Saturday, August 29, 2015

Splat Book Review: The Complete Wizard's Handbook

  This is the first in a series of reviews of the various splat books for AD&D 2nd Edition. This series was prompted by comments on my blog post about AD&D 2e found here.

Nuts and Bolts
  The first book was picked by careful thought and taking the one closest to the top of the 'my sons read it and think 'putting it close' is the same as 'putting it back'' pile.

  The Complete Wizard's Handbook has a 1990 copyright, contains 125 numbered pages, and is in trade paperback format. I have owned my copy for 25 years and it is still in excellent shape after a quarter century of routine use, so the print and binding quality is time tested. There is some yellowing of the pages, but no loss of readability, etc.

  Rick Swan has the 'designed by' credit. Mr. Swan did a fair bit of writing for TSR between about '89 and '94.

  The book is in 9 chapters which are, in order: Schools of Magic; Creating New Schools; Wizard Kits; Role-Playing; Combat and the Wizard; Casting Spells in Unusual Conditions; Advanced Procedures; New Spells; Wizardly Lists. The end also has maps and play aids.

Chapter 1: Schools of Magic
  This section starts with a solid discussion of the pros and cons of becoming a specialist mage that is aimed at new-ish players. Mr. Swan points out that specialization is of most benefit to magic-users with a lower intelligence score because of the boost specialists have in learning new spells, a point that a fair number of people seem to have missed, back in the day.
  The book then goes over each school of magic and reviews everything from a general description to the ability requirements. Each school description includes a list of 'most desirable spells' and 'ethos'.
  I found the Most Desirable Spells sections to be OK, although I disagreed with some of the selection (as one does). But the 'Ethos' sections struck me as a bit over the line transitioning from 'resource' to 'proselytizing'. For example, in the section on Abjuration the book states,
  "Because of their kind hearts and generous spirits, abjurers are held in high esteem...."
  Wait- is Mr. Swan telling us abjurors must be generous and kind? What of I want to have a socially-awkward, nervous wizard who is an abjuror because he is well-nigh paranoid and comes off as distant, cold, and aloof? 
  While Mr. Swan may have intended these sections to be suggestions, they are presented as statements and not only does that annoy me personally I have encountered more than one person who thought that the personality traits from this book were canonical.
  And that is a problem.
  The chapter ends with a discussion of how to abandon a school of magic and of minor schools of magic.

Opinion- The stuff on mechanics was solid, the discussion of 'ethos' should have been edited out or transformed into 2-3 suggested personality types per school. 

Chapter 2: Creating New Schools of Magic
  This chapter starts with a discussion of types of magic, contrasting mages and clerics, etc. The details of the suggested minimums and maximums for new schools of magic are good and the discussion of making new spells is a highlight and should be read more widely as good advice for the OSR and beyond on spell building. 
  And then... back to the 'Ethos' thing again where the book does everything but print in 18 point, bold font ''All specialist mages share a common personality so closely they even have similar preferences on where they live'. 

Opinion- Ignore the discussion on personalities and focus on mechanics and this is great stuff.

Chapter 3: Wizard Kits
  The chapter starts well by discussing kits as optional, culturally (i.e., campaign-) based, and reminding the DM that he has veto power, the ability to modify the kits, make his own, etc.  I appreciate that this was put here as a reminder that the DM has the power to modify or veto anything from a splatbook. In my opinion, this needs frequent repeating. The chapter continues to a very good reminder on how reaction modifiers actually work in 2e.

  On to the kits! 

Academician: A great kit to show what they are for, this one trades minor penalties in melee/missile combat for minor bonuses with scholarly skills. A great way to reflect the bookworm mage and a good launch for 'what are kits ?' discussions. I have always called kits like this the 'flavor text kits'. In my experience it is fairly popular.
Amazon Sorceress: An OK kit it trades a minor bonus against chauvinists with a minor penalty - with chauvinists. A good example of 'kits that reflect cultures'. 
Anagakok: Or 'Eskimo Wizard' this is another 'culture kit' with guidelines on how to change it to reflect different cultures with a connection (in this case, climate). They trade reaction penalties (they have an unusual experience) for abilities to find food and survive extreme weather.
Militant Wizard: One of the most discussed, the militant wizard trades spell power for the ability to use better weapons in combat. I have always seen this as 'fighter/magic-user for humans' but not as flexible as a real f/m-u. I have seen a few people try it and their common reaction is 'it is great until 3rd level, then you quickly become mediocre at combat and casting'. A friend of mine once discussed having a campaign with only human PCs where kits like this would replace multi-classing, but I have no idea if he ever did it.
Mystic: Another flavor text kit like the Academician, the mystic is less Absent Minded Professor and more Altered States. The mystic trades a requirement that he meditate a specific 2 hours every day and for it he gains the ability to Levitate, Feign Death, and send out a Ghost Form like Doctor Strange. I've never seen one played, but they are an interesting idea.
Patrician: Flavor text kit. He gets more money and respect but has to spend more money. I can't find any real reason to ever forbid this kit and it is a great shortcut for a nice backstory of "Dad is rich".
Peasant Hero: Like the mystic to the academician so is the peasant hero to the patrician. This flavor text kit is 'local farm kid done good' that trades off never being rich to get the love and support of the Common Man in return. Easy to modify to your campaign, in my opinion, and as fun and inoffensive as the patrician.
Savage Wizard: A culture kit. Great for a MayIncaTec, AmeriAborigini, or other 'primitive culture' 'witch doctor' type. The text suggests that the kit be played as a 'fish out of water' with the suggestion it be played "baffled and intimidated" by crossbows and oil lamps and such. When I read that I want to play an Unfrozen Caveman Savage Wizard style mage. 
  They get magic charms and voodoo dolls and has a reaction penalty. I think the benefits far outweigh the penalties unless the penalties are bad enough they can affect the party's ability to trade. I've never had anyone interested in this kit but I might, might, forbid it or get rid of the bonuses and replace them with an immunity to disease or something.
Witch: This is an interesting one. Almost a 'multiclass kit' like militant wizard, it is really a type of magic-user/cleric. The witch gets familiars, poisons, charms, and a curse ability. In return she has a reaction penalty, varying penalties as she 'struggles with extra-dimensional forces', and might attract a torches-and-pitchforks mob.
  The witch kit is a debacle and I have always banned it. The benefits are good but the fact is - the witch has willingly become the tool of a demon, devil, or other powerful extra-dimensional force. Why would any non-crazy PC even adventure with a witch? They have penalties to combat and saves at least part of the time. NPCs flat-out don't like them. It is an NPC only kit, IMO.
  And there is a section of the text that baffles me. On page 48 it says,
"...if the witch lingers in a superstitious or culturally unsophisticated community for more than a day, she runs the risk of facing a mob of hostile citizens..."
  OK. In a D&D campaign world the people who immediately attack a witch are called 'smart and sophisticated'. See, in Real Life the people who believe in witches are 'superstitious or culturally unsophisticated'. In a D&D campaign the people who believe in witches are absolutely correct! That section makes sense in, oh, Beyond the Supernatural or Call of Cthulhu. But in a typical AD&D campaign it makes no sense whatsoever.
Wu Jen: Cultural kit, in this case 'wizard from Japanland'. At mid-level and above he gets the ability to boost 1 spell a day to maximum effect and in return he has some taboo (can't eat eggs, must wear red, etc.). A fairly good example of 'from another land' style kits.

  The chapter ends with notes on modifying these kits or making new ones.

Opinion- A good chapter with some good examples of kits.

Chapter 4: Role-Playing
  This chapter covers personalities for wizards and has some samples like brooder and mystery man.  A section on backstory is next, followed by 'wizardly careers'. This is all good, basic stuff and great for new players to use to get a better grip on role-playing.
  Next is a section on suggested adventures for solo wizards or all-wizard groups; then a section about the level and type of magic in the campaign; then discussion of wizard-centric campaigns. Like the first part, this is more good stuff but for new DMs rather than new players.

Opinion- Simple, basic, and great for newbies.

Chapter 5: Combat and the Wizard
  This chapter is rather short and a high-level look at how some spells are offensive, others are defensive, and some are for reconnaissance, while others aren't any of these. It then talks about how wizards have limited access to weapons and a mix of spells is probably best.

Opinion- It feels almost like someone at HQ said 'there has to be a section on wizards and combat' and Mr. Swan said 'OK'. There is nothing wrong, bad, or upsetting here but there is nothing very interesting, either.

Chapter 6:Casting Spells in Unusual Conditions
  A nice shout-out to the 1e DMG this chapter catalogs how spells act differently underwater. It also covers casting on the inner and outer planes and has some interesting ideas about how the Chaos aligned planes might change certain types of spells. The last section covers wizards that are blind, deaf, etc. 

