Sunday, January 8, 2017

Dragon by Dragon - September 1981 (53)

Glory be - I finally have enough time this weekend to do another Dragon by Dragon, this one on issue #53 from September 1981.

The first thing I noticed about this issue was the cover. This was not an issue I had as a young nerd, but the cover painting by Clyde Cauldwell, which makes it seem very familiar.

I started playing D&D in 1984, introduced by a friend, Josh Tooley, in 6th grade. He watched his older brother play with some friends, and so with a hand-drawn map on notebook paper, a d6 and a vague recollection of what went on, he ran me through a dungeon during recess. I was hooked, and convinced my parents to get me the game - in this case Moldvay Basic purchased at Toys 'r' Us - for Christmas. Good times.

So, let's see what TSR had to offer 35 years ago.

One of the best things about these magazines in the old days were the advertisements. All these games - and God knew what they were - with all this art. It was all so new to me when I was a kid. Take this ad from I.C.E.

I never had any of their games, but I always admired the art in the adverts - and can you have a cooler name for a company than Iron Crown Enterprises?

Jake Jaquet's editorial this issue was just the tip of the iceberg ...

"There is a bit of a new trend in gaming that I find a bit disturbing, and perhaps it should be food for thought for all of us. I refer to the recent interest in so-called “live” games, especially of the “assassin” or “killer” varieties."

I remember back in 7th grade some kids running T.A.G. - The Assassinatiom Game. All who participated had to draw the name of another player and kill them - which meant pointing at them and saying "bang". The victim would then hand his slip over to his assassin, and so it would go until the game was over. Alas, but 2nd period it was all over - a couple morons tried to assassinate their victims in class, and the administration called the game off. I suppose now we would have all been expelled.

Enough of this memory lane stuff, let's get on to the offerings:

"Why Isn't This Monk Smiling?" by Philip Meyers brings up the shortcomings of the monk class, and tries to improve on it. The point is actually well made - the idea of suffering through many very weak levels to be powerful at high levels may appear balanced, but it doesn't work well in practice. To fix things, Philip introduces a new level advancement chart, plays with the rate at which the monk improves its abilities, and adds some new special abilities, some of them psychic. He also makes it easier for the monk to hit those higher levels, without always having to fight another monk.

The monk isn't out of the fire yet. Steven D. Howard writes in "Defining and Realigning the Monk" a few questions and answers about the monk, mostly to cover why they can't do some things (answer - I guess it wouldn't be lawful) and how to once again handle the whole limited number of monks over 7th level. This issue's Sage Advice keeps the hits coming, with more discussion of the good old monk.


Dude - I had those. Still have some of them, as a matter of fact. Love that packaging, and I always dug that logo.

Next up is Andrew Dewar's "The Oracle". This character class always seems like a obvious choice for gaming, but because it deals with the future (which turns out, it is not possible to predict), pulling it off is always tough, both in terms of the abilities, and making it a playable class. Of course, the oracle here is an "NPC class", meaning not meant for players, but we all played them anyways.

The oracle can cast divination spells, and can use some other divination abilities. It must have an Int and Wis of 14 or higher. Oracles can be human, elf or half-elf. Advancing beyond 11th level requires the oracle to challenge a higher level oracle to a game of riddles (which makes no sense if this is an NPC class ... and there is actually half a page spent discussing advancing in level over 11th level).

The innate abilities are various forms of divination - rhabdomancy, arithomancy, etc. - which the class has a percentage chance of using successfully at different levels.

Lewis Pulsipher has a nice introduction to heraldry in "Understanding Armory". It's a great primer for those interested in the subject.

Roger E. Moore has the lowdown on "Some Universal Rules - Making Your Own Campaign - and Making It Work", which covers exactly what he says. He gives a step-by-step on how he designed an original campaign world, based on nothing but his imagination. He also gives a nice set of ways from getting from one universe to another:

1. Cross-universal caves - always go from one world to another.
2. Teleport chains - a length chain of a weird metal that, when surrounding a group and the ends joined pops them into another world.
3. Rings or amulets - like the fabled Ring of Gaxx
4. Rooms and corridors at the bottom of a dungeon
5. Cursed scrolls
6. Angry wizard with a new spell
7. Wish
8. Magical items causing etherealness
9. Psionic probability travel
10. Magic spells (astral spell, plane shift)
11. Mutational planar travel (i.e. Gamma World)
12. Artifacts
13. Advanced technology
14. Acts of the gods

He also notes Dorothy's ruby slippers

Judith Sampson has a really interesting article called "Adventuring With Shaky Hands", in which she describes playing the game with choreo-athetoid cerebral palsy. Worth a read.

In "Larger than Life", David Nalle covers "The Bogatyrs of Old Kiev". Here are a few highlights:

Prince Vladimir I, The Saint, is a LG 13th level fighter in +5 chainmail with a +3/+4 broad sword. Ilya Muromets is  a LG 20th level fighter - a Cossack with long blond hair - with a mace that scores 2d10 damage.

He also has stats for Baba Yaga, though I don't know how they compare to the later version in the famous Dancing Hut adventure.

Speaking of adventures, this issue has "The Garden of Nefaron" by Howard de Wied. This adventure won first place in the Advanced Division IDDC II, so it has that going for it, which is nice. This puppy includes some wilderness and a dungeon, and is meant for a large group of relatively high level characters. It also includes some nice Jim Holloway art, one of my faves.

The dungeon has a ki-rin as its caretaker, there are corridors and rooms filled with magic mists, illusions and a really great map (with Dyson-esque cross-hatching).


#53 also has some Top Secret material by Merle M. Rasmussen, with scads of spy equipment.

The Dragon's Bestiary covers Argas (by James Hopkins II), lawful good reptilian humanoids that gain powers from devouring magic, Oculons (by Roger E. Moore), which are enchanted monsters created by magic-users as guardians (and which look super cool) and Narra (by Jeff Goetz), which are lawful human-headed bulls.

Len Lakofka has some extensive info on doors in his Tiny Hut and Matt Thomas does some work on the AD&D disease rules in "Give Disease a Fighting Chance".

If you like triffids, you'll like "The Way of the Triffids" by Mark Nuiver. Let's do a triffid in Blood & Treasure stats:

Triffid

Type: Small to Large
Size: Plant
Hit Dice: 6
Armor Class: 7
Attack: Stinger (10′/1d3 + poison)
Move: 10′
Save: 14
Intelligence: Low
Alignment: Neutral (N) with evil tendencies
No. Appearing: 1
XP/CL: 600/7

They can hide in foliage with 94% chance of success, and they attack with a stinger. The stinger requires two saves vs. poison. If the first is saved, it means instant death. If the second is failed it means blindness and 2d4 additional points of damage.

For the Traveller fans, Dennis Matheson presents "Merchants Deserve More, Too", which covers character creation for merchants.


