Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Prophets, Not Clerics?

FrDave on Blood of Prokopius had an idea a while back that perfectly fits my search for an alternate term for an adventuring "cleric" or "priest." He suggests that a campaign might include miracle-working "prophets" in the Biblical sense of the word. I think this is a great idea not just for a specific campaign, but a general set of rules.

I think my dissatisfaction with "cleric" and "priest" is a widely shared sentiment. "Cleric" is one of those journalistic synonyms that has picked up unwanted associations. Some of those are with accountancy and others are with the standard, mace-packing, D&D class that has taken on a strange life of its own on the basis of game rules and historical misperceptions. Along with "priest," "cleric" doesn't convey enough of a sense of the strange and wondrous and miraculous. It implies that every village vicar comes equipped with healing miracles, and conversely, it implies that your adventuring holy person is akin to one of those cozy old souls, beholden to the church hierarchy, relaxing in the study with some port, available to do weddings and bar mitzvahs.

But none of the alternatives really work. "Saint" implies a very restrictive code of behavior, and anyway, players shouldn't be walking around canonized already. "Holy man" also implies you're sanctified, needs to be gender-switched for women, and comes across as bland and generic, like "magic-user."

Prophets, though, are not saints in the colloquial sense of the word. They're capable of summoning bears to maul some bullies, or marrying a prostitute to name the children as part of an extended metaphor. They are wanderers; without honor in their home town. I think they make a great model for adventurers.

So for me the question is how this model fits into my One Page rules for priests. Well, apart from "prophet" being longer on the page than "priest" (causing some grumbling), they should really have some way to prophesy shouldn't they? In One Page rules, priests get one "miracle" per day, plus an extra one if they make a Mind save. These miracles tend to be of a healing bent, but I'm finding the Priest class really strong in play because of their miraculous ability to bring someone back from a 0 HP or less major wound (that is, real physical damage rather than just hit points, in my system). So I'm considering replacing the Priest's progression of

Level 1: Heal major wound to 1 HP
Level 2: Make a second save against poison

(and maybe those two should be flipped around anyway?)


Level 1: Get indirect answer to yes/no question
Level 2: Heal major wound to 1 HP

and possibly other abilities at higher levels, to match the wide variety of miracles attributed to prophets in many religions.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Went to Dragonmeet

In which I:

* Played in an AD&D game in the morning, run by a fellow who had clearly put some 20 years of work into the background of his campaign, with great maps and handouts. The adventure was a kobold hunt. The final challenge was certainly among the weirdest, toughest, and old-schooliest way to get a handsome kobold skull. There was a bit of fudging and nudging to get there, but we had a great time. AD&D was not at all cumbersome in this DM's hands, with plenty of stat checks in lieu of complicated procedures.

* Had a few words with James Raggi at his booth, picked up Vornheim and the Purple Worm Graveyard. He's more laid-back in real life than he is on his blog ... but then again, aren't we all?

* Also picked up a book of adventures for the Dying Earth system, which I've always wanted to run a one-shot in.

* Met up with my friend from the L5R CCG scene, who is now a 4th edition D&D player, and we played in a Castles & Crusades session. The adventure was a fun expedition to investigate a malfunctioning lighthouse, if a little on the easy side. My friend and I found the C&C system to play really well, a mix of AD&D with 3rd edition logic. I don't personally use it because its character generation doesn't fit my tastes, but with pre-generated characters that flaw went unnoticed. Old school made another convert that day...

Dragonmeet is a nice one-day con with no possibility of the fatigue that haunts longer events. One thing I did notice was a definite lack of miniatures, on sale or in games. This is too bad, as I do like using figures, and wanted to pick up some, or at least get some paints from another supplier than the Evil Empire of Nottingham. But I had to admit that the games I played in ran fine without figures.

Friday, 25 November 2011

Going to Dragonmeet

I'll be at the Dragonmeet convention in London tomorrow. See here. I know James Raggi will be on hand and I'll be meeting a friend there who is curious about the old school.

If you'll be there as well this is what I look like:

A little squashed horizontally, not sure why

I haven't registered anything but I might be persuaded to do a pickup Mad Archmage run. I've figured I can bring some pre-made characters, a few tokens and figures, and we're set. Who knows, if Raggi loans me some character sheets I might even do it LotFP style.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Bag of Tricks On Abulafia

So, while other things have been taking up my attention this week, like the small matter of correcting proofs for my psychology book, I have managed to code up my Bag of Tricks table pdf (see link on right) in a much more useable, wiki-randomizer form using the redoubtable Abulafia site. Click here to use it.

It's nice to be able to design a table free of the constraints of dice and to use some of the other great tables for food, substances, colors, etc. on there. A sample of the results, which still may need some interpretation:

Tomb with hair which if turned gives a cursed magic item

If opened, the tomb is seen to contain a skeleton wearing a wig. The wig will fly up and attempt to attach itself to the head of the closest person (reflex/breath weapon save to avoid). It can be turned as a wraith, and if thise is successful the wig falls inert. In any case, if the wig is put on, it cannot be taken off without remove curse, and the wearer gains an 18 intelligence and wisdom but must save (will/spell) every hour or become possessed by the spirit of the dead person.

