Sunday, February 27, 2011

Quickie Post: Various Possible RPG Projects

Work is piling up, we're getting ready to shift condo units, and I've just started an ambitious writing schedule with our local group of speculative fiction writers. That means this blog will suffer!

But I do like blogging about RPGs -- it's my escape from stress -- so what to do? To avoid the "what do I write about" blues, I'm really thinking of setting a topic a week / RPG category per weekday philosophy. But there are also other little projects I'd like to do:

1. mess around with Stars Without Numbers, particularly the faction rules.
2. continue character creation for Labyrinth Lord & Stars Without Number.
3. build an OSR-ish fantasy RPG with the Hero System 6th Edition ruleset.
4. continue posting on a revised Mystara setting.
5. continue posting on Fading Suns setting observations.

We'll just have to push forward and see.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Plague Zombie research

Of course, I believe this is one of the EABA
books I don't own yet. This, and a few others.
I recently finished Max Brooks's "World War Z", and all throughout I was thinking about what an RPG campaign would be like dealing with that kind of situation.

Naturally, I didn't think of a modern day setting, but a traditional fantasy setting outbreak of these kinds of plague zombies and a Fading Suns husk outbreak.

So far, my research has netted the two following links:

And I of course remember the EABA setting Dark Millenium. Here's a short blurb from it:
As Europe entered the 11th century, millennial fever became all too real. On the thousandth anniversary of the death of the Son, evil opened a doorway into the world, and all Hell literally broke loose.
The first seal in the Revelations of St. John has been broken, but not in the way people thought. The dead have risen, but they are hungry for the flesh of the living!

It all starts with the plague zombies of course, and how to stat them out for RPGs like Labyrinth Lord, Castles & Crusades, and Fading Suns.

Next, you have to deal with rules that handle things like called shots ("shoot them in the head!"), the fact that any portion of the body still connected to a still-function brain and brainstem will still move ("erm, that half-zombie's still crawling towards us..."), issues about liquid to liquid transference causing infections ("did you, or did you not get some of that zombie muck on your open cuts and wounds?"), and the incubation and transformation of the infected into more zombies.

And then you deal with possible cures in the setting, and their limitations. Does cure disease work? Up until what point will it stop working? In an outbreak, must all clerics use up their cure disease slots? Can clerics turn plague zombies, and if so, are they considered the equivalent of regular zombies? Will a fireball really destroy all zombies in a given area, and if not, how do you determine which ones had their brains fried, and which ones are still marchin' on?

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Musings: The Jungle in a Filipino Fantasy Setting

As a tip of the hat to A Fire in the Jungle I decided to mention this aspect about the Filipino Fantasy setting: jungle.


The Philippines isn't all jungle (especially with all the mining and illegal logging and cities). But a lot of it was jungle way back when. I'm not sure how many of you have ever been in a jungle, but this isn't your nicely spaced out, well managed forest in a tropical climate. Those of you who've had to go through thick foresty wilderness in the temperate zone know what a godsend trails are.

Even footing, the ability to see what you're stepping on, thick vines  and annoyingly sharp thorns, branches, and even leaves make going through thick jungle difficult to impossible. And this is ignoring things like the heat, insects, and wild animals. And mystical creatures like pugos, kapres, aswangs, tikbalangs, and mananaggals, and mystical threats like mambabarangs, mangkukulams, and engkantos / malignos.

Any filipino fantasy setting should remind people what a hostile place the jungle can be -- and can even up importance of a class like the druid for extended travel into the wilderness.

Potential Encounter Seed

After tackling this kind of terrain all day, a nipa hut (an indigenous home built on stilts from wood and nipa leaves) with a light in the window at night can be a welcome sight. But be wary. Some of these homes are enchanted, designed to trap the unwary traveler who eats a well-laid out meal at the table of these seemingly empty homes. Doing so will imprison those who consume the meals in the land of the engkantos.

Of course, attempting to leave the area of this enchanted nipa hut will be difficult. Illusions and enchantments and invisible spirits will attempt to confuse the travelers, often sending them back to the mysterious house where the scent of freshly cooked food entices them to come closer. By the third approach to the same house, despite attempts to head back into the darkness of the jungle, experienced travelers will know to attempt simple methods to ward enchantements -- prayers, oracions, and even reversing one's clothes to confuse the spirits.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Reading Room: the Stars Without Number skim -- part 04


Hello! I went to skip ahead and look at factions and skimmed through the 15 pages that cover it. Funny thing is, I did this to avoid the character creation exercise that I normally need to perform to understand a game -- but factions is essentially a mini-game to help simulate how various organizations and communities grow and achieve (or fail to achieve) their goals. Faction "character" creation, conflict resolution, goals, growth, and so on.

So we'll be getting back to that later. Lots of meat in that section as well, let's see how it plays in the future with three factions in conflict with one another.

Okay, time to go back to Character Creation!

Character Creation

The first step is rolling up character attributes. Rules do give the GM leeway for alternative rolling options, but we can use the default method for the first character build -- 3d6 for each attribute in order. Moving points between scores is allowed on a 1-to-1 basis, BUT this method has some limitations:

(1) no lowering a high score below 13;
(2) no raising a low score above 8.

So, let's see what we get:

Strength      14
Intelligence  11

Wisdom        10
Dexterity     11
Constitution  13
Charisma      10

Well, that was a surprise. Not bad at all. Rules say that the Warrior's prime requisites are Str and Dex, and that I can replace one of these stats with a value of 14 to reflect the aptitude for the class. Since Str is already at 14, I think I'll have Dex upped to 14 as well.

