your house rules. 
Here are examples of all the main Districts as clichés, with example abilities, familiar places, and other specifics within each one to give a sense of the kinds of things you might use your district cliché for. As always, these are just to give you ideas and inspiration. They don't follow a single standard style because these are example from different players that have come up in actual play of the city. They're exemplary, not exclusionary -- like everything in these "how to use the Rainy City with your favorite game" posts, the point is to inspire variaty, not close it off. That goes double for Risus -- the whole point of a cliché from a game-design perspective is to connect to shared cultural knowledge without closing things off.

As always, make the city, and these clichés, your own.

The Tower Cliffs
know a good hat when you see one ● know a spirit, demon, fairy when you see one ● recognize wizards by power and rank ● know the wizardous lineages (master/apprentice lines) ● get a gargoyle’s attention ● recognize when an out-of-towner is just a tourist and when they’re casing a tower ● never contest the way with a miner ● dodge magical misfires ●  avoid unruly apprentices ● remain calm in the face of high weirdness

Vagabond Bay
talk about the weather ● know a mermaid when you see one ● know a tax collector when you see one ● steer clear of the Sons of Arne ● spot a refugee in need of a helping hand ● Port Association for the Beneficial Incorporation of Refugees and Asylum Seekers ● know where to find a smuggler ● poxhardy (resist diseases… well, the symptoms at least) ● affable (carouse) ● spirited (hold your intoxicants well) ● lively (good in a bar-brawl) ● talk like a sailor ● get out of the damn water ● look blasé about weird people and cultures ● appease ghosts (if you're from Murk Corners) ● befriend gulls ● steer clear of the Vagabond Bay Boys ● navigate narrow, twisted alleys ● sleep in a boat ● lend a hand to deepsies ● have a drink at the Three Sheets (Brining Lane) ● have a drink at the Dilly in the Dally (Brining Lane) ● don't look fresh off the boat

Embassy Row
visit the Galleria ● bet on the races ● hold your own in a fencing match ● know the families, crests, and genealogies ● clip the inner swells in your fine vessel ● know your way around an estate ● speak diplomatically, even with the most curious of people ● respect the old money ● challenge the new money ● hold strong opinions about Art, Society, and Man ● I know absolutely everybody who’s anybody, Darling. ● You call that a foyer?

The Headlands
walk windswept roads ● shelter in a storm ● hunt on lonely moors ● hunt in deepest woods ● know who to talk to, and who not to talk to, on the road ● watch the flocks ● boat on rough coasts ● find warmth and comfort where you can ● carve wooden figures and scrimshaw ● know your way around the manor and the forest ● talk with village folk

Levee Town
know the signs ● know the paths ● have a drink at the Engine Room ● hold your breath to avoid the fumes, vapors and smoke ● mind the Constables ● keep track o' cults, societies n' brotherhoods ● fake your way through a quasi-religious ceremony ● know a Sump dweller when you see one ● politely walk away from a street prophet

The Mids
discuss recent scandals of Old Town, the  Mids and Embassy Row ● frequent the best shoppes and eateries ● host a dinner party  ● stay alert that your pocket not be picked ● avoid giving offense ● never contest the way with a porter, carriage, or coach ● watch for falling bricks, lamps, goods, &c ● walk the streets without getting your umbrella entangled ● for that matter, never contest the way with a baker, barber, chimney-sweeper, barrow-woman, &c ● navigate the Catacombs at day

Old Town
get the goods at the Bazaar of the Bizarre ● get on well with Thatchers ● get good deals from alchemists ● appreciate the opera at the Harmonious Chantry ● have a drink at Georgie's Pub ● don't stare at the gargoyles ● know where the best patterers are ● move briskly through crowded streets, alleys, and markets ● what's the talk on the Eastern Market walk  ● spot strangers to Old Town ● know your roads, streets, and alleys, and what they once were

walk with sea legs ● Navigate a maze of wood, nets and alleys ● find a proper drink ● find a proper game of chance ● roll o th' dice ● tie a proper knot ● where's a sailor go to get a proper tattoo round here? ● know sailin' lore ● find a mermaid ● find hidden treasure ● hide treasure ● get a drink at the Rooster n’ Pig ● get a drink at the Black Tooth Grin ● get a drink at bosun's buoy ● dodge Blackfeather's Crew ● dodge Water Willie's Crew ● dodge Early Yardarm's Crew ● row a boat ● keep a beat ● look damned fine dancin' at the end of a length of hempen rope ● talkin’ the walk

