Monday, December 29, 2014

Play Report: Car Wars Amateur Night

  This Christmas I received a copy of Car Wars (the nice retro-looking box set). Now, the last time I played Car Wars was in the Spring of 1985 and the last time I saw a game was in the Summer of 1990, so I was pretty rusty. My third son and I did a quick 3 sessions of amateur night for great fun. Last night we ran the following:

The Setup
  Killer Karts, the arena, no skills for the drivers as a 'get to know the rules' game.

The Players
  Son #1 (17 years old)
  Son #3 (15)
  Son #4 (12)

  We each entered from different walls (#3 North, me East, #4 South, #1 West) with everyone but me at 20 mph; I was at 10 mph.
  Sons #1 and #3 make a run at each other at low speed (~30 mph) and chew up each other's front armor, using a lot of ammo. Son #4 is approaching their position. I am puttering along at 10 mph, drifting past obstacles.
  Sons #3 and #4 make a few head-on shots at about 30 - 40 mph as they close near the center area of the map. Son #3's front armor and MG iare chewed off and his power plant takes a few hits (no fire). Son #4 has his front armor greatly reduced, but they are passing each other.
  Then Son #3 pulls a 90 degree turn and T-bones son #4 into an observation tower. The impacts destroy Son #3's power plant and lightly injure him and he is stopped. Son #4's left armor is torn off but he is still armed, dangerous, and doing 30 mph. Son #1 is in the northwest corner, I am approaching from the east at 20 mph.
  Son #3 decides to get out of his car and run for a tower.
  Son #4 then pulls off a bootlegger's! Halfway through the maneuver Son #3 starts getting back into his car.  Then Son #4 come to rest facing son #3 (who is dead stopped and unable to move or fire)  at about 3.5". Son #4 fires but misses with a 3!
  Unfortunately, Son #4 is now at a stop 4" dead ahead of me with no cover and his unarmored side facing me. I snap off a burst, roll lucky twice, and Son #4 is dead. Son #3 gets back out of his car and runs for a tower.
  Son #3 is cowering by the entrance to the central tower as I vector in on Son #1 , who is in the SW corner trying to pull off the 'build speed, maintain a good handling, and not hit something' trick. Son #1 realizes I am about to corner him and floors it. I am up to 40 mph but he is at 70 mph. I prepare to keep turning inside and control the center until he is forced to either come at me with his damaged front armor or I can get in behind him.
  As I and Son #1 are heading to the SE part of the map Son #3 begins moving. Soon he is at Son #4's car where he jumps in and begins starting the (still armed, still functioning) killer kart! In the NE corner I almost get Son #1 trapped but he (once again) floors it and my 4 long range shots, all Hail Marys, all miss. About this time Son #3 realizes I am almost in position to rake him along the side with no armor he dives out of the far side of Son #4's car and runs for the tower again. I let him go so i can focus on Son #1.
  Pretty soon we are in Turn 25 and Son #1 and I are still lapping the arena. While he has never been in a position to even fire at me with any hope of success, he has been keeping his speed and distance up so I really can't get him, either. Son #3 is still lurking by the tower but has no real hope of starting and using Son #4's kart. It is very late so Son #1 and I agree to call it a draw.

The Chatter
  There was a lot of very happy buzz from the kids over this game (we had some very similar games, but one-on-one, over the previous few days). The best comment was from Son #1 after this game, though,
  "Dad, I expected to play this game every now and then to share a game with you, but this turns out to be the most fun boardgame-type thing we own that wasn't made by Lew Pulsipher by hand."
  The sons all want more than karts so I informed them we will do vehicles up to $10k next time (total cost - Son #3 wants body armor and a personal weapon!). Son#3 (at least) will be designing a new vehicle.

The Questions
  Where can I find a nice download of all the important charts?!
  What other maps, etc., do people recommend?
  And what other rules should I acquire, since this is a hit?

Sunday, December 28, 2014

The "We've Finally Had Time to Read the 5e books" Post

  Not a real review, but just the comments of me and my sons as we have read through the books.

The Reviewers
  Me: 47 year old man
  Ja.: 17 year old man
  A: 15 year old half-man
  S.: 14 year old boy
  N.: 12 year old boy

The Good
  Me: "The artwork is really good. The binding is very nice."
  Ja.: "The books certainly are gorgeous."
  A.: "I love the artwork."
  S.: "Very pretty to look at, at least."
  N.: "The art is nice and the last picture in the PHB is a badger, so bonus points."

The Interesting/Positive
  Me: "You don't need multi-classing anymore since you can take various options to various classes to emulate a multi-class, which is interesting."
  Ja.: "Looks like they have cleaned up a number of monsters."
  A.: "Turns out that being almost-dead might actually have longer term effects than just the next long rest."
  S.: "Random dungeon creation charts are back, which is great."
  N.: "The various tables to help with motivations and background might lead to directions you'd never consider without help."

The Weird/Negative
  Me: "...and yet you can multi-class, at least as an option, so let the min/maxing and 14 levels ahead character optimization begin anew!"
  Ja.: "Monks can get an hadouken? What the?"
  A.: "I've already figured out a way to get multiple spells off in a round and I've only had the books 15 minutes."
  S.: "I should be third level after the 3rd or 4th session? So we'd have retired 2, maybe 3, 20th level character parties in just the Blackstone campaign?"
  N.: "They nerfed golems? Who nerfs golems?"

The Harsh
  Me: " Where do the credits acknowledge Runequest, Rolemaster, HackMaster, and Castles & Crusades 'for their contributions to the "new" content of this book'?"
  Ja.: "If you want something for nothing and think character death is a horrible event that should never happen this is the game for you."
  A.: "I don't want to play this, even to playtest."
  S.: ""The DMG reads as 'we're sorry that 4e destroyed your creativity - here's some charts!'"
  N.: "They nerfed badgers? THEY NERFED GIANT BADGERS?! This game is dead to me."

  Full review in a few weeks.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Play Report and Important Points on Designing Low-Level Encounters

  I met my lovely wife in August of 1990 just before I left for the Gulf War. The very first thing we did for fun was play the old WEG Star Wars RPG. I thought she was a long-time veteran of RPGs. it was actually her first RPG session, she had just memorized everything about the Star Wars universe.
  A match made in heaven.
  In the 24+ years since she was played all sorts of games, cutting her teeth and learning how to play from some of the best GMs on the planet. Over the years she's made some truly memorable characters, like:
  - The Mysterious Amazon, a barbarian mistress of the spear who was one of the deadliest fighters in Lew Pulsipher's campaign world.
  - Lady the Abbess Gabrielle, a paladin who dual-classed into cleric and went on to name-level.
  - Stardust, the very best thief in my Blackstone campaign.

  She has a strong preference for fantasy RPGs with AD&D 2e S&P being her flat-out, must have a campaign running, favorite. She prefers to play front-line fighters with cleric/paladin a close second and loathes playing mages.
  And she has never, ever, not once, ever dungeon mastered a single game.

  Until yesterday!

  After a few weeks of prep (it is the Christmas season, so she's busy) she ran a simple encounter to get her feet set.

  To prep the Wife used the 1st level dungeon random encounter tables and followed the random rolls to arm, equip, etc. the villains. She stated very clearly that this was a 'practice round' [i.e., no permanent death, no treasure, no experience].

  She asked that we play only the Big Four (fighter, cleric, magic-user, thief) with no specialization, custom classes, multiclasses, etc.

  The Players and characters:
  Me: Thrain Ironhand, 1st level dwarven fighter with an 18/91 strength and 13 hit points. Bardiche, heavy crossbow, splint mail for protection.
  Ja., the oldest son: Justinian the Great, 1st level human magic-user with Charm Person. A dagger and happy thoughts for protection.
  A., the second oldest son: Legas, 1st level half-elven thief with really good pick pockets. Short sword and a bajillion daggers with leather armor.
  S., the third son: Otto, a 1st level halfling thief who is as silent and stealthy as a shadow. Dagger, club, and leather armor.
  N., the fourth son: Bill, 1st level human cleric with a fiery faith. Heavy mace, warhammer, chain and shield.

  The setup was simple; we are old friends on our way to visit a remote abbey when we learn that a small hamlet had been raided and all the chickens had been stolen. We followed a trail of heavy bootprints and feathers to a small, remote cabin. The thieves crept up to see what was going on as all else hid nearby. The cabin had a single door in front, two heavily shuttered windows in back and two open windows in front. The thieves heard indistinct noises and smelled fried chicken. Otto decided to check the back windows, where he heard Ominous Chanting. Legas decided to look in one of the open windows in front-
  and looked right into the eyes of one of the three hobgoblins eating friend chicken around a table.
  No one was surprised so Legas dove into the room through the window, trying to keep the hobgoblins from blocking the door. Thrain, seeing, this, charged up and smashed open the door.
  Battle began.
  In the first round the hobgoblins (with broad sword, spear, and long sword) all missed Legas and Thrain missed. Justinian held his fire, watching the door to to back of the cabin. Otto tried to stealthily open a back window and failed. Bill stood by to step into melee as soon as Thrain could press in.

  In the second round Thrain slew the broad sword wielder in a single blow and stepped up to engage the spearman. Legas missed and was cut down by the long sword wielder, alive but bleeding out with -1 H.P. Bill rushed in and engaged the long sword user. Otto failed to stealthily open the other shutter.

  In third round Otto smashed open a shutter and saw a human cleric sacrificing a chicken at an altar to Maglubiyet as a hobgoblin with a spear rushed him. Otto threw his club at the cleric, hitting for minimum damage but disrupting the ritual. Otto promptly fled for the front.
  Thrain wounded the spearman, the longsword user wounded Bill, and Bill missed. Justinian threw his dagger at the long sword user and missed.