So, I've rolled up my attributes, and decided my character class, and adjusted my attributes accordingly. Next is to flesh out my new Warrior character in Stars Without Number. Here are the stats at this stage:

This is, of course, Andy Lau in Future X-Cops attire. I'll use him as
Philip Tang for now to give me a face and coolness to aspire to.
Strength      14 (+1)
Intelligence  11

Wisdom        10
Dexterity     14 (+1)
Constitution  13
Charisma      10

Let's roll up his name using the Resources section. I'll take a male first name from the English section and a surname from the Chinese section for this guy:
90 (Philip) + 78 (Tang).

Okay, Philip Tang, let's see what you're made of in the next installment of Reading Room.

Retroclone build: Encantadians as adventurers -- Ability Scores!

Decided to try the builds in both Labyrinth Lord and Castles & Crusades for the hell of it.

The Labyrinth Lord method I chose was the "roll 5 sets of complete stats and pick one set" for each character. And here's what I got:

Alena        14  12  13  12  10  17    thief
Amihan       12   9  15   9  13  15    fighter
Pirena       15  10  11  13   8  13    magic-user
Danaya       12  12  13  10  15  16    cleric

Of course, since I couldn't reorder the stats, I compromised by choosing the best stat combos for each classed I'd selected for each character prior. Choosing the cleric was easy -- just find the highest Wisdom. And choosing the thief becomes easy as well -- the only other high Dexterity went to the cleric. But the magic-user and the fighter are problematic: one set of stats has the highest Strength and the highest Intelligence of all! In the end, I figured that the high Intelligence is more critical to the magic-user and the Str 12 Con 15 combo would be acceptable for a fighter.

Class: Thief
Class: Fighter
Class: Cleric
Class: Magic-User

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Clerics and the common folk in Labyrinth Lord

Coming from a predominantly Roman Catholic country, I really do see a lot of homes with home altars -- some little corner of the house (sometimes in the living room, or on a staircase landing, or in a bedroom, or even right beside the entrance to the home). In one subdivision, every south east corner block had a miniature grotto dedicated to the Virgin Mary. And there are annual processions, usually during Holy Week, when traffic in different barangays are stopped by a winding trail of people following a raised statue of a saint or (if lucky) some relic with songs, prayers, and...

... it made me think about the role of clerics in D&D / Labyrinth Lord / Castles & Crusades.

Now while official doctrine says that these things aren't holy themselves and don't have mystical powers (except perhaps the relics?) and only serve to stir up the faith of the faithful, the fact is a lot of folks look to these things like magic items that ward off evil. I mean, why else do some folks follow Feng Shui and have their houses blessed by a priest?

I took a quick look at several spells from Labyrinth Lord that might deal with a concern that common folk might have -- keeping their homes and families and neighborhoods safe from evil while they went about their daily lives! Here they are:

Protection from Evil (1st level Clerical Spell, 12 turn duration)
Okay, now this helps protect the target of the spell from attacks of evil creatures by giving bonuses to Armor Class and to Saving Throws. Nothing to scoff at, espeically if you're a poor commoner without the benefit of decent saving throw rolls from racial, class, or level bonuses.
But that's not all! It also prevents you from being touched by summoned or created creatures (including natural weapon attacks). Now, missile attacks aren't stopped, and the protection is voided if the protected one attacks the creature or tries to use it to back the creature away.
Unfortunately it has a very short duration, and doesn't seem applicable to effects that I want the rituals and altars to have.
Protection from Evil 10' Radius (4th level Clerical Spell, 12 Turn duration)
Same as above, except that it has an area effect radius of 10 feet (so that's 20 feet in diameter centered on the target of the spell.
Dispel Evil (5th level Clerical Spell, 1 turn duration)
Affects all undead or enchanted creatures within 30 feet of the caster -- they gotta make a saving throw or be destroyed. If they make it, they gotta run.

Awesome, but ridiculously short effectivity. I'm thinking more of something like this:

Ward Threshold from Evil (5th level Clerical Spell, 1 day duration - renewable)
Same as Protection from Evil, except that it protects all entrances, exits, and surfaces of a home that is inhabited. That protection is voided if the undead or enchanted creatures are invited or brought in on purpose or under false pretenses. It is renewed by any true resident of the home who touches the focus of the warding (a religious symbol on a door, or the home altar) and says a short prayer to the deity or immortal whose protection was invoked in the first place.

Dispel Evil from Town (6th level Clerical Spell, 1 turn duration)
Same as  Dispel Evil, except that it requires at least two other clerics casting the normal Dispel Evil spell, and requires the constant prayers of true residents of the town as a procession is led through the main streets of the town. The spell does not take effect until after the procession is completed (usually 1 hour). Trusted warriors and adventurers have been hired to guard the clerics during this delicate time, though many often forgo payment for the protection of friends and family in the town.

Alliterative Day-based post themes: It ain't easy!

Was trying to come up with a more regular posting schedule for stuff, and decided that perhaps alliteratively-named day post themes was the way to go. I wasn't so successful:

Mystara Monday
Traveller Tuesday
WOSR Wednesday
There's Something New Thursday
Fading Suns Friday
Stars Without Number Saturday
Something Else Sunday

Bah! Will just keep on posting the old-fashioned way. Or, I could look to the Mickey Mouse Club for inspiration.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Neo-clone build: Encantadians as adventurers -- class selection again!

Class: Rogue
Class: Fighter
Class: Cleric
Class: Wizard

So, decision time. As much as I'd like to fiddle with the rules, I think that classic class builds should be fine for now. So I'm going with four basic character classes. I can argue for Assassin, Druid, Monk, Knight, Barbarian, and other classes but for now this is it.