Opinion- Great chapter with good discussion of impairments, planes, etc. Useful for any edition and even other systems.

Chapter 7: Advanced Procedures
  This section starts with the perennial 'above 20th level/spells above 9th level' stuff. Thankfully, the book is totally reasonable about these topics!  Bravo!
  It goes on to a commentary on a lot of spells. This is broad if not exhaustive and a good primer for DMs thinking about the implications of other spells.
  There is then a section talking about adjudicating illusions that is also good, if not great.
  The chapter goes on to magical research. This is another good section and goes into detail on time and costs as well as detailing the require library value needed to research spells of a particular level, the needs of a laboratory, etc. Solid stuff that can be used to add to a campaign, a backstory, and various adventures.

Opinion- Good, solid stuff that can add to your game.

Chapter 8: New Spells
  I know a lot of guys that buy splatbooks for spells and items.
  for a number of reasons I have my own unique spells with names similar or identical to some in this book, so this can confuse my players.
  Some of these spells are good (I am personally fond of Choke) and there aren't any terrible ones.

Opinion- New spells are always welcome, especially when you enforce the odds of learning spells, etc. 

Chapter 9: Wizardly Lists
  This chapter has lists of: 25 familiars; new sources of spells; magic items that should be made; wizardly illnesses; a suggested code of conduct for a magic academy; and a lot more. There are even a few adventure locations and, of course, new magic items. 

Opinion- Magic items, locations, and just raw ideas are always welcome and useful. Good section.

Overall Opinion
  The Complete Wizard's Handbook is a good resource, especially for new players and DMs. It has plenty of things that can be fitted into any campaign and is well use buying, reading, and using.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

A Little Love for AD&D 2e

  Moved to write by a recent Best Reads post, I am going to take the time to talk about AD&D 2e and why it is a damn fine game.

  Like a lot of players I grabbed the 2e books as soon as they came out. The art was good, they layout improved  in a number of ways, and the books were well-made.
  As for the rules?
  - The concept of changing from attack charts to THAC0 so players 'get the math' was a good idea, IMO, and I always loved watching the light dawn as someone realized how it worked and all that this implied ('I hit with a 14 but not a 13? Boom! I know it's armor class!').
  - Cleaning up the classes and moving them around a bit was interesting and mostly good. I remember having a lot of talks about assassins in particular ['they are just hired killers. Anyone can be an assassin' vs 'it is a specific class']. While I love the monk I know why having monks in the game is An Issue. The addition of the Bard as a class was interesting and got rid of the meta-issues of the 1e bard. Removing the cavalier and barbarian of the UA was a a solid move.
  - Specialist mages was very popular at the time and allowed a lot of people to add a lot of color and depth to a lot of campaigns. The additions from the Complete book and especially the further specialties of the Spells & Magic book made AD&D magic much, much more varied and erased any idea that all spellcasters are somehow the same!
  - The addition of clerical spheres and then kits radically transformed how clerics were seen, especially by the sorts of people that needed to read this. Add in the options from Spells & Magic and clerics really became radically different and much more flexible.
  - The ability of thieves to customize the advancement of their thief abilities is a HUGE difference and a very welcome change! As a friend of mine previously complained,
  "Oh, you have a Halfling thief with a 16 dexterity and the backstory that he grew up in a rural community,learning stealth in the fields and meadows as he hunted rabbits with his sling? Cool! Another player has a Halfling thief with a 16 dexterity and the backstory that he grew up an orphan in the slums of a major city picking pockets to scrounge enough to eat? Cool! Guess what? They have the exact same chance to pick a pocket!"
  Second edition fixed that -  you could finally have thieves that focused on just stealth or just traps - it was great!
  - Non-Weapon Proficiencies (also known as Skills) were a great addition to AD&D. A lot of DMs I knew had added them from the Survival Guides or (most often) from Oriental Adventures but having them in the core books and better integrated into adventures and supplements was a great add-on to the game.
  It also alleviated some of the weirdness that many players went through of 'No! ONLY rangers can track. At all. Ever.' Or 'Do you know how to make a spellbook? Uh....... No?' Suddenly there were mechanics for what your characters could do not directly related to their class in the core rules.
  - Making the most common house rules/omissions 'legal': How many DMs that aren't me ever enforced material components? Making them optional was just accepting general play. So was upping demi-human level limits and increasing the possible multi-class options.

  Let's face it, while you can borrow back and forth, AD&D 2e is a different game than AD&D 1e; and that is OK. But far too often I think 2e gets lost in the shuffle or dismissed. The reality is this:

AD&D 2nd Edition is a fun, playable game that is a great part of the D&D family.

  Maybe it's best feature is you can have two characters that are the same race, same class, same level, even the exact same stats, and yet have them be very different in abilities and roles because of the use of non-weapon proficiencies and kits.
  That is a great feature, isn't it?

  That is one of the reasons that my second-longest running campaign (almost 8 years!) is AD&D 2e with all the Skills & Powers books.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Hugos, Edition Wars, Critically-Acclaimed Junk, Journalism, and Why I Don't Bother - a Rant

WARNING: This began as a google+ post and has not been edited and probably never will be edited.

  Well, the Hugos and I don't really have a lot in common. I love a good SF story, sure, and some past winners of the Hugo are great writers.
   But winning the Hugo didn't make them great. And a lot of great writers never won a Hugo and more were never nominated.
  More critically, a lot of the winners are, in my opinion, not very good. The classic example is "They'd Rather Be Right". Ever read it? It is DREADFUL. A terrible, terrible book that has been used as a 'what not to do' example in creative writing books for decades. It was, however, the winner of the second ever Hugo for Best Novel. That's right, the 2nd Hugo for best novel went to a written-to-order book so bad one reviewer commented [paraphrase] 'the fact that it won by vote throws the idea of universal franchise into doubt'.
  So why *did* such an awful book win?
  Langford (who has won 28 Hugos during his life. Yes, 28) thinks the book won because one of the co-authors was popular as a writer of short stories so many voters selected it based on his name. And let's face it - the annual stories about 'worst x to win a Hugo' are a tradition in SF fandom. This is because it is based on voting by a very small group.
  For years and years the highest number of votes was about 1,000 and it was typically about 500-700 for a loooooong time. That is NOT "SF fandom as a whole picking the very best x from this year" that IS "a narrow group of people expressing their opinions in a particular way".
  Which is fine.
  Why would I care?
   'This narrow group of people is working to keep out members/products they don't like'?
   'The award used to prestigious and now the actions of the people in the group have tarnished it'
  Ummmm. "They'd Rather Be Right" was the SECOND EVER Best Novel winner. The Hugos were never that prestigious.
   In a very real way I see the kerfuffle about the Hugos as very much like edition wars or 'story games vs.'.  Let me show you what I mean.
  I don't play 3e any more. I know that some people think PF/3e is the Best Game Ever and I am vaguely aware that some of those people think 1e/2e suck; and some of them think less of me for liking 1e/2e/OSR.
  I don't care.
  I am NOT going to argue that 1e/2e is 'better' than 3e not do I think less of them because they prefer 3e to other versions. Since this is true their own emotional investment has just as low an impact on me as their opinion.
  Think of it this way;  Some people like the Yankees, some people like the Mets. Just like I don't care if someone has an emotional response to me being a Braves fan I don't care if they have an emotional response to me playing AD&D 2e Skills & Powers.

  So there is a group of people somewhere that I don't know and don't typically interact with that think I can't be a "real" fan of SF if I am x or am not y?
  I don't care, any more than I care if someone somewhere thinks I am not a "real" TRPG player if I don't play system z in such-and-such a manner. Sorry, folks, I am too busy writing and running my games with family and friends to notice what someone I don't know thinks about people they don't know.

  "But, Rick!," you say, "Don't you care about quality? Promoting and supporting good games, good supplements, good books, and good other stuff?!"
  First, of course that isn't true. Second, they are unrelated.
  Yes, I think 1e/2e is better than 3e. But this isn't a life or death situation, it is a game and I know that my preferences in this case are largely subjective. Do I think a lot of SF that is critically acclaimed isn't very good? Yes, and I think that is much more objective than game preferences, too. If you want to see a real rant that will upset people, ask me for my list of 'SF books I think are over-rated'.
  See, when it comes to genre fiction I concur with Sturgeon's Revelation - 90% of all of it is junk. Sometimes junk is popular (Flowers in the Attic sold forty million copies. Forty. Million. Copies.) and sometimes junk is critically acclaimed (They'd Rather Be Right, The March, The Executioner's Song, etc.). Telling me 'a clique of insiders just gave an award to a junk book!' is like saying 'that group of journalists is promoting a narrative rather than objectively reporting the facts!'.
  Yeah, I know
  People have been breathlessly telling me,
  "Did you know that [really obscure person  whose only distinguishing traits are politics and membership in some obscure group] admitted on Twitter that they [voted/wrote/play/attacked someone] only because of politics and ideology?"
  Here is a good representation of what that looks like to me;

Of course they are - that is part of what they do. Heck, those are often large contributors to why people join committees or become journalists - to promote their own ideologies, politics, narratives, preferences, etc.