The Sump
know these waters and woods like the back of your hand ● squint at Will o' the Wisps so as not to be enchanted ● travel by barge, raft, and canoe ● walk with stilts ● climb vines, ropes, ladders, and poles ● recognize the poison molds and fungi and avoid eating them even when you're really hungry ● make stew out of a surprising variety of critters ● sucker punch and general fisticuffs ● eat boggy pie ● brew homemade rice beer ● avoid or appease the Flood Street Gentlemen ● avoid and appease the Flood Street Descendants ● have a fine meal and a drink at the Salted Leech

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Using the Rainy City with the Fantasy Trip

The Fantasy Trip is my favorite old school roleplaying game, and one of my top three favorite RPGs of all time.

It was the game I used to run the campaign that most shaped the Rainy City setting as found in the Visitor's Guide. I associate TFT with sword and sorcery (probably because of the art in the original Advanced Melee, Advanced Wizard, and In the Labyrinth), but I had a suspicion that it would sing in an urban, 17th century-ish fantasy city.

It did.

Here are some notes about using the Rainy City with the Fantasy Trip.

First, here are some things that work really well out of the box, in large part because many of these setting elements were designed as explanations of something about how TFT itself works.

  • Religion is a social fact (and thus, "Priest" is a talent), but for whatever reason, the gods do not directly grant magical spells and powers to their acolytes. Religion is still important to the common life of the city.
  • Chemistry and Alchemy work as described in TFT. These talents are both closely controlled by the Harmonious Chantry of Alchemists. Unregulated or non-guild alchemists are dealt with in a most violent manner (usually with clubs) if caught operating without the oversight of the guild. 
    • Healing potions are made through alchemy, and are one of the reasons the guild has so much power in the city, having the monopoly on this very useful power. 
  • The city is plagued by oozes, slimes, and puddings, which are well represented in TFT. Puddings fill the niche that rats and other vermin might fill in other settings. 
    • Slime poison is one of the most profitable potions that can be produced in TFT by the book (when you compare cost of item ingredients and risk of disaster to sale price), so this is yet another major source of money and power for the guild, who provide slime poison to the Puddingmen's Union (the guild of those who do work equivalent to that of "Rat Catcher" in other settings, but for puddings).  
  • There is a dueling grounds in Public Square in the Mids. Many disagreements are resolved on the Public Field, and schools of duelists compete to demonstrate the superiority of their martial arts systems. One-on-one TFT combats can be staged here. 
  • The Silver Mines are in the Tower Cliffs, the neighborhood controlled by wizards. Silver is not only the main currency of the city -- it is also the metal that works most consonantly with magic. 
  • Much common street violence, both unorganized and organized, is carried out with clubs. Anyone can pick up a club, after all. From the belaying pins of the Port Association to the truncheons carried by Levee Town Constables, clubs are the most common tool of street violence. 
  • Common races of the city include gargoyles, mermaids, reptile men, mine goblins, and even achterfusses (say this one out loud...), all in no small part due to the influence of TFT.  
  • There are gunpowder weapons, but not very advanced ones.
  • Carriages are pulled by giant newts (called "ewts") rather than horses. These began as riding lizards from TFT. 
  • The Talent system from TFT works well with the prominence of guilds, clubs, and societies in the city -- it's a very simple thing to say that possessing certain talents marks one as a member or former member of a particular guild or club and that said talent can only be learned in play from that guild or club. This ties characters to the city itself in valuable ways. Chemist and Alchemis can only be learned from the Harmonious Chantry of Alchemists. Armourer and Master Armourer are only available from the smithing guild ("The Molten Men"). Various mundane talents are limited to certain guilds. Etc.  
Some other Considerations
Fire and the Seasons
 There are four seasons in the Rainy City, and each can be helpfully thought of as being elementally aspected, affecting both fire-based magics and ordinary fires (and thus, also, gunpowder).
  • The Quiet: All fire based effects are minimized (e.g., they do minimum damage, have minimum size, etc.), and they produce a lot of smoke (hindering visibility and potentially even becoming choking in tightly enclosed quarters). Mundane fires also burn only weakly and with much smoke during this season. 
  • Firelight: Fire magic works normally, just as this is the only time of year when mundane fires burn normally. 
  • The Rainy Season: Neither mundane fires nor magical fires will light or burn at all. 
  • The Windy Season: All fire based effects are minimized (e.g., they do minimum damage, have minimum size, etc.), and they produce a lot of smoke (hindering visibility and potentially even becoming choking in tightly enclosed quarters). Mundane first also burn only weakly, and with much smoke. 
This can change the tactical situation for wizards significantly. If you want the same tactical possibilities to be available, replace the fire hex spells with lightning hex spells.

