Monday, November 30, 2009

One of Everything - Dragon Magazines #1, #2

I've decided to take at least one element from every RPG product I own to use in my Gold & Glory campaign. To keep it from being a total mess I'll use my Seven +/- Two as guides. Also, I fully expect most everything to never be used/encountered by players, (in alt worlds they may never find portal for, in deep dungeons they may never reach, etc.) So, not spending much time fleshing things out.

Starting with my CD collection of the Dragon Magazines issues 1-250.

The Dragon Vol 1, No 1. June, 1976

I was five years old when this was printed. Cover by Bill Hannan. Full Index. I didn't find much for me in this issue. The spells, monster (Bullette), and wilderness mapping advice have been presented elsewhere. The bulk of the issue deals with wargames.

Magic and Science
by James M. Ward
"I believe it is a real mistake to think that just because there is a world created by D & D type thinking where magic and magical monsters exist, there is no room for technological type devices and all they imply."
Damn straight!

Pistols that shoot colored spheres of various and typical magical effects. Ok, sure.

But, the coolest idea is the Analogic Computer. They have "heat core power source"? and are able to analyze and compute a counteraction to any spell sent their way. Even though magic is "magical" and "unknowable" it's pretty bad ass to have a computer that can calculate a counterspell. These computers follow the Star Trek pattern and self-destruct if faced with logical fallacy / problem they "can't compute." [diverging from article] Each computer can only process a certain number of spell levels per round. Spells in excess of that aren't countered and may cause the Analogic to spark, smolder, and exclaim in 70's computer voice "Warning! Warning! Computation matrix overload. Warning!"

Mapping the Dungeons
Hmmm, list of DM's. I wonder what these guys are doing these days? [addresses redacted]

Robert Dudley, Glenndale, MD
Martin Favorite, Cumberland, RI
Chas Hickock, Harrisburg, PA
Jon Hoskey, St. Pete, FL
Paul Jaquays, Spring Arbor, MI
Joe Marshall, Jr., W Lafayette, IN
Mike McGrail, Midland, TX
David Mumper, Henniker, NH
Jason Saylor, South Bend, IN
James Siegman, IL
Harry Smith, Jr. Columbus, OH
Tony Watson. Las Vegas, NV

The Dragon Vol 1, No 2. Aug, 1976

That cover is bad ass. I dig that leafless tree and Conan's pose. Tom Canty's work, Same dude? I could imagine that cover leading to this style.

Lots of fiction this issue. The Full Index.

From Dragon Rumbles Tim Kask, editor "the attitude taken by much of the established gaming hobby when fantasy first started making inroads: “It’s a phenomenon. Won’t last long. . .” The evidence today suggests otherwise."

Ha! it's lasted Tim, and it's growing again methinks.

It's Here! ... The Last D&D Supplement!?!

Proclaims an ad for Gods, Demi-Gods & Heroes. Yeah right, the last one.

by John M. Seaton

I've always thought using a system like this with cards for Martial Arts or Swashbuckle type Fencing would work well. Each card represents different moves, stances, postures, etc. At the start of each round players pick X cards and place them down in order (sort of a "programmed" movement) Then they are flipped over and compared (in order). The cards make it more tactile / fun and replace having to write moves down and looking everything up in a table.

Was this article in the Best of Dragons? I actually had those and I'm totally remembering this graphic.

D&D Option: Weapon Damage
by Jon Pickens.

Instead of adding a +x to hit weapon specialization increases the size of damage die rolled. e.g Battle Axe does 1-8 normally but 1-12 in hands of expert. Also two-weapon fighting is considered a specialization and each combo of weapons is a different specialization. I like that part, but probably don't want to use specializations nor damage per weapon. Preferring instead more abstract damage per class.

Hints for D & D Judges Part 3: The Dungeons
by Joe Fischer

"... have the mistaken impression that there is only one
entrance to every dungeon."

Intelligent gold pieces; Scream when taken from the room they were found. Or, throw them-selves en masse at whoever makes the mistake of opening the chest they are in.

Magic items that keep trying get back to their real owner. I've never given that idea much thought (and I spend a lot of time thinking about magic items, how to limit them, make then confounding). The One Ring is a prime literary example.

But this is the best of all. Monster Gems! Idea is the players must make the choice between a valuable gem (money/xp) or getting a monster to do their dirty work for them. Each gem could turn into a particular monster when destroyed. But, I like the articles suggestion that monster is random and indeterminable. So, smash your 1000gp Ruby and gamble that you get a dragon rather than a kobold. The monster obeys smasher's orders as far as they are able (language and intelligence are factors but not demeanor or inclination as the monster is a simulacrum and lacks personality / alignment). The monster lasts for as long as character remains in the Mythic Dungeon. And Monster Gems revert to normal (still valuable) gems if removed from the Mythic Dungeon.

And to answer this question the article contains the Hobbit's Pipe and several magical pipeweeds for it including this one. (I think my teenage sister had some of this pipeweed.)
Pipeweed of Acapulco
It’s easy to see all the fun a judge could have with a player-character who happens to accidentally smoke this: causes the smoker to treat everyone as his friend, stands around in a stupor, not attack and defend at minus 3. Lasts 2-12 turns. If smoked in a Hobbits’ Pipe, allow saving throws.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Buying, Selling, Collecting

A few months back a friend gave me his collection of RPGs, pictured above, to sell on ebay. Instead of selling his stuff I've went on a spending spree on ebay, 1/2 priced books, my FLGS, Amazon, Lulu and elsewhere. I did, finally, list his stuff and a few of mine last Sunday. 107 items in total, something old, something new, something blue.

Check it out.

The gentleman's agreement is that I could use some of the proceeds from selling his stuff to "pay" for the items I wanted to keep. One of those items was CityBook II. I've read over a few books from this series of supplements from Flying Buffalo. Also have been really impressed with one DM's use of them.

Which despite not planing on doing any city adventures for a while prompted me to look for the others. I found I, III, V, VII fairly cheap (~ $10 shipped) on Amazon. No luck so far with finding the others at a reasonable prices.

