Thursday, January 28, 2010

Came Back Wrong

The Raise Dead spell is one of those iconic spells in D&D and I've never known a player who didn't look forward to 9th level more than any other so that he could bring his companions back from the dead. I've even seen a few who started using the spell as a source of great profit, raising peasants from the dead for a hefty fee. However, once this spell gets into the hands of the players, death can become very cheap. At earlier levels, a significant enough mistake by the players leads to death which cannot easily be reversed if at all. Players may go through multiple characters before they even manage to make it to level 2, but by 9th level, death suddenly has much less meaning.

Of course, by this level, the cleric is casting other spells of equally significant import. At this level, there seems to be a qualitative change in the nature of spells for the cleric, going from localized and immediate effects to far reaching and often permanent effects (Quest, Plane Shift, and Commune by which the cleric may speak directly with his deity). Raising the dead seems to be the quintessance of that trend, so on the one hand, it might be wise enough to leave well enough alone and not fidgit with the spell.

However, I've never been a fan of the revolving door afterlife, and I'm definately a fan of the harsh, stark, and terrifying. That's why I'm throwing a little twist into the concept of any creature returning from the lands of the dead, at least in Thylia where the cosmology of the Great Wheel is not present (but that's a separate post).

Anyone who is raised from the dead via the magic of mortals (i.e., via the Raise Dead, Ressurection, or Reincarnation spells) or via magical artifacts created by mortals has a flat 65% chance of simply "coming back wrong" from the strange and horrifying realms beyond this one. If so, the DM should roll randomly or use his own discretion. The players need not be told.

1.Profound Epiphany: During his time in the realms beyond, however brief or extended, the character has been deeply affected by what he has seen and come to the realization that his life was spent in banality and sin. Due to this, his alignment is shifted randomly at the discretion of the DM and he may abandon a previous career or goal in favor of something more in line with his new ethical views.

2.I Remember Everything!: Rather than having his memory wiped appropriately by the spell, the character remembers everything he perceived in vague and undefinable terms. As a result, he is either 1.manic and incoherent, 2.despondant and suicidal, or 3.catatonic. In any case, he will require the intervention of powerful curative magics or some other method to repair his personality as determined by the DM.

3.Broken Mind: The stress of returning from the grave lands has snapped something within the character's mind. He has developed a type of insanity dtermined from the DMG.

4.Brought Something Home: On his way back, the character has been lached onto by a being from outside the Prime Material reality. Equal chances of it being Good or Evil or an entity entirely designed by the DM. The creature may or may not enter reality immediately alongside the character, or may appear many miles away, or on the other side of the kingdom, but the creature will be aware of the character's location and will feel compelled to seek him out for reasons of his own. Alternately, the creature and the character may find themselves occupying the same mind, vying for control of the body (a successful saving throw vs. Paralyzation during a situation of intense stress is sufficient to gain or retain control on the part of the player).

EDIT: Forgot to add that I intend to increase the casting time of this spell from a single round to a full hour requiring specialized rituals and chants. Never seemed quite right that Raise Dead took only a minute of chanting and wailing and suddenly he's all better again. Such a boon as this would take significant supplications and effort I think.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

How Fantastic is Fantasy?

I know I shouldn't, but it's a bit like a dog worrying at a bone. On those dull days in the office when no actual work seems to happen, but a lot of "station keeping" goes on, I typically surf over to the forums (usually at Giant in the Playground since they're terribly entertaining and infuriating at times and the Kenzer & Co. boards since Dave and Jolly and their crew are just so damned cool for refusing to be just "another turd in the pot" company) and pick on the New School folks. It's a bit hypocritical, I know, since I'm not really and Old School kind of guy, but sometimes they just tickle me.

Today and yesterday, though, they actually got me to thinking on a couple of things. Primarily, the discussion of what level of the fantastic is "right" for a game. Just how strange, fantastic, or downright odd do things get before one draws the line? As things on the internet go, there was no real room for moderate views in this discussion. You were either for, what was termed, dull and "Tolkienian" fantasy, or you would permit anything and everything (specifically, everything and anything that a player wanted, but that's another argument entirely). The example that got dredged up from the fevered recesses of somebody's mind was that you could either be playing Greyhawk with nothing but the core Human, Elf, Dwarf etc. core races and classes, or you would play in a game where the players could create a sentient squirrel wizard riding in the "cockpit/wand turret" of a constructed flesh golem mobile platform.

I swear on all that is holy that I'm not making that last bit up. See for yourself.

My first reaction has got to be . . . why the fuck would you want to play such an absurd character? What possible interest would you have in it? I mean that seriously. What connection could you make to even access such a concept as anything other than a monster? Why would it not simply be swarmed by folks the instant it stepped into public and slain for the abomination that it is? And of course, the opposite would be just ye olde boring D&D campaign right?