Firearms are also affected by the seasons, working only during Firelight. Gunpowder weapons are largely under the control of the Wheelmen of Levee Town (who treat firearms as a badge of office, of sorts). The Harmonious Chantry of Alchemists produces the gunpowder, in part through an agreement with the Worm of the Sump in Wormswell.

Larvae may be the doomed souls of the evil dead. But they are also people.

Yet some wizards disagree... perhaps because it is so convenient to do so. The horrible truth is that a wizard can eat a larvae for magic power. It takes a little under an hour to eat an average full-sized larvae, which is about the size of a dwarf. It must be eaten alive, and it will stay alive the whole time, fighting and screaming and cursing your name. However, once each bite is chewed and swallowed, it is transfigured into magical energies, filling your spirit but not your belly. As you eat it, you consume its ST. It takes 5 minutes per point of ST you consume. This ST can be used to refill spent ST, or it can be used to temporarily overcharge your body with power. You can consume up to your ST in larvae ST in one sitting, potentially doubling your ST for a time, but it will fade away at a rate of one lost ST per hour.

People of the Rainy City
I posted about using TFT to represent the "People of the Rainy City" on this blog about... yikes, seven years ago now. Most of what's there should still be applicable.

Wisp Lamps
Much of the city is lighted by "Wisp Lamps," lamps that contain a single mote of a Will o' the Wisp. In TFT, these are easy to model if you start on the assumption that Will o' the Wisps are small colonies or swarms of tiny spirits that can be separated from one another by skillful "Wisper Men," to be put inside lamps. Will o' the Wisps entrance people and draw them into the waters of the city to drown, creating more wisps in the process. In TFT, the saving roll to avoid being entranced is rolled on 1d6 per mote in the wisp. Most Will o' the Wisps have three motes. If you separate them out into one mote each, most people will make their saves (and it isn't worth rolling). But risky players could carry them around, breaking them so they recollect into a spirit of 2-4d entrancing power. Just make sure you don't look at your own wisp! This leads to a lot of potential for shenanigans.

Other Bits of Joy
For extra fun, use S. John Ross's magical calamity rules, which now live in GURPS Thaumatology (p. 76). These rules work well with TFT because you can make drawing ambient magic very tempting. And temptation is fun.

Works like this:
  • Spells cast from the wizard's ST work as normal. 
  • A wizard can instead draw magical energies from the environment. 
  • The standard threshold is 0.  
There's a part of the Tower Cliffs called "the Crumble." Part of what happened to it involved a significant magical calamity playing out in our game.

While I'm at it, I should mention that two very fine works -- GURPS Swashbucklers and GURPS Goblins -- influenced the Rainy City in numerous ways. Indeed, GURPS Goblins is probably the sole reason that the Rainy City didn't end up a medieval fantasy city and moved more in the direction of Georgian era influences and inspirations.

