Friday, March 27, 2009

The Cleric and the Faith Part V: No, There Is No God Margaret

This is not atheism, but a universe in which no deities actually exist. There are no gods, no powers, nothing that watches over you but the terrifying things that go bump in your nightmares. Humans - and demi-humans - are alone, and are the height of advancement both social and technological (we're not playing the evolutionary levels game here). No devils, demons, daemons, or angels. There are no outer planes, inner planes, or alternate planes.

Oh sure, people still huddle together in the dark and worship things, but in the end, there's nothing there to hear them. This is it.

Of course, this creates a game that's a lot darker and more grim than your average D&D game. People who become badly injured tend to stay that way for a good long time, if they recover at all. People who get sick stay sick, or merely die due to lack of modern medicine. Of course, main casualties are the entire Cleric class, along with Druids and Paladins. Rangers take a glancing blow as they lose their ability to cast some cleric spells at higher levels, but that honestly doesn't bother me at all. In the interest of "balance" I suppose they could be given a few magic user spells to compensate, but in all honesty I don't see the need.

I'm growing more and more enamored of the whole concept, really, though I think it'll end up looking pretty damn terrifying in the end. Something not really suitable at all to standard D&D concepts of rascals with hearts of gold seeking adventure and fortune and so on. Not sure how that bothers me, but it does just a little. D&D always managed to have a positive, almost happy spin on things in my view and I'm not sure I can slice that out without killing some part of the game.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Width of Two Horses' Asses

While I have no way to verify this here in the office (for fear of what such a search might drag up through the company network), there's an old story I was told by my grandfather that the width of a modern railroad as determined by the width of two horses' asses side by side. This is because when the Romans built their roads throughout Europe and the Middle East - suckers for standardization that they are - they determined that their roads (and the tunnels through which they travelled) needed to be that width in order to accommodate common horse drawn vehicles of the time. Thus, the width of many roads and tunnels up until the advent of our decadent modern ways were determined by equine backsides.

This is the sort of story that I like. Even if it's not really true, it's amusing and "truthy" enough that it sticks and entertains for at least a while. Similar stories involve why many look at right handedness as correct and left handedness as an aberration (because in a Mediterranean and Middle Eastern culture several thousand years ago, the left hand was used to do only one thing, and it was generally rude to offer that hand to do any other task), or why we in the US drive on the right side of the road rather than the left as in the UK, or any number of societal quirks that we have and have utterly forgotten the origin of but still come naturally to us. When we find out more about them, we are either amused endlessly (as I am) or simply don't believe it at all.

This is the kind of story that should be present in every game. Even if it has no bearing at all on the grand scheme of things, if you even have a grand scheme in your game, even if the players never learn about it or bother to question it, these little tidbits make the world seem just a little more alive at least to the referee, which helps to make it feel more alive to the players stumbling through the world.

In Thylia, it is customary, upon meeting a traveller from the opposite direction on the way, to pass on the side so that your shield, rather than weapon, faces the other traveller. This is a show of peace and respect as passing with weapons facing would be construed as hostile intent. Such custom becomes interesting when the other traveller is left handed . . .

At high tables, it is courteous to set aside a portion of your meal for the servants who, in ages past, would have only what scraps of food fell from the table or went uneaten at the end of the meal.

One should always pass upon the South side of a barrow, thus avoiding its entryway and possibly disturbing its inhabitants.

Mentioning the name of any man, dwarf, or elf exiled from society is bad luck and in poor taste. Most persons will attempt to politely ignore such habits and pretend such persons do not exist.

A traveller who knocks upon any door after sunset can expect at least a place upon the floor next to the fire. Such guests are expected to provide some minor service for their hosts, or at least some minor payment in exchange for such hospitality.

Any other ideas?

The Cleric and the Faith Part IV: All Gods Are Local

One of the tenets of Old School gaming (and life in general really) is that "all politics are local." That translates to, in my book, no grand overarching plots to save the world against the Big Bad Evil Guy, or righting the cosmic balance, or whatever. The happenings within any campaign are due mostly, if not entirely, due to local forces. Which is, of course, not to say that local happenings can't cause a chain of events that lead to greater and greater effects: the cold grows deeper and more deadly in the north, driving the orcs out of the mountains to compete for space with the hobgoblins on the plains, who move west and begin taking border forts of the human lands, who . . .

This is one of those tenets that is carried forward into Middle School gaming many times, though, to our shame, we did futz around extensively with heavy handed plots and ridiculous "save the world" schemes.

If we can apply it to politics, why wouldn't it apply to gods? Instead of cobbling together yet another standard fantasy pantheon, the assumption is that there are simply no hugely powerful deities (in AD&D 2e terms, that would mean nothing above a lesser deity) and that there are no universally or broadly worshipped entities. Instead, various beings rule over smaller geographic or cultural regions: a valley for instance, or a small chain of islands. For whatever reason, the being draws worship in sufficient quantity and quality that it empowers them to the point of godhood. Govgim Dahl is a great example. Or perhaps a brass dragon who has lurked in the neighborhood of local villages for long enough that the human folk look to it as a protector, guardian, and worship object. A solitary Illithid, lurking in a cavern 'neath a moderate city that collects human sacrifices in order to stave off its wrath.

The possibilities are endless here, and best of all, I don't have to worry about such piddling things like consistency across vast regions as pretty much everybody worships whatever strikes their superstition just the right way. It also leaves the door open to player creativity as their characters could be devout worshippers of whatever local city god or god of the forest they knew as children. It also helps me to take out the broad and sweeping religious issues such as crusades, inquisitions, and mass conversions as no single deity has that level of raw power or following. A creature with a mere thousand living worshippers is probably not going to want to risk them all in some brash attempt to increase its demesne.

This is the other method that I am leaning heavily towards for Thylia. It's suitably complicated that I can have a panoply of gods making appearances here and there, but simple enough that I can throw in another two or three at random intervals and not upset matters. Of course, the next problem this throws up is that I have to create a deity for every NPC cleric that shows their nose anywhere as it's unlikely that a PC cleric will find another of his faith outside the precincts of his home town.

I've also considered combining this with my simplified dualism, in effect putting up the three largest religions as having been, at one time, much smaller, but having grown powerful and widely over the centuries until they are nearly universal. At the same time, lesser gods grew up on their coattails and even now vie for the opportunity to ascend to that level of power. Or perhaps these lesser gods themselves even worship the Power of Light or Darkness.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Cleric and the Faith Part III: D&D Pantheism

The most common method by far, I think (based on a completely unscientific method of pulling this statistic from my ass), of dealing with clerics, priests, and "the powers that be" in the standard fantasy role playing game, and especially in D&D, is to throw up a whole plethora of gods and godesses. Sometimes, it's a customized set of home brew gods that, for some reason always seem to feel exactly the same as every other set. There'll be Zabril, the god of death, an evil cuss who wears a black cloak (white if you're a Japanophile) and carries an appropriate weapon. Then there's Aborath, god of goodness and chivalry who appears as a white knight in shining armor who expects his clerics to bring his light into the darkest corners of the world by dint (and dent) of a mace. There'll usually be some kind of draconic god, like maybe a five headed dragon with all the colors . . . And that's all fine and dandy, but it feels most of the time just like every other variation on the theme. Every other hackneyed and half assed D&D world. And yes, I'm aware of the irony, why do you ask?