Another great ad. I'd dig one of these shirts.

Besides reviews and such, that's it for September 1981 ... except for the comics.Here's a dandy from Will McLean ...


And though no Wormy this month, here's one of the nifty D&D comics by Willingham ...


Khellek shouldn't be confused with Kellek

"That's the pepper - right down the middle!"

Or Kelek, Evil Sorcerer


Apparently a popular name among magic-users.

Have fun, guys and gals!

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

The Evolution of Method

Today I'm going to chime in with a couple helpful tips for those out there writing their own hex crawls. I've written more than a few of these suckers, and my usual m.o. was to take a map, divide it in two, and write one half of the hex crawl for one issue of NOD, and the other half for the next, or sometimes with an issue devoted to cities in between.

For the Nomo hex crawl (coming out soon in NOD 31), I had initially meant to use this method, but shifted midway through. It turns out that I was making progress quite a bit faster than normal, and thus doing both halves of the hex crawl in a single issue became a possibility, and one I preferred. There were two things I did differently this time around which I think sped up the process, so I thought sharing them was a good idea.

TIP #1 - Free Association

For most hex crawls, I come up with a general idea for the crawl - a theme - and then draw out the map, generate some random hex contents, some of which I throw out, and many of which I move a round a little to get a good spread, and then I do some research. For an ancient Rome hex crawl, I'll read through some articles on Roman government, and the legions, and look at Roman mythology and Italian folklore and such to generate some ideas that I can work into the crawl.

This time around, and before I had decided on my theme, I spent a couple hours generating ideas for hex crawls. In this case, I did it by perusing the folks I follow on Pinterest and just free associating the things I saw into things one might meet. I mostly did this to alleviate boredom one night, and if you look at my old Google + posts you'll find where I posted the results.

Having this list of ideas on hand made writing this hex crawl much easier - it was easier to flesh things out and fit the stream of consciousness ideas into the Roman (and Arabic) milieu of the crawl. Free association is always a good idea when you're feeling a bit of writer's block, and it certainly helped me write the Nomo crawl.

Also - I have plenty left over for the next crawl, but will make another attempt at free association before I do.

TIP #2 - Regions

For most hex crawls, I start writing at hex 0101, and work my way down each column. I usually set a goal for myself each night to go through anywhere from 10 to 20 entries. Some randomized contents are thrown out, so I probably write 8 to 16 entries a night. I have no good reason why I've done it this way - I just did it without really thinking. I would skip ahead sometimes to write up a city-state or some encounter that I had already generated when NOD was a campaign world of mine, but I mostly just did things in order.

This time, I plotted everything out on a map in advance. I did this because I needed to get the maps to sync up with previously published maps, and to do this dropped them all into an excel document. Having the excel doc right there, it was easy to go through and drop color-coded dots onto the hexes to represent what was supposed to go there - monsters, settlements, dungeons, wonders, etc. With all of these dots, it was also easy to draw circles around groups of them, and then each night to pick one of these "regions" and write up the encounters therein.

Not only did this prove to go muh faster than the old way, I did a much better job of making the encounters more a part of a whole than just a bunch of non-connected things one might meet. I still kept some of those non-connected bits - quite a few, really, because I like the weirdness - but creating connections between encounters was much easier.

So, free association independent of the theme, and regional writing - two evolutions of my method that allowed me to be far more productive. The next crawl covers the entire map below, and so the next issue will be around 130 pages. My next crawl, located to the east of the map below, will hopefully be just as easy to write.


Monday, December 12, 2016

A Little Mo Nomo

Yes, it's another pseudo-lazy blog post. I've been busy as a beaver writing the latest hex crawl (and you have to assume a beaver would be incredibly busy trying to write a hex crawl, what with their lack of opposable thumbs - dams and hex crawls require completely different skill sets), and haven't had time to do much non-hex crawl writing. I'm doing pretty good at this point - about 45 more entries to go. This time around, I'm trying to do an entire map in one issue. In the old days (I've been writing long enough I think I can call them "old days") I broke the maps in two, east and west, and handled each in a different issue, sometimes with an issue focusing on cities in between. If I had done the Nomo hex crawl the old way, I would have been done writing a few weeks ago for NOD 31.

The reason behind this move was not a burning desire to work harder, but rather that I had a request for a Mesopotamia hex crawl, and in preparing to write that, I realized that my version of Mesopotamia, the dread plain of Kisthenes, was next door to my Rome, and that the one would actually make more sense if I did the other first, since there's some cross-pollination in terms of campaign themes stuff.

Which is a long winded way of saying that this blog post will also feature some material from the next hex crawl. In this case, I wanted to highlight a few of the heraldic designs I've made using good old Excel, with the hex entries that go along with them.

Talabar | Stronghold

(I mostly liked this design because it involved making up a silly phrase and badly translating it into an Aramaic font. The final came out pretty nice.)

Atop a dusty, rocky plateau rests a grand castle, a large con-struction with outer and inner walls and towers, brilliant white in the blazing sun and quite noticeable against the reddish backdrop of the desert sands.

The castle is held by the Amirah Marusha zal-Sifi and her small force of 24 archers and 48 light cavalry. The Amira is a lusty woman, seemingly as delicate as a desert rose, but with iron sinews and a blaze to rival Iblis in her belly. An adven-turess, she fought her way across the Crimson Waste and Kisthenes and deep into the Golden Steppe to get where she is now.

The castle is surrounded by a collection of rock-and-hide hovels occupied by 540 goatherds, farmers and artisans. The people are a superstitious lot, and easily spooked. Their ex-istence here is tenuous at best, and the Warudi tribesmen, who resent her intrusion here, have left many frightening warnings of what will happen if she does not quit this place.

The castle holds a chapel dedicated to the goddess Allat. It is overseen by Marusha’s boon companion Uvart (LN human druid 3), a stony-faced woman of Kisthenes, with black ring-lets cascading down her back and a cherubic face with bright, darting eyes.

Rama | Settlement

Rama is a large oasis town (pop. 5,250) situated between two long ridges of red sandstone on a wadi that extends from the badlands out into the Crimson Waste. The oasis has rich soil and many springs, and supports the growing of date palms and herds of sheep, goats and horses. The oasis beyond the town walls is inhabited by 42,000 peasants. The peasants grow dates, figs, pistachios and barley using a net-work of canals first built by the Warudi and improved by Nomo.

The town was controlled by the Nomo Empire for many years and served as the capital of their Varudia province. With the disappearance of the empire, Queen Zabbai has declared her independence from Nomo and her suzerainty over all the Crimson Waste, a claim it is doubtful she can support.

