Tuesday, October 28, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  Yours in Hope,
   Toril, headman of Richacre

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

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

Monday, October 27, 2014

Relax

  Note: For me gaming is a pastime, a hobby, a way to have fun. Sure, I write supplements and sell them, but that is more about sharing and funding my book-buying habit, not as a career. For those of you who don't know my training is in ethics and morals and I spend a fair amount of my time teaching those topics. My day job is about keeping people safe.
  Today I am talking about a topic that a lot of people get emotional about. While I encourage comments, I have a comments policy. I put up with zero personal attacks, harsh language, or idiocy. I have no problem blocking anyone and I will report people who violate terms of service, etc.
  And for anyone who wants to make assumptions about me based on what I am about to write: I've faced personal, direct discrimination and lost jobs because of my racial background and because of my religion. Keep that in mind.
  Thank you for your time.

  There is a conversation about tabletop fantasy games that always leaves me nonplussed. I read another variation of it just a few days ago. While varied it always goes something like this,
  "The idea that a race, like goblins, is inherently evil is problematic."
  And the ultimate variation,
  "Well, the idea that drow are inherently evil is a real problem because they are black."

  I have always wondered what these people are going on about. Let me give you three reasons.

  One: Hobgoblins, etc., aren't a race as the term is used in the contemporary world. Beyond the fact that the very concept of race within humanity is terribly muddled and has a very shaky definition that originally covered everything from people who shared a common language to people who had the same occupation to all the people roughly the same age in the world.
  Throughout this all one fact remains - in Real Life the various races, no matter how shakily defined, are all human beings.
  Goblins aren't humans. Neither are orcs, dwarves, elves, xvarts, grimlocks, or gibberlings, They are all separate species of beings. They aren't humans. Being not-human is a defining characteristic of what they are. And this is not just explicitly part of tabletop FRPGs the reflection of humans having multiple races is also 'baked into' the OSR games. Oriental Adventures specifically addresses non-White human races and the World of Greyhawk gazetteer was rather detailed in all the various races of humans around Oerth and specifically pointed out that they are all human while demi-humans and humanoids aren't human.
  Gary himself even threw in a curveball with the 'savages' of Hepmonaland being descendants of a race of fair-haired, fair-skinned humans meaning that in Greyhawk the jungle savages are - the whitest humans around.
  You caught that, right?

  Two: Humanoids, etc., are not "stand ins" for human races. In addition to the fact that many of the oldest TFRPGs specifically mention various races of humans the Big Three humanoids, orcs, goblins, and hobgoblins, come specifically from folklore. Orcs (a cognate of ogre that means 'eater of people')), goblins ('troublesome spirit'), and hobgoblin ('mischievous goblin'), bugbears ('scary thing that eats children' or 'something unseen that causes terror'), etc., make it obvious that the folklore origins of these creatures are much less subtle than standing in for races (especially since they became folklore long before the surprisingly-modern ideas of race existed).
  No, evil humanoids simply represent evil.
  That's right. While the elves, dwarves, gnomes, halflings, and humans represent good the orcs, ogres, goblins,etc. represent evil. Good guys and bad guys. That's why one small group of 'non-humanoid sentient beings that are humanoid is appearance' are called demi-humans and the rest are called humanoids - demi-humans are good guys allied with humans, humanoids are bad guys opposed to humans.
  Does this lack of subtlety bother you? Well, to paraphrase MST3K,
  "Repeat to yourself 'it's just a game, I should really just relax'."
  Never forget some very important facts:

  •   This is about made up creatures, not real people.
  •   They are based on traditional folklore or the imagination of players.
  •   They exist only within the rules of a game.
  •   How they are portrayed is entirely up to people who play games locally.

  We will cover this more in part three.

  Note what I am not saying. I am not saying that things in a game can't be offensive. I have met guys that can turn eating a bowl of breakfast cereal into a racially offensive display. I assume that these buffoons could do the same to a TFRPG regardless of the rule set.

  Three: It is a nonsensical argument to make in the first place.
  The last two times I ran into people ranting about this in person I asked them the following questions,
  "The Monster Manual says dwarves are lawful good. Why did Gary put an evil dwarf into the Hall of the Fire Giant King if dwarves are lawful good?"
  and,
  "The Monster Manual says humans are neutral. How can you play a monk, ranger, or paladin if humans have to be neutral?"
  The people both answered the exact same way,
  "Well, just because the books say...."
  And stopped talking.
  In both cases I asked this next,
  "Have you ever heard someone complain that High Elves are inherently good?"
  And neither of them had.

  This happened because the premise requires that in addition to ignoring that goblins aren't humans, and ignoring that its a game we all decide how to play, not Real Life, it requires that we ignore the repeated admonition that the rules books are just guidelines. I would hate to have to go through the 1e and 2e books to see how many times the concept of 'the DM can change stuff' is specifically mentioned, but I am sure it is pretty frequent.
  In case this has somehow slipped past you, the alignments in the Monster Manual, etc., are guidelines.
  Frankly, considering the number of times I have seen solars, lammasu, planetars, and other beings that are presented as the living embodiment of Good portrayed as evil because of a curse or insanity (or just because) I am not sure how anyone could have missed that.

  You want some non-evil humanoids? Feel free. Heck, a tribe of Lawful Neutral, edging up on Good, goblins are a critical part of my campaign world. Want to have some non-evil drow? Since there are canonical good gods for good drow to worship this doesn't require much work or creativity.

  Speaking of drow, I want to add a bit of a fourth point - a lot of the people I read and meet that obsess about 'inherently evil races' in AD&D seem to just insert their own - problems - as they try to 'fix' things. One of the things that prompted me to write this was a guy complaining bitterly about drow being inherently evil and dark-skinned. Since he found this such a problem he fixed it all up by keeping them totally evil...
 ...and making them albinos. Because that is not offensive at all - I mean, it isn't as if there are prejudices about albinos, right?

  I guess this entire post boils down to what I said earlier.

  "Its just a game. Relax."


