Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Felix Dies Natalis Solis Invicti

I have no particular love for this holiday. For me, the holiday season is pretty much over already. Still, there's a lot of people who are really up on it, so over on Tenkar's Tavern there are links to free RPGs. Enjoy!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Wednesday, December 19, 2012


Over at Rather Gamey, Ark has listed his top seven played and run games. Seems like something to post, so I thought I'd go ahead and do the same. Note that these are not lists of favorite games, but rather the games that have actually been played/run most.

Of games I've played, it seems to me like this:

2) Traveller
3) Call of Cthulhu
4) MegaTraveller
5) AD&D 1E
6) Rolemaster
7) Champions (1st-3rd edition HERO System)

Of games I've run, it is most likely in this order:

1) Traveller
2) MegaTraveller
4) AD&D 1E
5) Vampire: The Masquerade
6) Top Secret
7) Any number of one-shots. I'll say Space 1889 because it should be on here somewhere.

That is to say, I don't think that I've run any game other than those top 6 more than once. I wish that I'd done so with, say, Space 1889 or CORPS, but not yet.

I really should run a MegaTraveller game sometime. I've got the megadungeon thing up first, though, in order to get back into the swing of running stuff. I've laid some more firm plans toward that today, in fact.

Monday, December 10, 2012


I've been saving up some links that should be of interest.

Lake Nyos in Cameroon was the site of a terrible natural disaster. Imagine PCs walking down the road, and coming across a village full of dead people and animals. Dozens of dead cows and people lie around, with no sign of violence on the bodies. As they travel further, the magnitude of the disaster becomes apparent, as they find village after village also empty of the living. There are no clues as to what happened in the small valley surrounding a lake.

Some underground tunnels of the ancient world, plus stuff about oracles.

Over at Hill Cantons, ckutalik asks if sandbox campaigns follow a general pattern. Seems like an interesting and fruitful area of inquiry for "old school" games.

Talysman at The Nine and Thirty Kingdoms discusses what life level drains in D&D-like games represent in the fictional world.

Checking in on the WotC DNDNext playtest, I learn that I have lost pretty much all interest in it. "At Will" spells are bad enough, but now they will scale with level. Rogues are being turned back into weak fighters instead of skilled specialists. And there is the ongoing problem of too many hit points at low levels. It just doesn't seem like the sort of game that interests me.

Black Vulmea has a lesson in how to make random encounters not suck. Now I understand why some people don't like random encounters, though I still don't share their qualms. It's because they don't understand what random encounters are supposed to be: a tool to make event generation easier for the Referee.

Zompist offers a review of a book about medieval economics, including a pretty good discussion of the basics.

A few months ago, Fantasy Faction offered up a discussion of magic systems for fiction. Some of those notes may prove of value to gamers, as well.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Goth of the Week

Not exactly sure where this one comes from, but the tag in the bottom right corner points toward this site. I can't find this picture on the galleries there, though.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

[Worldbuilding]Religion In Terra Ultima

This is a long one, covering a lot of ground.

The Tetradic Church is centered on worship of the four Elemental Gods. Each of these is understood to have numerous aspects, but each sect usually determines one aspect of each God on which their worship centers. Each of the four Gods is the origin of one of the four elements that compose the multiverse. Some heretical sects claim that each of the four Elemental Gods is an emanation of a single Highest God they associate with the Quintessence, or Prima Materia, but this is not accepted by the mainstream of Tetradic theology, nor do most Tetradic clerics accept even the existence of the Fifth Element.

Earth: In the main campaign area, Earth is the goddess of birth and growth, known as the Cow. In her darker aspect, she is known as the Mare, and is the bringer of death, disease, and decay. She is addressed by appropriate titles, such as Allmother, Earthshaker, Giver of Life, and so on in her beneficent aspect, or such titles as Pourer of Poison, Spinster, and such in her darker manifestations. In other parts of the world, Earth is known as the Bear, the goddess of defending warriors, or Flint, the Lord of Stone, among other understandings of Earth.

Air: Around the Six City-States, Air is known as Raven, the Stormlord. He is the god of thought and speech, poetry and music, but also the god of the raging storm, of wild things and lycanthropes. His titles are such as Shapeshifter, Oathbreaker, Great Skald, Wolf-father, or Winged Hunter, among others. In other areas, he is known as Cat, and is seen as a mercurial figure, androgynous, playful, and treacherous, or by other names.

Fire: In the area of the main campaign, Fire is Dragon, the god of the forge and magic, of the creative craftsman, and especially of smiths. In his negative aspects, he is the raging forest fire and the volcano, a force of pure destructive rage. His titles include Maker, Steelfather, the Flaming Horse, and Eater of All, among others.

Water: The Church in the area of the Six City-States knows Water as the Moon, ruler of light and darkness, bringer of the tides. Along with the Dragon, she rules magic. She is also the mistress of healing and justice, and therefore of war undertaken for noble causes. In her negative aspect, she is the lady of corruption and decadence, dedicated to the destruction of man’s highest ideals. Her titles include Herder of Unicorns, Protector, Lady of the Waters, the White Goddess, Mother of Whales, and the Fair One, among others. In her negative form, she is known as Mother of Demons, Night’s Mistress, Queen of the Abyss, or Lady Death. In other parts of the world, Water is known as the Sea Hag, the source of life and death, origin of all things, as the Measurer, a masculine aspect of the Moon who is the architect of the cosmos, or in other forms.

These four Elemental Gods have no game statistics, being beyond such matters. They also do not frequently appear outside of dreams and visions. When they do, it is because of major upheavals in the world. They usually interact with the world through the agency of their messengers, the Twelve Archangels, the Thirty-Six Seraphs, the Two Hundred and Fifty-Two Planetary Angels, and the numerous Devas of Astral, Monadic, and Movanic form.

Each of the four Elemental Gods has three Archangelic messengers. These are as follows. All have powerful statistics, equivalent to Lesser Gods of the DDG book and the World of Greyhawk. I haven’t yet worked up those stats, but it shouldn’t be hard. Keep in mind that The Fish is a pair of fish, that Justice is a woman holding a balance, and that all of the twelve Archangels are derived from the twelve Zodiac constellations.

Earth: The Bull, The Maiden, and The Sea-Goat.

Air: The Cupbearer, The Twins, and Justice.

Fire: The Ram, The Lion, and The Archer.

Water: The Fish, The Crab, and The Scorpion.

Each of the Archangels commands three Aethyrs. These have the characteristics of Solars from the MMII. Each has a name, a title, and a typical appearance as follows.

Aethyrs of The Bull:

Orvandal, Lord of Material Trouble. Appears as a giant wearing only a belt and carrying a bow.
Ieilael, Lord of Eventuality. Appears as a long-haired man with ox’s hooves, a winged man, or a gryphon, among other forms, always carrying a key in every form.
Heroch, Lord of Success Unfulfilled. Appears as a bronze clockwork lion, a mermaid, a swarthy man with metal and ivory teeth, or a chariot driver with serpents for legs, among other appearances.

Aethyrs of The Maiden:

Akiah, Lady of Prudence. Appears as a woman bearing an armload of fruit, grain, or breads.
Hazael, Lord of Material Gain. Appears as a large man holding a jar of oil, a black centaur, or a tribesman clad in skins.
Murmux, Lord of Wealth. Appears as an old man leaning on a staff and wrapped in a woolen mantle.

