Friday, September 30, 2011

Calendar Creation for Fantasy Settings

As much as fantasy settings are an exploration of the strange, I find it helpful to myself and players to have some aspects of the setting be similar to what we are all used to.  Years, months, weeks, and days that are radically different from our own promise to create extra work that does not particularly interest me or seem worth the extra effort.  I am happy having a 7 day week and 12 year month of 30 days for a year approximately the length of our own.  Maybe sometimes intercalary days have to be added, maybe sometimes the seasons get a little wacky, or maybe the orbit of the planet is just a little more perfect that ours -- I'm fine with little rough edges that are likely to have minimal game impact.  In the setting that I was working on before I started thinking about settings that might mesh more nicely with older versions of the rules, I wanted to preserve some aspects of general D&D lore from Greyhawk (and a tad from Forgotten Realms) that players tended to have connections with, but put my own fresh spin on them so that they made up a mythos that seemed more coherent and more like real-world mythoi.  I was focusing on the history of the eastern continent of this world, which knew at least two ancient empires: Urrom (think a more fascist and militaristic version of Rome) and Miżraim (a fantasy Egypt analogue).  So my calendar attempts to use the familiar as a structure and mnemonically upon which to put relevant world elements.  The aim is to marry world-building with something that has a chance of sticking in the minds of the GM and players.  Below is an excerpt from my attempt.


Months of the Year


The calender common on the eastern continent of the world was established by the astronomers of ancient Miżraim, and was later adapted and spread by the Urromite empire.  The calender is thus an amalgam of  conditions and customs, as well as languages. 

Jinnuary - This month is named for the Jinn, who were honored in ancient Miżraim.

Phantomuary - This month was an important month for dealing with spirits and the undead, esp. purifying places from haunting and unwanted spiritual influences.

Maahes - The first month of the campaigning period was named for the Miżraimite god of war.  Sometimes connected with Hextor.

Alluvinth - The first month of the annual inundation of the Satet River, it is also appropriately the rainy month in many lands.

Maidenth - "Month of the Maiden," the "specific maiden" here varies by region and culture, though originally she was Anqet.  It is a general time of feminine coming-out, romance, engagement, and marriage.  Among the tolk, it is  dedicated to Kora.

Jondallanth - "Month of Yondalla" (from an archaic spelling*), a month honoring her and her domains.  High month of the tolk.

Jeironeonth - "Month of Heironeous" (from an archaic spelling*), a month honoring him and his domains.  The month of knightings and tournaments.

Archontic - named for the first Urromite ruler, high month of the imperial calendar.

Serpenfer - named for the festival of Usaht, which is honored in secret rites by her all-female worshippers.

Orcover - name commemorates the thwarting of the terrible threat of Orcus, when he sent orcs into the world a millennium ago, in this month.

Necrember - This month was dedicated to all elements of burial and the ancestor worship that are not covered by Phantomuary; most solemn month of ancient Miżraim.

Delighnth - The month of delights, the month of the winter festival.

* I have not quite decided whether these are archaisms, derivations,vulgarizations, or simply variant spellings.   But I think it is realistic, e.g., we got "Jehovah" from Yahweh, "Jesus" from Yeshua, and in Latin Jerusalem =  Hierosolyma.

NB.  I called the halfings, tolk, in honor of their originator.

Level Titles -or- I can't get no satisfaction...

From time to time, folks bring up how much they like or miss the old title names for the character levels.  I'm of two minds.  On the one hand, I like the economy of Cleric 3 or what have you on character sheets and in stat blocks, and the titles are not universally understood or equivalent.  But there is a fun potential in the idea of titles and it is suggestive of how skill level might be recognized and rewarded in society.  Unfortunately, I was not satisfied by the versions in my rule books.  I had been most annoyed by the cleric titles, but I had problems with some of the fighter and magic-user titles as well, and so I had been thinking and fiddling.  Then FrDave brought up the subject again, causing me to think I might as well through my two cents in.  Okay, it might be more than two cents -- I have suggested changes for all the classes except the thief.

PS Original D&D Experts: I had a question yesterday that I think many of you might have missed due to Blogger's continuing unreliability when it comes to scheduled postings.  I received one helpful answer, but I am curious if there are any others out there.  Thanks!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Getting Ready for Halloween: The Biggest Horror Movies

Here's a cool graphic with some ideas for getting in that Halloween mood.  I found it thanks to Sir Timothy of Kent over at I'd Rather Be Killing Monsters.


A Request to OD&D Gurus



I'm no expert in OD&D:  my original was Moldvay's Basic and old for me was first edition AD&D -- the D&D of my childhood into young adulthood.  But there was a website that seemed helpful to me in this regard, named Old Dungeons and Dragons Consolidated Rules.  The site is still up, but parts of it are no longer functional (I think basically from the Combat section on).  Attempts to contact the owner have not met with a response.  Anybody know anything more about this site?  Or does anyone have any other suggestions beyond the LBBs (can't afford them) or S&W (the closest clone, I take it, which already has my attention).  I of course find lots of informative blog posts out there, but I mean in the way of a helpful summary and reorganization of the rules, more than commentary and exploration.

Many Thanks!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Adventure Time with H.P. Lovecraft?


You may be aware of my ongoing claim that Adventure Time with Finn and Jake is the most D&D cartoon of all time.  (Sorry, Daffy.  One wizard episode does not a claimant make.  And the Dungeons & Dragons cartoon series?  Not even close.)  But let's go beyond some of the obvious reasons why (alignments, character class names, nine magical spell levels, references to D&D monsters, killing monsters & looting their treasures, ad infinitum) to consider two good and weird pieces of evidence.