Thursday, October 23, 2014

A Hot Meal and a Cup of Tea

  When I DM and when I play I am often surprised by the simple little things: player treat horses like bicycles; they never ask about the weather, and they treat fire as nothing but a light source.
  I already talked about the weather a bit and I plan to write about horses, so let's talk about fire.

  We'll start by talking about encumbrance.
  No matter where you fall on the matter of encumbrance (and I am a hard-ass stickler that will slow you down, give you penalties, and expects you to track every 1/10th of a pound) on a long journey it will be very hard to bring enough food and essentially impossible to bring enough water since the minimum a person needs is 10 lbs of water a day. So we must assume that adventurers are getting water from somewhere (streams, springs, and wells above ground. And you have water sources in your dungeons, right?) and that these sources aren't always (maybe never) pure water.
  Have I mentioned my disease and parasite rules?
  In Real Life over 3 million people die each year from water-borne diseases. Even crystal-clear water from an alpine creek can cause lethal diarrhea. Now, there are a few ways of avoiding this ranging from adding 1 part red wine to 3 parts water (which does an amazing job purifying drinking water, thus why the ancients did it) to drinking only beer to Purify Food and Drink to being a paladin.
  But one of the most direct and best is - boiling the water, which also kills parasites.
  There are other impacts, too. A series of studies in America and the UK show that office workers are more mentally alert and observant if they have a hot beverage (tea or coffee) in the morning. World military forces have been aware of the positive impacts on morale of plentiful hot beverages, as well, and I have very rarely seen a canteen, chow hall, etc. that didn't have hot tea or coffee available 24 hours a day.

  Another thing to think about is, well, the temperature. In the modern world where we go from heated home to heated car to heated office it is easy to forget that it gets cold. Imagine being dressed in chain mail on horseback in a biting wind and cold drizzle for 8 hours on a late Autumn day. Or sleeping in the open on the ground in early Spring. The Wilderness Survival Guide had some great ideas about dealing with cold weather (or hot weather, for that matter) but I often just do something simple - at a certain point travelling in the cold without adequate shelter and heat is force marching. Eventually just being out in the elements is force marching, too, even if you aren't moving.
  Dungeons are pretty chilly, I suspect. Remember, it tends to be cool underground and is often damp. According to my friends who are into caving and online caving guides one of the biggest dangers of caving, if not the biggest, is hypothermia. I assume that this is probably a problem in any deep underground place, even a worked dungeon. So PCs are going to need to warm up and/or dry off routinely.

  Last is food. I have certainly lost track of the parties that blithely announce that they will supplement their rations by 'hunting along the way' when in the wilderness. If they are very far from civilization they will also state they are having a 'cold camp' without a fire. I then ask them how they are preparing the food they hunted....
  I did mention my disease and parasite rules, right?

  Rick's disease and parasite rules are included in his supplement Far Realms, available in print and as a PDF. Far Realms also includes new hirelings, such as the healer, new PC classes, like the barbarian, and more than 30 pages of new spells. Suitable for any old-school campaign, please consider buying Far Realms today!

  Anyway, while cooking your food does greatly reduce your chances of dying horribly from disease or parasite hot meals are important to alertness and morale, too. British and American forces in combat reveal that eliminating a hot breakfast has twice the negative impact on soldier morale than doubling the amount of time they are in active combat zones. That's right, soldiers are twice as upset over no bacon and toast than they are about getting shot at more often! Just giving soldiers the ability to heat field rations has a notable positive effect on morale and performance.

  So all this long rambling is to support my actual point.

  Characters in fantasy RPGs should worry about being able to start and maintain a fire.

  So why aren't coal and charcoal seen more often on equipment lists and in character inventories?

  Yes, I am starting another 'stop thinking like a modern person and think like a medieval person' rant, why do you ask?

  People have been making charcoal for thousands of years, so far back we aren't sure when it started. But since charcoal is critical to metalwork, I have always assumed it is readily available in virtually any fantasy campaign.
  Now, actual charcoal looks very little like those briquettes for your grill. Lump charcoal looks like what it is - chunks of charred wood. from finger to fist size. Lump charcoal can range from low quality stuff that has a strong smell and a fair amount of smoke when it burns to expensive types that have virtually no odor and very little smoke when burning.
  In any case, lighting charcoal is relatively simple - flint & steel with a good tinderbox should do it as log as the charcoal is dry. Lump charcoal gets to temperature quickly and burns hotter than briquettes and the more expensive types leave less ash behind. A handful of lump charcoal will burn long enough to bring a gallon of water to a boil and maintain a boil for a full minute; a double handful is enough for 2 gallons and a meal for four-5 people.

  Coal can be more expensive or hard to find than charcoal and its quality varies from lignite to anthracite. Bituminous, which is the type usually used by smiths, is fairly easy to light (easier than charcoal), doesn't burn as hot as charcoal, and makes more smoke and ash than good charcoal. But it will light and burn when wet (although it smokes more) and the same volume of coal burns longer than charcoal. Anthracite burns with much less smoke and ash than bituminous and burns a long time but can be difficult to light. A lrge lump of bituminous coal can boil 2 gallons of water and a double handful can boil 4 plus cook a meal for 4-5 people.

  I should also mention peat - a sort of 'pre-coal' from bogs and mires, when properly dried peat can burn for a long time and produce a nice amount of heat. It has a distinctive smell and a fair amount of smoke, though.

  In each of these cases, charcoal, coal, and even peat, you get more heat for the same space/weight than wood. Also, since most wood needs to cure and dry for a while to make a good fire (and it might be wet, besides) these are great ideas outdoors as well as underground.

  Field cooking equipment is very old. Romans had all sorts of things to make army cooking in the field better and by Medieval times field cooking gear was fairly well developed with small portable iron fireboxes (about the size of a helmet), fire stands, griddles, field cauldrons (again, about like a helmet), and such. Wooden and earthenware mugs we also pretty common back then.
  The small iron fireboxes typically had a lid and such so that the airflow (and thus temperature) of the fire could be controlled. This lets them double as a heater for tents and small areas and for a small amount of fuel to last a long time. In my opinion, each party should have at least one iron fire box, a field cauldron, a small griddle, a fire stand, and some charcoal or coal.