Aethyrs of The Sea-Goat:

Vishiriyah, Lady of Harmonious Change. Appears as a white dryad clad in blue, red, and yellow flowers.
Yeichavah, Lord of Effort. Appears as a gray, blind ape, or an enigmatic figure in prismatic robes, face hidden by a peacock fan, or in many other forms.
Mendial, Lord of Power. Appears as a blue dolphin or merman, always with golden yellow eyes.

Aethyrs of The Cupbearer:

Aniel, Lord of Defeat. Appears as a humanoid figure with head bowed, wearing a dark red, shapeless, hooded robe. Only his hands are visible, and he carries an empty sack.
Rehael, Lord of Science. Appears as a milk-white pegasus, or as a proud king with a long white beard wearing a white robe.
Hahahaal, Lord of Unstable Effort. Appears as a large yellow swan, or as a crowd of people all talking in chorus.

Aethyrs of The Twins:

Umibael, Lady of Shortened Force. Appears as a snake, a wolf with a snake’s tail, a woman leading a roan mare and stallion, or as a man bearing a surveyor’s rod.
Aaneval, Lord of Despair and Cruelty. Appears as a man with the head of a falcon or other raptor, a black dog, or as a man covered in the scales of a fish or snake.
Menqal, Lord of Ruin. Appears as a corpse wearing chainmail, a black horse, or a harlequin-type clown with no arms.

Aethyrs of Justice:

Mebahel, Lady of Peace Restored. Appears as a woman reading a book, sometimes carrying a bloody spear.
Hokmiah, Lord of Sorrow. Appears as a man with a lion’s face, usually pacing angrily and carrying a whip, but sometimes enthroned.
Kaliel, Lord of Rest from Strife. Appears as a fat man riding a donkey and drinking wine, a slumbering bull with the head of a man, or a leopard.

Aethyrs of The Ram:

Deneyal, Lady of Dominion. Appears as a dark, imposing giantess, a queen in a white robe, a songbird, or a cat, always with fiery red eyes in whatever form.
Hechashiah, Lady of Ancient Strength. Appears as a woman in red and white robes with one leg uncovered, or as a red and white sea serpent.
Nithael, Lord of Perfected Work. Appears as a pale, redheaded man in a reddish-purple gown carrying a wooden staff, or as a winged man with a mirrored sword and helmet. Usually appears wearing a golden bracelet.

Aethyrs of The Lion:

Yelayel, Lord of Strife. Appears as a man riding a lion wearing noble, fashionable clothing, or a man riding a gray horse and clad in rags.
Elemiah, Lord of Victory. Appears as a stranger in a blue cloak wearing a slouch cap, a bearded knight of cruel countenance in heraldry that cannot be remembered, or in many other forms. In no form can his eyes be seen clearly.
Mahashiah, Lord of Valor. Appears as a muscular warrior with dark feathers for hair holding a stabbing spear and a shield depicting a rattlesnake, a knight in armor, or a watchman bearing a whip.

Aethyrs of The Archer:

Nithaya, Lady of Swiftness. Appears as a blurry image of wings, a winged dog, or a human figure with past, present, and future images superimposed.
Yirthiel, Lord of Great Strength. Appears as a golden man, or a three-headed dragon. Sometimes leads yellow-orange or red cattle.
Amael, Lady of Oppression. Appears as a woman in indigo robes seated on rocks. She is either seen weeping or with her foot on the neck of a man and her hand wrapped in his hair.

Aethyrs of The Fish:

Vevaliah, Lady of Abandoned Success. Appears as an attractive red-headed woman with her hair tied up in a black velvet band, a collie, a raven, or a large orange carp.
Shaliah, Lady of Material Happiness. Appears as, usually, a young noblewoman with widely varied clothing and accessories, frequently with a caduceus.
Mihal, Lord of Perfected Success. Appears only in human form, sometimes as two humans (a man and a maiden), other times as a crowned king of perfect form.

Aethyrs of The Crab:

Chabuiyah, Lady of Love. Appears as a white centaur garlanded with leaves, or occasionally as a maidenly Muse wearing a crown.
Rohael, Lord of Abundance. Appears as a great bear, or occasionally as a composite beast such as a chimera or gryphon. When he appears as a human, usually as a camel-driver or a beautiful woman wearing green, he usually has a blue head.
Muumiah, Lord of Blended Pleasure. Appears as a sailor with a green and a blue dog, occasionally carrying a serpent or a stream of water in one hand. Less often, he appears as a marine creature.

Aethyrs of The Scorpion:

Livoyah, Lady of Loss. Appears as a middle-aged woman in red, a fire-sprite, or a horsewoman riding a red horse.
Nelokiel, Lord of Pleasure. Appears as a well-formed man riding a richly appointed camel, or in a luxurious tent.
Naber, Lord of Illusionary Success. Appears as a blonde woman in red, a kneeling man wearing a fur robe, a carrion crow, a black crane, or a red-eyed gryphon, among other forms.

Each of the thirty-six Aethyrs commands seven Planetary Angels, which have statistics equivalent to Planetars from the MMII. They each have a name, but I haven’t worked those out yet. Each corresponds to one of the planetary spheres (Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Venus, Mercury, The Sun, and The Moon) as seen through the lens of the Decanic energy of the Aethyr that commands them. For more on Decanic energies, get GURPS Thaumatology or GURPS Cabal. A good translation of the Picatrix or another book of occult sciences that discusses that (fairly obscure) matter of astral magic might also be helpful, but these have some disagreement on the specific nature of each of the Decans. The GURPS books have the advantage in that they are both standardized and are the source of these specific Aethyrs. Kenneth Hite developed them from Bill Whitcomb’s The Magician’s Companion, for the most part, so that could also be a good choice. In time, I plan to provide specific additional powers to the Aethyrs and Planetary Angels, based on the Decanic and Planetary energies they represent. I’ll probably just divide the Planetary Angels into their seven categories, rather than giving each one specific powers related to their commanding Decan.

Beneath the Planetary Angels are numerous Astral, Monadic, and Movanic Devas. These are the most frequently encountered spirits of the Tetradic Church.

The Tetradic Church sees all other alleged gods as demonic forces, not to be trusted. Since some of these other cults do, in fact, worship entities known as “demons” or “devils” in the MM, FF, and MMII, this is not an entirely undeserved reaction. However, many of the other gods are taken from the DDG, as well, so it’s all a matter of perspective. The point is that the Tetradic clerics oppose all other religions, unless they can be convinced that the objects of worship are “really” aspects of the four Elemental Gods. The matter is somewhat complicated by the existence of the Fatalist Church, who worship an exclusive goddess known as the Lady of Fate, so other monotheist churches do exist in the Terra Ultima setting. They are only just coming into contact, however, and the conflict that is inevitable between them is still at an early stage.