Another common use is to recycle gods from our own various mythoi, usually the popularized versions found in modern textbooks, or possibly Bullfinch, throw them all in a blender and hit "frappe." Set is the god of evil and death, Odin is a god of good and battle, Zeus is the king of the gods, and Quetzalcoatl is the god of civilization. It's all amusing, familiar, and more than a little eerie in a way to see so many of our own cultures mashed together into some frankenstinian amalgam, and it's only occasionally that somebody seems to "get it right" so to speak. It's only very occasionally that we see an Odin who is based more on his representation in the Havamal and the Sagas than on Gary's take on things.

Again, nothing wrong with it, but not where I want to go really.

Maybe it's the recent influence of HP Lovecraft on my brain, but it seems like the concept of personal and aligned deities (i.e., Shazaam the LN god of stain removers) are somehow limiting. It makes them seem like nothing more than especially powerful entities and, in some cases, they are exactly that: merely very powerful beings that started out as mortals. If the gods are nothing more than very powerful beings, then they become fodder for the swords of adventurers. Of course, this is a time honored tradition in both old and new schools of play, but it's always struck me as particularly stupid to reduce gods to that level. Gods are to humans (dwarves, elves, trolls, pixies, etc.) as humans are to bacteria, but only in comparisons of various "power levels" so to speak. They are not merely higher forms of life or even personal and sentient beings properly speaking.

In this view, the gods are, at best, the semi-sentient amalgam of the energies poured into a concept. The god of death, for instance, is not a being as we would imagine one, but the summation of all the energy spent worshipping death, advancing death, protecting death, fighting death, and so on. It is the energized and motile concept of the extinguising of life, neither good nor evil nor even neutral. It is incapable of morality in the mortal sense of the concept and to attribute sentience to it is missaimed.

The character of the worshipper is determined entirely by that worshipper and not by any dictate from the godhead (such as it is). Thus, a lawful evil congregation of the god of Death may show their devotion by decideing to bring "Death's Gift" to every living being in the world via a convoluted magical ceremony involving world spanning plots. A chaotic good worshipper may show devotion by helping fight against premature death and unnatural death: fighting the perversion of Death. A neutral congregation may take vows never to interfere one way or the other in the termination or preservation of life, but devote itself entirely to providing moderate comfort in the final passage, a hospice of sorts. In the end, the worshippers are reflections of various aspects of Death, and consequently Death itself is a reflection of the ideologies of its worshipers.

Each god would have clerics with a different assortment of available spells, perhaps each church as well. The spells available would reflect their mission and ideology.

I realize that this entire concept is wonky at best and absolutly bird brained most likely, but I think it's one that's supported by the supposed D&D mythos of AD&D 2e that I wanted to jettison a while ago. At the very least, in the Planescape books, the reality of the game world is shaped by the beliefs of its inhabitants. Thus, if somebody actually believes it, and believes in it strongly enough, it can come true. Belief is what causes entire towns and cities to slide from the Outlands into the Abyss, and, seemingly, the creation of deities.

I think the idea is an interesting one, and leads to a lot of infighting between various churches as they strive to achieve the "one true version" of their respective religions.

Somebody tell me I'm not absolutely mad?

The Best Gaming Advice EVER

Sometimes we lose in all the discussion about whether Old School, New School, Summer School, or Clown School gaming is the best, or what house rules are great, or what edition is the best, or whether or not Gary Gygax is, in fact, a deity himself, some of the most common sense and basic advice that we, as gamers and as people, should be following. Enjoy yourself, and good luck!Don't be a dickhead.

Noisms has it exactly right. Most problems with gaming can be boiled down to people just flat out being jerks during what's supposed to be fun.

In that light, I present below advice from the DM himself from B1, advice that everybody should be intimately familiar with before they're allowed to open a book, no matter if that book is a glossy PHB from WOTC or a dingy and well-worn little brown book.

Beginning players would do well to profit from some basic
advice before beginning their D&D careers, and with that in
mind, the following points are offered for consideration:
1) Be an organized player. Keep accurate records on your
character (experience, abilities, items possessed, etc.) for
your own purposes and to aid the Dungeon Master.
2) Always keep in mind that the Dungeon Master is the
moderator of the game, and as such, deserves the continued
cooperation, consideration and respect of all the
players. If you disagree with him or her, present your viewpoint
with deference to the DM's position as game judge, but
be prepared to accept his or her decision as final—after all,
keep in mind that you may not know all aspects of the overall
game situation, and in that case, not everything will always
go your way!
3) Cooperate with your fellow players and work together
when adventuring. Remember that on any foray into the dungeon
or wilderness, a mix of character classes will be beneficial,
since the special abilities of the various characters will
complement each other and add to the overall effectiveness
of the party.
4) Be neither too hasty nor too sluggish when adventuring. If
you are too fast in your exploration, you may recklessly endanger
yourself and your fellow adventurers and fall prone
to every trick and trap you encounter. If you are too slow, you
will waste valuable time and may be waylaid by more than
your share of wandering monsters without accomplishing
anything. As you gain playing experience you will learn the
proper pace, but rely on your DM for guidance.
5) Avoid arguing. While disagreements about a course of
action will certainly arise from time to time, players should
quickly discuss their options and reach a consensus in order
to proceed. Bickering in the dungeon will only create noise
which may well attract wandering monsters. Above all, remember
that this is just a game and a little consideration will
go far toward avoiding any hard feelings . . .
6) Be on your guard. Don't be overly cautious, but be advised
that some non-player characters may try to hoodwink
you, players may doublecross you, and while adventuring,
tricks and traps await the unwary. Of course, you won't avoid
every such pitfall (dealing with the uncertainties is part of the
fun and challenge of the game), but don't be surprised if
everything is not always as It seems.
7) Treat any retainers or NPCs fairly. If you reward them generously
and do not expose them to great risks of life and limb
that your own character would not face, then you can expect
a continuing loyalty (although there may be exceptions,
of course).
8) Know your limits. Your party may not be a match for every
monster you encounter, and occasionally it pays to know
when and how to run away form danger. Likewise, a dungeon
adventure may have to be cut short if your party suffers
great adversity and/or depleted strength. Many times it will
take more than one adventure to accomplish certain goals,
and it will thus be necessary to come back out of a dungeon
to heal wounds, restore magical abilities and spells, and reinforce
a party's strength.
9) Use your head. Many of the characters' goals in the game
can be accomplished through the strength of arms or magic.
Others, however, demand common sense and shrewd
judgment as well as logical deduction. The most successful
players are those who can effectively use both aspects of the
game to advantage.
10) The fun of a D&D game comes in playing your character's
role. Take on your character's persona and immerse
yourself in the game setting, enjoying the fantasy element
and the interaction with your fellow players and the Dungeon

In the words of Bill and Ted: "Be excellent to each other."

