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!