Monday, July 29, 2013

I Was A Geek At Heart

My very first RPG purchase, when
TSR was the entire gaming universe.
I attended my first convention in July of 1986. I was a month shy of my fifteenth birthday, and didn't quite know what to expect when my cousins brought me down from the SF Bay Area to Los Angeles for this strange event.

Not yet a year in the U.S., still unaccustomed to the local slang and patois (though I could speak English quite well -- it was Math that gave me difficulty), and not yet aware that trusting complete strangers could be a dangerous thing -- I attended the Origins Game Fair with my cousins.

My geek cred could have been considered quirky at best and laughable at worst.

I had read the entire Lord of the Rings series of books, had enjoyed The Hobbit, and had been stymied by The Silmarillion. Dune was not a mystery to me, nor were some of the other works of Herbert (like Hellstrom's Hive and The White Plague). But due to the ordering policies of Philippine bookstore chains, there were gaps in my collections -- there were nagging holes in my Eternal Champions books by Moorcock, and I'd never been able to the existence some of the books listed in the D&D Appendix N acknowledged in the school libraries that I'd scoured. Authors were just names to me, their histories limited to the short bibliographies found on their hardcover dust jackets or just before / after their short stories in SF/Fantasy anthologies.

You don't think B.J. and the Bear was
Science Fiction or Fantasy? Maybe
it was horror.
Exposure to Fantasy & SF via TV was even more challenged. Growing up, everyone in Grade School watched the same thing at night or on weekends, because there was usually only one channel showing anything worthwhile to growing kids at any given time. And what a mix of shows we got. We knew Space: 1999, Battlestar Galactica, and Buck Rodgers as well as we knew B.J. and the Bear. We watched The A-Team and Sealab 2020 and The Herculoids and Knight Rider. On Sundays, we'd try to sneak in the shows my grandfather watched: The Wild Wild West, Star Trek, Green Hornet. We also got a healthy dose of Japanese animation, and -- amid a slew of U.S. detective shows and sitcoms -- managed to sneak in rare episodes of Sapphire & Steel (which we didn't even know were rare) when the parents were away and unable to enforce our slumber curfews.

Movies were delayed, but we soaked them up in the movie houses and via BetaMax. That's right, BetaMax was the go-to standard in the Philippines when I was growing up. By the time I was in Los Angeles, I was familiar with Star Wars, based on the movies and the toys and the occasional compilation of Marvel Comics hardcover annuals that came to the Philippines by way of the U.K. I knew Mad Max and The Road Warrior from the BetaMax rental stores (apprently, outright piracy) that were everywhere at the time. Yes, even the Star Wars Christmas Special was well known to us, because of these stores.

My gaming exposure came from the two local hobby shops, which also sold toys and games and models (cars, planes, tanks) to growing boys and girls. And one out-of-the-way hobby store that was more focused on martial arts gear, I think. They never had the main rulebooks (when I went there -- I had to get those from the bookstores, when they finally started carrying the rulesets), but it had D&D modules and other TSR stuff like Top Secret and Star Frontiers. No Champions or Traveller.

It was with that rough mindset that I attended Origins, and was blown away. Thousands of people interested in the same weird things that I liked. A huge selection of SF/Fantasy/Horror paraphernalia in the Dealer's Room. A panel discussion where George Takei spoke about his experiences in acting, and promoted Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. RPGs and modules made by TSR, and RPGs and modules made by non-TSR companies!

He was dressed kinda like this guy, but older.
I was so aware of the gaps in my knowledge when walking around -- I remember asking who a guy dressed in a very long, multi-colored scarf was supposed to be... and why someone greeted him as a doctor. References to Silent Running and Darkstar eluded me, but I was able to offer plot and character answers to discussions with absolute strangers about Planet of the Apes, Conan the Barbarian, Westworld and Soylent Green.

My memories, possibly softened by nostalgia and definitely blurred by time, tell me that people were generally eager to share their knowledge about their respective fandoms. I felt like I could admit absolute ignorance about certain things, indicate interest, and I would be enlightened by people happy to add a potential fan to their ranks. I can remember vague surprise at my ignorance in some areas, despite my knowledge of other things, and helpful people pointing my this way and that way to find out more. I can remember no negative memories, similar to the ribbing that I got later in High School for not being a jock or for excelling in academics or for not being part of the cool crowd.