Monday, March 23, 2009

Why I Tolerate the Proficiency System

A lot of people rag on the proficiency system for a whole lot of reasons. The Old School takes swings at it because, seemingly, it's that first step on the Path of Doom that leads directly to TETSNBN( The Edition That Shall Not Be Named) and all that idiocy. "We don't need no stinkin' skill system!" they argue, and quite rightly in most respects.

On the other hand, the system catches flak from the D20 and Hackmaster crew for being "half-assed" and not at all sufficient for their needs. Their needs are better served by D20's . . . I'll be nice and call it "complicated" system or Kenzer's positively Byzantine, but still enjoyable system of percentile rolls. I'll be honest, though, and say that both systems feel to me like having the rules of Cricket explained and the net result is the same: the sudden and overwhelming urge to whallop somebody with a bat. They're honestly more trouble than they're worth, and on top of that they betray a myopic and modern viewpoint: specifically that people are, by nature, cosmopolitan and multi-skilled by default.

I was, not too long ago when I still had pretensions at being "Old School," a fan of completely skill-less systems and verged on the point of excising proficiencies entirely from my game. I even started the task of building lists of what could be considered general character knowledge based on class to forestall the inevitable argument about how such and such a character would be expected to know all about The Nameless and Unknown Horror. They usually read something like this: "You're a fighter, and know which end of the spear/sword to hold without hurting yourself . . . you know enough not to eat the red berries unless the trail boss tells you to and not to pitch your tent in the dry stream bed at night." In the end, though, they turned into multi-page documents that nobody would even want to read except, possibly, as a bad joke.

It's at that point that I realized what I really liked about proficiencies. They're a way of inserting a skill system into the game without actually inserting a skill system. The non-proficiency system is not about what a character can do. After all, any boob can ride a horse from point A to point B without falling into the ditch every 10 feet just as all but the densest morons are able to light a fire and cook their supper at the end of a long day's march. And yet we have the Riding, Cooking, and Fire Building proficiencies that make it seem like they confer these very abilities. But in actuallity, they do not. Riding specifically starting with being able to fight from horseback (or unicorn back, or giant lizard back, or whatever) without falling or injuring either yourself or the mount and ranging all the way to performing stunts and tricks that would make the best show stallions in the world jealous. The proficiency description is very explicit in that it does not cover basic riding under average circumstances and, at the rist of sounding like a jackass, anybody who forces PC's to succeed at riding checks in order to mount their horse in the morning and not break their necks at noon are DOING IT WRONG! At the same time, fire building is the ability to build fires in very adverse conditions (rain storms, blizzards, wet fuel, etc.) and cooking is the ability to create gourmet and lavish meals rather than simple home or trail cooking.

In the end, I view the proficiency system as exactly that: a system for determining what your character is proficient in beyond what the average schlub is capable of. Literally, a list of things in which your character is good enough to earn a living through. Thus, somebody with the carpentry proficiency is not just a guy who can fix their front door (any moron can do that) but a true master carpenter who could sell that skill in exchange for money or other recompense. Yes yes, I know that "fire building" isn't a valid career option, even in the pseudo medieval world of most D&D settings, but that's why I said "tolerate" rather than "love." For all its wrinkles, I think the non-weapon proficiency system is the best solution for the issue at hand that's something other than "common sense." In my experience, there isn't a single player out there that has enough common sense to know better than to plunge their hands into the mysterious pool of "water" in order to grab at the copper coins they see on the bottom.

Of course, I've never been entirely sure what to do with things like Omen Reading and Astronomy. On the one hand, I feel like I should be putting in opportunities for said proficiencies to come up in play if the player ever remembers that they have it, but at the same time I feel that the best answer might be to smack the player upside the head and ask him just what it was he was smoking if he thought that they would be useful. I am not in the business of creating situations where the PC's can shine like some sort of convoluted and demented Eigen Plot, but at the same time, I have to be sure not to shut down the players entirely because their choices should mean something in the end, even if it's an NPC mocking them for having useless skills. After all, I am routinely mocked for having the world's only degree that officially qualifies me to say "Would you like fries with that?" and I've learned to live with it. So should the omen readers and astronomers.

This musing and rant has been brought to you by the disturbed workings of a delusional mind. If you're still reading this, then I'm truly sorry for you.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Eternal Guardian

A new(ish) creature from Thylia. Hope you enjoy it.

Eternal Guardian

Climate/Terrain: Any, usually Subterranean
Frequency: Rare
Organization: By Squad, Unit, or Army
Activity Cycle: Any
Diet: NA
Intelligence: Semi (2-4) See Below
Treasure: NA (see below)
Alignment: True Neutral
No. Appearing: 2-20, 20-200, special
Armor Class: 4
Movement: 9
Hit Dice: 3+2 (foot soldier), 6+3 (officer)
THAC0: 17
No. of Attacks: 1 by weapon foot soldiers, or specialized by weapon officers by level
Damage/Attack: by weapon or 1d4
Special Attacks: Nil
Special Defence: as undead
Magic Resistance: Nil
Size: M
Morale: Fearless (20)

These beings appear at first to be heavily armed and armored dwarves, but upon closer inspection, the faces beneath the helms and other exposed flesh is shirveled and dried looking. The eyes, unlike the lively twinkle of living dwarves, are milky white and dead looking. Their weapons and armor are in excellent repair, though the wear of ages is evident.

Combat: Eternal Guardians fight much as they did in life, in formation and as a group. They fight with the weapons they carried before death (typically short swords, battle axes, or hammers, and every individual carries at least one spear) and the armor is as it was at the time of their interment (typically chain and shield or splint mail). The rank and file foot soldiers' armament are mundane, but officers may (35% chance) carry some magic upon them, typically a magic weapon or armor, though some have been known to have rings, gauntlets, or similar.

In battle, they will fight in perfect battle formation, commanded by any officers present. They display unnerving coordination, turning and wheeling as if by common, silent consent and, indeed, they have a limited form of telepathy amongst themselves within a range of 100 yards and use this ability to communicate tactics and plan changes.

When encountered as a single squad of up to 20, one of thier number will typically be an officer if far from a larger group. In larger groups and armies, there will be one officer for every 30 guardians that will direct the actions of their units. Though no concrete evidence has been brought forth concerning such matters, it is rumored that there are generals amongst their ranks of no less than 9 hit dice and decked in the best armor available. When left on their own and with no direction from the living, Eternal Guardians will attack any non-dwarf who does not bear a symbol of Kerak-Neth, the ancient dwarven capital. Any who surrender will be treated fairly and remain unharmed as long as they behave. Any dwarf with knowledge of the ancient dwarven language who declares himself and his family name can attempt to command the eternal guardians, though this is risky. If such orders conflict with their overal goal of defending the dwarf nation, they will turn their anger against the imposter.

