Wednesday 17 October 2012

Adventurer, Crippled, Killed

This morning I bought the .pdf of Adventurer, Conqueror, King System. Mainly because I was interested in the fantasy economics that are designed to fit the assumptions of D&D (I've sent the players in our game to their post on 'The Demographics of Heroism') rather than model historical economics. But, on opening the 'book', one of the first things that I went to was the awesome, single page, Mortal Wounds table, right at the back. Oh, am I going to love inflicting everything from, 'Ghostly visions of lost companions flicker before your eyes as you awaken', to,'Your lips and tongue are severed or mangled (cannot speak, cast spells or use magic items involving speech, -4 to reaction rolls)' on the PCs in our game. It is a good middle ground between single table simplicity and the pages and pages of tables and detail in WFRP1e (with the Character Pack, at least) and Rolemaster.

The thing to remember with Death and Dismemberment tables and the like is that they actually make D&D less deadly - 0HP does not equal insta-death - but they make death much more colourful AND they explain why there might be people with permanent injuries in a world that would otherwise works on the principle of, 'he's fine, he's fine, he's fine, he's DEAD'.

At the moment, I'm only envisaging using ACKS for the economics, some of the ideas about ritual magic, and the mortal wounds table. I prefer LotFP for the core adventuring mechanics and simple, well defined classes. But you never know... it is another D&D-alike to add to my original books (AD&D1e/2e, BECMI/RC), my retro-clones (Labyrinth Lord being my go-to clone) and my simulacra (Crypts and Things, LotFP, and now ACKS). That's a lot of D&D, and lots of things to pick and choose from in there.  

And if we're speaking of copper coins, I really do like the ACKS Treasure Generator.

Saturday 13 October 2012

On the Great Copper Coin Debate of 2012

So some GIANT RATS have 2,000 copper pieces, do they?

Well, so what? D&D is a GAME of ABSTRACTIONS. HP, AC, Characteristics, Saving Throws, Levels...

Do you want more detail? If it is the round numbers that bother you, make something up or use the random number generators that came in that red box you bought thirty years ago. If it is that there is a pile of coins in the lair of Giant Rats that bother you, remember that 2,000CP is 20GP* worth of treasure that weighs 2,000cns / 200lbs (at AD&D convention of 10 coins to 1lb) / 40lbs (at AD&D2e convention of 50 coins to 1lb). In other words, a big, bulky treasure that isn't worth very much. A nice piece of furniture, perhaps.

I play treasure all three ways - "here's a pile of 2,000CP" / here's a pile of 1,876 Emirati Coppers / "as you catch your breath [after fighting the Giant Rats], you notice that the sideboard on the far wall would complement the furniture of your dining room."

D&D is a game in which advancement is driven by loot. Even if Giant Rats having piles of coins (or any treasure) wouldn't make sense in the real world (if there were such things as Giant Rats), it MUST make sense in a D&D game world. Okay, maybe Giant Rats could be Treasure Type: NIL, but the principle that monsters (might) have treasure, and that this treasure is relatively easily convertible to GP/XP, is an essential part of D&D. 

*Correction - In AD&D it is worth all of 10GP.

Thursday 11 October 2012

Dwarfs and Gnomes

The idea is that this picture, from Mentzer Basic, is still a valid representation of demi-humans in Hammerstein! or My-stara. What we understand is going on in all those pointy-eared heads however, is quite different. 

DWARFS: Obsessive compulsive trainspotters with a fascist tendency

Dwarfs were created after the first Empire of Humanity challenged the Gods. Demi-humans, they embody the concept of LAW, and are a conservative force. They have a love of order for its own sake, of maps, records, archives, and collections. It is their intent to track and record all the moving parts of history, and, for the sake of their sanity, arrest, or at least slow, the movement of these parts. They are great scholars and master bureaucrats, but are agents of reaction. 

