Sunday, March 25, 2012


So, after too much time thinking about doing it (and doing too much worldbuilding while doing all that thinking), I have finally started to actually put lines to paper in the Black Blood of the Earth game. The starting location for the players will be the small, walled city of Belwick, on the edge of the empire (which is still unnamed). Belwick lies on a fairly large river (about 150 feet across where the town lies, I don't yet know what it is called), and has a population somewhere in the range of 6000-8000 people - I'll know better when I finish the map. The main part of the city is surrounded by a wall about 50' high and 20' thick, with 60' tall towers about every 200 feet or so. The most dominating feature of Belwick is the Tower of Grond, which is the location of the ruler of the province of which the city is the capital (there is also a city government). The Tower is about 300 feet across at the octagonal base, narrowing to a square about 100 feet across at the top, and rises a stunning 450 feet into the sky (about 30 stories).

Underneath the city is a sewer system consisting of underground passages that connect to each other and to some of the sub-basements in the city's buildings. There are also mysterious tunnels that connect to the sewers but are not a part of them. The players will start the game with a map to one of these tunnel systems, with rumors of treasures to be found in them.

And that's all I know for sure right now.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Dragon Magazine Articles

As I prepare for running the Black Blood of the Earth game using 1E AD&D, I have been looking through issues of Dragon magazine for articles that will be useful to me. These include house rules, minor subsystems that govern particular aspects of the game, and so on. Here's a list of some that I think will be useful to me:

"Living in a Material World", #81. A way of making use of the material component rules in spellcasting. Gives the likelihood of finding the components, the cost, and so on.

"Fighters for a Price", #109. Extensive notes on mercenaries and how to hire them.

"Giant-sized Weapons", #109. Weapons for people who are bigger than humans.

"For King and Country", #101. The best alignment system for D&D-type games, possibly excepting the original Law/Neutral/Chaos system.

"Tables and Tables of Troops", #99. Expansions for determining the troops that are attracted to high-level fighters.

"When It Gets Hit, It Gets Hurt", #73. The only crit system I've ever liked for D&D-type games.

"The Mystic College", #123. Some notes on institutions for magic-users, instead of a simple tower.

"Weathering the Storms", #137. Simple tables for random weather.

"Treasures of the Wilds", #137. The values of various animal parts.

"What's for Lunch?", #137. A hunting system.

"Weapons Wear Out, Skills Don't", #65. An alternate proficiency system.

"The Natural Order", #122. More druid spells.

"A Capital Idea", #113. Businesses for PCs to run.

"Clout for Clerics", #113. Expanded rules for running clerical domains.

"The Role of Nature", #108. How to make use of weather.

"Sticks, Stones, and Bones", #97. Guidelines for nonstandard weapon use.

"Short Hops and Big Drops", #93. Ideas for setting limits on jumping for characters.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Obscure Games - Swordbearer

It wasn't the cover that attracted me to this game.
Wow, I guess it's been a while since I've made a post at this blog. Reading Brendan's post on the forgotten RPGs, I thought I'd make some quick notes about a few of my favorite games that aren't D&D.

First up, one of my favorite games that I've never played, Swordbearer. This was a fun little thing published by Heritage USA (normally a miniatures company) in odd books 7" high by 8.25" wide. These were designed to fit the box - a box of the same design that Heritage USA's miniatures sets came in! Later, it was reprinted by FGU in a book of more normal dimensions. It's still available from the latter publisher, too, as both a PDF and print book. FGU also made a supplement (same link), which was a campaign setting for the game. Most of the rules are standard, old-school design. There aren't any character classes, per se, but players choose specialization in skill categories (either two different categories or only one but gain bonus skills) and a previous occupation. Wealth is measured not in accounting, but by a wealth rating (a mechanic that has been copied by many games since then, from The Burning Wheel and Reign to Epiphany). The magic system, though, was something special. Spells (most spells, anyway; there is a second magic system based around spirits, which I will get to) are divided among 8 elements, which is a pretty standard idea, but the neat part is how they are powered. A spell-user will collect "nodes" of various sizes (usually power 1 to 3, but nodes of up to 9 power exist). The nodes can be "aligned" to a particular spell or left unaligned. Alignment can be done to any spell the spell-user knows, or he can allow the node to align randomly. Spells are rated in the power of node that they require, and a large enough node can align multiple spells up to its total power. The success of alignment is based, largely, on the number of unaligned nodes that the spell-user commands.