All clerics in the Terra Ultima setting are members of monotheist (or otherwise exclusive, such as the Tetradic) churches. Tetradic clerics are forbidden by custom from shedding blood, and so are required to use only the weapons allowed in the AD&D rules for clerics (the fact that such weapons do frequently shed blood from their victims is overlooked in ecclesiastical law). In extremis, they may use other weapons, but may never have proficiency in them, and so must suffer the non-proficiency penalty associated with that class when using such weapons (though it is a fact that some clerics also have a second class, and in such cases appropriate weapons may have been learned through the other class; in such cases, however, it is still expected that an active cleric will use only those weapons associated with his clerical profession). If a cleric is found using a non-clerical weapon, he faces ecclesiastical court charges of Shedding Blood. If he is not able to justify his actions, he may suffer penalties ranging from penitential pilgrimages and quests to enforced monasticism for a period of years. Repeated offenses, or even repeated accusations, are grounds for increased penalties. The
Elemental Gods themselves do not enforce this custom, however.

The priests of polytheist gods, demons, and devils are druids. There is no Grand Druid (and therefore no Hierophant Druids), as each druidic hierarchy is fully independent and based in a specific region. The gods of one region are not the gods of another, though there is occasional overlap, especially between the demonic druids, the diabolic druids, and the druids of the local pantheons. Demonic and diabolic druids have more wide-ranging cults, but even they are divided by region, with a Great Druid for each general area of the world answering only to their demonic or diabolical patrons. In any case, they are frequently quite secretive. Meanwhile, each region boasts an independent druidic pantheon, based on historical ones, such as the Celtic, Norse, Finnish, Egyptian, and so on. Depending on the strength of the local exclusivist religions, they might be open or secretive. In the areas where one pantheon borders another, there is sometimes seen some overlap, such as the Celtic druids on the borderlands also giving place to the Norse Odin (perhaps replacing Lugh) or such. All that said, though, the druids do not need to declare a specific god as “patron”, nor do the gods give special powers to their worshipers beyond those of the druid class (though the gods can be met in person, with the exact characteristics given in the DDG or other source, and may give individual boons or curses based on those meetings). Druids may only rise in the specific hierarchy of their region. If a druid of Druid or higher level joins another hierarchy, they will immediately fall to the highest level at which there are unlimited druids (Initiate of the Ninth Circle), just as if they had failed to rise to Druid level, losing experience points in the same fashion as well. They may then attempt to rise in the new hierarchy as normal. Druidic weapon limits are only on what weapons the druid may learn while rising in level as a druid. There are no penalties for using other weapons other than non-proficiency penalties.

Monks and Illusionists are adherents of the Denialist religion, which claims that all things perceptible are actually illusions. By denying the existence of things, they are able to overcome them and perform amazing feats of prowess or mold the shadow-stuff of perceptible reality to their whim. They are an atheistic religion, claiming that the gods, even the Elemental Gods and the Fatalist Goddess, themselves are merely illusions, and that there is a higher perception available to the dedicated. Popular Denialist religion is very personal, with lay adherents calling on Sanctified Monks or Illusionists who have, it is said, chosen to return to the realm of illusions as Saints to help others escape to the highest realms. To conceptualize it, think of something like Buddhism and Gnosticism. The Saints are many, the specific mix being appropriate to the region. Some Saints seem to have originally been polytheist gods or goddesses, who successfully Denied the illusory world and Sanctified themselves. The sect teaches that even the self is an illusion, that all things that can be conceived are illusions, and that the greatest mystery is to comprehend the incomprehensible.

The Fatalist Church, referenced several times above, is dedicated to the worship of Our Lady of Fate, who is depicted as a woman, of varying age, carrying a spindle from which she draws the thread of Life, weaving it into the fabric of Existence. Fatalists declare all other religions to be heretical demon-worship, even the Tetradic Church. They have a very strict code of conduct, designed to ensure that each person fits precisely within their fated path in life. Particular laws apply to different social castes, the professions within those castes, and the sexes in different ways. Those whose lot in life is to serve the community as leaders are given much, and much is expected from them. Those lower in the social hierarchy are given more freedom of action, at least nominally, but suffer in grinding poverty and must obey the commands of their social superiors. Death and mutilation are frequent punishments for straying from the code of laws given by Our Lady of Fate.

As an example, those of the lowest caste have no laws concerning adultery. They may, at least in theory, have sex with whomever will have them. In practice, however, they are usually told whom to marry by those whose stations gives them command of such serfs, and if they do not then produce children with their assigned mate they are subject to being beaten by their lords. If they are caught engaging with the spouse of another, the lord is within their rights to, for instance, neuter them or even kill them (though they are not required to do so by any means; it is just that they are allowed to inflict such penalties). In fact, a serf’s lord is permitted to inflict such penalties at whim, for any reason or none at all. Serfs are the property of their lord, to be disposed at the lord’s pleasure. Lords, on the other hand, have very strict laws against adultery. If caught, neutering is the minimum penalty allowed. Such higher justice is administered by the Priests, who are themselves subject to the King (or Queen). The King is sovereign, and answers only to the Primate and Our Lady of Fate Herself. The Primate holds his or her office at the whim of the Council of Cardinals, composed of representatives from each Diocese. The Dioceses are religious/political units that act as microcosms of the Kingdom, each having a high Priest (known as the Bishop) and a Baron whose relationship with each other is similar to that of the Primate and the King. Bishops and Barons are hereditary offices. The succession of a new King is at the vote of the Barons, while the Cardinals are assigned by the Bishops. If a Baron dies without an heir, the new Baron will be assigned by the King. If a Bishop dies with no heir, the Primate will assign a new one to the Diocese.

(Credit: most of the descriptions of the Aethyrs are slightly reworded from the versions given by Kenneth Hite, originally in GURPS Cabal, and later in GURPS Thaumatology. I highly recommend those for anyone interested in a gaming magic system that draws on real-world occultism, or who wants a system that has depth for background "fluff" [as an aside: I dislike that term for the important elements of a game and setting that are not mechanical in nature, but it seems to be the term that most people will understand]. Though they give GURPS rules mechanics when they give mechanics at all, the principles are general enough to apply them to most other mechanical systems.)

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Sometimes, It Pays To Be The Squeaky Wheel

So, to finish up the Chronicle City Games saga, it has transpired that they have announced a winner.

Four winners, in fact.

It seems that, because of the delay in announcing the results, they added three prizes: two vouchers for $25 worth of Chronicle City games (only) and a $50 voucher for any games. The $50 voucher was reserved for the annoying prick who prodded them into announcing a winner. That is to say, me. I feel odd being rewarded for being the guy who spoke up, but since it was in an effort to help out other people (I was serious when I said that speaking up would likely take me out of the running), I don't feel too badly.

They were also very gracious in apologizing for the delays. I am surprised, as I haven't had the best luck in dealing with small businesses (or large ones, who often seem to feel that just throwing money at disgruntled customers is sufficient), but I am also greatly impressed.

So, in sum, that was a good resolution. Congratulations to Matt Bridgeman-Rivett on his good luck. Now to sit down and figure out what games I want!

Monday, December 3, 2012

Drive-By Commenters

On my last post, the drive-by commenter who calls him- or herself "NUNYA" posted that I should leave hardworking game shops alone, no matter how much they might renege on their promises to the people they use to promote their business, that I should "cut them some slack". Honestly, I do think that is fair. I am willing, after all, to cut slack to people whose Kickstarters are running excessively late (OK, I am thinking about two Kickstarters in particular, one gaming, the other something else). Why am I not so willing to give slack to a hardworking game shop?