Dwarfs have a reputation as having a lust for gold and other precious things, but this is a misconception. That it is such a common view is the result of two things. First, all Dwarfs are natural collectors, using their obsessions to order the world. Not all Dwarves collect gold coins, or jewellery of the First Empire, or other treasures, but enough adventuring Dwarves do. That is why they are adventuring Dwarves. Other Dwarves collect butterflies, leaves, or perfumes, but these tend not to develop the ‘rock star’ reputation that comes with being a dungeon delving adventurer. Second, the Hard Core Dwarfs and the Royal Casts (yes, Casts, not Castes) of Iron Mountain and other Vaults, have an interest in accumulating gold and gems (and whatever else Humans might use as currency). By controlling the money supply, the Dwarfs believe that they can control, or at least restrain, the change and progress driven by rapid movements of money. A Dwarf King will go to war for gold, as will a Human King, but their motivations are vastly different.

Hard Core Dwarfs are the Dwarfs who rarely, if ever, leave the Vaults. Hard Core Dwarfs live entirely ritualised lives, ordering their time and their space according to their interpretations of the Plan. Of course, such an obsession with order means that Dwarven history has included more than one schism. The causes of these schisms appear utterly inconsequential to anyone who is not a Dwarf.

Dwarfs do reproduce biologically, whatever the jokes might say. However, the Dwarven saying ‘True Dwarfs are made, not born’, can be interpreted literally as well as metaphorically. It is not for nothing that the Royal class of Dwarfs are called The Cast.  

GNOMES: Amoral, eccentric inventors with little ability to see the big picture.

Gnomes, on the other hand, are degenerate Dwarfs, or so the legends go. Emerging (or created?) at some time during or shortly after the Second Empire of Humanity, these were Dwarfs who rejected the tyranny of Law. Taking their lead from Humanity – some even taking to the worship of the trickster God Humaman – the Gnomes applied the Dwarven interest in understanding the moving parts of a system to make NEW things. Master inventors, their skill is not in constructing the plausible but the implausible – fantasy inventions. For instance, where Humans might devise a new system of rigging, Gnomes build submarines. For this I’ll be taking a lead from PC2 Top Ballista!, using it to make a Gnome class for my LotFP/Lab Lord hybrid. The Dwarfs are probably not wrong in seeing the Gnomes as tainted by Chaos; Gnomish inventions have a tendency to both cause disorder and become disordered. Most Gnome heroes die not only with their boots on, but their goggles and apron and work gloves too. Thank the Saints that Gnomes are a rare race.

With a Third Empire of Humanity just a twinkle in the eye of any number of would be Tyrants – though Byzantia formally, but impotently, claims to be the seat of the Third Empire – there has been some reconciliation between some of the more adventurous Dwarfs and the Gnomes. Who knows how an automatic counting machine might aid Dwarven record keeping? These adventurous, less rigidly-minded Dwarfs view Gnomes are childish deviants. Hard Core Dwarfs, however, would happily eliminate the whole Gnome race. 

Having the ‘demi-humans’ of Hammerstein! (and My-stara) as derivations from and exaggerations of the elder race – Humanity, grants a licence to make them one-dimensional. This is a good thing. It prevents demi-humans just being short or pointy eared Humans. There is an in-game reason by Humans are a race of great variety, while demi-human personalities have a much more restricted palette. One-dimensional demi-humans also justify race-as-class, incidentally. 

Obviously, these Dwarfs are at least a little inspired by Glorantha’s Mostali, with their descent from the original moulds and their concern with the working of the World Machine. There’s also a little of James M’s Dwarfs in there too – if I remember right, Dwarfs in Dwimmmermount reproduce by sculpting their own children.  

None of these ideas are particularly original, but that's part of the point. When I'm making my game of D&D, I'm not trying to radically inverts the D&D tropes. I just want to play around the edges. I want to mix the good bits of the fantasy games that has shaped my view of fantasy gaming. If that recombination produces the littlest bit of novelty will be enough.