One is the fact that the world of ATwF&J is a post-global-holocaust world (references to the Great Mushroom War, countless background scenes containing ruined objects from our world).  The other is that an important Lovecraftian motif pops up in the episode, "Susan Strong."  Going down into what would appear to be a massive bomb shelter, Finn and Jake discover a lost tribe of humans who wear hoodie-hats that look like different animal heads.

SPOILER ALERT!

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.

.

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The lost tribe members are not humans, but hyoomans.  When they remove their animal-head hoods, they reveal themselves to be mutants.  Deep Ones, to be precise: complete with scales, fins, and gills.

At the end, Finn wonders what is underneath Susan's hat.
Finn: What about you, Susan?  What are you?  Was she a human like me or an animal?
Jake: We're all animals, brother.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Gygax on Researching

Chapter 6
SEARCHING AND RESEARCHING

One should place limits on one's expectations of Gary in this chapter, to be fair.  These limits have to do with the fact that he is trying to cover both searching through the RPGs available at the time and researching to enhance one's gaming.  RPGs have gone out of print and yet the total number has greatly proliferated, so it is not possible that Gary's survey of available games should be particularly helpful today, outside of those who will find it helpful to see what games Gary mentioned among those available to him when he is writing in '86/87.  In my treatment of this chapter, I am going to ignore the aspect of the chapter that surveys the field, except to note the range of genre that Gary sets out.  I will give into my mono-game-ist tendency and only refer to D&D and AD&D specifically, which Gary notes are "the most popular RPGs" (105).


The Different Types of Games: Specific Genres of RPGs
  • Fantasy
  • Science Fantasy and Science Fiction (pure SF, post-holocaust, horror)
  • Superhero
  • {Time travel}
  • Espionage
  • Detective
  • Historical
"Fantasy is at once the umbrella term that covers all role-playing games and one of the genres under that umbrella.  All RPGs are fantastic in the sense that they depict game worlds, not real ones" (105).  The specific genre term, though, refers to a game world in which the natural laws governing our real world do not fully apply or are supplemented by other laws that are not part of our reality.  Such as: magic, legendary heroes, mythical beings, and extraordinary feats.  These worlds may be amalgamations of myth, legend, and folklore.  They may be "wide-scope" amalgamations (D&D is singled out here) or focused on some specific body of material (Norse saga and Arthurian legend are offered as examples).  The other option for a fantasy world is a specialty, original world created by an author, game designer, or GM to have its own unique identity.

The distinction that would bring Gary's treatment into to greater focus would be between researching games and researching world.  He has in mind that for mastery, the expert will be a student of both gaming and genre.  In addition to having some understanding of other games and how they work to enrich your running of your own game, the expert (or the enthusiast -- the aspiring expert) will study the cultures, societies, and ecologies (111) relevant to the genre of one's game.


Knowing the Word of Your PC

It is easy to get excited about the educational thrust of the chapter.  For Gary, learning is not only relevant but fun in and of itself.  But to the relevance:

"As a participant in a role-playing game campaign, you must be an expert on the world in which your game persona lives and has adventures" (112).
"The great majority of role-playing games do not attempt to simulate precisely some certain aspects of reality or history...Complete immersion in the make-believe world actually requires a fair amount of real knowledge.  Even as whimsical a milieu as the fantasy world requires a firm background knowledge of many subjects" (113).
Gary recommends by name the following books for "the serious participant in a game such as Dungeons & Dragons" (Ibid):
A History of the Art of War in the Middle Ages [by C.W.C. Oman]
Town Government in the Sixteenth Century [by James Henry Thomas]
The Domesday Book
The Welsh Wars of Edward II [?  Surely he meant Edward I]
Numbers in History [presumably, THIS one]

This list of five books is intriguing, and I guess it is unrealistic to wish for a bibliography, since it would have obliged Gary to have given one for each genre, so I shall not be churlish.  Elsewhere (116), he mentions the Boy Scout Handbook and the Army Survival Manual as helpful works to consider.

Above all, "What is needed is a program of expanding your learning... [a] program you establish [which] will be entirely self-imposed and self-directed," making you of the time and materials available to you and relevant to your game world.  Gary does set out the broad outlines of such a program.  It does seem to me that he achieved a very tight outline, but I will reproduce the lineaments of it below.  (It is also unclear exactly how what is below is related to his distinction between primary, secondary, and tertiary sources.)


Outline of Study for Mastery

I.   Primary Source Material of the Game Milieu
      For AD&D, Gary identified the following must haves: Dungeon Master's Guide, Players Handbook, one or more of Monster Manual, Monster Manual II, or Fiend Folio.
         Optional sources (depending on level of detail desired & on milieu): Legends & Lore, Dungeoneer's Survival Guide, Wilderness Survival Guide, Oriental Adventures.
II.  Inspirational Reading
     Appendix N territory
III. Gaming Materials
IV. Supporting Leisure-Time Activities
     Reading, TV & film, travel, museums, etc.
V.  Development of a Research Collection

So, get out there and research "Armor, weapons, siegecraft, costume, agriculture, politics, heraldry, and warfare" (113); "mythology, metaphysics, philosophy, psychology, and physics" (115).  Your "giants, dragons, magicians, wicked witches, and enchantments" (113) will thank you, your game members will thank you, and so will we, if you blog about it.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Wisdom as Sanity: An Addition for Old School Characters

By: pschubert


Delta recently posted "Wisdom as Sanity," touching on one of the items that was already in my ever-growing house rules project.  The post and its ensuing discussion revealed a number of people had made the same judgment about tying sanity to this ability score.  (Great minds, etc.)