  Fourth round! Thrain missed. The spearman grazed Thrain. Bill missed. Otto arrived. The longsword wielder hit Bill.
  Bill goes down, slumping over the body of Legas.
  At this point Legas is at   -3 H.P. and Bill is at -2 H.P., also bleeding out.
  Otto steps up to fight the long sword user as Justinian scrambles to retrieve his only dagger from the corner.

  Fifth round. The long sword wielder cuts down Otto, who falls next to Bill and Legas at -2 H.P.
  Its looking like a TPK at this point.
  Justinian flees out the front door as Thrain cuts down the spearman.

  Sixth round. Thrain misses. The long sword wielder hits, bringing Thrain down to 5 H.P.
  Legas is bleeding out at -5 H.P., Bill is bleeding out at -4 H.P., Otto is bleeding out at -3 H.P. The magic-user is ready to sprint away, the long sword wielder is fresh as a daisy, and there are reserves behind the door.

  Seventh round. Thrain hits and kills the long sword wielder. The jerk. Justinian prepares his spell.

  Eighth round. Thrain smashes open the door to the back room where the cleric has just finished strapping on his plate mail. Justinian hits the cleric with Charm Person and the foe blows his save. The last hobgoblin, seeing the devastation and that his master has gone all wobbly-headed, dives out a back window and flees.

  The Wife rules that the charmed cleric saves the lives of the downed members of the party and we wrap up.

  All in all it was a great first session. Varied enemies with different H.P., different weapons, etc. We all loved playing the session even when it was grimmest.

  Notes from the DM on her first session

  1) The storytelling was easy and fun for her, but the mechanics was more involved than she expected.
  2) She realized how important reacting to the actions of the players is and that too much prep might result in trying to force the players down the "right" path.
  3) It is shockingly easy to wipe out a party.

  Notes on Making Low-Level Encounters

  In the post-game discussion I went over my own insights and the things I have been taught by other GMs about low-level encounters:
  1) The thing most likely to kill a low level party is the armor class of the enemy. Hobgoblins are A.C. 5 so the mage needed a 17 to hit them - that's one hit out of 5 attempts. Even Thrain, a dwarf with a  total of +3 to hit (strength and racial bonus) needed a 12, hitting only 45% of the time. Even though 2 of the hobgoblins in the main combat only had 2 H.P. and the 'tough' one only had 6 they were so tough for 1st level n00bs to hit they almost wiped out the party.
  2) The thing second most likely to kill a low level party is the number of attacks facing the party each round. Low level parties have the terrible combination of poor armor classes and low hit points. Each extra attack per round increases the odds that a character goes down that round.
  3) Low Hit Die Monsters are, one-on-one, tougher than low-level characters. A hobgoblin has 1+1 HD for an average of 5.5 H.P. Only as tough as a first level fighter, right?
  Wrong. His to hit roll is the same as a 3rd level fighter. A hobgoblin is, in effect, a 2nd level fighter.
  4) The number of characters in the party != the number of combatants in the party. Yes, we all like to have something to do in battle. But this little skirmish was a perfect illustration of my oft-repeated maxims
    A- Fighters are physical offense.
    B- Magic-users are magical offense.
    C- Clerics are magical and physical defense.
    D- Thieves are scouting  and intelligence.
  These are all very, very true at low levels where players haven't had a chance to 'buffer' their roles with magic to add some flexibility. When the thieves got into front-line battle they died. While the cleric did his best to hold the line, he died. When preparing an encounter for low-level parties calculate 1 melee foe per fighter +1 melee foe per cleric +1 melee foe for everyone else.
  Example: With the party above I would have calculated 1 hobgoblin for Thrain, one for Bill, and Justinian, Otto, and Legas would be just a single additional foe, for a total of 3 hobgoblins.
  Trust me, this will be enough.
  For a tough challenge add a spell foe for each mage and a spell defender for each cleric.
  Same Example: Tossing in a witchdoctor adds spell offense and spell defense.
  These are really rough guidelines and YMMV.

  Have fun!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

New Product - Five Henchmen

I added a new PWYW supplement today, it is called Five Henchmen

  And, yes, it is about 5 NPCs.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Building a World: More Maps and Such

  Earlier entries in this series are here, here, here, and here.

  We recently saw the regional map, or map of the primary play area. But I wanted to place it in a larger world, so I sketched out a 'mercator-style' world map that looks like this:

  You can juuuust see where the Patchwork Lands are on the map. Again, I want a BIG world, so each square is (at the equator, etc.) 1,250 miles wide/high. The equator is marked with a dashed line  placing the Patchwork Lands in roughly the same latitudes as France, so I have a weather/crops/etc. comparison.

  Here is a bit of a zoom in on the world near to the Patchwork lands.

  To discuss scale - the Sea of Grass, a vast grassland (obviously) penciled in there that covers the majority of the continent of the Patchwork Lands, covers about, oh, 18 to 19 million square miles. That is larger than all of Asia, or three times larger than Russia, or 5-6 times larger than the US, or 200 times larger than the UK. That means the lake in the Sea of Grass is larger than the Caspian Sea. That also means that the largest lake on the big map is larger than India.
  Big world? Mission accomplished!

  So my focus when I get to conveying the world to the players is to allow them to discover that while the Patchwork Lands are going to have a 'look and feel' very much like Medieval Europe plus magic the larger world, and it is very large, is vast and full of mystery. I will need to have fantastic things far away, legends of distant lands, and merchants, etc., discussing just how far away things are.

  If done well, it will want them want to travel. If done poorly they will feel like underpowered yokels.

  I also need to think about how these huge distances will affect trade, travel, and politics. Hmmmm.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Product Sale: The "After Black Friday but Before Christmas" Sale

  Hi, everyone. Sales of Far Realms over the Thanksgiving weekend were better than I expected.

  Of course, I didn't expect many people to buy it. I mean, it is good but there are a lot of good books out there!

  Anyway, to continue the sale I now have a 10% discount on the print version of Far Realms and when you buy it you get a link for the PDF at 50% off.

  Once again - thanks!

Off Topic: Comic Books

 I used to read a lot of comics.
  A. Lot.
  As I recall between 1974 and 1988 I had somewhere between 12 and 22 subscriptions at a time and would purchase more, as well. I really dropped off in sheer volume in 1988 and virtually stopped by 1992. I do still read them, but selectively and often collections of classics.
  Why the change? Two main reasons.
  There was a tone of moralizing in comics from the time I started, a sense that the writers were interested in telling you what you should think rather than telling you a fun story. Green Lantern/Green Arrow was a (very, very) obvious example of this. For me the last straw was the death of the character Doug Ramsey - killing a character that drove good stories to send the message 'guns're bad" was terribly annoying.
  Bu the bigger reason was how slavish adherence to continuity was (IMO) draining the fun out of comics. The letter pages at Marvel seems to all consist of variations of  'in issue 223 of The Stupendous Spiderman [written by a staff writer under the supervision of the editor in charge of Spiderman] Spidey said he had never done X. But in issue 45 of Obscure Cross-over Anthology [written by a contractor on a tight deadline to cover for a writer hit by a bus and supervised by an assistant editor already running 9 other properties] Spidey did x. Why did Spidey lie, fix it NOW, and I want a noprize." And DC had rwbooted their entire line of products to clean up their continuity,

  Don't get me wrong, I understand that DC had some issues with their lines. I personally can recall owning various comics that told completely conflicting stories of what happened to Superman's parents after they launched his rocketship, for example. Add in that the list of 'last survivors of Krypton' was up to a few million and, well, sure.
  But a strict continuity means that you are forced to jettison fun stories because they don't fit. Here is an example of a story arc that I owned and loved.

  A powerful foe appears from space. Superman uses all of his strength but, in the end, Superman dies. After the death of Superman the earth is in chaos but a 'replacement' Superman uses his powers to take over through threat of force. But the real Superman was only mostly dead; an aient revives him with yellow sun radiation and, reinvigorated, the real Superman deals with the replacement and reveals him to be a fake.

  It is the iconic 'Death of Superman' arc, right?
  Nope. This was all done in two issues of World's Finest in 1977, a full 15 years prior to that famous arc.
  Let me repeat and expand; in two issues of a comic Superman dies, a fake Superman creates a world-wide dictatorship, Superman returns to life and overthrows the ruler of the entire world, and not a single other comic from DC mentioned it, then or ever.
  And why not? After all, it was just a comic book, right?
  But with strict continuity this would be impossible, even in a 'side franchise' comic like World's Finest whose bread and butter was super cavemen and weekly alien invasions.

  The original goal of continuity was to create opportunities for more and even better stories. Now the goal of continuity is continuity and it now drives out more and better stories.

  That is why I like Squirrel Girl. Don't know who she is? Look her up. Better, look up the list of villains she has beaten. And she's beaten them in canon so that it is part of continuity. I love the character because it takes the starch out of the strict continuity types.

  So [to throw out a bone to the TRPG nature of the blog] Just like you can't let the status quo prevent your campaign from advancing, don't be a slave to continuity, either, as long as the changes aren't to harm or railroad (too much) the party. Focus on fun - after all, we are playing games.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Building a World: The Regional Map

  This is the result of a bit of doodling on Hexographer. Each hex = 9 miles/3 leages.
  Sidenote: If Hexographer had existed in 1980 - 1995 it would have had an additional 4 hours of life a week. Or a lot more maps
  I haven't done any smoothing nor added any towns, cities, etc. Or roads.
  My dear wife, whose marine biology studies in college involved a LOT of work in marshes, likes the swamps, etc.

Next time - world maps!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Magic Item: The Most Marvelous Armillary of Sassendal the Insightful

  This item and its concept was created by my oldest son, J.