Carousing & Companionship

Carousing is a feature of many Old School games. Some give out xp for carousing, and for some, excessive, extravagant, public spending is the old way to turn 1gp into 1xp. I like these ideas, especially as I’m of the mind that one of the best ways to understand ‘the adventurer’ is to think of them as ‘rock stars’. A world in which professional adventurers are a relatively common sight, in which the successful ones end up rich beyond anyone’s wildest dreams, many die young, and those that live long enough end up as establishment figures with large, country estates… yes, that’s a rock star/D&D adventurer.

With this is mind, levels are understood as more than increases in skill, but broader abstractions that also include increases in fame/notoriety. This idea is already built into the classic games by the fact that higher level characters automatically attract followers, can build strongholds, etc. It’s not just the fact that a character is a good swordsman that allows him to attract a body of loyal, armed men at name level. It is that everyone in the Duchy knows that the character is the best sword in the Duchy.

So far, all I’ve done to mechanise this is to give xp bonuses for high Charisma, and for successful boasting. Extravagant spending might warrant an xp bonus, too… but it’ll have to be on something truly useless, with bonuses for inventiveness. I am thinking of codifying it – probably pinching wholesale from Chris Kutulik’s Hill Cantons Compendium – but for the moment we will play loose with these ideas.

However, extravagant spending on ladies (and men) of the night, or on less mercenary seduction, is not just a means to bolster the ‘rock star’ image of the adventurer. In Mikedemia Press' City Book (which I  really like, so I ought to write about it sometime - and it appears that it is still available here), an optional rule suggests that adventurers are so filled with lust (well, it doesn't exactly say that) if they do not find companionship they risk wasting away entirely.

I think 'Cities' is great - I have the version (loosely) for RQ3, but it's packed full of tables usable for any game.

“Characters must have companionship at least once every five weeks, or see their abilities to concentrate, study, and cast magic steadily deteriorate. Relevant characteristics and skills might drop by a few percentiles or a point or a level a week until companionship is obtained.”

Adventurers as Russel Brand? Hopefully not – Errol Flynn, perhaps!

Wednesday 10 October 2012

Dredd – A Two Line Review (and a bit more)

Dredd is an excellent, lean, visceral action film. Dredd is not a good Judge Dredd movie.

That’s the review. Here’s a few more comments.

First, they did, kind of follow through with the reference to ‘We’re Going on a Bear Hunt’. In the trailer, Dredd says; ‘We can’t go over them. We can’t go under them.’ These lines are cut from the final film, but Dredd does say; ‘We’ve got to go through them.

I HATE 3D films, the 3D effects break, rather than build, my immersion in the film – they often feel more like a simulator ride (or one of the 360° cinemas that they used to have a theme parks) than a movie. And they leave me with a headache. That said, 2D films do that to me too – the first Transformers movie was a baffling whirl of visuals and ear-bleeding noise, so I’m obviously not built for contemporary action films. In Dredd though, the 3D effects work. In fact, they’re integral, being used mainly to visualise the effects of Cake, a made up drug, as it stimulates Shatner’s Bassoon. In the film the drug is called Slo-Mo, and there’s no sign of Czech Neck, but its neurological effects appear the same.

But Dredd isn’t a good Judge Dredd film. It is a very violent sci-fi film. And here is the beginning of the problem; Dredd (and Anderson) mete out summary executions left, right, and centre. Now, I have let my 2000AD subscription lapse in the last few years, but the lasting impression of the wardrobe full of progs and Megazines is that Dredd doesn’t summarily execute people except in extreme circumstances. That the Judges are hyper-violent BUT sentence people to the Iso-Cubes was always a big part of the distinctiveness of Judge Dredd and Mega-City One, for me.
And Mega-City One certainly looks like a realistic mega-city of the near-ish future. But it doesn’t look anything like Mega-City One. It has no character – and in Judge Dredd, don’t be mistaken, it is the city which is the lead character, not the faceless Dredd. Mega-City One is the trends of the 20th Century taken to fantastical extremes, not just the degradation of the favelas and banlieues, but the absurdities of pop-culture too.
See that city? That's Mega-City One that is.