My own feeling is that if your game calls for sanity rolls, it might be worth it to devote a corner of the character sheet to this mechanic.  For my own use, I envision a saving throw for each sanity-challenging encounter, in which a failed save would be ticked off on the table below.  The table is based on the modifier spread for B/X ability scores.  Every time an entire line is ticked off, that point of Wisdom is lost. 



This is probably more fiddly than Delta would prefer, but the possibility of losing Wisdom and the PC him/herself gives sanity checks and insanity teeth, and if it's worth having a separate mechanic for it, it should really make a difference in play is my thought.  At the same time, I tried to come up with a mechanic that had a rationale but remained relatively simple.

Anyone is welcome to use or adapt this table if they so desire.  (All I ask is eternal glory acknowledgement if there is dependence.) 

A final note: the special prey that this would make of clerics to sanity challenges has already been noted.  It would make sense to me that a cleric who was currently under a Protection [from appropriate alignment] spell that protected her/him from attacks by the insanity-inducing creature would not need to make the saving throw for the encounter as long as the spell was in effect.

A.R.R.U. II -- The Disappearing Magician


The last novel that I have finished was Raymond Feist's first, which became the beginning of the Riftwar Saga: Magician: Apprentice.  I did not read the original edition, but the later, author's preferred edition.  It's been recommended to me for years, partially because one thing that I've been telling people I wanted to read was fantasy that focused on a main wizard character, in addition to the obvious popularity of the series.  There were things I enjoyed about the novel, but my greatest impression, unfortunately, is one of disappointment.

My disappointment mostly stems from the fact that the novel felt like a bait-and-switch to me.  I expected a novel titled Magician: Apprentice to be mostly about the character who was the magician's apprentice, Pug.  I had no trouble accepting that he was actually the central character in a cast of characters who were also important, but when he disappears about two-thirds (three-quarters?  I'd have to go back and count) the way through and then never reappears in this novel, then not only are my expectations disappointed, but the unity of the novel seems to be endangered -- something that isn't terribly surprising in a first novel.  I did care about the other characters, but with the character I cared the most about missing for so long, my patience was tested.

Some of my favorite scenes were those about Macros and Black and Rhuagh the dragon. Clearly the wizard Macros promises to be a recurring character of interest.  To close this review note fairly, I add that I read two Feist novellas in Legends I & II, and I marked all those novellas that I thought stood out as good in the collections.  Only four authors had their stories marked in both volumes, and Feist was among those four.  So maybe I will overcome my disappointment and check out the second book, I don't know.

I'd appreciate feedback then on two questions:
1. What are stories that focus on a wizard that stand out as really excellent fantasy stories, and that shed some light on what it means to be a wizard?
2. Would the second Riftwar book give greater satisfaction to my desire to read a story that centers more on the wizard character(s)?

A Reading Round-Up

I have been remiss in updating my current reading at the bottom of the page.  You can pretty much bet that, if it ever fails to show that I am reading both a non-fiction book and at least one piece of fantastical fiction, then there has been a failure to update.  In fact I am in the midst of three books right now, a case of reader ADHD, perhaps.  These are:

A. Merritt's Dwellers in the Mirage (1932, originally printed serially in Argosy)
Hecate's Cauldron, edited by Susan Shwartz, (1982) -- Short stories about witches
Snow White, Blood Red, edited by Datlow & Windling (1993) -- Retellings of fairy tales for adults

Of the three of these, each has some interest and some good stories, but Merritt's classic -- the most recent acquisition -- has the greatest grip on my attention.  The paperback (1967 reprint) is very beat up, but I just couldn't live with an electronic copy only in this case.  The kraken Khalk'ru and the compulsion towards the ancient, dangerous unknown outside normal human life is giving it a Lovecraftian feel so far, although critical blurbs about it being an adventure story make me wonder if it isn't headed in a rather different direction.  I keep hoping that Planet Stories will add another Merritt book to the lonely (and fantastically illustrated by Virgil Finlay) Ship of Ishtar.  And no, I'm not just adding ATTN: Erik Mona here so he will find it the next time he googles his name.  (Okay, yes I am.) 

Khalk'ru the Dog-faced Kraken, Artist Unknown


What's on tap after I clear out the three above?  I've got Planet Stories second Silverberg collection, The Planet Killers, waiting in the wings, but I am afraid by then we will likely be in October so I may be more in the mood for Halloween reading.  I've got some beauts already lining up: mostly new but at least one re-read, so I will post about my reading list sometime early in October.  One thing is for sure: if you want to engage in mythopoesis, you've got to keep feeding the poet, not only with raw materials, but with the work of others to learn from their craftings.  When it comes to raw materials, I look for some guidance tomorrow as we continue to read Gygax in the next installment of Tomeful Tuesday. 

Saturday, September 24, 2011

A Cool Idea with a Short Deadline

Illustration by Craig J Spearing from Pathfinder Adventure Path #47: Ashes at Dawn.

Fenway5 over at Sword & Shield had a cool idea:
"it would be fun to do a kind of spooky 'advent calendar' book of adventures for use with Old School role playing games.  Kind of an "Ocktoberfeast" of spooky gaming goodness.: 31 one night adventures for the 31 nights of October!"