  What was that? 'What should be done about it?'
  Well, that is up to you. The Hugos seem to be a pretty typical response. Group A dominates a rather small pond, outsiders want change, there is a struggle.
  Gamer Gate is also pretty typical; Group X and Group Y learn they actually despise each other; name-calling commences and quickly escalates to attempts to shame and ostracize.

  Hmmm? 'What is Rick going to do about it?'
  Well, nothing different.

  In 1990-91 I interacted with the top award-winning journalists in the world when I was in military intelligence in Desert Shield/Desert Storm. The best of the best; the cream of the crop.
  I haven't read a newspaper since I returned. I treat TV and radio journalism as low-rent reality shows. When a news story breaks I wait at least 2 weeks for the story to settle so it might be possible to find out what actually happened. I had no idea 'video game journalism' was a thing until tons of people told me about it.

  Fr the last I don't know how long I only buy fiction from writers I have enjoyed in the past or when I can get a free sample of their work (kindle/nook) or pick up a cheap copy at a remainder bin or something. I will put down a book and swear off a writer pretty quickly these days, too. I have very little leisure to read and refuse to waste it.
  I have never bought or read a book because it had won the Hugo, Nebula, etc. and, based on sales, I bet you haven't, either.

  Besides, there is something else at play here, too. I don't want to boost the signal of people who are trying to use me, especially if they don't like me.
  Here is something that I have seen far too often in the last few years,
  Someone on the internet: "Can you believe what person A said?"
  Me: "Who in the name of Jedidiah Buxton is person A?"
  Soti: "Oh! Well, they are involved in [really obscure/niche/whatever group] and they are really upsetting me by saying X"
  M: "Never heard of them."
  After a few days, though, lots of other people are talking about them, too, so I eventually look them up and...
  They are nobodies trying to leverage internet infamy into cash. They are saying and doing outrageous things to both win the support of fringe groups and to get notice from others.
  And it often works, letting people earn a living, even get rich, by doing nothing but saying loopy things on the internet.
  A loooong time ago I had a (now long gone) anonymous blog on the internet. One of the rules back then was 'when your blog gets to a decent size (which back then wasn't much) pick a fight with a more prominent blogger and hope for a feud to drive traffic to your site. Once you plateau from that, make peace and keep going.'
  There are a fair amount of people trying to do something similar today with the internet. Just like I didn't participate then I won't participate now.

  So, at the end of this long rant I urge you - relax.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

My Schedule as a Game Fanatic

  Folks, thank you all so much for your feedback on recent questions.
To keep myself focused, to update my patrons, and to stay organized, here is my rough schedule-

1) Weekly and monthly Patron-only content. This all starts on September 1st.
2) The Tower of the Air -  a Patron-only adventure, out by the end of September.
3) Turn level 1a of Skull Mountain into an actual publish-worthy state in anticipation of more patrons
4) Continue turning my main campaign, Seaward, into a publish-worthy state as a full campaign setting. This will take a long time. At last count the notes on Seaward run to 300 GB of text files and over 800 printed/typed/written pages - without overlap.
5) Begin organizing the Blackstone campaign to also be turned into a full setting.
6) Continue routine blogging

  I need to win the lottery so I can devote 16 hours a day to gaming!

The Tiny Kingdom: How Random Things End Up in the Campaign

  I want to tell you more about my really, really old campaign. Seaward. And I want to talk about a supplement/game that I want.
  But first, let's talk about ideas.
  By that I mean - how do little bits of inspiration, insight, confusion, and such lead to creative ideas?

  Let's talk about the Briars. This is a section of my main campaign world where a lot of adventures have happened over the years and I plan to have a great deal more happen as long as I am still alive.
  And I know exactly where the Briars came from.

  Growing up I was lucky enough to spend part of every Summer at my Uncle Don's farm in Indiana Amish country. We visited throughout the year, of course, and did everything from help with livestock to snowmobiling. And part of what we did was pick blackberries, dewberries, and cut back sweet briar. It was those outings that made the 'Lost in the Briars' picture in the 1e book so spooky to me; having gotten stuck in the briars when I fell into them at the age of 4 that seemed pretty horrible.
  But more critically I remember when the only real neighbor of my Uncle Don sold his place - Uncle Don bought all the farmland, but the neighbor sold the house to a guy that owned a carpet and tile store in town 20-30 miles away. The new owner immediately put in a pool, about 18 tacky garden statues (lions with gold paint; cupids; that sort of thing), bought a peacock, and stopped maintaining the hedges and thickets.
  That all happened the Summer I was 5. By the time I was 9 we needed an extra week every year to cut back briars along the property line. And briars are tough - the stems are long, very tough, and often covered in thorns. To get rid of the plants you have to trim them back, and then dig out the root. The new neighbor ignored my Uncle Don's questions, and his warnings, because he was only concerned about his 'main yard'.
  My Uncle told me how much that upset him. Briars can spread  fairly fast and can take over meadow and farm land making it useful only to rabbits and weasels. Without pruning and watching they can cover large areas and reduce the output of even uncultivated land. He said,
  "If we ever get many abandoned farms around here the briars could take over miles and miles of the countryside."

  That was the day after I drew the coasts and mountains of my setting. I added a large swatch of briars that night and they have been a fixture ever since.

  For the first few years the Briars were just a well-nigh-impassable area with an old, very old, road cutting through their center. I placed the entrance to my Big Dungeon, Skull Mountain, at the other end of that road, but for a few years it was just 4-5 days of custom random encounters on the way to the dungeon. Of course, I had secrets tucked away in its depths, like the druid's grove that only druid (with their ability to travel through undergrowth) could reach, a hidden wizard's domain surrounded by impassable thorn hedges and cloaked by illusion, etc. But I was still eager to flesh them out.
  I had been reading Tarzan and the Ant Men, a fun read. and then my kid sisters discovered the books about the Littles, tiny people who live in the walls of human houses. After a fair amount of wheedling I made some small houses and such and tucked them around the backyard so the two of them could play games about little humans, just 4" tall, visiting each other.
  That is when I saw an ad in Dragon Mag for miniatures of armored knights on gigantic bees. I immediately thought,
  "Why not little men on large bees? Heck, why not wee men on just bumblebees?"

  And the Tiny Kingdom was born.
  Deep in the Briars, surrounded by thorn hedges so thick only a druid could get through them, surrounded by harsh terrain and fierce monsters is the Tiny Kingdom. At the center is a walled city surrounded by tiny farms and villages, then a ring of forts - the Bee Men live here, called that because they have tamed bees. Their best warriors, the Knights, ride bumblebees to and from battle.
  Outside the forts are the wild places where the Mice Men, fierce barbarians, roam. Ruins of past nations litter the area with ruined towers and abandoned vaults scattered about the realm. It would take a Bee Man 20 days of walking to travel from the center of the city to the edge of the Briars that surround the realm, the vast distance of - five miles!
  I had sketched out rough maps, names, etc. when all sorts of Real Life things happened and I put it all aside. For the next 30+ years the Bee Knights and the Tiny Kingdom were flitting around, always on the edge of turning into something, hinted at in 100 things: pieces of loot; notes from sages; and tales from madmen; but never directly a part of my campaign.

  Until this weekend.

  Now that the Mice Men have been introduced my players have seized upon the idea with both hands.

  They love the idea of the Tiny Kingdom and we brainstormed late into the night about possibilities. Some of the ideas so far are;

  -The Tiny Kingdom as a full-bore OSR supplement/setting full of maps, NPCs, magic items, etc.

  -Switching to normal-size anthropomorphic animals and release a setting where good-guy mice battle bad-guy weasels and there might be some sort of religious building involved.
  -A complete, soup-to-nuts OSR game, with a number of tiny races and their foes.

  -Change things a bit and make the setting a vast, enchanted garden of a powerful wizard who is unaware of the empires and battles of wee people in his arbors, then release that as a supplement.

  -Combine the full game with the wizard's garden setting.

  What do you guys think?


Saturday, August 22, 2015

DM's Play Report: The Mice Men

  Son #3 has been asking for a quick solo adventure for some time so today we did it.

