Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Thoughts on the Nature of Things.

Being the witty and personable fellow that I am, I have a splendid collection of equally astute friends. From time to time, these worthy persons occasionally give me gifts, as has been known to happen throughout the nation. I am always thankful to receive such presents, especially when they are in line with my eccentric and occasionally odd interests, but I do not always take the time to peruse them right away.

In today's case the perusal portion of the process took about two years.

In short, I just read 'Fantasy Imperium' last night.

For those few of you with short attention spans that still struggle to gain insight from my ramblings, though I doubt any of you are left, I shall make it short and simply say, "Oh, dear..."

Allow me to lead the rest of you down a merry pathway for a time and I shall endeavor to provide additional enlightenment.

There was a time when, as a matter of course, games would set characteristic maximums at differing levels depending on the gender of the character. Generally by limiting female character's strength score. What was that from the back? No, males received no limits to any statistics, why do you ask? Sarcasm aside, this was and is defended by many as "realistic" (more on this below) but has generally been dropped from most games produced from about 1990 on (if not before). Since, you know, it's sexist and pointless and drives off players.

'Fantasy Imperium', my copy dated 2006, has such rules. They are, in the interest of full disclose, mostly optional. The non-optional part is that female character's may re-roll their "attractiveness" statistic...

Because it's a woman's job to be pretty.


And we wonder why the hobby is not that popular amongst females...

Galloping forward once more, the rules system seems horrifically convoluted, the sub-title exudes pretentiousness ("An Interactive Storytelling Game of Historical Fantasy"), and the chosen setting is Europe... with magic.

The setting has many problems. One, it's basically impossible to boil enough information on Medieval Europe down to a setting chapter that is either usable or accurate. Two, despite the vast and complicated theologies of the times, the author has decided that Christianity is the One, True Faith. This despite the provisions for "mythical races" in the rulebook...

Perhaps this is just mine own opinion, but the existence of centaurs would rather successfully argue for the presence of the Greco-Roman Pantheon.

But apparently not.

The game's piety system is vastly amusing, however. As long as one performs the rituals, one can have a high piety score, belief isn't necessary and believing in God only nets one ten points out of a one to a hundred (or more?) scale.

But enough. Though the game is bad, it's not 'Racial Holy War' or 'F.A.T.A.L.'

However, it is enough to make me wonder about the thread of misogyny that seems to weave itself into this hobby. One could, perhaps, forgive the old 'Fantasy Wargaming' its flaws as it was a product of an earlier, more benighted, time (the '80s) and it did provide really spiffy lists of the Hosts of Heaven and Hell... Nonetheless, it is part of the spectrum that includes the previously mentioned games, as is 'Fantasy Imperium'. It is possible that we simply live in a misogynistic culture and that permeates everything, but that merely redefines the problem on a grander scale.

We should, I think, consider how this sort of thing begins, and why it begins. It's easy to point at 'F.A.T.A.L.' and see that it crosses the line, the trick is finding the seemingly innocuous thing that might allow someone to think that the next step is OK as well. Keep in mind, as horrifying as it is, that the author(s) of 'F.A.T.A.L.' and 'Racial Holy War' are a part of this hobby and they started gaming somewhere before they wrote their games...

Moving on, or backwards for a bit, I wish to touch on the old AD&D limits on a female character's strength score. A sadly large number of people defend these, even unto this day, as being "realistic". The usual counter to these folk is, "So, where are the realistic dragons?"

I don't think that addresses the problem.

I am not sure if the problem can be addressed. It may be pure misogyny, it may be far more harmless.

I do know how I plan on addressing the argument in the future however.

I plan on implementing what I call "Conan-reality" in my games.

As I was thinking about this old, old argument, it came to mind that, "realistically", there was no way that R.E. Howard's Conan could be as supremely muscular and powerful as he was described in the stories. Historical barbarians could be strong, but were generally worn down by the hardships they endured, not built into towering powerhouses. However, I like the archetype of the mighty barbarian and I plan on keeping it.

The "realistic" limitations on a female's strength go in the same basket as the "realistic" limitations on the barbarian.

I hear the horde of the outraged, "But, but..." and a million reasons are proffered.