Since I like the idea, I thought I would spread the word about it as well as offer some suggestions and thoughts.


Editionless
Fenway doesn't specify the shape the adventures would take beyond "use with Old School role playing games."  I wonder if it would be helpful to adopt Roger the GS's Original Standard elements to write the adventures, and then narrate and describe any other elements.  GMs could take these basic stats and narration and add any mechanics or missing stats per the versions of the game that they are using.

Brainstorming for a Name
I don't feel like the idea has yet arrived at an equally cool name, but I don't have that name in my hip pocket, either, so I toss the following out in the hopes that it might inspire someone.

What's an appropriate name for a countdown to Halloween calendar?  The eve[ning] of All Hallows counts from sundown to go with the day following rather than the day preceding, so Halloween is the night of 1 November (All Hallows=All Saints] before the day of 1 Nov.  Romans called the first the Kalends, so it is the Kalends of November.  It was the harvest festival Samhain in Celtic lands, and that is also the name of November in Celtic dialects. 

Advent calendars are called Julkalenders in Nordic lands (Yule Calendars).  I couldn't find any synonyms for "countdown calendar," the generic concept that Advent calenders have spawned.  The name October makes me think of orcs and Orcus.

A calendar is a list, catalog, or table.  The idea of counting down isn't really that different from the idea of counting up, so I'm not sure there is that much need to refer to countdown explicitly.  And of course, the ancient Romans knew the word was cooler spelled with a K: Kalendar.  Because we think of Halloween now as a scary holiday filled with horror imagery, what we are really shooting for is something unhallowed.  I'm looking for a word to indicate adventures.  I think of the term harrowing in the phrase harrowing adventures.  To harrow means to cause distress, to torment or vex.  Now that's more like it, and its alliteration sounds cool with hallow to me.  Furthermore, the archaic meaning of the word is to plunder or pillage, which is what adventurers are often hoping to do.  So my attempt to spark brainstorming for a name will lead off with:

  • A Harrowing Kalendar of Unhallows
  • A Kalendar of Harrowing Unhallows
  • Kalendar of Unhallowed Harrows

Friday, September 23, 2011

Paizo Explains the Minis-Making Process

Today's Paizo blog sets out in greater detail how they work with Wizkids to get from

 to
 and from
 to
to

Digital sculpting, green sculpting, paint deco samples, it's all interesting stuff.  As interesting as the moment I get to hold what is promising to be some of the best-looking plastic pre-painted minis in my hands?  Probably not, but still interesting.  Now if I can just figure out how to talk my accountant into pre-ordering...

Great Blogs of Fire!

Front Cover by Aaron Arocho

Judges Guild products were not on my radar back in the '80s, probably because my game store was Toys 'R' Us*, so I have only been catching up with their offerings in the past year or so.  (Happily, during this time, a flood of them has reappeared in the second hand market.)  So I knew nothing about Geoff Dale's Inferno until the recent post by James Maliszewski.  (My reading of OSR blogs was more irregular two years ago when Brunomac wrote about the module.)  I am very excited to get my hands on a copy of this reworking of Dante's first four levels of Hell.  There is a revised pdf of it on RPGNOW.  Sadly, it is not available for Print-on-Demand, and the pdf is highly priced in my judgment, so I'll hold out for a print copy.  If you follow the link above to Grognardia to learn more, check out the comments.  Geoff Dale weighs in there, and he sounds as thoughtful as he is creative.  It sounds like he is also working on finishing the Inferno and writing a Gazetteer of Hell, which is exciting.  Talk about perseverance!  Gamers and mythopoets of all kinds who have not read Dante's Inferno will do themselves a favor by remedying this deficiency.  I'm a religion scholar and not a scholar of the Italian language, but perhaps an attractive copy like the affordable B&N hardback, along with some aids of note, commentary, and illustrations (famously, Gustave Dore's and William Blake's) would help folks to get into it.  I haven't played video or computer games in years, but this certainly tempted me.  Anybody played it?

In parting, here is some hellishly good free reading.  Readers of the blog likely know that I am a fan of J. Matthew Stater's Land of Nod, and in particular, his fantasy Asia, Mu-Pan.  As if that wasn't enough, he had to turn his sights on another one of my favorite settings to contemplate, Hell.  I pointed out some of his initial posts over a week ago, but characteristically Matt keeps cranking them out.  I find his numbering of the posts a little confusing, but he's added a tag, so keep up with his infernal posting here.

Back cover of Dale's Inferno in the original Judges Guild version.



 * Yes, young folks, there was a time you could get all TSR's stuff at Toys 'R' Us.  Those of us who grew up in the 70s/early 80s lived in a magical time.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Pathfinding & Kingmaking Deep in the Heart of Texas


It's been a while since I've posted any Pathfinder RPG news, and here's a couple of items that I ran onto of late, both emanating from my glorious home state.  The first is on Obsidian Portal and is a page for the Pathfinder Society of Texas.  I am surprised that only Austin and DFW (congrats to Jon Carey for his recent appointment!) have Venture Captains, as the Houston area seems to be rich in great players, including some of our fellow Ramblers, in fact.  Case in point is Patrick W.  His blog Bugbears for Breakfast has lately featured his revisions of the Kingmaker reference sheet.  While I still haven't played the Kingmaker AP, from reading through it (and all the buzz in podcasts and online supports this) I believe this is the most successful AP to date, so I look forward to keeping up with Patrick's fine-tuning of the sheet for this innovative aspect of its play.

