Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Lost Technology in Thylia

Just recently, I managed to get my greedy claws on a first edition, first printing of GRRM's Tuff Voyaging for cheap from the local book depository. I think that the fact that it's a first printing, first edition, and that I bought it for a steal (less than I'd pay for a "Value Meal" at the local fast food joint) excites me more than the actual content of the book at this point, but I'm a bibliophile, it's to be expected. Which is not to say the book isn't good so far as of page 17.

I will say, though, that based on my admitted complete guess as to what this "Plague Star" is, I'm very happy. Based on what is said in the text thus far, and what is not said, I'm guessing that the thing is actually some lost bit of ancient phlebotinum from "the old times" and it has some biological effect on organisms exposed to it. Likely some form of experiment by less than scrupulous precursers or some such.

Just a quick aside and fair warning: anybody who feels the need to explain to me outright what the thing is and spoil the rest of the book for me can just bugger the hell right off. I'm looking forward to being surprised as GRRM usually does not let me down that way.

Ok, back on topic.

What I find more interesting, though, is that the locals of the planet around which this Plague Star orbit have worked its existance into their mythology over the, presumable, millenia that it has affected them. It's far less a matter of "Hey, what's that medieval peasant doing with a ray gun?!?!" and rather a reaction that seemed popular back in the day this book was written, that myth, legend, and religion grew out of sentient need to explain the perceived, but the incomprehensible. Thus, the natives perceive the Plague Star, and the fact that it wipes out large segments of the population every three generations, but have no way at all of determining objectively what it is (i.e., no telescopes or anything like that) and so it gets labeled and added to the mythology rather than dealt with in a "scientific" manner.

This is, I suppose, Martin's employment of one of Clarke's laws, that any technology sufficiently advanced is indistinguishable from magic. This, I think, is how ancient technology should be introduced into a fantasy campaign that eschews the gonzo aspect. In the end, I have no problem with high technology making its way into the Thylia campaign, but my desire is for the players to brush up against it and, afterward, to never be quite sure what it was that they came across: a mystery that they either walk away with shaking their heads, or which drives them to continue on, seeking the root of it.

The Dotheric Obelisk

Discovered in the deep taiga, only a few hours' march from the tiny halfling settlement of Dotheris, the obelisk stands nearly 7 meters tall in the center of an inconspicuously verdent glade. The monument has runes in a strange language round the base, runes that defy both mundane and magical means of translation. Many believe that these runes contain secrets from the ancient past when a race with power far beyond the comprehension of current scholars walked the world. This group calls themselves the Dotheric Brotherhood and they have devoted themselves to the study of the obelisk, sure that other examples of the writing or instructions on how to harness its powers must exist. They pursue any scrap of information that might lead to great understanding of the monument, funding quests to unearth other treasures of the age, and even going so far as to employing an entire clan of dwarves to excavate around the base of the monument, looking to catalog its whole dimensions.

The Brotherhood, to some degree, is correct. The obelisk is, in fact, an artifact left behind by a race that came to this world millenia ago, and left mysteriously sometime before recorded history began according to modern scholars. The thing is a device designed to transfer heat energy and water from deep within the planet and bring them to the surface, terraforming the world to more closely resemble the one from which the ancient beings originated. The runes scribed in its side defy translation attempts simply because they are not actually language, but mathematical equations and data that provides activation protocols to the obelisk. The obelisk radiates no magic and is slightly warm to the touch. If activated, it may prove powerful enough to remake this part of the world, or after many thousands of years, it may have malfunctioned or broken down.

Death Jewel

A small blood red gem in an ornate mithril like setting appearing almost as a fine lace netting surrounding envoloping the crystal, all together about the size of a song bird's egg. Legend states that it was originally discovered by Geforic, a trickster hero figure in legend, in the skeletal remains of a humanoid, but not human in the depths of a ruin. In order to keep it safe from the scurrilous thieves of the city (which city is hotly debated, many maintain that it was one of various legendary lost metropolises), he swallowed it, intending to retrieve the precious item "afterward." Unfortunately for him, upon arriving within the city gates, the citizenry began to fall victim to an horrific plague by the hundreds, never manifesting in quite the same way twice. Geforic fled the city while he could, but ill fortune caught up with him as a representative of the local thieves' guild, having witnessed Geforic swallow the Death Jewel, slew the man and claimed his prize. Since, the stone has appeared throughout history in stories, usually accompanied by the utter destruction of a city, or the death of an empire. It is considered a vastly unlucky artifact and no reputable man will willingly let it near him.