The city has an outer wall of white stone that gleams for miles out into the desert air and five gates, each named for an ancient god of the Iremites, but commonly named for the color of the stone facings – i.e. the Red Gate (sandstone), the Blue Gate (lapis lazuli), Green Gate (malachite), Purple Gate (porphyry) and White Gate (marble). The outer portions of the town are given over to the adobe dwellings of the peas-ants and artisans, while the inner town, surrounded by a second wall (decorative, not defensive) is home to the royal family, government officials, priests and wealthy merchants in service to the queen.

The outer town is divided into four sections, each for one of the clans native to Rama, namely the Katare, Mabor, Malbizu and Mandilar. The clans can be identified by the color and style of their headdress and numerous other signs obvious to the locals. They are antagonistic towards one another, but not openly hostile.

The inner town is divided by a grand boulevard 30 feet wide and lined with 30-ft tall columns of white marble. The street runs from the Temple of Baal (dedicated to Jove by the Nomoi) on the east to the Temple of Nergal (dedicated to Pluto) on the west. At the center of the boulevard there is a great marble victory arch. On the north side of the street are the town’s baths, the Queen’s citadel and temples of Nabu (Mercury) and Allat (Venus). On the south side of the street one finds the building of the council of elders and the great Court of Tariffs, where tax collectors levy taxes and tariffs on visiting and local merchants.

Just outside the town proper there is a tall hill on which is built a fortified shrine of Moloch, who the Nomo had re-dedicated to Saturn while they held the town. The shrine is within a defensive tower manned by Moloch’s six priests.

Located outside the town in the desert is the Valley of the Dead, where the locals bury their dead in tombs. Some are simple caves while others are tower tombs or large under-ground sepulchers. The dead of the poor are cremated in the Temple of Moloch and placed in caves in terracotta urns. The wealthy are mummified by the priests of Nergal and placed in sarcophagi, dressed in their bejeweled finery.

Now that the Nomo have quit Rama, the locals have become fairly xenophobic. Foreign merchants with items to trade are permitted in the city, but not welcomed with open arms, and adventurers and other vagrants are kept outside, staying in one of the small roadhouses established for them.

Rama’s army consists of 9 squadrons of town guards, armed and armored as heavy infantry, under the direct command of Queen Zabbai, and 9 companies of soldiers under the command of Queen’s captain, her cousin Thamaba. The town’s cavalry operate outside the oasis, pa-trolling the desert sands and intercepting caravans to give them the once over before they come closer to Rama.

Ursa | Stronghold

(Some of the locales in these hex crawls are based on real places, and some are based on some idea I had. Many are as simple as "a tower keep of a 9th level paladin", which require me to make up something to make this paladin's keep different than the others I've already written. In this case, it was boring until I started designing the shield, which was going to have a bear on it - Ursa - but ended up with the double-headed eagle because I accidentally double-clicked it. The double-headed eagle made me think of the Holy Roman Empire, which brought me to the Holy Nomo Empire, etc.)

Pixta Adamia Ursa is a paladin of Minerva who commands a tower keep in this hex. She is gathering together a mercenary army of retired legionnaires and other warriors dedicated to the task of saving the empire by leading an army of loyalists into Nomo and dislodging the emperor’s shade from the throne that an angel of Jove might be placed there in its stead. Ursa is assisted in this task by an ex-Vestal virgin named Caia Spadaea Artia, a veritable she-devil with a sword.

So far, Ursa has assembled 25 veteran legionnaires (HD 1+1) and eight elite cataphracts (3 HD) whom she leads personally into battle. They have sharpened their skills against raiding Warudi, but know their toughest challenges lie ahead.

Ursa is now assembling the elements she needs to conjure a powerful angel. The ceremony requires a set of golden plates that are scattered around the region. These plates, when placed together, reveal the true name of Sabrathan, a plane-tar who they believe can become the emperor of a new Holy Nomo Empire dedicated to all the gods of Law.

Horologium | Settlement


(This is one of the "hex crawl jambalaya" sorts of entries, where I start with mechanical men, and then start throwing in all sorts of stuff from the ancient world that involved mechanical men and try to make something fun to visit. So you get Vulcan's clockworks, and Talos and then Archimede's laser rays for good measure. I particularly liked the name Artifex Maximus.)

Horologium is an island and city-state left of Vulcan’s creations, just doing their best to avoid corroding in the salty air. The island has a variety of coastlines, including beaches, harbors and cliffs, and many natural springs.

The city-state is contained in a dormant caldera that still has enough geothermal energy to power the creations of the clockworks. The rim of the caldera is fashioned into ram-parts, with nine towers, each equipped with one of Archimedes’ burning mirrors (i.e. laser ray, deals 2d6 points of fire damage each round it is held on the target; small targets require a hit roll each round).

The automata (pop. 168) are metalworkers mostly, mining metals from the slopes of the old volcano and fashioning it into fine weapons, armor and clockworks for sale. They have a fortified harbor on the north side of the island where they permit non-automatons to dock and take on cargo.

At the center of the city-state is the palace of King Talos, a giant bronze man. Talos is attended by 20 golden keledones, maidens of gold who sing and, when their king is threatened, turn into flailing death bots. Silver and gold watchdogs patrol the palace grounds. The captain of the city guard is called Incubito, a man of steel fashioned in the image of a gladiator, with interchangeable weapon arms!

The automatons worship Primus of the polyhedroids as Artifex Maximus. His high priest is the high scientist Excogitatoris, who fashioned the blazing mirrors and guard dogs.

Mantu | City-State

Mantu is the chief port of Nomo. Few vessels are permitted to pass by Mantu towards Nomo, mostly just imperial war-ships or the pleasure boats of senators and such.

The city is enclosed by a great wall on land, and a smaller sea wall. The walls of the city are greyish green, and embossed every 120 feet by the city’s arms. The city is built on a ring of hills that gradually descend towards the sea. The manses of the wealthy and the city offices are on the high hills, with the middle classes living below them and the lowlands, which sometimes flood, occupied by warehouses, tabernas, flop-houses and tiny shrines to a multitude of foreign gods. The buildings of Mantu have rooves of scarlet tiles, and many feature trellises climbed by vines of wild roses. The city is known for its cuisine, which includes roasted mutton, stews of garlic and fennel and lamb, fried fish, barley soup with fish sauce.

Temples are distributed throughout the city, with the Basilica of Neptune located in the high city. Other temples are dedicated to Salacia, goddess of sea water and wife of Nep-tune, Mater Matuta, protector of mariners, Angerona, reliev-er of pain and sorrow, Dispater in his role as god of wealth, the Aurae (breezes), the Venti (winds), Averruncus, propiti-ated to avert calamity, Hercules and Juno.

Mantu is known for its mines and those occupations related to mining, processing minerals and crafting with them. The traders of Mantu specialize in rare spices from the south. The hinterlands of Mantu are dotted with 49 villa rustica where people herd sheep and miners quarry granite, porphyry, copper and chrysoberyls. Chrysoberyls decorate the staff of office of the legate, who also wears sea blue robes of silk decorated with embroidered white roses.