Illustration by Jon Hodgson

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Gary's Rules III: Remodeling the Rules


Last Tuesday, we took a look at an excerpt from chapter 5 that I thought might prove interesting for its own sake.  In context, however, Gary is using it as an example of major rules revision in the midst of a campaign.  The final section of the chapter is concerned with those times when groups entertain a need to revise the rules, either because they have discovered frustrations in the rules themselves, or because their style of play or the demands of their campaign are not sufficiently provided for by the rules, or because they tire of their campaign's genre and want to change, say, from a sci-fi setting to a horror setting.

In the midst of the pages (90-103), the concerns that keeps resurfacing for Gygax are isolation and disintegration of a campaign due to adoption of an incoherent new set of game rules.   To the latter, Gygax understandably can only speak in generalities.  However, even generalities are greatly helped by concrete examples.  Gygax eschews these because he says that with "so many game systems, detailed discussions of the process is not possible.  The quantity of unknowns is so great that even examples would be applicable to too small of a segment to be particularly useful" (98).  I am tempted to call this a lazy excuse.  Useful for guidance in particular situations?  I don't think that is how examples are necessarily helpful.  Examples would have been helpful for keeping the discussion from being so vague and abstract, and might have turned up types or similarities for others.  Even if not, it would have helped the reader to follow what Gygax had in mind.

On the whole, the section is willing to assume that mature game masters (and players) are the audience here, and that for them the real danger is one of isolation:  if you produce a hybrid or a unique new game that pulls your gaming group out of the mainstream of the already small segment of the population that plays RPGs, then you are endangering the social nature of gaming and putting your players at risk of not being able to meet, communicate and share, and game with others.  This lack of support puts the campaign and the players' future gaming at risk and could not only shorten the life of the campaign, but lead to drop-out from the larger gaming community.  Here Gary speak from his experience as designer of the most popular RPG of all time and the father of conventions.  This raises to view the very divided RPG market of today and the question of how and to what extents division has been bad and good for gamers -- a question I will lead you to ponder, gentle readers.

When the milieu of the campaign is highly developed and players love it but are frustrated with certain rules situations, or when the campaign seems to have reached a stage of fullness and there is a restlessness for something new and different, then the GM is faced with the decision about developing or changing the rules.  Gary breaks these down as follows:
Is the change to be radical, gradual, or moderate?
Do the changes that need to be made result in

1.  [the] existing game modified by no more than 50% new rules material
2.  more than 50% new systems utilizing an existing game as base
3. two or more existing games bridged by special rules
4. unique systems
 I will simply observe that you can take the broad ideas that Gary is advancing here to make general judgments, without feeling the need to actually quantify the amount of changes which I would find dubious.

While I found this one of the least helpful sections so far, what do I find to be the takeaway from it?
  1. As always, the desire and interest of the players are the GM's ruling consideration (91).
  2. Changes in the basic structure of the game demand not only intimate knowledge of the players' desires and interests, and the needs of the campaign that fits them, but mastery of the basic structure of the game that is remodeled.  "Which parts of the construction cry out for reinforcement?  Which ones are fine just as they are?  Which ones can be replaced without destroying the whole?"  (103)  Knowledge of a system's underpinnings are necessary to plan and carry out successful remodeling.  (Despite Gary's admission that the creation of new rules systems may be called for, his concern regarding isolation means that it gets the least consideration in the chapter, which essentially ends up being about remodeling more than replacement.)
Next Tuesday, Gary promises to answer our lingering questions about the place of research in role-playing mastery in chapter 6.  Until then, happy gaming...and perhaps, rules tinkering.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Arrr, We All Be Piratical this Fair Day!

Shiver me timbers!  Art by Yuehui Tang
So, I didn't get the post I hoped to finish this weekend done for today, so International Talk Like a Pirate Day to the rescue!  Sadly, today's average community college student appears to have never heard of this important observance, so I did my part today to bring some cultARR! to their humdrum lives on campus today.

Pirates composed an important part of my imaginative landscape from young boyhood, and the biggest wake was made by the character of Long John Silver from Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island, of which I had books and audio records, and above all the Disney film which I saw several times from quite young.  The character of a pirate was both attractive and dangerous to my mind, and I readily identified with Jim Hawkins and the difficulty of navigating the treacherous waters of having a pirate for a mentor: a risk, but one that promised adventure and a chance at treasure.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Can get enough of Pathfinder's Upcoming Minis?


Paizo has released more digital renderings of the Heroes & Monsters set -- this time, heroes rather than monsters (see above and below).  Next week they will start showing previews of some of the practical sculpts.  Also, I forgot last time to include a link to the subscription for the Pathfinder Battles line.  Happy drooling!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Big News about Pathfinder Miniatures?


Pathfinder Battles, the miniatures line from Wizkids, got more treatment on the Paizo blog today with the posting of the [Blue-]Black dragon, based on the design by Wayne A. Reynolds (see illustration below).  The first of the series, Heroes & Monsters, releases December 2011, and those who preorder a case before October 1 get the special  promotional black dragon.  My miniatures lust is really starting to peak!  Today's blog hints that there is big related news coming soon.  Why must they toy with my emotions?