Next: the rolling up of stats!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Reading Room: the Stars Without Number skim -- part 03

(Game) Systems
So from page 59 to page 70, I read most of the main rules regarding skill and combat resolution -- including initiative, skill checks, attack checks, injuries, poisons, saving throws, damage and death, and ship-to-ship combat.

Pretty lean, but not vague. Now, sometimes I'm scratching my head about one rule or another, like why 1d8 for initiative and why ties are broken by the player to the right (or was it left) of the GM; sometimes, I understand why the phrase "it's up to the GM to decide..." is used -- because it IS up to the GM; and sometimes I'm blown away and stunned that there's an extended example on the ship-to-ship combat, when personal combat didn't get that much attention.

But overall, clear and concise. I don't know if that's because I've swung to the preference of leaner rulesets when tackling new games (and was a Hero fanatic for the longest time, now just a fan), or if it's because I've got so many ruleset options rattling in my brain that I'm not worried about how handle unusual circumstances or any gaps that I've not seen yet (see the mention of Hero fanaticism, and add to that a fascination for tinkering with 3rd Edition and various flavors, AND Fuzion as well).
A not-so-subtle reminder that space is dangerous enough
for traveling adventurers; why look for more trouble?

And I know why there's an extended example -- OSR gamers and 3E gamers alike I'm sure know how personal combat goes. That ship-to-ship stuff can be tricky if you've never done space battle wargames. Even if the rules are pretty much based on the same concepts (armor class, combat rolls, hit points, etc.) as melee combat.

All in 12 pages. Not bad at all. Maybe it's because they only put one illustration (see the pic to the left) in that entire chapter to fit every damn thing in there!

Next, I jump ahead to the faction rules, which I'm just a bit curious about. And am eager to see if I can pair with the Babylon 5 OGL rules for using influence for an organization you're a part of, and see if I can re-use for the eventual impending release of the 3rd Edition of the faction-riddled Fading Suns setting.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Neo-clone build: Encantadians as adventurers -- class selection!

Building characters always helps me learn a game system faster, and so I decided that I should try doing that,  inspired by some images from a local fantaserye (fantasy TV series) called Encantadia. The main characters, of course, have powers and histories that cannot necessarily be shoehorned into the Castles & Crusades rules -- but that doesn't matter to me since I'll be building first level characters.

If I wanted to go more faithful to the TV series, I'd go Hero or Fuzion or perhaps try my hand at the new Mutants & Masterminds 3E stuff. Hmmmm.

Anyway, here are the four elementally-oriented members of my initial party of adventurers.
The weapon's a spear, but that doesn't look like a
very high armor class (thank goodness for the
buckler-ish armguard). Perhaps a Rogue with a
javelin, or an Assassin with a polearm? 
Ooh, this one's easy. Fighter, Knight, or Paladin.
Got the stylized plate armor and the sword for any
of the classes above. 
Technically arnis sticks, these are clubs. With
the double weapon technique and the woodsy
theme of the attire, I'd say Ranger. Even if C&C
doesn't seem to confer double-weapon use. Of course,
 a cleric would be important in a four-woman party.
Wizard with a dagger. Because we need a spell-caster
(though a cleric in the party would be nice), and the
dagger's there, and the fire theme screams fire wizard.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Reading Room: the Stars Without Number skim -- part 02

Character Creation
Stars without number has already managed to surprise me.

Awesomly iconic
art for the Expert
character class
With only three character classes, but multiple "templates" that fall under each character class, there's already a wide variety of possible characters represented by class and skills. The three classes are Expert, Warrior, and Psychic. Each obviously has something that sets them apart from the other classes. Psychics are the only ones who can use psychic abilities. Warriors get to ignore one (1) attack in a given skirmish. Experts get to re-roll one (1) failed skill attempt per hour.

Your Stat block is randomly rolled up, but there are rules that allow you to ensure that your character can function reasonably well in the game (minimum values for given stats based on class, reshuffling of points within certain parameters, etc.) Max bonus and max penalty on the 3 to 18 range of human stats are +2 and -2 respectively. Perhaps this is due to the 2d6 resolution mechanic for skills (ooh, classic Traveller), though it seems to make Stats less relevant given the d20 resolution mechanic for combat.

Two different resolution mechanics? Why? WHY? (Why not? I mean, Assassins got percentiles on their assassination attempts, and Thieves also get the percentiles, and there was the Turning mechanic. It's not that confusing, and very cleanly delineated. It's in the way that it's used. Even a single resolution mechanic can become very confusing if mishandled.)

Can't say more about this till I try out character creation proper, but I did skip ahead to check some other portions of the book to understand certain aspects of Character Creation (like the resolution mechanics).

So next time, we'll skip ahead to look at resolution mechanics and the factions rules, before I return and attempt a character.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Reading Room: the Stars Without Number skim -- part 01

While I am making my way through the book in the "reading this" sidebar, I do crack open other books on occasion and do a quick skim to satisfy my gamer ADD.

Stars Without Number caught my attention this time, for several reasons.

Aside from being free, it's also got an old school vibe to it, a sense of modern starship-based science fiction, and there are a number of (not free) books that have come out for it -- one of which details a stellar navy-based campaign.

So I decide to (electronically) flip through it and was impressed by the look and the production values. So let's do our quick skim read.

Overall impressions
The table of contents looks fairly comprehensive, the layout is organized, clean and readable with the greyscale tables and illustrations. Two of them look familiar -- I think I've seen them in other SF RPGs before (or perhaps the same artists work on them) -- but all of them are good to great in quality and really evoke a sense of the breadth and elements of the types of Science Fiction the game covers.