While at Amazon and due to my recent purchase of "Prehistoric Life" I went looking for a couple of books that fascinated me in my youth. "Castle" and "City" by David Macaulay. I also discovered his "Pyramid" and "Mosque" (this is not in the same black line drawing style, it's still good though) Each of them only $6-7 shipped! Even used (in good condition) that is an amazing price. Great resources to see how each of those structures was built and used.

I've, of course, picked up latest issues of Knockspell and Fight On! magazines. Will get around to reviewing their contents, maybe, someday.

I'll bid/buy on just about anything that only costs a couple bucks. That is how I ended up getting a lot of six Brave New World source books. A game I knew nothing about nor intend on ever playing. But, I should be able to extract a $1 I paid of worth out of them in some Mutants & Masterminds campaign, eh? Been recently vaguely interested in Birthright D&D setting for it's "end game" realm management infos. A couple cheap lots later and I ended up with what's pictured below.

1/2 Priced Books is great! I (had) little interest in Dark Sun but 1/2 Price have this stuff there so cheap, I can no resist. Besides what's pictured also got a boxed set with several expansions in it for <$10. These Dark Sun modules are interesting. They have a flip book for the DM, and one for the players, full of stories, descriptions, maps, drawings, and other props. Novel idea which, apparently, didn't catch on. I'm curious if any Dark Sun players/DM's have any thoughts/experience on these flipbook modules? Other 1/2 priced book finds include the box of Battletech (which made miniature sounds when shook). That combined with a couple recent blog postings on the classic game of giant, ass kicking mecha made me pony up four whole dollars for it. GURPS Conan is so mine for $5!!! The white box edition of Castles & Crusades (lacked the old school dice, no biggie) only $4. While my infatuation with C&C is waining, having a digest sized box for Carcosa, Miscellaneum of Cinder, and other booklets is good enough consolation.

Other stuff I've acquired or ordered recently include Rifts Book of Magic, Pantheons of the Megaverse, Old Ones (for maps!). Various d20 supplements, various GURPS supplements, Midnight setting and sourcebooks (cause it was too cheap to pass up). A couple Chaosim Stormbringer/Elric? books cause they looked weird. 20lbs of tumbled semi-precious gems and varios gem beads, maybe combine with Campaign Coins to have "real" treasure to hand to players. Tons and tons of HeroScape Terrain, HO model train trees, and the like (and I've since become strongly discinclined to use minatures, sigh). Tons of dice, esp weird ones (that's a whole post for the future). Deck of Many Things, various cool playing card decks for Savage Worlds initiative, Tarot Decks. Toolbox, Ultamite Toolbox, Mutant Future, Dungeon Alphabet.

Finally, I finally found and paid too much for Compendium of Priest Spells Vol 3 completing my totally awesome library of more spells than I'll ever need. I also have the Encyclopedia Magica four volume set for more magic items than I'll ever need. With that and the Internet I see no reason not to make every magic item unique (baring potions and scrolls).

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Nine Minute Campgian

I'm game, actually I started this before reading any of it, and it's heavily geared towards the epic story, plot driven story path type campaign. [Edit: only kind of, the Mule Abides one, linked above, seems to be a sandbox. It said "9min", I did this fast about 20min. #7,9 specifically seem "plot (rather than players) drives action" and #5,6 aren't factors for G&G. See my comments for more]. So, it's not working out so hot. Kind of preferring the Seven +/- Two thing more.

Gold & Glory Campaign
  1. What is the Look & Feel of your campaign?
    Right there in the title buddy, Gold & Glory! Exploration & discovery, Mythic Wilderness, Mythic Underground. Magic is not a substitute for Technology. Technology is a substitute for Magic! A little S&S, S&P, and S&H. More Arduin, Mythic Europe, Otus, Howard. Less d20, Eberron, Elmore, Tolkien.

  2. What’s the high concept of your campaign?
    Are you brave or foolish enough to explore the Frontier in search of gold and glory? More to the point are you strong enough to survive its challenges and return body, mind, and soul intact? Fame, fortune, and adventure beckons! Will you answer the call?

  3. What’s the core story? (or: “Lovable misfits who…”)
    Tomb robbers, out of work mercenaries, professional scoundrels, holy men looking to save or be saved, seekers of forbidden knowledge, naive farm boys with dreams of glory, assorted ne'er-do-wells, and foreigners from near to far all congregate at the Goat & Wizard Inn. Milling about, they drink down the last of their coin, eye the competition, and chase up rumors or bar wenches. Eventually, a group gathers to explore another portion of the Frontier. If they are clever and careful most will return relatively unscathed. If they are lucky they will bring back ancient treasures, forgotten knowledge, and tales that will be retold across The Kingdom.

  4. What rules will you be using in your campaign? Crap if I know. LL, SW, whatever the system there will be too many house rules.

  5. What are the big-scale social institutions or groups in the campaign? There is no organized religion only cults and lots of them, The Kingdom, black marketeers,

  6. Who are the major supporting cast? King Osric (who has opened the frontier for exploration and will be granting those who reach name level baronies), Baron Brok, Unamed proprietor of the Goat and Wizard, Lucious Lucimor hermit mage, and lots of hirelings, henchment, and torch caddies.

  7. What are the major threats in the campaign? The Grey, Cosmic Alien Intelligences and their cults, Toad Gods and their cults, Unseelie, Warangutans, The Dreaming Queen, not using a 10' pole, the player characters.

  8. Draw a map of the campaign setting. ok, but it's not that easy (for me) and ain't happening in 1min unless you Pick a map.

  9. Draft up your first adventure. It's a sandbox, choose direction and start walking.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Protrusible Eyes

Naked Snakes. I use sensory tentacles every third monster but I've never imagined protrusible eyes. I don't even want to know what protrusible means, I know what I think it means and it means awesome.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Diablo II Magic Item Gnerator

Silly thing found by Chgowiz but none the less produced some interesting names that lead to the following.