The History of Gary's Greyhawk: 1973-1987



I'm digesting the final section of chapter 5, which covers remodeling the rules.  Before I finish my treatment of the chapter, I feel there is a paragraph of historical interest that deserves preservation and dissemination, so I am going to reproduce that paragraph in whole below.  Since Role-Playing Mastery was published sometime in 1987, the paragraph might not reflect events as late as 1987, but certainly it gives us an outline of the Greyhawk campaign from 1973-1986, so after the final stages of AD&D and Gary's departure from TSR.  Gary breaks that history up into three significant periods by changes in the rules or the campaign.

My own fantasy campaign has been changed three times.  Once the Greyhawk campaign went from D&D to AD&D game rules.  Then it was altered from a single-GM campaign to a dual-GM setup, in which another person assumed GM duties when I was unable to participate.  Finally, it was redeveloped to enable the management of diverse player groups over a long period of time and at erratic intervals while still allowing those members of the core player group to continue their various PCs within the whole.  My reduced time for game mastering forced some of these changes, but time and change were also factors, for the campaign was initiated in 1973 and is still reasonably active to date.  The last alteration, that of no longer aiming the campaign at a single player group, was forced by a set of altered personal circumstances that included relocation of some participants, resultant radical changes in the core group, and severe time restrictions.  While some of the original group members moved to other campaigns and one or two have developed their own campaigns, most have not been actively involved in RPG activity since the last alteration of my campaign because there is no home for them, no campaign to operate in (94-95).

Next Tuesday I will wrap up chapter 5.  As always, I wish you happy imagining, whether reading, gaming, or creating.

The Domain of Greyhawk from Anna Meyer's beautiful Atlas of the Flanaess project

Monday, September 12, 2011

A Round-Up of Cool -- and Very Hot -- Links


Things have been a little busy in Obscureland, so today's Mythopoeic Monday will round up a passel of great links that I wouldn't want folks to miss.

Zak of D&D with Porn Stars reminded me of one of my favorite Dragon covers of all time.  Am I the only person who thinks we did not get enough Daniel Horne illustrations in D&D products?  I sure hope that brunette survived the undead frost giant attack.  That last arrow doesn't fill me with confidence, but for the magical aura.

Check out Belched from the Depths for some really fabulously painted old school looking miniatures.  For some reason, I've been unable to leave comments there, but I want to spread the love for those beauts that are getting shown off over there.

Can we hear too much about Dave Gross or Master of Devils?  You know my answer.  For that matter, we can never have enough Black Gate, either.  If you missed these Gross posts over at BG, I recommend you catch up:
http://www.blackgate.com/2011/07/23/black-gate-interviews-dave-gross-part-one/
http://www.blackgate.com/2011/07/30/black-gate-interviews-dave-gross-part-two/
http://www.blackgate.com/2011/08/19/a-review-of-master-of-devils/
If you are done with Gross' latest Pathfinder Tale, you can be entertained by the series he has going on the Paizo blog, A Passage to Absalom.  Those can also tide you over if you are waiting for his blog to fire back up again...but that's assuming that you are caught up on all his Asian fantasy film recommendations.

My Pet Arts
A blog with cool old images of architecture and dress/costumes that you might miss because of the name.  A great source for setting inspirations.

Appreciators of fine photography ought to take a look at the amazing images by Trey Ratcliff at Stuck in Customs. Almost every update to his photoblog causes injury to my jaw.

The latest from Siren's Call reviews a fascinating-looking book about a Venetian legend (or did it happen?) by di Robilant, as well as a history of the aquarium (although, I strongly question the statement that the Victorian imagination viewed the ocean as "a cursed, dark world where terrifying monsters lurked, devouring anything in sight."  That certainly sounds like the prevailing view from ancient times into the early 19th century, which then would have been destroyed by the dominance of two very different Victorian currents -- Romanticism and the Scientific Revolution.)

If you like to learn from history and are looking for something to listen to, check out this audio interview of a classicist who has written on the battle of Cannae.

I've also fallen behind on my Clockwork Gnome Publishing updates.  The latest announcement is a book of swarms for Pathfinder by Mike Welham.  I'm not sure if I've given up on a campaign to add one more "o" to the title of the book or not.

Check out Butterfrog's Gallery at DeviantArt by clicking the unholy symbol above!

HELL YEAH!
Give me a copy of Milton's Paradise Lost, Dante's Inferno, Ed Greenwood's articles on Hell in Dragon, and the original Monster Manual, and you have got Theodric out for the day, doodling (don't ask: when I give them to artists to be translated, they seem to find them illegible) and taking notes happily.  Thus I have been mighty-satisfied to see a hellish upsurge in the blogosphere of late.  J. Matt Stater started a series (1 and 2) on Hell which spurred Tim Brannan to look back at some of his past re-imaginings (1 and 2) and make further reflections.  In a case of felicitous timing, Talysman of The Nine and Thirty Kingdoms recently started a series on Our Infernal Neighbors (1, 2, 3, and 4).  I love the smell of brimstone in the morning.  Happy rambling (and surfing!) until next time.

Book of the Damned 2, cover by Eva Widermann

Saturday, September 10, 2011

More Pathfinder Minis Revealed

 


Paizo has revealed more minis from their forthcoming Heroes & Monsters set, made by Wizkids.  Keep an eye on their blog, because they promise more previews to come. Man, they look GOOD.



