Sunday, June 11, 2017

Taxidermy, Tarot, and Tattoos


Among the various categories detailed in Citybook I:  Butcher, Baker, Candlestick Maker, the vague grouping of 'Personal Services' offers some of the more interesting establishments.  As examples, consider the following three businesses.

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The entry for Professor Fyber's Taxidermy and Museum is credited to Steven S. Crompton, to whom we were introduced in the last post.  (The 'museum' section is displayed above.)
The Museum houses a collection of oddities that the Professor has stuffed over the years.  This includes a two-headed unicorn [Wouldn't that mean it has two horns?], a bison with wings [i.e., a 'flying buffalo'], a wolf with eight legs, and other freaks of nature.  One section also contains several heads which once belonged to famous bandits that were executed in the city (the only exceptions to Fyber's no-humans rule)...
Your humble host suspects Fyber's name was inspired by (the abominable) Dr. Phibes of motion picture infamy.  Yet, if so, Liz Danforth did not use Vincent Price as the model for Fyber's illustration.

Art by Liz Danforth
     Professor FyberHuman.  Ht: 6'3".  Wt: 210 lbs.  Age: 58.  Fighting prowess: very good rapier or saber; otherwise average.
     Professor Fyber is a dark, aristocratic man with a thin moustache.  His dress and voice bespeak a highly cultured man with a sense for the finer things in life.  He is a gourmet cook, a lover of good brandy, and very well-read.
     ...Fyber is a charming fellow and fairly formidable.  He is also a taxidermical genius and very popular with the City nobility to whom he provides trophies.  He zealously guards his secret formulas for preserving tissue, and is not above slaying an intruder who tries to steal them.  His major goal in his work is to preserve the semblance of life in as natural a manner as possible...
Of course, Fyber must obtain his specimens somehow.  The player characters may be retained to search out these strange creatures.  “The hunting expeditions can make a simple scenario for players,” Citybook informs us, “and good mileage can be gotten out of any of the Museum exhibits.”  One suggested scenario involves a vast treasure, the secret to which is contained within one of the bandit heads on display.  The player characters “must steal the head and find a way to revivify it in order to get the clue.”

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Thelesha Moonscry is a fortune-teller – or “seeress” – whose presence in Citybook is attributed to Larry DiTillio.  Given Liz Danforth's penchant for basing the appearance of Citybook personalities upon real-world celebrities, I am inclined to believe that Moonscry's depiction is inspired by Jane Seymour in her role as the fortune-telling Solitaire from Live and Let Die.

Art by Liz Danforth
     Thelesha MoonscryHalf-elf.  Ht: 5'9".  Wt: 130 lbs.  Age: 29.  Fighting ability: poor.  Magic ability: average; C5
     Thelesha has very pale skin, and long black hair with silver streaks in it.  Her left eye is sea-blue and her right eye is silvery-gray.  She is very beautiful and somewhat haunted.  Her typical attire is a sky blue robe adorned with a sigil showing silver moons and green oaks.
     Thelesha is not particularly cheerful.  She knows that she is fated to live without love, and uses her gift in memory of her teachers, an all but extinct sect called the MoonRiders.  She sometimes sees her talent as more of a curse than a gift, and may break off a reading if the omens she is scrying become too painful.  She rarely leaves her house and garden, and the MoonRider spirits watch over her there.
“C5” is Citybook code for communication magic.  I would have thought that divination would be part of clairvoyant magic (i.e, “C3”).  Regardless, Moonscry practices the following divinatory arts:  astrology, oneiromancy, pyromancy, hydroscopy, palmistry, cerescopy [sic], and cartomancy.  With regard to cartomancy, the Game Master is encouraged to “use a Tarot deck if you have one, improvising the meaning of the cards to fit the 'prediction' for the character.”  Otherwise, “You may use a regular card deck in this fashion:  Hearts indicate an emotional situation, Diamonds mean money, Spades mean competition, Clubs indicate magic [and] Face cards represent people.”