Each eternal guardian has the same immunities as other undead. Further, they are turned as if 3 greater hit dice. They can be commanded only by a dwaven cleric of the Light.

Habit/Society: Usually, unless mustered by the resident priests or military leaders, the Eternal Guardians rest upon their beirs, weapons on their chest and shield at their feet, ready should they be called up. Only the call from a legitimate authority will wake them, or the audacity of any creature that tries to loot them while at rest.

Ecology: When a dwarf declares his devotion to the craft of warfare, he swears and oath to defend the dwarven people forever. Such oaths are taken very seriously, and mere death is no release. Upon a warrior's death, assuming the body is retrievable and relatively whole, it will be prepared by the priests by being packed in dessicating salts and minerals and filled with such material. When the body is completely dried and the organs replaced with salt or sand, it is re-armored and placed upon a shelf along with hundreds of its fellows, there to await need.

Birthright: A Cornerstone of Changing Sensibilities

I can't say that I don't like the Birthright setting. It's definitely interesting, both in its implied plot (and believe me, there really is a strong hand at work here) and in the ways that it breaks the rules of AD&D 2e to create a unique little experience. The world itself - if you can get past the nigh unpronounceable pseudo-Celtic names that the developers seem so fond of - is quite a nifty little place where dragons are dying out and the mortal races walk the world today infused with the diluted stuff of gods in their veins. It looks like it could be a good deal of fun.

But I will probably never touch it, and not just because I won't find many people in New Jersey who are interested in pulling a campaign together. It's because Birthright, in all its innovative new rules and its shiny boxed intent, represents a betrayal of the core of D&D as I see it, and the enshrinement of all the negative tendencies of storytelling DM's everywhere. It is, more than DragonLance I think, a real symbol of what D&D was to become over the subsequent years.

Ok, that's a bit of a strong statement. It's not like Birthright was the deathknell of tabletop role playing games as we had all grown to love, but it's clear that the assumptions behind the setting were vastly different than those that went into Greyhawk or Forgotten Realms. It was clear that The Grey Mouser had no place in Cerilia as that world was, quite literally, all about the stories of kings and great lords. Handing what was a reward for long and good play 30 years ago to a first level character changed the dynamics of everything. Characters very often have what amount to nothing less than super powers in the form of divine heritage. Such powers range from access to genetic memories at the discretion of the DM (not entirely a bad idea I suppose) to a persistent protection from evil effect all the way up to (and I wish I were joking) shooting laser beams out of their eyeballs. This does not, of course, include the 1st level characters that enter play as literal kings of the realm. Of course, some effort is thrown in to balance things out. It is possible to play a character who is not super, but in order to balance them against those who are, all non-powered individuals are granted a flat +10%XP bonus. Even Joe-Average has special benefits.

It's not so much the fact that the characters are intended to be super powered that bothers me. After all, in Dark Sun - a setting of which I am particularly fond - the characters have ability scores ranging all the way up to 24 and everybody has psionic powers free of charge. It's the mentality that seems to fuel it. In Dark Sun, PC's need those little extra boosts in order to make it through an average day of shopping at the market. In Birthright, it's simply that heroes have powers: end of story. In fact, it's explicitly stated that characters who make due with a mere 10% bonus in XP should be made subordinate to a PC who does have powers and is the ruler of a province/kingdom, or if none of the PC's have such powers, than they become subservient to and NPC of such type as a controling patron. The concept of a patron doesn't bother me overly. They've been a wrench in the DM's toolbox forever, after all. The issue here, though, is that the patron is not so much a gentle nudge from the DM or a usefull tool in guiding the PC's down "the right road," it's an actual superior who gives orders and dictates actions; something that, in my mind, defeats the purpose of adventurers in the first place.

All of that is, in the end, forgivable. After all, who among us hasn't wanted to play a character with special abilities under their sleeves? To play a king or high priest? We're gamers, it's kind of what we do at least some of the time.

However, the big issue is that all of this orbits what we are assured is the core of the setting. Not the exploration of the unknown by rougues with hearts of gold, or the confrontation of evil by relative unknowns, but the game of kings and thrones to borrow a phrase from Mr. GRR Martin. It's a game of political maneuvering, treaties and alliances, and espionage and outright war. It's supposedly AD&D on the macro scale rather than the micro, but in the end, I find that, either by intent or anything else, it becomes dominated by heavy handed plot of the rise and fall of nations more than the individual characters. Even the few modules published for the setting - uniquely bad in their own right - are focused on how to fit them into whatever plot the DM has concocted for the players to follow and that track is, for the most part, laid out clearly from day 0.

This really isn't, in my mind, D&D. It is exactly what it says in the introduction to the source books inside the box: a failed novel by an overeager man graduating with his degree in English Lit.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009


The group in which I'm a player is going to give WEGS a right and proper go for a while. This is a tabletop game that I got to try out briefly at a demo late last year and I'm definately looking forward to giving it a try under less chaotic circumstances.


The 12th Level Cobbler and the 0th Level Pope

It's one of the most common tendencies I see amongst both new and old schoolers: the tendency to assign greater personal power to greater public station and the tendency to throw character levels onto NPC's that have no earthly business having them in the first place (i.e., the cobblers in Forgotten Realms or any other setting that just happen to be middle or high level fighters or thieves). These are really two issues, but both are sides of the same coin.

Assigning higher character level to more important NPC's is something that Gary Gygax spoke specifically against at one point when he said that 99% of the population of the world were unclassed, unwashed masses. These means that most people the PC's run across should be nothing more than 0 level folk, including the king and all his knights. Players who assume that somebody of higher station is higher level (or any level at all) get what they deserve for such assumptions. Seeking out the highest ranking religious figure in the land assuming that he's capable of raising the dead or curing a disease is likely to end in heartbreak.

Ideally, the PC's should be the most personally powerful individuals in the region, barring the occasional folk passing through civilized lands. Those persons who do have levels either know how to conceal their inherent ability to avoid being plagued by penitents or challenges, are great heroes of legend themselves and have little time for the PC's, or use their abilities for their own ends perhaps becoming villains in their own right.

By the same token, I suppose, DM's feel the need to throw levels onto certain NPC's either in some attempt to preserve their life span just long enough to impart important information (assuming that the players play along the lines of Knights of the Dinner Table) or providing some level of challenge to the players (how tough, exactly, is a 0-level guard to a 5th level fighter after all?). This I can understand a little more. After all, there's very little holding the PC's in check at times but the threat of reprisal from local authorities, but then again, that doesn't mean that all the town guard need to be 3rd level fighters and the captain of the guard a paladin. A squad of guards played by a DM with even a modicum of intelligence can be a threat to a party of any level.

I'm not sure where this urge comes from, but I'm pretty sure it's been there pretty much from the start and the so called "Grognards" are to blame, but it was really the advent of the latter half of AD&D 2nd edition and then truly in 3rd edition that not only institutionalized, but reveled in it. Town descriptions in 3.x actually have a notation indicating what percentage of the populace is what level of NPC class and what level of PC class, and those percentages seemed absurdly high in my view. It was literally no longer acceptable to say that a man was the best blacksmith around, his level of ability must be quantified according to the great and holy rule set. Whatever benefit is derived from that is more than I can see when weighed against the added levels of complexity and book keeping.