By standards of the time & certainly by modern standards, I may not have been a true geek. But I was a geek at heart, and was happy I was welcomed into their ranks at that time. This is why it saddens me immensely when I hear about excluding people who are deemed to be Fake Geeks (male or female).

Lords of Pandius 04 -- Immortal Ability Score Range Conversion

After all my thoughts on the prior posts in mind,  I've created the following conversion approach for the individual ability scores of Mystaran Immortals into the Lords of Olympus rankings.

There's still some fine-tuning necessary, since:
  • D&D hit points figure heavily into the durability of a given immortal
  • there are four 'ability scores' in Lords of Olympus, while there are the classic six ability scores in D&D
  • there are a lot of Mystaran Immortal abilities that may or may not have Lords of Olympus equivalents (like the Aura ability)
  • quite a number of Mystaran Immortals will devolve into Heroic and sometimes even Mortal range!
That last bit can be addressed by reiterating that Immortals of Mystara are not quite 'gods' either. That and the fact that these Immortals are NPCs anyway, and not likely to get into the scrapes that PC Immortals will get into. And possibly that they have other secrets (like powerful Olympian artifacts hidden from the sight of other Immortals) that compensate for this arguably 'fatal' level of ability.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Lords of Pandius 03 -- Olympians and Equivalents

The reason that I'm spending time of the Olympians is because they're the default characters statted out in the Lord of Olympus RPG.

From their D&D stats, I was going to gauge relative power levels with the other Immortals. But their absence makes things tricky.

Now I have a different approach. If I can establish them as being part of the Mystaran Universe, with the rest of the Immortals as a huge group of PCs, then all the stats that talk about ranks being First + 1 or First + 2 (in other words a rank or two above the highest ranking PC in that stat), then I just have to deal with the stats of the Immortals as a batch.

Consequence: the Olympians are top dog in terms of power, and thankfully missing (or pursuing other projects in the multiverse).

Fortunately there is much out there that I can already use to support such a theory:
  • this list of Mystaran Immortals identifies (among many things) existing Immortals who are worshipped as the Olympian deities in the Milenian culture (found in the Hollow World)
  • here's a theory about the IM2 module and the false Olympians found there, and introduces the Mandala of Myth artifact
  • this article expands on that false Olympian theory, and further rationalizes the events in IM2 in terms of Olympian gods from the Plane of Myth
  • this Mystaran Cosmology post establishes where the Plane of Myth (Laterre) might fit into the overall cosmology and the other playgrounds of the Olympians
  • this post shares a bit more about Laterre, and other cornerstones of the Mystaran Universe that came from that plane -- like a couple of families in Glantri, and one of the Immortals (Rad)!

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Lords of Pandius 02 -- Research and Ideas

After my realization in the prior post, I begin reading up on the mechanical side of the ability scores for Immortals in Mystara. As per Wrath of the Immortals, the ability scores actually extend the normal range of scores from human to beyond. Here's the table:

I suppose this means that some Immortals may actually be in the Mortal Class or Hero Class in Lords of Olympus terms. And a quick look at some Immortals' stats actually confirms that. So it's a matter of coming to an arbitrary definition of those two classes, which effectively establishes the rest of the ratings as Olympian Class or better.

Speaking of Olympians

They're not in Mystara. As per a Vaults of Pandius article, the Olympian pantheon does not exist (visibly) in the Mystaran universe. It does make me want to research the Milennian culture and the Immortals they worshipped, though.

But this does open the gateway to playing -- in the vein of Lords of Olympus -- true children of the gods. If the Paths of Immortality are therefore ways of welcoming people who might secretly have the blood of the gods in their veins, or transform them into god-like beings through mastery of the magics.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Lords of Pandius 01 -- Translating Power Levels (Initial Mistake)

This being an ongoing attempt to convert Mystaran Immortals into the Lords of Olympus ruleset. Woohoo!