  The sage Sassendal was rightly famous for his in-depth knowledge of the celestial bodies and their motions. His insights into their secrets earned him fame and wealth including a great gift from an adventurer - several pots of pigments that, when used to paint an image, made a duplicate of that thing depicted.
  Sassendal had used his wealth to finance the construction of a new armillary, one that he hoped would be not just the most comprehensive but the most accurate. The master craftsmen had completed the globe of Yrth (Sassendal's home world) as well as the bands for the sun, the moons, and the various planets. The sage gave the pigments to the master limner who had been hired to paint the surface of these globes and bands with the coasts, mountains, and rivers of the entire world or the various colors and patterns associated with them all.
  When the limner completed the Yrth globe he was astonished to see a brief flash as it was covered in movement: a film of clouds was visible over the miniature world!
  Equally surprised, Sassendal observed as the limner likewise used the magical paint on the bands of the sun, the planets, and the moons. As each was completed it seemed to flash into movement across its surface. When the last band, that of the sun, was complete it burst into light, glowing as if it were a miniature sun! The The various bands leapt into place around the mounted Yrth globe and began rotating in a perfect simulation of the celestial motion.

  Further, the Yrth globe accurately shows the weather of the entire planet (if it is a bit small).
  Sassendal was able to use the armillary for even more accurate work with the celestial objects and could further warn of typhoons and other great storms, earning him even greater wealth and fame.

  Since Sassendal's death the armillary rests in the Royal Library.

  The Most Marvelous Armillary: This magic item gives the following benefits:
  1) +5/+25% on all skill checks related to stars, moons, the sun, etc., including any sage knowledge checks.
  2) All divinations cast within 10' of the armillary have their duration and range increased by 50%.
  3) Further, all divinations cast within 10' have their accuracy increased by +3/15%,
  4) Anyone observing the armillary for 5 or more minutes can predict the weather for the next 48 hours with 80% accuracy.This check may only be made once a day per person.
  5) The armillary sheds true sunlight in a 60' radius.
  6) by using the various levers at the base a person can adjust the armillary to see the past or future locations of celestial objects allowing the very accurate predictions of solar eclipses, lunar eclipses, etc. The armillary returns to showing the present 1 minutes after such examinations.

  The armillary is 7' tall and weights 1,000 lbs. It makes all saving throws as hard metal at +3.

  Plot Ideas:
  -A Diviner has caught a glimpse of a future catastrophe and wants access tot he armillary to confirm his accuracy, but the royal librarian demands the hide of an ice fox in return for access.
  -Somehow someone has stolen the massive armillary from the king's library! The reward for its return is rather large....
  -The Royal Astronomer summons the party to the library. Advancing the controls to show 2 weeks into the future the armillary suddenly a falling star appears from the wall of the library and moves to the miniature Yrth, striking near the very kingdom you are in! The party has 15 days to think of a way to stop a falling star!

Building a World, More Nuts and Bolts: The Patchwork Lands

Part I in here
Part II is here

  Since I have my Big Ideas that Drive Things and major locations for weird and for plots (see the previous two posts) I want to nail down local geography in the main campaign region a bit more.

  The broad brush history outline is that a large human empire collapsed under outside attack long before the time of the campaign start and that the main area, the Patchwork Lands, survived because of serious natural barriers. So I roughly sketch out a peninsula isolated from the main continent by forbidding mountains.

   [Cut me some slack - I am no artist and this took about 90 seconds]
  I will have it be East-West oriented with a north to south of about 300 miles north to south and 300 miles east to west plus the longer peninsula on the southern edge. The total area will probably end up being about, oh, 100,000 square miles, or roughly the size of South Korea/Iceland/Colorado and about 1/3rd the size of Italy.
  While the world is vast I do want to start on a slightly smaller scale to drive into the players that they are small fish in a rather large ocean, so this is good. Plus, as I have mentioned before, 300 miles is a very long way in a fantasy world.
  As you might be able to see, I have already labels the northern physical border as the Golden Hills and the southern physical border as the Marches. I will get more local names later, but in the meantime I want to get some local gee-whiz names and places. First, the region east of the barrier mountains will be called the Vast Forest. This will be about a million square miles that looks like:

  With no cities, a few outposts of elves and such, and otherwise - howling wilderness full of things you build large campfires to scare away.

  North of that is the Sea of Grass, a vast plain 3,000 miles or more east to west, 2,500 north to south with just a few rivers breaking up grassy prairie twice the size of all of Europe.

  East and South of the Vast Forest will be other collections of small nations who, like the Patchwork Lands, are recovering from the vast war that destroyed the empire that once ruled this area.

  West will be an archipelago with a small number of city-states in a nod to Vance's excellent Lyonesse series.

  Now that I have 'filled in around the edges' I am almost ready to start filling in the regional map. But first! I will need to drill down and add more detail to races.

  That is for next time.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Building a World, Nuts and Bolts: The Patchwork Lands

 Part I of my series on how I am creating a new campaign world is here.

  So now that a broad sketch of world history is done, the core ideas of the world are gelled, the races and professions are in place, and the concepts of the primary adventuring region are in place (as discussed in part I) It is time to get to adding in the details that make place memorable.

 One thing I like to do is make a few memorable geographic features so that I have some places to mention in everything from my narratives to the contents of old books. I do this on a macro scale (the entire world) and a local scale (the regional area of the campaign).
  So I glance through the broad outline of history I made and note that the original home of the first High Men was lost when a magical/something cataclysm sank an entire continent.
  Why an Atlantis? because I have never, ever done one before. Heck, there is a Lemuria, too.
  But instead of having the entire thing be lost and the very idea be mythical I placed an island, an Ireland-sized one, in the midst of that vast ocean I mentioned previously. The tallest peak of that drowned continent became this island and it is still occupied by the last descendants of the first High Men.
  I wanted to have a 'weird place', a nexus for the strange and unusual so I placed a large plateau in a distant mountain range, wrote up some basics on the strangeness that congregates there, and dubbed it 'the Plain of Glittering Lights'. I will later put something relatively plot-important (a magical academy, library with rare tomes, lost city, etc.) on or near the Plain to entice players to risk a trip there.
  The main campaign area will be on the western edge of a cluster of three continents and (mentioned in part I) I want the eastern edge of this cluster to be dangerous enough to almost force the players West.
  Why, you ask? To make places like the Plain of Glittering Lights more remote and legendary! Doing it this way will make it easier/more explainable why low-level parties stay within the campaign area while high-level parties travel more freely.
  I have the continent holding the campaign area come very close to the next continent - few miles, at one point. Then I flank this narrow strait with large volcanoes and call it the Gates of Fire. I additionally call the oceans around this area the Hot Sea and describe how underwater magma and hot springs make the ocean almost boiling hot.
  The next continent south of these is mainly jungle, swamps, and mountains. In addition to giving me a great place to place lost cities of the jungle I also put a lot of Orcs with ships along the coast, meaning that sailing anywhere near is dangerous. This Corsair Coast will be dangerous at low levels, a great source of adventures at medium levels, and a nuisance at high levels.
  Maybe one more big place. one more location or thing that the entire world would know of.
  I am a big fan of Clark Ashton Smith and recall his short story, the Isle of the Torturers as being wonderfully atmospheric. So, well East of the main campaign areas (and the barrier I placed, above, I put the Isle of the Sorcerers.
  If you aren't aware, in Rolemaster the Sorcerer class is infamous for spells like, oh, Break Limb and Long Soul Destruction, so they aren't pleasant, in general.
  So with just a bit of thought I have a handful of Big Name locations that serve and both plot elements and something for the players to remember ('Isle of the Sorcerers' is a lot more memorable than 'that distant archipelago with one large island').

  Next: closer to home base

Upcoming Project: The Guisarme Brothers

  Sometimes things get out of hand.

  This weekend I was joking around with the kids and I mentioned that they might meet the hirelings/potential henchmen known as the Guisarme brothers - Bill and Glave.
  By Sunday afternoon it had expanded to their friends Bill Hook, Hal Bard, and Becky Corbin.
  I hope to have a new, free, supplement up soon of full writes ups of all five as NPCs for OSR games by Friday.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Building a World, the Big Ideas: The Patchwork Lands

  If you don't already know this, I have 5 sons. 4 of them are old enough to play RPGs and, for some odd reason, they love 'em.
  I know - weird.
  Anyway, for many years I talked about how much I enjoy Rolemaster so, about 4 years ago, the 5 of us started acquiring Rolemaster FRPG and we soon had, essentially, All The Books. The kids read the rules, the kids love the rules, so - time for a game or two!
  They liked actually playing, so it was time for a decision:
  Place the adventures in either Blackstone (my 8 year old AD&D 2e campaign world) or Seaward (my 35+ year old AD&D 1e campaign)?
  Use an packaged campaign world made for Rolemaster?
  Just sort of let a campaign world grow from the bottom up as we play?
  Engage in a bit of world building?

  I chose world building!
  For those of you who don't know, Rolemaster has a lot of classes, a lot of skills (especially RMFRPG), a lot of types of magic, and a lot of races and cultures. While this means there is a great deal of flexibility in what you can put into a world it threatens analysis paralysis - so many choices you never choose. To overcome this I decided to do a high-level description of the world, pick an overall tone, throw in a "shocking" concept critical to the world and its development, and limit the classes and races a bit as first steps.

**Spoilers Follow - Players in my campaign should stop now!**

  I mean it, kids!

  So I started by limiting playable races to dwarf, halfling, elves (wood, grey, high), half-orc, half-elf, and human (common, high, and mixed) (all cultures from the core book and Character Law).

  NPC races I limited to all listed as Subterranean, the Orloc, and the Quishad. The Fey also exist. So gnomes, kobolds, orcs, etc. are out there but no lionmen, wolfmen, reptilemen, etc. as full blown races. Hidden pockets of them may lurk about, but they are going to be mythical/legendary at best.
  I'll admit: I didn't limit classes very much at all! I mainly kept the semi-spell users and hybrid magic users to the 'most common'.