  The Good Guys:
  Godfrey, 4th level Human Scout (one of the classes from Far Realms)
    his henchman Karl, 2nd level Human Scout

  Margurlward the Magician, NPC that is paying for the mission

  The Bad Guys:
  24 Mice Men warriors
  6 Mice Men archers
  3 Mice Men thugs
  1 Mouse Man Witchdoctor
  The King of the Mice Men

  The Setup:
  I took the basic premise and setting of Ulo Leppik's great one page dungeon named Teeny Tiny Dungeon and modified it a great deal.  I took his idea for little humanoids, crossed it with some of the ideas of Tarzan and the Ant Men (a book I read 4 times as a young teen) and slapped it on the edge of the Briars.
  Margurlward has a sturdy stone cottage on the edge of a thorn spinney on the verge of the Briars. He had long noted that small objects went missing, especially if dropped on the floor. A year ago while preparing scroll ink he had spilled a pouch of gems (meant to be crushed for the ink) and most had vanished. Things escalated recently when he dropped a jewelry case, scattering a handful of magical rings and he saw a few of them dragged away by wee men who took it through a tiny door by his fireplace!
  Margurlward had done his best to block off the door and has brewed a set of Potions of Diminution and is looking for an intrepid band to recover his valuables.
  Unfortunately, everyone he speaks to think he has lost his mind!
  Luckily, he met Godfrey and Karl in a tavern in Esber, just a day from his cottage. The two men concluded that there was nothing to lose to investigate for themselves and went to the cottage.
  After arriving Margurlward removed his barriers to show the entrance, just 1 inch high. Godfrey removed a 5 g.p. gem from his pouch and tossed it near the tiny door and was amazed to see a band of tiny men rush out, grab it, and run back into the fireplace!
  The two scouts secured bandoleers of 4 diminution potions to their bodies and Godfrey drank one, telling Karl to remain behind, full size, while he scouted.
  Godfrey carefully entered the unsecured door and found a series of tunnels and caves (to him 5 inches looked like 30 feet!) within the river stone and mortar chimney and hearth. Some of the tunnels led to mouse tunnels (carefully sealed off and blocked with toothpick barricades and stout little doors). Others to a store room full of coils of stout rope (thread), mighty iron poles (fork tines), fist-sized chunks of iron (filings), etc. He also burst into a room with 8 of the creatures - they looked like broad-shouldered, muscular men dressed in mouse-hide boots, breechclouts, and cloaks armed with iron-tipped toothpick javelins and battle axes. While they appeared otherwise human their hair was more akin to mouse fur and their eyes were solid black.
  Godfrey surprised them, allowing him to slay two immediately with well-placed arrows. He killed another with arrows, but was wounded by javelins. He fled along the twisting corners, losing them long enough to set an ambush near an anti-mouse barricade.
  He was able to use his Scout ambush ability to kill 3 more of them with arrows and killed the rest in melee, but was very close to death and almost out of arrows. He dragged himself into a storeroom to catch his breath. He recognized a scent coming from a huge drum an, wrestling off the massive lid, found enough Keoghtom's Ointment for 2 doses ( in his present size). Healed up (and with a backpack full of the second dose) he left the fireplace warrens and had his henchman join him - bringing 80 more arrows!
  They re-entered the tiny tunnels and immediately faced a flurry of javelins (minor damage to both) before the band of warriors fled. They followed them very carefully, avoiding a second ambush and being ready for the mouse that was released into the tunnels behind them! After fierce fighting Godfrey and Karl used potions and continued exploring, finding a large room where another band of mice men were being rallied by a huge mouse man covered in tattoos and wearing a mouse skull helmet. There was a wizened, old mouse man leaning on a staff next to him and three doughty warriors with handlebar mustaches and whips guiding a warband at them!
  The two scouts used a bend in a tunnel to shield themselves from javelins and their bows made the cost of closing with them very high. Godfrey's broadsword held the tunnels while Karl fired at foes beyond. Over matched, the mice men fell back while Godfrey and Karl sought a place to catch their breath and use the last of their potions. Reinvigorated, they took up positions at anti-mouse barricades with good fields of fire and waited.
  Eventually the last of the mustachioed thugs led a strong band of warriors into the kill zone and, once again, the scouts achieved surprised, activating their Ambush abilities. The thugs went down in the first salvo and half the warriors lay dead before those still on their feet got into melee. Within a few rounds Karl was collecting arrows and Godfrey was using the last of the Keoghtom's to heal up.

  Penetrating deeper they encountered 4 archers firing from a platform with a gold rim - they were firing from inside a +1 Ring of Protection! As Godfrey and Karl killed the archers a group of warriors attacked them from behind and the old mouse man cast a spell that resulted in a ghostly rat biting Karl, injuring him badly. The two heros cut down the warriors as the old man fled, then began to roll the ring out of the tunnels. This led to the King of the Mice Men rushing them while their bows were away.
  The duel between the king and the heroes was hard fought and almost caused Godfrey's death, but they prevailed. Luckily the king had more salve in his possesion, so both could heal up.
  The few pitiable survivors surrendered soon after. Godfrey and Karl tied them up, then continued to explore. They found a portal to the fireplace that opened through a Ring of Fire Resistance; they found the magician's missing jewels, hidden within a Ring of Invisibility; the king's, throne was inside a large ring with a diamond; and the king's bed was within a Ring of Warmth.
  As they entered the king's bedchamber the mouse mage struck, casting a spell that caused spectral weasel jaws to snap shut on both Godrey and Karl; Karl was reduced to 1 hit point, Godfrey to 8! Godfrey leapt forward and was just able to kill the mouse mage before his next spell!
  The explorers spoke with their captives and founf they were exiles from a distant land where there were many men like them, mouse men who warred with the bee men. This land was deep in the Briars. Feeling pity, Godfrey made them swear an oath to never return and released them through a hidden door to the garden and watched them vanish into the spinney.

  The two removed all of the loot, grew to their normal size, and received their reward - 300 g.p., the rings, and the sole remaining Potion of Diminution. Marlgurlward negotiated and paid them 500 g.p. to also get back the diamond ring.

  33 said he had great fun!

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Magic Item of the Week: Amulet of the Confused Mind

From my 12 year old son, another of his creations-

  This item appears as a small but incredibly valuable amulet, usually of platinum, mithril, or other very valuable metal with one flawless rare gem of great worth, that has strange engravings on it.
  When worn, it gives the effect of a Mind Blank spell at all times and the wearer always gets a saving throw against illusions (even if the character has no reason to believe the illusion is not real).   Furthermore If the creature wearing it is psionic, then all psionic strength points are increased 50%.

  However, this blessing comes with a curse: every dayat dawn the wearer must make saving throw vs. poison at a +2 or roll on the random insanity chart. If insanity is indicated, roll a d20; on 1-19 that is the number of days the character remains insane. If the result is a 20, roll again; a 1-19 on this second roll is how long the insanity lasts, but if the second roll is also a 20 the insanity is permanent.

  The character does not need to roll for insanity if he is currently insane.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Law, Chaos, the UK, America, Teutonic Knights, Orcs, and Just What the Heck is Going On With 9th Level Fighters?!

  This one is going to be weird, folks, so strap in.

  The sons and I were talking about gaming (like we do every day) and about some of our other shared passions; history, the Church, and books. We were also talking about my main campaign and how I was always surprised that the handful of guys that made it to 9th level did not get 'all fortressy' but rather angled to take over existing positions within the game
  What I mean is the few characters to hit name level who could then establish a demense all finagled with NPC rulers to take over existing fiefdoms rather than build from scratch.
  Which is, naturally, fine. My oldest speculated that he, himself, might never build beyond the border because there were so many interesting places on the map already; Dwarf Hill, Wyvern Keep, Skull Mountain, the Vanishing Manor, the Tower of the Air, etc. But then we began speculating;
  Why is the assumption that everyone from warriors to priests to mages will strike out into deep wilderness and hack out a corner for themselves?
  I mean, think about it; that is a tremendous amount of expense and risk. Why not do what people in my campaign did and just - get a promotion and retire rather than contend with plague, famine, and orc hordes?
  And why, oh why, would people flock to follow you if, and only if, you did that hugely risky thing?! And not just guys with levels! 0-level men, their wives, their kids! Pilgrims might come and just - settle. I mean, what is going on?

  For a while we speculated that the default D&D world is a lot like the America of the past - vast, largely unexplored, and daring people struck out to make their way.

  [We had the discussion Sunday, I started writing this Monday, and I saw this in my google+ feed Tuesday. Small world!]

