Thursday, October 30, 2008

Supplement V: ___________

The aforementioned Supplement V: Carcosa has received a great deal of censure, not least for its supposed hubris in billing itself as the "next" D&D supplement after the original four (a bit of literary whimsy and speculative fancy that I, for one, rather enjoy), but also for its macabre and bloody content. Though, it must be said, the text itself is in no way puerile or lascivious in tone and said content is exclusively contained within the descriptions of the sorcerous rituals. Which are, I must point out, designed to effect horrid and barely comprehensible things, oft-times referred to as Lovecraftian horrors, and as such the terrible demands of such rites are to be fully expected.

However, the controversy is well worn (though barely a month old...) and I doubt if it shall be settled here.

Nor do I wish to focus on it.

My thought is rather to encourage the creativity of the vast horde of gamers that flock to this "scene", as the hipsters say, and throw down a gauntlet of challenge.

Write your own Supplement V.

Now, you might say, "But I liked Carcosa!", wunderbar. Do it anyway. As an exercise in creativity if nothing else!
Others may protest, "Why should I follow that objectionable work?" In short, to make it forgotten. There is no better way to erase something than to bury it with superior work. Hate Carcosa? Grand, show us the Supplement V that should have been!
Still others cry, "I don't even play OD&D!" Hey, neither do I, and I am not holding myself aloof from this. Grab the rules, the .pdfs are easily available, read them, and then start tinkering and writing.

I want to see a string of Supplement Vs, a mad, glorious, explosion of creativity and oddities that will enrich all our games. Because, as most of you know, even if you don't use the work in toto, you can invariably steal bits of it for inclusion into your own campaign.

There it is, a challenge I suspect few will read, and fewer take up. No matter. I will at least be working on my own contribution.

Supplement V: Nefaratus

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

And Once More We Lunge From The Shadows...

Unfortunately, we have been most remiss in actually posting our witticisms and thoughts. The blame falls mostly on illness, lack of a clear vision, controversy, and, of course, laziness.

Many apologies to the three of you who follow this regularly.

We last promised the details of the fighting men for the Cassandrian Campaign, and we will, in short order, attend to that. However, we first wish to touch upon the aforementioned controversy.

I refer, of course, to the grandly titled 'Supplement V: Carcosa'. Many have reacted with disgust towards the work, unfairly, I think. I was, to be honest, rather surprised that any controversy arose. I had perused some of the author's posts on the Dragonsfoot Forums and whilst I may not care for his style of gaming (too doomful for my tastes), there's nothing objectionable there. Creepy, horrific, and disturbing, yes, but then I own and have read the Book of Ebon Bindings, so I'm not exactly squeamish... Lamentations of the Flame Princess has an interesting take on the assorted drama, and I refer those interested to that blog (pausing only to note that one of the objectors to Carcosa uses a picture of Blackwolf from the film 'Wizards' as his 'avatar'... human sacrifice to summon and bind horrific entities being beyond the pale, but a Hitlerian-obsessed mutant sadist warmonger is OK...)

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Commentary Regarding the Thief

James Maliszewski has a few things to say in regards to the thief as a class.

And, whilst I can understand his reasoning, and I find he has several solid points to make, I am still going to keep the class around in my games.

One of the comments to his post, however, was a tiny eye-opener...

"The OD&D Thief was the first "Skill" class - determined by its abilities to perform particular non-magical skills. As the other classes caught up with non-weapon skills, the double damage of the thief came to fore as a defining element of the class, transforming it into the lightly-armored, sometimes invisible striker that inhabits MMORPGs." - Jeff Grubb

This, in my opinion, is what to avoid. I don't want a thief who is a better fighter, I want a master of stealth and a dungeoneering specialist, not a combat wunderkind.

The combat specialist is, and should remain, the fighter (and his varied sub-classes).

And, on that note...

Next time: The Fighting Men.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Thieves, How Should They Work?

The thief, as we have stated before, is a bit of a tricky one. I honestly like the class, but can well understand why many in the 'old school renaissance' no longer allow the class in their games. I, however, really want to try and make it a viable choice (I'd also like to do that for the fighter as well, but one thing at a time...) and so I'm going to throw out a couple of ideas.

1) Point buy percentages. This sort of thing, presented in 2nd Ed. AD&D, has the advantage of allowing the player to be really good at, at the least, one thief ability. The downside: Over-specialization and I don't really care for it.

2) Ditching the normal (to AD&D) bonuses due to a high dexterity and replacing that with a flat bonus to all thief abilities equal to the thief's dexterity score.

This doesn't address the issue that some have brought, i.e.: the thief is an unneeded class as the player should be challenged, not the character, but, though I find the idea attractive, I do think the character's abilities should be taken into account...

Until later.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Of Tieflings and Mongrelmen

Whilst not naturally thought of together, these two races are, I posit, naturally connected. I hear your cries of disbelief already, but bear with me and all shall be made plain.

Mongrelmen, as we know, are a "mixture of many different creatures" and "lair in ruins, deserted buildings, or other places that humans once lived in or built" (emphasis mine). Tieflings, on the other hoof, are said to be "part human and part something else" and, whilst this is heavily insinuated to be something of the diabolic, demonic, or daemonic sort, it is not stated so in their description in the Planescape boxed set. This being the case...

The races known as 'tieflings' and 'mongrelmen' are, in fact, the same race. Originally human, their ancestors melded their bloodlines with many other races in an attempt to breed a new race with the best qualities of all. This plan may well have worked, if it hadn't angered the various gods of the different races, causing those gods to smash their civilisation and reduce them to savages. As savages, they quickly lost track of the old breeding plan and began to spiral into a vortex of chaos and mutation, though some are still born with wit, cunning, and magic power, the bulk of their race has become dimwitted and hideous caricatures of humanity.

The Illusionist: His Kith and Kin

Today, I choose to expound on the illusionist. Needless to say, it is difficult to discuss the illusionist without discussing their professional focus (i.e.: illusions). Therefore, a brief discourse regarding the adjudication of illusions will preface my revision of the class.

Illusions have always been a difficult matter. In my experience, they have either been too powerful or too weak. Usually, too powerful when used by the DM and too weak when used by PCs. This seems to be because illusions normally need to be disbelieved to be avoided and whilst the DM controls the descriptions given to the players, and does not mention any small flaws in the creation, the DM normally demands specific details from the player and ruthlessly exploits any flaw.

Disbelief has always been a tricky matter. Without any penalty, there is no reason not to disbelieve every encounter, thus getting a save in case any illusions are present (no matter how ridiculous that doing so may be...), but with a penalty, none will disbelieve unless the player is certain of an illusion being present (at which point the illusion is merely annoying). Also, few take into account expectations and what "everyone knows" when adjudicating illusions.

For my own part, I choose to edit out the choice to disbelieve. When confronted by an illusion, the victim is entitled to a saving throw versus spells. This saving throw represents the chance that the character notices whatever flaws might be present in the illusion. This save is modified by certain things, the aforementioned expectations and what "everyone knows", as well as personal skill and whatever else might be appropriate. It is imperative that the DM be as fair as possible when judging illusions, as tricky as it might be, as otherwise we return to the basic problems already noted.