Monday, February 24, 2020

Using the Rainy City with OSR Systems

Maybe you're thinking about using the Rainy City with some version of the first fantasy roleplaying game or an OSR game. This is pretty easy to do, in my experience -- in fact, the first major Rainy City campaign I ever ran used the Dungeons & Dragons Rules Cyclopedia. It should work just as well with any of the old school variants, or games inspired by them.

The city has a few quirks that you can use to add mechanical flavor to highlight what makes this town distinct. This post presents some quick and dirty rules tweaks to do this.

You can always ignore one or more of these if you'd rather just use your game as is! It won't break the setting to allow whatever your favorite game allows, but if you're reading this, you're probably at least intrigued by the possibility of tailoring things.

Where it comes up (especially the alchemy rules), I've used Necrotic Gnome's Old School Essentials as my rules reference here.

Weather Magic
Weather magic can change the weather, but there's one basic fact that can't be changed: it always rains. You can make the rain lighter, you can make it stronger, you can make it cold enough to turn to freezing rain or maybe, in a very short-lived, localized way, even snow. But you can't make the clouds part, and you can't make the sun shine. You are, in a sense, in the elemental pocket plane of rain. It always rains. Even a wish can't make the rains stop entirely and the sun come out.

Arcane Magic
The big thing here is the seasons. There are four seasons in the Rainy City, and each can be helpfully thought of as being elementally aspected, but the strongest direct effect on arcane magic is its effect on fire magic.

  • The Quiet: All fire based effects are minimized (e.g., they do minimum damage, have minimum size, etc.), and they produce a lot of smoke (hindering visibility and potentially even becoming choking in tightly enclosed quarters). Mundane fires also burn only weakly and with much smoke during this season. 
  • Firelight: Fire magic works normally, just as this is the only time of year when mundane fires burn normally. 
  • The Rainy Season: Neither mundane fires nor magical fires will light or burn at all. 
  • The Windy Season: All fire based effects are minimized (e.g., they do minimum damage, have minimum size, etc.), and they produce a lot of smoke (hindering visibility and potentially even becoming choking in tightly enclosed quarters). Mundane first also burn only weakly, and with much smoke. 

Larvae may be the doomed souls of the evil dead. But they are also people.

Yet some wizards disagree... perhaps because it is so convenient to do so. The horrible truth is that a wizard can eat a larvae for magic power. It takes about an hour to eat a full-sized larvae, which is about the size of a dwarf. It must be eaten alive, and it will stay alive the whole time. However, once each bite is chewed and swallowed, it is transfigured into magical energies, filling your spirit but not your belly. Upon taking the last bite, roll 1d10. This is the number of spell levels worth of memorized spells you instantly recover, without study. You must have spell slots available to gain the effect.

Divine Magic
This is a big one -- the default setting on this dial if you're using the full version of the city is that the gods don't answer any prayers in the Rainy City. If you're starting a local campaign, the easy way to deal with this is by not allowing any clerics (or druids, etc.). If your PCs are just visiting for a time, you could get across some of this by not having any NPC clerics and/or wizards. Maybe you also want to allow divine magic but the gods are far away, so you minimize effects. Or maybe, you just allow your clerics to function normally but don't have any local NPC clerics with miraculous powers. How does your particular cleric get away with it? I don't know, but the alchemist's guild will take notice.

Note that this aspect of the Rainy City, if you're using it, makes undead even scarier than usual because they can't be turned and there is no holy water.

In the setting, the alchemists' guild ("The Harmonious Chantry of Alchemists") is a major power player, and part of the reason for this is their monopoly on healing potions. Their monopoly on "boiling salts" is the other reason: these are the main way people can cook food during the Rainy Season, and even the Quiet and the Windy Season.

Most versions of classic D&D don't have very detailed rules for alchemy and magic item creation. In our first Rainy City campaign, we used an OD&D class from Dragon Magazine #2. It worked well throughout the full campaign, so if you have access to it, I recommend it. Alternatively, here's a quick and dirty alchemist:

Armor, weapons, hit dice, experience progression as thief.