I have been talking about Dredd as being like a new Verhoeven film, but it isn’t. It’s got the violence. It is set in future. But the satire is absent, and as a Dredd fan, or a Verhoeven fan, all through the film the question, ‘where is the satire’ keeps bouncing back to the front of your mind. And without the satire, Dredd becomes a much more reactionary concept (especially when there’s summary execution in the bargain); here is your future, and drokk, you better hope we have fascism to contain it. Which might not be that far away in some parts of the Mediterranean Free State.

There is a belly wheel, there is a Hottie House, and there is a poster advertising a ‘The Mark of Krysler’, but these barely perceptible nods only heighten the non-Dreddness of Dredd. It’s a shame when you add it all; Dredd, and 2000AD, played a big part in forming my taste in fantastical fiction, and therefore my tastes in fantasy gaming. I’m struggling to imagine the Mega-City One of Dredd being a city of a Boing(TM) craze, or Otto Sump or Max Normal, one of Judge Cal and the Kleggs, or even one invaded by Judge Death. They’ve made a very good film that is a worse Dredd film than Stallone’s effort. I could imagine a late 1990s Stallone Dredd sequel featuring all of those things. If Dredd makes enough money to warrant a sequel, stripped of licence for visual inventiveness granted by Slow-Mo, I wonder where they can go.

Saturday 6 October 2012

Jenny Greenteeth and the Mire Woods: Part 1

Over Thursday and Friday night (which spanned three weeks of game time) the party explored the Mire Woods in search of Georghe Tincu, the son of a wealthy ice merchant. The boy had lived large parts of his life on the river, travelling on his father’s boats, and it was assumed that he had disappeared while exploring the river. Raglan Tincu has hired several parties of adventurers to scour the countryside.

One particularly lurid theory is Jenny Greenteeth, the monster of the Mire Woods, has taken the boy. The problem was that the locals couldn’t agree on just what Jenny Greenteeth was. A water serpent with a woman’s head, a beautiful but evil maiden covered in river weeds, a child-eating old crone…?

The (shorthanded) party, consisting of D’s Fighters Chip and Dale (!) and A’s Magic User Kitty, accompanied by Nalag, a Goblin porter, and Hengist, a Human man-at-arms (thanks to Meatshields!) followed a stagnant, slow moving stream known locally as the Vein into the Mire Woods. The Mire Woods are a thick tangle of trees, roots, and undergrowth, and so moving along the river avoided the risk of getting lost and moving exceptionally slowly, both of which would equal an increased possibility of a frightening night in wild and weird part of the world.

I'd love to see one of these well funded Kickstarter and Indiegogo OSR campaigns commission some work from Ian Miller... 

The party picked up the trail of someone with boy sized feet on the muddy bank, passed the opportunity to investigate the body of an adult, and were ambushed by a GIANT LEECH. A ‘small’ Giant Leech, which killed Nalag, reducing the already scrawny Goblin to a bag of a bones. So much for that ‘encumbrance sink’.

The party were less keen on travelling on the muddy bank of the Vein after that, slipping knee deep into the brown water with a regularity that was a little more sinister now that they had encountered one of the inhabitants hidden below. Not far up the stream, the woods thinned on both banks. A path on the right bank led away into the forest, illuminated by globes of light ‘hanging’ in the trees. On the left bank a path that might be little more than an animal trail led away from the river. The party were uneasy at the idea of walking down a path lit by balls of light, and so headed along the trail.

There they found Georghe’s exhausted, wounded older brother Vitali. Desperate to be a hero, he had set off at dawn in secret, but had run into a flock of ‘vampire birds’ (STIRGES). The party tended to the sobbing and desperately weak Vitali, rested, ate and watered, and decided to return the boy to the edge of the woods, where their boatman waited.

The party decided to venture back into the Mire Woods, keen to find Georghe. They enjoyed an unfathomable standoff with a wild Elf, mohawked and inscrutable, bow at the ready. He recommended that the party relax in among the flowers, before he disappeared into the woods. The party came across a marble birdbath, dedicated to Victoria Kalten (‘may this bring you their relief that she never found’), but decided not to disturb the crystal clear water in the basin.