Thursday, September 8, 2011

Good Days for Oriental Fantasy Gaming


Tuesday's post on a Japanese fantasy novel has me looking back and east at the same time.  In 1988, I made a friend who resparked my interest in D&D during my freshman year of college.  I let the only member of my childhood D&D group that I was still in touch with know that I was looking to reacquire books, as I had let mine go, and he helped me with reacquisition.  One of the books I replaced was the one pictured above -- a book I had read and day-dreamed with, but never gotten to use at the table.  It was a neglected bottle of soy sauce on a the banquet table of Western fantasy gaming.

These are rich days for role-playing gamers who want a fantasy setting in an Asian analogue.  I'll recommend four RPGs and one board game, but first with a historical caveat.

I confess to being largely ignorant of what's going on with the Legend of the Five Rings, which crossed my path thanks to the fact that the temporary relationship between its owner Alderac and Wizards of the Coast meant that a d20 version of the RPG was supported when D&D's Oriental Adventures was reset in L5R's setting called Rokugan.  I will say that Rokugan seems a highly developed, intricate setting,* but I know nothing about how the d10 or Roll-and-Keep system works and plays.  As far as the game's place in the wider RPG community, I also confess ignorance.  Does the RPG reach beyond the fans of the card game into the role-playing game community?  I suppose it does, since the game has gone into a fourth edition.  It has also spawned board games and a miniatures skirmish game that is apparently returning to production.

Cover Illustration to Kaidan 1: The Gift


Third era, d20 gamers are not limited to the out-of-print OA/L5R/Rokugan materials.  Thanks to the Open Gaming License and the Paizo success story, there is a trove of new materials coming out for the Pathfinder RPG.  Among these new materials,** I recommend both Paizo's Jade Regent Adventure Path (and the various materials coming out to support that AP) for more of an Asian analogue setting in D&Desque world and Rite Publishing's Kaidan for the PFRPG for those who want a more authentically Japanese feeling in regards to religious (planar), cultural, and the tradition of Japanese ghost stories.  I only have the original version of part I, before Rite got hold of it, but I was impressed by the setup of the adventure and the extent to which Shinto, Zen, and Kaidan had been digested and expressed in the first volume.  I am confident that any rough edges were refined under the direction of Rite and look forward to getting hold of the complete trilogy.

Cover Illustration to Kaidan 2: Dim Spirit


Old school gamers may mine the above materials for some great gaming, but desire a much simpler set of rules and mechanics for play at their tables.  Ruins & Ronin has covered this need by re-skinning OD&D/Swords & Wizardry for oriental fantasy gaming.  Print copies are available from Lulu.

Finally, for gamers looking for a different role-playing experience aimed at objectives that are very different from those traditionally emphasized by D&D-type gaming, take a look at the indie RPG Kagematsu.  I've been curious about this game ever since Rone Barton and Ed Healy interviewed the creator on the Atomic Array, and would love to hear from anyone who has played it.

All of this talk makes me miss one of the other games that I played in college: Milton Bradley's Shogun board game!  This game may come in second behind D&D for hours played in those golden years.  While I couldn't get folks interested in Oriental Adventures until many years later when my daughter started gaming, I could easily get a group excited about playing Shogun.  The game is a blast, and with Hasbro's re-release of it as Ikusa, you can now play the game again without months of searching and dropping an arm and a leg. 



*  And, as a fan of films (such as Kurosawa's) set in medieval Japan and of the Shogun board game, the emphasis on clan character and conflict is appealing.
** I am also curious to see if the Heroes of the Jade Oath, Rite Publishing and Frank Carr's Oriental Adventures for Monte Cook's Arcana Evolved, gets more than piecemeal conversions for Pathfinder.  There are several of these on Paizo, but they are not easy to find --  I hope the Paizo web store will soon group them all together.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

What the @#$%!?

What!

OnePlusYou Quizzes and Widgets
Created by OnePlusYou - Free Dating Sites



This rating was determined based on the presence of the following words:
  • sexy (2x)
  • bitch (1x)

I guess shit, ass, hell, and phallus get me nothing?  I think I'll make a post tomorrow about oriental massage parlors...

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Fictional Interlude: Heian Fairy Tale


Dalkey, Kara.  The Nightingale.  Fairy Tales.  ACE Books, NY.  Originally published in 1988.  Paperback edition in 1991.

This Tomeful Tuesday, I'm going to take a break from Gygax's RPM.  We'll be back on track with that read-through next week.  Today, I want to mention a very good read that I think might not be as widely known as it deserves to be -- especially now that it is over twenty years old.  I learned about Kara Dalkey from a recommendation in Datlow and Windling's now defunct Year's Best Fantasy & Horror.  For years, this collection was my go-to for getting exposed to good fantastical fiction that I likely otherwise would  not pick up on my own.  I added Dalkey to the list I take with me when used book trawling.  Asian fantasy has been on my mind lately thanks to Dave Gross' awesome latest Pathfinder Tales novel, so when I ran across The Nightingale at Paperbacks Plus, and saw Daleky's name, I nabbed it.  That Datlow-Windling crowd must have been thick: this book was published in their series of fantasy retellings of classic fairy tales.

Dalkey took Hans Christian Andersen's "The Nightingale" and reset it in a fantasy version of Heian Japan.  She evinces a good feel for the culture and religion of Heian and evokes it in a novel that holds the reader not only in the atmosphere, but with dramatic tension and psychological subtlety.   If you have no patience for a fantasy novel with only one big action scene -- and that almost at the end -- then this probably is not the novel for you (Katana and karate enthusiasts will have to get their needs met elsewhere).  Otherwise, it's got a strong sense of time and place, good characterization, revenge from beyond the grave, romance, and the gods in a story that cleverly builds on the fairy tale at its core.  A clear standout among the retellings I've read.  It makes me want to yell...