  For overall tone I wanted to whipsaw around a bit. As I have mentioned before Blackstone has a 'manifest destiny' feel to it with the players in a powerful Human kingdom as it starts expanding against neighboring evil nations. Seaward is largely a 'frontier outpost' setting with the characters in a small, remote kingdom trying to defend the innocent from marauders. So I want the new campaign to not look too much like either but have plenty of room to adventure.
  I decided the PC-level setting will look like the Italian City-States - many small nations, in relatively close proximity, with intrigue, politics, and such but also a wide mix of cultures, plenty of chances to travel, and the like. As i sketched out what the local map would look like (which includes enough mountains, thick forests, etc. for plenty of monsters!) I decided on the name the Patchwork Lands for both the regional map and the campaign.
  But I also decided that the overall setting is going to be much more of a 'Lost Ages Past' world, hopefully evoking an overall aura akin to Clark Ashton Smith's Zothique Cycle. So I wanted everything to have a feeling of being very, very old and of the world being very, very big.

  To start with, I made the planet physically huge - double the Earth's diameter, as a matter of fact. Gravity will be the same (well; the creatures that live there all act normally, how's that?) because I'll-figure-that-out-as-I-go/magic. The world map clusters a few continents together and then has three more scattered about. The continental cluster will be Very Dangerous on its east and have a vast ocean (as in '20,000 miles across at its widest' vast) to its west, creating a situation where the scattered continents are 'lost in legend' distant from the campaign center.

  The 'feeling old' part is tough, so I shelved it for a few - along with the 'shocking concept' because nothing had hit me as of yet.

  So I had very rough sketches of a world map and a regional map, a gigantic world, and a desire for things to have the weight of ages upon them. Looking at the races I noted that several (elves, orlocs, quishadi, black orcs) are immortal and some (notably high men) live a very long time. There was a not in the Creatures book that orlocs 'existed in the long ages before men' and 'created the quishad' at which point I had an idea that led to the shocking concept (well - two related concepts).

  I started blocking in a long history covering more than 300 million years (most of it in very broad strokes, obviously). but throughout the history the world is marked with the appearance of new, intelligent races and with some of these races suddenly becoming immortal or (in one case) very long-lived. Each race that becomes immortal faces an inevitable decline.
  This is one of the two shocking concepts - virtually all of the intelligence races on the world are from elsewhere, mainly arriving from other worlds via space travel, some created by science or magic. The orloc, for example, came in a colony ship. The elves from a scout ship, the humans from a heavily-damaged ship that had a  jump drive malfunction (a ship that is still in orbit!). Dwarves from a parallel dimension, etc.
Halflings are the result of scientific experiments on humans, orcs the result of magic experiments gone wrong by elves.

  The other concept - this large, old, odd planet attracts these visitors, draws them in because of the powers and spells of the vastly old, almost completely forgotten natives of the world, the super-intelligent reptile-men that ruled the world for half a billion years before vanishing two full Ice Ages ago. Facing a world of no offspring they struck a foul pact for immortality, unaware that the cost was a loss of their essential racial vitality.
  The races that learn of the reptile-men are drawn to their centers of power and allowed to bargain for favors. Creating bargains similar to the very one they, themselves, made the reptile-men offer gifts, knowledge and, eventually, immortality.
  Those races that choose immortality give up some little part of their species' long-term vigor to the reptile-men. The humans that became high men were suspicious and 'just' took long lives, limiting the damage. Eventually, over eons, the reptile-men will have enough of whatever it is that they are gathering to return to their world full of the vigor they, themselves, traded for immortality all those hundreds of millions of years before.

  This 'backdrop' allows me to explain the rise and fall of races and empires, have a sort of 'hidden threat' lurking about, provides a secret history of the world, makes the world pretty creepy underneath the surface, and certainly makes it feel very old when I think and talk about it.

  Now that the Big Ideas and a framework of history was in place, time for more detail, which will be my next post.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Super Heroes at the Dinner Table

  This past Saturday I hosted my very intermittant Champions game. All of the players were introducing new characters and we were adding 2 new players. All the layers are teens or close enough, so I was prepared to have a ton of fun.

  The players (sex and age) and characters (powers) were:
  KF (M/18) - Senor Iago (A Portuguese Knight of a Holy Order placed into a cursed slumber by a witch and recently awoken. Wears enchanted armor and shield as well as a number of magic items, fights with an enchanted mace, can summon a pegasus)
  JS (M/17) - Bob Perkins, Defender of the Universe (an array of energy attacks, drains, and boosts)
  KB (F/17) - Thunderclap (Power armor user with a number of sonic attacks)
  DB (F/16) - Speedre [rhymes with the typical pronunciation of 'Dierdre'] (full-body cyborg super-speedster)
  AS (M/15) - Tombstone (Pilot of a war machine that can transform between being a 36' tall battle mecha and a large RV; he is from a parallel dimension where nuclear weapons were never developed and battles were fought in huge anthropomorphic war bots)
  JB (M/15) - ...[Ellipses] (Gadgeteer) because of his physique and his sewer base sometimes called 'sewer urchin' or 'the swole mole'
  SS (M/14) - Сжигание Молот ['Flaming Hammer'] (WWII Polish warrior who was forced to be a super-soldier for the Soviets; put in cryo-stasis after the war and only recently awoken. Super gadgets and armor as well as an enhanced body and martial arts)
  TB (M/13) - Xianke (A Shaw Brothers/Wuxia style martial artist)
  NS (M/12) - Mandible (A scientist who, post lab accident, can transform into a sort of 'were-insect' with a variety of insect powers like vast leaps, clinging, etc. Also quite tough)

  So, as background:
  Senor Iago and Flaming Hammer were in Atlanta because of the Temporal Displacement Research and Treatment Center at ICICLE Tower, near the CNN Center [ICICLE (Intergovernmental Committee on International Criminal Law Enforcement) is the SHIELD/UNTIL/UNCLE/etc of my campaign)], Tombstone's RV pierced the dimensional barriers near Atlanta because of events related to the last session. Mandible and Speedre came out of local high-tech labs. Ellipses and Thunderclap are from the 'local high-tech scene' in Alpharetta. Xianke won't tell anyone why he is here. Bob Perkins, who just got back from the Sagittarius Dwarf Spheroidal, isn't really sure why he's here.

  The session started with some of the heroes learning that there was something falling from space into Atlanta. The various heroes, who had not yet met, converged on the CNN Center, the estimated impact point. Thunderclap saw the impact from a distance - whateveritwas landed in the intersection between the CNN Center and ICICLE Tower. Flaming Hammer and Iago saw the impact and donned their armor. Ellipses and the rest also heard or heard of the impact and began to close in.
  At that moment Bob Perkins appeared a few feet away from the impact crater. He asked a passerby what planet and year it was and then approached the impact - it was an alien in a Star Ranger uniform whom Bob recognized as the one assigned to the local region [No, not a Green Lantern!]. Obviously dying, the Ranger ordered his staff to find a replacement and then told Bob,
  "The Riders are coming"
  Before he died.

  The various supers are all there or almost there when everyone hears a sonic boom  and sees a vapor trail heading towards them. A moment later the Brute lands in the intersection! The only creature on Earth labeled an Omega Level threat, the various rookie supers collectively hold their breath.
  The massive, gray-skinned Brute looks at the Star Ranger and shouts,
  "Who killed my friend?!?!"
  and just then - an energy bolt fired from the ICICLE Tower strikes the Brute, which promptly triggers his Berserk and its time for combat.

  -Speedre does a move by at full speed: hit, no effect
  -Thunderclap hits with her biggest gun: hit, no effect
  -Xianke and Mandible start to close with the Brute
  -Ellipses and Flaming Hammer get to a roof for sniper work
  -Bob Perkins drains the Brutes strength: after defenses 1 point is drained, which is enough to trigger another berserk.
  Did I mention that each berserk triggers a strength boost?
  net result - Bob made the brute stronger
  -Tombstone fires his vortex cannon: hit, no effect
  -The Brute makes a short leap and grabs Thunderclap
  -Senor Iago, who has been holding his action, makes a Presence attack: he slammed his mace down to get the Brute's attention and said,
  "Sir, I do not know you, but I ask you to calm down. None of us are your enemies; none of us hurt your friend. We are good people made afraid by our anger. I beseech you to cease fighting and we will help find the people who killed your friend."
  And he rolled really well, giving the brute a chance to try to recover from one of the berserks, which he did.
  Everyone goes to post phase 12 recovery.
  Next turn Thunderclap tries to break free from the Brute's grasp, but it is like this

  Even with power armor.
  Bob Perkins also makes a Presence Attack to try to calm down the Brute, as does Iago, again. The Brute is rapidly calming down!

  Then Xianke kicks him.

  Perfectly in-character, too. He doesn't do any damage through defenses, but the Brute might have noticed. This upset Flaming Hammer who uses his maser rifle to...
  ...snipe Xianke, knocking him out with a mostly invisible beam.
  But not invisible to the sensors on Tombstone's mecha. Tombstone tracks back the point of origin, zooms in and sees...
 ...a filthy Commie! [Flaming Hammer still has red stars and the hammer and sickle on his armor) Originally a soldier in a much hotter Cold War Tombstone draws his "pistol" (a 3' long cannon) and fires on Flaming Hammer. He hits but Flaming Hammer can take it.
  The Brute then glances around before hurling Thunderclap north.
  Very, very hard.
  There is a sonic boom as she vanishes toward Dalton.
  Speedre (who has been holding her action) sprints off at her overdrive speed, hoping to catch Thunderclap on the way down.
  And the Brute leaps away to the East, also causing a sonic boom as he goes.
  At this point Mandible steps between the various PC heroes who have been (or are about to) fighting each other c\and calls for calm. The 7' tall cockroach man succeeds in reasoning with everyone and various mutual introductions and apologies are made.
  At this point Bob Perkins wants to know where the closest McDonald's is. 3 blocks down Marietta Street later and the heroes are all eating big macs and talking (Thunderclap picked up the tab; Bob had lost his wallet on a planet near the Garnet Star a few weeks before).
  After a few minutes two Icemen (ICICLE investigators) arrived and began to debrief the heroes. A few minutes after they left a young man in the uniform of a Star Ranger arrived: the staff had picked him and he was there to recover the body of his predecessor and return to the local Star Ranger base for training. The group assisted him in getting the body and he then vanished into the sky.
  The heroes exchanged various methods of contacting each other (except for Bob. He said he tends to be where he's needed). Bob vanished into thin air as he was about to bite into his 4th big mac and everyone else was soon heading home.
  I was a little pleased with how much fun this intro session went!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Thanksgiving Sale!