  Which brings us to another point; air. No matter how little smoke is made, fires consume oxygen. Even in AD&D you should make sure there is enough fresh air to safely make a fire.

  No, this post is not a description of camping gear and a safety statement.
  Well, not just those things, at least.

  I concern myself with these details for a number of reasons.
  First, I want verisimilitude in my campaign - I track water usage, encumbrance, weather, etc. because it makes the world I built more internally consistent, which makes the rest of my job easier.
  Second, in my experience it allows the players a better chance to immerse themselves into their characters and the world and gives many opportunities for roleplaying - little bits like who is good at building a fire and who can't cook are fun and add a ton of depth, all on the cheap.
  Third, it is another way to weigh down characters while vacuuming money out of their belt pouches.

  Fourth, it has implications that can be plot hooks.
  For example, where does the coal come from? In Real Life the easily accessible coal was gathered very early. Are there coal mines? Where? You need coal and charcoal to make things like, oh, iron, so - do the dwarves mine it/make it? If they don't they have to get it from somewhere!
  Charcoal can have a huge impact on a region. Interesting fact - no forest in Finland is more than 300 years old. Why?
  They cut down all the trees for charcoal over the course of about 250 years!
  Mainly to get wood tar, but it was the charcoal process and it really, really changed Finland for a century+. In my Seaward campaign colliers slip into the forests between civilized lands and the orcish city-states to make charcoal to sell. Very, very risky, but very profitable. The gnomes of Gladdenstone make a lot of money mining anthracite and selling it to the dwarves. The barbarians of Eiru have to collect peat from the edges of the haunted Moorlands to heat their homes in the harsh winters of their island nation.

  So think about it. Maybe have a henchman demand more pay or have a hireling quit suddenly because there is never a pot of tea at dawn, or have the party suffer a -1 to hit from fatigue after 3 days of near-hypothermia in a dungeon's depths. Gnomes increasing prices for coal might push the dwarves to the brink of war and orcish raids in Autumn could lead to suffering as the poor run out of charcoal to heat their homes in deep Winter.

  Or just imagine going 3 days with no tea, coffee, or hot food yourself and build an adventure from that. Mine would have lots of murder and naps.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

When the Wise Man Points at the Moon the Fool Looks at the Wise Man's Finger

  [Sorry for the light writing, but October is a busy month around my house with 3 birthdays in 2 weeks.]
  Over the weekend I was talking with my sons about gaming (ok, ok - that can describe every day) when the oldest, J., and I had this exchange:
  J: "Didn't some of the high-level wizards in Greyhawk keep clones on their moon?"
  Me: "Yup"
  J: "How'd they get there?"
  Me: "How do you think?"
  J: "Well, maybe the air doesn't end between the surface and the moon, there. Or maybe they had something like an Apparatus of Kwalish that could fly."
  Me: "Think easier."
  J: .... "Hey! Teleport! Holy Moley - they can see the destination! It isn't even tough! And if they have Teleport without Error it's a cakewalk! Wow! The implications are HUGE!"

  Yes. Yes, they are.
  Let's talk about Teleport and the implications, shall we?
  First, the AD&D 1e (and OSRIC) description of Teleport is pretty fun: It can't cross dimensional boundaries, but distance isn't a factor. That's pretty cool. Add in that the description says 'instantly' so there is no lag. It can be dangerous, though - if you aren't very familiar with where you are going you might end up rather dead. It is certainly meant mainly as a 'get out of jail free' card - in a tight spot you and your pals can get home. And if you are willing to accept some risk you could ambush the jeebers out of someone.

  But can you go to the moon?
  Well, on a clear night you can see the moon, right? Sure, it is far away, but distance means nothing to the spell. I might argue that your inability to see precise details at the incredible range means you'd max out at 'seen casually' until you actually got there, but that risk isn't that bad, and you could mitigate it a little. And once you got there you could certainly find some place, spend a few days there, and have a 'carefully studied' target location for future trips.
  So, yeah - it looks like any 9th+ level wizard with access to the Teleport spell has Faster Than Light space travel, at least to the moon. And if, like me, you have Teleport without Error in your campaign that means that 14th+ level wizards can do so with essentially no risk!

  "But Rick," you say, "The moon is an arid, airless rock! Who could live there?"
  Well, your moon(s) could be different. A little air, maybe a bit of water like a desert? Or perhaps it is another world; unique plants, animals, even its own humanoids and civilizations.
  Sounds like a lot of work, huh?
  But even if it is an arid, airless rock - that's awesome! Between Necklaces of Adaptation, Helms of Underwater Action, and spells a powerful mage is going to see vacuum as a feature, not a bug. After all, it makes his remote wizard's tower even harder to attack, right?
  Imagine it!  An archmage's tower jutting up from the rim of a lunar crater, the crater itself 'roofed over' with Walls of Force and filled with a massive garden and small forest. Other Walls of Force keeping air within the tower. Occasionally servants of the archmage venture out in an Apparatus of Kwalish to retrieve unique gemstones for their master's research.
  Then ages pass. The overgrown garden is withered and desiccated in the vacuum decades after the Walls of Force failed. The now-airless tower still looms over the lifeless moonscape as the archmage lich, unconcerned with breathing, watches over his sterile kingdom....

  That could be a ton of fun.
  Or perhaps the moon is a secret dock for spelljammers and powerful mages control the (rather exotic) trade with other spheres and treat any newcomer as competition or a smuggler?
  Or the moon is the headquarters for an illithid invasion. Or it is the forgotten birthplace of the elves and is still populated by a strange elven race with access to unique magic. Or there is air between the planet and the moon and the moon is the breeding ground and nesting place for the most powerful dragons - the only creatures powerful enough to fly that vast distance. The catch is only the youngest, weakest dragons remain on the planet, meaning that the youngest, weakest moon dragons are larger, smarter, and tougher than any great elder wyrm ever seen....

  No, I'm not done.
  Think of the planets!