With Nomo descending into chaos, many powerful families have fled to Mantu. The city-state has hardened its defenses, and there is talk of declaring the city-state independent of Nomo and preparing for war.

The city is protected by cohors I Mantu Nautae, which con-sists of 23 companies of legionnaires, many of them trained as marines, and 5 squadrons of equites. The cohort is commanded by Dux Ailio Cynon Gonzorgo, a veteran of many campaigns against pirates and a key conspirator with the nobles in declaring independence from Nomo (and he’s angling to be named Princeps). The cohort is responsible for protecting the city, patrolling the waterways and protecting the road that connects Mantu to Nomo. The Mantu city guard consists of 9 squadrons of guardsmen.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

A Tiptoe into Nomo

Thomas Cole's Destruction (1836) from Course of Empire

I'm deep into writing the Nomo hex crawl and thought I'd share a few of the encounters with you. I'm having fun writing it, combining a bit of the late Roman Empire + Byzantium about to fall, and running my Latin through a Gaulish filter to make it familiar and strange at the same time. Just north of Nomo's heartland is the Crimson Waste, a desert that used to be a green and pleasant empire called Irem. The Iremites got into a devil worship and ultimately were destroyed in a war with the Nabu Empire (which you might have met in my Wyvern Coast/Nabu hex crawl from way back in NOD 1 to 3). Now that land is roamed by their descendants, the Warudi nomads, with a few monasteries and settlements that were spared in the cataclysm.

Lots of casual research goes into these things, so I always learn a few things. At the moment, I'm agonizing over Nomo's legions and their emblems, mottoes and cohorts and such.

Anyhow ... on with the show:

0411 Glassy Lake | Monster

This hex holds a vast, pristine lake with a glassy surface that seems unaffected by the wind. The banks are thick with acacias and great clouds of butterflies. At the center of the island there is a small, rocky island topped by a pretty little stronghold of lavender stone, with latticed windows and crenelations topped by golden pyramids. Splashing around the base of the island are pretty children – nixies – who sometimes climb the steps of the stronghold, which descend into the water, and slide through the doors.

Within the stronghold, a tower keep, which the nixies are pledged to defend, there is a throne of crushed shell, tall and fine, on which sits a woman composed of living glass. Princess Vyrna is the spirit of the lake, which was once much larger and much beloved by the Iremites. She was once a nixie queen, but took on her present form when she made a deal with the devil (literally) to save what remains of her home from the cataclysm. At night, the nixies of the lake take on a demonic aspect, and commit horrors upon any foolish enough to be found in the stronghold.

0512 The Snake Women Cometh | Monster

The desert sands here funnel into a deep cave of basalt. As one proceeds into the earth, about 500 feet, the air becomes warm and damp, and pools form on the floor. This opens into several interlocked caverns that are very wet and warm, with opalescent slime growing on the walls in great furry strands. These caves are inhabited by a trio of giant vipers that are controlled by the true masters of the cave complex.

Hidden behind one of these curtains there is a stair that proceeds another 400 feet into the earth. This passage is blocked by an adamantine gate with a complex, electrified lock.

At the base of this winding stair is a complex of ophidian amazons. Tall, statuesque women, they have pale scales that darken to rust on their lower arms and legs and carmine on their fingers and toes. This tribe of warrior-scientists consists of 85 females (lesser ophidians) and 27 smaller males who are left behind to tend the eggs and the machinery that pro-duces the warm, wet air that fills the cave.

In these caves, they work night and day on developing a method to clone themselves using concentrated quintessence, blood and whatever humanoid remains they can recover from their vipers. They have not yet struck upon the proper formula, but when they do, they have plans for Nod.

0610 Dirhab | Stronghold

Dirhab is a dervish abbey from olden times. The abbey is constructed of white marble, pock marked after a thousand years of windblown sand. The walls are 40 feet high, and there is a 50-foot tall tower at each corner. The gates of the abbey are composed of ebony, and are 1 foot thick, 10 feet tall and can only be opened using a winch found on the inside.

Within the front gate there is a broad courtyard, rectangular, that supports numerous flowering bushes. The courtyard is floored in reddish tiles decorated with white lilies. On the walls are mosaics of Marduk’s battle with Tiamat and Kingu, and his creation of humanity.

From the courtyard, one can pass into the living quarters and temple of the order. The buildings that surround the courtyard are three stories tall. The halls are hung with rich tapestries depicting the destruction of Irem by avenging angels raining down fire and the scattering of the Warudi across the Crimson Waste. In each of the towers is a large bell of meteoric iron, the dervishes striking them at noon and midnight to call the order and their families to prayer.

In a second courtyard, well-protected, are kept dozens of small white goats with pearly horns. These goats are kept as sacred animals, and are feted on Marduk’s holy day from silver bowls while the priests dance and play flutes carved from lapis lazuli.

The patriarch of the order is old Gazim (NG human cleric 10), whose body has twisted as he has grown older. He has lived through 500 summers, as all of the dervishes are extremely long-lived due to the blessing of Marduk.

The abbey houses 18 dervish priests, 40 dervishes and 180 noncombatants. The dervishes are mostly armed with shields and kaskaras, though 20 of them carry light crossbows and wear leather armor. They all fight like berserkers.

0927 The Sea Phantoms | City-State

Deep beneath the waves of this hex there stands a tall spire, raised from the sea floor, 40 feet thick at the base and 200 feet tall, rounded at the top and carved from top to bottom with skulls in an alien, geometric design.

Around this spire is a town of 1,500 sea phantoms, men and women of the Ethereal Plane with only the merest presence on the Material Plane. These people are not undead, but they are insubstantial and appear indistinct to people who dwell wholly on the Material.

These sea phantoms survive on the dying screams and lamentations of doomed sailors, though they are never the cause of these dooms. They merely float to the surface when they detect fear, and holding out their hazy hands collect these collected sufferings in the form of a black nodule that is not unlike a large, black pearl. They place these pearls, which exist on both the Material and Ethereal Planes, in the eye sockets of those aforementioned skulls. These pearls bathe the Ethereal Plane in a strange radiation which nourishes and sustains the enigmatic sea phantoms.

On the Ethereal, the sea phantoms appear as normal human beings with pallid skin, silvery hair and slate grey eyes. They dress in gauzy robes and carry thin silver swords and daggers at their sides to fend off ethereal marauders and other such dangers of their plane. On the Material Plane, they appear as vague, shimmering outlines of human beings, with eyes like faint lights gleaming through a thick fog, and their voices, normally quite distinct, sound hollow and wispy. Their buildings and houses look like white shapes seen through a thick fog bank, and feel to those on the Material Plane like cold, slushy water.