Painted designs with face which if gazed at heals one person (one time only)

These are murals of the goddess Egeria and her nymphs. The first person with 5 or more hit points damage to inspect Egeria closely will become entraced by her eyes and stand there for a full hour, no save. On awaking from the reverie the person will be healed for 1d6 damage for each level he or she has.

Altar with water which if a specific substance is mixed with it opens a passage

This is a baptismal font of the rite of Egeria, filled with pure water that drips into it from above. If it is defiled by any kind of rotten substance or bodily fluid, a yard-wide drain will open up in the font for one minute. It leads to the Chamber of Defilement below.

Painting with creature which if worn opens a passage

Uh, this one has got me stumped. That's OK, the generator spits out 20 ideas at a time.

Obviously there is some room for improvement, although complicated, it might be worthwhile to give each feature a chance to have multiple subfeatures, and each subfeature a chance to have multiple relevant actions. I also want to, with proper attribution, work in some of Kellri's special trick effects from the Encounter Reference document, and otherwise make some of the entries more specific.

Have fun using this!

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Equipment and Weapon Cards - System-Free

I realized yesterday that it might be more useful if I left off all the One Page prices, weights, and rules assumptions from these cards, so that you can put on them whatever's appropriate in your rules system and campaign.

The weapon kits, of course, can't be system neutral entirely. For example, the "civilian" kit for wizards has a crossbow, the "rogue" kit for thieves has a bow and arrows, choices not supported by AD&D. I also included the mace in the "cleric" kit but some DMs may allow religion-specific weapons. You may want to substitute appropriate weapons (darts, sling) or just say that the weapon is for hirelings or other party members to use.

Hope these are useful!

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Starting Equipment Kit Cards

In my last few runs of the One Page system, I could feel time dragging as players (some completely inexperienced, some very savvy) waded through the equipment list to select stuff. I want to get it down to 15 minutes or so. Sure, I could use pre-gens, but part of the reason to have super-simple character options is to give the experience of rolling up a character.

This is just the six standard packages of adventuring gear I let characters start with for free, in card format.  I see this as making set-up much quicker. The cards make it obvious that the job is to distribute all the standard adventuring gear and backups among the party.

Weapons, etc. coming up next.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Why Does A Dungeon Look Like A Dungeon?

Everywhere from the Zork logo to Hirst Arts adventure scenery, the standard architecture of a "dungeon" - meaning, underground medieval fantasy adventure setting - is:

  • walls of regular or irregular gray stone blocks, anywhere from shoebox size to two or three times that
  • wooden doors fitted with iron hinges and reinforcing bars
  • floors of gray flagstone
  • torches in wall sconces

More on CRPG dungeons
It's shorthand for our conception of what a fiendish antique maze stretching many, many levels underground would look like. But what does it really represent?

Certainly, high medieval castle architecture used those big stone blocks for aboveground walls, as we see from Alnwick Castle in Northumberland and similar fortresses. When delving into earth, it might also be a good idea to reinforce the walls with stone, right? Except if the idea is just to reinforce and insulate and make it look neat and nice, then your typical medieval cellar made do with much smaller, brick-like stonework, as seen in this undercroft in Norwich.

Or the stonework might be plastered over, or it might be made of bricks, or packed earth might suffice.

Another problem for the "dungeon look" comes when, digging down, you hit bedrock. Granted, in agricultural plains this might not happen for a hundred feet or so, but castles, wizards' towers, and other such dungeon-toppers tend to be built on hills with rock not far below. In that case the dungeon tunnels are best dug directly into the rock, faced and decorated by planing the rock itself. There's no need to emulate the look of Garden State Brickface by carving fake mortar crannies into the stone.

Could it just be that the big-block idea comes from artists who wanted to draw fewer lines in their medieval settings? Maybe, but there's another reason an architect might want to divert those hard-to-move, yard-long stone blocks from building the important castle walls to facing the underground cellars.

If you are keeping prisoners down there - you know, in your dungeon - then it's important to make the blocks big, so it's hard to get past them to the diggable clay beyond.

So the answer to "Why does a dungeon look like a dungeon?" may very well be: "Because it's a dungeon..."

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Prison World

Shades of Penitentiary parts I-III and every other prison movie I could think of short of Jailhouse Rock, all leavened with Ye Olde Generick Dongeon Fantasye. Just think of it as StoneWhatTheHell.

Some entries are part bold italic and part not; the bold italic is the part that survives if the prison is merely a historic ruin being occupied by something else.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Do Split the Party

Another Adventure Gaming Society club Saturday and a group of four players - no repeat visitors - rolled up characters to enter the freewheeling Mad Archmage's castle using One Page rules. In which it was revealed that sometimes splitting the party is a good idea. How? Read on ...