I'm not going to listen to them. Not even those that harshly restrict everything in their campaign world to "realistic" levels (where, I might ask, is the fun in that?).

Suffice to say that there could be any number of reasons for the seemingly "unrealistic" and I see no reason to artificially penalize female characters.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Adventures in Gaming

For the last month, I have been running a role-playing night at the Tacoma Public Library. This is only every other week, so only two sessions have happened, but it has been fairly well attended...

For something with virtually no publicity...

So, you know, about a dozen folks showed up...

The game I chose to have available, with an assortment of pre-gens, was the Mentzer Basic rules. Mainly because I know them well, but also because they are easy to start up and easy to explain.

I'll be whipping up a new adventure for the next night (November third, if any of you are in the area), since everyone died last night due to poor thinking on the magic-user's part.

However, the room that the library has kindly allowed us to use is absolutely enormous! We could easily fit eight tables in there and I'd kind of like to do that, if only to keep the programme going (it's running through December right now, but if the turn out is good, who knows...).

Several attendees have been surprised that 4th Ed. D&D is not being run, but the thing is, that's not what I want to play and, more importantly, no one has offered to run it.

I mean, I'm not going to be stingy here, I've got more space than I can use... You want to play 4th Ed., be my guest, grab a table and we'll try and get players for it. It's not appealing to me, but my own ego is not what this is about, this is about the love of gaming.

Sadly, even though I have asked, nay, begged, for these fans of 4th Ed. to run a game, not one seems willing to do so...

It's a tad frustrating.

I want to be helpful, but though I might play it at some point, just to see if it plays better than it reads, it's not my cup of tea.

I'm certainly not going to run the thing just for a few people who aren't willing to at least try and DM once...

My first DM was a guy named Aaron. Not because he was good at it, it was because he had the books (well, boxed set, this was Mentzer's Basic rules) and wanted to play with people. We were all eleven then and we had a great time.

I suppose the point of my rambling is, if you're not willing to DM, don't be disappointed that you can't find a group.

Someone has to be the DM.

Monday, October 19, 2009

I Strongly Suspect I'm Mad...

But I need to refine this a bit further...

Yes, if you can make it out, it's R.E. Howard's Hyborian Age affixed to E.G. Gygax's Oerth.

Oh, come on, as if the Suloise weren't related to the Stygians?

Friday, October 16, 2009

Lost Empires and Broken Lands

Three hundred years ago the Great Empire planted colonies on the forbidding shores of the newly discovered northern continent.

One hundred and fifty years ago, all communication with the Empire ceased. No more ships arrived and all ships that sailed southwards were lost to all knowledge. In the chaos and wars that followed the Disappearance, the settlers and natives merged and founded new societies.

Now, bleak, charnel-house, ships sail northwards, crewed by animate corpses and captained by unspeakable monstrosities...

Either D&D meets All Flesh Must Be Eaten, or a particularly grim GURPS horror parallel, it hardly matters. What matters is where you and your players go with it...

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Men Out of Time

The thought occurs to me that there has been a multitude of examples in literature of the hero being a man (occasionally a woman, but I think the disparity greatly favours men) from "our modern world" - whenever that is - who is transplanted to a fantasy world.

It never seems to be the
villain who is the cross-world voyager.

Oh, there's occasionally a lesser bad-guy who is such, usually weak, venal, or tricked into assisting the true villain, but there's not (to my knowledge) any example where the
Dark Lord(tm) is such a traveler.

So, depending on your groups style, you could spice things up a bit in your fantasy game by having the new and terrible threat be from a modern (or futuristic) world. You'd have to make such a villain a competent, lucky, and powerful as the heroic types of the stories, otherwise they wouldn't survive. Let's face it, if dropped into a medieval fantasy world, most of us would be dead in short order. This has to be someone who is able to survive, prosper, and be a credible threat.

Motive becomes something of an issue, however. In the literature, the hero usually picks the correct side by pure luck (and/or incredible prejudice), if he does pick the wrong side, he's usually made aware of this pretty early on and gets to go on a revenge kick as well as protect the good guys. This could work for a villain, but you'd still have to work out why he's evil.