Merely the mad ruminations of a delusional and asthmatic mind. If you're still reading this, you must be insane.

Monday, March 16, 2009

The Cleric and the Faith Par II: Simple Dualism

The next step after "stop worrying and learn to love the class" is largely (OK, entirely) inspired by a house rule either created or carried over by one of my current GM's. I claim no initial creative impetus behind this, merely recognizing a good idea when I see it.

Faced with the same problem I am, he decided to basically invert the method of not worrying and letting every cleric be essentially the same. Instead, he asserted that there were only three religions in the world - Light/Good, Dark/Evil, and Nature - and that all potential deities of the various alignments were a part of one of the three pantheons and that each religions worshiped a whole pantheon (possibly focusing on one deity at times) rather than just an individual figure. The various priests of each religion were restricted in their permissible spells according to their religion: i.e., a priest of the Light could only cast the "positive" version of reversible spells (thus, no Inflict spells or casting Dark) while priests of Darkness could only cast the reversed spells (no casting cure light wounds for them).

What? What do you mean it's not exactly brilliant and innovative?

Ok, it's really not terribly innovative. It's really not, in the end tally, any different than just getting over a perceived fault and learning to love the game. Indeed, I'll be the first to admit that it also has a major fault: it's an example of fitting the game world to the rules rather than the rules to the game world. This is, in my opinion, what has gotten WOTC and Hasbro into such dull and terrible territory. They've created, in 3.x, some Frankenstein's monster of a rule set that veritably demands that the campaign be adjusted to fit the rules because adjusting the rules is either too much hassle or would cause a mass player revolt at perceived "unfairness" and that simply is bad game design. I'm very hesitant to set foot on that path lest it corrupt me.

However, I will say that in practice, it's really quite excellent. Again, it has the benefit of being simple and easily grasped, which is a great thing not only for new players, but for old players too and it's currently the mode I am considering most strongly for Thylia, but taken another step forward.

Instead of lumping the various gods and godesses (and other, genderless divine and semi-divine entities) into three "faiths," I want to strip out all of said deities and leave the frameworks as the net result. Thus, a cleric of the light does not worship a vague pantheon of good aligned deities, a good aligned cleric will worship the ideals of the religion of Light (i.e., goodness, love/agape, etc.) while an evil cleric will follow the tenets of the religion of Darkness (self-interest, evil, etc.). Nature, of course, can be thrown in to turn dualism into . . . "trinarism"? Of course, I've never been able to settle on whether druids actually worship Nature, or worship The Balance as exemplified by Nature. I've always been certain (mostly) that no self-respecting druid would worhship a deity at all and any reference to druidic deities must be chalked up to stupidity, momentary or otherwise.

Whether or not these various faiths are antagonistic towards one another is something that I simply haven't decided. While the idea of followers of Darkness being semi-productive members of society, and the two churches existing side by side, is aluring, it brings up questions that I don't really feel willing to answer, at least not at this point. Such as why otherwise good and civilized peoples tolerate the presence of a religion dedicated to evil acts right under their noses. Or how the two exist side by side without inciting vicious holy wars and blood baths in the streets: maybe they don't, that might be an interesting setup for an adventure. It can certainly add layers of complication and interest, but, in my mind, it seems to detract from an otherwise heroic atmosphere, something that I strive for.

Of course, a major problem with this whole thing is avoiding the Crystal Dragon Jesus meme. Or maybe I don't entirely want to avoid it? This is certainly a way for "normal fantasy" to pop up: an anchor point of semi-normalcy for players to grab hold of while the wierd shit goes on all around them and helps to focus the game less on the fantasy and more on the PC's. This is one of those waffling topics round these parts. Hell, I've actually seriously considered just importing Martin's "Faith of the Seven" whole hog into the game with absolutely no apologies whatsoever.

Well, anyway, next time, talk begins about pantheons of various gods, custom built. I anticipate that discussion to take at least two or three posts of this size or longer to cover, so if you're bored or antagonized by such talk, I apologize now. If you like to listen to me talk about such things, then I have to wonder just how crazy you really are.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Old School Renaissance Picking Up Steam?

Over at Grognardia*, it seems that the possibilities of the Old School movement are opening up a bit in some ways. James is laying another foundation stone in the Old School toolkit. How's that for mixed metaphores?

I think this is a great idea. I'd love to see this kind of work come out and be cross compatible with Osric and Labyrinth Lord as well (though I imagine it would be less than a nothing to make it so). This is a great tool to add to the kit!

My only concern, here, is that while James is talking about seeing D&D move into completely new realms, he seems to be settling for cloning yet more of the old rules via the facilitation of the SRD/OGL. It's not a bad thing, by any means, to see renewals of what has come before. It's important that these things be refreshed and, since we cannot republish them as is, bringing them out again in renewed format is the best option. However, why are we stopping there?

Instead of settling for another version of Supplement III's psionics rules, I think a better option might be the release of a new set of psionic rules, different than what has gone before. It'd be nice to see, in addition to the recapitulated Supplement III rules, a second section with a completely new take on powers of the mind. Something to get that foundation stone rolling rather than settling for rebuilding Illium.

I know: it's easy to talk about what should be when somebody else is doing the work of putting pen to paper. James isn't really a standard bearer for the movement, or the spiritual leader of the renaissance handing down papal bulls, or neccessarily the guy who even wants to be the one to push this particular stone down the ramp. But in the end, I agree with Geoffrey McKinney. I'm eager to see Supplement VI, VII, and VIII put out, whether in paper copy or PDF. I'm eager to see those new vistas opened up and explored by more creative minds than mine (after all, I came to D&D when the theme was changing from "Imagine the Hell out of it" to "Yeah, we can make a rule/option to support that.").

And say what you will about Carcosa - it's taste, tact, or presumption and I won't even dip my little toe into that debate - it is, I think, exactly what the Old School movement is looking for more of.

Maybe I'm out of line on this, in which case I'll step back and leave it to better minds, but where's Supplement VI that details a world overrun by out of control plant growth with sentient vines and carnivorous fruit? Where's Supplement VII that introduces us to Rune Magic and the fall of the Kthoi? Why is the Old School Renaissance cloning old material and printing occasional modules?

*It might seem like I talk about James a lot and, well, I do. It's not just because I'm a fan of his work, but because he's intelligent and cogent in a way that few are, even when I tend to disagree with him at certain junctures. For whatever reason, and whether intentionally or not, the man has become one of the prime standard bearers for the Old School revolution and as such, when talking about it, it's hard not to talk about, or to, James. What can I say? I admire the guy.