Default Setting and Campaign Premise
Page 5 of the game has a lovely two-thirds page summary of the setting and campaign premise. It is set a post-fall interstellar empire connected by psychic-powered jumpgates and spike drives (shades of Fading Suns and one of the classic Traveller period settings), that has become a mixture of lost worlds, small self-sufficient worlds and mini-empires after the events known as the Scream and the Silence.

Page 6 has a nice summary of the type of characters expected to adventure in the game, which I will quote in part:
In Stars Without Number you play the role of an interstellar adventurer. Whether a grizzled astrotech, lostworlder warrior, or gifted psychic, you dare the currents of space for the sake of riches and glory...
The dangers of the starfaring life claim legions of aspiring adventurers and precious few of them ever manage to die in bed. Still, humanity needs their courage, ingenuity, and reckless ambition if mankind is ever to recover its former glory.

Meta-game Stuff
After that, there's the also brief explanation of RPGs and a nod to the game's OSR roots in terms of mechanics and inspiration and then it's on to Character Creation!

next up: Character Creation

    Saturday, February 12, 2011

    Another New Fading Suns Blog Post: Character Creation!

    Am happy with what's been
    revealed so far, but what about
    the combat system, RedBrick?
    You can check it out here. I did.

    I'm so glad that the Lifepath system (not random ala the default of Traveller or the various incarnations of the Mekton and Fuzion systems) of Fading Suns 2nd edition has survived. A major improvement over the more straightforward straight point-buy + profession templates, this gave a sense of how a variances in particular background gave you certain skills and abilities, which is important in reinforcing the sense of character and setting.

    Also, it does help in faster character creation (if laid out and explained well) by making the step-by-step character creation a sequence of two or three choices and applying the consequences -- meaning the skills and any other abilities associated with the selected template and helps suggest the broad strokes of a character's past. Plus, there are a few unspent points left over afterward to customize the character further

    There are hints of additional wrinkles to the Lifepath character creation method dealing with Extra Tours and other playable aliens that we'll have to wait for Fading Suns 3rd Edition to reveal.

    Isle Imperium: Episode 1.06

    Thessaly -- the eventual
    mount of the Essential
    Silk Emissary -- makes
    her first appearance in
    this episode.
    In the hewn chamber within the mausoleum, the party is beset by a Calcified Guardian, seeking revenge for the death of its master, Aelurius. Despite over half the group falling before the creature’s attack, CATALINA, DUMAS, and VARIAN manage to triumph, reviving their fallen comrades except for MARTA, who is hastily dragged out as a violent temblor strikes and portions of the mausoleum begin to collapse.

    They make their way to the entrance of the mausoleum, where they discover that it is impossible to attain adequate rest and, later, that the pathway to the lower depths has caved in completely. Catalina and Varian are therefore obliged to make two trips through the ashfall to transport their companions under their single tarp to the shelter of a nearby cave. During the second trip, they ambush two Chainers in order to acquire thistlethorns from these; and upon their second arrival at the cave with ALECTO, MANTIUS, and the unconscious Marta, are surprised to find ARCTURUS and a disgruntled Dumas in conversation with a troop of undead legionaries.

    These were encountered by the latter two outside the cave, and granted shelter by the sympathetic Arc. After some discussion, Catalina is able to use her acting skills to learn from the legionaries’ leader Honorius that they were assigned to help local towns in the wake of the catastrophe—notably Itheka, located close by the volcano—and eventually she speaks in a voice of authority to let them know that they have fulfilled their mission. The legionaries’ remains are put to rest some distance from the cave, upon which the party is privileged to receive the silent acknowledgement of a ghostly complement of the Thirteenth Legion.

    Catalina asks for a day to further investigate her new abilities as Mitis Scientia, during the course of which she discovers, among others, a method of immunization against the harmful effects of the ash. Aly puts forth her proposal to essentially scam needed supplies from the nearby palisade by posing as the Inheritors of the Catastrophe. Albeit with some tense moments speaking to BRIANNA and an arrow to the shoulder womanfully sustained by the lead actress, this is successfully enacted by Catalina, Mantius, and particularly the revived Marta, who proves to be a thespian of some potential.

    Returning to the cave with their loot, the party is once more surprised when they receive a distress call from an unknown shard. With the exception of Marta, who stays behind to guard the supplies, they promptly answer, finding themselves transported to yet another underground cavern facing an Infested Gorgon, which has apparently already savaged an injured man and an unconscious woman, both clearly shardbearers, the man in particular evidently bearing some version of the Concinnarium Vigilo.

    As his companions help the wounded and deal with the Gorgon itself, Varian realizes that it is a spirit of some sort, and sends Carnelian off to deal with its controller. Carnelian not only succeeds but obtains a new spiritstone for its master; and the party is able to summarily, though not quite easily, deal with the Gorgon in its master’s absence. As Catalina, Dumas, and Mantius assist the grateful but wary BRANDEUS and his sister THESSALY, the other three party members sidle off to recover the shard from the body of the creature’s late controller, whom they soon surmise to be one IGEDUS, supposedly a missing friend of their new acquaintances.

    Regrouping, they further learn that Varian and Brandt have met before, as fellow sons of athlete fathers; that Itheka is approximately a week’s travel east from the current cave; and that the people of Itheka have had and been using shards (again called ‘stones’) for some time prior to their own discovery of same. After witnessing a quarrel between Brandt and Thessaly and receiving the pair’s invitation to come find them at Itheka, the group returns to their cave via Brandt’s invocation of one of the abilities of his Virtuous Warder shard.

