Sunday, July 6, 2014

MacGuffins, Plot Devices & Bric-a-brac

Plate 10 from The Book of Talismans, Amulets and Zodiacal Gems

When 'incarnated', an Advanced Man, Myth & Magic character receives an inheritance.  I suppose only the first incarnation receives an inheritance given that equipment is retained when a character is reincarnated.  However, there is no rule that addresses this and a new inheritance that somehow shows up with each incarnation is no stranger than the MM&M 'reincarnation' process itself.  By rolling percentile dice, the inheritance table “will tell you which of your ancestors remembered you and how much you receive.”

There is a 4% chance that your grandfather has bequeathed to you a:
7 pound piece of fallen star (meteorite); [worth] 300 Lbr.)[sic](If piece is melted into sword it will have a plus 15 to damage).
Whether or not this grandfather is maternal or paternal is not stated.  However, the table lists another grandfather who provides (also at a 4% chance) a silver helmet complete with horns (worth 100 libra) and a ruby (worth 500 libra).  It seems both the maternal and paternal branches are included, but not specified.  One of your aunts might give you “Seven vials of rare spices (150 libra each).”  Your other aunt – perhaps the crazy one – might leave you 200 libra and a leopard skin.  If your father really loves you (1% chance) you will get “10,000 Libra and the Emperor's Seal.”  Otherwise, there's a 4% chance he will give you a suit of legionnaire armor (complete) and 200 libra or (another 4% chance) 500 libra, a broadsword, a dagger, and a Greek helmet.

The 'ancestors' on the inheritance table are related to the character (Older Sister, God Mother, etc.) with the exception of Livia the Poisoner, a non-player character from a couple of the adventures.  (I guess she could be a relative, but the familial tie is not given.)  There is a 4% chance that Livia will leave you:  500 libra, a blowpipe, one hundred darts, and – true to her epithet – a bottle of cobra venom.

Yaquinto's The Egyptian Trilogy was marketed as “A TRIPLE Adventure Module for use with Man, Myth & Magic.”  It is also a 'system expansion' or sourcebook.  The setting of the MM&M rules is AD 41 (or thereabouts), but The Egyptian Trilogy module takes place in 1375 BC.  As such, the book provides nationalities, classes, rules, etc. appropriate for that era, including an inheritance table.  The 'ancestors' include the relatives from the original table (other than godparents), but also includes 'ancestors' such as Ex-Lover, Childhood Friend, Tribal Hetman, Priest, and Hunter.  Your uncle might give you sixty ounces of silver, a bow, a quiver of thirty arrows, and a vial of five applications of curare.  Your other uncle might give you a copper poleaxe, an iron-tipped spear, and a bronze helmet.  There is a 4% possibility that your ex-lover will leave you a leather kilt and a lethal dose of hemlock.  (I wonder if that's supposed to send some kind of message.)

The MM&M inheritance table provides characters with starting equipment and/or money.  The items can also be plot hooks.  What was your uncle doing with an “African Ju-Ju Bone”?  A spool of golden thread is worth 500 libra, but first you need to find someone who will buy it.  Why would “the Hunter” leave you his magical bow and magical charm?  What's the story behind the silver chalice your cousin left you?

In the recently released D&D Basic Rules we see a similar 'plot hook generator' with the 'Trinkets table' (which I find reminiscent of 1E Gamma World's 'Treasure List').  The table takes up two pages, with more than half of the second page blank.  Surely, the Trinkets table is not necessary for the Basic Rules; they could have used those pages for a couple of additional backgrounds or a detailed example of play or an index or more passages from that literary genius R. A. Salvatore.  While not necessary, the Trinkets table does something important – it connects (however faintly) the character with the setting in a unique way.  It shouldn't be the only connection, but it may be the first.  Anything that spurs the imagination is worthwhile.

The Trinkets table “can help stock a room in a dungeon or fill a creature's pockets.”  The problem with this is that some trinkets are more appropriate as contents for a monster's pocket than as possessions of a player character.  Why would a player character walk around with a “rope necklace from which dangles four mummified elf fingers” (Trinket #9) or a “glass jar containing a weird bit of flesh floating in pickling fluid” (Trinket #20)?  Why would you keep a “small idol...that gives you unsettling dreams when you sleep near it” (Trinket #8)?  Some things useful for dungeon room/monster pocket stocking should be in a Dungeon Curios table and not a 'player character possession' Trinket table.

Most of the Trinket table items are unusual, but some are not.  Trinket #41 is a “scrap of cloth from an old banner.”  That's an example of a trophy from the Soldier background; it shouldn't be a “trinket.”  On the other hand, perhaps there should be a separate Trinket table for each background.  (I'm ambivalent about Trinket #29, “A pair of old socks.”)

I notice possible product placement with trinket #46, “A dead sprite inside a clear glass bottle.”  (Get it?  A bottle of Sprite!  Haha!)

Trinket #99 is “A wooden box with a ceramic bottom that holds a living worm with a head on each end of its body.”  I wonder if this is an allusion to one of Sherlock Holmes' “unsolved” cases; namely, “that of Isadora Persano, the well-known journalist and duellist, who was found stark staring mad with a match box in front of him which contained a remarkable worm said to be unknown to science.”  (“The Problem of Thor Bridge”)

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