I don't have a complete answer to this. I am trying to work through the issue, and maybe change my approach to one or the other thing.

First, there is a qualitative difference between running a raffle and putting together a creative work. A raffle only requires a way of randomizing (and I might suppose that a game shop would have some such method available to them), while a creative work requires a lot of very difficult, time-consuming work. As an author (published, actually, albeit as a co-author) and game designer (unpublished, but with an actual local following, even among gamers I've never met in person), I am very aware of this.

Second… no, actually. That first point is all I need. No matter how many conventions the people involved might have attended in the pursuit of their own interests, it shouldn't take four months to get five minutes together to randomize a winner, then perhaps another couple of minutes to post the results on Facebook, and finally email the winner (I exaggerate the amount of time slightly, but if the whole thing takes them more than an hour of work in total, they're doing it wrong). That is many orders of magnitude easier than putting together a published creative work.

That's not to say that NUNYA brought up the Kickstarter matter, but I hope that s/he isn't going around saying anything negative about, say, James Maliszewski's issues with getting Dwimmermount produced, given the extreme forgiveness that s/he is willing to give to a derelict game shop who took work from freelancers in exchange for a (currently unfulfilled) raffle entry.

Also, I updated in the last entry, but I do want to reiterate that Chronicle City Games, after my recent prodding, has said that they will post a winner tomorrow.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

That's Unfortunate

Back in August, Chronicle City Games set up a raffle for $100 worth of gaming materials (any publisher, not just Chronicle City). The entry "fee" was to provide them with a list, including contact info, of game stores local to the entrant, information that has monetary value to them.

That sounds like a win-win type of deal, right? Except that it has now been over three months and they have not named a winner. I have personally emailed them a number of times and was assured that such an announcement would have been made on 29 October. That date passed, and I waited patiently. Then, on 17 November, I sent them another email, gently reminding them of their promise. This time, there was no response to the email, nor was there an announcement. It's been over two weeks that I have been waiting, and so now I just want to warn people about the deceptive practices of Chronicle City Games.

So, I'd like to ask that you not shop Chronicle City Games.

EDIT: There has been an update as a result of my prodding. We are promised that there will be an announcement tomorrow.

We'll see. In any case, it may not be that their practices are deceptive, but that they have only made a professional blunder. The claim is that "November was a double whammy of conventions (the last this weekend just gone)". That doesn't explain why the 29 October date came and went, but I am still willing to give the benefit of the doubt.

FURTHER EDIT: If this matter interests you, please read the next two posts in this blog, as there were further matters that followed on. The short version is that the company not only made good on their promises, but actually exceeded them as a way to apologize for their failings.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Tuesday, November 27, 2012


Just finished up the novel that I was writing for NaNoWriMo. It came in at 50,001 words, and had an actual ending. The setting was a science-fantasy one that I had originally developed as a sketch for a possible gaming setting. There is more fleshed out now! Among other things, I discovered the beginnings of the necromantic city-state of Mardras. The details of that city-state changed somewhat to accommodate the specifics of the Terra Ultima setting, but I can always change even those around to move Mardras to whatever setting I like.

Now, I am going to relax for a couple of days.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Dammit, Joe!

I was hoping to make it out of the year without supporting another gaming Kickstarter. Spears of the Dawn was supposed to be it, the last of them that I would support at least until the Car Wars Kickstarter kicks off next year. But nooooooooo. Along comes Joseph Bloch, of Greyhawk Grognard fame, with his Adventures Dark & Deep project. As he puts it:

"Adventures Dark and Deep™ is an attempt to explore what the world's most popular role-playing game might have looked like if its creator had been allowed to continue developing it, rather than leaving TSR in 1985.

This work is based on extensive research into Gary Gygax's public statements about his vision for the next edition of the game, using the game's 1st edition rules as a jumping off point. It's not a retro-clone, but an entirely new game with a very familiar feel."

Having seen Mr. Bloch's writings on the history of the hobby, I trust that he's done a fine job with figuring out what Gary might have wanted to do with a second edition of AD&D, and so I am looking forward to seeing this project and helping it to be as well-made as possible. The Kickstarter is just to get good art for it, as the game is going to be published regardless. The rules are already written and playtested, so it's just a matter of getting the thing to look pretty.

Anomalous Subsurface Environment

One of the best science fantasy megadungeons out there, Anomalous Subsurface Environment, has just had its second and third levels released. You might want to get it. If you don't have the first level yet, you should probably get that one too. I mean, demonic clowns, ray guns, dungeon elementals, what's not to like?

Anyway, I ordered my copy to go along with the first level, which I already have. It should be here in a week or two. There are PDF versions, if you're the sort of person who can stand that.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Goth of the Week

Sadly, I don't recall where I found this picture. If someone does know, please send me a message or leave a comment so that I can properly attribute it.

Monday, November 12, 2012

He Is The Wizard

I love this short music video, done for the new Looney Tunes Show. It's been around before, but I was just reminded of it. There are plenty of ideas for gamers in the story told, assuming an interest in the gonzo, and be sure to check out the oddly familiar castle at about 3:28.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Goth of the Week

The lovely VictorianKitty from the Sophistique Noir blog.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Quickly Checking In

Well, I'm doing well in the NaNoWriMo writing challenge, ahead of schedule in terms of the number of words I've written as opposed to the number I'd need to write in order to finish 50,000 words in 30 days.

I don't have a lot to say in regard to gaming lately, but that's because my attention is focused on the story. On the other hand, I'm taking my experience of dungeon crawling as an element of the story. It occurred to me as I was writing that the logistical segment of play is not only interesting but essential, and my characters have spent several days (both in the story and in terms of how long I've been writing this section) preparing for their expedition into the hidden temple that lies underneath the city.

I've also managed to throw in some philosophy, and it grew out of the story and characters, rather than being imposed on it and them.

Anyway, that's what I'm doing. Do you have any projects that are occupying your time this month?

Friday, November 2, 2012

Goth of the Week

It's hard to find good pictures of goth men, but there are a few out there. Of course I find this one right after I give up!

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

How To Be A Writer

I'm going to be participating in NaNoWriMo this year, so don't expect a whole lot of posting from me in the next 30 days. I'm going to try to post something here, but I've never done this before so I don't know how much time and thought I will have available for other things like this blog. I do have Goth of the Week posts queued up for the next few weeks, so at least those will show up. Maybe I'll make posts about how many words I've written, but I can't guarantee that.

I've got a lot of resources available to me, from books about the specific contest (one written by the founder of NaNoWriMo, actually, which is basically a motivational seminar in book form - very helpful, actually, as far as I can see) to books on plot - and gaming tools like S. John Ross's Big List of RPG Plots and Mythic Game Master Emulator. Writing a novel in this way is actually rather like the improvisation involved in gaming, where I won't know at the start how everything is going to go, except perhaps in vague outline.

One of the important "rules" of NaNoWriMo (there's really only one rule: WRITE!) is to let yourself suck. Shut off the inner editor and just get words on paper. I've joked that I plan to spend the whole month writing "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy." over and over, but I don't have the ability to live in an empty hotel for the month.

