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

Goth of the Week: Yule Edition

Candia Ridley of Inkubus Sukkubus

Have A Good Yule, Everyone!

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.