We are told that “Thelesha is about 90% accurate in all readings.”  As such, Game Masters are advised not to let Thelesha “be misused or over-used by the players.”  As a deterrent, “High prices should sufficiently limit the use of her powers!”  Also, readings need not be precise – “the more esoteric the symbolic answer, the more intriguing it will be to players.”

 – – –     – – –     – – –

Jock and Wilbur Sleaz are twin orcs who were raised by a kindly wizard who taught them how to make tattoos.  “(GM: if your system has no Orcs, or an Orc would not reasonably fit in your city, make Jock and Wilbur very ugly humans.)”  While Wilbur “quite frequently exhibits more of the standard Orcish traits,” we learn that “Jock is a very gentle soul” who gives money “to a local orphanage in order to give a few orphans the benefit of a better upbringing than he received.”  It seems to me that being raised by a kindly wizard who teaches them a trade is not so bad as an upbringing.

Anyway, the brothers employ their skills at a tattoo parlor of which they are the proprietors.  In addition to 'regular' tattoos, Jock (but not Wilbur) learned to create 'magical' tattoos (called “mattoos”).  By concentrating, the wearer of a mattoo can bring the mattoo into existence.
Once a mattoo comes to life, it will follow any command of the wearer (if it's a creature), or be employed in any manner the user wishes.  For each hour it exists, the wearer must pump strength into it, on an ever expanding scale.  The first hour costs 1 point; the second, 2; the third, 4; the fourth, 8; etc. (doubling each time).  Willing a mattoo to life for less than an hour costs 1.  The strength used returns at 1 point per full game turn.  (GM:  adjust to your game system.)
The price of a mattoo “starts at around 1000 gold pieces, rising with the complexity of the mattoo desired.”  Mattoos which are destroyed are no long usable, leave a scar, and cannot be replaced.

Jock himself has the maximum of five mattoos, created by the kindly wizard.  These mattoos are “two small dragons, a full-size flaming sword down his right leg, a waterfall on his chest (which can be used somewhat like a firehose), and a full-size rose on his left arm.”

A special mattoo is described:
Very simply, it is a “duckie”, a cute little representation of a duck.  Jock always recommends it because he likes duckies.  The duckie is like a normal mattoo – except that it always appears as a full-sized duck with full powers of speech, better than human intelligence, and a poisonous bite!  In addition, duckies have the power to deflect spells (set the level according to your game system); if a duckie is within a 5' radius of its wearer, it will partly protect its wearer by absorbing the spell.  Neither Jock nor Wilbur are aware of these powers – Jock just likes duckies!

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Butcher, Baker, Candlestick Maker


Art by Stephan Peregrine

As previously discussed, Flying Buffalo published the Catalyst Series of “game master aids” – including the CityBook installments.  (“CityBook is Flying Buffalo's trademark name for those Catalyst game booklets which describe businesses, personalities, and scenarios for city-based play.”  [original emphasis] )  The first CityBook was published in 1982.  Larry DiTillio was credited as editor, producer and – for many of the entries – author.  Perhaps better known as a writer and story editor for television, DiTillio was also responsible for a variety of several other role-playing game supplements/adventures.  “Original Concept” was credited to Pat Mueller, an author and editor for Sorcerer's Apprentice.  Mueller also shared “Directed by” credit with Liz Danforth and “Design and Layout by” credit with Steven S. Crompton.  In a humorous vein, another credit was “Typos by Pat Muellre.”

In 'A Brief Note' following the Introduction, it is stated, “The primary purpose of this book is to provide a number of modular pieces of cities, from which you can pick and choose what you want to use.”  Less subdued is the back cover copy:  “For action-packed role-playing, for exciting encounters with peculiar people, for unexpected adventures and unforeseen complications, the establishments and NPCs found in CityBook are right up your alley!”  Somewhere in between is the claim, “your players can now find fun and excitement even in such mundane activity as buying a loaf of bread or having a battered suit of armor repaired.”