Hello, folks. I am putting my OSR books on sale. You have two big options:

1) The print copy of Far Realms  is 15% off [and this stacks with Lulu offers] and when you buy it you will be emailed a discount link allowing you to but the PDF of Far Realms for $0.99 and the PDF of Far Realms  More Spells I free!

2) Follow this link and get the PDF of Far Realms for just $9.99

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Magic Item of the Week: The Great Gauntlet

 These very rare magical items are of unknown origin and the secrets of their creation remain very well hidden. Each Great Gauntlet is a well-made armored glove of excellent craftsmanship and the finest materials. They are always discovered alone, never in pairs.
  A Great Gauntlet will magically resize itself to (properly) fit any human, demi-human, or humanoid of small or medium size. It will also magically reconfigure itself to fit whichever hand (right or left) that it is placed upon.
  When worn a Great Gauntlet allows its wearer to wield a weapon that normally requires two hands in one hand with no penalty or negative effect. For example, a human using a shield and bastard sword who was also wearing a Great Gauntlet would cause damage with the sword as if it were used two handed. Likewise a dwarven cleric with a great gauntlet could use a maul one handed without penalty.
  Using a large weapon with two hands while wearing a Great Gauntlet has no positive or negative effects.
  If a single creature attempts to wear two Great Gauntlets at the same time they interfere with each other; both Gauntlets vanish as they teleport to a random location and the wearer's arms go numb, acting as if they had been withered until the affected creature receives a Restoration.
  Great Gauntlets may only be used by fighters, and fighter sub-classes, clerics (but not druids), and assassins.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Dungeon Master Tips: Better Narration

  As much as we may dislike it at time, the fact is one of the most critical tasks/skills of the GM is narration.
nar·ra·tion nəˈrāSH(ə)n/ noun
noun: narration; plural noun: narrations
  the action or process of narrating a story.
      "the style of narration in the novel"   a commentary delivered to accompany a movie, broadcast, etc.
      "Moore's narration is often sarcastic"
  Narration sets up not just the parameters for things like combat and to assist the map maker, it sets the tone of the game. For example:
"The ten foot wide corridor goes 90' to another door. What do you do?"
"The passage here seems to be carved from the living rock of the mountain. Three of you can stand abreast and Jerczy's spear can only touch the arched ceiling with effort. There is a damp chill in the air, accompanied with the smells of wet stone and meat that rotted to slime years ago. You hear your own breathing, the faint drip of water into water from someplace... distant, and the occasional click or scrape as someone in the party shifts their weight.
  "Your torches struggle to light the passage, ultimately failing ahead of you. There is a faint gleam from beyond the torchlight, perhaps of more wet granite."
  Juuuuuust a little different.
  Now, just like sometimes its more fun to say 'you arrive at the dungeon' rather than role play 6 weeks of travel horseback, sometime when the mood is high on its own description #1 is the way to go. Heck, when the party is fleeing from a hoary terror unleashed from its ancient slumber description #1, delivered breathlessly, my be the best choice!
  But especially early one description #2 is 'better' and a great tool for creating an emotional tenor inside the party.
  "Gee, Rick,: I hear you say, "Tell us something we don't know! Its not like you're the first guy to bring this up!"
  Bear with me!

  Years ago when I was in my early teens my Dad got a present from one of my aunts - several of the old radio serials of The Shadow on cassette. My dad (who is older and a WWII vet) had loved those shows when he was a kid and they were new and pretty soon the whole family was listening to them after dinner every Sunday night. My Seaward campaign was already 6 years old and soon my players were mentioning that my descriptions were better.
  I realized - of course!
  The old radio shows relied solely upon narrative description to set the scene and some of the best writers in the world were working to make these descriptions clear, powerful, evocative - and brief! The thrillers and supernatural shows are essentially training courses in better DM narration.

  I listen to Old Time Radio on Sirius/XM satellite radio 5+ days a week. Many of these shows can be found on the Internet Archive, too. Here are a few:

  Some episodes of The Shadow

  The science fiction show X Minus One

  The horror/thriller/sometime supernatural show Suspense

  And don't think this is just for the DM! I think players can learn a great deal from
  Sherlock Holmes
  If you want a real treat you can find an episode of Sherlock Holmes where Holmes is portrayed by Sir John Gielgud, Watson by Sir Ralph Richardson, and Moriarty by Orson Welles here!

  I hope you enjoy!

Friday, November 21, 2014

The Spooky Castle

  In my Blackstone campaign (AD&D 2e S&P) the main party is name level and have built a large fortress/cathedral on the border controlling a pass in the mountains/hills. The fortress is made from the local stone (black granite) and sits on a bluff voer looking a river. The name of the massive black fortress that looms over the countryside?
  The Lord of the fortress?
  Doomsman the Destroyer.
  Of course, Doomsman is Neutral Good and there is a cathedral within the fortress for a Lawful Good cleric.

  The kids love the idea that every now and then a party of good-aligned NPC adventurers ride into the village and have to be reassured that the local villagers are quite happy, thank you kindly, and need no rescue.

It's the Little Things

  Gamemasters like to work on campaigns; we polish them, we add details, we add histories, we do research. From thousands of years of history outlines to detailed NPCs we all like to make our campaigns not just unique but memorable.
  I've seen guys make:
  -Incredibly detailed pantheons of gods with unique spells, dress, rituals, etc. for each one
  -Unearthly worlds like one where it was set on hundreds of tiny moons in a vast cloud of air and people used flying boats to travel
  -Unique systems of magic that required effort and roleplaying to work

  Great stuff! Very creative, very memorable. I have a lot of things like unique days for the names of the week that are still recognizable [Sunday, Moonday, Twoday, Threeday, Fourday, Fiveday, Starday], unique constellations, etc. And the players do like them, especially when they are dropped into play aids
  "This journal entry is from the 2nd Starday in Midsummer of last year"
and such.

  But I do find that, to my chagrin, even the effort behind my unique systems of weights and measures, the unique languages, the detailed calendars, the festivals, the monsters, the NPCs the most return for the least effort appears to be - mundane plants and animals.
  Here's an example from my Seaward (AD&D 1e) campaign.

  Along the southwest border of the Kingdom of Seaward lies an area called the Briars. The Briars cover the foothills of the southern mountains in addition the the very rough, rocky terrain large areas are choked with briars and brambles. The region is home to some plant and animal life either rare or absent anywhere else including the briar wolf, the briar deer, the brush cat, the hill tortoise, and the hyrax (or the 1/2 normal hit dice deer, the jackal, the lynx, the tortoise, and the groundhog). Plants include scrub pine, juniper, the evergreen oak, the lemonade bush, and the strawberry tree.

  Now, when I wrote up the area and its encounter charts I thought the weasels, giant rats, mountain lions, and kobolds would be the memorable parts.
  The players all remember (and talk about) the lemonade bushes, the strawberry trees, the brush cats, and the evergreen oaks.

  I chalk it up to the effect Heinlein so famously described many years ago about how little things set tone. You can describe mile-long starships all you want but 'the door irised open' really drives home how different things really are..

  So - work on the little things, the odd little bits like green house cats and such. It seems to be memorable.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Monsters from the Id!!

  I very recently wrote about the impact of certain divinations on campaign worlds. My conclusion was that Detect Evil and Detect Lie were either too limited or too high-level to have a large impact on a campaign but Know Alignment had the potential to change a great deal.
  But it hasn't affected mine. I'll tell you why.

  But, since it is me, I will talk about other things first.

  I find that a great many DMs who play 1e (then or now) fail to properly use the encounter tables. The excellent game blog Hill Cantons touched on this some time ago, pointing out that in inhabited/patrolled areas 25% of all encounters were with patrols.
  Quick aside: I recall being a young man and hearing other DMs lament how the PCs were 'too tough' at 5th-6th level and would often just loot villages, burn down temples, etc. I was always surprised. Once when guest DMing a different group I rolled a patrol encounter - the party (3rd-5th level) was rude and dismissive and actually attacked! As I recall the party was dead or captured in 4 rounds - and upset, accusing me of cheating! Turns out none of them had ever read the rules on encountering patrols and all of them, including the usual DM, thought it was just a bunch of 0-level NPCs. That was an important lesson to me - plenty of people never read the entire rule set.
  Another section of the rules on encounters almost never used is - psionic encounters.
  Psionic encounters are mentioned in passing  on the 1e DMG page 174 (which is a page I think very few people have actually read in full) and in detail on page 182. If you haven't read them I encourage you to do so when you have a moment.
  Boiled down, the rules state that if you use psionics in your campaign every time there is a positive check for an encounter the DM must determine if
  A) A psionic power was used in the turn previous to the encounter, or
  B) If a spell that resembles psionics was used in the round before the encounter.
  If either is true there is a 25% chance the encounter will be from the Psionic Encounter chart instead of whatever terrain chart would otherwise be used.
  I have always allowed psionics in my campaigns and have enjoyed them, especially since in almost 40 years of DMing I have only ever seen 5 characters with psionics - they are just so very rare for the good guys and so much fun to use on the good guys. I have had many a DM tell me they don't allow psionics because they are unbalancing for the players to have. I disagree because I think the use of the psionic encounters chart makes psionics not just balanced but maybe for trouble than they are worth.
  The reason I say that is many psionic powers have a duration and are used/useful over time rather than in instantaneous use. A psionic using Detect Magic is probably going to leave it one for a little while. Likewise for a psionic using Body Weaponry in a fight. This means that if you use psionics the chance you will have used them within a turn of an encounter check is, well, fairly high. Let's look at this a bit.