Now that the thought's been rattling around in my brain, slowly eating at my sanity (if it weren't for my horse, I would not have gone back to school that year . . .), I have to ask myself at this point whether there's a real difference between such a . . . thing . . . and the concept of wizards conjuring fireballs from thin air and giant winged reptiles with terminal halitosis hoarding coins and magical items? I like to say often that there's a difference between suspending your disbelief, and hanging it by the neck until dead, and that this clearly falls on that side of the line, but why is that on one side, and the dwarf on the other? Huge metropolitan campaigns where everybody plays as their favorite monster race on that side, and the race preference charts on the other? I mean hell, I'm in the middle of working through some material for Thylia, and I stumbled across a line where I traced a particular artifact to extra-terrestrials, and I'm OK with that, but still something that wierd as even the sentien necromantic rodent sticks in my craw.

James has talked about this in passing over at Grognardia (and I'm not throwing up a link because I'm far too lazy and if you read this you're most certainly familiar with his work) as it concerns that notable module about and Expedition to the Barrier Peaks and Gamma World. He termed it Science Fantasy, and I think it's fair to say that in its original inception, D&D was, as much as Gamma World, a science fantasy game rather than a strict fantasy game. In the end, I find myself much more comfortable on the Fantasy side of that equation, even so far as to prefer fantasy literature that reads less like fantasy and more like medieval period pieces - A Song of Ice and Fire as case in point.

Am I wrong to sit here and strip out such things from "my" game? Am I hammering D&D into a mold that it doesn't really entirely fit? The answer is, I don't know. What I do know, though, is that the more strangeness (specifically, the more breaks from our own reality that we are forced to make) in a game, the harder it becomes for the players and the DM to insert themselves into the world and interact with it. It becomes less about exploring, and more about constnatly trying to keep your feet and learn about the next thing that's been changed. The wierder things get, the more quickly I, as a player, get thrown out of immersion.

And I suppose that I'm a real fuddy who should just hang up his dice because in browsing through a PDF of The Savage Frontier supplement for the Forgotten Realms, I'm forced to admit that, while the background material is excellent, most of the interesting locations that they call out to attention just drive me creatively up the wall. The stronghold of Ascelhorn, now fallen after its occupants had dealings with Hell in order to preserve their power, now known as Hellgate Keep (or something like that): good. It's interesting, and provoking. It then goes on to say that the keep is now ruiled by a type VI demon with hordes of minion demons and undead and that it is a terrible place on the brink of conquering the entire North: not so good. As much as I like demons and devils, and I really do, for some unidentifiable reason, this just . . . ugh. And it's largely the same for much of the Forgotten Realms. It seems that magic and "fantasy" are just leaking out of its pores, every page screaming D&D adventure. If anything, the best way I can describe it is that the Realms are just too . . . well . . ."too D&D." They're too heavily influenced by the way the game works, allowing mechanics and rules books to shape the realm than letting the rules serve the world setting, as I see Greyhawk doing for the most part.

I honestly have no conclusion here, other than to say that this is bothering me with some absurd shame about not being fantasy enough. Am I wrong here? Where do others draw their line between what does and does not make it into a D&D, or any other system's campaign?

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Lord's Blade

The Lord's Blade - for its original name and wielder have been lost to time - appears to be a bastard sword of good quality, inscribed with runes the length of the blade along either side of a deep blood groove. The cross guard and pommel seem to be plain, unadorned brass, the hilt wrapped in plain leather the last time this sword surfaced. Closer examination by a competent smith, however, reveals that the blood groove is, in fact, no such thing. While most weapons of this type are constructed of a single bar of steel stock formed into a blade and sharpened, this blade is constructed by 6 thin strands of unalloyed iron welded together and overall clad in a hardened steel jacketing. The result is a bastard sword weighing a full 20% more than a typical blade (12 pounds instead of the typical 10 pounds), but which is of exceptional balance and craft. The runes are deeply incised and no scholar has yet been able to translate them without the aid of magic. If a suitable spell is utilized, they can be translated thus: By this symbol I swear this oath, and by this blade I maintain my oath, that leadership is service.

If subjected to a detect magic spell or effect, the weapon radiates a strong aura of magic of indeterminate type. All efforts to elucidate the abilities of the weapon - whether by Identify or Legend Lore spells, or by some other method - fail unless the oath is taken. If someone capable of wielding the blade holds it in both hands and, under the blessing of a Priest of either Light or Dark, speaks the oath, that person will become bound by the oath and all powers of the Lord's Blade will be apparent to him.

*First, due to its exceptional balance and craft, the speed factor is reduced by three whether wielded one handed or two. Further, the sword has a saving throw of 5 against all types of normal physical damage whether due to extreme stress, fire, lightning, and etc. Extremely powerful magics can overwhelm this. Both of these bonuses are inherent to the blade itself and are not magical.

*During combat, it functions as a +2 weapon in all regards.

*In the hands of an acknowledged leader (whether a king, emperor, baron, or merely a mercenary captain), the sword confers a +4 bonus to Charisma. This bonus does not affect the physical appearance of the wielder (i.e., it does not make them handsomer), but improves their ability to command and influence those around them.

The Lord's Blade, while certainly a very powerful magic item, is a tremendous curiosity throughout Thylia, for though its oath would appear to be at odds with an evil world view, it will serve an evil warrior as faithfully as it would the staunchest Paladin. It is believed in some circles that the weapon possesses some level of intelligence or ego, though this has never been proven or even evidenced. Currently, its whereabouts are unknown.