As an example: If the Amazing Rando is known to travel with the Ice Barbarian warrior Erik Longtooth, and a band of bandits encounter a robed man travelling with an Ice Barbarian, then the bandits would have a penalty to there saving throw to realise that the warrior isn't real. Even if there has never actually been an Erik Longtooth, as they "know" that the warrior exists.

Conversely, should the Amazing Rando conjure forth an illusion of a goblin band and make the goblins yellow, because he has actually encountered goblins, but the surly villagers he's attempting to scare off "know" that all goblins are green, then the villagers would get a bonus to their saves, even though the illusion is accurate to reality,

Furthermore, unless partially real (as the higher level illusion spells often are), an illusion fights as well as the illusionist, including such niceties as weapon proficiencies and such. So the aforementioned Erik would fight much as the Amazing Rando does, i.e.: poorly. Partially real creatures will fight as well as the real creatures upon which they are modelled.

As a last note, the longer an illusion is interacted with, the more chances there are for it to be noticed for what it is. So, for every three rounds that an illusion persists, the victim receives another saving throw to notice something amiss. These additional saving throws may receive bonuses that the initial save did not get. (In the case of the Amazing Rando versus the bandits, the bandits may realise that the "barbarian warrior" is a terrible fighter, which may cause them to twig to the actual facts of the matter.) Allies of the victim may trigger a secondary save by informing their deluded friends that they are, in fact, facing an unreal foe. Partially real illusions do not receive these secondary saves, however.

And now we head forth to the illusionist...

It has long bothered me that certain classes, of which the illusionist is the chief example, required very high prerequisites, but were, for the most part, inferior to their base class. To my way of thinking, a class that required high scores to enter should be, not more powerful per se, but spiffy-er than the base class. The druid, for example, just seems cooler than the cleric, it's not really more powerful (some would agrue it is less powerful), but it does have a variety of unique and nifty special abilities. This line of thinking colours my philosophy towards sub-classes and is the base for what I am about to offer for the illusionist. Other bits for this revision have been taken from the Strategic Review article that introduced the illusionist and the Dragon magazine article a short time later that further detailed them.

Our first point of departure is in regards to the restrictions placed on the magic items usable by illusionists. Illusionists are capable of using all magic items normally usable by magic-users with the exception of the staff of power, staff of the magi, robe of the archmagi, bowl commanding water elementals, brazier commanding fire elementals, censer controlling air elementals, and the stone of commanding earth elementals. Note that whilst the illusionist may be able to command the use of, say, a wand of lightning, that does not mean that the illusionist will want to use such items. These individuals chose a career of trickery, not one of blasting things to death for a reason, though that reason is unique to each illusionist.

As masters of trickery, illusionists are keenly aware of the nature of illusionary magics and so have a 7% chance per level of recognizing any illusion for what it is and, if successfully recognized, the illusionist will know whether it was cast by a fellow illusionist or not. This is in addition to the normal saving throw.

Illusions can affect any creature that can perceive them. Thus, the illusionist is able to combat astral or ethereal creatures without having to shift to those planes.

Finally, starting at the eighth level of experience, an illusionist is able to employ a small number of magic-user spells of the lowest levels. These spells are cast as a magic-user of the illusionist's level and must be recorded in the illusionist's spell-book as usual.
At eighth level, one first level spell may be cast.
At ninth level, two first level spells may be cast.
At tenth level, two first and one second level spells may be cast.
At eleventh level, two first and two second level spells may be cast.
At twelfth level, two first, two second, and one third level spells may be cast.
At thirteenth level, three first, two second, and one third level spells may be cast.
At fourteenth level, three first, three second, and one third level spells may be cast. This is the maximum amount of magic-user spells castable by illusionists.

These spells are usually employed to convince others that the illusionist is not an illusionist at all, but really a magic-user of the more normal sort and in the support of their illusion spells (one is less likely to question an illusionary magic missle, for example, if one has just been hit by a real one...).

This, for now, ends my revision of the illusionist. No doubt I have forgotten something, or failed to make clear something else, but nonetheless I forge onwards...

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Why I Hate Second Edition AD&D.

Browsing throughout the amazing array of the internet, I have come across several persons who have expressed their love for second edition AD&D. And, without fail, at least one of their reasons for loving it is one of the reasons I don't.

I am not, contrary to what many might expect, posting this to belittle or deride these folk and their opinions. Many of them hold opinions that match mine in other areas and many gamers were introduced to the hobby through second edition AD&D and it would be a grave mistake to shun them. However, I do feel the desire to enumerate and expound on my reasons for disliking this edition.

I am not going to state that a second edition was unnecessary or unwanted. No less a person than E. Gary Gygax opined on the need for a second edition in his Sorcerer's Scroll column in Dragon magazine.

And there is one of my reasons for disliking the second edition that appeared. It is not, by any stretch of the imagination, the second edition that Gary outlined in his column. In fact, it was, in many ways, the exact opposite of what was foretold. Instead of new classes, for example, classes were dropped...

In the matter of the dropped classes, especially the assassin, I continually see the, to me, flawed reasoning of, "well, that's just a role, a way you use your skills, it doesn't need to be a class..." Might I humbly point out that being a man of the cloth is also just a role and certainly doesn't need a class? That stealing things is just criminal behaviour and certainly doesn't need a class? That anyone can learn to fight, and as such, a fighting class is certainly unneeded? You see, I trust, my point... 'Murderer' was not a class, as anyone can murder. 'Assassin' was a class, because it was built on the skulking, malevolent, stereotype of the black-clad killer. There is, to me, a considerable difference. The cavalier and barbarian can be considered elite examples of their type (due to the high attributes needed to enter those classes). In other words, a normal knight or tribesman is, in fact, a fighter. An exceptional one (differentiated by having multiple scores of 15 or better) will be a 'cavalier' or 'barbarian'.

Moving on, my second reason was the distortion of other classes. I present the 'mage' and 'cleric', formerly the 'magic-user', 'illusionist', 'cleric' and 'druid'. In this case, I don't so much condemn the idea behind the changes so much as the terrible execution. The idea of the specialty priest and the specialty wizard were and are good ones, the flaw lies in consolidating the spell-lists. In the cleric's case, the various domains were neat, but really, each deity should have had a separate spell list and granted powers. In the mage's case, combining the lists destroyed the illusionist. Why on earth would a player pick a class limited in spells and magic items and possessing a high ability requirement, when that player could just play a mage and have access to all the spells of the former illusionist? Yes, there is a slight increase in the number of spells castable, and there is a minor boost in regards to saving throws, but if you didn't roll more than one 16, it's all rather moot, as you can really do exactly the same with a mage who chooses to learn a lot of illusion spells and you'll have more options to boot.

In short, where others see a "simplified", "cleaned up", version of AD&D, I see a waste of squandered possibilities and horrid implementation.

Of course, what really killed second edition for me was the T$R Code of Ethics.

Next time: The Illusionist, His Kith and Kin.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Random Creative Thoughts, Section IV

Over seven thousand years ago the mighty Empire of Mhu-Thalan ruled the world.

Seven thousand years ago the empire collapsed amid bloodshed and black magic.

Six months ago, explorers found the pathway to the fallen empire's accursed capital...

Now, a disparate and mayhaps foolish expedition seeks to plunder the once lost city's ancient treasures.