Howling Maul - The ends of this giant maul are carved faces that "howl" as the maul is swung in battle.

Garnet Plate Boots - Have similar properties/effects as ruby red slippers. But, manly sized.

Stalking Gauntlets - They wearer of these hard leather gloves will be able to unerringly track the last person/creature struck across the face dueling challenge style with one of these gauntlets.

Halberd of the Sentinel - One holding this polearm will remain alert and never tire. They gain no benefits of rest however and as soon as halberd is let go they will suffer the accumulated effects of sleep/rest deprivation.

Weirdling Pike - The shaft of this pike bends, warps and twists through the air. Striking around shields, obstacles, attempts to parry, and corners.

Shield of the Colossus - Once per day when this 5' tall tower shield is planted in the ground and the word engraved on its face, "thermopylae", is spoken this metal shield will extend left and right upto 20' each direction until it makes contact and merges with a fixed surface (wall, tree, cliff face, etc.). Unless both sides so connect the shield will "retract". Otherwise the shield "wall" remains until the wielder is slain.

Amulet of Excellence - +1 to every roll.

Battle Axe of Simplicity - This large ax is great at chopping things. It is also cursed such that the owner will consider "chopping things" to be the simple solution to all problems.

Elixir of Fire - This liquid catches fire and burns intensely when exposed to air. If the container is thrown and shatters the resulting explosion will match the force of a fireball. If poured onto ground it will create sheets of fire similar to Wall of Fire. Other uses are left to creative players.

More generated names (and a couple I thought of in between) for which nothing particularly interesting came to mind. I'll store them away for now, unless you have an idea for one of them?

Prismatic Ring of the Mind
Drake's Leather Armor of Weakness
Studded Leather Armor of the Vulture
Silver Spear of the Vulture
Indigo Herb
Russet Herb
Crossbow of Pain
Scepter of Slaughter
Raven's Flail
Amber Kris of Unity
Book of Shivers
Amulet of Defiance
Helm of the Lion
Oil of Immunity
Ivory Bracers of Tears
Swift Blade
Lord's Long Staff
Glass Blade of the Cat
Meteoric Halberd
Gold Flag
Platinum Long Sword of Perfection
Bountiful Scepter of Wizardry
Whirling Halberd of Hate
Bored Sword

Friday, November 20, 2009

DM and SD Parrellels

My "make money to support gaming habit" activity is Software Development. Over the last decade or so I've migrated toward Agile "practices". My RPG preferences have also migrated towards simpler, looser, "lite". What is commonly called old-school. I, maybe erroneously, see striking similarities between Software Development (esp the Agile flavor) and Dungeon Mastering (esp the "old-school" flavor).

It's interesting. Both "disciplines" have various competing "methodologies" each with flame-thrower wielding religious adherents. Both indulge in a metric ass load of meta discussion over process/philosophy/origins/bike sheds. And both groups are over represented by what is generally known as "geeks" or "nerds".


You're Not Gonna Need It, agile definition. I and many other developers have wasted lots and lots of man-years designing and coding elaborate frameworks and libraries that we believe will (but never do) anticipate all needs and use cases. We had hoped these edifices of engineering would be reused over and over. But, each problem/customer/environment we wrote software for was slightly different and the reuse rarely paned out. Now, I try to solve exactly the problem at hand. No more, no less.

All the rules, YAGNI, DM adjudication/freedom from rule tyranny. Balance, YAGNI, in fact it gets in the way and it's never actually achieved. The hyper detailed Kingdom of Freedonia, YAGNI, the players will invariable never visit Freedonia unless they board a railroad. Four hour character creation complete with detailed background woven into the campaign history, YAGNI, character eaten by lions 30min into 1st session. A plot, YAGNI, this isn't story time, it's a game. Players are free to act as they wish. Perhaps creating plot through game play, perhaps just robbing some local merchants. Grognadia discusses DM minimalism a bit here and in other Dwimmermount posts.

Just In Time

Is the answer to the question "When should we write the code we thought we weren't gonna need but now realize that we do?" This idea is diffused throughout Agile Software. Just in time originated with general business, JIT compiliers are a concrete if tangential example. "Release early, release often", Test Driven Development, backlogs and iterations of Scrum, are all predicated on the JIT premise.

In RPGs it is called "winging it" or DMing by the "seat of your pants". Random encounter tables, random dungeon/monster/treasure/npc generator, old school terse one line descriptions of dungeon rooms/monsters/spells are all examples. So, is the oft repeated mega-dungeon / sandbox advice of fleshing out just the 1st few levels or just area around player's home base. Let the rest evolve during/from game play.

Iterative Development

I see each game session being akin to a scrum iteration. The ideas and activities of players during each session adds to the campaign backlog. They will be investigated (worked on) in future sessions (iterations), according to the the priorities set by players (customers). Sorry, if you don't know Scrum that might not make a lot of sense. It's about growing the game (campaign/houserules/style) incrementally over time through play. Growth driven by the players actions, rather than at the "speed of plot" and/or via simulation. Players decide what, DM decides outcome of that what.

Final Thoughts

Software Development, at a high level, is about managing complexity. A successful DM must also manage complexity. Running an entire imaginary world (or multiple worlds) in which you can't even rely on some basics such as the laws of physics is INSANELY complex. No one even comes close. Although, hard core simulationists foolishly try. SD/DMing have evolved similar tools for managing complexity. Some of which I discussed above. There are three primary schools of thought when it comes to managing RPG complexity;

1) ignore it. In the 80's this was roll up character, pick monster and duke it out. Repeat until you've killed all the gods in D&DG and have to write into Dragon Magazine to ask for new challange. Today, more of the same combat focused games only slightly obscured with light RP trappings. These are joined by the new breed of miniature/tactical focused games.

2) plot railroad. Choo choo! Complexity is limited because what will happen, when it's gonna happen, and how it's gonna happen are more or less known. Linear, perhaps with a few branches for alternatives. But, pretty much a simple directed graph (probably tree shaped) with a limited set of possible outcomes. (limited by amount of complexity DM can handle). This is design up front Waterfall SD.