  "Whoa, whoa, WHOA!" you say, "Rick, I might let a powerful mage Teleport to the moon with great risk, but planets?! They're just points of light in the sky! I wouldn't even allow a PC to Teleport as 'casually seen!"

  Yeah. I wouldn't either. Or I might let you and have you end up in deep space or the center of the planet.

  But!

  Let's say your mage has been to the moon. She thinks it is nice, but too crowded. Planets are interesting because they act unusually - what if they're like the moon, but further away? Your 15th level mage knows how hideously risky it would be to Teleport towards something so obscure, but she has an idea.

  Ever read the description of the spell Clairvoyance? I mean, really looked at it, especially since you read about jaunting to the moon? Guess what? In 1e, OSRIC, etc. it's like Teleport:
  No range, it just can't cross the planes.
  So if a curious and ambitious mage of sufficient power were to want to they could, over the course of weeks, easily cast Clairvoyance multiple times on a planet until they 'zoomed in' on the surface and could get a clear look at it. They could scan for a safe place to 'land', learn about any local plant or animal life, etc. long before they actually went there.
  Oh, and Crystal Balls work the same way, even with time limits.

  And I don't know about you, but if a 9th level magic-user had Clairvoyance active and attempted to Teleport to the scryed location, I would probably rule that to be 'studied carefully' and no risk at all for Teleport without Error.

  If I may engage in a little emotional display.
  ahem
  Sweet Baby John the Baptist! Do you know what this means?! This means every wizard that knows both Clairvoyance and Teleport is effectively a one-man space program with access to FTL travel!
  If you have Teleport without Error or similar in your campaign it means there isn't even that much risk involved!

  Let that sink in for a moment. Savor the possibilities. Here's a few off the top of my head:
  - Multi-genre adventures in any campaign.
  - Every intelligent race came from other planets
  - Evil space-thieves smuggling blaster rifles to the Hobgoblin King
  - Encounters with a group of people in strange clothes that ask to be 'beamed up' and then vanish in front of the players
  - The ability to hire mercenaries from another planet
  - Remaking Episode I in my 1e campaign with monks FROM SPACE, bards FROM SPACE, and a horde of zombies for the bad guys

  I mean, talking about what could be done with this would be a year of blog posts.

  So - what are YOU going to do with space-mages?

Monday, October 13, 2014

Lies, Mistakes, False Confidence and Your Campaign

  I hope you will forgive me if I get a bit wonky.
  Thanks in advance.
  Many years ago I spent an entire Summer studying demographics (some details here as to why a 10 year old would do that) and concluded that I would reject what was being written about by lepidopterists, science fiction writers, and others about overpopulation and, rather, agree with actual demographers, all of whom insisted overpopulation wasn't a problem then and wouldn't be for a long, long time. The doomsayers of overpopulation stated 1970 was far too late to prevent hundreds of millions of people from starving to death in the 1970's and that nothing could prevent famine from wiping out England by 1980.
  Turns out the demographers were correct and the popular voices were wrong.
  Now several major nations are grappling with rapid underpopulation and the contraction of world population should begin within my own lifetime.

  During Desert Shield I encountered a group of journalists, the leader of whom was very excited. Why? He  had a big scoop - he said he had caught the army lying. You see, the army had said the PATRIOT missile system was operating at more than 90% success but he had proof - proof! - that less than 1 in 4 launched missiles was even reaching the target; the rest were blown up in mid air remotely!
  I said,
   "Of course, that is how the system works, but it doesn't change the success rate."
  You see, when a potential target is spotted 1/2 of all available launchers fire an intercept missile. Why? Safety! There isn't enough time to launch one at a time, so you launch multiples in case the first or even more miss, and then remotely destroy any that aren't needed.
  I spent the next two hours fruitlessly trying to explain the critical difference between 'individual element accuracy' and 'system success rate'. He ignored me, broke his "scandal", and made headlines.
  To this day I know people who know the army lied about the success of the Patriots because of that journalist.

  This phenomena where someone who is incompetent at something but believes they are competent at it, even has a name - the Dunning-Kruger Effect. This state, in very simplified terms, that people who are unskilled in a certain task tend to honestly believe they are very skillful, even masters, of the task while people who are very skillful at the same task tend to rate themselves as mediocre.

  "Wait a minute, Rick," you say, "I've heard of the Dunning-Kruger Effect, sure. But I know/googled/looked up/etc. overpopulation and the Patriot missile system and, well, they are terrible examples because overpopulation is a huge issue/the Patriots don't work!"

  Actually, we're just getting to the point of this post, so thanks for chiming in.

  Because this post is about misinformation in your campaign.

  In my campaigns there are things everyone knows to be true that aren't and things everyone know to be false that aren't. And you might need to consult a sage to find this out.
  Here is an example from Seaward:
  Maury looked grim, "My divinations and research have explained the strange things that Sessy saw and heard; the new master of thieves is a rakshasa."
  "A rakshasa!", exclaimed Sessy, "this is foul news indeed."
  "What is a rock-shasta and if it bleeds, why do I care?" asked Eirik.
  "Rakshasa," corrected Maury, "a magical creature from a far land. Virtually immune to magic and proof against all but the mightiest enchanted weapons it cloaks itself in a nigh-perfect illusion of being a person or creature you trust and then destroys you when you are unwary. They are cunning and powerful."
  "But not invincible," added Brother Reynaud, "I recall hearing from another cleric that the merest scratch from a crossbow bolt that has been Blessed can slay them."
  "I had heard this rumor, as well, " agreed Maury, "and my research in the Imperial Library confirms it. We shall confront the evil with Eirik and his henchmen armed alike with a score of Blessed  bolts!"
  [2 weeks later]
  The series of ambushes and traps from the thieves had been bad enough, but the two doppleganger servants of the rakshasa had been even worse. The adventurers were all bleeding from various injuries and Sessy was on her way back to the surface with half the surviving henchmen guiding her; the poison-induced blindness should wear off in a few days.
  With surprising ease they made it to the Master's Room. The interior was well lit and empty except for a figure lounging on the gem-encrusted throne in in the far wall. The figure looked like a tall, powerfully-built man with the head of a tiger. The rakshasa put down his hookah pipe and smoothed his silk robe as he stood, revealing that his thumbs were on the 'wrong' sides and that his fingers curled backward, not inward.
  Brother Reynaud called out, "Prepare for your death, foul one! Your doom is here!"
  It took a moment for the adventurers to realize the rumbling growl was a chuckle.
  "Fools," growled the creature, "my minions and traps have done naught but prove you cannot harm me."
  The rakshasa strode toward them, it whiskers twitching.
  "Fire, men, fire!" called Eirik as his 3 surviving henchman joined him in launching crossbow bolts. Two struck true with Eirik's own quivering in the beast's throat. Soundlessly the rakshasa slipped to the ground. 
  Eirik leapt forward with a shout of triumph. But as he prepared to collect the thing's head it leapt up, snarling. After a swift exchange of blows Eirik drew back, bleeding from half a dozen new wounds. The rakshasa paused to pluck the bolts from its hide, the wounds sealing up instantly. He briefly sniffed one of the bolts before tossing it aside.
  "Run," hissed Eirik, "run for the surface. If I live I will rejoin you."