  Assume your psionic individual lives in a village near a city in the heart of the kingdom on the plains (this is all to minimize the odds of an encounter). We will also assume she only uses her psionics during the day (also reducing her odds of an encounter) but that the powers she has [Detection of Good or Evil, ESP, and Precognition] are how she pays the bills as a fortune teller and, therefore, something she uses almost every day. With minimal encounter odds (1 in 20 for location, 1 check during the day for terrain, etc.) this means that she will have 4.5 encounters a year that could be from the psionic chart so, if she is careful, she will probably have 2 psionic encounters a year. We'll be generous and reduce this to one psionic encounter per year. What does that mean?
  Bluntly, she's dead. Oh, sure, the encounter might be with a coatl who merely pauses for a moment on the Astral Plane to say 'huh, a psionic' before he swims along, or it might be yellow mold or tritons or something sure. But it will probably be an encounter with a brain mole, intellect devourer, cerebral parasite, or worse. Sometimes much, much worse. Demon prince worse. So, over the years, the odds of her being dragged screaming into the abyss approach 100%.
  And remember, this is while minimizing the odds!. In the dungeon random encounters are checked every 3 turns! Assuming encounters are 1 in 6 any use of psionics means there is a roughly 33% chance it was within the 10 rounds before the check (and the longer the use the more this chance increases) we can assume that someone using psionics in the dungeon should expect 1 psionic encounter per 9 hours or so of routine psionics use.
  I don't know about you, but to me these numbers make it look like psionics are something saved for emergencies!

  Now, about point B)....
  The spells on the list of those which 'resemble psionic powers' includes:
  All spells that start with Tele-
  All Charms
  All Polymorphs
  All Detects
  And all Cures
  As well as a fair few others, including (but not limited to) all Invisibilities, Heat Metal, Augury, and Feather Fall.

  Wow. Let's look at this a little, OK?
  Jerczy, Ahlissa, Brother Reynaud, and Andor were alert for the invisible assassin as they crept rhough the ossuary. A skilled thief, Andor strained his trained senses to hear the slightest sound. Jerczy's sense were honed from his barbarian upbringing. Br. Reynaud focused his attention on protecting the mage, Ahlissa. Ahlissa had cast Detect Invisibility almost 90 minutes before and continued to sweep for the man sent to prevent their quest from succeeding. 
  Without warning Ahlissa utters a soft cry, clutches her head, and slumps to the ground, sitting in the middle of the cavern. Jerczy and Andor searched for a target as Br. Reynaud checked their companion. She seemed perfectly healthy but her eyes were lifeless and her limbs limp. After a few moments he looked up,
  "We must get her out. I will carry her."
  As the cleric slung her over his shoulders Jerczy hissed to Andor,
  "Do you see anything?"
  "Nothing," replied the halfling, "the only creature in this cave besides us is that wee mole."
  The party hurried back the way they came....

  That's right - those long duration divinations that allow you to look for good, life, charms, invisible creatures, etc. also make it more likely that some horrible monster is going to suck your mind dry!

  I know of at least one DM who disallows psionics in his campaign just because of the psionic encounters chart!

  Personally, I have modified this list of spells so that cures and the clerical versions of detects aren't included and have made some other spells less likely to trigger the final scene from Scanners.
  [please note - the last scene from Scanners is pretty grim and gory]
  But it does point out two important things about some 'core ideas' that went into making AD&D.
  One - the world is dangerous: as I have said before, there are hideous things from beyond the walls of reality waiting to drag you screaming from your beds.
  Two, but a bit more subtle - divinations have consequences: whether the notice of a devil in the astral plane or that your target notices the viewing point of your crystal ball, the fact is that divinations are not telescopes or spy satellites, there is a sort of interaction possible and they are not passive but active and noticeable.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Good, Evil - I'm the Guy with the Gun

My 150th post!
Sorry for the light posting, but (as mentioned often before) this is a very busy time of year for me.

  So a question came up recently from an email correspondent. To wit, how much would Detect Evil and Know Alignment change laws and society?

  Tough question. Let's look at some spells and their descriptions and see what we can figure out.

  Detect Evil seems fairly straightforward. 1e says,
  "This is a spell which discovers emanations of evil, or of good in the case of the reverse spell, from any creature or object. For example, evil alignment or an evilly cursed object will radiate evil, but a hidden trop or an unintelligent viper will not."

  And OSRIC says,
  "This spell allows the cleric to discern emanations of evil (or good, in the case of the spell’s reverse) within the spell’s area of effect, a beam-like pathway. The spell detects evil, not danger, so it will be useless to discover such things as a mindless trap or a poisoned wineglass."
  But! The DMG (1e) (of course) says on page 60,
  "Only a know alignment spell can determine the evil or good a character holds within... ...Characters who are very strongly aligned... and are of... at least 8th [level]... might radiate evil..." [emphasis added]
  It goes on to say,
  [paraphrase] 'Aligned undead, creatures such as Ki-rin, and the like will radiate evil or good; aligned magic items will likewise radiate evil or good'.
  So, combined with the rest of the section, Detect Evil can only detect active evil intent unless the target is really, really bad. A vampire lurking in wait for a victim? Bam! Strong, malignant evil detected! A goblin frying up a mouse fritter? Detect Evil isn't going to pick him up. A goblin waiting in ambush? Faint, lurking evil. Why faint? it's only a wee goblin.

  So Detect Evil isn't 'bad guy radar', but more a 'shambling horror detector' combined with (mentioned earlier) an 'evil intent sensor'.

  So it seems that Detect Evil, while obviously useful, isn't going to change the laws or society very much at all. While very useful for paladins and clerics trying to locate a ghoul or avoid an ambush it has little practical use in day to day life.

  Taking a little detour, we need to also look at the Fourth level spell Detect Lie. What I find fascinating here is that the existence of this spell implies, strongly, that Detect Evil can't detect when you are lying! Since the spell description in the DMG on Detect Lie mentions that the spell can not detect 'evasions' but only direct lies and the level of the spell is very high this implies that lies are evil but subtle enough to the point a specific spell is needed and, even then, only direct falsehoods can be detected.
  It seems obvious that Detect Lie would have a huge impact on the law: interrogations could, in the hands of skilled interrogator with this spell, quickly identify lies (if not necessarily revealing the truth!) But, of course, you need a 7th level+ cleric (or an 8th+ level religious brother) and a typical medieval kingdom 1s going to have, oh, at most five people who can cast the spell, and all of them are going to be rather prominent members of the community, i.e., either very busy, very expensive, or both. And they would have to give up access to spells like Exorcise to learn Detect Lie instead. Oh, and getting two different people to cast it to confirm each other might be effectively impossible, so it might boil down to a mere claim by the caster!
  So while Detect Lie might make a big difference in very important matters (the death of a king, the theft of an artifact, etc.) it will be very unlikely to be available for routine work.
  So - very little impact on laws or society.

  Finally, we are at Know Alignment which, the rules say,
  "...enables the cleric to exactly read the aura of a person - human, semi-human, or non-human. This will reveal the exact alignment of the person. Up to 10 persons can be examined with this spell."
  "This will reveal the exact alignment..." That is very, very clear, isn't it? There are a fair bit more people who can cast Know Alignment - at least 20 and, if you are using Religious Brothers and counting higher level casters, more like 100! So a fair number of people are going to be able to determine if you are a bad guy or not.
  Now, I have heard many a person say that casting Know Alignment on MPCs is 'rude', or 'improper', or 'forbidden', but I was never sure where this came from. The 1e DMG says on page 35,
  " is considered poor manners to enspell [a potential henchman] in any way (except possibly in the case of Know Alignment..."
  So it seems obvious that senior officers, etc. should expect to have their alignment checked at least at the time of employment. Indeed, I personally assume any spellcaster or group that can  cast spells like Know Alignment, Detect Charm, Detect Curse, etc. will cast them on their henchmen and hirelings from time to time.

  This will change society and the law, at least a little. It will be much, much more difficult to insert a mole into an organization, replace someone with a doppleganger, etc. if routine use of these divinations is a part of your campaign.
  Although it explains a lot about the use of assassins to spy from the 1e DMG! With their use of alignment tongues, disguises, etc. I have always assumed that the spying charts is also the chance the assassin successfully dodges these spells.
  This also makes items like Rings of Mind Shielding and Amulets of Proof vs Etc., Etc. more valuable.
  So at first glance it seems obvious that Know Alignment should have a huge impact on your campaign world.
  My next article will explain why it won't!

Monday, November 3, 2014

Play Report - The Dungeon of the Really Crazy Wizard-Type Guy

  A rarity for DStP: a play report from me!
  For his birthday my 3rd son, S., asked to start his own campaign.
  Woot! A new campaign where I get to play! S. is very imaginative, very creative, and runs a good game, so a campaign will rock.
  The system?
  HackMaster 4th.
  So characters were created by me and the other three 'Older Brothers' and we played this week.

  The Party
  Me - Grandolph Greywand. Human magic-user. The only child of two wizards who were each celebrity magic-user/adventurers, He was raised in wealth, sent to the finest schools, and graduated top of his class from the most elite magic academy in the land. He is highly intelligent, highly educated, rich, charming, suave, well dressed - and a complete jackass. The only thing larger than his ego is his sense of entitlement.
  Lawful Evil.
  Has a porter ('carrying things is for the poor') and a personal valet (his first valet recently retired after 20 years of service. Grandolph is 21).
  Began with a ton of excess honor.
  Joined the party because he is certain that any adventuring party will get him fame to exceed that of his parents because he is in it!