    Back at their own cave, the party members are elated to learn that Marta has managed to recover one of their lost shards, the Specialis Vesica, during their absence.

    Thursday, February 10, 2011

    Telling Details: Cultural Superstitions in Fading Suns

    As I mentioned in a prior blog post, I'm trying to suggest little bits of texture to throw into Fading Suns campaigns due to the strong Filipino feel that can be injected into it based on parallels I see with our culture.

    Here are a few more.

    At the doorway
    There's an old custom here, that when someone is knocking at the door he or she yells out "Tao po!" which literally translates into "A person (at the door), sir or madam!"

    I never really thought about it much, until I grew older and realized that for people in the provinces -- which do have roads and towns and cities but also have lots of trees and forests and jungles and wildnerness -- may have used this to identify human callers from inhuman callers. Perhaps by some odd rules of engagement with spirits and other dangerous inhuman creatures, they cannot identify themselves as human.

    In Fading Suns, this practice could have arisen on a world where such elemental / inhuman spirits are plentiful in the wild. And perhaps the PCs will wonder why their knocks go unheeded (or are answered quite brusquely) without this identifying greeting.

    Ghosts? No such thing. Ogres? Definitely.
    More than once I've spoken to folks from Philippine provinces living in the U.S. with this type of attitude -- strong skepticism about most things paranormal, except for one particular creature or encounter because they've had personal experience with it.

    I know of one colleague in a San Francisco theater group who swore up and down that kapres were real. Although his description of a kapre was less ogre-ish and more nightgauntish. And he said that it took a friend of his when they were playing near a church. (No, the friend never reappeared).

    I know of another colleague in the martial arts who mentioned that his grandfather became a computer technician in California because all the monsters he used to kill were gone from the province he lived in -- and these included the mananagals (female bat-winged vampire-like creatures who separate their torsos from their lower halves at night and fly about in search of prey) and aswangs (animal shape-shifters said to be drawn to the ill and defenseless) of Philippine folklore.

    The Philippine martial tradition includes oracions -- prayers in latin that are said to activate special powers in weapons or other mystical gear. This can be a way to differentiate magic swords in the Fading Suns setting from the OSR "+1 sword" feel of D&D-like games. (Although that does give me an idea for another post).

    Killing Infidels and Taking Names
    I once dated a woman who had muslim grandparentage though she herself had been raised Catholic. Her grandfather once showed her a kris -- a wavy sword common in our part of the world -- with many arabic letters inscribed on the blade and the hilt.

    When she commented that the words formed an uneven design, the grandfather mentioned that they were names of the lives that the sword had taken and that the empty space was there because he'd stopping killing.

    She moved on to ask about the pictures beside the blade instead.

    In Fading Suns, this kind of practice need not be associated with any muslim-inspired groups in the setting. Almost any warrior culture could have evolved this, though I'd like to make a vote for certain questionable family lines in the Li Halan House.

    Every Skeleton An Enemy

    As the saying goes: "Bare is the brotherless back."
    Longtime gamers will recognize this iconic image from the AD&D Dungeon Master's Guide, and will stir memories of a time when every skeleton in a dungeon was looked on with suspicion -- while they may not have all reanimated when a trap was sprung or when backs were turned, enough did to make adventurers paranoid.

    What strategies did people adopt to deal with these restless dead?
    • all-out war -- when not afraid of alerting other dungeon denizens with your noise, or if you're assaulting the demense of some necromancer or undead fiend, I recommend that you assume all skeletons are targets for attack; get them before they get you!
    • a measured response -- if silence or speed is a concern, then for unanimated skeletons take away any weapons that curiously seem to still be in hand or within reach. While this may trigger the undead fiend, if you're successful at least they are weaponless and you have an extra one when combat starts!
    • a watchful eye -- if you cannot risk triggering dormant skeletons, assign one member of the party with skeltonwatch duty, and to hiss if it moves. Everyone should be clear on what they will do once he does.
    • contingency tools -- throwing a net over them, placing a rope with bells around them, or (gasp) wasting a spell that can entangle these potential antagonists is usually best if there are a lot of them in the same room as you. With the net, you can retrieve it if nothing untoward happens in the room and you need to move on; with the spell -- usually best if you're planning on bedding down for the night in this otherwise ideal skeleton-filled room or cavern.
    • really bad signs -- if the skeleton appears to be large and non-human, perhaps even draconic in aspect, assume that the damn thing will animate, if it hasn't already begun attack you. I have a word for you: dracolich.
    Some of you out there may have better ideas, but I think we can all agree -- ignoring a skeleton (or a bunch of them) just because "they look harmless" is the last thought that many otherwise promising adventurers had.

    Oh, and watch out for bone golems. They're tough too.

    Tuesday, February 8, 2011

    Multiclassing: A Personal History

    I was reading through the multiclassing rules of Castles & Crusades -- primarily trying to figure out how to create the classic "Elven Fighter / Wizard" of Mystara -- when I was struck by my own history with multi-classing.

    As I've mentioned before, when I was growing up in the Philippines I tried to run games (usually with the B/X ruleset), but hardly got to play. I did have access to the Player's Handbook, the Dungeon Master's Guide, and the Monster Manual and remember building a character that was a Half-Elven Fighter/Thief.

    Years later, after the gaming group I'd fallen into at the San Mateo Beresford Recreational Center shifted from Traveller to AD&D, I recreated that character for the campaign.

    My reasons weren't clear to me, as I had only really been playing RPGs for a short time and hadn't had many hours of gaming experience under my belt. I'd hazard that I was interested in playing a particular character type -- the fighters came across to me as face-to-face skirmishers, and I wanted my fighter to be sly and sneaky. The thieving skills were more a bonus to the idea of playing a dextrous fighter.