The sea phantoms are not evil, nor are they good. They want nothing from the Material Plane beyond the desperation of doomed men and women. They seek no agency over the material world, but are willing to communicate the secrets they have gathered to people if they are willing to pass through to the Ethereal Plane with rich gifts.

1719 Natanos | Stronghold

Natanos is a small fishing hamlet (pop. 50) on the shores of the Green Sea. The hamlet consists of several stone cottages on a gentle rise overlooking the beach. Within the hamlet on will find a mysterious staircase between two buildings. The stairs are painted many colors and seem to climb nowhere. Numerous orange cats sit on the stairs.

The cats are intelligent, and live with the sorceress Philia. The stairs head up to her tower, which is tucked between dimensions. The tower, if one could see it, is about 60 feet tall and pure white, topped with a conical azure roof. The interior is elegant and simple, with many bookshelves, blue carpets and furniture that is best described as “Danish modern”.

One chamber holds a small gallery of abstract art, all of it carved from blue stone, ranging from light to very dark blue. Another holds a pool of sea water and an elegant white boat – the pool serves as a portal to the sea, and is activated by pouring wine mixed with a drop of blood into the pool. All of the chambers equipped with floor to ceiling mirrors, for the only thing Philia loves more than her cats is her own face.

Philia is in the middle of the process of forging a magic staff, and she is using the pounding surf and sea winds to do it. The staff is being held by a living statue that she has sent out into the waves – only its forearm and hand, and the staff, are visible to those on the beach, and one might guess it is nothing but a bit of driftwood.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Lest We Forget [Grit & Vigor]

Today is Veterans' Day (formerly Armistice Day) in the U.S. of A. First and foremost, I offer my thanks to those who have served - God bless you.

Since this is a game blog, I now offer Grit & Vigor stats for a couple genuine war heroes, Sgt. Alvin York and Audie Murphy.

Sgt. Alvin York

Class: Fighter
Level: 4
Hit Points: 26

Strength: 14 / +1
Intelligence: 9
Wisdom: 12
Dexterity: 13 / +1
Constitution: 16 / +2
Charisma: 11

Feats: Dodge, Elusive Target, Point Blank Shot

Knacks: Climb Sheer Surfaces

Alvin York was an odd choice for military heroism. When he reported for military duty during the First World War, he let his superiors know that, as a Christian, he didn't believe that he could take part in fighting.

After many discussions with the camp chaplain, and a lot of soul searching, he finally decided that a Christian could fight if called to do so. With that, he was off to Europe, where he soon earned a Medal of Honor for, according to Wikipedia, "leading an attack on a German machine gun nest, taking 35 machine guns, killing at least 28 German soldiers, and capturing 132 others".


Audie Murphy

Class: Fighter
Level: 5
Hit Points: 35

Strength: 13 / +1
Intelligence: 10
Wisdom: 11
Dexterity: 16 / +2
Constitution: 13 / +1
Charisma: 12

Feats: Ace Shot, Diehard, Point Blank Shot, Precise Shot

Knacks: Electronics, Handle Animals

Skills: Demolitions

What Audie Murphy did in real life would seem unbelievable if you saw it in a movie. Serving in the U.S. Army in the Second World War in Italy, he took part in many distinguished acts of heroism. Via Wikipedia, here's what earned him the Medal of Honor:

"The Germans scored a direct hit on an M10 tank destroyer, setting it alight, forcing the crew to abandon it. Murphy ordered his men to retreat to positions in the woods, remaining alone at his post, shooting his M1 carbine and directing artillery fire via his field radio while the Germans aimed fire directly at his position. Murphy mounted the abandoned, burning tank destroyer and began firing its .50 caliber machine gun at the advancing Germans, killing a squad crawling through a ditch towards him. For an hour, Murphy stood on the flaming tank destroyer returning German fire from foot soldiers and advancing tanks, killing or wounding 50 Germans. He sustained a leg wound during his stand, and stopped only after he ran out of ammunition. Murphy rejoined his men, disregarding his own wound, and led them back to repel the Germans. He insisted on remaining with his men while his wounds were treated. For his actions that day, he was awarded the Medal of Honor. The 3rd Infantry Division was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation for its actions at the Colmar Pocket, giving Murphy a Bronze Oak Leaf Cluster for the emblem."

This was after several bouts of malaria and losing a bit of hip muscle to gangrene. Murphy left the U.S. Army as a first lieutenant, and later achieved the rank of Major with the Texas Army National Guard.

Happy Veteran's Day to all you veterans!

Friday, November 4, 2016

Get Bleeped [New Monster]

Monsters can come from the unlikeliest places, but this one came from a doodle (see below) on a scratchpad while I was on a conference call.

Bleep

Never had an art lesson - can you believe it? *
Type: Construct
Size: Small
Hit Dice: 3+1
Armor Class: 16 (20 vs. metal)
Move: Fly 60′
Attack: Zap (5′/1d6 electricity) or slam (1d4 + 1d6 electricity)
Save: 15
Intelligence: Average
Alignment: Neutral (LN)
No. Appearing: 1d4
XP/CL: 300/4

SD—Resistance (acid, fire), immunity (electricity, mind effects)

SP—See below

Bleeps are constructs that hail from the Astral Plane. They materialize on other planes to learn about their ecosystems, recording data and testing inhabitants, before returning from whence they came (wherever that may be). Whether they are in control of themselves, or serve another species, is unknown. Bleeps communicate in a stilted, robotic voice. Due to their time on a given plane recording information, they have a 75% chance to speak the language of any creature they encounter.

Bleeps are surrounded by an electromagnetic field, which gives them an AC 20 against metal objects. Against spells that involve metal hurlants, they enjoy a +3 bonus to saving throws. This also allows them to zap creatures up to five feet away with electricity and their touch is also electrifying.

The bleep's main weapon, though, is its ability to conjure replicas of creatures using pure energy. This acts as the different "summon monster" spells, I through IX. They can use one spell at a time, and while they use that spell, they lose a number of hit points equal to the level of the spell. Thus, a bleep using summon monster IX loses 9 hit points while the spell is active. When the spell is deactivated, the hit points return. If a bleep is destroyed while conjuring a monster, the monster disappears and the bleep, reduced to 0 hit points, does not suddenly pop back to life.

The interior of the construct is something like a geode, being a composition of weird crystals covering the interior of the metal shell. A sphere of ethereal nth metal floats in the center of this metal shell while the monster is functional, held in place by an inner electromagnetic field. When the monster is no longer fuctional, and if it is opened, the nth metal quickly floats upward at a rate of 30 feet per round, probably to never be seen again unless someone has a handy silver net with which to catch it.

--
* This is a lie - I took an art class in high school. I just suck at drawing.