So the first thing I look at is translating the Mystaran Immortal 'levels' into equivalent Lords of Olympus classes. Mystara has the following Immortal power level names:

  • Initiate
  • Temporal
  • Celestial
  • Empyreal
  • Eternal
  • Hierarch
Lords of Olympus has the following power level classes:
  • Mortal Class
  • Heroic Class
  • Olympian Class
  • Numbered Class (extensible)
Olympian class is actually a mediocre level of power for the gods, so we can set that as the Initiate power level, making all subsequent classes the equivalent of Numbered Classes. Therefore, our first pass at power level translation would be:
  • Initiate => Olympian Class
  • Temporal => Fifth Class
  • Celestial => Fourth Class
  • Empyreal => Third Class
  • Eternal => Second Class
  • Hierarch => First Class

In Lords of Olympus, these classes are used to rank Principal Abilities (Ego, Might, Fortitude, Prowess). Which reveals our first problem: Principal Abilities are more akin to D&D Ability Scores, not class levels.

Furthermore, looking at some of the stats of the various Mystaran Immortals, some of them have ability scores rated at 50, while others are at the more modest 18 to 20 range.

What to do? Well, according to Wrath of the Immortals, the Immortal Rank actually determines the number of dice to roll OR the number of points to allocate for an Immortal's ability scores.

Therefore, the Immortal Rank is actually more a reflection of how many points are available to build one's character abilities. We'll have to revisit this, therefore, with a more thorough look at Lords of Olympus character creation in the next installment.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Archetype Musings: Beyond Astro City

Way back, I posted about comic book archetypes and remixing them for your supers campaigns.

My inspiration then was Astro City -- which has returned, by the way -- because of the carefully crafted superheroes and villains that seem to have tapped into archetypes from DC, Marvel, and other supers comics but managed to realized them visually and with some measure of seeming historical weight for its unique universe.

I'd still like to continue my tour of the many characters there that have somehow managed some measure of iconic stature without a long history -- but I also realized that there are other sources for remixed archetypes.

One of the most obvious: from the publishers themselves!

DC's Trinity

Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman all have been reinvented throughout their careers, back from the 1940s to the current day. Different looks, different takes and attitudes, slightly different personalities and approaches to crime fighting.

Is there a reason that the central figure is showing her butt
to us, while the more modest outfits are to the sides? Nah.
Couldn't be.
My favorite Wonder Woman to date was the George Perez take on the character, with the wonderful visuals, the mythology of the character strongly tied with the original Greek myth, and the clash of ancient and modern mores.

I'm keeping an eye out on the current Azzarello and Chiang run, as their take on 'gods-in-the-modern-era' is very interesting. The feel is very American Gods meets Scion (the RPG, not the comic), and the dark twists are interesting -- even if I have some grave issues with some of the liberties taken on WW's history and past.

And I really like the take on her in Kingdom Come and in the Injustice video game. True superheroine badassery!

Superman came out as more of a vigilante, or rather, a real pulp-inspired hero. The type that used to say lines like "a fitting end for his kind", and was not above coercing confessions from criminals by hanging them upside down from high places, or taking them on kryptonian roller coaster rides in a single bound. Very different from the 'big blue boy scout' we came to know and respect -- one whose moral indestructibility seems to have become a bit challenged in the modern era (Man of Steel, I'm looking at you as the current culprit, but you were not the first). We'll see if it sticks; we may be seeing a more fundamental change in our views of Superman.

After all, the poster child for 'guns are bad' crimefighting -- Batman -- used to carry a gun in his initial forays.

The trick, apparently, is to somehow retain the core of the character's appeal, while updating it for modern (and sometimes even older) audiences, by bringing some surprising (or perhaps less emphasized) aspect of the character to the fore due to its relevance or impact on our understanding of the character.

Perhaps the archetypes are meant to reflect aspects of humanity that resonate in us; mirrors that need to be shifted once in a while to give us a better view of ourselves and our society.

And perhaps in future posts, I'll be able to deal with those through example instead of via vague theorizing.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Echoes S01E00: A Setting Overview

recorded and written by archivist Nikki

The world Ganym is named for its eponymous largest continent, which, in the distant past, was unified from scattered fiefdoms into one realm under the Faith. (Ethnographically, consider it European in derivation, excluding the British Isles.)