3) old-school. Loose, agile, JIT. Dealing with where/what the players are doing now and largely ignoring the rest of the world (complexity) until/unless it becomes "what the players are doing now".

Like their software development counterparts they each are best in different situations. I hope to avoid situations where #2 is the right choice for either RPG or SD.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

South Austin Has A Game Store!

Who knew? I didn't, and I've been lamenting lack of FLGS that was not way the hell North since I've moved to this fine city.

The other day, leaving 1/2 Priced Books I spied "across the street" strip mall a small store Tribe Comics and Games. Flippin Awesome! Thinks I. Going in I ask "Wow, Awesome! Game store in South Austin, are you guys new?" "Uh, no. We just celebrated our one year anniversary. What's worse is I drive past it almost every day on my way home from work, doh!

The people there were totally friendly and tried really hard to find me some Lovecratianesque comics. I bought even more stuff there, including this Tribfecta of three GIANT classic comics collections. Over 1500 pages of Weird Science, Horror and Conan!

I will be adding Tribe to my regular every other week or so "spend lots of money buying weird/old rpg stuff from 1/2 price books" jaunt. If only to by the other five volumes of Savage Conan. Like 3000 freakin pages of Conan. Tribe has a small gaming area, although, they aren't open crazy late like some other stores. Still, I'm seriously thinking about running some games there, any Austinites read this blog? Wanna game?

Hopefully this is a link to Tribe's Google Map and this is my Google Map of Austin Area RPG Stores, aka FLGS.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Festung Konigstein

Fortress Kingstone (literal English translation) is pretty cool. I know cause it's one of the several castles I visited while biking around Germany/Czech Republic back when everyone else was getting rich (if only temporarily) on dot coms. Looking at the museum exhibitions I'm sort of sad I just walked around the walls and visited the open parts of the fortress.

A Fairy Tale about it and the blog that reminded me of it. The wiki page is woefully short. I remember that same view of the Elbe. I should dig up my photos (of this and several other castles/arms/armours), but they are photos on film paper and not digital so a real pain for the scannerless dude to post on a blog.

Ah, but this is the page we're interested in, full, keyed map of the fortress with lots of supporting images. Nice! Fortress has been expanded and modifed for cannon. Good location for steam punk, Renaissance campaign.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Suprises on 1-6

Nature, it's seriously freaky. I've heard that humans have problems with comprehending huge values such as how long life has been evolving on earth really is (more than three billions of years). Did you know that 99.9% of all species are extinct. Those alive today represent .001 of what has lived. Everything alive is a thousandths place rounding error*. There's been so much opportunity for evolution, countless weird ass creatures have evolved, lived, and become extinct. Critters left today are by and large the most extreme adaptations or the most general. Like the little guy to the right, we are all elites!

This is how I imagine Elven Cloak works and do some degree Hide in Shadows. That is the hider is adept at flowing his cloak, cloths, body to adapt and blend in with the existing shadows and contours of terrain. They've done things like frayed all the sharp lines and removed (or boot blacked) any shiny bits from their exterior. It's not a supernatural ability, it is all experience, practice, and evolution (high Dex being beneficial mutation).

Clicky picture to awaken monster.

* This is part of why I can't get too worked up about all the extinctions humans are causing. Even if we trigger a mass extinction. There's been several already. We might not survive but the Earth will. Life, it can make more.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

"Prehistoric Life", a review

The dude from Tetrapod Zoology blog cowrote "Prehistoric Life". A huge book, thousands of images, 512 pages, 11.8 x 10.3 x 1.4 inches. Covers everything from formation of planet to the rise of man, 3.8 billion years. Expected it to be $40-60, it's $26 or less from Amazon! Bought it straight away.

It arrived the other day, and it is totally awesome. Typical for my reviews I offer no actual review and instead tell you who should get this book. There are three sorts.

One You have kids or in process of making one. I've had a life-long fascination with science and learning. It might just be the way I'm wired. But, as a wee lad I remember reading volumes of "How Things Work" and "City", among others. Since then I've been searching out knowledge and understanding. Buy "Prehistoric Life" (and other books like it.) Don't make your kids read it. Just leave it around. Your kids will find it and unless they suck it will blow their minds and they will crave more.

Two You're running a sci-fi/time travel RPG and want to throw down with some verisimilitude. Player's Far Trader land on a young, primitive planet? Turn to page 112 and peruse the section on Devonian plants. The regularly awesome CGI renderings and descriptive text provide all you need to set a unique stage. Need some ideas for the "Land that Time Forgot" other than, yawn, T-Rex? 500 freakin full-color pages to the rescue.

Three I've said this before (and "Prehistoric Life" supports my thesis) that nature has made weirder, more interesting "monsters" than we will ever think up. Pg 130, Stethacanthus. Pg 254, Dimorphodon (image in book makes it look cooler than wikipedia one). All those armoured spiked "dinosaurs". Pg 410 horse-ape people. A tweak or mix and match a few and you have a wicked new creature. Seriously, take any Paleozoic aquatic invertebrate, stick on 1d6 eyestalks (if needed) and float them toward your players.

Oh, yeah. I guess fourth type that should buy it. Those that are still that kid fascinated with science, learning, and big books. But instead of raiding your father's book shelf you can charge things on credit cards and have them arrive at your door a few days later. It's so rad.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Magical Monday - Magical Grabbag

Magic System Series Part I described Wizards, Mages, and Sorcerers. Part II provided Mystics, Alchaemists, and Galdr. Today brings a of miscellany, along with four more magic systems.


Space Wizards! from Fight On #1

Spontaneous Metamagic and Metamagic Components not daily use but once per encounter?

Mages', Wizards' and possible others' spells can be reversed to have an opposite effect. Reversed spells are also very effective counter spells vs their unreversed versions. There is only one version of a spell, "the spell". Forward or reversed version is determined at casting time by whether the verbal and/or somatic components are done backwards or forwards.