I also plan to keep up a schedule of watching TV and movies on occasion (hooray for Netflix), in order to keep my creative juices flowing through inspiration from other sources. My goal in this is to work on stylistic issues, so hackneyed plotting, cardboard characters, and hokey situations are perfectly acceptable.

Anyway, the idea of letting yourself suck may also be a useful idea for gaming. It's all too easy to work on setting and adventure until the end of time. For it to be played, which is pretty much the point of a gaming setting or adventure, it has to be let go. Everything can be prettied up at the table, after all, just as the novel gets prettied up in the rewriting phase. (How's that for a cheap attempt to shoehorn gaming content into this post?) The point is that the way to be a writer is to write, just as the way to be a gamer is to play games.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Experience Points

Every once in awhile, discussion about experience points resurfaces. I don't think I'll bother with the main discussion (which is about experience for exploration), though I will point out Talysman's post on the subject. Instead, I'll just lay out what I think should be included in experience points for D&D-like games (and some of these can be raided and modified for games that use different experience point values), as well as games like Pendragon that use similar values but call them something else (Glory, in Pendragon).

First, it should be understood that experience points are pretty much the same thing as victory points in wargames and miniatures games. What they represent in games can vary, but my own take is that they are a measure of the character's significance in the world. So, I can have my experience point awards disconnected from the things that would make a person better in our world, such as training or practice, in favor of things that make a character more interesting.

So, let's start with the traditional ones: 1 experience point per money unit acquired (gold pieces or whatever; I like the silver standard, so it would be per silver penny in my games) and 100 per hit die of foes defeated (modified by special powers).

Now, "defeating foes" can be expanded to mean more than just killing them in combat. Rescuing someone can give experience points based on the level/hit dice of the rescued party. Turned undead can be treated as defeated foes. Convincing a character or creature to do something significant by non-magical means can also be treated as defeating a foe. This wouldn't be something like "convincing" a merchant to sell you something, but perhaps convincing a king to go to war would fall into this category.

Experience for treasure gathered should only be given when the character spends the money for goods or services. In addition, some expenditures that give no direct benefits in game terms should give extra experience points, such as Jeff Rients's Carousing rules or Claytonian's variations (including Martial Training, Holy Sacrifices, and Esoteric Research).

Next, experience should be given for travel. Talysman's system at the link above seems a little complicated for my tastes, so I'd probably just go with giving experience for each map hex entered for the first time by that character, at a rate of 5 experience points per 5 mile hex or 6 per 6 mile hex (or 3 per 1 league hex, if I'm using that scale instead, as seems likely). I don't think that exploration of dungeons needs any specific experience award, since the value of such locations is based on defeating the foes and gathering the treasures within.

On the other hand, some locations should be worth an experience bonus just for visiting them. The Referee should set a value for various locations from 100 to 1000 experience points, with more given for more famous, powerful, sacred, beautiful, remote, or whatever sites. Going to the site and spending at least a day in the immediate vicinity (which implies sightseeing, examining, exploring, and so on) gains the experience bonus, but each site can only give its bonus once to a particular character. These bonuses should be made known to the players when the site is made known to them, so that the players can make rational choices about searching out such sites. That said, some sites might give experience points when discovered, if the discovery is also the first time the characters (and their players) hear of the site. This experience point bonus might completely replace the travel bonus of the above paragraph, or it might be in addition to it.

Training under a famous master should give an experience point bonus. Finding such a master and studying under him or her for 1d3 months gains a bonus of 50 experience points per level of the master. Special masters can increase that bonus at the Referee's discretion, up to 100 experience points per level of the master, but may require certain prerequisites from the character, while inappropriate masters cannot train a character at all. For instance, a tengu might give 50 experience points per hit die to normal fighter-type characters (if such a character can convince the tengu to train him at all), but 100 experience points per hit die to a kensai or shugenja (being character types closely associated with tengu in folklore). Meanwhile, a famous mage cannot train a fighter at all, but only magician characters. Keep in mind that this is not normal training, but training under a famous master of the art. As such, it should be difficult to gain such training, either because the master is remote, already has many students, or whatever. The character has to earn this training by dint of effort (whether just getting there or convincing the master of his worthiness).

Success at competitive activities should gain experience points, depending on the contest. Winning a race gives maybe 100 experience points (or less, for a minor race), while being champion of a tournament might give 1000 experience points, plus the value of defeated foes. Higher values go to the more prestigious contests. This might also apply to elections, so that someone elected to office might gain experience points based on the significance of the office.

Special minigames might give experience points, as well, such as in a romance minigame which might give experience points for succeeding at various stages of wooing a mate.

What are some other objective goals that might give experience points?

Friday, October 26, 2012

Goth of the Week: Halloween Edition

Happy Halloween! Thanks to Erin Palette! I've no idea where she found it.

Request For Assistance

If anyone out there has an "in" with Megadungeons.com, could you let them know two things for me, please? First, I am completely unable to post through their current Captcha system - all of my attempts, no matter how carefully I match the Captcha, come out as failed attempts. Second, there is another megadungeon out there which I've just learned about, The Dungeon Under the Mountain, a ten-level systemless megadungeon.

Edited to add: Over at Dreams in the Lich House, Beedo has something to say that should be of interest to the megadungeon crowd.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Obscure Games: Realms of the Unknown

I haven't done one of these in a little while, so it's time for a review of another obscure game that hardly anyone but me has heard of. This time, Realms of the Unknown, a strange little game that came out in 1991. Written by Timothy A. Dohrer and Gerry Evenwel III, they claim that it had been developed and playtested over the previous 10 years, so I imagine that it was first played in 1980 or so. In their introductory notes, they claim that hundreds of people had played the game, and that for all that time the rules were never written down. I can certainly believe that, but it does seem to indicate that a number of the more complex parts of the game (such as the more advanced mass combat rules) must have been written specifically for the published game.

Anyway, the idea of the game is that the players each represent a single city or other population group (I think of them as clans or small tribes). It's never spelled out explicitly, but I imagine that the players specifically represent the gestalt of all the rulers and other influential people of the population group. In the basic game, each player is given a sheet which details the various resources to which they have access, such as population (divided initially into "men" and "protected population", 35% the former and 65% the latter), food, raw materials such as animals or minerals, and manufactured goods such as weapons or tools. These are the resources with which the player will set out to… do whatever he likes.

There are no turns as such in the game, though time is tracked. The main suggestion is that time should pass at a rate related to real time, though at an accelerated rate. The baseline suggestion is that one week passes in the game for every 24 hour day in the real world. At any time, a player can send an Order to the Referee. Orders are of several types, though each is really just a codification of the sorts of things that can be attempted. There are Exploration Orders, Production Orders, and General Orders (which comprise everything else). An Exploration Order might be, "Send 10 men, each armed with a bow and 40 arrows, on horseback, to the east. They will carry enough food for a two-month journey. They will travel for four weeks and then return to [the City] with the information they have gathered. Their assignment is to map the area and look for any interesting resources (animals, metals, or natural). In particular, look for iron in the foothills." A Production Order is simpler, assigning some population to produce an item or items, giving the items requested, the resources required, the population assigned, and the time it should take. For instance, "100 swords, 20 iron units, 10 men, 4 weeks." A General Order might be, "Have 50 women from the Protected Population put in charge of civil defense in [the City]. They will be referred to as civil officers in times of emergency." An Order can also be defined as a "Standing Order", which will stay in effect until countermanded (though this is probably not recommended for most Production Orders).