While each state in the continent Ganym is functionally run by a prince or similar secular potentate, these ‘heads’ are all answerable to Archbishops—collectively known as the Wise—who are themselves answerable to the Patriarch. (So the princes are like CEOS of various companies, who are answerable to the directors of an encompassing holding company, who are answerable to the chairman of that board of directors.)

Some seventy years ago, there was a great schism, in which a certain young woman asserted her arguably-justifiable claim to the already-occupied Patriarchal throne. She was supported by four vassal states of eastern Ganym, which were promptly pronounced heretical along with her, and war was declared.

The Patriarchy, however, possesses no troops of its own, instead levying the forces required from its vassal states. Thus what actually came to pass was a sort of non-war, since, for reasons of their own, the states occupying the border between Ganym proper and the seceded easternmost states declined to attack, and their geographical position rendered it impracticable for other Ganym states to attack.

Therefore—although skirmishes and assassination attempts abounded for some time—no outright war truly occurred, and this situation persisted for some seventy years.

Recently, the former Patriarch expired and was replaced by the first elected male Patriarch after a succession of six females—a circumstance which some may perceive, along with a vague ‘seniority’, as adding legitimacy to the so-called ‘anti-Patriarch’.

Currently, the continent is divided into three:

  1. Ganym proper, in the west
  2. the Greylands—the border states, still technically part of Ganym despite their perhaps-questionable loyalties. A small city of scholars has also become Grey in the last few years, due to their having raised the question of whether the late Patriarch’s edicts—regarding heresy in particular—might not have died with her.
  3. the seceded states, as well as their own vassal states acquired in the interim, principally from neighboring islands. This eastern Patriarchy (which is never to be referred to as such) is called Ogaru [sp?], and its capital is the Cathedral of the Rock, a massive edifice built into the cliffside of one of Ogaru’s islands.

During the decades that have passed, East and West have evolved in very different ways.

Ogaru is the leading edge of technological development—while the West does still have airships and clockwork and the technicians to operate and maintain such, they are decades behind, and have proven unable to even reverse-engineer Eastern technology.

Ganym proper, however, remains the bastion of art and, importantly, religious thought.

the Faith
My character's first batch of crests. Only
Aspects are pictured; Attributes coming soon.
Magic is Faith and Faith is magic—no other form of magic exists. (In other words, as we players understand it, the Faith has pretty much successfully crushed everything else.)

The universe is composed of a discrete number of Elements. The exact number is known only to the Almighty, but what is known is that the more Faith you have, the more Elements—or rather, Aspects of Elements—you have access to, and the more you can do.

Each of the Faithful is born under the Aspect of a certain Element, which grants them certain gifts. For the common run of people, these are simple things, such as being born under the Rain Aspect of Water, and thus not getting sick from being caught in the rain.

In Ganym philosophy, there are seven common Elements, which have myriad Aspects.

  1. Fire
  2. Water
  3. Earth
  4. Air
  5. Wood
  6. Metal
  7. Anima

The Anti-Patriarchy, however, has declared that there are five more common Elements!

  1. Mineral
  2. Ink
  3. Sea
  4. Star
  5. Smoke

These, of course, are not officially recognized by Ganym, although at least three of them are secretly known to the West as very high-level magic.

It’s important to note that no one is born under the Element of, say, Water, but only under an Aspect thereof— Rain or Dew or Frost, like that. In a sense, it may be said that the Elements do not exist in and of themselves, but only as collective terms for their Aspects, in the same way that the word ‘rice’ does not really exist in Filipino, but may be perceived as a collective term for its concrete aspects of palay, bigas, kanin, and so on.

There are levels and levels of Elements above the common, but accessing them requires training, which —whether West or East — is the nigh-exclusive province of the clergy. This is not to say that only the clergy has recourse to actual, usable magic — secular people from princes to guardsmen possess Crests, but only through clerical approval.

All that an Aspect does by itself is to allow an involuntary expression of magic, as mentioned previously. In order to actively cause a desired effect, one needs a Crest.