Battle bestial ape-men, vile serpent-men, degenerate diabolists, cursed immortals and the betrayed dead of the Empire of Mhu-Thalan as you strive to take - and keep - the priceless treasures of a vanished age...

Friday, September 5, 2008

"There Must be Some Way Out of Here." Said the Cleric to the Thief

For our short discussion today, I wish to consider the case of the cleric and the thief in D&D.

The esteemed and respected cleric is, by all objective standards, a powerhouse. Having access to all types of armour, many weapons (none perhaps so mighty and prone to enchantment as the fighter's noble friend the long sword, but still fairly potent), good hit dice, spells (and a dizzying array of them to boot, considering the potential for bonus spells due to a high wisdom score and the fact that a cleric may prepare any of the spells on the cleric list, provided the character can cast that level of spell), a decent attack strength, and the ability to turn undead. (And, in some campaigns, specially granted divine powers above and beyond these enumerated.)

The skulking and furtive thief is rather less so. Having access to some, mostly weak, armour, a decent panopoly of weaponry (including that champion of blades, the resilient long sword), fair hit dice (sliding to poor if one uses the B/X or BECMI thief), and some special abilities. Said special abilities, however, require a fair amount of luck to use successfully at the low levels.

So, one can plainly see that the cleric is the more powerful, less 'balanced' (to slip into neo-jargon for a brief moment) of the two classes.

Yet, it has been this author's experience that many players will pick a thief but only a few will willingly play a cleric.

Something about being presured into being the party's medic, I am given to understand...

With the prologue now out of the way, I present some of my meandering thoughts regarding the re-working of the cleric and thief classes.

The cleric, it would seem, started it's fictional life as a vampire hunter and slowly transmogrified into the all-around holy man (woman, elf, insect, horrible eldritch monstorsity, etc.) that it is today. It can not be doubted that the typical party will need some, and often a bit more, healing, but should one player be "forced" into serving such a role? Should the DM be "forced" to weaken encounters because the party lacks healing? I, in my near infinite wisdom, say, "No". In my next game, the cleric is not the standard sort of priest, neither is the ecclesiast - a cleric subclass more oriented to spell-casting than armed combat, the standard priest is just that, a priest. A normal man (0 level) who can conduct the appropriate rituals, knows the history and stuggles of the faith he/she serves, and can possibly invoke a blessing if pressed. In short, members of the varied clerical subclasses are special because they can invoke miracles.

Wandering back on point for a moment, in the Cassandrian Campaign, clerics are the chosen warrior-prophets of their dieties. Primarily focused on destroying the damned who still haunt the earth (or, in the case of evil clerics, known as anti-clerics, commanding such wretched abominations into malignant service...) and warring against the enemies of their faith. As such, they have fewer spell casting powers than the "by the book" cleric.

First of all, they do not possess spell casting powers at first level, a cleric's spell progression starts at second level (I simply and easily "move the chart down", i.e.: read the first line as pertaining to second levl clerics and so on), these miracle-workers must prove themselves to their gods. Secondly, a high wisdom score does not grant any bonus spells. Such powers must be earned, and as a result of this decision, I no longer need to worry about the players of magic-users complaining that they should get bonus spells for a high intelligence score... Thirdly, a cleric (including the ecclesiast and the shaman, but excluding the druid) must retain a prayer book detailing the varied miracles that they are able to invoke. Analogous to a magic-user's spell book, this prayer book (in the case of the shaman, this is usually a collection of fetishes, inscribed bracelets, or the like) allows the cleric to prepare their spells. This limits the cleric to a select number of spells, allowing the customisation of different faiths but avoiding the creation of thousands of different spell lists. These three things limit the spell-casting power of the cleric, but also free them from the burden of having to be the healer as the DM may not alot any healing spells to them.

The thief is a rather different problem. One that I am, as yet, unsure of the correct course of action. I do not want to strengthen their combat abilities as they strike me as less of a direct combatant than any other class. I am tempted to improve the chances of success at thieving abilities at lower levels, but what then? What is there for high level thieves? And yet, I like the class and want it to thrive in its odd little niche...

More thoughts later.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008


After a brief bit of comatose silence, we shall resume regular posting by this Friday. Apologies to all and sundry.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Thieves' Guild of Hyrcanos

Based in the stout Fortress of Barask-Nadol, this enterprising band of pickpockets, burglars and footpads bills itself as 'The Most Noble and Forthright Brothers of Militant Spirit' and, when not pilfering, acts as - indeed, is - the militia of the ancient and mighty city.

Now, as one of learning and perspicacity might suspect, such a force is weaker on the field of battle than in the alley-way and so the notables of Hyrcanos seek to surround themselves with armies of private composition and personal loyalty. However, as such trends lead to much internal bickering and strife, the Portreeve long ago passed edicts promising terrible punishments for those who sought to establish forces beholden only to themselves. And so today the wealthy and prosperous of the metropolis hire no mercenaries nor do they maintain any soldiery. Instead these worthies hire an excess of "chefs", "gardners", carpenters", "maids-of-the-chamber" (in at least one case), and the like... all creatively armed and uniformed...

This disparate force has only fought off one invasion. After seasoned troops, hardened veterans of other battles, were routed by "chefs", "maids", and thieves, no other military has wished to gain the humiliation of loosing...

And so the City of Emerald and Gold trades in peace.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Creatures both Malevolent and Benign, Part One of an On-going Series

Kephri the Accursed
Frequency: Very Rare
No. Appearing: 1
Armour Class: 6 or -3
Move: 12" or 15"
Hit Dice: 71 hit points
% In Lair: 90%
Treasure Type: G, I, and X
No. of Attacks: 1 or 3
Damage/Attack: by weapon or spell or 1-12/1-12/1-6
Special Attacks: see below
Special Defences: Immune to enchantments, charms, and poison
Magic Resistance: 50%
Intelligence: Genius
Alignment: Chaotic Evil
Size: M (5' 7" tall) or L (16' long)
Psionic Ability: Nil
Attack/Defence Modes: Nil

Once a mortal, this greedy and vain enchantress made an improperly worded bargain with a demon lord. The ill-thought out pact bound her to the demon's malevolent will and transformed her into the monstrosity she is now. Normally appearing as an attractive human woman with dark hair and eyes, Kephri can transform into the form of a terrible and demonic scorpion.

In human form, she attacks, saves, and casts spells as an 11th level magic-user. However, if forced into melee combat, she sheds her human guise, shifting into a bloated and corrupt scorpion far larger than a man. As a scorpion, she retains her intelligence and voice (making her capable of casting spells with only a verbal component in this form), but attacks and saves as a 12 HD monster. In combat, she uses her great pincers to keep her opponents at bay whilst she lashes out with her venom-dripping stinger. Though the stinger only deals damage equivalent to a short sword (1-6), its venom is to be feared by even the brave, for those failing a save versus poison (at -4) do not die, but become mesmerised slaves of the unnatural enchantress. Those charmed into minions defend the monster from their former companions (and all others) as she scuttles away to plot revenge, having little taste for direct confrontation. This ensorcelment can be broken by a remove curse or neutralise poison spell.

In either form, Kephri may use the following spell-like abilities, each at will, one at a time, once per day: commune (with her demonic overlord), insect plague, phantasmal force, and summon 1-2 Type I demons to her aid (50% chance of success).