Magic is unbalancingly powerful. This is mitigated by it also not being strictly under the control of the caster/player. Much of the following sections expand upon that lack of control.

Magic is Weird

Magic is rare, mysterious, and scares the bejesus out of common folk. The vast majority of intelligent beings have only experienced it through legend, horror story and rumour. The first (at least) use of magic vs men, halflings, and the various intelligent humanoids should elicit a moral check. "Ahhhhh witchcraft, run for you souls!" Even those accustomed to Shamanistic / Hedge magic might still be awed by the power and grandeur of True Magic.

Having wounds magically healed makes you (very) hungry. 1 days ration per wound point / die of damage healed.

Magic is subject to environment and you are not it's master. When deep within the Mythic Underground expect DM to whip some 2ed Wild Magic rules on your ass.

Magic is not the same as Fey Glamour. Expect illogic and whimsy when the two interact.

Magic is Fickle

If something (orc, door, etc.) saves against your spell that something will always save against (no roll) against that particular spell cast by you. A casting check failure is different than a save. So is being countered or blocked (by say a prismatic wall). [mechanically this prevents casting rituals over and over until success e.g. "Knock" vs a door. But, I really dig it flavor wise. It makes magic weirder and opens up a method to out wit and defeat uber casters. Say, by finding the one child, now grown, who resisted the evil Hypnoticus's charm spell.]

May not memorize duplicate spells. Likewise it's dangerous to walk around with more than one dose of an Alchaemical concoction. One, it's boring to have the same spells. Two, it's the exclusive purview of Wizards to unleash fireball after fireball unto the bad guys. I definitely see Wizards as "Battle Casters". Mages and others are more subtle, creative, behind the scenes sorts.

Magic doesn't mix well. Too much magic cast in one area or upon a single target is prone to manifest unexpected effects that tend towards "bad." In other words the DM has a spell miscibility table created in the fashion of the potion miscibility table in the DMG. He is itching to roll on it...

Magic doesn't work the way you think it does. An area can be (temporarily) drained of magic. Boon to those who bring it with them (Alchaemists, Mages) and bane to those who depend on drawing and shaping what's already there (Mystics, Wizards, Druids, Vis-less Hermeticists).

Magic Duels

Fight On #1, Manitou Combat (love that cover).

I'm thinking of the scene from Conan movie, where smoke comes out the wizard's ears. That is the duel for me. But I found this cheezingly awesome vid instead.

Counter Spelling

Old school. Already mentioned reverse spells above. I see Counter Spelling often leading into magical duels.

No dispel magic spell. Far too convenient, predictable, and mechanical. There are many ways to usurp, avoid, and sunder magic. All different, many unknowable.
"Holding one's foot and hopping backwards through wall of magical flames is sure way to avoid being incinerated. The wench at G&W told me. Her father's uncle was an adventurer. Saved them from certain doom in the bowels of Stonehell it did. Come on, let's try it! But, you first."
Magic may not directly counter a miracle (unless it is powerful enough to oppose the god's will). It can block (shield, proof against scrying) and it can alter the results of miracles after the fact.

Casting Checks / Catastrophe

(My) standard d20 + mods <= 1 failed you have, >= 20 success, >= 30 super success, and natural 1 very bad failure.

Maybe, mixin the delayed concept from this Chainmailesque table for spell checks.

Fight On #3 (pg6) overcasting beyond spells memorized.

There are a bazallion magical mishap tables. Fight On #5, Calamity, Misfire

My favourite is APPENDIX C HEINOUS BLUNDERS (from where I didn't record and can't remember, one of the blogs I read too many of). A sampling of the twenty awesome entries.
(3) Schizoid Fantasy
The mage becomes enthralled by a profound and sinister delusion. He is convinced that he is just a character in a game being controlled by an intelligence from another reality. He will whittle himself a set of dice as soon as the opportunity presents itself and use them to make all his decisions, even if they contradict the decisions of the player. This change is permanent unless another PC uses a wish to remove the delusion.
(16) Necromantic plume
The mage exudes an invisible plume that invigorates the dead with unholy life. Anything dead within 20’ of the mage has a 50% chance of coming back to life in the form of a zombie in 1d3 hours. This change is permanent unless a wish is used to remove the plume.
(19) Alternate reality
While at first nothing appears to have changed, three factors (persons, places or things, as determined by the DM) in the mage’s life are inexplicably different from the way they were before. No one else is aware of these changes and everyone else believes that these things have always been the way they are. This effect is permanent and not alterable by a wish.


Not memorized, no spells, arcane magic.
- Thoolian/"Greek" tradition started in Egypt by Thoth-Amon

Flavor: Thoth+Hermes, Hermeticism, yellow Air east, red Fire south, blue Water west, green Earth north. RedCaps, Ars Magica

Hermeticism is the direct progenitor of Magery, Alchaemancy, and Mysticism. It has influenced most other traditions. At least indirectly, as Thoth-Amon/Hermes created Hermeticism (magic) and taught it to men. Fey glamours, sorcerous invocations, Enochian, and miracles are altogether different.

Based on Ars Magica or the Gramarye from A Magical Medley. If a player has Ars Magica (free download) or A Magical Medley, has played in my game/gotten to know the feel, and is willing to work with/on this system with me I'm all for it. Otherwise, I'm not gonna get into it. Probably not even for NPC.


Mana based magic, not memorized, Cha.
- Celtic magic From A Magical Medley
- Mana is in the land, not the caster. Different types for different spells.
- Binary + numbers; 2,3,5,9,17,33.
- Being naked is power.
- Nine types of spells/mana: Bless, Curse, Divination, Emoution, Geas, Glamour, Healing, Transformation, Weather.
- Power in thresholds; dawn/dusk, doorways, forks in rivers.
- Pict tradition.

Flavor: Druidic Calendar,

Exclusive to Picts (Hyborian / Howard style Picts). Which may or may not become a major element in Gold & Glory.