Some ideas:

The villain has been converted somehow. (Been made a member of the undead, "seen the light" (dark?) and converted to an evil god, etc)
The villain is trying to make things better, casting down unfair monarchies and re-building the world in a more "sensible" fashion.
The villain is out for blood. (The fantasy world's wizards' guild refused to help him get home/refused to believe him and so he's going to smash them all, despite this nonsense about cosmic calamity...)
The villain senses opportunity... (Just because he's a cubicle-monkey back home doesn't mean he's going to be one here).
The villain doesn't want to go home... yet some heroic group are trying to make him. (This ties in well with the above, but on its own is a bit weak).

Sunday, October 11, 2009


Nestled in the placid Highcourt Valley, is the former County of Gehesthramayne. Though the County fell in fire and blood over two hundred years ago, there are still human settlements along the Highcourt River. The largest of these, though still tiny when compared to the mighty cities to the east, is Graveshire, a farming community ruled by a hereditary sheriff (whose authority derives from the long-dead line of counts...).

This would, no doubt, be a forgotten backwater were it not for the rise of the goblin warlords of the Brokenstone Highlands. With the vicious humanoids launching raid after raid into human lands, Graveshire finds itself on the front-lines in what is rapidly becoming a long war...

Fortunately, the farmer folk have defenders...

Not only is the sheriff a skilled soldier (F3), but that worthy commands a loyal militia of some 20-odd souls (all F1). Also, unbeknownst to the natives, the innkeep of the newly built (i.e.: within the last decade...) Knave o' Nails travelers' inn is a retired guildsman of the far off city of Roarwater and has secretly sent word to said guild about the loot the goblins have been able to amass... which might not be entirely accurate, but it has led that guild of thieves to send out certain thugs and bravos in an attempt to gain some filthy lucre for themselves. On the other hand, well known to the natives are the Monastery of the Beneficent Storm-lord, the local headquarters of a militant brotherhood tasked by their god to be always on the frontiers, and the Tower of Gherethave the Mysterious, the home of a reclusive and aged wizard and his apprentices (many of who have never seen their nominal master). Both of these isolated communities have volunteered to assist the farmers of Graveshire during the current troubles.

The role of the player characters in all of this is fairly simple, that of an elite squad striking against and scouting the goblin bands (for benevolent or self-serving reasons) and possibly unearthing what has caused the sudden wave of attacks. But it doesn't need to be limited to that, undead created during the County's fall may haunt the shire, claimants - legitimate or not - may appear demanding the old title of Count, soldiers of the nearest kingdom may appear and demand food, shelter, or other things, it all depends...

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Cross-Playability and the Warhammer Changes

So, back in August of this year, I was given the work Night's Dark Masters, the vampire book for WFRP 2nd Ed. I've been collecting the rest of said 2nd Ed since then, but I've recently found out about the 3rd Ed... which is dramatically different from its predecessors...

I'm not thrilled.

I know, the shock, the amazement...

I'm not even sure why I feel the need to ramble on about this, those that agree with me (due to exasperation with novelty, the desire to maintain perfection, or sheer hatred of truth and beauty) will continue to do so and those that disagree (due to addiction to novelty, the desire for perfection, or sheer hatred of truth and beauty) will plot my inevitable downfall... or continue to do so, as their fancy takes them.


I rather like the second edition, overall it is the same game, but it does have certain tweaks and some things were deleted, changed, and what-have-you. I think the strength and toughness changes were silly, but can understand them, and the reining in of elvenkind was an unlooked-for delight, so things seem fairly reasonable. Also, I really like the fact that the systems are basically compatible. Yes, you'll have to tinker a bit with it all, but not too much and you can use all the old material with the new.

This is, I think, an important point. Similar to how D&D was, essentially, the same game from 1974 to 2000 (I realize that the differences seem vast, but they really aren't... and I say that having already gone on record with my hatred of second edition AD&D...), WFRP was the same game from 1986 to 2009. All the material released in those periods was usable if you happened to want to use it (though some was so dreadful I wouldn't have wished on my worst enemy... OK, maybe I would have inflicted Skills and Powers on them... if I were in a really bad mood).