Then, coming across a rise, they found a clearing carpeted with poppies. As they crossed the clearing, heading back towards the vein, A asked if Kitty noticed anything unusual about the flowers. Kitty bent down, heard a crunch underfoot, and noticed that under the flowers the clearing was covered in brittle fragments of bone. The party began to run… and kicked up the pollen as they did so. Chip (or was it Dale?) failed his Save vs Poison, as did Hengist the man-at-arms. Chip was overcome with the urge to simply lie down and watch the clouds. Chip wrestled Dale free of the clearing (or was it the other way around?), and as they passed the edge of the clearing the magical effect of the pollen changed dramatically, with the flowers disappearing and the murder hidden by the flowers visible in all its gore.

Nobody fancied going back in to save Hengist – he was just a meatshield, after all – so the last the party saw of him he was lying down, drinking from his wineskin, with various bits and bobs of the party’s equipment on his back. Including Dale’s (or was it Chip’s – seriously D, two characters with one class, one background, one personality, and not quite two names makes it hard to keep track) long bow. Make the hirelings carry the oversized equipment, sure…

Breath caught, and nerves calmed, the party found themselves back on the banks of the Vein. A brook of clear water joined the stream on the far bank. The party caught the briefest glimpse of a pair of beautiful, naked, green-skinned three foot tall women frolicking in the stream. They turned, smiled, and beckoned the party to follow them up the stream. A clear trap, but if the party wanted to get the boy back…

The party followed the green-skinned temptresses, who flitted in and out of their vision, up the stream, until they reached a large, shallow, roughly circular pond of still, clear water, sitting in a bowl of mud walls. At the centre of the pond was small ‘temple’, open on all sides with simple white columns holding up a roof, not much more than seven foot tall. At the centre of the temple was a ‘throne’, upon which sat Georghe, an expression of dreamy content on his face. Eight MIXIES – a particularly evil form of Nixie dedicated to D’namnas, a Chaotic entity associated with the disorder of dreams and nightmares – surrounded the boy. One stroked his hair.

A Fighter, played by D, fired his heavy crossbow, impaling one of the Mixies. The Mixies transformed into something vile; the lower parts of their faces extending into a leech-like ring of teeth and bony spikes protruding from their wrists. Ululating, they summoned two (small) GIANT CRABS from their lair in the mud walls of the bowl. Chip and Dale cut down the Mixies in pretty short order. However, Kitty, seeing a Mixie move to attach her leech-like mouth to Georghe’s neck, charged. The Mixie speared her through the eyes – while Kitty was only reduced to 0HP, A rolled a 1 on the Death and Dismemberment table. With the Giant Crabs closing, Chip and Dale decided to retreat, and splashed down the Vein as the day ended and the Mire Wood filled with shadows.

They didn’t tell Raglan Tincu, or anyone but the absent members of their party, that they had seen Georghe, or about the ’temple’ deep in the Mire Woods. Tincu rewarded Chip and Dale for returning Vitali. For some reason, as they rested, waited for the other party members to recuperate, and drank in the taverns of Gateways, Chip and Dale span a story that Hengist and Kitty had run off and abandoned the party. Whether this lie will have any repercussions remains to be seen.

Two weeks later (the following night), Chip and Dale returned to the Mire Woods with a few more swords…

Thursday 4 October 2012

Kalten's Keep and Jenny Greenteeth

After the TPK in the Caves of Mykonos, and a time playing other games over the summer (including playing Tower of the Stargazer, which I hope to write about later, with a different group of players) we re-booted the D&Dish campaign with a pretty simple, straightforward adventure. Kalten fitzKalten, a fat, rich young man who claims to be the heir to the seemingly extinct Kalten family, hired the party to clear the old Kalten Keep of its occupiers. Kalten's Keep is Castle Caldwell, from B9, with a few of the rooms moved around and a rationale given for the range of occupiers; the band of GOBLINS had been running the place as a 'hotel' for travellers who have some reason to stay off the roads and away from towns such as Gateways. Gateways is 'my' Threshold - I've enjoyed offering the players the chance to send their characters shopping in Gateways.  The party of eight PCs (two per player - intended to mitigate against the chances of a TPK driven solely by a couple of poor rolls and to allow the players at least the hope of levelling - a key part of the D&D experience. Plus, have you seen how many PCs are expected by older modules?) took two sessions to clear the Keep. We don't play that long; the time between getting the kids in bed and tiredness overwhelming us isn't that long.