  As players in my Seaward game now know, very well, rakshasa are not harmed by crossbow bolts that have been Blessed. Crossbow bolts that have been Consecrated, however, are instant death to the horrible creatures.

  Yes, my players were horrified. Yes, at least one was indignant ('but the Monster Manual says!'). But why not? After all, plenty if people think that 15th century Europeans thought the world was flat. They didn't. Indeed, the main opposition to Columbus was because the majority of scholars agreed on  the circumference of the earth and expected him to run out of supplies before he reached land. Columbus was wrong about the Earth's circumference (the scholars were really close, actually), there was just a landmass or two that were not as well known in the way. But not only is this belief ['15th Century Europeans thought the world was flat'] common it can be found in school textbooks and even books in college reference libraries.

  So add some facts to your campaign and make some of them fun, interesting, and true ['adding a drop of red dragon blood to the components of a Fireball makes it hotter' and give a +1 per die if they do this; 'the ichor of a slithering tracker makes you immune to a gelatinous cube's paralysis for an hour', etc.] make some of them them fun and false ['adding a drop of blue dragon blood to the components of a Lightning Bolt makes it more powerful' when it doesn't; 'if you tie the death shroud of a murderer across your face as a mask ghast stink doesn't affect you' but this doesn't work, etc.]. Also have things that 'everyone knows' be false [like the rakshasa] and that everyone disbelieves be true [for example, only superstitious peasants nail brass keys to the lintel of their door frames with a single iron nail - educated and sophisticated people sneer at this superstition.
  But what if it does prevent intelligent undead from entering the home? Maybe it only works for actual family homes with a relatively small total square footage, or an average value or less, or some other limitation that means it doesn't work on castles, or wizard's towers, or churches, or the town homes of rich merchants but it does work. That isn't going to break anything, skew the campaign, or help players with their lordly manors, but it might be an interesting plot point and, is handled right, can really mess with the players.
 
  You can do this with NPCs, too. Everyone, but everyone, knows that Kregar the Shining is the best swordsman in the West. He has been challenged on a number of occasions by renowned swordsmen but has always prevailed. People come from distant lands to train under him but he selects just one man every two or three years. These men go on to state with great pride they were trained by Kregar and laud his mastery far and wide.
  He is beloved in the city, too. He tips well, is generous to friends, gives freely to the poor, and has been known to help out young, down on their luck adventurers from time to time with cash and introductions. He is charming, friendly, and soft-spoken.
  In reality he is a 5th level fighter with a 16 Dexterity who is specialized in the broad sword and has a magical sword that means he always strikes first (although he has no idea it is magical). So he is pretty good, but not that good. However, he is truly convinced in his heart that he is the best swordsman in the world.
  In addition to the personality traits listed above he is also prone to 'humble-bragging' such as;
  'I hope you do not mind having dinner with me. If I am busy when the general comes perhaps he will stop pestering me to train the king's guard'
  'I grow so weary of famous swordsmen coming just to challenge me to a duel. It disrupts my training so much.'
  'Perhaps you will accept this as a gift? it was sent by a master swordsmith from a far land, but the humble blade I found years ago has been more than enough for me to win every duel.'
  etc.

  This can go the other way, too. Just think of Aragorn in LotR  - heir to the kingship of all Men of the West and dedicated to protecting the frontier from evil the locals called him 'Strider' and though he was a disreputable sort, going so far as to warn travelers not to associate with him.

  And remember, none of this has to be purposeful or malicious. These could all be no more than honest mistakes!

  But why do we do this? A few reasons.
  First, it cuts down on meta-gaming. Players that have memorized the books will have less of an 'advantage' in these situations.
  Second, it reflects Real Life at least a little. We all are subject to this sort of mistaken confidence and false knowledge, so why not your characters, too?
  Third, it makes your world unique. This is a simple way to differentiate your campaign world from anything else.
  Fourth, it makes in-character research and divinations more valuable. Access to good libraries, the casting of expensive divinations, and travel to distant sages suddenly are all worth it.
  And last, it adds to the sense of wonder that makes the game more fun.

 

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Contest Time!

  I am giving away a print copy of Far Realms on November 2nd. To have a shot you need to write a review of the book before November 1st. The review can be on a blog, on your google+ feed, on RPGNow, wherever, but it needs to exist.
  And it doesn't have to be positive. I mean, I expect everyone to love it, but some of you guys are strange.
  Anyway, post a link to the review in comments and you'll be in the drawing for a hard copy.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Role Playing, Roll Playing, and Can We Just Get Back to Monsters, Please?

  There is a debate going on about what is a 'real  role playing game and what isn't; whether light mechanics is better ot if crunchy is better; if narrative and story trump spontaneity; and about how important the Gm is and how much power he has or if you even need a GM. Or dice. Or rules.
  No, don't go look. This stuff was a hot topic in 1979, 1982, 1985, etc. and still will be next week, next month, and long after I am dead, may that day be far from me.
  Want to know my position? I have two of them, really.
  1) If you think it is role playing and enjoy it I won't say you're wrong, but I reserve the right to ignore you.
  2) If you think what other people are doing isn't role playing you have the right to ignore them but if you say they're wrong you deserve the arguments you get.

