Monday, August 22, 2011

Advice On Refereeing These Games

"…when I'm DMing I'm a combination of Nethack, Captain Bligh, Larry David and Kali. I revel in mayhem, confusion, and horrendous death. But I don't do it to be a jerk or fuck over players; I do it because I love my players and I love my game, and have too much respect for both of them to play kindergarten softball. This isn't World of Warcraft, this isn't T-ball, this isn't Chutes and Ladders; this is Dungeons and fucking Dragons…" - Blair, at Planet Algol

Sunday, August 21, 2011


On the western steppe, nomads range on horseback. Most of these are fairly normal, similar to cultures from our world such as Mongols or Lakota. One of the nomad nations, though, is notable for having a warrior society the members of which aspire to the magical control of bulls for the purpose of riding them into battle.

"Control" is perhaps too strong a word. The Bullriders forge a magical partnership with a particular bull which lasts a lifetime - whether that life is the Rider's or the Bull's. The bulls involved become longer-lived (they can sometimes even outlive their riders!) and more intelligent, which is their benefit from the relationship.

In addition, the tribes of the Davrai (that is the name they give themselves - it means, roughly, "Free People", but their word for "free", davar, is related to the word other peoples use for "cattle") are among the few peoples of the world who have made a place for the beastmen known as minotaurs. It is a rare band that does not have a small group of minotaurs living among them.

On the battlefield, the Davrai are terrifying. Bellows of bulls and minotaurs issue forth from the lines of Bullriders, backed by hundreds of more conventional cavalry. Arrows blacken the sky, propelled by small, powerful recurved horn bows. Paynim legions withstand them only through dint of intensive training in fighting as a unit.

Davrai religion is fairly simple, centering on worship of a Sky God known as the Great Bull and his bride the Earth Mother. Everyday religion is mediated by a group of shamans who build personal relationships with an idiosyncratic group of spirits that is different with each shaman.

A Davrai band usually consists of about 30-300 men and women, with an equal number of children, and anywhere from 3 to 15 minotaurs. The herds consist of about twice that number of cows, along with a bull for every 20 adults, about 2 horses for each adult, and a number of oxen about equal to the number of cows. The oxen are used to draw large carts that carry the women, children, and the household goods of the band. The carts double as tents when shelter is needed.

Every band owes its allegiance to a ruling band, forming clans of between 3 and 10 bands. The clans are organized into tribes consisting of anywhere from 5 to 20 clans. All of the tribes follow a king, though currently there are three kings claiming control of the Davrai as a whole. This results in a smoldering aggression that sees a number of feuds and other violent incidents.

Sunday, August 14, 2011


The Koni (both singular and plural) are a diminutive race of nonhumans who live (primarily) in the hilly country of a peninsula to the west of Payn, known as Konikula. They resemble nothing so much as bipedal rabbits about half the height of a man, though their eyes are forward facing like a dog's. They live in clans, consisting of from about 10 up to 100 or so Koni all living in a single underground complex, called a "Warren". Small warrens will have about 5 times as many entrances as inhabitants, while larger warrens get that ratio down to about 1:1. There are usually numerous smaller tunnels, called "Bolt Holes", surrounding the main warren, up to a mile or so away. Koni like to dig, but only so long as it is purposeful. When the warren gets as large as it needs to be, something that the Koni will instinctively feel, they simply don't dig any more.

Koni warrens typically have a King, who rules with an iron hand. His Queen, in turn, rules him by subtler means. Male Koni are expected to act with deference, and in most warrens are subject to being beaten if they show insolence to the King. The King, in the larger warrens, will have advisers to help him formulate policy. The personalities of the King and Queen are reflected through the whole warren, though not always directly.

The warren usually includes several institutions particular to the Koni way of life, notably the Warreners and the Hoplites. The Warreners are a troop of warriors dedicated to the safety of the warren. The Hoplites, on the other hand, are scouts and messengers, skilled in avoiding notice and moving quickly. A few Koni are unable to find a place for themselves in warren life, and become Mavericks, usually forming into small bands living outside of the warrens, but forming a sort of informal border patrol. This is an essential service to the Koni community, as the little people are fairly territorial, at least with other Koni, and do not much like strangers coming around. Koni from other warrens are seen as odd or even slightly sinister in various ways, and Koni from distant areas are felt to be intruders.

Mavericks, however, crave society (even if they see themselves as "misanthropic"), and are generally susceptible to good treatment, no matter who it comes from.

The ideal Koni life is one of leisure and abundant food, with a mate for the mating season (Koni are not even capable of sexual activity outside of that season, but are very amorous during it). They idealize trickery, so long as it is directed outside of the warren, and generally are known for a sly, sarcastic sense of humor.