I like improvement (one of the things that many intelligent gamers really like is some form of non-random character generation - in many games, I like it too, but there are some times I like trying to make a character out of a set of random rolls - so packaging a well thought out "point buy" system, along with the old random method, in your game's new edition isn't going to hurt anyone, under normal circumstances...), but I also like backwards compatibility. Deleting the usefulness of the small library of game books I've already purchased isn't going to win the new edition my friendship or money.

The point must be made that I am probably not the "target market" anymore, and therefore superfluous...

So be it.

I do wonder who the current "target market" is, however. Is it anyone who's played the previous editions? And am I cheap, or does $100 seem a tad pricey for the start-up kit?

Friday, October 9, 2009

Nefarratus - The Dark Isles

Lying some 750 miles off the Indarran coast is the fair sized archipelago known since ancient times as the Dark Isles. These islands, rugged and mist-shrouded, have been ruled by the Kingdom of Nefarratus for well over a thousand years, but contain ruins far older than the cities of men...

The Nefarratans are skilled sailors and their ships dominate the sea-lanes of the world, trading everywhere from the well-known east (brokering deals in the rich cities of the Most Holy Kingdom of Indarra, the ramshackle, cutthroat ports of the disunited Principalities of the Hedorans, and the fortified clanholds of the Kalevon Islanders) to the barely explored west (using their settlements on the Peacock Islands and Starfall to both bicker and haggle with the Principality of a Thousand Icy Blossoms and the Lands of the Turquoise Throne, respectively). Due to the central location of the Dark Isles, as well as the skill of their merchants, explorers, and sailors, the king's city of Nevarrath ('the Sinking City') has become the world's busiest port.

Before the rise of men (thought to have come from the Kalevon Islands to the northeast, due to certain commonalities of culture and countenance), the Dark Isles were dominated by cruel and aggressive giants - some of which still live in the hidden and lonesome parts of the isles, more have retreated under the waves, from whence they occasionally arise to ravage the works of men - before the giants, none can say with surety, but mysterious artifacts and strange tablets covered in peculiar glyphs have been taken from the oft bizarre ruins found throughout the isles.

With an intro out of the way, some notes...

Of Men & Magic:

The races available for player characters are humans (as always... I seem to recall at least one game that doesn't have this option, but at present I can't recall it), weirdlings, and the accursed ones.

Humans - Fairly simple, unless a rather unfortunate series of events has taken place, you should be familiar with humans. If not, good luck sorting it all out. Humans are the default and most common race of the setting, as such it is not necessary to allow the next two races unless the referee wishes to do so.
Weirdlings - Human bloodlines altered, exalted, or tainted (depending on one's point of view) by either strange magics, lonely extra-dimensional travelers, or divine whim. Weirdlings pass for human in looks, but have small quirks and abilities beyond the common folk. These traits should be worked out between the player and the referee, but should not be excessively powerful. Weirdlings advance slower than humans in all professions, requiring 10% more earned experience points to advance a level.
Accursed Ones - Once human, but grown monstrously strange, oft-times through the same mechanics that produce weirdlings. Mostly confined to small villages, usually with bizarre rituals, the accursed ones can rarely, if ever, pass for human and most do not try. Generally viewed as monsters by the bulk of humanity, some accursed ones are excepted, usually as menials and the lackeys of mad scholars. Accursed ones usually possess great physical strength, but have limited intelligence and monstrous appearances (or appetites... though those are not recommended as player characters). Exact specifics should be worked out between the player and the referee, but any bonus should be balanced by a corresponding penalty.

The typical fighting classes are all represented in the setting and working in others of unique design should prove little challenge, the same holds true for the thieving and clerical classes. The magic-using classes, however, are wholly absent from the setting, replaced by the scholar.