Now comes the fun part. The success chance of using the spell without destroying the node and the speed of casting is based on chaining nodes through a sequence of dominance. Don't you love that the technical language of the game sounds like the sort of thing that a spell-user might say? "Dominance" refers to the fact that each element dominates one element, and is dominated by another one. Thus, Wood dominates Wind, and is dominated by Water. This is similar to the elemental system of real-world Chinese Taoist alchemy. An oddity of the elemental system of Swordbearer is that Light and Darkness are different elements, but are treated as the same element on the sequence of dominance. The longer the dominance chain, the faster the spell, and the less likely that the node will exhaust itself and vanish.

There's a method of determining how often a spell-user finds a node when searching, a percent chance of finding one by accident, plus the Referee is encouraged to place particular nodes where they seem appropriate.

As I said above, there is also a second magic system, Spirit Magic. This also is based around nodes, but Spirit nodes are found in living creatures. There are two ways to use these: either kill the creature and take its Spirit nodes, or align one's own living Spirit nodes. There are four types, based on the four Humors of early medical theory (Vitriolic, Phlegmatic, Choleric, and Melancholy). Each Humor includes six spells, such as Charm, Familiar, Resurrection, or the various Undead spells (including Lich). Spirit magic doesn't have the advantages of the sequence of dominance, and is more powerful but more risky. Since it is rare for an animal to have Spirit nodes at all (for instance, a horse has only 3% chance of having one, and even a winged horse has only a 10% chance), while sentient beings always have at least one (and usually 3), Spirit magicians are usually seen as unwholesome at best.

The combat system is based on the pace of 2 1/2 feet and the instant of 4 seconds. It's a fairly tactical subsystem that is designed to be easily streamlined to description. Kinda like GURPS with less available complexity.

Overland travel is based on the league of 15,000 feet (6000 paces). There's a fairly large table that compares terrain roughness (or altitude) and vegetation cover, plus available roads, and gives the time in hours required to cross each league (rounded to the nearest quarter-hour). For instance, crossing a league of Lightly Rolling Brushland on a Trail takes 1 3/4 hours on foot, or 1 1/4 hours on a horse. There's also a listing of visibility distances for each terrain category (Lightly Rolling Brushland has a listed Visibility of 4 leagues), though this is modified for intervening terrain and altitude so that someone looking over lower terrain might see 12 or even 20 leagues in good weather. There are modifications made for traveling parties that are ill, wounded, exhausted, traveling in bad weather, and so forth. It sounds complex as I write it out, but the actual system seems like it would actually be pretty easy to use in play, so long as the travel table were available and the Referee had maps that included the necessary information - and of course it is not intended as a straitjacket anyway, but rather as a resource that is available to the Referee to gain verisimilitude.

There are a lot of nonhuman races in the game, from standard ones like elves, dwarves, and halflings to unusual choices like harpies, centaurs, and even dragons and giants! In addition, there are races unique to this game, such as bunrabs (like humanoid rabbits - perhaps not surprising since B. Dennis Sustare was also the author of Bunnies & Burrows) or moonspiders (intelligent giant spiders). I'd probably cut the available races down a bit, getting rid of some and emphasizing others (I really like bunrabs, and would like to use them to completely replace halflings - which is something that I will probably do in some of my D&D games, too! I mean, rabbits live in cozy subterranean warrens, they spend their lives thinking mostly about food and mating, and they are stealthy and elusive, but tough when backed into a corner - sounds like halflings to me).

Anyway, Swordbearer is a really neat game. I'd love to play. Who knows, maybe I'll run it one of these days.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Stupid Idea For A Magic System

Some of the comments in this post gave me a stupid idea. Using hit points as magic points seems like a neat idea. It plays into the idea of hit points as luck, divine favor, and so on. It gives magic using types a resource to manage that is non-trivial to balance against other considerations. It's just that, as others noted, creating a whole new magic system is a pain in the ass.

Fortunately, there already exists a magic system written for a version of D&D that uses hit points as the magic points of the system. In the D20 version of Star Wars, the Jedi and other Force users use hit points to power their abilities. Now, it would need some conversion to go from D20's skills and feats (which is what the Force system in D20 Star Wars is built around) to regular D&D terms, but at least the conversion is possible. Instead of spell books and spell slots, these sorcerers (we might as well call them that) would learn things at each level that are analogues to the skills and feats of D20 Star Wars.

Not something I'm going to do right now, but just thinking about it. Another magic system that I'd like to write up one of these days is also inspired by those comments, but it would be even easier since The Palladium RPG did a version of it, and that's the magic user who gains powers from pacts with demons and other spirits.