  That might be part of it, sure, especially how followers appear and why random encounters sometimes stick around. But does the 'untouched wilderness' really apply to something so Dying Earth as D&D? As the great blog The Hill Cantons points out, based on the wilderness encounter charts the typical AD&D world is littered with ruins of past fortresses, cities, etc. all thrown down to ruin by war or time. And in a manner very similar to North America, D&D wilderness isn't 'untouched', it is full of intelligent being. Berzerkers, cavemen, orcs, hobgoblins, nomads, goblins, kobolds, etc., etc., etc. Heck, you leave patrolled demi-human areas and the 'wilds' are crawling with intelligent creatures. Sure, they're malevolent, but still!
  Plus the AD&D world isn't modeled after 2015 North America or even 1975 Europe, is it? No, the 'place in time' of the real world that seems closest to the default assumptions of AD&D is somewhere between 770 AD and 820 AD; yes, yes, this is speculation, but I can talk about that in another post. Sure,  there are anachronisms for that but that is my guess.
  Now,  modern Europe looks like this;

In 800 Europe looked like this;

Look at the differences! As I point out in my second most popular post ever, in the year 1000 AD the place that is now the Berlin Metropolitan Area, the 6th largest city in Europe, was uninhabited, howling wilderness. 780 AD is 400 years before the first Germans settled on the banks of the Spree!
  In other words, at the time that seems most like AD&D's assumed setting in history Europe was cheek-by-jowl with howling wilderness and hostile forces.
  This means that in the context of the setting and place well behind the curtain of AD&D (Charlemagne's Europe as described in the Matter of France) Europe looked a lot more like 1870's America than most people realize (Although Andy Bartlett did explicitly mention this in the article I linked above). In both places the average person who wanted a better life and who had the courage and resources (or just a lot of courage!) could, and did, set out into the wilderness and start a new life, Heck, that's where little towns like Leipzig and Berlin came from!

  There is also the very mildly controversial topic of the Northern Crusades. In a very high level gloss not meant to dive into the complex, nuanced issues associated with the Northern Crusades, but only to illustrate how it relates to the point at hand over a century of mutual conflict between pagan peoples in North/Northeastern Europe with the Catholic nations to their West and Orthodox nations of their East, where peaceful missionary and diplomatic activity failed, led to a call for a Crusade and a subdual of the pagans by force in the belief that decisive victory would cause the interminable wars to end.
  What followed was some pretty serious and organized expansion and battles from the West. Part of this was having some of the toughest fighters from the West build fortresses in the pagan areas, establish domains, and maintain the peace.
  Sound familiar?
  Heck, sometimes when there were no opportunities to set up in established areas tough, popular leaders would travel even beyond the pagan lands, set of a stronghold, 'subdue the wilderness', and attract people who wanted a better life who could count on the protection of this leader from bandits, etc.
  That had better sound familiar!
  So there is, interesting enough, at least one historical period where something vaguely like Name-level characters starting the 'domain game' did occur, which is pretty cool.

  But I think there is a bit more meta going on, here. In Three Hearts and Three Lions (as well as other books, like Operation Chaos) the author speaks of Law and Chaos as being opposed to each other in a sort of ongoing struggle. But this concept of Anderson's (that seems to have also influenced Dickson in The Dragon and the George) is a lot more complex and nuanced than the shallow, never actually quantified, Law vs. Chaos of Moorcock. Anderson's Law and Chaos (as well as Dickson's  Chance and History) are very much about Virtue/Civilization/Good (Law/History) against Amorality/Wilderness/Evil (Chaos/Chance).
  This was explicitly stated in Three Hearts and Three Lions;

"Holger got the idea that a perpetual struggle went on between primeval forces of Law and Chaos. No, not forces exactly. Modes of existence? A terrestrial reflection of the spiritual conflict between heaven and hell? In any case, humans were the chief agents on earth of Law, though most of them were so only unconsciously and some, witches and warlocks and evildoers, had sold out to Chaos."
  It is also essentially stated that the Church is Law while Chaos is a tool of the Devil. The faerie and their uncaring capriciousness? Chaos, because they could not be trusted.
Despite the desire of contemporary people to think of the faerie/sidhe as fun-loving hippies in folklore they're are much, much more like the Weeping Angels - inhuman, utterly other creatures that if you were lucky will only cast you decades through time away from all you know and love.

  This sort of 'axis' is pretty clear in OD&D where you are Lawful (good) or Chaotic (bad) and it was very much a fantastical experience of fey vs. man.

  But it is more complex and such in AD&D with both the Law/Chaos and Good/Evil axis and the Neutral section. But the core concept remains valid: when a party goes into the (wild, uncivilized) dungeon and destroys monsters the PCs are championing civilization against it's opposite, wildness; when a Lord goes into the wilderness, builds a stronghold, attracts followers, etc. he is championing civilization versus wildness, just on a different level.
  And no, I am avoiding the term 'barbarism' for a reason; woad-painted warriors, nomadic tribesman, etc., can be forces for Law or Chaos, it depends upon if they build or destroy, if they are trustworthy or capricious as a people.

  In my post on how I handle religion in my campaign I mention that the big divide between demi-humans and humanoids is if they are (in general) within the Church or outside of it. But the difference is also 'do those races build civilizations or destroy them?'. Sure, hobgoblins, orcs, etc. are organized, they have skills, etc. But they are wreckers, not creators. In my world they have no cities, they live in what they capture from demi-humans and humans; they have no trade, only plunder; they have slaves who often are worked to death; they have at best war chants but no music, enough writing to issue orders but no literature; etc. Where they go they push back civilization, scrubbing away cities and towns, fences and fields, and leaving behind only brambles, thickets, end desolate ruins.

  So a fighter, wizard, or cleric going into the wilds, building a strong place, attracting followers, and all the rest is, in a very real way, pushing back darkness, ignorance, savagery, and evil. Where there were brambles and thickets he puts fields and orchards; where there was a bare hill he puts a cozy home; where there was darkness there are the lights of a village; where there was isolation and fear he puts friendship and hope.
  No wonder those who want a better life follow.

  So why do 9th level fighters spend all that money and take all that risk? Because they are fighting evil an a new, more important, way.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Why I Love Movies: The Pilot

  I grew up in central Indiana (off and on) and was lucky to live near enough to Indianapolis to (barely) get the independent TV station Channel 4 (WTTV). I grew up watching Janey, Cowboy Bob, Sammy Terry, and all the rest of the gloriously weird independent stuff they had.
  For you whippersnappers, it was a different time. The TV Guide often listen WTTV's content as 'movie' or 'show'; the local paper often said the exact same thing, darn it. So often the only way to learn what was on was to tune in. Even better, a lot of the late night programming (Sci-Fi Theater; Horror Theater, the Sammy Terry Show, etc.) might not freaking mention the name of the show, so if you missed the opening credits AND the end credits didn't give a name?
  Too bad.

  So one night when I was 12 years old I wrapped up a game of AD&D 1e in my Seaward campaign (I think it was part of the 9 month long Pirates arc) and sat down to watch TV. It was Saturday night and my sisters were asleep and my parents were in their bedroom reading and talking.
  I can't wait until my wife and I get our sitting area in our room back

  I came in right after the credit, darn it, and started 5-6 minutes in, max.
  It was gripping! A man being released from a mental institution during WWII; a carnival with a secret; villagers acting creepy and telling the protagonist (just out of the asylum, remember) that they are NOT acting creepy; a cake people will kill for; a blind man who isn't blind.
  I was hooked!
  I was about 20 minutes into the film (yes, all that was the opening) when - the power went out. Someone had hit a power pole and we lost power for 3 hours.

  I searched TV Guide ("movie") and the local paper ("thriller"). I asked my parents, even teachers. No one recognized it. I started going to the library to look up films and discovered film theory and film history. My dad got me a copy of the Golden Turkey Awards. I started going to film festivals, etc. It wasn't long before it stopped being about That Film and about film in general.
  Even years later when I was able to name the lead actor (Ray Milland) I wasn't sure which film it was because, well, synopsis were very rare and unclear and Milland was in a lot of films that weren't on VHS. When I was on Usenet and heard about The List which had become the Cardiff Internet Movie Database. I found a forum, learned two things; the CIDB was about to change and become the IMDB and the movie I had caught a glimpse of was Ministry of Fear.
  I was eventually able to see the entire film (and I encourage you to do the same!) and it is still one of my favorites.
  In the meantime that loss of power was my gateway to cinema and my love of movies to this day.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

What I Do As A Dungeon Master: When A New Character Is Made

  I love running what I call 'jazz band adventuring'; it gives me and the players a great deal of flexibility and lets the stakes be really, really high without running the risk of derailing the campaign.
  But it also means that the players are rolling up new characters relatively often.
  I have a series of things I do for new characters joining the campaign. I make sure to sit with them and work up an outline of a backstory. They flesh it out, but I collaborate for things like home village name and location, family background, etc. I will also often work through initial gear and tell them to make sure they do or don't get certain things. For the rest I usually wait until the characters are actually about to be played (the day before a session, usually).and then give them:

1) Print out a list of what they know.
    This has three main sections; facts they know; PCs and NPCs they know; rumors they've heard. If the player's backstory needs certain details from me, I include those, too. For example, my wife's barbarian character Brigid is from a clan in the middle of a feud, so I included the name of that clan.
  2) Give them a list of any 'extra stuff' they start with.
    This can be all over the map; fighter with the secondary skill of 'farmer' might have extra rations from his mother; a thief with a backstory that he works the streets as a pickpocket for cash might have a specialized tool or two; a nobleman might have a silver-accented saddle and a valet. Once (working with the player) the half-orc fighter/thief fresh from an orphanage started with the flu!