The Cleric and the Faith Part I

This is not a post about the historical, mythological, or fictional origins and inspirations of the Cleric/Priest class in D&D (specifically at this point, AD&D 2e which is the mode of most mechanics that will appear here). Other, worthier folk either have done this or will do it in the future. I'm not going to ruminate about the appropriateness of the cleric class - a decidedly Christian class (along with the Paladin) in a game that is open to extended pantheons as James over at Grognardia already has pointed out here - or whether or not it should be included in the game here. Whatever chicken hatched from or laid whatever egg is now long past any point of return, in my opinion, as at some point, the practitioner of faith and miracles has now long been an integral part of the game and, in some ways, the fantasy genre at large. Whether it is more native to Pulp Fiction, Modern Fantasy, or Fantasy Gaming than any other is not something I want to debate at this moment.

For right now, I want to talk about how to make the cleric fit the world, and perhaps make the world fit the cleric. Too often I think, the cleric in AD&D, BECMI, and OD&D games gets pigeon-holed into the same corner as the guy that can heal the fighters and maybe ward off the undead from time to time, except in how the player portrays the character. And all to often, the player gets bullied by the rest of the group, or by simple practicality, into falling into that role at least some of the time. Most irksome, to me at least, is that a cleric of Odin looks pretty much like a cleric of Nerull looks a great deal like a cleric of Quetzalcoatl. Why would a cleric of a god of civilization and peace or of romantic love have the same portfolio of powers as a follower of the Dread Cthulhu?

Of course, the first, and simplest answer is to sit back and say "don't worry about it, it's just a freakin' game." And honestly, I can accept that. It's not really a problem that all clerics, despite their object of worship (or too often, lack thereof) wield identical powers. After all, for the most part a fighter is a fighter no matter what race he belongs to, the same for a thief for that matter. It simplifies things greatly, especially in a game system where simplicity is a major goal like Basic/Labyrinth Lord, or Swords and Wizardry.

The problem, for me, emerges when it's just not acceptable to ignore this bit of wrinkle. Many times (not always) I want clerics of various deities or faiths to be not just different in lip service, but truly unique. I want the players to wonder and guess at what powers the cleric of Random Death Cult Z are and how to prepare before facing him. Or, I want an in world explanation of why all clerics are all the same mechanically.

Is this multiplying entities? Yeah, it is, but I think that, done carefully, it can lead to more fulfilling games from my perspective as the GM, and more interesting (read "dangerous) games for the players. Does this tread dangerously close to the Third Edition mantra of "no choice without a mechanical benefit"? Yes, but I'm ok with that for the time being. Like I said way back in the beginning, I think that there's something to be said for everything in moderation. That, and I feel that I can draw a line in the sand before I arrive at feats, domain powers, and "optimization."

Up tomorrow sometime: Manicheism.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Inspirational Art

I've been looking for this little bit of awesome for a while now. It's an image from a computer game that failed to see publication a while back. Otherwise unremarkable except for this picture.

Very cool.

Monday, March 9, 2009

The Wyf

Heht mec mon wunian on wuda bearwe
I was bid to remain in a wood grove

under ÿctrÿo in þÿm eorðscræfe.
under a tree in this cave.

Eald is þes eorðsele, eal iÿ eom oflongad.
Ancient is this cave-dwelling, I am consumed with longing.

Sindon dena dimme, dÿna ÿphÿa,
T he vallyes are dark, the hills high,

bitre burgtÿnas brÿrum beweaxne,
the cruel town enclosure with briars is grown over,

wÿÿ wynna lÿas.
the dwelling place is joyless.

Ful oft mec hÿr wrÿþe beÿeat
Very often here I am bitterly seized because of the

fromsÿþ frÿan. Frÿnd sind on eorþan
departure of my lord. Is my lover

lÿofe lifÿende, leÿer weardiað,
occupying his own death bed,

þonne iÿ on ÿhtan ÿna gonge
when I at dawn walk alone

under ÿctrÿo ÿeond þÿs eorðscrafu.
under and oaktree through these graves.

Þÿr iÿ sittan mÿt sumorlangne dæÿ;
There I must sit as long as a summer's day;

þÿr iÿ wÿpan mæÿ mÿne wræcsÿþas,
there I must weep for my wretched journey

earfoþa fela, for þon iÿ ÿfre ne mæÿ
my troubles are many, for I have never

þÿre mÿdÿeare mÿnre ÿerestan,
had rest from my grief,

ne ealles þæs longaþes þe mec on þissum lÿfe beÿeat.
not wholly, since my life began.

Aside from the infrequent stand of birch or larch, deciduous trees are rare in the boreal forests south of Tannhauser for many days' journey. There is, however, an oak perched upon an ancient mound about 5 days march south-west of the stronghold. No other trees grow near or on the mound, but all about is covered in thick briars making any approach slow lest one become tangled.

At the base of the mound, a rough opening leads into an unfinished chamber carved beneath and between the roots of the great oak overhead. No insects or vermin will enter the mound at all and, it is said, that no wise man or dwarf will either, for within dwells the Wyf.*

The crone (for so she appears) is known only as Wyf for she will give no name, but commonly refers to a lost mate. She will happily entertain any guests that arrive, offering collected rain water to drink, and will talk seemingly endlessly about meaningless trivia and gossip that was current perhaps a hundred years prior. She will often tell of other guests that she has hosted, including some recognizable names from local legend, but mostly unknown men and women whose lives she will recount with great detail and accuracy if prompted.

Most information she gives for free will be virtually useless, only enough to tantalize. To divulge anything of worth, details of less than mundane sort that are already known by her audience, the Wyf expects a gift: something of great value to the giver, though not neccessarily of great intrinsic worth. Near the back of her cave, she keeps a sizable hoard of trinkets, gew-gaws, and oddements from previous visitors: lengths of thread, ribbons, shards of glass, a coin from the Telerian empire, an icon of an obscure and mostly forgotten saint, and other paraphenalia. If asked to display her treasures, she will happily do so, but will only show the most mundane items, unless payment is first received in kind.

Once her payment is received, the Wyf will divulge the information sought which will be 95% accurate and in the form of cryptic riddles, stories, or songs. When inaccurate, it will always be of missing data rather than outright falsehood. Information about the location of a lost and powerful artifact will, for example, take the form of a long and meandering tale of its last posessor, taking many detours to talk about ancillary characters or only vaguely related material, but buried within all of it will be a small kernel of truth that a wise and discerning man might be able to use as the beginnings of a roadmap to finding the artifact. In the end, it is up to the guest to decipher and use what the Wyf gives them, and it is the stuff of great heroes, it is said, the ability to untangle these vague and seemingly meaningless clues. Great fortune and fame can be had by correctly interpreting the Wyf's clues, and grave misfortune from mistaking them.

The Wyf shows no favortism, is objective to a fault some say, when payment has been rendered. She will advise bitter enemies alike, sometimes simultaneously, with no regard as to protestations of right and wrong, good or evil. Her tales and riddles, she says, are for all who seek them and can afford them. Within her home, she will brook no violence of any sort: guests are expected to behave themselves, and though she is frail and easily slain by a single weapon strike, it is known that she has the ability to back up this rule with force. Those who incur her displeasure - by demanding aid without a guest gift first, by initiating or perpetuating violence within her home, by rifling through or attempting to steal her cache of things, slaying her or not at least attempting to stop such an act, or perhaps simply by being rude - suffer one of the most dreaded curses known in the civilized, or uncivilized, world.