Most Orders are adjudicated by the Referee as she prefers, but combat is covered by a mass combat system. In this, each soldier is given a basic rating of 1 (or 0.2 if Protected Population). Training and equipment multiply this number by a varying amount, so that a soldier with "Level A" training (the first level after "Untrained") has a modifier of 2.0, a Longsword has a modifier of 1.5, a Wooden Shield 0.10, and Chain Mail 1.25. The equipment values are added together, increased by 1, and multiplied by the basic level given by the type of population and level of training (it is, in fact, possible to train Protected Population as soldiers). In our example, the basic training value of 2.0 would be multiplied by 1+1.5+0.1+1.25=3.85, giving a final value per soldier of 7.7, making each such soldier a match for almost 8 untrained, unarmed men. There are then moderately complex calculations to determine how many troops are lost, how much equipment is destroyed in the battle, and so on. These involve factors ranging from the materials from which the equipment is constructed (for loss factors) to the tactical and strategic considerations of the battle (for personnel losses and victory determination). The Referee is supposed to perform these calculations, and then provide her players with the results in a more narrative form (though the results in numerical terms should also be provided, to whatever degree that they would be available to the players' populations).

Other factors covered in the game include agriculture and animal husbandry, mining and prospecting for resources, lumbering, and so on. There is a surprising amount of information covered in the two published volumes (the Player's Manual of 24 pages, and the Realm Controller's Manual of 82 pages, including index). Some of the data given I don't particularly like, myself. For instance, a unit of metal is defined as approximately a cubic foot of the material (in most cases, hundreds of pounds; for instance, a cubic foot of iron weighs about 490 pounds), while produced items take up a surprisingly large amount of the materials (a pair of Longswords, according to the rules, require all 490 pounds of iron in a unit to construct). While a certain amount of loss should be expected in manufacture, the fact remains that a Longsword weighs less than 5 pounds, making the losses in the range of 98%!

Anyway, the idea of the game is really good. There are additional rules covering technology levels, specialists (people who have advanced skills that normal people can't perform, such as Engineers or Military Commanders), population morale and health, economic strength, and other such important considerations. Various sections include more advanced (and bookkeeping-intensive) variations. There is discussion of general physical traits of populations (so that, for instance, it would be difficult to infiltrate a spy into the upper command of a racially homogenous society that appeared different from one's own people, meaning that it would have to be more indirect, such as hiring a traitor from that population to do so). There are, however, no rules for magic, other than some notes about interplanar gates between Realms, and a note that the individual Referee could include magic if she wishes. There are some useful logistical notes, such as what to do if a player needs to take a leave of absence from the game (the player should give a general outline to the Referee and let her run the population for the time of absence), how to coordinate multiple Realms connected by gates, and so on.

Like early D&D, there is much that is unexplained, much that is confusingly explained, and much that could (or even should) be house-ruled. It is, like the LBBs, a glorious mess of a game. It should have gotten more exposure, but more traditional adventure-based role-playing games were pretty strongly entrenched by the time this one came out, and players had become accustomed to more well-written and "complete" games.

How would I run it? First, I'd scrap many of their precise numbers, replacing them with factors taken from (mostly) GURPS Low-Tech and supplements, or from other games such as Chivalry & Sorcery or Pendragon that have detailed domain management rules. I'd probably replace the mass combat system with one derived from one of these other games. Other than that, though, the basic framework seems really good. It might even play better online, as a sort of play-by-email type game, with a central website providing publicly-available news about game events. After I do some other things, I might even try it.

(Images taken from RPG.net)

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Ten Curses For Magic Items

The Hope Diamond
Over on Tenkar's Tavern, one of the commenters to a post on magic items noted:

[I]n my games… Magic swords are always intelligent, always have additional powers, always aligned, and always have Ego.

Other magic items are always cursed. They can still be used, but there's always some danger or drawback associated with them. I try not to let them feel "reliable".

I think that's an excellent idea. Magic items in stories are frequently mixed blessings at best, and this would be a good way to present that. I do think that there should be some exceptions, such as the gifts of the elves, but the idea of an item that gives a benefit but takes a toll seems quite sound to me as a way to keep the players from becoming overly powerful too quickly, to prevent the issues of "predicted power level" that recent editions of D&D have fallen prey to, and to keep magic items mysterious and full of wonder. So, here's a short list of possible minor curses that can be added to magic items:

  1. The person who carries this item has a strong scent, allowing those who track by scent to follow the path unerringly, and causing a 1 or 2 point penalty to reaction rolls in social situations.
  2. The owner suffers a 1 point penalty to all rolls related to one of: combat (excluding damage), reaction rolls, saving throws, other. If the owner tries to get rid of the item, it will mysteriously reappear on his person unless he can get another person to voluntarily take it from him.
  3. If exposed to disease, the possessor of this item has double the normal chance of contracting the disease.
  4. Unintelligent carnivores will always attack the possessor of the item, no reaction roll required. (Or, the reaction roll can be at a penalty if the Referee prefers.)
  5. 10% of any money acquired by the possessor of this item vanishes without trace. If the possessor tries to get rid of the item, it will reappear as in curse #2.
  6. The person who carries this item cannot move faster than half speed. This affects both base movement rate and movement rate modified by armor or encumbrance.
  7. If given a choice of targets, undead will choose the bearer of this item over other possibilities.
  8. Followers of anyone who has used this item in the last 30 days halve their natural loyalty value. After 30 days of not using the item, loyalty returns to normal.
  9. The possessor of the item becomes addicted to it. If it is not used in a 24 hour period, the possessor takes 1 hit point of damage. Withdrawal requires not using the item, and making a saving throw against paralyzation or poison each day for 6 consecutive days. Failing a saving throw requires starting over from zero. Hit point loss continues to occur until the addiction is broken.
  10. The item has an alignment, Ego, and purpose just as a magic sword.

There are certainly many more possibilities. If you have some, please share them in the comments, or make a post on the subject yourself. If you do, please come back here and let me know where the post is.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

That's Weird

All of the stats for this blog have been reset. I don't know how many hits this blog has received any more, nor can I see how popular individual posts are. Ah, well. Now the stats will be restarting from zero, I guess. Blogger.

OK, that's even stranger. The "Popular Posts" gadget in the sidebar still shows the posts that had the most views, and the "Total Hits" gadget is still working. Perhaps the whole thing will work itself out.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Goth of the Week

I know some fantastic women. I want to tell you something about her and her husband, but the facts would seem like an exaggeration. I'll just say one small thing: between the two of them, they can fluently speak and read more languages than I can remember.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Dammit, Kickstarter!

OK, so I had pretty much decided that I wouldn't back any more Kickstarters until next year at least. They are pretty easy to promise money to, and they end up being like popcorn. It's hard to stop once you start, and there's always the risk factor involved. Still, I like the concept, and now a Kickstarter has come around that I feel like I need to risk.