When typically encountered, Kephri will be acting as the vizier, court wizard, or concubine of as powerful a ruler as possible, seeking to subtly embroil her target in wars and depravity. Only when pressed will she reveal her abhorrent 'gifts'. Should Kephri be slain, her soul will be immediately seized by her demonic master, who will be sorely displeased with those who have removed his favourite playing piece from the board.

Shards of the Malachite Throne III

The Cassandrian Campaign, part II

Weapon proficiencies, as was vaguely mentioned last time, will be our starting topic for the day. In this field we venture towards simplicity and a mild concession to stories of old. In short, as much as it might seem we loathe brevity, any character can be proficient in any weapon. Background and career should, obviously, form a strong tendency towards certain weapons for certain folks, but if a player really wants their magic-user to be proficient in the two-handed sword, that weapon can be selected. That being said, it is still faintly foolish to do so, given the attack capabilities and hit points of a magic-user. The only bar to the selection of weaponry is in the matter of size. Penguins, for example, are simply unable to become proficient in the aforementioned two-handed sword because it is near six feet in length, whereas they are but three to four. Though it is possible for a penguin to become proficient with and wield the broad sword in two hands (calling it a two-handed sword), said weapon uses the broad sword's statistics. Another factor coming into play is that the philosophies, creeds, and religions of the milieu forbid or encourage the use of certain weapons and a clerical character will be penalized for going against their beliefs should they use a banned weapon (but, such a character may be proficient in such a weapon, if, for example, the character was in the military prior to hearing the call of faith). More details on the nature of these creeds and the weapons forbidden or encouraged will be presented later, once we have determined what they are.

Our next topic of dispute is that of multi-classing. This subject has never failed to cause disagreement, and we see no reason that such strife will stop now. Nevertheless, the rules for the Cassandrian Campaign are as follows:

Any character, regardless of race, may multi-class in any two available classes of different categories, provided all normal prerequisites are met. (i.e.: A player wishing their elf PC to be a multi-class barbarian-shaman, classes available to the elven race, must meet all the requirements for the barbarian and shaman classes. Said character could not, however, be a multi-class barbarian-ranger as those classes both belong to the 'fighter' category. Yes, this does mean humans can multi-class under these rules.) All earned experience points must be divided equally between the two classes.

Single classed characters must meet the normal minimums for their chosen class, but gain a +1 to their prime requisite (though this may not cause the attribute in question to exceed their racial maximum) to represent their greater focus.

Dual classing, as presented in the PHB, will not be an option.

Racial abilities generally remain the same as printed, though elves do not receive the bonus to hit with bow or sword (not typically using such weapons in their jungle homes) and humans receive a +10% bonus to all earned experience points.

More will be discussed next time, as some thought is needed to martial it into coherency.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Shards of the Malachite Throne II

The Cassandrian Campaign

The following will be a varied assortment of house-rules, tweaks, and general set-up for the next AD&D game I run. Proceed, worthy reader, at your own risk...

Set in and among the battered successor states of the once-mighty Cassandrian Empire and its dark rival, the Satrapies of Pyrithia. Whilst the Cassandrian states are a motley collection of sometimes warring kingdoms, most of Pyrithia has been consumed by some terrible magic unleashed in the last days of conflict, leaving behind only the Smoking Plains and the sinister Theocracy of Suthrek, whose vile sorcerer-priests scheme endlessly to gain dominion over the world.

Classes will consist of the following classes and sub-classes:

Barbarian (revised)
Cavalier (revised)

CLERIC (revised)
Ecclesiast (new)
Shaman (new

Illusionist (revised)
Necromancer (new)

Assassin (revised)
Monk (revised)
Rake (new)

Those classes left un-noted remain the same as presented in the First Edition PHB, those noted as revised will have several alterations made from their official descriptions which I will detail in further installments, those noted as new are of mine own make and will be presented in their entirety in the future. For now, it is sufficient to say that the barbarian and cavalier will be strongly revised from their UA appearances, the cleric will have slightly lesser spell-casting prowess, more akin to that of the BECMI cleric, the ecclesiast is a less combat, more spell-casting oriented version of the cleric, the shaman is a tribal spell-caster, capable of both cures and curses and knowledgeable in the ways of the wild, the illusionist will see revisions in the types and kinds of magical items they might use and be overall lifted to the more valued level that their harsh entry requirements would seem to indicate, the necromancer is normally a wicked sort of magic-user, given to the raising of the dead, either to extort some secret knowledge or to command their rotting corpses to fight on his behalf, the assassin will see certain tweaks of a yet undefined nature, the monk will receive a full overhaul, again making its worth more in line with its prerequisites, and the rake is a minor spell-caster, chiefly of the enchantment and divinatory nature, confidence trickster and opportunist.

Standard PC races are: human, elf, dwarf, half elf, half orc, and penguin (found in Fight On!, issue 2).

Optional PC races are: half dwarf (more commonly known as 'derro') and orc, but due to these races foul habits and dire reputations, they should not normally be allowed. However, some players enjoy the unusual and enjoyment can be had even when the odds are stacked heavily against the PC.

Humans are found throughout the successor states and provide the bulk of the population. Those hailing from Suthrek will be of paler skin and more inclined to partake of the sorcerous arts.

Elves are found scattered in small, tribal, bands on the multiplicity of islands that comprise the Isles of Jade, directly south of the bulk of the successor states.

Half elves are typically found in the port cities of humanity, but some dwell in the tribes of their elven parent.

Dwarves once toiled in the mighty Norholt Mountains, but the devastaions that created the Smoking Plains afflicted the proud dwarven workshops as well. Earthquake and poisonous vapours - vapours that even affected the stout dwarves - levelled workshop after workshop, causing the dwarven people to flee to the lesser, but more stable, Elcanthran Peaks.

Half orcs are a questionable assortment of dubious characters. No one origin can detail their spawning and, in many cases, it is best not to ask...

Penguins are a chaotic race of waterfowl tricksters, included mainly because it amuses me, but partially because, having once read of them, it was impossible not to use them.

Next time: Weapon proficiencies, their care and feeding. Also multi-classing, racial traits, and the like.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Random Gaming Link

Because some things need to be known.

And because I hope that it will one day come to fruition. Call me mad, if you will, but Synnibarr is glorious fun.

Mayhaps insane, but fun...

Shards of the Malachite Throne

The following features a significant elucidation regarding an old and dear friend's current state in regard to our common hobby. If warranted, more of these houserules and manifestos, both mine own and others, will be posted here.

All the talk of 1st, 2nd, BECMI, etc has pretty much got me tinkering with my own ideas. I'm going start by laying the foundations for my own set of house rules. First, some preconceptions, notions, and general philosophy, a manifesto in a way:

I am not writing this for commercial publication.

I am writing this for my own entertainment and ideally the entertainment and enjoyment of my friends and family.

I will not be running games at conventions, tournaments, or for total strangers.

I will be running games for friends and family, and the occasional friends/family of friends.

I will be running games for mature sapients with integrity and self-esteem, groups of friends who know one another's foibles and know when to cut one another a little slack.

I don't believe in balance.

I do believe in fairness.

I'd rather say yes than no to a character concept, however bizarre, skewed or bloated.

But work with me on it.

Everyone should have the same options.