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Followers: Your PCs are Adventurers

Followers - henchmen and hirelings - represent the sort of people who would follow a rootless adventurer into danger, and the limits on them in the One Page system reflect this.

One principle I'm following is that player characters have the class of "adventurer" modifying their role as a fighter, wizard, priest or whatever. NPCs are not playing by the same rules as PCs; they don't get experience the same way, shouldn't develop a raft of hit points on the basis of 30 years of scholarly research, may have skills and talents that adventurers never have the time to develop. So, I ended up limiting PC background skills so that adventurers don't become the craft mavens, alchemy brewers, and whatnot of other systems. You are adventurers, you pay other people to do that. If you were brought up as a beekeeper you might be able to get a discount on beeswax, but you're a failed beekeeper so your time is not best spent running a hive.

Likewise, when it comes to leading small armies around at 2nd character level, you won't really get a horde of hundreds following you unless you're backed up by some larger assurances. Maybe you're a captain in a governmental army, or the son of a duke. Maybe you're a bandit leader who started out as a rootless adventurer, with only a few henchmen and hirelings, but your successes, and your ability to offer a steady and relatively risk-free living, attracted more and more men.

The nuts and bolts of recruiting will be covered in the One Page village and town supplements. I see those as a way to codify some of the generic assumptions of what you can get in small and large campaign settlements.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Liches: Superbia

Closing out the season of sinful undead, we awake from Samhain revels to find the biggest undead, liches, and the biggest sin of all - the original sin of Adam, Eve and Satan - pride. "Ye shall be as gods."

"Lich" is an old Anglo-Saxon word meaning "corpse," and the transition to a gaming creature seems to have been through the writings of Clark Ashton Smith and other pulp scriveners who resurrected the hoary term to describe the sorcerous, shriveled walking dead.

As Von noted way back when I started this series, liches fit the bill of the free-willed undead best, because they are the only ones to explicitly and always choose their condition. Their aspiration to immortality and godlike power itself have earned them the sin of superbia, pride. One might imagine that because they have reached their undead state through arcane sorceries, they have found a way to transfer their consciousness beyond the theological soul. They are therefore an unparalleled threat to divine justice; when destroyed, they merely cease to exist, and their sins will go unpunished.

How does the lich get that way?  Following the idea of the lich as magical cyborg, it endures a seven-step ritual of replacing the parts of its spirit and soul with sorcery. It's possible to meet with a wizard at one stage or another of this transformation, a true fractional lich (as opposed to the curiously named demilich, actually more powerful than a full lich). These horrible rituals include self-mutilation, trepanation, and worse...

1. The wizard gives up the eyes, the windows of the soul, replacing them with icy burning sockets having full-spectrum vision to 120'.
2. The wizard gives up the breath, the door of the soul, replacing it with a magical voice that causes fear as a full-blown lich does.
3. The wizard gives up the brain lobe of Memory, the treasury of the soul, replacing it with a gem containing an intangible and infinitesimally compact library of lore. This ensures that the lich will retain super-genius intelligence and spell knowledge without the need to consult books.
4. The wizard gives up the brain lobe of Reason, the throne of the soul, replacing it with another gem containing a distillation of the wizard's own methods and rationality. This gives absolute self-control and resistance to enfeeblement, polymorph, and insanity.
5. The wizard gives up the brain lobe of Instinct, the foundation of the soul, sacrificing it utterly. This gives resistance to charm and sleep, and indeed freedom from all desires save those for knowledge, power, and the suffering of others.
6.The wizard gives up his or her soul, replacing positive energy with chill negative, and gaining the paralyzing touch ability, death magic immunity, or possibly even more dreadful powers of the Negative Planes.
7. Finally, the wizard surrenders his or her life, and the body begins to decay, replacing magic-user levels, hit points, and other stats with monster hit dice and stats, and acquiring the remaining resistances.

A contradiction in the lich-as-written may also contain the key to turning it. How does the lich's pride and vanity square with its appearance as a moldy old skeleton clad in rags? Surely if it is motivated by pride, the lich will find some way to keep up appearances. For example:

1. The lich casts a continual illusion, appearing as an attractive ideal of the being it was (or never was) in life.
2. The lich wears an iron mask, armor of fearsome construction, and mailed gauntlets to hide its skeletal state.
3. The lich has embalmed its bones in a waxen compound, creating an eerily lifeless similitude of dead-eyed face and cold hands.
4. The lich has opted for skeletal glory, studding its bones with rich metals, enamels and gems.
5. The lich appears as a skeletal horror, but has cast an illusion on itself, so that it sees itself as fair and youthful, its dank surroundings as a pleasure garden.
6. The lich has simply subjected itself to permanent invisibility.

Turning the lich consists, first of piercing or dispelling the illusion, then presenting the sacred symbol while subjecting it to mockery, to dethrone its sin of pride. Difficult, yes, but you didn't think you'd get away with just a d20 roll to fend off the king of the undead?