So, Kevin Crawford of Stars Without Number has a new project that he's setting up, called Spears of the Dawn. It's an old-school RPG set in a fantasy Africa, so the setting is immediately interesting and different. It breaks the common wisdom that gamers won't buy fantasy that isn't basically either European or Japanese (and rarely Chinese). I love that. It breaks the common wisdom that gamers only want to see white people in the art. I love that. It is going to release all of the art used in the game to the public domain, so that other games can use it. I love that. That's three points in its favor, so it already has a step up over traditionally published games, and much more so over Kickstarter games.

Then there are the other points in its favor. The game is already written, so there won't be a long wait for that to happen, with all of the uncertainty involved in creatives. It's also mostly laid out, so it should go to print pretty quickly once the last of the art is incorporated and paid for (which is the point of the Kickstarter).

With all of that going for it, I just couldn't resist kicking in for one more Kickstarter this year. Maybe you'll want to, as well.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

How To Make A Superhero

When I am writing up the FBI Guide entries, I have a process that makes the whole thing go by more quickly. As I noted in the comments to the entry on Rainbow, my process is basically to roll up the stats, pick a set of powers that fits the character role in my head, roll the values of the powers, and figure out the rest per the V&V rules. It's amazing how quickly that goes, actually. The thing is, though, that there is more to the process than the simple mechanics of making a character. Each one has to fit into the world that exists (primarily) in my head.

The first thing I do, actually, is make a list of names, basic power outlines, and so on. I try to alternate male and female characters (and if I can't for whatever reason, I work hard to make it up in subsequent entries). Sometimes, the name will inspire the powers, sometimes it is the power group that occasions the name. A few of the characters are inspired by specific photos, by characters from comics or movies, from other games, or even a few taken from V&V materials directly (I probably won't be posting those here, though, since I doubt that it's legit to simply take the already published stats and republish them here; the names are in the first FBI Guide entry, though). Occasionally, I delete one or more if I come to think that they won't fit the tone of the world. For instance, I recently removed one Davy Jones from the list because I didn't want to deal with the implications of more than one death-bringer (spoiler!) If I haven't based the character on a picture, then this is the point where I hunt around to find one. Google's image search is the most important tool here.

Have you noticed what's missing yet? The detailed background of the character is, to my way of thinking, one of the least important elements in a superhero setting. The characters are, more than in most settings, symbols. As a result, there may be some broad aspects of their backgrounds that are important (but not necessarily!), but the details can be filled in almost at whim. So, the last step is to write up some kind of history for the character. This may also include figuring out the mundane name of the character, since that is usually not nearly as important as the code name given by the FBI Guide writers.

So, what I'm saying is that superpowered characters are more like metaphors, and this is reflected in the way that I create them and integrate them into the setting.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

[Other Blogs]A Tremendous Harvest!

Haha! My phone camera sucks.
Well, and the lighting is bad.
Wow! Not only was there an excellent article about story games for me to link to today, there's also this article comparing old school and newer gaming styles through a fortunate instance of having a precise parallel example of play. I love it when there's a lot of interesting discussion about gaming out there.

[Other Blogs]Tour des Coeurs

Every once in awhile  I point to someone else's blog because I think that they address an issue in a better way than I could. This is one of those times.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Self-Consistent Fantasy

Found this in a Google Image Search for "realistic fantasy".
There are a few people talking about "realism" in games again. I think that this is a useful discussion, for a couple of reasons. One, thinking about games is good, because when we are thinking about games we are engaging with them, and gaming is good. Two, we need to illuminate our approach to games in order to really form an approach that we can think about rather than "spray and pray", as it were.

Anyway, I am not really going to deal with the question as it applies to medieval-style fantasy. My current idea is a semi-gonzo science-fantasy setting, which has an entirely different set of assumptions. Rather than trying to refit a medieval setting to accommodate dragons and orcs, I would do better to think about what influences from such creatures the peoples of the world would need to adapt to. What we are looking for isn't exactly "realism", though, we want a self-consistency, where the consequences of an assumption are played out in the setting.

Let's start with dragons. I do want to have something like dragons in the setting, but I want them to be more alien than the basic idea, as my idea is that they are, in the setting, extraterrestrial in origin. I've always thought that the "blue" dragons of (A)D&D were the weirdest, with their lightning breath weapon. The rest of the dragons, for the most part, have breath weapons that consist of forces that would be known and understood by medieval peasants (fire, "bad air", and such), but lightning was seen as a particularly divine trait, unrelated to anything that existed in the world. So, I will have dragons, but they will have the lightning breath weapon of the blue type of dragon. Um, but more hit dice, because dragons should be tough.

What would be the response to a flying lightning-generator (as well as other flying combatants, such as levitating airships)? You'd need a fortress that protected against attacks from above. Perhaps an underground bunker. A series of tunnels and rooms dug into the ground, one might say. It's always good to have another rationale behind dungeons. To make these underground fortresses plausible, we'd need to have some way to make mining a little easier. Perhaps the world will have a couple of genetically-engineered races that are better at mining than baseline humans. Now we have dwarves (and perhaps some other races like gnomes, as alternative, less successful designs from the ancient genetic engineers - the goblin races, in my conception, are alien beings come to the Last Continent).

Anyway, this is just one way in which thinking about the different assumptions of the setting can increase verisimilitude and also imply new things about the setting. Another time, I'll discuss why I think that achieving verisimilitude in games, at least ones that tend toward a "sandbox" style of play, is important.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Kickstarter - Back To Basics?

There's been a lot of discussion about Kickstarter going on in various places around the internet gaming community. Most of it centers around the seeming failures of various projects to appear "on time" (that is, exactly along the original estimated schedule). Most of the discussion is stupid, with people fundamentally misunderstanding the nature of production schedules and creative endeavors. At times, it gets pretty heated (see the persona "Running With Scissors" in the thread on the matter in the Autarch boards, for instance, who ended up being closely moderated because of his inability to maintain any sort of decorum in his arguments).

Anyway, this discussion hasn't been isolated to the gaming world. There has been discussion about how Amanda Palmer has disbursed the funding she received for her latest album and tour, for instance, and there are other such discussions. Kickstarter has apparently been paying attention, because they have just announced some policy changes that should revert the system to its original intent - that is, rather than being a glorified pre-order system, it should be a method of funding ideas. That will likely change the entire dynamic of the way Kickstarter has been used for gaming projects. Rather than focusing on the big-ticket projects and simply purchasing an object, it will instead focus on the smaller projects that couldn't happen without funding (such as a book being able to pay for art rather than being unadorned).

So, what are your thoughts about Kickstarter? Is it a good thing? Is this a good direction for it to take?

Friday, September 21, 2012

Goth of the Week

Harley Quinn's Revenge by The Devil's Babydoll.

Resetting My Mind

Well, I was hoping that I'd get some responses to my last inquiry, but I guess not many people were interested in the subject. Moving on, then.

Working on the Terra Ultima setting, I think that I'm going to strip down more than just the rules (I'll be starting from a base of Swords & Wizardry: Whitebox and a few basic house rules, which I'll go over soon, since my ideas have changed from my first essay at the idea). Instead of working up details of the base city, I'll just build the first couple of levels of the campaign tentpole. This will be a megadungeon in the classic sense, an underground complex of tunnels and levels populated with hazards and creatures. I'm not completely sure what the concept will be, but I am leaning toward a ruin topping a hill that is really the built-over remains of layers of cities, like Troy.