  There are tons of definitions of role playing game out there. I throw some of them around from time to time (my personal one is 'people play at being fake people and have fun') but the very idea of a role playing game is so broad....

  Indeed, let's talk about that for a minute. I have played in groups where people showed up in costume and spoke in character before, during, and after the game. The entire "I am in character until I record the DVD commentary" approach. And I've played in groups where the table talk was 'Frank's fighter will smash in the door and my thief will look for ambushes'.

  Both fun.

  And that huge range in between is the D&D sweet spot! You know what I mean - you refer to characters in the third person by name, the DM is in character for some, but not all, NPCs, and you speak 'in character' only at key junctures. Most of the campaigns I see are like that and you know what? It is role playing.
  Let me give you an example from my table.

  My oldest son, J., is a, well, a firebrand. He is tall, broad-shouldered, and looks like an Aryan poster child (blond hair, blue eyes, strong jaw, etc.). He has a strong voice, a hearty laugh, and a quick smile. He is a natural leader, loves meeting people, and is very charming and outgoing.
  My next oldest, A., is very similar in some ways, but not in others. He is younger so isn't as tall and broad, yet. He has black hair, hazel eyes, and a quiet demeanor with a sort of calm poise that makes even strangers very comfortable around him.  He is the master of the quiet quip and perfectly timed humorous pause. Where J. is bold and a touch reckless A. is more likely to be prepared for anything. Where people come to J. for a laugh they come to A. for advice.

  Now, in Blackstone I J. plays Mournglow, a magic-user, and A. plays Doomsman, a conan-esque barbarian swordmaster.

  At my table they very rarely speak in character but let me show you how a single event proved they were taking on the role ('role playing') of their character.

  A scouting party from an orcish army had established a hasty timber fortification on the near bank of a river ford in preparation for the arrival of the main body of troops. The party realized they had to either capture or destroy the small fort if they hoped to stop the army.
  J. announced that Mournglow had a plan - the party would slip forward through the chest-high grass until they were within 60 yards of the closest orcish guards then use coordinated spells and missiles to kill as many orcs as possible as quickly as possible, hoping the shock would cause them to flee. Doomsman would protect the casters and archer (a thief) by staying close.
  Pretty soon the party is on hands and knees, creeping through the grass. after about 5 rounds of this A. says,
  "Nah. Doomsman stands up, unsheathes his great sword, and runs towards the orcs."



  The orcs see him almost immediately and start firing bows at him. The rest of the party keeps hurrying along on hands and knees.But the orcs underestimate one man and Doomsman gets to the entrance to the fort and keeps the orcs from shutting the gate long enough for the party to arrive and wipe out the terrified survivors.

  But the take away is - my brash son came up with a cautious plan because his character, Mournglow, is cautious. My cautious son acted in a brash manner because his character, Doomsman, is brash.
  Did they speak with a faux accent?
  No.
  Did they speak in character?
  No.
  Did they spend 20 minutes discussing backstory, fake emotions, or 'off-screen' NPCs?
  No.
  Were their words and actions important to overarching plots, the narrative, etc?
  No.
  Were they role playing?
  Yes.
  Were they having fun?
  Hell, yeah.

  So, if you want to know my position on role playing, there it is.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Sideline: Appendix N and Me

  Jeffro has been writing a great deal about Appendix N over at Castalia House. One of the things he says over and over again is,
  "Why didn't anyone recommend these books to me before now?"
  I think this is a good time to share something personal; a bit about my father.

  My father was born in the early 1920's,the oldest of 5 children. He grew up in Chicago and was a leader from a young age. He has clear memories of standing in line to see The Jazz Singer and reading the papers on Black Tuesday and the day after.  He enlisted in the army on December 8th, 1941 with all of his friends and was released from the army in 1946. He married his sweetheart in 1947 while in college and went on to become a doctor on the G.I. Bill. He held his dream job, being a rural country doctor, for his entire medical career. He eventually was father to 9 children. I was raised in small-town America as part of a large, extended family.
  Now, my father was an flawed and imperfect as any man, but he had great gifts that he passed on to his children; care for others, a dedication to honor and duty, love of children. Also smooth talking, a fondness for cigars, and solid poker skills (for his sons).
  But also a love of reading. I literally have no memories of my father without a book of some sort on his person or within reach. A paperback in his medical bag, a novel on his end table, always something.
  He loved the classics and the great books - I was reading translations of Cicero and the Aeneid as a teen alongside Paradise Lost, the Prince, and more.
  But he also loved the pulps of his own youth, and comics, too. He bought me a copy of A Princess of Mars for my 8th birthday and I finished the entire series (the first read-through) by the time I was 9. Then I read all 24 of the 'main' Tarzan books and the Eternal Lover and the Mad King all before I was 10!
  Note: If you love Burroughs or Ruritanian romances and haven't read The Mad King, you are missing out!
  The great thing was I read The Outlaw of Torn just 2-3 weeks before my first encounter with D&D; a wonderful warmup!
  My father had also introduced me to books like Sea-Kings of Mars, all of Lovecraft, Derleth, Clark Ashton Smith, Dunsany, and Andre Norton. He still has a first printing of Starman's Son, signed by Norton in the 60's before I was born.
  As I mentioned in an earlier post, I was in my late teens before I read anything by Tolkien or anything Arthurian. My earliest reads associated with D&D were the tales of Charlemagne's Paladins, and Three Hearts and Three Lions, and the High Crusade, and the Outlaw of Torn, and similar works.
  And I loved the Dying Earth stuff - I read the Night Land when I was 10 and followed it up with the Time Machine, Vance, and re-reading the Zothique stories, all of which had a huge impact on my creation of Seaward, my AD&D 1e campaign, just a year later. Looking back, Norton's Witchworld books, especially the first few in the High Hallack series, were a pretty strong influence, too.