Some Koni become herbalists and healers, or even (on rare occasion) magicians. Magician Koni are seen as somewhat "off", and may even be slightly insane due to their traffic with magical powers and spirits. Usually, there will not be more than one magician for every several warrens, and the magician will live like a Maverick, though in a permanent bolt hole, with individual Koni visiting in time of need.

Storytelling is the main Koni pastime. They love stories about heroic Koni, the more tricky the better. Many of their stories bear a striking resemblance to Br'er Rabbit and Jack tales or even Bugs Bunny stories from our world (the famous "Wabbit season! Duck season!" exchange has a close parallel in the story of "Agabar in the Home of the Black Sun Koni", Agabar being a typically trickster-ish Koni hero).

Koni religion is fairly simple, mainly consisting of the above-mentioned storytelling and the perception of various activities and objects as having more or less luck of good or bad variety. Avoiding bad luck and looking for good luck is their main religious preoccupation, so that (for instance) one will see a Koni invariably knock on the post at a gate in a fence or wall, but only if he means to pass through the gate. When in groups, only the first Koni will knock (the luck being seen as traveling through the whole group). Similarly, Koni are frequently seen wearing a leek pinned to their shirt, since leeks are considered to be one of the luckiest of vegetables. Wealthy Koni might wear a truffle instead, as it has the greatest luck of all the foodstuffs, but truffles are expensive and such outlandish frippery might cause ill-feeling if the Koni is not otherwise very well-liked. There are Koni gods and heroes, talked about in their stories (and frequently emulated in deed), but worship consists almost entirely of the obsession with luck or the telling of stories.

(As should be obvious, this is the "hobbit" or "halfling" of the world I'm building. Mechanically, they will probably be very similar, or even identical, to halflings in S&W Whitebox, though I'll probably add the higher level stuff from Brave Halfling Publishing's Halfling Adventurer, up to 8th level.)

Friday, August 12, 2011

A Retroclone Of Top Secret?

I suppose that I haven't really been talkative lately. Mainly due to the fact that I've been watching a bunch of spy-themed movies and reading TSR's Top Secret and Victory Games/Avalon Hill's James Bond 007. At some point, it occurred to me that there should be a retroclone of one or both of those. I'm starting working on notes toward a clone of the former, but I have some areas that I'd like to ask others about.

First, how much change do I need to make to satisfy legal requirements? Am I allowed, for instance, to keep the same names of characteristics, or do I have to give them synonymous names since the game is not, itself, under the OGL? Can I go so far as to use the "Quick Reference Codes" for weapons that were so prevalent in the various modules (this may not be essential, but it could prove useful in converting those old adventures to the clone system)? Can I just paraphrase and reorganize the rules sections, and present the tables in reorganized form?

Second, what do you think that the modern audience would prefer: a retro look at the Cold War era, or a modern, Homeland Security era game, such as the last two James Bond films seem to be attempting? I'm leaning toward the latter, but I can see a retroclone being targeted at the former, with supplementary material covering the more modern era.

Third, should I consider putting my own spin on some of the rules, such as the hand-to-hand combat section? For instance, I'd like to add ways in swordplay to include cuts to the body and legs, which are absent in the second printing tables. I'd also like to change the system slightly so that wrestling is a little less of a foregone conclusion (for instance) by adding a random element based on relative character traits. Is that a good idea at all?

Fourth, I'm interested in integrating the Top Secret Companion and some of the better Dragon magazine articles (especially those by Rasmussen). However, I don't know if there is some reason that might be a bad idea.

So, what do you think?

Monday, August 8, 2011

eBay As Distribution Scheme

I had a busy weekend. Hope yours was good.

Over on Loviatar, christian is talking about how his new zine is available on eBay. This seems like an interesting idea to me, and a nifty way to distribute zines in general. It made it easy for me to just dip into my Paypal account and pay for a copy. Reminds me of going into the local (Seattle) lefty bookstore and picking up punk rock zines in the '80s. Go in and impulse-drop 50 cents for a couple of badly-xeroxed, handmade magazines, probably put together at someone's office job working for a lawyer or nursing home. Of course, the price has jumped a bit, since it isn't badly-xeroxed on a work copier and inflation has made prices change a bit in the intervening quarter century.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Dice Bandwagon

Over at Gothridge Manor, there's a request to show our dice. I totally get dice pr0n, so here's my own modest collection, minus a couple that I forgot to put on the blanket:

Please forgive the blurriness of my crappy camera.