The scholar uses the same progression charts as the magic-user, including number and type of hit dice, attack progression, and spells. The difference being that while a magic-user presumably understands the theories and philosophies behind what they do, the scholar does not - having cobbled their magical knowledge together from bits and pieces left behind in the ruins of a long dead race of, probably inhuman, ancients. Scholars are, however, scientific in their outlook, not mystical. They are aware that there is an underlying set of principles to the magics they can command and attempt to discover them. In mechanical terms, this makes little difference, as scholars function in the game exactly like magic-users, but the role-playing aspect of this should not be overlooked. Scholars are also well-versed in the natural sciences and often share their knowledge with favoured students and colleagues (whilst keeping rivals in the dark and stealing their research... and sometimes research subjects...).

More later...

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Lords in Darkness, Re-Examining the Ravenloft Setting

I rather like the idea of the Ravenloft Campaign Setting, even as I doubt its usefulness as an AD&D campaign world, gothic horror and AD&D make a poor match in my mind. However, the setting as presented is riddled with inconsistencies and there's a terrible feeling of being trapped on a Hammer movie set sometimes. That might be OK if it were just the players who saw past the curtain, but as presented it's often the characters doing so. Oh, it's deadly and you lose a lot, mainly due to stacked decks and curses, but it's not so much horrific as it is perilous, a sort of 'Grimtooth's Traps' with a story-line, if you will.

One of the things I wanted to do with my currently on-going Ravenloft game was to re-work the world into something that made internal sense, while still allowing the chance that the PCs could find out they were trapped in a malicious demi-plane. In accordance with that desire, I decided to work out the rules I wanted my Ravenloft to function by. These started simply, I didn't want every domain lord to be able to seal their domains, I've never liked anyone but Strahd being able to do this and it always seemed too focused on the PCs (sure the lord could be after someone else, but really?), so I ditched that ability. Then I started jotting some more things down.

Political boundaries might be congruent with domain boundaries, but they might not...
Domain lords were trapped in their own stories and highly unlikely to notice anyone outside of their tormented circle.
Domain lords had to be scary, they don't need to be more powerful, just able to inspire dread.
The world as a whole had to make sense, the characters living there shouldn't realize they're living in a patchwork demi-plane.
There always had to be a path to success. This contradicts aspects of the gothic horror feel, but this is a game of AD&D, not the 'Fall of the House of Usher'.

More on this later...

A Haunted Mish-Mash...

The Ravenloft Campaign Setting, as published, seems to have a large amount of gaping holes and more than a few terribly boring domains and domain lords (Hazlik, anyone?). So, as I prepared to run my currently on-going First Edition AD&D Ravenloft campaign, I sat down and reviewed the published work (and several fan sites), before tearing it apart and re-building it.

Several domains were axed completely (such as Forlorn, Arak, and Bluetspur, amongst others...), mainly because I found them dull (others were axed as I found them lacking in the spirit of the setting, such as Sithicus... Lord Soth doesn't work in Ravenloft, he's too passive...). Oddly, Hazlik made the cut, but not as written. Because, as written, he's completely boring and utterly unfit to being the kind of grand villain that the lord of a Ravenloft domain should be. I mean, he's a Red Wizard of Thay, yeah, they're evil, but there's nothing there that singles him out, there's no grand passion that drives him, oh, sure, he wants revenge on his enemies... so does Szass Tam, and he's far more interesting and driven... So, one of the first things I did was re-work Hazlik and his domain (no longer called Hazlan... for reasons of avoiding yawns).

And so, I present...

The Ossian Waste

The Lord and the Law: The cannibal wizard Hazlik the Tattooed rules this land from the grim fortress of Yenathar, sending out his gnoll slaves to pillage the surrounding lands and bring back victims for his larder. Hazlik has the dubious distinction of being the only lord of Ravenloft to not be drawn in to the demi-plane by the Mists, or to be a native of the place to begin with. He was exiled to this place by his fellow Red Wizards who grew tired of him abducting and devouring their favoured slaves... An obese mountain of a man, Hazlik's brutal exterior disguises his brilliant mind and his mastery of arcane lore is impressive, even though bent towards the satisfaction of his repulsive hungers.

The Land: A stark and windswept wasteland, the Ossian Waste lies south of the Duchy of Ruithenia, east of Kartakass and Morchessa, and north of the mighty Principality of Nova Vaasa. The Waste has no permanent settlements apart from Yenathar and various gnoll encampments, though there are a few nomadic camps of escaped slaves.