  N. - Gary, son of Gary of the house of Gary. Human-ish fighter. The son of a pfalszgraf of a realm in the Forest of Forever, his parents were murdered by his evil uncle, Bob the wizard. Bob had Gary sent to an orphanage run by zealots of the Torture God. As a result of the rather rigorous training of the orphanage Gary is phenomenally strong, incredibly tough, and absolutely unhinged. In addition to being an alcoholic (he turned to the bottle for solace at age 6) he is also a glutton. He firmly believes that rightful heir of the entire world.
  Terribly maladjusted, he often confuses people with his words such as,
  "Innkeeper! Dinner was delicious, but where are the branding irons? I am ready for dessert."
  "A day like today makes me grateful for the monks who used to beat me with sticks for breathing too often."
  Neutral Evil. 16 years old.
  Uses a two-hander. Liberally.
  Began honorable (somehow).
  Leader of the party and dedicated to claiming his rightful inheritance (see above).

  J. - Lewis von Lübeck. Human zealot of the god of Competition and Games. Led a particularly average life (small town, two nice parents, 1.4 siblings, etc.) until the last week of seminary when his master had a divine vision that he was destined to serve Gary, son of Gary of the house of Gary. Ever obedient, Lewis complied.
  Now having served Gary for 4 weeks Lewis suffers from the 'Little Faith' flaw.
 Lawful Neutral.
  A skilled pugilist, Lewis enjoys a good round of fisticuffs.
  Began honorable.
  His god told him to join the party.

  A. - Willie. Dwarven fighter/thief. His parents were life-long petty criminals. When Willie was 12 they were unjustly executed for the (only) crime they didn't commit. He was taken in by a dwarf who explained he was a master thief and would train Willie to get his revenge.
  Unfortunately, his mentor was actually a crazy, drunk beggar who messed up Willie's development as a thief.
  The only things Willie has of his parents is their seabed-hugging social status and a 500 g.p. debt to the mob.
  Neutral Evil.
  Uses daggers and his fists.
  Began dishonorable.
  He is so desperate to pay off the mob he would join any party. he is so incompetent no sane party would have him.

  The First Session - Part I
  Grandolph met Gary, Lewis, and Willie at the Tavern of Contrived Meetings and soon decided they would follow a set of rumors to the Dungeon of the Really Crazy Wizard-Type Guy. The party, surprisingly flush, set out on horseback (with Grandolph's hirelings walking) towards the lost dungeon. As the party drew close they were ambushed by a large troop of baboons.
  Grandolph immediately cast a Fireball, Sidewinder Factor I towards the largest collection of the simian ruffians, causing a number of them to flee and igniting the tinderbox-dry forest.
  Gary immediately charged a group of them, raving about 'baboon night at the orphanage' and how he hoped he could remember all the cooking fire stories for the 'after-rending cookout'. Willie was soon attacked by a small knot of baboons and Lewis closed with the baboon leader.
  Gary was slicing his was through baboons like a hot knife through monkeys, Willie was struggling a bit, and Grandolph was ordering his hirelings to guard his flanks. Lewis met the chief baboon and squared off in a boxer's stance - to have the baboon chief do the same! In moments the two were engaged in a ferocious display of the sweet science.
  The fighting continued as the forest began to turn into an inferno; Gary was mowing through baboons, Willie was doing a bit better, Lewis and the baboon chief were exchanging jabs and Grandolph was exhorting his porter to stop whining as the baboons chewed on him. In a few moments only a handful of the baboons were left; Willie felled the last of his foes with a well-placed groin punch followed by a coup de grace; Gary was giggling about something to himself as he wiped his two hander, and Lewis was still trading blows with the baboon leader.
  Finally, bored and wishing his tea Grandolph rode up and cracked open the baboon leader's skull with his quarterstaff and the party rode on. Grandolph apologized for disrupting Lewis' duel, docked his porter 3 days of pay for being unable to carry things, and waited for his valet to finish tea.

  More soon!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Play Report: Brigid's Diary, Part 2 - Return to Richacre

Real time: played in two parts, 10/4/14 and 10/18/14
Je. played Brigid, a 1st level human barbarian
J. played Athanasius, a 2nd level human cleric
A. played Starkiller, a 1/1/1 half elven fighter/cleric/mage
S. played McCloud, a 1st level human druid
N. played Thoren, a 1/1 half-orc fighter/thief

[Note: The entry is written 'in-character' and changes in tone and such reflect the character at different points during play]
 DM notes are in [brackets], player notes in (parentheses)

   After my first adventure, I came back to Oldbridge with Starkiller. We sold our treasures, and I made enough profit that I was able to put many gold pieces into the Baron's bank for safe keeping. I carefully compose a letter to my family, telling them of my good fortune and assuring them that I will return once I have saved enough to replenish our family's coffers.
  I write in our family's code, so as not to raise any suspicions with anyone who may read the letter as it travels, both for my own protection, and that of my family's.
  I find that before long, I begin to thirst for more adventure. The rage inside me has been very quiet, and I am hopeful that I am learning more self control, but I still long to further my skills, and increase my fortune. Just as I was about to get very restless in town, I received a very strange letter.
  I write this diary and my letters home in the script of Eiru, but I am not able to read much of the common language. I ask Starkiller's cleric friend Athanasius to help me read the letter. It is from Toril, the headman of Richacre. He pleads for help, as there are strange doings going on in his village. I remember the kindness of the people of Richacre, and also remember the unfinished business we left there, the strange seal of evil in the tower basement. Combined with my restless thirst for more adventure, I know I must go.
  I convince Starkiller and Athanasius that we should travel with all haste to Richacre to assist them in their hour of need. We find two others, friends of Athanasius, who wish to travel with us, the druid McCloud and the half-orc, Thoren. McCloud is another follower of the strange gods that I don't trust, but I can't deny the usefulness of his skills. Thoren is an interesting fellow, very dim of mind, but strong, and cunning in his own way.
  We agree to leave the very next morning, after replenishing our stocks and equipment.

 Day 1 
   We follow the familiar route to Richacre, passing through the village of Ham-on-Wye and stopping at the Sad Wolf Tavern. And later, we enter Stowanger and stop at the Tankard and Bowl Tavern. Finally, we approach Richacre. The charcoal huts on the outskirts are empty and obviously were hastily abandoned. Then, I notice that the wooden tower on the palisades is shattered, and the gate is wrenched open, hanging broken and precarious. Through the opening, we see bodies scattered around, and the town is dreadfully, terribly silent. No one comes to greet us, there is no bustle of a town's work, and I fear the worst. Thoren and I decide to go ahead of the others, as we are tough and strong and better able to weather any threats that remain inside the palisades.
  We see terrible, terrible things. Some bodies seem untouched with no obvious cause of death, but with looks of abject horror forever frozen on their faces. While others - oh, the others! Some bodies have organs ripped out, some have huge chunks of flesh missing, others appear to have fallen from great heights. We see one house that seemed to have taken a lot of damage, and it has a large hole ripped through it, but with the edges of the hole as smooth as glass.
  Suddenly, someone calls my name. My heart is in my throat before I realize that it is Bertrand, the Hedge Mage, blessedly alive. He calls me over and hurriedly tells us that two nights ago there was something in the sky, that lights came from the sky, and whatever the lights touched, died. He was injured by the light reflected off a mirror. Now, he has seen the gargoyle in the sky again, and is fearful that he is too badly injured to escape. We assure him that we can help, tell him to stay hidden while we go get our friends and search for other survivors. We find one other man who seems to have survived, and Athanasius casts some healing spells to heal both men. He also casts detect magic, but finds nothing magical in what is left of the village.
   We continue to search through the village, and we find the Widow Schumacher who was mentioned in Tardill's letter. We also find a severed arm, holding a few pages from a journal. It must belong to the madman that Tardill indicated the widow sheltered. The journal pages are cryptic, yet terrifying, indicating he was a Mage, and mentioning a map of the cultist's temple, and finding the library of Skull Mountain. The last page seems written much later than the first, and the poor man had obviously gone mad. Mentions "devilfish", "Them", and "Lurkers", indicates he had been kicked out of the Duke and Count's courts, priests had tried to cure him, but they obviously failed as he continues his rants for at least several more paragraphs. I wonder what he had to do with the destruction wrought on the poor village of Richacre?
  I convince Athanasius to copy the pages here in my journal so that we can remember what it says. He added those pages later.
   Meanwhile, Starkiller recognizes that the wounds on the dead seem to be those of a "reversed" spell of healing. And Bertrand is very, very worried about the return of the Gargoyle. We assure Bertrand that we will take care of the gargoyle, and he gives Thoren an amulet vs. charm, and gives us a scroll that "enchants a weapon", giving it a temporary increased chance to hit and damage (+1/+1). Meanwhile, darkness is falling, so we hide as best as we can, and get some sleep.