From a sample potion or recipe, the alchemist can brew potions.
  • Brewing a potion takes 1d4+1 days per level of the spell effect to be produced,
  • It costs 250 gp in materials per level of the spell effect to be produced. 
  • At the end, roll 1d20. On a 1-3, the potion fails. On a 4+, it succeeds. 
Alchemists can only brew potions if they have the recipe and/or a sample potion that creates this effect. They must be high enough level to reproduce the spell effect in order to brew the potion. Here are the recipes they can learn.

Use the Magic-User spells memorized table to determine the maximum number of recipes they can have mastered of each level. (The recipe list by level will be below.)

An alchemist starts play knowing one recipe (rolled randomly, picked by the player, assigned by the DM -- your game, your call). They also start play with one potion (from their known recipe), assumed to have been brewed before the game starts.

Level 1 Recipes
  1. Control Animal
  2. Control Human
  3. Cure Light Wounds
  4. Delusion
  5. Detect Magic
  6. Purify Food and Water 
  7. Read Languages
  8. Remove Fear 
  9. Resist Cold 
  10. Shield 
Level 2 Recipes 
  1. Detect Evil
  2. Detect Invisible
  3. Diminution
  4. ESP
  5. Invisibility
  6. Levitate 
  7. Know Alignment 
  8. Locate Object 
  9. Resist Fire 
  10. Speak with Animals 
Level 3 Recipes
  1. Clairaudience
  2. Clairvoyance
  3. Cure Disease
  4. Fly
  5. Haste
  6. Infravision
  7. Giant Strength
  8. Growth
  9. Locate Object
  10. Remove Curse
  11. Treasure Finding
  12. Water Breathing
Level 4 Recipes 
  1. Control Plants 
  2. Control Undead
  3. Cure Serious Wounds
  4. Neutralize Poison 
  5. Polymorph Self
  6. Remove Curse 
Level 5 Recipes 
  1. Heroism
  2. Gaseous Form 
  3. Magic Jar
  4. Raise Dead
  5. Telekinesis
  6. Teleport 
Level 6 Recipes
  1. Control Dragon
  2. Control Giant
  3. Longevity
  4. Lower Water
  5. Part Water
  6. Stone to Flesh

Monday, February 17, 2020

A Visitor's Guide to the Rainy City

Thanks to the efforts of a couple good friends, I'm actually putting out a system-agnostic setting book as part of ZineQuest 2: 

This is just me and two friends from my regular game group, and I think the fact that we have been gaming in this setting is reflected in the art and design. One friend drew the map (in a style inspired by Dyson Logos). Another friend is doing all the internal art in a style designed to evoke period-appropriate woodcuts. I'm writing the words in style that I can only hope captures something of the serious unseriousness of the place (it is a lived in RPG setting, after all, and bears the quirky marks of actual play with pride) without, I hope, being too indulgent. 

Here is a sample of the spread for "the Tower Cliffs," the neighborhood where most wizards make their homes. 

This setting book is system agnostic, but it has been shaped and formed by the systems I've used to run it. 

I first conceived of the setting for a Big Eyes, Small Mouth (2e) game that never happened. I'm not sure what influences that may have had. Possibly none, certainly none I can remember, but influences can sneak into things in forgotten ways. It first came to life through a Rules Cyclopedia D&D game centered almost entirely on heists of wizards' towers. The events of that campaign are indirectly chronicled in the "Personalities of the Rainy City" posts on this very blog. A couple years later, I ran a campaign of it using The Fantasy Trip, and I think TFT is the game system that most shaped the city you'll find in the Visitor's Guide. The book could be used directly with The Fantasy Trip with ease. Lately, I've been using my own homebrew system for our current campaign -- this system being an overcomplicated riff on Risus. I've also run a couple sessions in the setting using Castle Falkenstein and Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay (2e), and one pickup game at a local junior high school D&D club using D&D 5e. I have inchoate thoughts about using different game systems to run a setting and how doing so enriches the place, revealing things about it that might never had been revealed if you stuck to just one system, but I'll save those for another time.   

In any case, there it is. I'm writing a system-agnostic setting book for a lived-in RPG city where it always rains. The Kickstarter launched today, and it looks like it has just funded while I was writing this post. Take a look, if you're intrigued.