Closing the Borders: Like most of the lords of Ravenloft, Hazlik has no way to seal his domain, apart from his magic and vicious gnoll minions...

The Folk: The inhabitants of the Ossian Waste are gnolls, who gleefully serve the gluttonous lord, escaped slaves, who are mostly mad and either unable or unwilling to return home, and slaves awaiting their ultimate fate, that of becoming part of a grand meal...

Encounters: Apart from the gnolls and escaped slaves, the only creatures dwelling in the Waste are those fit for desert living (scorpions, scarabs, serpents, and the occasional result of some twisted magical experiment).

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Best Old Advertisement.

I have never played this game, as far as I remember it was an old Play-by-Mail game, and I really have little idea what it was about.

Apart from the obvious interstellar papal assaults, of course...

Part of me wants to know, but the rest of me thinks it best to be unable to compare the reality to the grandiose vision that dances in my head.

On Vancian Magic

Part of my extreme glee upon rediscovering the conceits of Vancian magic has been the wonderful idea that spells should not have boring names.

These are fine for those of us playing the game, but our characters should not be referring to 'Erase' or 'Affect Normal Fires', but rather 'Racarren's Hieroglyphic Banishment' or 'Atember's Pyromantic Mastery'. Furthermore, individual magic-users may well have different spells that perform the same task, even though in games terms they may be the same spells (i.e.: 'Read Magic' may well be 'Decipher the Mysteries of the Arcane' in one magic-user's spellbook, while it is 'Clarify the Enshrouded Cryptoglyphs' in another's).

As this might be a bit problematic for those who don't want to spend the time to create the oft-torturous pseudonyms required to mask the game names of various spells, but who do like the concept (and the thought of confusing the players as they struggle to determine what 'Havrak's Perfidious Cloud' actually does...), a few samples are presented below.

Unveil the Secretive Dweomers, Revelation of the Theurgic Radiance - Detect Magic
The Unerring Bolts of Khephri the Accursed, Horasca's Sting of the Enraged Hornet - Magic Missile
The Most Durable and Enduring Ward Against Wickedness and Calamity - Protection from Evil
Emrikal's Unravellment of the Befuddling Tongue, Alaksara's Clarification of Nonsensical Speech - Comprehend Languages
Faelgreon's Resplendent Defense - Shield
Ultravor's Captivating Demeanor - Friends
The Arcing Touch of Sulvan the Mad - Shocking Grasp
Mastery of the Tumultuous Plummet - Feather Fall
Ilremon's Investigative Inquiry - Identify
Nhakram's Undetectable Servitor - Unseen Servant
Enscribement of the Words of Power Beyond Puissance - Write
Emblazonment of the Sigils of the Adept - Wizard Mark
Erase the Once-Hidden Flaw - Mending
Vorskaryn's Beneficent Illumination - Light
Turasco's Terrifying Theurgic Threat - Scare
Unveiling of the Sights Unseen - Detect Invisibility
Velask's Phantasmal Wealth - Fool's Gold

And, of course, Tasha's Uncontrollable Hideous Laughter...

(Oh, and Havrak's Perfidious Cloud? It could be Cloudkill, or it could be Stinking Cloud, or Fog Cloud, all up to you...)

A Small Update to a Long-Neglected Soapbox.

And so we once more attempt to maintain a floundering blog...

There has been an attempt at running several games since our last posting. Longest running being a Space:1889/Castle Falkenstein cross pitching the PCs against the nefarious time-meddling Morlocks (currently looking for a new night as one of our players has started school), a First Edition D&D game (using a heavily revised version of the Ravenloft setting, domains have been axed willy-nilly and other have been added with the goal of trying to make it all seem like a coherent world, not just a haunted mish-mash) - which is still going, but we have very few players, and, most recently, I have started running a BECMI game at the Tacoma Public Library's Main Branch for their D&D night (running every other Tuesday from October to December, the link just goes to the upcoming session) and the turn-out was very positive.

I am hoping that more people arrive next time and maybe we can get a few more DMs (for whatever games they'd like) as the Olympia Room that we are using is rather large.