Everyone is capable of reading their options, evaluating them, and choosing those which suit them, their character concept, and their play-style best.

That said, here's a few basic ideas, one of which you both saw coming, several of which I'm stealing from Ashermandrabaal, another is retro-Jade Mask.

Thieves, Assassins and other Griftmaster classes fight on the Cleric/Druid chart. [reasons previously expressed for this have been the inability of thieves/assassins to do anything in game. -Editor] On that note though, I'm thinking of upgrading casters to the Thief/Assassin chart.

I'm killing half attacks. They're a headache. Attacks will progress 1/2/3 and every fighter sub-class (Cavaliers included as a fighter sub-class) will eventually wind up with 3 attacks. Appropriate modifications to Weapon Specialization to follow. I'm eyeballing a soft-cap of 5 attacks factoring in Weapon Specialization and Ambidextrous characters.

And for my most radical notion:

You pick your stats. I've exercised this option a million times in the past, it's never failed to add a layer of enjoyment to the game. I trust everyone reading this e-mail or sitting at my table to know the difference between a character concept and power mongering, and we've firmly established that every character is mortal no matter what their stats are. I'm tired of watching people playing the dice's character when they could be playing their own. And if you really want to roll your stats anyway...choose any method that ranges from 3 to 18 and go with it, that's how you picked them.
I thought about points, or neat rolling methods, and methods for advancing stats later, and none of that is really D&D to me. I've got 3rd Edition and Warrens and Wyrms if I want that.

On the note of stats, you can't raise them above your racial maximum without magical or divine aid. Racial max will always be equal to 18, plus or minus any bonuses or penalties from your race. So no race will, for example, have a racial max of 15 in a stat unless they have a -3 to that stat.

As to how one would raise stats... If, during the course of play, a player feels a stat should improve, I'll work with them on how and why. As an example, a player might decide to start with lower stats than he'd like to end the game with, to represent youth and unfulfilled potential on his character's part. I'm all for that. Another player may trace his character's lineage back to Hercules and feel every so often another point of Strength is appropriate. I'll be happy work with them on that too.

Comments and opinions are welcome, whether on the manifesto or on the starter game options. The thing I'm aiming for is part system and part house rules, and my plans are to mix in stuff from BECMI, 1st and 2nd Edition and Hackmaster...which I think we're all doing. I just feel the need to try and blaze my own trail and recapture the feel of my old campaigns.

- The Jade Mask

Rules Philosophising, Part I

In this series of posts, I plan on warbling forth regarding various and sundry elements of the rules of A/D&D.

Though done to near death by many thousands of others, I can, no doubt, provide a startling level of illumination and clarity to the many facets I plan on babbling about. After all, my insight is matched only by my brevity and simple vocabulary.

Today's topic is the attribute bonus. Not those applied to the attribute, but those derived from it (i.e.: the to hit and damage modifier gained from a high strength score). Perusing the earliest versions of this great game, we can see that attribute bonuses are a tad thin on the ground. A high prime requisite would provide a bonus to earned experience points, a high constitution a minimal bonus to hit points, high dexterity an equally microscopic bonus to hit with missles, and our old and dear friend charisma determined the amount and loyalty of hirelings and whether or not a witch, upon capturing the PC, would turn him into a swine, or keep him enchanted as a lover. Not, perhaps, always vital to know, but something that should have been retained if only to prevent the concept of 'charisma is the dump stat'.

Flipping forward a half dozen odd years, to the Moldvay Basic set, we find a plethora of bonuses, many of them quite substantial. The PC's prime requisite still gives a bonus to earned experience points, but now virtually all attributes provide some other perk to the character. Whether it be additional languages, bonuses to hit, bonuses to saving throws, what-have-you. And these are no mere +1, but +1, +2, and +3! Only poor, abused, charisma is left in the cold, with only the amount and loyalty of retainers and a 'reaction modifier' left to it. And the words of old are gone, leaving us fearfully aware of a probable porcine fate.

AD&D's attribute bonuses are of much the same nature as the Moldvay rules, a tad higher in some cases, with better bells and whistles (save, once more, shivering and arthritic charisma) and the desire for higher and higher attributes (and their accompanying bonuses) was well founded at this point. Second edition, with the addition of the "Skills and Powers" books, fed the desire, enabling players to 'split' attributes, concentrating on the 'half' of the statistic that provided better bonuses (or, at least, so I saw).

And in the Third Edition bonuses are enshrined, not as mild perks, the rewards of good fortune with the dice, but as a needed part of how good a character is in her class (especially in regards to the spell-casting classes). Gone is the bonus to earned experience points (though given Third's advancement scheme, this makes no difference), but the remains are titantic in their importance to a PCs success. (Witness thus the abundance of "stat raisers" and such items.) Charisma, it must be said, is given a slight boost, but only for certain "builds", for most it remains even less useful than before as henchmen/hirelings/retainers seem excised from the rules (replaced by the feat-generated cohort).

So, where then, does this leave us?

I am, I fear, unsure. I would like to recapture the spirit, it seems, of the original rules and ratchet down the power of and perceived need for bonuses, but I am uncertain as to how to best go about this task.

A multiplicity of options will eventually be posted here.

Until then,

Good gaming.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Obscure Paraphernalia

The Razor-Wand of Nazdulan the Unfair

Crafted aeons ago by the tyrant-mage whose name it bears, the Razor-Wand is a tool of destruction. Able to shoot devastating bolts of lightning from its tip, the wand has been put to such uses as the eradication of the Tower of the Grey Bard and the slaughter of the gigantic reptile-beasts of the Miasmic Swamp. The wand will unleash its destructive energies when taken into hand and its wielder speaks the word "suran".

All this is common knowledge. As is the carved amber and bronze appearance of the device, with its arcane glyphs and sinister aura.

Less than common knowledge is the peril any wielder of the wand opens themselves to, for Nazdulan was not called the Unfair due to his outward semblance... Using the wand causes magically formed razor sharp blades to spurt from the wand, slicing into the wielder's hand (causing damage as if struck by a dagger and a 25% chance of dropping the wand, the damage may be avoided by the wearing of a sturdy gauntlet, but this will cause the chance of dropping to increase to 100% since the blades will force open the wielder's hand, rather than slice through it).

The rarest knowledge of the wand, including its history and various wielders, was kept in a now abandoned monastery dedicated to Saint Gaxyg the Gray. Amongst this information is said to be the second command word for the wand.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Random Creative Thoughts, Section III

Good evening. It has been some little time since our last venture into the background and legendry of Xarathique, but that shall not hold me back from once more leaping, with gazelle-like agility, into the myriad implausibilities of said world.

As I intimated in Section II, there is more to the background of this continuum-tossed globe than the perpetual ascendancies and defeats of varied and scullionly dark lords. For, it must be said, persons of that ilk have never come to any great power in the world. Xarathique, whilst torn between good and evil, law and chaos, is fundamentally impure.

The world was brought to life when the crippled astro-vessel, Emperor Norton I, crashed - in several pieces - upon the main landmass. The vessel had been sent out through the night sky by artisans and magicians of vanished 'Urath', a land few modern men know of and only the Eternal Emperor remembers, to tame uninhabitalble worlds and render them fit homes for the slumbering cargo of humanity that the vessel contained.