Again if a player has A Magical Medley, has played in my game/gotten to know the feel, and is willing to work with/on this system with me I'll work on it. Otherwise this will be relegated to Pictish NPCs and will probably mostly hand wave it.


Other names include: Zinsu (male) and Zinsi (female), Botono

A mixture of Alcheamancy and Sorcerorous magics, Cha/Int.
It is also a horribly ahistorical mishmash of Aztec and Voodun stuff as Norm knows them from bad 80's movies and from listening to his Meso-America archaeologist friend.

Used by "Aztec" Lizard Folk spilling in from "Land of the Lost" land via an open portal (Hmmm, I should write a post about that/those some day). They refer to it as "The Craft". Although common, it is outlawed by the god-kings and their sorcerer priests. It is one of the few respites from tyranny and sacrifice the "everyday" lizard is afforded.


Other names include: Wise Woman, Cunning Man, Medicine Man/Woman/Thing, Seer, Charmer, Shaman, Herbalist.

A mixture of Alcheamancy and Wizard "lite" magics, Cha/Int.
Various independent and common traditions.

A catchall for all the "small"/"low" magic practitioners out there. Generally low level/power, individualistic or passed down through generations. Not scholarly or scientific. Pragmatic, effects and spells useful to the common folk of the world. Divinations, cures, charms, blessings, wards, curses, and the like. Useful for characters with only 1-2 pieces of arcane pie.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Sahara, The Movie

Sahara is a horrible movie not really worth watching for any reason at all. But, it did give me the idea for a modernish campaign.

The characters are ex Navy Seals, scientists, archaeologists, and the like. All employees of ASR (Artifact Search and Recovery) pronounced "azure". A private treasure hunting company specializing in underwater recovery. The owner / operator of ASR is "The Admiral", lessor known as Rush Jackson, an ex-CIA field operative. Due to ASR's ability to travel the world relatively unnoticed and it's employees talents the Admiral's previous employer regularly offers it unusual "jobs".

So "dungeon" crawls in ancient tombs. Underwater battles with giant squid/KGB frogmen. All sorts of missions to every crazy terrain/locale one can find online/imagine. As much or as little combat and political intrigue as you like. Serious or pulpy. Mix in Bond style villians/X-Files/Cthulu to taste.

This setup could easily be translated to Sci-Fi space campaign, Traveller is pretty much made for this. I can see it working in SteamPunk Victorian setting also. Basically this is League of Extrodinary Gentelmen, eh?

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Tripple Barreled Gun Mace

Henry VIII didn't mess around. His Triple Barreled Gun / Holy Water Sprinkler makes me want to include firearms in my D&D! Check out the rest of that gallery, some pretty cool stuff. Impressed by the totality of coverage of that Footman's Plate.

The Mythic Wilderness

Philotomy's OD&D Musings (Internet Archive link, original site is down) on The Dungeon as a Mythic Underworld I believe was penned to provide a rational for the irrational old-school megadungeon (and to point out that megadungeons are more than just a holes in the ground (and to reintroduce the fantastical which has been misplaced with the systematization of RPGs)). For me it was a spiritual revelation. In that I believe it to represent the spirit of D&D (or at least the D&D I want to play). A game of Fantasy and Imagination.

Since first reading Philotomy and a few related forum threads / posts I've imagined a corollary, The Mythic Wilderness. I've struggled to get the words together and I doubt I've done it justice. But, perhaps by following Philotomy's lead a glimmer of the awesome I feel for it will shine through.

Most people stay close to home not because they are bound to the land or haven't the means to leave, but primarily, because they know home. Their village, surrounding fields and grazing meadows seem safe, at least during the day. Beyond those the land is wild. Who knows what may lurk there? People enter the woods and never return, gobbled up by goblins most likely. Wilderness is the fear of the unknown, manifest, waiting to pounce on those who stray near.

The wilderness is strange and foreboding. Full of husband seducing nymphs, witches that eat children, and fickle fey as likely to charm as curse. (or Jale men and cthulonic horrors, or spider goats and berserk robots, or ...) As for geography and ecology, the wilderness should have a certain amount of verisimilitude, but it is a wilderness: a place where the normal laws of reality give way to the supernatural. The same path does not always lead to the same destination. Time, distance, and season are as variable as a pixie's mood. A great Wyrm may prowl woods in which there is not enough for it to eat.

The wilderness is not merely rolling hills and woods speckled with lairs and random encounters, it is mythic wilderness. Fantastic, bewildering, separate and sinister. It is inimical to civilization and its sons; the wilderness, itself, opposes and obstructs those brave souls compelled to explore it.

Characteristics and philosophies of the mythic wilderness:

  • It's big, starting 1/2 days walk from villages and a few hundred paces beyond the edge of roads.
  • It is largely unknown and unmapped.
  • It's inimical to those exploring it.
  • The farther from civilization the less "natural" and more dangerous it becomes.
  • It follows its own ecological and physical rules. Justification is not required nor is it precluded.
  • It need not make geographic sense. e.g. Taking a path through the woods you might cover a hundred leagues in one day. No matter how long you travel towards the mountains you will never reach them.
  • It is not static; the inhabitants and even the geography may grow or change over time, with the seasons, on special dates, etc. e.g. All Saints Eve, Spring Equinox. If it is "colonized"(civilized) it will slowly diminish and shrink.
  • Bizarre is a flavor best sampled rarely lest it become trite. On the other hand.
  • It is not simply filler between points A and B, it can be and often should be the "adventure".
  • It is the sandbox in which characters explore.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Messenger - Movie Review

The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc

I'm not gonna review the movie per say. That's been done to death by better than I. Although I did like it. The plot and portrayal was compelling. The art direction vibrant. Luckily I'm immune to bad, or in this case Milla's non-acting. I want to focus on is it's gaming / inspiration aspects.