The first session, they took rooms in the 'hotel'; their Goblin hosts unsuccessfully trying to confiscate the party's weapons. After being shown to their rooms - which contained debris that once was a bed, at most, they began to investigate the Keep. Sensibly - and surprisingly, this was the same group of players who managed to get surrounded by Goblins for their last TPK - they didn't launch into any combat. The BANDITS told them to get lost, in less polite terms. The KOBOLDS yipped and yapped at them. Calisteri the CLERIC, dedicated to the Screaming Saint (a cult dedicated to the intolerance of all other Men-Kinds - she could only stomach staying in such a contaminated place as just to south of the Keep there was a centuries' old shrine to Humanity Undivided), invited the all Human party to take devotional prayers with her. Of course, sooner or later the party were going to run into their hosts, and, given that some of the PCs could barely walk they were carrying so many weapons, this was bound to lead to tension, and sure enough it boiled over into conflict. The party quickly cut down the GOBLINS, split, as they were, into two groups of four. Hearing (and in some cases seeing) this carnage, the rest of the intelligent inhabitants of the Keep barricaded their doors and made plans to leave - their accomodation had been invaded by a gang of murder-hobos!

All except Calisteri, who offered to help heal their wounds, as they were clearly here to do Holy work. As it was, the bandits, the Kobolds, and the MERCHANTS, all got out of the Keep with their treasure. The animals that infested the Keep, including STIRGES, FIRE BEETLES, a GIANT SHREW, a SPITTING COBRA, and WOLVES took a bit more effort to deal with. The party rested (in the rooms that had been occupied by the merchants, which contained beds!) lugged their first haul of coins back to Gateways, leaving it guarded by Juan, the Cleric, who had been blinded - which was not as unsafe as it sounds. He had a loaded crossbow - there's no class-based weapon restrictions (so far) in this game) and the party were stopping at the Headman's Axe, a particularly secure inn, the landlord of which is Goryn, an OGRE (humanoids are not exactly accepted in My-stara, but attitudes are a little more varied than simply, 'exterminate the brutes') who was the state executioner for the previous Duke. Buying a mule, in the (sadly misplaced) expectation of more treasure than they could carry, the party returned to the Keep and engaged in a battle with the Fire Beetles, in which (I hope) they learned the value of a good Armour Class. Most of their opponents had been AC7 (13 in the ascending system that I favour). The chitinous exoskeletons of the beetles, however, gave them AC2 (18), and as the battle dragged one, 3 PCs fell. Using Chris Kutulik's Death and Dismemberment table, with a -1 modifier for each HP below 0, we saw a broken leg, two fingers ripped off, and a very nasty facial/head wound. All that for 30xp. These injuries will need up to twelve weeks of recuperation, so we'll be seeing a couple of new characters join the campaign in the meantime. 

So, back to Threshold, er... Gateways, for the party. The game this Tuesday (which might well have involved beginning to play a modified version of Rahasia - the party found an Elf babbling away about 'the Rahib' in the Isle of Lost Dreams, a Black Lotus den) was cancelled as most of the players couldn't make it (except my wife, who struggles to pull out of a game played at our dining table). One could, and he asked if we could play a mini-adventure, and, despite my misgivings about the dynamics of just two players (and a DM), I rolled up a short one-session adventure; a merchant's boy has gone missing while fishing just downriver from Gateways. The locals seem to think that he has been taken by Jenny Greenteeth... 