Monday, October 31, 2016

A Few Thoughts on Horror

Virgil Finlay, folks
I'm not an expert on horror. I like some old flicks, but I've never been into the buckets-of-blood stuff and human fear and misery aren't high on my list of things I find entertaining. Nevertheless, I was pondering a few ideas this Halloween about making horror work in games, and thought they might be of use, especially to folks who haven't run too many games. None of these items are mechanics-based, just things to use while narrating/refereeing a game.

1. Be Descriptive

Game mechanics are usually pretty cut-and-dry. Roll d20, if it's above X you hit for damage. If not, you miss. For most games, and most combats, it works well enough to leave it at that. For a horror game, you probably want to embellish. For a game to be scary, you have to make it visceral and to some extent personal for the players, and you don't have the same tricks that are available to authors (i.e. complete control of the action and tempo) and filmmakers (i.e. mood lighting, quick cuts, etc.). Language is one way to do this.

Here's an example, in this case from a non-horror game I'm running on G+. Just some adventurers, plodding across the desert, who run into some weird spires sticking up from the sand. They decide to camp, and find themselves nearly surrounded by weird columns of moving sand - sand things as I called them (I never use actual monster names unless it's pretty obvious or just doesn't matter). The group decides to make a run for it, and I roll some dice and determine that they escape successfully. I could have just written:

"You escape them. What do you want to do now?"

Instead, I wrote:

"You take off across the sands, between the advancing sand things, and feel them crash behind you, as they attempt to close the gaps. They fail, though you can feel the sand on your necks.

As you run, you can feel the sand shifting beneath your feet, as though somebody was trying to pull a carpet from under them, and you can almost sense the swell of golden sands behind you, like a wave preparing to crest and then bash you into the dust.

Luckily, you are swift enough, and after ten solid minutes of adrenaline-fueled running you finally collapse on the sand. All is quite, and you believe that, whatever they were, they are no longer behind you. You no longer see the spires behind you."

Hopefully, that made the game more fun for the players, and leaves them wondering if the encounter is really over (and if you're one of those players ... it might not be).

You can do something similar with horror games - narrate things, especially minor things that aren't really important, for frightening effect. Describe the way things feel, sound and smell, especially if they are robbed of their sight. Linger on the faces of the people with whom they deal - provide clues to what is happening in their minds that can be read in multiple ways.

2. Make It Count

Most role playing games are about conflict, fighting monsters (of some sort) and exploring the unknown. The good news - these are all elements of horror. The bad news - you use these elements every dang time you play. If you walked into a dark alley and run into a beholder, you would be traumatized. For your players, it just means it's game night. Big deal.

So - you need to find a way to make it count. The loss for the characters has to be more than a loss of gold or experience points. All those undead monsters that do level drain are one way to scare players, but you can also put other things in the pot that mean something to the characters, and I mean you need to put them in the pot, not the players themselves. Threaten something that is important to the character because it is important to the player playing the character. A player who gets off on combat but doesn't give a rip about his character's fictional family is not going to react to his fictional parents being threatened by something horrible. Losing a hand, however, might really bug him.

Know your players, figure out what will bother them, what will cause their stomachs to knot, and then use it against them. At least one player and character, maybe more but possibly not all, must be threatened with a loss that will drive them through the game.

3. Hold Things Back

I just told you a minute ago to be descriptive. Not I'm going to tell you to keep silent. Silence in a pen & paper game is the equivalence of darkness in a movie. The players should be groping about, certain that something terrible is happening, but uncertain as to exactly why or how or when. I use the word "or" advisedly. Don't keep them in the dark about everything. Keep one thing - why, how, or when - completely secret. They'll never know until it's too late. Have one of those things obscured but discover-able. The third thing should be evident early in the game.

For example - at midnight, the village of Vark will cease to be. How? It will be swallowed into Hell due to the actions of one person, the local butcher. Why? They'll never know ... but you know it is because of an otherwise innocent act he will perform for an aggrieved widow. All the players will know is that he is the key, and they'll have to keep on guard to stop terrible things from happening.

4. Tension vs. Surprise

This is a tip from Alfred Hitchcock, as regards to making thrillers. I think it is applicable to games, and it requires you to do something you normally do not do.

In his interviews with Truffaut, Hitchcock describes the difference between building tension and using surprise. He uses the example of two people sitting at a table talking. A time bomb is beneath the table.

If you want surprise and shock, you don't let the audience know about the bomb. All of a sudden, there is an explosion. The audience is surprised for a moment, and that is all.

If you want tension, you must let them know the bomb is under the table, and is about the go off. They're now sweating it out, waiting to discover if the characters will find the bomb, or otherwise escape the danger. With this technique, you can keep the audience tensed up for a few minutes rather than for just a split second.

You can find a good example of this in his film Rope, as well as in a sequence in the movie Sabotage.

In a game, you might pull this off by allowing the players, through their characters, witness a dangerous scene without being able to do anything about it. This can get old, though, and takes way a crucial element of the fun of these games, which is that players have a hand in the action.

Another way is to let the players peek into the mechanics of the game. Let them know how much time they have to stop something, and then take them through the process of stopping it. For example - to defuse the bomb that's about to go off requires three rolls of the dice. With each roll, the players get closer to success or death.

To make it even more tense, let them know that they dice they must roll are hidden around the room. They have one minute to find them and roll them. Or present them with three dice of different colors. One grants a +5 bonus to the roll, one a -5 penalty and one no bonus or penalty. Give them a minute in which to decide and roll a dice.

5. The Joys of Paranoia

Here's something I've used in my games. It helps if you have a group of friends playing who want the game to be fun and successful, but with strangers you might be able to bribe them to make it work.

I'll pass a note to a player. It says something like, "Look worried and then make eye contact with me and nod in agreement." If a bribe was necessary, I might add: "You get 500 XP for doing this."

The others now suspect their pal knows something they don't, and they suspect that something is happening beneath their very noses that is dangerous and THEY CANNOT SEE IT! Even worse, their so-called buddy knows and isn't saying anything. Isn't doing anything. WHY ISN'T HE DOING SOMETHING TO WARN US?!

You get the idea. It's a cheap trick and only effective when used sparingly. It helps with creating that "darkness" I mentioned earlier.

6. Provide Enough Rope

Not the "50 feet of" variety, but allow the players to make choices that get them deeper into the horror. With each choice, they are presented with new choices, but those new choices need to get incrementally worse. Since this is a horror game, there doesn't ever need to be a perfectly pure, good choice to make.

These choices, by the way, also help bring about the recriminations among the characters/players that fuel many horror movies. The team has to stick together to survive, but it gets harder and harder to do when those other idiots keep making you do things you didn't want to do and which keep making things worse. You don't want to end friendships, of course, but a little intra-party tension can help make the game work.