(Think of Aspects as nouns, and Crests as sentences. You may have the noun ‘Rain’, but you need a whole sentence to tell the universe you want to ‘Deluge my enemies in Rain!’ So Crests are composed of both Aspects and Attributes, which are modifiers we can equate to verbs, adjectives, etc., which define things like duration, size, and targeting.)

A Crest is typically deployed by holding together and raising the index and middle fingers, around which will form a small halo depicting the constructed Crest, either:

  • physical—inscribed on something tangible, which is then activated by the wielder’s Faith; the wielder must have sufficient knowledge of all Aspects and Attributes relevant to the Crest—or
  • manifested—formed of pure Faith and knowledge.

The latter is much trickier than one might think, since Attributes and Aspects—with the sole exception of the one you were born with—tend to fade from the mind in time, and there are only three known ways to acquire new ones.

  1. Realization—epiphany achieved through fasting and contemplation of the involved Aspect or Attribute; can be reinforced with successive contemplation
  2. Education—being taught a successfully-recorded Aspect or Attribute
  3. Recovery—discovering lost Aspects or Attributes, but attempting to comprehend such unidentified powers can be and has been fatal
  4. (and I know I said there were only three, but Kate discovered this one, so I think our characters would not know it)
  5. Combination—causing multiple Aspects to ‘birth’ new ones

It is also possible to trade—there must be an actual one-to-one exchange, or no trade occurs. This practice is much frowned upon by the Faith, but is nevertheless rampant.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Mahadlika: A Philippine RPG (Kinda Old & Never Released)

I think this was done as a thesis, or something.

Time to read through it, for kicks. :)

Monday, July 15, 2013

Echoes: The New RPG Campaign

Well, the old RPG campaign I was in (Isle: Imperium and The Court Adamantine) wrapped up several months back. I have tons of unpublished write-ups from those, but I wanted to start up with the new campaign we're into -- partially because I need to keep track of all the new magic rules in this pseudo-cyberpunk setting.

But first, a teaser pic of my four starting Aspects (from three elements - Anima, Wood, and Metal).

I've only been able to try Thought, Emotion, and Tree with their related Attributes. Only Thought has been successfully used against a rain elemental trying to kill me.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

On the Radar: D&D Cyclopedia

I still have this in hardcopy. Need to find a way to preserve it better -- the perils of living in a tropical clime. And maybe I should pick it up in electronic form already! Fortunately, it's available online already... for $9.99 at the time of this writing.

I remember buying this, even though I still had my B/X rulebooks and could borrow the rest of the BECMI sets, because I wanted to have one solid reference -- with monsters -- in my hand whenever I wanted to run this game.

Once again, the entry's description has tidbits of historical significance, courtesy of Shannon Appelcline. Here's an excerpt:

"The Compilation. The Rules Cyclopedia is a compilation of the D&D Basic Rules Set (1983), the D&D Expert Rules Set (1983), the D&D Companion Rules (1984), and the D&D Master Rules (1985). It contains not only the rules from those boxed sets, but also the monsters, making the Cyclopedia one of two great sources for Basic D&D monsters, the other being the Creature Catalog (1986, 1993). Approximately 150 pages of rules on characters and magic from the "GAZ" Gazetteers (1987-91) are also included, making the Cyclopedia a truly massive compilation of about a decade's worth of Basic D&D rules.
The Immortals Rules (1986) are notably not included in the Cyclopedia, although it does contain seven pages from the Master Rules that include basic information for immortals, including rules on PCs ascending to those lofty ranks.
Rules on jousting in tournaments and on artifacts were also left out of the Cyclopedia.
Not an Introductory Book! Unlike every other iteration of Basic D&D, this one was not intended to be an introductory roleplaying book. It was instead a reference for Basic D&D play, which matched TSR's thinking about the AD&D 2e rules. 
Expanding the Known World. The Cyclopedia doesn't expand the Known World in any notable way, but it does include a rather impressive atlas, featuring 16 full color maps, including the maps from the Gazetteers and the world maps from the Master Rules and the Hollow World Campaign Set (1990)."
What are you waiting for? Pick it up now!