 Day 2 
  We wake up the next morning and notice that some of the houses on the far side of town have been trashed overnight. We head out to check on the tower, figuring we will find the gargoyle there, and we can also check on the evil seal in the basement, figuring it might have had something to do with the town's destruction.
  We approach the tower directly, assuming that the gargoyle will be stone during the day, and thus, not a threat. Thoren approaches the door to the tower and is picking the lock when the gargoyle drops on us from above! The gargoyle savagely attacks Thoren [DM- taking him to -1 HP]. We immediately attack the gargoyle, Starkiller and I land blows. Athanasius casts a light spell, blinding the gargoyle. I attack and kill the gargoyle, making sure to take an extra, final blow to ensure its death. Meanwhile, Athanasius casts two cure spells on Thoren, saving our friend from certain death. I say a quick prayer of thanksgiving for good clerics. We talk amongst ourselves, debating as to whether we should go back to the village, or forge on to discover what is going on with the evil basement seal.
  While we are talking, the door behind me opens, and a Kobold wearing strange, cobbled together, almost full plate mail appears. Thinking fast, I try to talk with him. I tell him we killed the gargoyle, and he says he is glad, tells us that they hated the gargoyle. We ask if we can come in and see the basement, and he tells us no, that they now worship those gods. Before he can say anymore, we attack. The Kobold lands a minor blow on me, but I manage to kill him.
  We grab the head of the gargoyle and his backpack, and we notice he is branded - it almost looks like an eye surrounded by smaller circles. We also grab the Kobold, and decide to go back to the village to prove to poor Bertrand that we killed the gargoyle. We return to the deserted town of Richacre and tell Bertrand all that has happened. We go through the gargoyle's backpack, and find great treasures. Copper and electrum pieces, a silver bracelet with an amber crucifix, a Druidic scroll which we give to McCloud, he tells is it has animal friendship, animal growth, commune with nature,and cure critical wounds. There is also a broadsword - my weapon of choice! As I pick it up to admire it, it is tarnished and dull, but I notice the hilt has a carving of a beautiful women, head bowed, covering her eyes.
  Suddenly, the sword starts speaking! It speaks in the language of my childhood, Airu, and tells me it's name is Mor Altach, which means "great fury". It says that it can also speak in Orcish, Kobold, and Ogre, and it's blows do not cease to hurt (which makes me believe it is a sword of wounding). It also says that it can detect traps and magic within 10', though it has to be able to speak about them. Starkiller detects evil on the treasures, and nothing, including the sword, seems evil. Everyone agrees that the sword should be mine. The sword tells me it does not like my other sword, and I assure it that I will get rid of it as soon as we can get back to a town where I can sell or dispose of it safely. The sword reluctantly agrees that is ok, but I get the sense that I had better to be true to my word. I am unsure how I feel about my sword talking to me, but since it speaks to me in my beloved Airu, I rest a little easier. We try to question the sword about the gargoyle, and how it got here, but the sword was captured long ago, and has spent almost the entire time in the depths of the gargoyle's backpack, so it has very little information. So, we decide to rest for the night, and head back to the tower in the morning.
  Athanasius insists that we must deal with the kobolds, and we also really need to check on that evil seal. I hope, that with good rest, and focus, I can continue to keep my inner rage in check. 

Day 3 
  When we woke up the next morning, Thoren told us about a strange dream he had. The bracelet we found spoke to him in his dream, saying that it was weak now, and Thoren was the only one who could save it. When he awoke, the bracelet was on his wrist. I find that very eerie.
   As we head back to the tower, we notice smoke off in the Briars, almost like from a bonfire. It is far enough away we feel it is safe to deal with the tower without worrying about the smoke. I wonder what it is, though?
   We arrive at the tower, and thankfully Thoren checked for traps, because there is a nasty pit trap at the base of the stairs to the entrance. We are able to work around it, and Thoren goes up to check on the door. Suddenly, a rock is thrown at him from directly above! We look up just in time to see two kobolds duck back inside. We retreat away from the door for fear of the rocks, and we make a plan. We march up to the tower while firing arrows at the kobolds above, and quickly bust down the door and enter the tower. Inside we find three kobolds, and rather quickly kill two of them. We ask for surrender from the final Kobold, and then we knock him out and tie him up, figuring to deal with him later after we assess the rest of the area.
  We enter the stairwell, and find boulders coming down the stairs. We duck back out of the stairwell, wait for them to pass, then quickly rush up the stairs. We pass three closed doors, and then on the roof, we see two kobolds pushing boulders towards the door. I have to hurry, or they will knock us all down the stairs! I make a charge attack - and miss horribly. I quickly whip back around, and McCloud has killed one, then I kill the other.
  We go back down the stairs, and sense evil behind one of the doors. We open the door, and capture and tie up another Kobold, then head to the basement. There is a trap by the door to the basement, Thoren attempts to disarm it, but fails. Starkiller uses his spear to reach over Thoren's shoulder and poke the door open. A sapling whips out from the corner of the room with a dagger on the end of it. It just misses slicing Thoren's face!
  Then, before we can even blink, a giant weasel attacks Thoren! It immediately bit down and started sucking his blood. Starkiller and McCloud and myself attacked the weasel and Athanasius cast healing spells on Thoren to keep him alive. Finally, we kill the weasel and save Thoren. I look down and notice my sword is gleaming. The woman on the hilt has changed! Her hands are no longer covering her eyes, they are crossed over her chest, and she has a beatific look on her face. She has long, flowing gold hair, and her eyes are brilliant sapphires. I'm not sure what this means, but I feel a kinship with my Airu sword that makes me feel less homesick. We take the dagger from the trap after our battle with the weasel, and we feel certain it is magical. We find the secret door and go into the other room.
  There, we see 3 kobolds and a Kobold shaman who is casting a spell. I immediately charge the shaman, and to my shame, I miss, once again. But, on my next attack, I kill him instantly! The other kobolds attack and injure me, Thorin, and McCloud, but we manage to kill them all.
  (In the heat of battle, McCloud calls Athanasius the "Altar boy" - DM says 25 extra EP!)
  We enter the room with the evil seal, and find 2 humans tied up with another Shaman standing over them. I charge and kill the shaman - finally, I hit during a charge! As we release them, the two humans tells us their names are Allen, a peddler, and Gerb, a porter. Allen immediately pledges fealty to me, who saved his life by killing the shaman. When we get out of this tower, I am going to see if I can convince Gerb to stay with me, too, since the two are apparently life long friends. I find that I am more proud of saving the lives of these fine men than I am excited about finding treasures to send back home. My need for revenge has been so strong for so long, I'm not quite sure what to make of my new attitude.
  As we are standing there talking with Gerb and Allen, some of us see movement out of the corner of our eyes, and we go to investigate. We quickly realize that some Kobold women who must have been in hiding have escaped - and they took our two tied up captives, too! We decide to track them, as we can't let them get away. We find them fairly quickly, and rather than kill them, Athanasius tries to convert them to the truth of our faith. All evil can potentially be used for God's advantage!
  He succeeds in converting the kobolds, but knows their faith is weak. We negotiate with them, and convince them to shelter at the Abbey southwest of Ekull. A little time with the consecrated brothers and sisters will certainly strengthen their faith!

 (From the tower, and the kobolds we killed, we do find some treasures. Five pieces of Amber, a gourd jar with a paste that we later identify as a pagan potion of Hill Giant strength, and the magical dagger is identified as a +1 dagger/+2 vs. smaller than man size. We also find a fair bit of gold, so after paying our expenses and dividing it up amongst all of is, we each get 376 GP and a piece of Amber.)
   I decide to hire Allen the merchant and Gerb the porter. I know they will be loyal to me if I treat them well, and certainly they will help me amass my fortune and figure out how to get it back to my family. And meanwhile, my new sword gazes at me with those sapphire eyes whenever I look at it. I wonder what it all means? I believe I must rest for awhile, study and hone my skills. I suspect I have something more important to do than send my family my fortune.

  (GM indicates 1360 EP per character. Brigid will level up to 2nd level.)

 Letter Received by Brigid 
To Miss Brigit of Eiru, with all blessings,
  Fair maiden, I write to you with trepidation. You and your companions recently saved our small village from great evil and for that we can never repay you. But odd things seem to be afoot in our village again. Roald Collier recently found a madman wandering in the forest, tattered and bruised from wandering through the Briars. This poor wretch babbled about starnge things in the mountains above the Briars (which, truly, are enough to break a man's mind) and scribbled in a book. The Widow Shoemaker took him in and swore to nurse him to sanity.
  Since his arrival, however, the forest has been unquiet. Shadows move under the trees, the animals are fearful, and I have strengthened the palisade guard. I have written to the Count, but you are 4 days closer. Is there any chance, Miss Brigit, that you or your friends could succor us? 

  Yours in Hope,
   Toril, headman of Richacre

 Page from beginning of the stranger's journal 
decided to take my mentor's advice and begin a journal of my travels.
  It is strange, I must admit, to be far from home and from the library and lab of my mentor. I thought I was a grown man when I began apprenticing as a mage, then learned I was not once my mentor proved how much I had to grow. Then I thought I was a man when I mastered my first spell, until my mentor proved that a single cantrip is no more than a drop of water beside the sea. Now that I am no longer an apprentice but a full mage I fell I am a man. Am I to be show wrong again?
  But my mentor tells me this journal will help me understand my growth in knowledge and experience. That by looking back at my thoughts I will gain more insight than by merely living them once. I hope he is correct. We will see.
  Tomorrow I depart for Oldbridge to meet with the rest of my companions. With the map we have of the cultists' temple we think we might succeed where so many others have failed. Imagine – finding the Library of Skull Mountain, the accumulated tomes of a score of looted libraries, the research libraries of a dozen mages, and the writings of other worlds! Thought destroyed in the final battle my friend Jonzar swears that it survived and he

 Last page of the stranger's journal 
Last Deepwinter, but as you know all who know of the devilfish must die! The death of Zhonquil the Mage was no feud between wizards, it was an assassination by Them, the lurkers, the slaves to those foul creatures! I tell you truly, my knowledge of the truth is a blessing and a curse. Yes, I know we are all playthings to them, the secret masters, the ones from beyond. But that knowledge threatens to shatter my mind. And I am surrounded by fools! Can they not see?! Worries about bandits, orcs, and dragons, pfagh! All distractions, all to blind us to the slow, creeping horror of the devilfish as they corrupt more and more. The Duke threw me from his halls and the Count tried to have his priests “cure” me. I damn them all to the slavery they deserve. Yes, those who cannot recognize the Truth I speak and my genius deserve to be eternal slaves to the slime!! One day the king, the dwarves, even the haugty elves will bend their knee to me, ashamed of their arrogance in refusing to obey me as I fight Them! Who else can do so, the weak-willed king? The blind priests? The naïve paladins? NO! Only I have the wisdome, the knowledge, the vision, and the courage to save the world from slavery and worse than slavery from thos abominations from beneath the