I really enjoyed the battle scenes. This quote demonstrates partly why (I think it was meant as a negative.) "there are plenty of decapitations with blood spewing everywhere, severed arms and general random acts of horrific depravity." Featured weapons you don't often see morning stars, spiked armor. But more than that the scenes provide a good sense of battle and warfare. Maybe not historically accurate, it's definitely close enough to be "fantasy accurate". A good compliment to Flesh + Blood.

The "open air", battles in fields are chaotic and ya, a little bloody. But, they're also just a lot of running around and yelling. Most combatants don't die, they run away. The movie really highlights and portrays well the effects of morale. Both breaking, one battle won and another avoided from failed morale. And also, how inspired troops can achieve the seemingly impossible.

The sieges are a different thing all together. On the walls, in the cramped corridors it is brutal, bloody and death is quick. There's (almost) no place to retreat. When your moral breaks you get a spectum in the stomach.

Throughout it all the "party" Joan and her lieutenants are running around, organizing troops, bashing heads, doing their own thing while the mass combat rages on around them.

Great methods and inspiration for running a battle or a whole "war campaign". For the players, it's all honor and fun, riding horses around the battle field, banners fluttering in the winds. Until there's a castle or tower to besiege. Then it's time to get all Stalingrad on their asses.

An Aside on Morale
Morale is a very important mechanic/flavor that got lost somewhere along the editions of D&D. Most combat should not be to the death, last man/creature standing. Besides creating more varied and interesting outcomes moral is an important compliment to not always having level appropriate encounters. In addition it opens up another avenue for smart, creative players. If you can bluff (put the dice down, I don't mean a skill check) or scare your adversary into leaving, you win. Without risking your life!

Cool Siege Weapons

The Fortifications of Tourelles are just plain bad ass. The multiple towers, gates, construction is neat. The defenses include boiling oil, murder holes, spinning chain blades (which unlike what some numskull critic thinks I'm fairly certain are historical), tubes in the walls just large enough for foot and half wide stone balls with horizontal exit holes at ground level and the Porcupine.

Ah, the beautiful Porcupine. A large block of wood with 3 rows of 10 holes each. Into which are slotted bolts. Crank the tension, balista like mechanism, hit the trigger and swoosh thirty crossbow bolts are sticking out of your attackers. This thing could be pushed around and the main gate had 30 holes in it so that the Porcupine could be fired through the door at whomever was trying to smash it down. The Orcs/Goblins in some dungeon of mine are certainly gonna have a Porcupine.

Enough words, Just watch.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Magical Monday - Magic, Yeah we Got More of That

See Magic System Series Part I. The intro of that will particularly aide in understanding this post. Part III

Last time we got Wizards, Mages, and Sorcerers often pure casters. Now we look at a trio of options which are often semi-casters. By pure/semi I refer, of course, to the amount of arcane pie a character has.


Other names include: Monk, Cabalist / Qabalist, Gnostic, Thelemist, Esotericist, Guru

Manna/Mental based magic, not memorized. Cha/Int
- Safe, comparatively. No casting check at least not until over-casting.
- Can learn any number of disciplines (spells).
- Available disciplines are highly specific to provide proper flavor. Pulled from spell, psionic, mentalist, and similar lists.
- Disciplines can be learnt from masters/guru's or discovered through personal enlightenment (aka a small number are gained each experience level). Further enlightenment might be possible via arduous meditative rituals such as spending a week atop the holy mountain exposed to the elements contemplating the riddle of flesh. Also, Near death experiences are good for a new discipline.
- No ritual casting. Although, some disciplines take as long.
- No or very limited minor effects, perhaps only when "balanced" (see below).
- Some disciplines require incense or foci as material components, rarely are somatics involved. Verbal components are common in some traditions, rare in others.
- A type of casting check required (see below)
- Originally an Eastern tradition it has spread and been modified by many cultures.

Flavor: Altered state/world psychonaut. Qabalah, divine power by following the tree of life. Achieving the 8th circuit of the mind. Cool ass monk priest/mages.

Very personal, private sort of magic. Akin to mentalism or psionics. All mystics are concerned with transcending the mortal and achieving enlightenment (what that means and how to get it is up for, often violent, debate). Mystic's "spells", let's call them disciplines, are rarely flashy, often mental/charm/illusion/mind over body type effects. The oriental monk's special powers would be example of this kind of magic.

Although Mystics do not deny the existence of gods, demons, CAI's and the like, they view worshiping or invoking them as wrong turns on the path to personal enlightenment. Mystics do not gain piety, may not use divine intervention, and will not participate in nor derive benefit from similar religious/sorcerous activities.

Using disciplines upsets the natural order and pushes the Mystic out of balance. Each use of a discipline increases the Mystic's Imbalance Score by an amount equal to discipline's circuit (level). A mystic may contain/control only so much imbalance, this number is called their Balance Threshold. Balance Threshold is calculated from experience level, number of arcane pie pieces, and ability modifier.

As long as Imbalance remains at or below Threshold, everything is relatively right in the world. Once Threshold is exceeded, bad things may happen, and the Mystic must roll on the Strain Table (modified by how far their Imbalance Score is past their Threshold). They roll for every increase in imbalance beyond Threshold.
Example: Zardoz has Balance Threshold of 7. Earlier excesses have brought his Imbalance Score to 6. He uses Telekinesis (circle 2), exceeding his Threshold and thus must roll on Strain Table (with +1 modifier). Using it again, his imbalance is now 10, he must roll on Strain Table again this time with a +3 modifier.
After a good rest (i.e. once per day) a mystic may meditate for one hour to reduce his Imbalance Score an amount equal to their character level. Down to a minimum of 0, perfect balance, yay!

[Considered the simpler/tamer manna system from Beyond Fire and Forget. But, went with converted version of GURPS Unlimited Mana Variant. It's different and count up with the option/risk to go "over limit" appeals to me.]