  This isn't a lot of stuff and it doesn't take much time or effort, but it pays off a lot, especially since I know their backstory.

  Then, before the game, I also add them to my character roster. This includes the usual stuff, like name, level, hit points, stats, etc., but also a sketch of their backstory, the list of what they know and their extra stuff, and such. Last but not least I keep my own notes on major magic items, big adventures, and my behind-the-scenes stuff, as well.

  Again, all of this takes maybe 30 minutes, total, per new character but it pays big dividends! The players feel plugged in to the campaign and I can keep track of plot lines much better.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Tales From The Table: Number 23 and How NPCs Can Matter

  We all have those stories. You know, the tales from the table about success or failure, triumph or death.
  They're one of the reasons I play.

  Here is a tale that explains one of the reasons I try to remember how important NPCs are to the players.

  In Lew Pulsipher's campaign for many, many years the last bastion of safety and civilization was the stronghold of a 9th level cleric. This fortress, called simply 'J.C.'s Castle', was not just the leaping off point to explore Mount Thunder, Skystone Castle, or the Lake of Dread, it was the first line of defense for the poor peasants of the countryside against the ravening hordes of monsters lurking in the wilds.
  More than once the adventure was to hold J.C.'s Castle against those very hordes.
  The one I remember most clearly had a party of 5th-6th level with the men-at-arms/followers of J.C. defending against an army of many lurfs (think furry 4 armed kobolds with atlatls) and a few cavewights (think hairless bugbears with troll strength that can Spiderclimb stone) led by a cabal of pyromancers. The paladin, cleric, thief and fighter led teams of followers in holding the walls while the mage took to the central tower to snipe foes with spells.
  J.C. was gone on a mission.
  Lew uses numbered tiles of various colors/number colors to represent foes and hirelings, etc.
  Through the long, long fight a number of memorable events happened; the mage drained the last charge from his laser rifle killing a pyromancer 700 yards away and emptied his pearl-handled .44 magnums (kept in shoulder holsters under his cloak of protection) into a cavewight; the paladin held a doorway by himself against 30 foes for 6 rounds only to have to pivot and hold it the other way for 5 more against another 20; the thief never missed a backstab or missile weapon to-hit roll; the cleric ran out of spells, potions, items, and scrolls of Cures for the only time since 1st level.
  And a lone man-at-arms survived. Tile #23, the 3rd ranking sergeant, stayed in the thick of things the entire battle. At one point #23 was back-to-back with the fighter on top of a tower eventually cutting down 4 lurfs while the fighter killed 2 cavewights. At another time he rallied other men-at-arms and led them in a counter-charge which held a wall but cost the lives of the other 6 NPCs.
  When dawn came the evil army was broken and fled, the spell casters were out of spells, and everyone was in single-digit hit points. But #23 was alive, if with just 1 h.p.

  Cool story about a fun adventure.

  But a few real world months later a different party went to J.C.'s Castle. The thief was the one from the defense and the player was careful to say,
  "I look up #23."
  He was the new top sergeant of the fortress' staff. The thief's player said his character would certainly tell the story of that night and #23's bravery to the party.

  This kept happening; as characters from that adventure leveled up the players were careful to look for #23, tell his story, even give him things like potions or +1 chain.

  In the 28 years since the Third Defense of J.C.'s Castle I've thought about that fight often. Not just because that was my mage, but because f the impact that an NPC had on the campaign. Not a hero; not a villain; not a sage; not a henchman. An expert hireling of another NPC who was never, ever even given a name. And yet that event was so memorable that in 2001 I was relaxing with an old friend. After 5 beers and a cigar he asked me,
  "Hey, remember #23?"
  And we laughed about that event all over again.

  Every GM has the experience of the carefully-crafted NPC with a page of backstory, a list of plot hooks, and well-practiced mannerisms that the players don't care about and can't remember no matter how many times you give them notes. Why are they forgotten but not #23?

  I have a handful of theories, but the two I want to touch on are Interaction and Independence.

  #23 interacted with the PCs. Sure, sure, there was virtually no dialog (which was probably good) but just noting 'he sticks with the fighter' and 'he makes sure to cover the fighter's back' was critical. This interaction was both relevant to what the PC was doing and actively part of the action of the adventure. The player was, not surprisingly, feeling that his character was exposed and in danger; #23's interactions with the PC were about that element of the game, making the player emotionally invested in what the NPC was doing.
  That well-crafted NPC mage with all the backstory? If the party's magic-user meets with him about copying spells there isn't going to be a lot of emotional investment in the words or deeds of the NPC. You have to make them memorable some other way.

  And by independence I mean the NPC must be shown to be more than a prop.

  QUICK ASIDE: How often are the henchmen and hirelings in the game simply forgotten? Here is a great example from film.
  In Monty Python and the Quest for the Holy Grail we see retainers like Patsy, hirelings like Sir Robin's minstrels, etc. But the others only appear, as if out of thin air!, when needed.

  In addition to being a barely credible excuse to insert Monty Python into my blog it is a great example of how a lot of NPCs are treated. They aren't there until you need them, then they appear to fulfill their purpose, soon after a monster eats them.

  When #23 led that charge he proved he wasn't just a prop; he had independence. His own thoughts and the ability to make decisions and take action. Between that and covering the fighter on his own the only real difference between #23 and a PC was who was running him. And not only is Lew immune to GMPC effects, #23 was obviously just in the wrong place at the wrong time.
  Again, if that NPC with a ton of backstory only reacts to/responds to the PCs then he isn't going to seem "real" (whatever that means in context).

  So, learn the lesson of #23 - have your NPCs interact in meaningful ways when possible and make them independent.

  In my own campaign there is a scout henchman fairly infamous for going off to do thing while the party is making camp - fetch wood, hunt for game, scout their back trail to see if someone is following them - all sorts of things. But he often just - leaves - and doesn't tell anyone until he gets back. He is reliable, and honest, he just is gone during camp setup. This is the whole 'independence' thing as well as, sometimes, interaction when he brings in a pheasant or captures a kobold  that had been trailing the party.

  More to come!

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Dice Bags for Patrons

  If you check out my Patreon page you'll see that some patrons get a custom dice bag. They are like these.

And they get to select colors!

DM's Game Log: Return to Dwarf Hill

NOTE: Somehow an early draft was published; edits are now included.

 Dwarf Hill is the name of a large hill on the eastern verge of the Stone Hills just beyond the borders of the Kingdom of Seaward. It had long had a reputation of being both the hiding place of dwarven treasure and of being haunted by a banshee. About 18 months ago (real time) an adventuring party had found a hidden ravine on the eastern edge of Dwarf Hill and cleared out a small band of brigands hiding in a hillside dwelling. The party had found a tunnel into the hill that eventually bridged an underground stream but then ended in a door  - a door with a long-dead body in front of it and the chalked warning "Glyph" on the wall nearby.
  This weekend a new party returned, this time with a dwarven fighter/cleric along who believed he knew the password to temporarily deactivate the glyph.