KAGEMATSU!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Halflings of Another Color

The word halfling is an old Scots English word for "one not fully grown; a stripling" according to the OED.  Tolkien eventually picked it up as the Common Speech word for a hobbit on this basis: to indicate one who is roughly half the size of adult humans.    But the word has other uses in Terry Brooks' Sword of Shannara and Jack Vance's Lyonesse novels (and perhaps other fantasy literature as well), and could name creatures who were half one thing and half something else just as well as it does creatures who are are half-sized.  Today's Mythopoeic Rambling will be dedicated to exploring alternative ideas for developing a halfling race.

Beyond Classical Halflings
Let me start by saying I love Tolkien's hobbits.  While I don't encourage their derivative use in  fiction unless it is fan-fiction, I definitely understand the desire to play one of them in a fantasy game with a Tolkienesque setting -- in which case they shouldn't be, say, the strike force of the Thieves' Guild, wielding repeating crossbows whose bolts are coated with deadly poison  (I wish I was making this up just as a random example). To put the same point differently, Tolkien's hobbits don't work in every setting, so I have been thinking about ways to keep the halfling game race across settings.  I have two ideas.  The first continues to center on the idea of size (pygmies) and the second picks up the idea that they are the bearers of a dual heritage (human descendants of fae).


Pygmies
Real world pygmies are indigenous peoples in  various areas of the world -- most famously Central Africa* but also in other regions of Oceania, Southeast Asia, and South America.  Both the real world tribes themselves and the  ways they entered into the folklore of other peoples are rich sources of inspiration for a developing a distinctive halfling race that will fit fantasy worlds that are different from Middle Earth.  For myself, I will undertake a reading of anthropological literatureand supplement it with material from Greco-Roman mythology and African folklore to produce a race that is proudly African and heroic in flavor.  For example, the war with the cranes (or better, one of D&D's crane-like monsters) could be central to pygmy culture and history.  This is the direction I was planning initially for the halflings in the World of Ygg setting.  Now to turn away from size and toward the biracial.


Fey Halflings
Fairy tales and folklore are full of dalliances between humans and the denizens of faerie.  Classic forms of D&D have a number of fey creatures in addition to elves as a PC race.  And if you are playing a game with only the four classic races (and not the races added by Advanced D&D and its descendants), halflings provide a slot that will take the place of races added later and have flavor that works well for half-humans with fey blood.  Halflings' ability to disappear in wooded areas reflect well the flavor of a fey heritage, and the diminutive size of many of these creatures in their natural state would explain halfling size.  
While I imagine the appearance of this fey-blooded race to vary greatly, they may vary in size, too -- I suggest two physical types for halflings, to represent the variety of potential fey parentage: small halflings for those in whom the heritage of small and beautiful faeries predominate and medium (up to larger than the average man) for those who derive the majority of their heritage from big or ugly faeries. In essence, this would allow halflings to take the place of the roles of half-elves and half-orcs, that proved so popular in later editions of D&D.   In mechanical terms, what would decide whether one had generated a large or a small halfling would be, above all, strength size (the idea of a standard halfling getting a strength bonus has always stretched believability for me, certainly any modifier over +1).  Higher strength scores would indicate a larger halfling, descended from the more brutish creatures of faerie.  The idea behind this is that the interaction of fey blood with human in the case of the beautiful races has the quirk of producing smaller half-humans, while the larger or uglier fey blood produces a hybrid vigor that gives a game equivalent to half-orcs.  All this while sticking with the core four racial choices.

Elves, Pixies, Sprites, Nixies, Dryads (Gnomes possibly)
Halflings as they are already represented in the standard versions of the rules fit well the flavor of humanoids with fey blood: small, hard-to-catch humanoids who "are difficult to spot, having the ability to seemingly vanish into woods or underbrush" and are also good as hiding in subterranean surroundings (B10).  In games that follow the structure of four PC races, this would

Goblinoids, Trolls (Hags, if they have them in your game)
This is where I begin to question keeping the mechanics of the halfling for larger creatures.  The GM may want to come up with flavorful replacements for the dodging, hiding, and missile accuracy mechanics for the larger halflings, although, with a little thought, there could be reasons why they get the same bonuses other than size (they exude a slippery skin oil, have some subtle, protean ability that doesn't utterly change their appearance but distorts their physical form enough to allow escape, their skin color lends them natural camouflage in certain environments, etc.)  This version of the race could be used to satisfy the desires of players who like the appearance options that half-orcs or even tieflings offer in the  the Advanced form of the game (and its descendant) and.  One thing I can tell right away: using my idea of a racial primary attribute (and accompanying bonus) that I briefly introduced in my card generation method, I would switch the primary attribute for this line of fey halfling from Dexterity to Strength.

Reproduction
The simple solution is to have halflings breed true: they seek out others of mixed heritage, perhaps as a result of feeling rejection or difference from the community of their mother, and settle with like outside of a human or fey community.  Over time, the commerce between humanity and faerie would result in a significant enough population that they would come to be, in practical terms, a virtual race.  Location vis-à-vis populations of different kinds of fey creatures would determine whether a halfling community was predominantly small halflings, larger halflings, or composed of both sizes.

Happy world-building until the next Mythopoeic Monday!



*For one way to help the plight of one pygmy people, the Batwa of Uganda, I recommend the Kellermann Foundation.