Mere hours after the incident, a mark will appear on the perpetrator's face in a location not easily concealed. The mark will conspire at any time to be visible: a hood will blow back in the breeze, a mask will slip, etc. Those who view the mark will immediately and forcefully shun the afflicted individual, turning him away at the city gates and refusing him entrance, refusing to cooperate or provide food and shelter for any reason, even going so far as to seek to kill the individual. A marked person will find no respite, aid, or welcome among any of the people of Thylia. Not even the orcs and goblins dare to tempt the evil of this curse and are most savage in dealing with it. Those bearing the mark are forced to wander the world, never staying in one place too long lest they be discovered and attacked by the virtually any sentient being capable of seeing the symbol.

It is unknown if there is a way of removing the curse. Perhaps the Wyf herself would be willing to answer this question, but nobody has ever asked, or if they did, nobody has ever revealed it. Perhaps one of the Mound Folk, to whose ancient writings the symbol bears a striking similarity, but again, it is difficult to find one of those folk in the first place let alone one willing - or able - to answer such a question.

*Yes, anybody with even a passing familiarity with Old English/Anglo Saxon will recognize that word, not to mention the reference. So sue me.

Saturday, March 7, 2009


When I first saw Dawn of the Dead in the theater at some silly Halloween function in town, I was startled about halfway into the film by a voice behind me. We all turned to see a young blonde woman with a look of sudden epiphany on her face say to the theater at large: "Oh! It's, like, about buying stuff and, like, junk!" We all chuckled at her and went back to the movie, but I do remember feeling some absurd pride at her ability to figure out that there was more going on screen than just antrhopophagic zombies lurching around a mall. If I ever see her again, I don't think I could resist the urge to walk up to her and stick a grade school style gold star on the tip of her nose and give her a pat on the head.

Yesterday afternoon, as I sat through Watchmen in the theater, a "gentleman" behind me uttered the phrase "Dude . . . I can see the blue guy's junk!" And as much as the girl years ago will forever embody how it feels to me to watch Dawn of the Dead, this high school truant boy will forever embody how it feels to me to watch Watchmen.

Snyder certainly knows what the graphic novel looks like as we are treated to repeated panel for panel replications of the original graphic novel: indeed, faithful to the point of a near mastabatory fantasy on the part of the director. We're constantly referred to how faihtfully he can replicate the look of the comic, but completely fail to even hint at its depth. The constant rephrain from the director is blatantly "Look! Just like in the comic book!" and, indeed, "Look! Dr. Manhattan's junk!"

Of course not everything's bad about the movie. Indeed, when it's not horribly fumbling what are, in my mind, the most crucial points of the original novel, it's doing a fabulous job at doing what it does well: looking like Watchmen.

While Billy Crudup simply does not have the gravitas to be Dr. Manhattan, he and his makeup artist do an excellent job in at least making him look the part, especially in his John Osterman phases. Jeffrey Dean Morgan simply IS the Comedian. He doesn't so much as inhabit the part as become it and manages it with perfectly, complete with the casual brutality so integral. Matthew Goode certainly cuts a dashing figure as Ozymandias and much the same can be said for Malin Ackerman as Laurie/Silk Specter II. Patrick Wilson manages to be NightOwl II pretty much alone on the screen as nobody else can actually play opposite him except Haley.

Haley deserves his own paragraph since, in a way that Morgan can only dream of, he manages to breath real life into Roarshach. We aren't treated to little visual clues of the character appearing multiple times in the same frame as in the graphic novel, but whenever the masked man is on screen, he dominates it entirely, to the point that when he is supposed to fade into the background the director is forced to cut him from the image entirely so that Goode can look regal as Ozymandias. Despite the total botch of his genesis (I'll not ruin what, exactly, does happen in the film, but suffice to say it changes the character irrevocably), Roarshach is easily the best thing about the film in its entirety.

I won't go through every little thing about the film as most of it is subjective in the extreme and is up to everyone to decide for themselves. However, I think one of the most universal failings of the movie is the soundtrack. Snyder has decided that a movie about the 80's simply wouldn't be any good without identifiably 80's songs. Taken on their own, the songs are great. Who doesn't get at least the tiniest thrill upon hearing "99 Luftbaloons"? But in context, they were so poorly handled that it was distracting. Said "99 Luftbaloons" backs up what would otherwise be a romantic and pleasant dinner date. Its addition seems determined to turn it into comedy. As for the love scene aboard Archie, my advice is to close your eyes, put your fingers in your ears, and just wait for it to be over. Snyder, you should have stuck with the Smashing Pumpkins song from your trailer. It was far superior.

A minor complaint, I'm not sure why Snyder felt the need to turn Nixon into a parody in this movie, but it was a disservice. Watching his lookalike on the big screen make jokes about the nuking of the entire east coast is jarring and detracts greatly from the layers of depth that were present in the original source material. Perhaps worse is the fact that, while in the original, Nixon backs off of actually ordering the launch, in the movie, he does so with an almost gleeful expression. Whether or not you like the actual Nixon, the character's portrayal in the movie is a letdown.

Perhaps they were right in that this was the unfilmable graphic novel.

Just one last note: it should go without saying to those of us who actually know what's in the story, but this is absolutely not a movie to bring a child to. There were several in the theater I was in, and all but one of them ran screaming from the theater within 30 minutes. Parents, please take the "R" rating seriously on this one.

Leery of the Whole Mega-Dungeon . . . Thing

It's a staple of the old school revival, supposedly, the 'tent-pole mega-dungeon' around which the entire campaign is based. As a player, it's a great deal of fun to remember "the hobgoblins on the 3rd level" and how you tricked them into the lair of the dragon on the 4th, thus eliminating two problems in one fell swoop. And I suppose that it's a lot of fun on the part of the GM to showcase everything he has in one easily accessible location, complete with convenient adventuring town no more than a day's journey away. From all this perspective, I like the idea of a mega-dungeon.

However, the mega-dungeon has always cramped my style so to speak. It's always impinged upon my sensibilities of how things "should" go. There's nothing wrong with a large "dungeon" per se, but I'm always plagued by the questions of what function the dungeon originally had before it was inhabited by goblins, kobolds, orcs, and etc. What did it do? Why was it built? In a way, I'm always a bit like Gollum, always worrying at the roots of things, looking for the beginnings of things. In the end, I look at the dungeons, crypts, and caverns in my own campaigns as all having functions, and the more I think about it, the more I realize that from a strictly functional standpoint, smaller is better.