7. Oversell It

Here's something I learned from the good old days of comic book covers. I'm talking about the pre-pinup covers - things like this:

Found at Diversions of the Groovy Kind, natch!

You know Ka-Zar is not actually going to die, of course (though Doom might get punched in the face by a mummy) ... but you don't know how things will actually play out in the comic book. I still dig those covers, and they still make me want to read the book to see how the cover is lying to me.

In our case, you start the game by casually mentioning that one of the characters is going to die in this session, you're sure of it. This puts everyone on edge. It might also be a complete lie, but the point is to get them worried.

Of course, sometimes those cover blurbs actually come true ...

... until she returns  as a clone, Spider-Gwen and whatever else Marvel comes up with in the next few years ...



8. The Old Switcheroo

I've mentioned this before, but I'll say it again. If you want to run a Lovecraftian horror game, your worst move is probably pulling Call of Cthulhu out and openly running a session of it for the players. This isn't a dig against the game, but rather a commentary on how Lovecraft (and Poe, and many other horror writers) wrote their books. Those authors wrote stories about how unsuspecting, normal people suddenly found their way into supernatural situations they could not escape without giving something up (sanity, parts of their body, a loved one, etc.).

If you're playing CoC, the one thing the players know (or think they know) is that they're going to run into a Lovecraftian monstrosity. Thus, the game defeats the genre. I've suggested that pulling out the old James Bond RPG would be a great way to run a Lovecraft scenario. Everyone is primed for espionage, and then something odd happens and before they know, it's all spiraling out of control.

Let's use another example from Hitchcock on how to sucker people in. When people went to see Psycho for the first time (and my daughter and her friend recently did this, with no foreknowledge of the movie, so it still works), they saw a movie about a woman stealing money and driving to a hotel to allude the authorities. The woman was the main character. She's on the posters. The movie, obviously, is about what happens to this woman.

And then, a few minutes in, she's brutally murdered and never heard from again.

The old switcheroo. Now the audience doesn't know what the hell is happening, which is exactly the frame of mind Hitchcock wanted them in to sit through the rest of the movie. Take away that which is normal and safe and expected ... and in the case of fantasy games, the routine of the dungeon crawl, as weird and abnormal as it would be in real life, is normal and safe and expected.

The best way to inflict horror upon the players is to make sure they don't know what they're in for. Give them what appears to be a normal dungeon crawl, and let it morph, slowly at first, and then more rapidly, into a horror film. Or, how about capping off a dungeon crawl with a visit to town to buy supplies which turns into something horrible. The game seems to be bog standard. The players are expecting that the real game is the dungeon they're going to delve back into after a quick jaunt to boring old town ... and then everything goes horribly wrong.

If you have some ideas yourself about pulling off a good horror game - especially you referees who have experience with Chill and CoC and other such games - please let me know in the comments, and ...



Thursday, October 20, 2016

Post-Apocalypse of the Gods


This is a notion I've had for a while, sort of simmering on the back burner. I caught an old episode of Hercules Legendary Journeys yesterday though, the one where he meets the Norse gods, and so I got to thinking about it again. What follows is a thumbnail sketch of what might make for an interesting campaign that blends D&D-esque fantasy with Gamma World-esque post-apocalyptic gaming.

Ragnarok

If you've done any reading of the Norse myths, you are undoubtedly aware of Ragnarok - the twilight of the gods. At Ragnarok, Loki leads the giants and other bad guys against the gods, and most of the major "characters" end up dead - Thor and the Midgard serpent kill one another, Odin and Frigga are swallowed by Fenris and he is in turn killed, Loki and Heimdall kill one another. Good stuff, and somewhat unique in western mythology I think. Heck, some obscure movie studio is apparently making a movie about it.

What I always found cool about Ragnarok, though, is that although it was the end of some of the gods and results in a flood that wipes out most of humanity, it is not "The End". There is a post-Ragnarok world just waiting to be explored and conquered!

Post-Ragnarok

From memory - so please excuse any omissions or errors - Balder returns from Hel after Ragnarok to become the new king of the gods. I also remember that Thor's sons, Magni and Modi, inherit their father's hammer - presumably they take up where dad left off as protectors of man and god. In addition, two human beings managed to take shelter in Yggdrasil and were left to repopulate Midgard, so humans are still around.

If we play around with the concept, we can maybe make a fun campaign out of it.

On the fantasy side, we have the gods, and thus we have clerics and magic. We can also preserve at least some of the monsters of mythology - Norse mythology, of course, but monsters from other mythologies are welcome as well. Since we're in a post-apocalyptic setting, we can also throw in all the original weirdness from D&D - green slime, bulettes, beholders, as well as monsters from post-apocalypse settings - maybe Magni and Modi travel around in a chariot pulled by spider-goats?

Like this, only ruined and full of mutant demigods

On the science side, we can borrow from Marvel comics and use an Asgard that is as much science as it is sorcery. Some of that technology was left behind on Midgard, perhaps, but even better stuff is hidden away in Asgard if only some high-level adventurers can figure out how to get to it. The remaining gods - maybe we can call them The New Gods - now dwell on Midgard with humanity (though a bit separated, as the gods always prefer to dwell in gated communities).

Another option would be to set Ragnarok at some point in the near future, thus allowing modern technology to exist in the ruins of the world, ruins that are now visited by the primitive people who have established settlements close to, but not too close to, those ruins, to scavenge for supplies.

The Campaign

The campaign can be set in post-apocalypse Scandinavia/Iceland/Greenland, or you could even use Minnesota. Since the world is flooded in Ragnarok, you can use some maps that show what the geography would look like with higher sea levels - that will keep things just different enough to fool the players for a while and give them the enjoyment of figuring out what world they're exploring.

New towns and cities have sprung up, blending the old and the new. The wilderness is haunted by mutants, worgs and the scattered remnants of the giant races. Perhaps the elves of Alfheim visit now and again - let them be grey elves and beautiful and judgmental - and some of the dwarves survived the apocalypse hidden away in their mountains - let them be duergar and foul and greedy.


Above is a quick sketch of a campaign world, with the sunken city of Lug inhabited by mutant amphibious englishmen (use tritons to make it easy, or sahuagin to make it scary), the Swamp People of old Paris, with their giant frogs, the Gnomes of Zurik hiding away all that gold, the City of Black Bear, which can serve as a tent-pole mega-city-state with legions of warriors threatening more peaceful folk beyond, and of course New Asgard, where the gods and their servants dwell, and from which come the paladins of Balder to spread a new enlightenment among mankind.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Word Up

From "Popeye the Sailor Meets Ali Baba's Forty Thieves" via Wikipedia
Here are a few ideas on incorporating magical (or at least powerful) words into the treasure tables in your game.