Other names include: Alchaemancer,

Substance based magic. No memorization. Cha/Int.
- Sorta safe.
- Can learn any number of formulae.
- Available formulae taken from variety of sources including spell lists, Arduin Black Grimoire, Old Guard Gaming Accoutrements,
- Starts with small corpus of formulae. Must find/research new ones. Maintains written formulae
- No rituals.
- No minor effects.
- VSM, esp M components required at creation but not when concoctions are used.
- No casting check (but a creation check is required).
- Eastern Tradition adopted and expanded egyptians.

Flavor: Purplehell, wikipeadia, Schools of Alchaemical Philosophy

Much of the following is directly from or inspired by the Alchaemist Subclass from Old Guard Gaming Accouterments, a very excellent article.

Alchaemists practice Alchaemancy, and are concerned with discovering, understanding, and activating the magical potential which is inherent in all materials and living things. They utilize complex formulae and processes to extract, distil, and shape these magical essences into alcaemical concoctions

Alchaemical concoctions are similar to but not equivalent to magic potions. Concoctions posses more varied effects and are more like spells. In addition most concoctions may only be used by the Alchaemist who created them. Non-alchaemists may never create concoctions. Conversely, Alchaemists may create potions using the standard rules for such and many are quite gifted.

Alchaemical formulas are categorized into nine "meridians" of increasing complexity. Starting with the 9th (outer), through seven planetary(Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Venus, Mercury, Luna, Sol), ending with the 1st (prime) meridian. The meridian rank 9 to 1 is the modifier (along with level and ability modifier) applied to comprehension checks (>=20 to understand formulae).

An Alchaemist must successfully comprehend and transcribe any formulae they research/find/are taught. A failed check means those particular instructions will never be of use to the Alchaemist. If they locate different instructions for that same formulae they may attempt a new comprehension check, otherwise no soup for you! An Alchaemist may prepare any formulae for which they have the written formulae regardless of it's complexity. Although, the comprehension check will tend to limit them to formulae not too complex for their level of experience.

The number of alchaemical formulas which an Alchaemist can execute in a day is equal to their character level. Each requires an alchaemical (casting) check and (10-meridian rank) * 10 minutes to prepare. Failed results may be immediate, explosions being common. Or, delayed until concoction is utilized. Many concoctions require specific material components. Adventures could involve tracking down these rare components. Slaying monsters could reap rare and precious materials for alchemical concoctions.

If kept in a non-magical container an alchaemical concoction will retain it’s potency for one day per level of creating Alchaemist . The same concoction will retain it’s power indefinitely while contained within an Alchaemical Flask. Carrying more than one dose of a particular concoction is dangerous. An Alchaemist may be limited by the amount of potions, oils, and salves he can effectively carry. (suffering "casting" delays to represent searching through the hoarders ridiculously large collection of bottles, pouches, and charms.)

An Alchaemist may create concoctions of up to the fourth meridian of complexity with the small equipment they are able to carry,"in the field". Alchaemical formulation of greater complexity will require access to a fully equipped laboratory and an assistant(s).

With successful check an Alchaemist may identify any magical potion/substance with a single drop on the tongue. This is identification of the potion only, not understanding of it’s formulation.

[A different system, Arnesonian Alchemy from Knockspell #2, which I was not impressed with.]


Other names include: Rune Master, Bone Caster, Skald, Erilaz, Seid(females only)

Runic based arcane magic. No memorization, ritual only. Cha/Wis?.
- Safe. Failed casting checks rarely result in bad things.
- Knows all spells. (maybe some lost ones to relearn)
- Limited and fixed spell list derived from selected spells, Arduin Black Grimoire, RuneQuest, Midgard RPG, other sources.
- All spells cast as ritual.
- No minor effects.
- VS and M "rune stones/bones" required to cast any spell.
- Must make d20 casting check range of success/failure.
- Asgard tradition. There is also a distinct Asian tradition, I Ching, not detailed here.

Flavor: Rune Alphabets, Galdr is Old Norse word for "spell, incantation"

Galdr (runic magic) is concerned with power within symbols and words (a dim shadow of Enochian) and their connection to the spirits of ancestors. It is strongly divinational. Although, healing Galdr (spells) are common and a few victory runes aide the warrior in defeating their foes. Galdr is the name for spells/chants, the name of the practice, and also a name for practitioner. Galdr is singular and plural.

Prior to a momentous undertaking (sea voyage, entering dungeon) during one of the thresholds when barriers between worlds are weakest (dawn, dusk, other days / places might provide bonus) the Galdr may cast their runes and divine their ancestors to reveal whether the undertaking will be auspicious or ominous. This ritual takes one hour and may be conducted at most once per day. All those performing the undertaking must share mead around a fire and allow the ancestral spirits to examine their fate lines.

[Darnit! I remember reading mechanics for simulating tarot reading/divinations and can't find nothing now... Something like diviner rolled his check and if they rolled(+modifiers) well there was a bonus or dice rerolls or something they earned. If they rolled badly then there was penalty or dice rerolls or something the DM earned to use against them. I remember it being very cool and elegant.
I have tons of weird dice, with runes, with symbols, blank dice, FUDGE dice. I'm gonna figure some way to work them into those mechanics.]

In addition, Galdr know several chants and rune combinations for more specific divinations (analogues of various div spells), cures, blessings, and for the black of heart, curses. These are cast and work identical to Rituals (casting time 10min per level)

Material components are important to runic magic. A Galdr must, obviously, have their personally constructed set of runes. Carved from the stones of their homeland or the bones of their ancestors. In addition many spells require consumption of mead and bread, the sacrifice of animals (crows, rabbits up to horses and cattle for the more powerful runes). Fires are often required, and less frequently purification (bathing) in running water, preferably run-off of a mighty peak, strong with magic.

Another key to the working of Galdr is that all those to be affected must be present and participating in the ritual. Even if only by proxy. If the berserker wants a victory blessing they will have to strip and wash themselves in the mountain stream. The mead drinking part will not be nearly as hard to "sell". To curse an enemy you must have some part of that enemy, hair, nails, an arm, something actually of them not just used/touched by them.

[A simpler and similar to normal vancian spell slots with different flavor system can be found in the Beyond Fire and Forget article.]

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