I dunno, I guess I just don't have a lot to say right now.

Thursday, September 13, 2012


One thing that I've noticed while playing Traveller that I had not noticed much previously (keep in mind that I was attracted by the erroneous "storytelling" paradigm when I started to think seriously about adventure games, it being the dominant paradigm of the time) is the interrelation of various minigames (or perhaps "subsystems") as parts of the flow of play. As I prepare for the Terra Ultima game, I naturally am thinking about the sorts of minigames to make available.

The obvious ones are built into the main rules: combat, exploration and encounter in the dungeon and wilderness, NPC reactions, the "endgame", and so on. It seems like there are others, though, that should be available to the players. I am thinking here of ones that are obviously inspired by Traveller, such as a merchant minigame of speculative trade. I suppose that I'd do that in a manner based on Traveller's speculative trade system. Other examples might include astral exploration (different not only in appearance, but in basic format from standard wilderness or dungeon exploration).

What minigames (or subsystems, if you prefer) do you think should be available to the players at various points in the game?

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Terra Ultima, Once Again

As I worked on the Black Blood of the Earth setting, I kept running into the problem that the themes of the setting interfered with the things I really wanted to do. For instance, I love a gonzo, multiversal setting with portals and skyships sailing to distant worlds. Those things are precisely antithetical to the Black Blood setting's theme that this world is all we have. So, I am thinking about returning to the Terra Ultima setting as my mainstay. In that setting, there are spaceships, albeit limited to slower-than-light and so only to the worlds of the solar system (or to nearby stars with years-, decades-, or centuries-long journeys), and portals to distant worlds around other stars. The spaceships are nearly superceded by the portals, since there are portalways to the worlds of the solar system, as well. It's a science fantasy setting with enclaves of alien beings from other worlds, a pseudo-astral plane (the medium through which the portals travel their strange highways) which is home to still more alien entities, and human cousins, drifted from the human norm over the aeons. Monsters from across the galaxies have made their way to the wildernesses of the future Earth and its "final" supercontinent.

Click for make bigger

Civilization has fallen and risen thousands of times over the millions of years. Resources have been exhausted, regenerated, and exhausted again. Apocalyptic wars have been fought and seen all traces eroded into nothingness. Science has changed beyond imagining (which I will simulate by using the magic and alchemy of a fantasy world, rather than trying to shoehorn it all into some science-fictiony buzzword like "nanotech" or whatever). The remains of civilizations from the distant past have been worn away into oblivion, and the remains of more recent civilizations (ones that will arise millions of years from now) provide ruins to be explored and artifacts of terrible power to recover. Even today, "magic" items created by the alien science of the distant future are constructed by magicians and alchemists. Some can be had for nothing more than ready cash, such as ray guns and water breathing masks. Others can only be found or stolen, or perhaps received as a reward, because a magician cannot be induced to construct them for mere pay.

There can be no question that this will ever be published, however, as it draws on "product identity" items from WotC, such as the githyanki and illithid, as well as such wonderful (and open source) alien beings as the kzaddich and tsalakians designed by John Turcotte (editor of Footprints e-zine) and published in the Swords & Wizardry Monster Book.

Oh, and I've been working on the Terra Ultima setting since long before that upstart Cook announced his science-fantasy offering.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Goth of the Week

The lovely Lady of the Manners, Jillian Venters, author of Gothic Charm School and the website on which that book is based.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Outline Of A Game

As I think about gaming, I sometimes think about different ways to approach the fiction that is a game. One of the games I'd like to play in (or even run) would take quite a bit of preparation.

There are several levels of game involvement, and I'd like to see one that includes several of them interacting. There's the level of individual adventure, which is the most commonly approached level in gaming today. It has come to dominate so much that other levels are largely ignored in most "modern" games. There's the level of the manor, which is pretty much what higher-level characters were given the opportunity to play at in older editions of (A)D&D. That's the level that is frequently described as the "endgame" in recent old-school RPG discussion. Then there's the strategic level, which is like the "endgame" writ large. This is the level of kings and emperors. It is the large-scale politics and warfare of nations. Mostly, this has been relegated to boardgames in the past, with examples like Dark Emperor from Avalon Hill or Wizard Kings from Columbia Games being notable.

So, imagine a game where there are players who represent the major kingdoms, playing a (slow-moving) boardgame of sorts. The rules of the game would be derived from whatever mass combat system and wilderness movement system are normal for the game. BECMI/Cyclopedia D&D have probably the most useful versions of these, though games like Swordbearer might have useful elements to include (specifically in that latter case, the wilderness movement rules can be used to build something useful for our hypothetical game). Each turn of the game would take place once a month or whatever, keeping in mind Gary's admonition about time tracking. This would be used to generate the large-scale background of the game. The other levels would then be more traditionally-based adventure gaming, with low-level characters acting on the individual adventure level, and higher-level characters running their manors as parts of the larger game. This would let the players who want to play the Game of Thrones (ahem) to act on the larger level of the game, and the players who want a more murderhobo game could play on that level, but all of them would be acting within the same milieu.

I dunno, it's a pretty new idea for me, so I haven't thought it completely through, but the idea of mixing a strategic/grand tactical wargame with traditional adventure gaming seems promising to me.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

FBI Guide to Metahumans: Rainbow


Identity: Lisa Devine
Side: Civilian
Sex: F
Experience: 9548
Level: 4
Age: 22
Training: Agility


1. Heightened Speed +660", +22 Initiative

2. Light Control: Range 20", Dmg 2d8, PR = 1 per attack; Blinding flash with a radius of 20", PR = 1; PR = 1 to set up a Light defense; May create mundane light for no power cost.

3. Illusions (holograms): PR = 1, visual illusions only.

Weight: 110 lbs.
Basic Hits: 3
Agility Mod: +2

Strength: 13
Endurance: 15
Agility: 10
Intelligence: 11
Charisma: 12

Reactions from:
Allies: +1
Enemies: -1

Hit Mod: 2.16
Hit Points: 7
Damage Mod: -
Heal Rate: 1.2
Accuracy: -
Power: 49
Carrying Cap: 203 lbs.
Basic HTH: 1d4
Movement Rates: 698" ground
Det. Hidden: 8%
Det. Danger: 12%
Inventing Points: 4.1
Inventing: 33%

Origin & Background: Lisa, ever since she was small, loved to make paintings. She would always be first to the art supplies in school and eventually she would hang around the local art supply store like some kids would hang around the mall. There was only the one in her poverty-stricken area. One day, a shoplifter ran out the door of the store and Lisa, without even thinking about it, ran after him. As she ran, the world seemed to stand still. Everyone else just saw a rainbow flash by and bowl over the shoplifter. Afterward, Lisa decided to use her talent to help clean up her crime-ridden neighborhood. She quickly discovered that she could use color and light to her advantage as well. Now, things are getting better, even if they aren't perfect yet. She has been known to occasionally team up with the Ice Queen, and the two are fast friends.