All of these words are potential replacements for the venerable treasure map (which itself is a great piece of treasure). If you're playing a game without treasure maps on the treasure list, you might need to reexamine your life choices. Or, you could just add it to the list of magic scrolls.

Fechtbuchs
"Fechtbuch" is a German word for a book that teaches warriors how to fight with word and illustrations. The fechtbuch concept can be used for all classes, of course, and it occurred to me last night that the value of one of these books could be to grant a character an XP bonus, maybe +5% or +10% at the most, while they are earning XP to gain their new level. When the new level is gained, the book is of no more use to them - they've learned everything they're going to learn from it.

The cursed version would do the opposite - a book written by a fool that makes true learning harder than it should be. Imagine trying to deal with a real hippopotamus after reading some nonsense in an old medieval bestiary.

Passwords
A password gained in one room might help one get past a trap or monster in another room, or even another dungeon. "Swordfish" is a classic from the Marx Brothers movie Horse Feathers, and who can forget "open sesame" (or "open sez me" if you're a Popeye fan).



Passwords can be mundane - as in a word spoken to guards to permit passage past them - or they can be magical, as in a word spoken to disarm a magic trap or lock. Perhaps every lock and trap has a mystic password given to it by its creator during the act of creation, and high level thieves have a knowledge of such passwords. While they use their picks and tools, they also whisper these words to the lock, hoping to find the one that opens it.

The "cursed" version of this would be the word that causes bad things to happen, a' la the infamous "bree-yark" in The Keep on the Borderlands.

Secret Words
Secret words are not all that different from passwords, I suppose, but with them the power of the word is definitely magical. Secret words work on living creatures, including non-sentient creatures. The words are tied to a particular type of creature and they have a single effect. The word can be used one or two or three times before it loses its power.

The effects of a secret word should be non-offensive, and could include making the creature friendly, stopping a charging or pursuing creature in its tracks, or undoing a special attack or defense of the monster (such as "turning off" a medusa's petrifying gaze) for a short period of time.

The mystical word "Nee" comes immediately to mind.

True Names
True names are not terribly different from secret words, though they are potentially more powerful. The idea is that every creature from beyond the mortal realm, demons, devils, demodands, angels, elementals, etc., has a secret true name that permits the speaker control over them. The true name should probably be treated as a spell - thus once spoken, it is forgotten. Otherwise, you're giving an adventurer a pet monster to sic on his enemies, and that's a bit more than any adventurer should get. The word, when spoken to its owner, could act as a command, suggestion or geas spell - whatever makes the GM comfortable.

Rincewind by Paul Kidby, found at Wikipedia
The true name can be used in a summoning spell to bring that specific creature to you (rather than pot luck) and put it under control. If you know the true name but don't know the owner, a GM could give a flat 1% chance that the creature you're speaking to is the owner of the true name you have learned. After all, fantasy stories and fairy tales are full of such odd coincidences. Speaking the true name to the wrong creature, however, might be disastrous - the creature will know what you were trying to do and may resent it.

A good example of a true name is Rumpelstiltskin.

Words of Power
Words of power take things up yet another level. These words are, in effect, the power word spells (and maybe a few others, such as control weather) in a form that anyone can use. Again, you are allowed one use to a customer, and perhaps that use comes with ramifications, as the keepers of cosmic order do not care to have things disordered by irresponsible adventurers.

Conceptually, I'm thinking of these being like the powerful spell that lodged itself in the head of Terry Pratchett's magic-user Rincewind. Have the word of power displace a spell that a character can normally prepare (even clerics) or a skill or maneuver a non-spellcaster can normally use. A thief, for example, learns the power word kill spell, but while it's in her head she cannot move silently, hide in shadows or pick pockets, making her a very effective murderer, but a lousy thief.

The Greek word "logos", from Wikipedia

Friday, October 7, 2016

Secret Ability Scores - My Goofy Idea of the Day

Of course he has an 18 charisma - just ask Juanita and Thelma Lou
I was recently thinking about self-awareness. How many people have you known who were not nearly as charismatic or intelligent as they thought they were? Their failings seem obvious, but are blissfully unaware of them. I thought that this might offer a fun and interesting way for veteran players to liven up their old games.

In most fantasy games, characters have ability scores. These scores are rolled by the player and known to the player. This knowledge plays a role in the player's choice of their character's class or career, and it influences their actions in the game.

But what if players did not know their character's ability scores? Might make for an interesting game, no?

(Or maybe a complete disaster)

It all hinges, to use Blood & Treasure as an example, on wisdom. Wisdom deals with awareness, not only of one's surroundings, but of oneself. A character with even average wisdom should be able to gauge how intelligent and charismatic they are ... and how wise they are. The wise man knows what he knows not, so to speak. Characters with low wisdom, on the other hand, assume natural abilities they do not actually have. If wisdom is low enough, they may even be unaware of their physical limitations. A foolish man can talk himself into anything, after all.

Here's the idea - a player rolls his or her ability scores with their eyes closed. The GM writes them down. If you're rolling ability scores in order, all the better. If not, the player can decide which score gets the highest roll, then the next highest, and so on. There will be some clues if you're doing it this way, but no system is perfect.

In all cases, the player does not know his or her character's wisdom score unless it is 13 or higher. If lower than 13, roll a dice - on a 1-3 they think it's average and on a 4-6 they think it is high.

If the character's Wisdom score is 13 or higher, the player gets to know all of her ability scores.

If the character's Wisdom score is 9 or higher, the player gets to know his physical ability scores and either his intelligence or charisma score (his choice). The mystery score is believed to be high.

If the character's Wisdom score is 6 to 8, they get to know their physical ability scores, but not their mental scores. You just tell them that their intelligence and charisma are high and leave it at that, regardless of the actual score.

If the character's Wisdom score is 3 to 5, they don't know any of their ability scores, but are simply told that they are all high, again, regardless of the actual scores.

Now, this creates a certain difficulty, as classes often have ability score requirements for entry. You could tell the player that their character, who they think has a high intelligence, cannot cut it as a magic-user, of course, but then the player should know they have an intelligence lower than 9.

I can think of a couple ways to go with this:

1) If they pick a class for which they cannot qualify, they instead become a wash-out and end up as a fighter or thief (assuming they can qualify for those classes). They might still act like a wizard or priest, but they won't be and they'll know it and probably resent the hell out of those who actually did enter the class of their choice.

2) Another way to go is to permit them entry into the class with lower scores, and apply an XP penalty to their advancement. Maybe a -10% for every score that isn't up to muster. These are characters who try really hard, but it takes them forever to get the hang of things.

The idea here is to produce Barney Fifes in your game - characters who have to get in over their heads a few times before they slowly figure out their limitations. Characters who insist they should try to decipher the magic rune because they have the highest intelligence, even though their intelligence is actually a '6'. Characters who bumble and stumble a bit, just like we do in real life.
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