In actuality, the item is a bit of high technology from an unknown source. When swallowed, it affixes itself to the person's digestive tract and remains there until death. While so implanted, it provides complete immunity to disease, poisoning, parasite, or similar effect (including rot grubs and violet fungus). It provides this benefit by changing the person's immune system from a reactive, internal process to an active, external, and predatory thing. White blood cells and other immunological organisms travel outside of the body to a radius of 50ft where they actively seek out any potential threat to the host body and eliminate it. Air born plagues, aforementioned rot grubs and violet fungus, green slimes, etc., will be destroyed at the rate of 1hp per round. Unfortunately, the effect also attacks any living organism that is currently infected by or is a carrier for any harmful pathogen and all such entities must succeed in a saving throw vs. disease or be found to have such an infection and become subject to the attack of the host body's external immune system, dying slowly at the rate of 1hp per day and unable to heal naturally. A cure disease spell placed upon such a victim will remove all traces of the disease and thus halt the attack of the immune system and spare the person's life.

Once swallowed and implanted, the device cannot be removed except by the death of the host, or by advanced surgicle techniques not present in Thylia today.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Two Shield Rules

According to that AD&D rules (and the BECMI and 0D&D rules for that matter if I recall correctly), shields provide a flat +1 bonus to AC (or, -1 if you want to get technical). The only difference between shield sizes is in the size and weight of the thing, and how many attacks per round it can defend against. This is all fine and good, but I find that, in the end, it adds a level of monintoring and book keeping that drag out what would otherwise be an exciting combat: how many attacks has Bob's fighter faced this round?, and do multiple attacks from a single create (a claw/claw/bite say) count as one attack, or three? and so on. In the end, it seems to get in the way of the goal of fast and clear combat rounds and ends up dragging things out.

In that light, I propose the following two possible rules.

Option The First: Ignore the different shield sizes. There's only one shield size and it weighs X number of pounds and provides only a +1 bonus to AC. Period. It's a level of abstraction I'm willing to accept in the quest for simplex resolution even if it does bring up interesting questions about why a shield built by a halfling would be the same weight as one built by an ogre, and why a halfling wielding an ogre's shield would only receive a +1 bonus rather than benefiting from the much larger proportional coverage, but in the spirit of the rule, I can simply ignore those issues and forge on with getting to what's more interesting, the adventuring.

Option The Second: Various sized shields provide various degrees of defense:

*A small shield weighs in at 5 pounds and provides a +1 bonus to AC.
*A medium shield weighs in at 10 pounds and provides a +2 bonus to AC.
*A large/body shield weighs 15 pounds and provides a +3 bonus to AC with no special rules attached to it.

This provides a reason why somebody would carry another sized shield other than weight and eliminates the need for tracking how many attacks have been made against a particular character (or, heaven forbid, which of the 25 goblins each with his own shield has faced one attack, two, three, or four in a given round). It also, as I see it, makes carrying a shield even more desirable and the tradeoff between carrying a two-handed weapon at the cost of a single point of AC a little more interesting: do you carry that two handed sword and go through enemies like a farmer mowing wheat, or do you pick up a long sword and a large shield for that added defense?

Truth be told, I much prefer the second option. It adds just a bit of complication to the rules and strips out at the same time a needlesly complicated bit of ruling that slows things down when they need most to move quickly.

The Meanderings of My Brain

Over the last few weeks, in between moments of pure terror and wondering if I'll have a job in the next 3 months (yay economic troubles), I've had a few ideas rolling around in my head for campaigns/games other than Thylia.

1. Kingdoms of Kalamar: I long ago fell absolutely in love with this setting. To me, it's the crystalization of a middle school style campaign world. Loose and free feeling, but with plenty of threads to pick up if the DM likes them. I can't read a single page of the CS book without getting ideas for half a dozen nights gaming and long, drawn out campaigns. Very political as written, but certainly room for pure adventure style games as well. I'll also mention that I'm a tremendous fan of their pantheon of gods.

2. Alternity Dark Matter Secret Eugenics War: The concept has been rattling about in my brain for a while now, about a covert war fought by genetically enhanced humans to take control of the planet and the shadowy cabals either aiding or opposing them for their onw reasons. Yeah, it's a little Star Trek, but I think I can make it fun.

3. AD&D Ravenloft: Not actually set in the Ravenloft Campaign Setting, but a horror type campaign that makes use of some of the elements there to create a dark and terrifying campaign focusing on the horrifying aspects of the D&D game.