  The party consisted of:
  Fiona, a human fighter; 2nd level
  The Sparrow, a half-elven fighter/thief; 1st/2nd
  Konrad, a dwarven fighter/cleric; 1st/1st
  Seamus, a druid; 2nd
  Thoren, a half-orc fighter/thief; 1st/2nd

  No henchmen this time around.
  The party travelled to the border along the Wyvern Road meeting no one of more than middling interest with only a heavy rain to break the monotony of the road. After three days they left he fortified village of Estham for Dwarf Hill, 5 hours into the wilderness. They arrived and found the stone hut still empty, but intact. They quickly rechecked the areas they had cleared out on the first trip and then scouted the bridge and door - they seemed undisturbed.
  They crossed the bridge and examined the door. Seamus used a lantern to peer carefully into the darkness along the underground river's passage and thought he detected another bridge upstream and higher in the cleft. Kaspar said what he hoped was the password and opened the door... safely.
  The area beyond was obviously a mine; the door opened into a central collection area with two drifts radiating away from it and doors further into the hill. The party heard a faint tapping in the distance, but could not identify the direction the sound was coming from. The tapping sounded like either metal on stone or water on metal and was very regular.
  The party explored the nearest drift first. The dwarf identified the ore as a source of tin. The drift showed that the vein was played out in the area. In a remote side shaft they found a half-elven body, long dead, under a pile of rubble. On the wall nearby they found tally marks; the count was 64. Returning to the main area they opened the first door and found an area with tin ore in bins. While poking through the bins the animated skeleton of an ogre burst forth and fought the party. The party slew it in 2 rounds, then opened another door in the room, revealing another passage and door.
  About this time Seamus, Fiona, and Konrad all began counting on their fingers and marking each 10 count with a tally mark on the wall. The others realized they were counting the individual taps they were hearing! Concerned, those unaffected quickly led the counters through the glyphed door (saying the password!) and across the bridge, where the sound of the water drowned out the tapping. In a few turns the three counters were feeling fine, although shaken by their sudden obsession with counting. The party realized tha, based on lantern oil, the obsession hit after an hour of the tapping, camped in the stone hut and made plans for the next day.
  After a quiet night the party once more said the pass word, entered the mine, and began to search, but much less cautiously than usual.They found another body in the second drift (beneath 91 tally marks) and stairs leading up. They also found a central equipment room with mining tools and 4 handcarts. As they approached an hour within the sound of the tapping they retreated into s short drift, Seamus put wax plugs into his ears, and the rest (all members of the Church) began chanting the Litany of the Saints.

  All felt an immediate lessening of the psychic pressure of the sound of tapping.

BTW, this is, in my game, the basis of the Chant spell.
   After about 5 rounds a figure leaped out of the darkness! It looked like an emaciated dwarf dressed in rags carrying a heavy tool hammer and was obviously undead. Most of the party was surprised - the creature swung at Seamus, but missed. Seamus missed in return and then the thing ran off, seemingly into thin air.
  The party continued, finding two more main drifts and continuing to explore. They found two more bodies and what they suspected was the main lair of the creature. And while once again stopping in a small alcove to chant the creature attacked again, striking Fiona for quite a bit of damage.
  And removing every trace of her sense of direction. She was so puzzled she couldn't even obey 'follow the person in front of you' instructions. Kaspar took her my the hand to lead her through the tunnels. A second ambush dealt damage to Kaspar, as well, and the confusion. Both could still fight and even cast touch spells, but not travel!
  On the fourth attack, however, Seamus was more prepared. This time he was not surprised and he had a spell ready - Faerie Fire! The creature was limned by the spell and the fighters closed in (some with hand-holding) and destroyed him soon, but not before he confused another member of the party.
  The party retreated back to the hut, rested, healed up and by late the next day the weird confusion had ended.
  The returned and examined the higher floor, finding it empty (other than a mithral key they discovered after following a few clues) and - the other bridge, seen before. With some quick thinking and luck they were able to bypass the Wizard Lock on this door and enter the final chambers.
  This was the bolt-hole of a long-dead wizard who had taken over the space as a place to hide from his enemies. The party slew a ghoul set to guard the outer door (Thoren got initiative and killed it with a single mighty blow!) and then drove off an imp (the dead mage's familiar, trapped by a spell) to find his corpse and a basic spell research library.
  They gave the dead proper burial and then used the carts to haul out the loot. Several of them leveled up.

  The monster ws one I have had stuck in my head a loooooong time. Way, way back in Dragon Magazine #58, which came out in February of 1982, was a special section on dwarves that included a new undead, the Rapper. I modified them a little bit and have wanted to use them for, oh, about THIRTY-THREE YEARS! Although only 4 HD their abilities to drive people mad, turn invisible, and affect people with a Lose the Path effect combine to make them a nice, creepy threat. The party realized that a little foolhardiness and a few blown saves and one rapper could wipe out an entire party rather easily. I have had Dwarf Hill floating around in various incarnations for 3 decades and finally a party went past that glyphed door!

  More on the campaign in general soon.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Work in Progress - the Map of Eiru

  About 1981 my friend Dave wanted to play an Irish warrior. Dave was reading a great deal about the history and legends of Ireland. I pulled out an encyclopedia, swung by Ball State, and invented Eiru, a distant island home of people called the Eire.
  Or, as my sons like to call it, Ireland Land.
  Since then there have been 4-5 more characters from Eiru as well as NPCs, the sword Mor Altach, the dreaded Banshee Stones, and at least one drinking song.
  My wife made a barbarian (my own version of the class) from Eiru a year or so ago and the character's backstory was all about being Irish, uh, Eire. Not much of a surprise given that 3 of her 8 great-grandparents were born in Ireland and another was born on the passage over!
  Well, she wants to go on a side trip to Eiru and settle accounts with the clan that drove her from her home and still threatens her clan and family. She is accompanied by the paladin called Clint who recently reached 4th level and had a vision that he should travel to Eiru, famed for its horses, and search for a steed.

  One little problem - in 34 years I had never made a map of Eiru.
  Hexographer to the rescue!

  I made some notes on scratch paper last night and created this in about 20 minutes. It needs a LOT of cleaning up, smoothing, etc., but here it is in its 10 miles per hex state.


Friday, August 7, 2015

Religion in My AD&D 1e Campaign

  I have mentioned before that when I was a kid I read the legends of Charlemagne, the books of Vance, etc. from the age of about 7 on but only read Tolkien and the various stories of Arthur in my late teens, 6-8 years after starting my own AD&D 1e campaign. This means Bishop Turpin, Maugris, and Roland had a lot more impact on my campaign than Gandalf, Strider, or Merlin.
  One of the things that has always been a part of my campaign in - the Church.

  Out of habit, let's talk about me for a minute.
  I was raised what is now called "unchurched". My parents took me to a church once or twice, and that was for weddings of cousins. While we had a lot of books about religion in the house, we had lots of books about everything else in the house, too. I grew up in what my mother called 'the buckle of the bible belt' and was surrounded by Protestant churches but only knew one Catholic and only knew she was Catholic because of the ashes on the forehead thing, as I called it then.
  But if you are reading the Matter of France, Ivanhoe, etc., the Catholic Church is the very background of the plot. I didn't know very much about Catholicism in any way but everything from Ogier Danske to Holger Carlson (see what I did there?) told me the Church was critical.

  So when I made my 1e campaign, which I call Seaward, it had - the Church.

  As I got older I learned a great deal more about the real world Church and I developed the Church in my campaign more fully, although it was from the distance of non-religious books and fiction. When I 'rebooted' Seaward in the late '80's I introduced a pantheon of multiple good deities, the Bright Gods, and tried them out for a few months, but the players hated the idea. Later I used the Bright Gods again in 3e and, once more, my players (entirely different people) preferred the Church.

  I also encountered a lot of other GMs, too. Bill had the Valar from LotRs, who are (of course) more akin to archangels than gods and explicitly report to a monotheistic deity. Lew Pulsipher, game theorist and atheist, had God. Singular. And the Church. Singular. Oddly similar to what I had done. As a matter of fact, a whole lot of the GMs I met between '78 and '88 just had "the Church", whatever it might be called,
  And this makes a lot of sense for a lot of reasons!
  First off, the real details of religion are, well, not that important since we are playing games. Thieves' Guilds, Assassins' Guilds, whatever organization Rangers belong to, Druidic circles, Monk's groups - they are all rather vague and up to the GM and, well, why paint yourself into a corner? Leave it vague until you have to make a ruling, write that down, move on, right?
  Second, old school 1e AD&D is very, very, obviously based on European history and folklore. And you cannot separate European history and folklore from Catholicism. Well, you could but it seems really odd and why would you?
  Third, the book smostly tell us there is a church based on the Church.
  Yeah, they do.
  Paladins. I mean, the word essentially means 'Catholic knight'.
  Cleric level titles.
  Art like this:

 See the cleric? He's wearing the tabard of a Militant Holy Order, like the Knights of St. John or the Templars.
  BTW, that image is the first thing I saw the first time I flipped open a PHB and I will never forget that moment.
  Holy Water. And fonts.
  Spell names.
  I mean, I can obviously go on and on, but the fact remains that the rather religious, observant Protestant Mr. Gygax had the Catholic Church firmly in mind while he was typing.
  Another aside: EGG was seemingly so Protestant that he did not celebrate Christmas as it was not in the bible. I have not confirmed this as true on my own, but if he had no problem with a faux Catholic Church trappings in his game why would you?
  So there is this sort of vague Hollywood version of the Catholic Church floating around as part of the foundation of AD&D and I, like many others, sorta' dropped that into our own campaigns. Yes, things changed over time. After the various Gods of the Demi-Humans, Gods of the Suloise, Greyhawk/Forgotten Realms stuff, not to mention the Deities and Demigods release, there were all sorts of pantheons floating around. Many people tacked on things, or they were dragged in during character creation, and in general by the time 3e assumed pantheons, so did most players.