    Yes, there was a draw towards playing the Fighter/Magic-user/Thief but aside from the painfully slow advancement -- it didn't fit my (and I use the word that I learned later when I fell into a Champions-playing group) character concept.

    I wanted a character more Grey Mouser than Conan (who I would later learn WAS a fighter/thief, despite the Barbarian epithet)!

    When I joined the Champions crowd, and there was an occasional Fantasy Hero game, I reveled in the freedom of creating exactly the character I'd envisioned -- sort of the ultimate multiclassing goal for me, though classes were out the window in this point-based system.
    I remember thinking: "Wow, a
    complete RPG in one book! Neat!"

    But then when I wanted to run a fantasy game myself, I found myself again drawn to the D&D ruleset in the form of the D&D Cyclopedia, and sending my players around the Grand Duchy of Karameikos. I also found that my own tastes had changed -- I wanted to try out unusual character classes and avoided multiclassing altogether.

    When 3rd edition came 'round, I remember an article in Dragon magazine describing how multi-classing could make new 'character classes': Fighter/Clerics were touted as defenders of the faith, while Ranger/Druids were defenders of nature, and other unusual combinations. Interesting from a tinkerer's perspective, but my preference for purer character classes remained.
    And now? Now I'm thinking of doing the very same thing in the Castles & Crusades ruleset. Just a way to mess around with the system, learn a bit of it, and maybe finally define some unusual classes that came up in Mystara like the Rake and the Forester character classes. And those darned Halflings.

    Monday, February 7, 2011

    Isle Imperium: The Early Shards

    A more advanced version of the Ossis
    shard -- the Essential Savant of
    Bone (Ossis Potior Excelsis)
    Shards are (usually) finger-sized stones with a semi-crystalline shape, with a light to heavy pattern of silvery metal veins that criss-cross the smooth surface (and probably the interior) of the artifact. They confer abilities, costumes, and a subtle personality shift to those bearing them.

    The first batch of shards that our group bore were:
    • Ossis Potior (Bone Collector) -- taxonomy: cleric
    • Proeliator Lamniar (Blade Bravo) -- taxonomy: warrior
    • Umbra Beatus (Saint of Shadows) -- taxonomy: rogue
    • Sanomagus (White Mage) -- taxonomy: cleric
    • Aduromagus (Fire Mage) -- taxonomy: wizard
    • Tripudior Tempestas (Storm Talon) -- taxonomy: dragoon
    • Cepi Monstrum (Blue Mage) -- taxonomy: acquisitor
    ... even here some contradictions and hints about the nature of naming and taxonomies could be seen. Why was something called White Mage, and yet given the taxonomy of cleric? Why was something called Blue Mage when it lacked the -magus suffix that the other two mage shards enjoyed?

    At the time, we didn't exactly know how these things were named and classified -- their meanings came to us as a vague understanding, already distorted by several layers of misinformation. But it was often useful to keep track of these contradictions, as our GM was fond of hinting at future complications that would bedevil us.

    The next batch of shards that we came across were:
    • Vitualamen Ex Vesperis (Paladin of the Lost Hour) -- taxonomy: knight
    • Specialis Vesica (Hexrazor) -- taxonomy: artificer
    • Silvamanus (Thornthumb) -- taxonomy: forester
    • Pandus Phantasmis (Phantom Archer) -- taxonomy: warrior
    • Mitis Scientia (Gentle Chemist) -- taxonomy: chemist
    • Concinnarium Vigilo (Harmonic Warder) -- taxonomy: aggregator
    • Nuncio Caecus (Cyclopean Nuncio) -- taxonomy: summoner
    Our D&D / RPG class awareness was stunned at this point, because the implied complexity of taxonomies was formidable, and we wondered how consistent or accurate taxonomies were.

    Of course, in addition to these mysteries, we were struggling to survive -- so these types of thoughts were pushed back as we struggled to find out what these damned things did. Ossis Potior gave my character useful abilities against the undead, Silvamanus granted Catalina a very useful ability: "avoid pitfall", Sanomagus was our go-to shard for healing anything, and both Ossis Potior and Pandus Phantasmis helped me greatly later on in the campaign in avoiding certain death many times.

    Sunday, February 6, 2011

    Isle Imperium: Episode 1.05

    A more advanced version of the Thornthumb
    shard, which allowed Catalina to avoid pitfalls.
    Returning to Finger Cave, the party is beset with a variety of troubles, including numerous pitfalls (fortunately negotiated by CATALINA), a shadowy flying predator, the heavier and more corrosive ashfall, and the loss of three shards (Sanomagus, Cepi Monstrum, and Specialis Vesica), apparently to the strong winds.

    After fending off the flyer and doing their best to mark the spot where the shards were lost, they attain shelter, where it is decided (after a startling but thankfully uneventful confrontation with a manticore attempting to seek shelter in their cave) that their best recourse is to return to the mausoleum of search of the supplies that the humans they saw earlier presumably would have stored.

    As they take turns resting and keeping watch, they experience multiple earth tremors, which they soon deduce is attributable to the active volcano that VARIAN (with his new clarity of eyesight from the Nunzio Caecus shard) identifies nearby. Following the terrifying experience of Varian becoming acquainted with the shard and his summoned entity, CARNELIAN, they return to the mausoleum, suffering significant damage along the way, spotting a new cave en route, and transforming their supply sled into a sort of mobile shelter.