Included in CityBook 1 is a two-and-a-half page article – originally published in Sorcerer's Apprentice – having the title “City Building and Citymastering” (incorrectly listed as “City Mastering and Citybuilding” in the Table of Contents).  The writer, Paul O'Connor, also contributed one of the book's entries.  O'Connor was involved with other role-playing game publications and has credits in comic books and those new-fangled computer games.  Anyway, O'Connor offers the following advice:
Try to allow for your players' desires.  Let the characters take a hand in directing the action – never try to force characters into doing something they don't want to, simply because you've got nothing developed for the path they're taking.  Often, a city trip will split off into a completely unexpected direction – usually quite different from the one planned.  If this happens, flow with it!  Try to adjudicate whatever situations arise to the best of your ability.  There's nothing wrong with making up an adventure as you go along...
Also, he offhandedly mentions “a one-armed goblin with three heads juggling squids...”

CityBook 1 has the subtitle Butcher, Baker, Candlestick Maker – a paraphrased line from a nursery rhyme (which evidently is not as homoerotic as one may have thought).  Among the “25 city-based establishments with over 75 fully-described non-player characters,” there is an entry for a butcher and another for a baker; however, the baker is a woman.  While there is no candlestick maker, there is a candle maker.  This borders upon false advertisement.  I mean they didn't have to use that subtitle; they could have gone with something accurate.  (I suppose a sourcebook of scenarios based on traditional nursery rhymes might be interesting.)  The butcher, baker, and candle maker entries are all by DiTillio.

Cleavsom Rumpchuck operates a butchery with his brothers – Slysum, Chopsum, and Dimsom – as well as his son, Ribeye.  (CityBook NPCs frequently possess 'jocular' names.)  Along with mundane meats, the Rumpchunk brothers offers such unusual fare as “filet of giant lake lizard, shank of dragon (very rare), sirloin snakes, lion loin, giant ant legs, horned owl tripe, marinated snow-bear nose, monkey brains, and anything else the GM can come up with.”  A scenario suggestion has Rumpchuck hiring the adventurers to acquire such game.

Widow Rohls operates a bakeshop with her three daughters:  Poppy, Sesame, and Sweet Nell.  The interesting NPC associated with the bakeshop is “Old Sam.”  (Spoiler Alert!)
Old Sam was once Samar, Master of the Nine Hells, an evil wizard with staggering arcane powers.  An assault by ten rival sorcerers blasted his memory from him and aged him almost thirty years.  He escaped destruction by a desperate teleportation spell, and was found wandering in the City sometime later...
Taken in by the Rohls family, Old Sam does odd jobs and has “a definite talent for icing cakes (the result of years of scribing complex spells).”  One scenario suggestion involves Old Sam regaining his memory.  Another suggestion has him inadvertently working “some eldritch rune into the design” of a cake's icing.  This results in “some strange effect which could have [a] character possessed by some supernatural entity, cause a spell to fire, lay a curse on the viewer, open a gateway to an alternate universe, or any other magical surprise the GM cares to spring.”  Wacky hijinks ensue.

Art by Liz Danforth

The candle maker is Gillian Olfin.  DiTillio tells us, “Gillian loves to swim nude in the moonlight, does not drink, ...is rumored to have numerous lovers in high positions in the City [and] ...is always barefoot.”  Liz Danforth, in her depiction of Gillian (shown above), seems to have based her appearance on Diana Muldaur.  The model for the cat has not been determined as of this writing.

Gillian has sufficient magical ability to manufacture two types of “special” candles.  The Love Candle “incorporates a few drops of blood or sweat from both the proposed 'lover' and the person who wishes to be loved.”  When the “lover” burns the candle, “he or she falls in love with the candle's buyer.”  The effect only lasts for one to six weeks, but the effect can be reinforced with a new candle.  Since “it takes Gillian 2 – 12 days to produce a love candle,” it would be wise to have a few spares available before engaging upon a long term romantic illumination.  The Ghost Detector Candle normally “burns with an ordinary yellow-white flame.”  However, in proximity to “a disembodied spirit or an enchanted corpse, the flame burns a bright blue.”

We also learn that “tallow candles are cheaper [than refined beeswax candles] and will burn a little more brightly, but in an area without adequate ventilation (such as your basic dungeon-type room), they tend to smoke heavily, causing nausea.”