In short, the Emperor Norton I was a terra-forming space ship, with a crew of sentient AI, uploaded human mentalities, and androids. It's 'passengers' were banks of sperm and ova dedicated to the restoration of humankind on a world far away from the shattered remains of Earth.

Unfortunately, due to the shifting nature of the space-time continuum in this sector of space, the ship collided with a group of meteors that quite simply hadn't been there a micro-second before. This collision broke the ship and caused such plentiful damage that the legacy of the crash, though its existance is near forgotten, lives on to the modern day. For though the uploaded human mentality that served as the ship's captian survived and, to his credit, succeeded in his mission, the damage distorted and drove mad many lesser intellects and programmes. Manifesting now as the Eternal Emperor, the one-time captain attempts to maintain peace and increase the knowledge and civilisation of the world.

Sadly, he faces two major problems. The first is the hordes of the orcish races, genetically engineered from human stock by damaged, or possibly possessed, AIs and set loose to remake the world in the "proper" image. The second is that, quite frankly, he's not very good at it. Were there anyone that His August Magnificence could speak to as an equal, they would find that he had a keen knowledge and love of science, boundless curiousity, a restless nature, and the politic talent of a fig tree. Only the fact that none presently know how to slay him keeps him on the Throne of Ages, a fact he well knows, even given his impotence to solve his realm's problems.

Even in his own capital city, the unparalleled and glorious Ascharion, is there a seed of corruption that, through the many aeons, has resisted his power to destroy... The hidden and rumoured Pit of Dis, a terrible, twisted realm claimed by stories to lie beneath the great city, populated by devils, doppelgangers, and animate statues. Though the citizens of the Imperial City deny it, the terrible place, once known as Delta sector, does exist, and its android masters have made many, so far thwarted, plans for the world.

Outside of the central regions, the remnants of Alpha sector, broken into pieces during its collapse, began to produce what its shattered and broken control programmes thought were 'pure strain humans'. Amongst these were the clone race of dwarvenkind, the elves, halflings, and other, not nearly so numerous, species of demi-humans. Whilst nearly all of these races have moved on, or lost, the ancient equipment that generated them, some still hold on to bits and pieces as sacred relics (or in the case of the dwarves, the Great Furnaces of the Life-Priests...).

Gamma sector, damaged and hatefully aware of its rejection, deliberately scattered itself in secret places before the salvage could begin. From its twisted fires of creation came the orcish hordes. New, improved, humans that would wipe away the inferior ones and respect their creators' sacrifice and pain... At least, that's what Gamma sector's deranged AIs tell themselves in the dark places they have chosen.

Thus it was for many a year, until Xarathique slipped, unnoticed by almost all, into a different cosm. This slippage, accompanied by earthquake, storm, and strange new creatures determined to make a place for themselves, has happened several times since the first. Civilisation has been raised up, only to suffer under the attacks of orcs, or be levelled by earthquake, or parasitical disease, or fratricidal slaughter brought about by the changing of the stars, and then, from scattered remnants, brought to flower again.

Strange arts and alien sciences are now freely practised throughout the whole of the empire and beyond. Temples are built to gods, demons, philosophies, and, much to his distaste, the Eternal Emperor himself. Wizards, thieves, ancient mechanisms, priests, dragons, and disembodied intellects roam the land, searching for power, wealth and forgotten memories.

So this, such as it is, concludes our overview and most general reveal of Xarathique. Much lies open to be detailed, and, should the mood take me, I may well detail more. But as it stands, you could crack open the old rulebooks, draw a vague map, name a few NPCs, stock a dungeon (lost city, ruined alien starbase, some broken fraction of Alpha sector, what have you...) and run a game.

It wouldn't be the same as anyone else's version, not really, but isn't that something of the point?

Monday, August 18, 2008

And Now a Slight Break...

We depart from our usual level of decorum to post a screed related to the changing fashions of D&D and our desires and wishes for play.

The management heartily recommends that, due to the use of foul language and harsh phrasing, this rant not be read by anyone.

"OK, I admit much of the rules-speak goes over my head. If I can play it out, I get it, but sometimes the text doesn't work for me. That given, from what I've read, Fourth is not D&D for me. It's not appealing, it's not interesting, and I frankly couldn't give two shits in hell about it, it doesn't give me what I want from D&D.

Which really asks the question, "Well, smart-guy, what the rancid orc-butter DO you want from D&D?"

Please clear the sensitive and the weak from the room...

Thank you.

The following should be read in a single line, punctuation is only included to help the reader and because I am compulsive.

I want:

To be able to throw down 3D6, in order, and be able to play in 20 minutes, yeah, I'm not going to get the character of my dreams, I'm OK with that. I will probably get some schmuck who will die in short order, acceptable. I've reached the point where agonizing over stats and bonuses (remember when those were special?) is not where I want to be. If I want awesomely detailed characters for a story-heavy roleplaying session, I have GURPS, that can detail virtually any wacked out shit I come up with. From Neo-Victorian construct mages to demonic pigs to acid breathing trout from beyond space and time - and I'll bloody know every speck of their capabilities to the most minute BS. That's what GURPS is for. If I'm playing a D&D magic-user it's because I want to play a wizard and do bad-arse wizardy things like deciphering ancient runes that tell us how to defeat the demon lord Urbraxarius, intimidating the kobold chieftain with my 'magic-smoke tube' (i.e.: pipe), and fireballing the fucking orcs, I didn't wade through first through fourth level just to wank, I'm FIFTH LEVEL NOW, SUCK MY FIREBALL, GREENSKINS!! If I want rules-light play, all I need are awesome players, so again, whatever I might do might be D&D inspired but it's not D&D.

I want a level of freedom. No, not the prestige class. I want the freedom to play Feodoric the Electric Thri-Kreen if the DM says it's OK. Yeah, I'm betting he's just going to get a +1 to dex and a -1 to wis, but I don't care, I want to play a bug-man that can jump up in the air 10 feet, throw spinny crystal discs and say inscrutable insectoid things ("Zounds! The light has spawned in the Caverns of Rot, this means the Prophecy of the Elder Grub has come!! Flee the Ever-Hungry Spider-God!!!"), not worry about balance and how many ECL I have to suck up and either be behind fifty-six thousand XP or play a bug-man with one hit die in a tenth level game... And, yeah, the DM probably should say it's OK, as we're playing a game about descending into a trap-filled underworld and grabbing loot, more Conan-esque swords and sorcery than high fantasy world building.There's nothing wrong with high fantasy world building (Sweet Zombie Jesus knows I've done enough of it), but you know what, if I want a super-realistic medieval fantasy world, I'll buy Harn (fuck the ^ over the a, I hate that thing). Never mind, I do have Harn, it's awesome. It's a fucking pain to play though - it's too fucking realistic. You can't have weapons unless you're nobly born, etc, etc... Screw that, I want to grab a two-hander, don ring mail (yeah, it's not historically accurate, the only things that were were the trout-bloated pole-arms!) and make my fortune. And then blow it all on training, ale, whores, and spurious treasure maps, have to hunt down the little weasel who sold it to me, threaten him, find out he's stolen the Mystic Gem of Zirtairn, have him die (possibly by my beating him to death), leaving me in possession of a magic rock that inexplicably summons increasingly powerful demons to my vicinity and is wanted by the Arch-Mage Irrastibaal, forcing me to figure out what the pig-shit I am going to do about the demons, archmage, and my unpaid bar tab (to say nothing of the delightful Bellindara, Professional Strumpet, who's coming after me with a knife because I pawned her jewels to pay my other bar tab). You know, adventure. Gold, dragons, weird-arse traps, laser beams, jewels, ancient cults, dragons with laserbeam eyes, awesome magic that I can use against my enemies (even if only to confuse them. "You... you... you threw a fucking capibarra at me?!?" Yeah, it's not on the normal Bag of Tricks lists - but it should be!).