    At the mausoleum, they find that the earth tremors have caused significant damage, leaving both human and inhuman corpses behind in their wake. Defeating a Chainer, a Puppeteer, and several Bone Golems, they manage to locate some supplies as well as the apparent remains of Bartomeo’s missing daughter Rima, who has become a sort of zombie. Continuing on (and opting to leave an apparently terminally injured pit creature to its fate), they enter a hidden door and find themselves in a corridor of hewn stone, which is guarded by four Will o’ Wisps.

    Dispatching the creatures, they press on into a wider chamber with a table and steps leading down to an area where they discover an evidently dormant Bone Dragon. Choosing discretion as the better part of valor, they retreat to the upper chamber, to which they are soon followed by a man calling himself GENARIUS, who clearly bears a shard similar to Ossis Potior. He is fairly cordial with them and they exchange names (with only ALECTO opting to conceal at least her full name), despite the party’s wary refusal of his offer to trade shards (which he refers to as ‘stones’).

    Genarius takes his leave of the group and goes back downstairs, whereupon Varian promptly commences to spy on him, eavesdropping on the man’s conversation with an unnamed woman below. Aside from naming the terminated Wight as ‘Aelurius’, they also mention their amazement that the party is composed of no less than seven shard bearers; their decision (spearheaded by Genarius) to leave the party their “claim” on the ongoing “small Catastrophe”; and an intimation that, possibly, they have traveled backwards in time from the future.

    Following this, the pair makes rather dismayingly short work of the Bone Dragon, and thereafter disappears.

    D&D Campaign Planning: Setting Mash-ups (updated)

    Original Post (Feb 2010)

    One of the things that draws fire from dungeoncrawl adventure critics is the reasonableness of dungeons filled with a mish-mash of monsters, treasure, and confusing architecture beneath some abandoned keep or in a network of caves (and mega-dungeons get it worse).

    Mad uber-mages like Halaster Blackcloak may find it fun to move around rooms, corridors, monsters, and traps inside their dungeon, it stretches plausibility in an extended campaign to find yet another mega-dungeon somewhere. ("By the beard of Zoroaster, we should make psychological screening of mages at Hogwarts a requirement!" "But we get so much tax revenue from adventurers who clear their dungeons out periodically...")

    While sites like have a rationale for the irrationality of dungeons ("No wonder they're all so aggressive -- there's no place to relieve yourself here." "Don't worry, this level has a gelatinous cube.") It can't hurt to have multiple ideas to justify the dungeons and megadungeons we love so much.

    So I'm going to start posting ideas filched from other possibly lesser known RPG settings that might help DMs and Players like me who care about that sorta thing.

    Update (Feb 2011)

    Here's a list of what I've done so far:
    I review these three, and I realized that this is closely tied to my "Mining Mystara" posts -- an attempt to rationalize with some plausibility the strangeness of the world. Not in exceeding detail, but with sufficient broad strokes so that if someone digs a little deeper I have some theories to hold 'em off with.

    But it also occurred to me that I should take a look at what other "mashups" folks have done with D&D settings, especially with Mystara. Of course one that comes to mind is Tim Brannan's Mystoerth work on his blog. That's some good reading, especially since I also like to pilfer from Greyhawk for my D&D fantasy games.

    Oddly enough, I prefer to keep Forgotten Realms primarily its own creature. I don't know why, but it could be because in my mind Mystara and Greyhawk were more prone to the early "mix & match" approach to settings, while the Realms -- to my mind -- have a particular canon that must be adhered to.

      C&C Character Sheet: Yuri "Presto Link" Aranos

      Another Labyrinth Lord to Castles & Crusades conversion from a PBP game. It's incomplete as I have to review the mage abilities and spells, but here's the preliminary attempt.

      Yuri is a brave (some might say foolhardy) mage who often charges forward despite his inability to take a hit. So far, he has also been exceedingly lucky.

      Saturday, February 5, 2011

      Hero 6th Edition: Decoupling Figured Characteristics

      One of the big changes in the 6th Edition of Hero is the decoupling of the secondary characteristics from the primary characteristics, which caused a lot of furor when first announced, and still is a sticking point for longtime Hero fans.

      It certainly pulls me in different directions.

      Figured Characteristics
      When I was first introduced to Hero, being intrigued by the concept of secondary stats which were figured from the primary ones. This was not something altogether new to me, having been introduced to the concept in my youth by the original Top Secret RPG.
      It spoke to me because it meant certain consistencies in a very customizable point-based character creation system. Characters with high Strength would tend to have a better Physical Defense, while characters with high Constitution would tend to have better Endurance and a better Energy Defense, and so on.

      However, it added to the complexity of learning the system and raised questions in a system that was often touted as one where "you can build EXACTLY the character you want". Part of that, aside from several innovations like separating game effect from special effect, was a very anti-GM fiat / pro-Player bias with the character sheet as a key contract in the game play. If it was on your sheet, you could use that ability as per the rules stated and the GM -- who could, of course, still throw ridiculously powerful enemies at you and manipulate the environment to take advantage of your weaknesses -- had to allow it if he'd agreed to let you play your obscene point-shaved monstrosity in the first place.

      Why did it raise questions? Well, in a system where you can build "EXACTLY the character you want", why do you have to jump through extra hoops to build a high Strength character with a crappy Physical Defense by deducting points from your Physical Defense to spend elsewhere?

      The concept of decoupling is to remove the derivation formulas from character creation. Therefore, no more
      PD = STR/5
      ED = CON/5
      STUN = BODY + STR/2 + CON/2

      and so on. 
      Now, this is a step towards one of the game's rep of building exactly the character you want, because you spend points on all characteristics to buy them up from  zero and the hidden infrastructure that built in consistency is replaced by guidelines for normal, excellent, and superpowered ratings for each. And it does help make teaching the game easier. And it does make character building easier.