  Jeffro's posts are a lot of fun for me. I am gaining fresh insights to old favorites as he writes and realizing how these books impact my own work to this day in ways invisible to me before.
  And I also get how it must feel to discover this trove of writing that was both right in front of you (in the DMG) but not really talked about enough.

  Writing this I called my father, who is in his 90's, now. He's re-reading Off on a Comet.

  So all of us book nuts have a duty - tell others about these books we love!

Friday, October 3, 2014

Religion, Churches, and More - How I Use Far Realms part 1

My Supplement Far Realms - which can be purchased here - is derived from the house rules of my campaign, called Seaward. This is the first in a series of posts where I will describe where the ideas in Far Realms came from and how I use them.

  When I began my campaign, 1978, religion in AD&D was really nebulous. While a lot of people did a vague 'Law v. Chaos' thing similar to Moorcock, my knowledge of Three Hearts and Three Lions made me, frankly, contemptuous of Moorcock's ham-handedness of the same topic.A huge fan of the tales of Charlemagne's Paladins, I knew that clerics were like Archbishop Turpin, paladins were like Roland, and magic-users were like Malagigi, etc.
  So, since I loved the tales of Charlemagne my campaign had a decidedly European Catholic flavor to it. Funny considering I didn't even know any Catholics at the time.

  I wanted to create an experience, set up religion in the game that reflected how religion looks and seems in Real Life. So, I tried this:

  The Church: A monotheistic church with saints, essentially a branch of the Catholic Church. It has been spread all around the world. The Church is the source of spells for clerics and paladins, it is in the villages, the towns, and the cities. The Church is a large part of what unites humans with the other races called 'demi-human' and separates them from the other races called 'humanoids'.

  Druids: Druids have no gods, they derive their spell power from a combination of mystical connection to nature and powers (spells) granted by elemental powers [. This both explains why they are so different and their requirement to remain Neutral.

  Cults: A general term for groups where at least some had access to cleric-like spells. While some are associated with elemental forces, most gain their power from pacts with devils and/or demons.

  With this general structure I went on and set it up so that clerics of the Church had access to the 'standard list; of cleric spells and druids were, well, druids. Cultists had a mix of cleric and druid spells that reflected their source of power. Cultists had limited lists of spells and usually only up to 4th level spells. On the other hand, they often had 'dark gifts' from their power source: the ability to See Invisible, or to regenerate (but not damage from silver), or an imp familiar, or bonus charisma with other orcs, or something similar.
  Combined this was a pretty simple set of mechanics to create an interesting "us vs. them" feel between demi-humans and humanoids and provide a reason for evil clerics to have surprises up their sleeves.

  This also was part of what led me to create the Religious Brother/Sister NPC class. I envisioned the cleric as someone who fought the enemies of the Church, who opposed evil cultists face to face on the field of battle. They aren't pastors, or nuns, or even evangelists. So the NPC-only Religious Brother/Sister class was added to my campaign to be the pastors, evangelists, nuns, etc. of Seaward (although there is a bit more detail about how and why I developed NPC classes to read about on this blog).

  But as well as it was working I was looking for a bit more. Some sort of method of separating not just the clerics but the rank and file members of various religions.I remember, very clearly, having a long talk with my friend David, who was running his own world, about some sort of spell that differentiated the members from each other. It was just before Christmas, 1981.
  Two months later he was laughing at me as I was reading the Ceremony spells in Dragon Magazine. I grabbed the idea and ran with it.
  I honestly can't remember the details of the official Ceremony spells anymore because my custom ones have been my go-to for over 30 years.

  So the mechanics of religion are more concrete in my campaign. Here is how it works for most NPCs and characters:
  -As a child they are Baptized into the Church. This spell/ceremony allows them to receive the full benefits of other spells. Unless Baptized a person cannot be affected by other ceremonies, won't get the benefits of Bless, Prayer, or similar spells, and have their chances or being Raised lowered.
  -When they turn 16 they are Confirmed. Now they are members of the Church and recognized as adults. This also has other benefits.
  -As they go through life other spells/ceremonies have other effects: Holy Orders grants new priests the ability to learn spells as a cleric or religious brother; Special Vows is what makes a paladin; Consecration is used to make objects holy (and is what makes crossbow bolts deadly to rakshasa instead of Bless!).
  These spells have real in-game effects. For example, until a cleric receives the Ordination spell he can't attract followers.

  Now, these various spells are only available to religious brothers, not clerics. This reflects the differing roles of the two classes (and makes PCs want to have religious brother henchmen).

  Druids and cultists have similar spells and others for things like gaining dark gifts.

    So a small handful of spells, an NPC class, and boom! I have all sorts of interplay between different 'religions', the ability to surprise my players with oddly-powered bad guys, and all without needed tons and tons of writeups about gods, avatars, etc.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Intelligence, Items, and the Impact in your Game World

  No, I am NOT done talking about intelligent weapons! While this does seem to be the topic that I can't stop writing about, we are almost done, I swear!
  To sum up - according the the AD&D DMG intelligent swords are much more common than I thought (and based on comments, much more common than anyone seems to play), most of them are Good, and a lot of them talk. There seem to be good reasons for fighters to use intelligent weapons and equally good reasons for magic-users to not use intelligent items. And, the topic of today's discussion -
  Virtually anything can have an enchanted intelligence.

  The DMG specifically mentions archways, door, buckets, pools of water, fire, illusions, and more.
  When I was discussing this with my sons they alternated between stunned amazement and cackling with glee. Both reactions were about the sheer gobsmacking possibilities. Their initial ideas (in the order they gave them to me):
  My oldest: "What if there is an earthquake and a magical pool drains into a river that is also diverted? A village could be flooded by an intelligent river that likes its new home!"
  My fourth: "What if the fire that threatens the mill is a Lawful Good fire forced to burn buildings to survive? It can Heal people once a month but needs timber from a family's home to survive."
  My second: "Imagine this - a man comes to the party asking them to break the curse that plagues him. The party learns that he is an intelligent illusion that thinks he's a real man."
  My third: "The entrance to the cathedral is an intelligent archway that can Know Alignment on all who pass through and will tell people that they need to Atone."
  And my first blush: "A wizard's tower with an intelligent door that can speak, knows the password, and can cast Wall of Force - the door man is the door!"