I like to offer my players more options than, 'here is the adventure', but at short notice, what else can you do? Here is my prep:

Oh, to be able to map like Nicholson...
Only, that last player (excepting my wife) then cancelled, so we'll be playing tonight. Do not enlarge the photo, Dave, you cheat! The rest is in my head. Not many locations, but as I said, we aren't able to play for all that long these days. I think that is why I'm keen to build resource management - a key part of D&D - into the space around the adventures, by making sure that healing takes time, living costs are deducted, spell research takes time and money, etc. Of course, there's nothing wrong with running multi-session adventures, in which managing resources during an adventure figures more heavily, but absent players can quickly choke the momentum from a campaign when everyone is waiting to pick up from where the party left off last time. With injuries like the ones suffered exploring Kalten's Keep, whether we like it or not we'll end up with a broad 'cast list', presenting the option of running parallel adventures with a different set of characters.

Wednesday 3 October 2012

Gods on the Moon

That the old gods of Hammerstein! (and My-Stara) are exiled on the Moon is an idea that draws on a number of sources. Of course, the Moon has been associated with one god or another, or with the supernatural, in most human cultures. That something lives on the Moon isn't a particularly Modern myth either; Lucian of Samosata, in the second century AD, wrote a story of Ulysses' journey to the Moon. Flying boats, eh? I told you that they were cool.

Mystara has its own Moon dwellers, the samurai cats of Myoshima. Not the Samurai Pizza Cats (my wife refused to believe such a thing ever existed, until I showed her the YouTube video [warning: awaful theme tune]). But the real superhumans on the Moon that I'm referencing are these:

Kirby also drew The Mighty Thor (and the rest of the Asgardians), and characters such as Hercules also find a home in the Marvel Universe, and so the idea that the once Gods of the world of Hammerstein! exiled on the Moon is meant to evoke these kind of characters. Superhumans, immortals (some of THE Immortals of Mystara, perhaps), but diminished greatly since the era in which they made the world from clay, now trapped in their Olympian domain. Some still worship them, for sure (some of the Vikings of the Northern Reaches are confirmed Lunatics), but the main religious focus in the Modern Age is the Church of Humanity, and its myriad saintly cults.

P.S. My vision of extra-planar travel has always been VERY Kirby...   

Tuesday 2 October 2012

Hammerstein! Demihumans

In the world of Hammerstein! (and in what I’m calling My-Stara, the heavily modified version of Mystara that our group is currently exploring), Humans are the oldest sentient race. They were created by the by the trickster god Humaman. They were made in the in image of the Gods, and they shared their passions and vices, though on a mortal scale. At first, the Gods were amused, and congratulated Humaman. They walked amongst the humans and played with them, damaged them, and disposed of them as a spoiled child does with his toys. 

But Humaman’s joke wasn’t intended to offer the Gods amusements to idle away the eons. It was a vicious satire that built to a terrible punchline. While the Gods played at being Emperors and basked in worship, Humans got on with making History. Without an eternity to while away, mortal Humans are creatures of action and progress. Ages passed, countless generations, but eventually Humans built a civilization that rivalled the power of the Gods – the First Empire of Humanity – that wielded great magic and constructed enormously powerful machines. Having mastered the world, the First Empire made war on Heaven.

The war destroyed the world spanning Human Empire, buried cities, rent great wounds in the landscape, and left magical residue that brought into being all manner of Men-Kinds; Beastmen, Goblins, etc. and the proliferation of monstrous creatures. 

The war also damaged the Gods terribly, and they fled the world to their city on the Moon. But before they left, they created the Elves and the Dwarves. The twin gods of Time, Moment and Eternity, took the Man Rune, first carved by Humaman, and used it to create races that were meant to hold Humans forever in check. 

The Gods were alarmed by the ability of Humanity to create History. Moment, created the Elves in order to distract Humanity. Moment set the Elves down on the back of a LEVIATHAN, upon which they built their homeland, ELVENBONE (in My-Stara these Melnibonean Elves replace Alphatia). Moment gave the Elves the impulse to explore every sensation that can be experienced in mortal life. Experiments in food, art, sex, drugs, and violence fill their lives, and the lives of the Humans that they live among, with anything and everything other than the drive of History. They are agents of CHAOS.