4. AD&D or Alternity American Gods: No, not a total rehash of the book, but the same concepts from the book ported over into a new thing. The idea of gods needing worship lest they face a slow diminution and eventual extinction in ignorance is appealing.

5. FRPG version Time War: Based off of a mishmash of the Chornomancy supplement from 2nd edition and Doctor Who, the concept is of a massive and far reaching time war taking place which the characters discover and either become embroiled in, or simply survive. I'd need to work out how time travel would work in the world, but I think it would be entertaining.

Now, if only I could organize my thoughts enough on Thylia to get together a decent post on it again.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Recurring Themes of Thylia

Life has been rather tumultuous for the last couple weeks and, through a combination of my company "right sizing" the division and various family drama, I've discovered I have less and less time for such leisure activities as posting to this blog and sleeping.

In order to demonstrate to the, perhaps, five people who actually still read this blog that I'm still alive and so is this outlet for my psychotic ramblings, I present the following semi-non-post for your bemusement.

Themes in Thylia
An overarching plot should never be a part of an FRPG adventure or, even worse, an entire campaign.* It more often than not turns the game into a witness event for the players and an exercise in mental self massage for the ref. Such things lead to the likes of adventure paths.

However, I'm not against dropping themes into a campaign: recurrent ideas and concepts, or just images that crop up time and again in seemingly disconnected locations. Such would be a natural side effect, I suppose, of any long standing game of any sort that's largely constructed around the mind of a single individual (such as a DM or whatever we're calling it today). Themes can be as simple as recurring NPC's: for example, a friend of mine uses a recurring, suspiciously adept NPC named Timmy in almost every game he runs. They can be concious or unconcious, dramatic or comedic, or just about anything that becomes a recurrent element of a game.

Of course, when it's done with concious decision, it can be badly mishandled and turn into a tromping boot that lands squarely in the middle of everything which the players are then obliged to deal with directly, or politely ignore. Tracy Hickman's moderately infantile understanding of good and evil in Dragonlance spring to mind as does virtually the entirety of Eberron's setting (though that setting occupies a moderately fuzzy place in my heart for some unknowable reason). Monte Cook once said that a recurrent theme for his campaigns was always an impossibly tall spire, at the top of which rested something so predicatble that his players immediately knew upon sighting it that it was going to become a major plot element in the game in relatively short order: of course this is both good and bad as its various incarnations that I know of aren't really that terrible and are used somewhat artfully to act as centerpieces rather than gigantic overriding plot devices.

Despite the massive potential for catastrophic failure, I plan to incorporate some themology into Thylia when, and if, it gets off the ground as an actual game (closer than one might suspect as I actually have a preliminary map slopped together that I'm pleased with but for the terrible attempt to add color that pretty much destroyed it).

May You Live In Interesting Times The first part of a tripartite curse, and in our real lives is truly a terrifying thought, but in a game world is, in my opinion, the only way to fly. I will not ever pretend that Thylia is a living, thriving, and vibrant world, but I will say that, in terms of the anticiparted starting area, things are happening with or without the participation of the players and the general fabric of the region will change significantly from time to time due to world events, especially if the players spend effort ignoring them. Much of the time, if the players start to pick up on it, I expect them to expend a good deal of effort simply maintaining the status quo rather than affecting grand events. If the game lasts until advanced levels, the PC's may find themselves taking up the leadership of local baronies in order to "plug the gaps" so to speak and form a shield against things that are coming.

May You Find What You Are Looking For Sort of a version of "be careful what you wish for . . ." I greatly like the idea of players chasing down things they think they want (treasure, magic, power, etc.) and actually finding it, and learning that there are a whole host of attendant problems that go right along with it. My major inspiration here is, of course, the horde of Fafnir.

Through a Glass Darkly . . . Fantasy (and by extension, speculative fiction in general) is, to me, the act of holding a tinted mirror up to the real world. My particular mirror is dirty, dark, and makes things look dark, ugly, and thratening. Yes, Timmmy, the world is out to get you.

There Is No Destiny Heroes are not born, prophesied, or created. Heroes are those who are willing to walk into the dark places where others dare not tread. Heroes stand between the metaphorical fall of Night and the light of Civilization and say "you shall do no harm here." Whatever their motives, heroes are the ones who get it done, not the ones who come branded with a fancy title.

With the WOTC versions of D&D taking primacy in the FRGP market, the concept of a campaign has morphed from something that never really ends to a literal 12 month start to finish affair with, supposedly, identifiable beginnings, middles, and ends. They are stories and not adventures any more.