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Inspiration: Loslon (Part II)

Art by Michael Creager

Avalon Hill marketed Dark Emperor as “its game of fantastic warfare.”  As described in the previous post, the setting of the game is the world of Loslon.  True to the notion of “fantastic warfare,” most of the counters represent military units.  Other counters represent individuals called Leaders; they have 'Hero Ratings' that can affect battles.  Many Leaders also have a Magic Strength, permitting them to cast spells.  On Loslon, magic is derived from Runes and each magic-using leader is associated with one.

There are five pairs of 'opposed' Runes:  Death / Life, Terror / Serenity, Earth / Air, Fire / Water, and Metal / Wood.  Each Rune permits the casting of one or two spells as well as the ability to counter the spells of its opposite.  Any given spell “is either a movement, combat, or diplomacy spell.”  Aside from countering Wood spells, a “Metal Rune leader” can cast “Forge Sword.”  This creates either a Hero's Sword (which seems to increase a leader's Hero Rating during heroic combat) or a Living Sword (which can permanently destroy greater vampires).

When casting a spell, a player must roll the leader's Magic Strength or less on 1d6.  Given that most spell casting leaders have a Magic Strength of 3, such a leader has only a 50% chance of successfully casting his (or her) first spell in a game-turn.  “Magical Devices” can increase Magic Strength, as can areas on the board indicated by Rune symbols.  (Some leaders start the game with a Magical Device.)

Also on the board are seven pentacle symbols upon which “magic hex units” are randomly placed, face down.  Leaders can visit such a hex and reveal the counter.  Among the possibilities are three monsters and four Magical Devices.  Leaders may attempt to recruit monsters or fight them.  Killing a monster means that “the leader's hero rating is permanently increased by ONE.”  The Magical Devices include:
Famir – A sword “created to destroy Ssstoth, king of the Sea-monsters.”  Ssstoth can appear in the game and the leader with Famir is compelled to fight Ssstoth.
He-Sups-On-Prana – A sword which can drain an enemy's soul “and destroys him.”
The Dawn Lantern – This device reduces “the combat strengths of all vampire units...”
The Silk Negator – “It is a cloth with the ability to negate any magic.”

Also part of the game are mercenaries who can be recruited by either side:
Lord Montoy – Lord Montoy ruled the lands between the cities of Montoy and the Gates.  When defeated by Stavror ten years ago, “he retreated to the interior with the survivors and began a guerilla war.”  He has become a mercenary with the hope he can earn “enough gold to hire a force to retake his kingdom.”
SaarSaar is an intelligent Great Eagle from the mountains of Ahautsieron.  Unlike most of his race, his primary interest in humans is as food.  To his delight, he has discovered that humans will pay him to fight other humans; the result being a battlefield covered with fresh corpses for the delectation of Saar and his followers...
Fernan Conniver – “He was banished from [Kelaron Oiret] when it was discovered that he bribed his way into the Ahaubot,” the governing body of the land.  “He has become a mercenary leader of considerable ability since his disgrace” and “is only employed by those who have a desperate need for his services.”
The HoundsThe Hounds are a race of sapient canines who live in the far north.  Mor Faloi, a human, was abandoned in their land as a child.  They adopted him and raised him to the pack.  As a man, Mor has raised a unit of hound fighters and become a mercenary...
Cos dol CosCos dol Cos is a member of the Cult of Unity, a religious cult who believe that magic has brought man nothing but misery.  They seek to eliminate magic from Loslon and return to the ancient ways, practiced before the First Age of Magic.  Cos dol Cos isn't a true mercenary, he fights when and where he feels the cause is served.  His Sons of the Morning are so named because they believe that the elimination of magic will bring a golden dawn to mankind...Cos dol Cos and the Sons of the Morning are immune to all forms of magic.
Silwer Flagriel – Silwer is a cult leader associated with the Fire Rune, but – unlike the other mercenaries – he is not associated with any military units.  The Cult of Burning Inspiration believes that evil is rampant and “must be burned out wherever it is found.”  He is more likely to side with the Great Necromancer since the kingdoms of Loslon “are a little tired of Silwer's habit of burning cities to the ground to purge the evil within them.”