From the point of view of "normal fantasy" why, if you were going to build a prison would you build a monstrously huge structure twelve levels deep with the possibility of unexpected entrances all over when, in fact, a small shell keep with a few dozen iron barred cells in the center would do immeasurably better? What in the world would posses somebody, or several somebodies, to dig out a massive twelve level complex the size of a metropolis and just as densely populated? It would be a massive waste of resources when something a tenth that size would do. Even the Tower of London, one of the most infamous prisons of the Middle Ages and sometimes residence of the royal family, is remarkably small. Even Château d'If wasn't particularly massive (something on the order of three or four main levels and a tower or two).

Why are we so eager to fall into the mantra of more is better when, from my perspective, more is too often simply that: more.

Don't get me wrong, I believe there's nothing wrong with large dungeons, as long as there's a believable rational behind them. History has its fair share of them including the sewers and catacombs of Paris, the Underground system of London, and any number of such places that, if I were either brave or stupid . . . or both . . . I might love to explore. I have the germinating seed of an ancient dwarven city, decimated by a plauge centuries ago, through which the last few undead wander performing whatever task they did in life endlessly, crowding out other, more important things in my head: like the password to the database at work.

But in the end, I'm a great believer that there's more bang for the buck in smaller, more meaningful locations. Places that are more than just "the dungeon" and I as the GM don't have to make excuses for the players to go to but they naturally, if reluctantly at times, head for. That castle on the hill that they've been skirting around now for almost a year (of actual play!) that they know they will eventually have to enter and they're sure that whatever they find in there they're not going to like. One of the greatest "dungeons" of all time, I think, was straight out of Beowulf, the Dragon's Barrow in which the treasure of a long lost people rested and the eponymous wyrm brooded over the loss of a single cup from its discovered hoard. Beowulf didn't run off to slay the dragon because here was another chance at adventure and glory. I've always been able to hear quietly in the background the great king mumbling "awe crap, here's yet another thing I have to go kill because some idiot thief couldn't keep his fingers in his pockets when I'd rather be enjoying a good cup of strong wine, idiot peasants never had it so good. . ."

"Adventurer" should never be a legitimate career choice. At best, to the world around them, these persons are little better than wandering vagabonds. They're obviously dangerous, carry large numbers of weapons, meddle readily with the forces of darkness and break the laws of nature on a whim. Nothing sticks in my craw more than reading published modules that have as their hook the idiotic premise that the local king or lord is seeking to actually locate and hire these idiots who are followed by danger and misfortune like a stray puppy. The most common phrase an adventurer should know is "We thank you for killing Thorbald the Dark, Unleasher of Plagues, but would you kindly now get the hell out? You're frightening the townfolk."

By the same token, I as the GM (and often as a player) have some overriding urge to see things make sense. Why are there kobolds, orcs, goblins, hobgoblins, a red dragon, 13 carrion crawlers, two rust monsters, and 37 rot grubs all living in such close proximity to each other without there being an all out furball conflict between them all? Why in the world aren't they all seeking the seclusion of their own? For that matter, why in the world would they be moving into a large dungeon complex filled to the brim with clever tricks and traps of the ancients when a nice, quiet, untrapped location could be theirs for the taking?

In the end, I think that a mega-dungeon raises more questions than I, as a GM, am prepared to answer. It feels too much like laying all my cards out on the table in one giant pile rather than carefully playing them in a slow game, one corner at a time so that the players aren't sure if they're looking at the corner of a seven of clubs, or a nine.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Gaming To Do List

This is a brief list of pie in the sky things I'd love to do if I managed to retain my sanity and had time to do it in. This is in lieu of other, more sensible content today as I keep an eye out for my supervisor . . .

1. Run a game set in Kingdoms of Kalamar. This is almost a mania for me. At least once a week, I run over to my bookshelf and start thumbing through these books and, before I can catch myself, start writing out plans for a campaign that would be great fun. Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be a soul in Northern NJ willing to give it a whirl. The campaign setting book (despite the unfortunate circumstance of having a sparing few D20 rules thrown into it) is a prime example of exactly what a middle school campaign setting should be.

2. Put Thylia into some semblance of a starting order. I have ideas, thoughts, and hopes and dreams, but am swiftly running round the bend on time. Hopefully, I'll have something out this weekend that's not completely detestable.

3. Get a Dark Sun game started up. This runs into the same problems as KoK, though, and is rife with bad memories for even die-hard fans. No, we cannot forgive Mr. Denning for those novels. Ever.

4. Break out Alternity and dust it off. This is one of those games that continually astounds me in its capacity to remain utterly forgotten despite its goodness. Whether or not you care for the in-house settings, one has to admit that the system itself is rather interesting.

5. Run an Arduin one-off or pick-up campaign at the local game store. Would be necessary to use the original grimoire's, of course, but would definitely be fun. Alternatively, use the new Arduin Eternal and run a series of demos with pre-gen characters. Maybe I can convince Monte and George to send me some free product for that.

6. Find a wargame and learn it, if only to say that I've tried it.

7. Kobolds Ate My Baby. That is all.

8. Survive long enough in Greyhawk to learn what the hell has invaded poor Cedric the Fighter's ear!

9. Start the series of posts on Clerics that I've been meaning to put down on paper.

Monday, March 2, 2009

The People of the Mounds

The northern lands are dotted with strange, inexplicable hills. Over the centuries, their original purpose has been forgotten and only the foolish make any attempt to pass through the entrances that have been discovered in some. Near all that is known about them is that they are one of the few artifacts left behind by the People of the Mounds, those who ruled much of the northern lands long before the current races were born. Those beings that most today name as Faerie - Nixie, Pixie, Dryad, Redcap, etc. - are merely minor spirits of nature and not of the same race as the Mound People and know no more than the meanest farmer.

Though little is known about these beings, it is known that they still roam the land from time to time, their agenda unfathomable to those who find themselves in their paths. Throughout all the stories, it seems that no two examples of these entities are the same - some giants of men wielding huge bludgeons, others seeming bare wisps of mist upon the moors - but in certain things they are similar.

1. Immortality: Whether they can be killed or not is unsure, but it is believed that those Mound People who remain are functionally immortal. What form this immortality takes is simply unknown. Stories persist of fell beings visiting the generations of families throughout time, seeming guardians of a bloodline for some unknown reason. Other tales tell of great heroes slaying such a being, only to encounter it days later seemingly unharmed.

2. Iron: All Mound People are adversely affected by iron in all its forms. Steel weapons pain them and they will not carry such blades. Where no other bond will hold them, iron or steel chains, or a simple circle of iron dust will keep them at bay. Wounds inflicted by cold wrought iron weapons cause maximum damage against the Mound People.

3. Divination: Mound People have access to knowledge and wisdom from unknowable sources such that even the greatest diviners of men and elf seem ignorant in comparison.

4. Tokens: Each of the Mound People carries or leaves behind them a token, icon, or other thing which is the most concrete evidence of their presence. Often, these tokens are small items bearing the symbol of their creator and owner, but sometimes they are stranger. The Green Man, for instance, leaves behind many trees with faces carved into them, each with a unique and often unsettling living expression. Some of the druidic faith consider discovery of such a tree to be a blessing and omen of good fortune.