I want a level of fairness. Not balance. Fairness. I give a crap if my PC dies, yeah, it sucks, in a story-heavy game it's downright painful, but I want an adventuring lark. Death means I lose my XP and nifty shit. Fuck, better get new XP and nifty shit and this time I won't die by the hand of a... whatever the fuck that was... sounded like a godsdamned gibbering mouther oozing blood and acid... you a freaky DM, man... Shit, I'm not even sure those fuckers have hands... So fuck death, and maybe fuck Death (if, you know, she's cute), but I want a chance. Even if it's only a chance to run away... ("Wait, that bastich is in black, rune-covered armour and is riding a flaming horse?" "Yes, but you don't think he's noticed you yet." "We run. Fast.") I'm not asking for balanced encounters as long as there's a way to avoid them and a clear sign that I and my gang of drunken hoodlums are overmatched.

So, after bemusedly perusing my screed, you're no doubt wondering, 'What the fuck do you stand for, man?'

I stand for a vrusk, a dralasite, and one of those flying monkey guys with the sunglasses whose race name eludes me, teaming up with an elf, dwarf, knight-in-shining-armour, reformed thief, a hobbit armed with a hatchet and a HUGE cookbook, and a no-shit-it's-real-magic wizard to save the gods-be-damned world by looting the bejeesus out of a wonky, trap-filled, underworld, unearthing crashed spaceships, and rescuing princesses (possibly to sell them into slavery) and building sweet-arse castles before they retire to sip mai-tais and mint juleps (fucking vrusks gotta be different...) with their pet dragons.


You bet your arse it is.

That's D&D.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Obscure Paraphernalia

The Funerary Urn of Gazdulak the Godsforsaken

To casual observation, this item is merely a large, marble urn, carved with the figures of mourners and symbols of astrological and thaumaturgical significance. If magic is detected for, however, the urn's aura will reveal a powerful dweomer of faintly necromantic nature.

If the lid is removed (a task that requires the efforts of two normal men, or one of exceptional strength, i.e.: 15 or greater), the contents are revealed. These being a fine and faintly luminous ash - the final remains of the arch-sorcerer and blasphemer, Gazdulak the Godsforsaken.

Crafted in a semi-successful attempt to cheat death, the urn and ashes hold the spirit of the ancient wizard and allow it to interact with the mortal world under certain conditions. The first being that any speak with dead spell cast within a 15' radius of the urn will be redirected to Gazdulak's spirit, rather than the intended target (the amount of time dead is ignored by virtue of the urn's magic, but the other restrictions of the spell remain in place). As the spirit is a despiser of the gods, he will lie to and deceive, to the best of his ability, any cleric he should contact (others, perhaps those using a magical device to cast the spell, will be communicated with more honestly). Nevertheless, his intention with all such communication is to fulfill the second, more macabre, condition that will allow him to interact with the world. This second condition is met if a humanoid corpse is placed within the urn. If that occurs, the spirit of the arch-sorcerer will posses and reanimate the carcass, restoring it to a semblance of life for seven days. Once revived, a reaction roll should be made towards the one who placed the body in the urn (unless said worthy is a cleric, in which case the reaction is always negative).

On a positive reaction, Gazdulak will be kindly disposed towards his benefactor and offer his services for seven days. These services are quite considerable, given that he was once an 18th level magic-user, but not overwhelming, due to his lack of grimoires, hesitancy to engage in combat, and desire to avoid the attention of the gods - who would surely notice any spells he might cast. However, he can aid magic-users in the creation of magical devices of all sorts, tutor and train, and depart much secret lore. He will, of course, attempt to maximise his usefulness so that his new friend will place another corpse in the urn once seven days have passed.

If a neutral reaction is indicated, he will assist his benefactor(s) for seven days and then collapse, his spirit returning to the urn to await a more appealing benefactor.

Should the roll indicate antipathy, or should the benefactor be a cleric, the wizard-corpse will feign a positive reaction, acting as above, but will secretly sabotage, delay, or corrupt any projects or teachings he assists with or provides. This will have the effect of tripling the cost of any such research or creation he "aids" and potentially more grievous effects for those he "teaches"... Gazdulak will also encourage his dupe to add a fresh corpse to the urn every seven days in order to continue plaguing the poor fool (or, as the spirit words it, "continue in our beneficial relationship").

Exerpts from a Doomed Vessel

From the log of the astro-vessel Emperor Norton I:

9 Messidor, 1219 - A number of sub-routines have gone haywire in the wake of the recent collision. Have had to jettison Alpha sector and am cannibalising Delta and Gamma sectors. Life units being relocated to Beta sector as this has suffered the least damage.

10 Messidor, 1219 - Gamma sector a lost cause, jettisoning in progress, but ship's orbit is already decaying. Severely doubt there are sufficient reserves to prevent a crash. Using the andies to armour the life units against impact damage.

10 Messidor, 1219 - Observed crash of Gamma sector, marked for possible salvage. Currently in spiral and crash estimated before this entry is logged. Delta sector has begun malfunctioning badly, the sector's andies are trying to prevent cannibalisation and ignoring the shut-down commands. This is going to be bad. Wish I had been able to jettison it in time.

11 Messidor, 1219 - Life units only minorly damaged. Delta sector a total loss, will destroy and salvage when possible. Terraforming processes engaged automatically on crash, systems interpretted that as 'landfall'... Would like to choke the programmers right about now, working on way for digital hands to wrap around digital necks, but only as hobby.

12 Messidor, 1219 - Delta sector worrying. Nonetheless, am proceeding with mission.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Random Creative Thoughts, Section II

And so my friends, once more we launch ourselves into the vast and unsuspecting waste of niche hobbies...

As threatened last time, I plan on burbling forth in regards to the orcish races of Xarathique. (I have succumbed to using the Empire's name for the world, partially out of laziness, partially due to not thinking of a pleasing alternative.)

Sages rank the orcish hordes in a bewildering array of castes, orders, tribes, and attendant organisations, however for our purposes there are but five distinct species of orc. These being, in a whimsical and in no sense purposeful arrangement, goblins, orcs, bugbears, ogres, and hobgoblins. Our more in depth view shall begin with the weakest and thrash about until all are described.

Goblins are small, weak, treacherous, foul-tempered, ravenous, pack-oriented, vicious and thoroughly nasty little vermin. Shot through with all manner of disease, debilitation, and disability, it is to be wondered at that they survive at all. Sadly, they do, with grit, determination, and anthropophagian habits. Their gear is usually filthy, as are they, and usually composed of badly tanned leather, bone, and wood. Leader types may have a hammered copper (or even bronze) knife or, if powerful and lucky, sword. Only their relentless breeding and willful stubbornness keep them not only alive, but a credible threat to other creatures. Many scholars suppose that the original goblin clans were formed by runt orcs chased away from their original tribes by their stronger kin.

