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.