      But it also feels like the 6th Edition of the game has taken a major step away from one of the long-running defining elements -- the figured characteristics. 

      Thursday, February 3, 2011

      Purchasing An Imperial Age At Less Than $20.00

      A really short post.

      At the time of this writing, due to the pricing policies of Adamant Entertainment, you can get all the PDFs of the following Imperial Age sourcebooks for less than $20.00:

      The Imperial Age: True20 Edition
      The GameMaster's Guidebook to Victorian Adventure
      The Imperial Age: London
      The Imperial Age: British India
      The Imperial Age: Engines
      The Imperial Age: Imperial Age Magick
      The Imperial Age: Spiritualism
      The Imperial Age: Grimoire
      The Imperial Age: Faeries
      The Imperial Age: Victorian Monstrosities

      If you're adverse to actually playing in the setting, you can probably mine much of it for Fading Suns. I did this with Castle Falkenstein for my old Fading Suns campaign...

      Update (05 April 2011)

      According to the post by Gareth-Michael Skarka (and the prices on RPGNow), Adamant has abandoned their App-pricing model. A valiant experiment, but it has been declared a failure.

      Still, I'm happy to have grabbed all the stuff I wanted at those prices. I hope some of you did too!

      Wednesday, February 2, 2011

      An Alternate Backstory for D&D Magic (Version 1.0)

      I came up with this idea only several years back and posted it on the Hero Boards somewhere: the Vance-derived spell system in D&D is the only surviving system of magic in the world and has been trying to shoehorn all new spells into its somewhat restrictive framework.

      Are there older systems of magic? Of course. Do they suffer the same restrictions as the default system (limited number of pre-prepared spells per day, bulky spellbooks, etc.)? Of course not, but they are restricted in other ways for the mortal races. Let's take a look at some of them:

      Creation Magic

      Urizen in William Blake's
      "The Ancient of Days"
      One of the oldest types of magic is creation magic -- the magic of the gods / godhead. In the stories of the oldest gods (we ain't talking Old Ones here) but the pantheons of beings that were in existence at the dawn of creation, we don't see them blasting one another with raw power. Instead we see them creating weapons -- artifacts of power and reflections of their identity -- that were used to slay the spawnlings of Chaos and often each other. We also see gods creating other implements of power, used to reshape reality, used to to control reality, and used to monitor reality.

      All rituals and complicated sequences of spells that are used to create magical artifacts draw on this ancient tradition, and it is said that the more unique the item or artifact, the closer it is to this oldest of magics. The main difference is that the gods did not have to perform these steps in sequence as mortals do, but rather -- through innate abilities and divine fiat -- performed the primordial imprint and essence of these rituals when they created their earliest godly instruments.

      It is said that material components symbolically echo the gods and their earliest instruments.

      Chaos magic

      An opposing type of magic is chaos magic, a wild, unpredictable, corrupting sort of magic that wields its users more than its users wield it. It seeks to break the laws of reality that the gods and their artifacts and creations reinforce.

      Most agree it is strongest at the edges of reality, and in people that have been tainted at the level of primary matter by a desire to return to the roiling chaos that existed before everything.

      This is the magic of the Old Ones, whose followers seek nothing less than the destruction of all that is -- even if their erratic nature makes it difficult to carry out organized efforts.

      Other ancient types of godly magic:
      • Wordcraft: a variant of implements and identity, this reflects the ability of gods to define things through words spoken (wyrdspeak) or written (runescribe), and is rumored the basis for all verbal components in spell casting and the written language of spells
      • Willcraft: an early, but taxing necessity for the gods who needed to fill in the gaps that Creation Magic and Wordcraft left due to gaps or loopholes in definition. Intent is as critical as the clarity of thought in this type of godly magic -- which is useful as it prevented them from having to define every little thing, but also allowed biases and preferences and imbalances to creep in based on their personalities. Psionics is a reflection of this type of magic.
      I think it's important to point out that the gods used all these magics together at the same time, with creation magic coming a little bit before the others as the Ur-gods struggled to reinforce their identity and come up with Words and Will fresh from their break with Chaos.

      Chaos magic didn't exist until the gods effected Creation -- the concept of corrupting Creation didn't exist until Creation itself existed, you see.

      Okay, that's it for now. Will tackle the magic of the angels, demons, devils, and elementals next post.

      Tuesday, February 1, 2011

      Piecemeal System Review: Top Secret / S.I.

      There's not a lot I remember about this RPG. I think remember it more for the default setting it tried to create around it -- and I remember I was more interested in the F.R.E.E.Lancer setting which was more meta-human paramilitary operatives rather than movie-style espionage by the Orion Foundation against the evil super-agency called WEB.

      I remember that I liked the percentile mechanic in combat -- regular roll tells you if you succeed or fail, the 1's dice in the same roll indicates the hit location.

      I wasn't as much a fan of the full %, half %, quarter % mechanic that they advocated for handling skill difficulties, because I wondered why unskilled people didn't suffer as big a penalty in difficult situations as really skilled people did!

      I mean, a guy with 80% skill is dropped by half to 40%; that's a -40%! Whereas a dabbler with a puny 2% skill is dropped by half to 1%; that's only a -1% penalty! The dabbler sucks so badly that increased difficulty in combat still gives him about the same chance?

      Of course, at least in this game the martial arts rules were changed from the original table-based combat system for HTH. And I remember that I felt the font size (though I didn't know the term at the time) was too large for the book. I felt that I'd gotten less rules for what I'd paid for.