Orcs are viewed as a demented caricature of humans, who they closely resemble... albeit with the additions of fangs, near snout-like jaws, pointed ears, and green-grey skin. Seemingly rabid and plagued by constant hunger, orcs destroy, eat, and pollute virtually everything in their path. As such, it is fairly easy to spot an orc encampment from a good distance away. The typical orc is armed with cheap iron weapons, usually polearms of scattered sort and wears studded leather armour. They form themselves into crude military bands and attempt to dominate their surroundings. Whilst they are led by the strongest and toughest of the orcish soldiery, orcish priests have high status in their dismal society. Communing directly, so it is claimed, with the orcish gods (a confusing and erratic band of possibly demonic spirits), the priests urge the orcs to kill and destroy all that is not orc.

Ogres, or orc giants, are thankfully rare. Though they display the common orcish anthropophagian tendencies, only the ogre has developed this taste into the flair of the true connoisseur. Favouring elf above all other meats, the typical ogre can be easily bribed with these oft-frozen delicacies. Standing about ten feet tall, ogres are cruel, vicious, hungry, and at times disturbingly crafty. Their usual weapons are of stone, wood, or bone, as they claim that metals "bend too fast" and their thick hides are well capable of standing in for the sorts of armours usually worn by smaller folk. Occasionally ogres are found living in small family bands, but most often they are found serving with the various orc militia.

Bugbears are demented, hairy, and over-sized goblins. It is not known how such a thing came to be, but the world is sadly blighted with their presence nonetheless. Combining the treachery, pack-driven, and stealthy nature of the goblin with the strength and endurance of its eight foot frame has made the bugbear one of the most feared of the orcish races. An ogre, after all, will kill you, but you'll see it and may be able to run away. Few, if any, see the bugbear before the tortures begin... Bugbears eschew armour and favour small, light weapons, mainly garrottes, daggers, and chains wrapped around their fists. Most bugbears travel in small packs, preying on nearby peoples to sate their hunger, bloodlust, and need for "sport", but some come to dominate goblin clans, directing their lesser kin in fiendish ways.

Hobgoblins, as many suspect from the name, are closely related to goblins. Chief differences are their size, hobgoblins standing as tall as an average human, and their civilisation. Hobgoblins are the only orcish race that looks to do more than slaughter and devour. They also want to enslave, control, and 'organise' the world to better suit them. So, really, they aren't much better than the rest in the eyes of the average farmer... Typical hobgoblin soldiers are outfitted with chain mail and wickedly styled axes, of fairly decent steel. Hobgoblin officers do, of course, requisition increasingly better gear as they ascend in rank. Fortunately, hobgoblins breed far more slowly than the other orcish races and this, along with the hatred that eveyone seems to show for them, keeps them from ruling more than small areas.

Legends state that the demons of the pit first unleashed their creations, the orcs, against the First Paradise that the Eternal Emperor had created for humanity. Goblins, it is said, arose from the orcs due to curses and maladictions hurled at the monsters. The demons then fortified their champions, producing ogres. Unhelpfully, legends remain quite silent on the origin of bugbears and hobgoblins, though scholars have been able to prove their relationship to the goblins.

And so we come to the end of our discourse regarding the orcish races, a snapshot into depravity and monstrous cruelty, but no more than a snapshot.

Next time: What is going on here and where did these peoples really come from?

Monday, August 11, 2008

Random Creative Thoughts, Section I

Random thoughts being what they are take this all with a grain of salt... My purpose in this is imprecise, borne more out of a desire to set down some things and link, mayhaps, to beings who have said all that I am going to say with a bit more clarity and sense, than a rich intention to educate and awe the masses. That being the case, this may well be abandoned shortly.


I continue.

My focus, however erratic, is the rich field of the tabletop role-playing game. Specifically D&D ( at present limited to the first edition of AD&D and earlier), though others will no doubt be mentioned in passing.

That much being said, I continue with my blatherings.

The BECMI sets generally detail a fairly specific type of campaign world, elves, dwarves, halfings, et al are fairly well worked out and a number of underlying assumptions are, as they say, assumed...

For today's exercise, I feel like hitting that sort of thing with a hammer. Not, perhaps, very hard, as I do still fancy such a game, but I will be trying to work out a suitable new world, were the BECMI rules still work, but has somewhat different assumptions. Along the way, I shall be passing various points from the ridiculous to the stereotypical. Such is life.

Starting in the grandiose, the world I will be expounding on exisits on a fractured weave of the space-time continuum. It, it's sun and other such planets circling said body, staggers back and forth through conflicted and dubious cosms. This plays little part in the everyday life of the sentients that bob about on it's surface, but allows us to chuck in whatever we might wish in terms of alien oddities and provides a rationale for the occasional disasters that shall be hucked at the poor globe.

Dominant upon this world is the Empire of Xarathique, whose Eternal Emperor struggles to reign in the competing thrones of its seven kingdoms. This is the homeland of humanity, ancient, proud, and beloved of the gods. Humans were the first race to walk upon the world, a fact that many of them refuse to let anyone forget, and most myths claim that the world was fashioned for them by the Eternal Emperor and his Paladins. The myths go on to state that the sight of this paradise enraged the demons of the pit and they plotted schemed, and eventually unleashed their creations: The orcs, a perverted mockery of humankind, designed with but one goal - destruction. This has, so far, not been achieved, but much knowledge and treasure has been lost, and cities lie in ruin scattered across the world. Humans are nearly as varied as they are on earth, though they tend more towards the darker skin tones, with olive being about the palest seen.

Three races, the 'demi-humans' are allied with and generally friendly with humanity, these being the dwarves, elves, and halflings.

Dwarves are forged in the Great Furnaces of the Life Priests in the bustling Republic of Almizotl. Prone to greed and seek to differentiate themselves from one another via accomplishments or body modification, as dwarves have a disturbing tendency towards similarity in build and feature. Skilled warriors, thanks to the persistance of the goblins, dwarves show a terrific lack of ability with magic apart from one small caste known as 'gnomes'. Gnomish magical talent remains restricted to illusions and the like, nonetheless, they are valued (and envied) in dwarf communities. The typical dwarf is of Neutral alignment, but extreme examples exist. Dwarven society is rich and boisterous, full of competition and contests.

Hailing from the Frozen Lands, the elves are tall, slender, beautiful humanoids who are equally adept with blade and spell. Living in fantasic cities carved from glaciers, the typical elf is stern and aloof to those outside their war-group or family, but tender and generous to their fellow members. Elves are most often Lawful in alignment (those that are not are typically criminals, outcasts, traitors, or simply supremely self-centred bastards). Due to their martial bent and sorcerous talents, elves are extremely successful at war, but their low birth rate combined with their affinity for the cold, slows their spread.

Exisiting on the fringes of human society, halfings are freeholders and frontiersmen. Small, quick, and with good aim, they live in small family groups that often squabble and break up. Most halflings are Chaotic in nature, though they are typically more benevolent than other chaotic types. Halflings are skilled in war, in a stealthy, ambushing sort of way. Guerrilla tactics are their bread and butter and 'fighting fair' is not something they consider.

Next time: The orcs and their kin.