Face it. He's a Elf. An urban/e one.

And this guy is an Elf too. My-stara's version of Alfheim will be a bit more... punk.

Eternity created the Dwarfs as a conservative check on Humanity. Eternity set the Dwarfs down within IRON MOUNTAIN, and gave them a complaining, suspicious character. The Dwarfs took the task of recording all of History within their great mountain vaults. Eternity ensured that the Dwarves would be a force for LAW. If there is one thing a Dwarf dislikes more than change, it is progress. If things must change, they should change slowly. That is the Truth every Dwarf is taught.

Unfortunately for the Gods, and for all the Men-Kinds of the world of Hammerstein!, some Dwarves became ever more extreme in their pursuit of Law, in ordering the world, while whole communities of Elves took to the worship of Chaos itself. The very essence of the world had been damaged during the war between Humans and Gods, and through these wounds crept the alien intelligences of primal Law and Chaos. Under the influence of an Angel of Law, the Human’s built a Second Empire of Humanity, a terrible continent spanning death cult, which only ended when the barbarian king, Hammerstein Heartbreaker, stormed the Ziggurat of Permanent Order and killed the demon, bringing into being the current era of free men and petty kingdoms. 

Monday 1 October 2012

Nothing New Under the Sun

In our games of D&D (or whatever it is) I had been using the long trusted method of dealing with natural 20s and 1s in combat; double damage and a 'fumble' respectively. Of course, under this system a high-level fighter has exactly the same chance of scoring a critical hit as an clumsy child, and they both stand the same chance of dropping their swords. And it is more than a bit implausible to have even high-level fighters dropping their swords once every twenty combat rounds. In the past, we've played combats with these kinds of fumbles and have had swords flying all over the shop, bowstrings snapping like elastic bands, and sling stones scattering all over the slippery dungeon floors. Funny, for sure.

So for fumbles, we've just adopted the rule of two - a natural 1 leads leaves the unlucky dungeon delver with one round -2 across the board penalty, to hit rolls, armour class, saving throws, and anything else that might pop up. So everyone over stretches themselves once every twenty combat rounds, but the more able characters are more able to cope with the effects.

As for critical hits, I've seen houserules that try to emulate the RuneQuest critical system, where higher skill=a broader window of scoring a critical on the attack roll. Most of these involve rolls a certain number over the target number being a critical success, i.e. the lower the THAC0, the better the chance of striking a critical. Those systems look too fiddly for D&D. So I took my guide from WFRP1e, which allows the d6 damage dice to 'explode', so long as a second roll against Weapon Skill is made, and decided that a natural 20 would prompt a second attack roll. In other words, a natural 20 might cause 'double damage', but only if the attacker is skilled enough to 'hit' again. Another natural 20 results in another attack roll, and so on. But the chances of a series of natural 20s are microscopically small. Sure, you might kill a dragon in one blow, but only once every century or so... 

And then I sat down yesterday with my Rules Cyclopedia, my AD&D1e PHB and DMG, and my AD&D2e PHB and DMG, all to try to work out what I'd make my D&D players pay as upkeep costs. I didn't want them scrabbling for coppers in vein of our WFRP1e games - this was meant to be D&D(ish), after all - but I didn't want the game to completely ignore these things. My AD&D2e DMG is a much travelled book - it was posted the Dominican Republic to me for my birthday in the early 1990s, came back across the Atlantic to sunny Scotland, and since then has followed me around the UK - so it is no surprise that several pages are loose. One of these loose pages described the optional critical hit systems. And one of these systems was the system described above.

Who'da thunk it?

Nothing original.    

Nothing to see here. Just the story of a gamer finding that everything he thought of had been first invented over twenty years ago. It is funny feeling like one of the designers of D&D Next, eh?

p.s. Tenkar's thoughts on Attacking the Darkness certainly bear thinking about as an alternative fumble system, mind. They seem original, but who knows what rules are hidden in my gaming cupboards?