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Inspiration: Loslon (Part I)

Art by Michael Creager
In the third age of magic Padrech dar Choim, the Great Necromancer, was banished to the Realm of the Dead by the High Emperor Padrom III after a long and bloody war. There, on the cold and silent Fields of Decay, he brooded as centuries passed. Slowly, with the passage of time, he gathered his forces for his next assault on civilization. While marshalling his power he found allies to his cause in Tol Morn, Lord of Vampires, and Mezal, Avatar of the goddess Szanbu (Misstress of Fear and Terror). Now, his time has come again...
Thus begins the Introduction to Dark Emperor, an Avalon Hill bookcase game published in 1985.  For this game, the designer, Greg Costikyan, tried “to create a believable fantasy world.”  According to the designer's notes:
Many fantasy worlds are built with unimaginative, and sometimes impossible, geographies. This may seem to be a minor point but, as a geologist, it is a sore point with me. I hit upon the idea of placing the game in a world of impact-crater geography where the plate tectonics that has produced the geography of our own world does not operate... I proceeded, therefore, to produce a set of tables to generate random locations and sizes for impact craters and generated geography on a hex grid map with a compass.  The result is the world of Loslon.
I have attempted to create a passable rendition of this world (without hexes).  I have used grayscale for purposes of visibility and have used different symbols to represent Loslonian runes.



(I could find no instance of the 'Air' rune on the Dark Emperor board.)

Several battlefields are indicated on the map.  The Necromancer opponent can recruit undead armies from these places.  The battlefields are:  (1) Battle of Fornost, (2) The Hecatomb, (3) The Fallen Standard, (4) Battle of Kelar Isle, (5) Battle of the Gates, (6) The Emperor's Lament, (7) The Graves of the Marind Warriors, and (8) Battle of Geysers.  Units of distance are “imperial zotz” and no conversion formulae are presented.  Why the the 'Battle of Fornost' transpired over a thousand zotz away from Fornost is also not explained.

Costikyan also developed “the elements of a believable language, in order to produce consistent names.”  Also from the designer's notes:
Another peeve I have with much fantasy and science fiction is inconsistent naming.  Writers seem to delight in inventing outlandish names with no thought to the fact that a culture produces those names and certain rules apply to them.

Here are some brief notes regarding the kingdoms of Loslon.

Zolahaureslor:  In the wake of “the Necromantic War the ended the third age of magic,” the fringes of the empire were subject to “a series of revolts and barbarian incursions.”  Zolahaureslor is what remains of the empire.  “Its court life is a labyrinthine web of deadly intrigue.”

Ahautserion:  This former area of the empire was conquered by a tribe called the Marind Warriors.  “Its economy is dependent on mining and metal-working.”

Ferlarie:  “When the south was overrun by the Stavek barbarians, and it became clear that the empire could not help them, Ferlarie declared its independence and built a sizable fleet to protect its far-flung dominions.”

Kelaron Oiret:  “The Kelaron peninsula, like Ahautserion, was overrun by the Marind Warriors...In this land the tribal customs of the Marind evolved into republicanism.”

The Marechs:  “The two Marech kingdoms, Lammarech (Eastern Marech) and Loymarech (Western Marech), were conquered by the Mari, a civilized people driven south by a series of crop blights during the empire's decline.”

Starkeep:  “Starkeep is of great religious importance to the lands around it.”  It is the realm of the Star Believers – “a cult of sky worshippers associated with the Serenity rune.”

The Scythe:  The people of the Scythe train rocs “to fight and carry riders.”

Stavror:  The Stavek barbarians “tended to mount a sizable invasion of the empire every century or so.”  With the decline of the empire, the Stavek occupied the southern regions and have “become one of the most powerful, and prosperous, nations in Loslon.”

Tal Pletor:  Twelve years ago in this nation, a mercenary general “usurped the throne, married the ex-king's wife and killed the remainder of the royal family.”