  But I didn't.

  A few things happened between 1985 and today that caused me to really cement the Church in my campaign.
  Let's talk about me some more.
  First, I joined the army and became an intelligence type focused on the Middle East, so I ended up studying Islam a great deal as an academic subject.
  Then, after I got out, I majored in the Middle Eastern Studies and, because of my background, ended up studying Judaism academically to better understand the region.
  Finally, I transferred to a Catholic university and took the mandatory theology class. Within a year I had: Converted to Catholicism, and; changed my major to Catholic Theology.

  So as a Catholic theologian is might not surprise you that my campaign has the Church. But remember! It always did!

  I can hear you now,
  "OK, sheesh, thanks for the bio! Can we get on to religion in your campaign, please?"

  From the point of view of the rulesyou can use the Church to explain some otherwise - puzzling - things about D&D;

  1) Demi-humans vs. Humanoids: Some non-human creatures that resembles people are called demi-humans. All the rest are called humanoids. In my campaign demi-humans are those races that are mostly part of or allied with the Church. 
  2) Shamans vs. Clerics: Why do demi-humans get to be (NPC) clerics but humanoids are the lower-powered shamans? In the Church or out of it.
  3) The Nine Alignment System: As I have mentioned previously, having read Three Hearts and Three Lions as well as the tales of Charlemagne's Paladins the AD&D alignment system was never confusing to me. And, naturally, this is because both are about the Church, in very interesting ways.
  4) How must Paladins act?: Related to the above, when you understand where paladins come from grasping their required outlooks and action are rather simple. 
  Another aside: Lew Pulsipher and his wife "get" paladins like almost no one else I have ever met.

  From the point of view of world building at the 30,000 ft view the Church allows me to do a few more things, too;
  1) Binding the Human/Demi-human races together culturally: Why the heck are races as wildly different as elves, dwarves, and humans chummy? Because they share a religion! Sure, this doesn't prevent political strife, misunderstandings, personal animosity, etc. but when a human peasant can receive Last Rites from a dwarven priest or an elven Religious Brother (an NPC class from my campaign) can Baptize a dwarven infant this binds these races together in a very real way that reflects the Real World.
  2) Explaining a lot more about racial alignments in the Monster Manual, Part One: No, orcs are not 'inherently evil'. Then why does the MM list them as 'Lawful Evil" - they're devil worshipers! Culturally, orcs belong to a number of devil-worshiping cults (thus, the clan names/banners) which is why they tend to hate each other in the absence of an outside threat. Same with goblins, etc. Gnolls? Demon worshipers. This also explains the much more limited powers of shamans.
  3) Explaining a lot more about racial alignments in the Monster Manual, Part Two: No, dwarves are not 'inherently good', they are listed as Lawful Good because the Church is widespread and they practice a traditional form of religion. Elves are Chaotic Good, you say? Schism! Think Catholic and Orthodox - the elves had a falling out with the top levels of Church hierarchy and, while still "valid" they do not follow the authority of the Church is all things. This is also a handy way of explaining why dwarves and elves get along, are Good, yet are leery of each other; doctrinal clashes. Oh, not to the level of warfare, but there is a bit of uncomfortable difference.

  And world building at a 'closer level' lets me plug in a few more things,
  1) An ecclesial language: The Church in my campaign uses an otherwise 'dead' language as it's own, internal, tongue. I also have an arcane tongue used by mages. The ecclesial language is used in church records, birth and death registries, on old tombs, etc. Learning it also allows pretty broad communication with clerics and scholars, too.
  2) Lots of background color for the campaign: By now the players know that their characters will know that they can always seek help in a church at 3 am. Yes, really. Because of Lauds, the prayers said about 3 am every morning by clerics, paladins, and religious brothers who are not sick or otherwise constrained. The Divine Office (a series of prayers throughout the day), religious festivals, etc. in the background add a lot to the campaign feeling 'real'. See a guy in robes that has been tonsured? Well, he''s a low-level cleric or religious brother!
  3) Cool items: Aspergillums, scapulars, zuchettos, birettas, biers, catafalques, umbraculum, thuribles, navicula, etc., etc., etc. All Real World things and all ready to be found in treasure hoards or rescued from thieves.
  4) Cool Imagery: You can use stuff we recognize from the Real World to inject a solid impact onto the players.
  I have no idea how many times i've seen this sued for bad guys;

  So why not this for a different impact?

And we all know how useful Latin Chanting is!

  At a very 'hits them in day to day play' level I have a few mechanics introduced into the campaign based upon religion.
  1) Religious Brothers and Sisters: I covered the reasons I added NPC-only classes into my game in a long series of posts that talks about them in particular a bit here. Details are here. These are religious monks, parish priests, nuns, etc. They are not capable of competing with Clerics, but they do have unique spells. 9 times out of 10 the village priest is a Religious Brother.
  2) Restrictions on Divine Magic: Unless you 'opt out' at character creation any non-Druid is assumed to have been born a member of the Church (i.e., had the proper Ceremony spell cast on them by a Religious Brother). If someone has NOT been joined to the Church the following Cleric spells will not work on them;
Protection from Evil
Protection from Evil, 10' radius
Raise Dead*
*a cleric can cast Commune and seek permission for these spells to work
 Similar spells from Shamans, Druids, etc. will not work on people that are not part of that particular religion/cult, either.
  3) Ecclesial Penalties: The party is on an adventure and meets a patrol; the patrol, thinking they are a groups of bandits that have been raiding outlying farms, orders them to throw down their weapons and come with them so the local baron can determine if they are guilty. The party, on a timetable to recover a vast treasure, refuses. The patrol attacks and the party fights back. The fighting is desperate enough that magic-user casts Monster Summoning IV and brings forth...
  The undead shadows kill 3 of the guardsmen, transforming them into shadows, too. The surviving members of the patrol flee and the party goes on to the dungeon, grabs a vast fortune, and heads back to the city. 
  Just another random encounter?
  No. The surviving guardsmen tell the local baron what happened. The baron sends out strong patrols (the party dodges them) and asks questions about the strangers. After a week or so he knows the names of the party members.
  The local parishes request help as people begin to vanish from the local villages. A cleric, paladin, and their henchmen find and destroy the shadows that were left behind by the summoned monsters, as well as the new shadows they have created. They report this to the baron, who tells the local bishop.
  "So?" say the players, "We're 12th-14th level. What is a 9th level cleric going to do to us? Besides, we're in a completely different kingdom, now!"
  This is what that bishop is going to do

  Or, within the game mechanics, the bishop used divinations to confirm the identities of the party as well as their guilt, then cast the ceremony Excommunication; now the party cannot benefit from the spells listed above, nor receive the benefits of any Cure spells from the Church. Clerics, etc., that are excommunicated can memorize no spell except Atonement, if they are high enough level for it. And until the party members receive the Atonement spell the effects are permanent.

  This sort of thing tends to catch the attention of players.

  4) Cosmology: The Church speaks openly that it came from missionaries from 'another world' who spread the faith thousands of years ago and that the Pope of the game world is just 'the local leader' and that he reports back to Pope of the central Church.
  When Spelljammer came out I was delighted for a number of reasons, not the least of which was the image of Dominicans on a little ship in the Phlogiston saying the Liturgy of the Hours as they approached a crystal sphere.
  5) Saints and Relics: The local Church has local Saints, too. Like St. Thorn, missionary to the elves, or St. Aeldreda, the maiden saint of the dwarves. This is a short trip from saintly relics, holy wells, etc.

  Overall the response from players, religious or otherwise, has been very positive. An atheist I played with for years was maybe the biggest fan. We had some talks about it [before I was religious, mind you] and we realized that in movies when there is some great evil or cosmic horror, or Satan coming, or whatever the heroes go to the Catholic Church. He argued it is because the imagery and hierarchy of the Catholic Church is so big, so well-known, so old, and so stable that everyone knows enough about it to be able to not need exposition about who they are and what they are doing.
  I can't argue with that.
  Heck, that's why I used it 35+ years ago and, arguably, why Gary did, too.

  So, there it is. The tip of the iceberg of religion in my AD&D 1e campaign.