  In many of these cases the intelligent item will not have routine contact with a creator or wielder that could lead to a personality conflict, making these sorts of items much less dangerous for clerics and (especially) magic-users to make and use. Because of the costs we also can assume that the vast majority of these items would be made by demi-humans and clerics with the fraction made by magic-users both very small (probably 10% of the total at the very most) and the most powerful.

  I will let you and your imagination think of more amazing things you could do with autonomous intelligent items with magical powers!

  But this means that my discussion of types of intelligence in magical items might need to grow. The fifth category will need to be "true intelligence created solely by magic". This would be much more than a types of 'expert program of magic' that uses if, then statements to mimic intelligence, but a much closer approximation of actual intelligence with some autonomy and free will, and even its own knowledge unique to itself.
  This is at least implied by the spell Unseen Servant and its 'cousins'. An unseen servant is explicitly not a creature of any sort, but is a 'force'. This force can obey orders, such as 'open that drawer' but also can do things like clean and mend even if the caster doesn't know how to mend. And other spells point to similar autonomous skills and at least some level of reason - if we expand our attention to spells that are not in the core 1e books but were in modules and such we see things similar to an unseen servant that can cook, mend, make camps, hide tracks, etc.
  It isn't hard to imagine a powerful mage creating a new intelligence whole cloth for a powerful item, is it?

  But let's also think about what a world like a fantasy RPG is like from a new angle for just a few moments.

  In science fiction one of the most popular themes is First Contact, the initial encounter of Mankind with other sentient creatures. Many of these stories are classic books, movies, or TV; The War of the Worlds, First Men in the Moon, A Message from Space, Contact, A for Andromeda, E.T., His Master's Voice, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and a lot more.

  One consistent theme is - how would we understand a different sentient being? How much of how we think and communicate has to do with what we are physically and how much is as abstract as the idea of consciousness?
 
  Many fantasy worlds have a lot of intelligent creatures in them that aren't human. AD&D is like that - there are a lot of intelligent non-humans.
  A lot.
  Many.
  A rather shockingly large amount, actually.

  And sure, we can argue that while elves, dwarves, orc, goblins, halflings, gnomes, goblins, kobolds, hobgoblins, hill giants, ogres, etc., etc. are, well, just 'humans that look funny' as far as the nature of their intelligence is concerned, we have some much more extreme examples.
  Mind flayers are lovecraftian horrors that communicate via telepathy and prey upon intelligent creatures; beholders make mind flayers look like a favorite cousin! We also have ropers, neo-otyughs, aboleth, boggart, etc., who are very inhuman in everything from appearance to senses to lifespan to diet.
  If you ponder 'how different must elves be from humans since elves live so very long?' try pondering how much different a dragon must be, or a foo lion, or a xorn, or a slithering tracker!

  Stanislaw Lem, perhaps the most widely-read science fiction writer fo the 20th Century, is justly famed for his book Solaris. Of course, one of the central themes of Solaris, and a number of Lem's other works, is the impossibility of two radically different types of creatures communicating even when both are highly intelligent.
  We can assume that the majority of intelligent humanoids in an RPG are close enough to communicate at least a fair amount (and I wonder if the grouping of 'demi-human' versus 'humanoid' is as much about communications and sympatico types of sentience as about alignment). But we also know, directly, that there are intelligences that fit into Lem's category. Cloakers are said to be so "other" that while demonstrably intelligent no intelligent communication is possible with them.
  So we know that 'totally alien intelligences beyond the possibility of communication' exist and are 'canonical'.

  Think of the possibilities in world building alone! What if the Elf-Dwarf conflict is innate to their comprehension of reality because of their modality of sentience? As mentioned, what if orcs, goblins, etc. are innately evil not due to a curse but because of the very nature of their intelligence - the fact of their sentience makes them hate creatures not like themselves? Imagine nations facing each other across an ocean where not only is communication between the nations very difficult because they have radically different emotions but also the aquatic race in the ocean between can't communicate with either nation at all?

  So let's get back to intelligent items. We know that residual magic can cause gret changes in the environment so that inanimate objects resemble living creatures and have at least a rudimentary intelligence (mud men, remember?). And we also know that intelligent objects are possible and varied.

  Imagine this - a wizard has a compound on the shore of a small lake. He has boats which are enchanted to move on their own; the stones of the quay were quarried by magical servants; The nearby arch was enchanted to sense the intentions of those who passed through it; friendly nixie live in the small lake; decades of residue of alchemy wash into the water. Then, tragedy! There is an attack and the mage and his servants all die with the powerful (but unintelligent) magical sword of his gurad captain falling into the water.
  Over the decades the compound falls into ruins: the boats rot away, the magical wood drifting into the lake bed; the arch collapses, its enchanted stones being worn away by the water alongside the magically-quarried stones; the magical sword corrodes into rust that mixes with the ashes of burned spellbooks that washed into the lake as they settle upon the corpses of the long-dead nixies who perished in the fight.
 A willow which first sprouted long years after the fight grows upon the shore of this small lake, its roots knotted along the bank and its withies dipping into the water. It takes many years but the willow begins to 'awaken', to sense its surroundings, and to think. It takes more long decades, but eventually the willow is, on its own, intelligent.

  Can it communicate? Could humans or dwarves understand it? Can it speak? Listen?

  And more importantly in the overall picture, imagine a world where this can happen, the impact this would have on life! Do foresters talk to trees before they cut them down not out of quaint folkways but rather because the tree might actually answer them? Could that brooch passed from mother to daughter for generations as part of bridal gifts actually tell you about the family's history? Might that cart horse actually be, yes, smarter that the teamster - and the teamster is pretty smart?!

  As above, I leave the rest to you. But the next time you roll for random treasure...

...don't forget to check to see if it is intelligent.