Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Customized Classes (part II)

Disclaimer:  This is not a very exciting post (as opposed to my usual thrill-a-minute entries).  For the sake of thoroughness, I provide this information as an adjunct to last week's post.

Here are the standard classes as reconstructed using my derivative of Crabaugh's system for creating customized classes.

Fighter












In Crabaugh's experience table, the number of points required to reach the next level doubles until level eight, after which the difference between level seven and level eight becomes the fixed amount of experience needed for all successive levels.  In my system, amounts double until level nine, then the difference between levels eight and nine becomes the standard.  In the real world (i.e., Expert Rules), experience progression is not so uniform.  Thus, at early levels for nearly all of the reconstructed classes, my system requires slightly less experience but ends up requiring slightly more experience at higher levels.


Magic-User
Spell progression is assessed as a single modifier in Crabaugh's system (as well as my derivative).  That same modifier is applied without regard to how many spells (or spell levels) are permitted for a given experience level.  Ideally, modifiers would increase as more spells are permitted and/or higher levels of spells become available.  For instance, why should a beginning character have pay for (eventual) access to fifth level spells?  The 'cost' of fifth level access should be paid at the experience level when fifth level spells can actually be learned.


Cleric

Neither 'reconstructed' cleric class approximates the 'genuine' cleric in terms of experience progression.  Usually, Crabaugh's version of a class requires less experience to advance than the original version; not so with the cleric.  Of course, Crabaugh's cleric can cast spells at first level, while I deferred that ability to second level – just as the rules have it.  The amount of experience necessary to reach second level in my version is almost the same as the original; however, to reach third level my version requires nearly twice the amount required by the original.  Crabaugh and I assume clerical magic is less 'valuable' than magic-user magic, but we would have to consider it to be nearly worthless for our systems to better approximate the original experience progression.  If we consider that (a.) clerical magic is not worthless and (b.) the 'customized' systems work fairly well for the other classes, then we must entertain the notion that the cleric – as presented in the rules – is overpowered.


Thief

Other than the cleric, the thief is the only 'reconstructed' class where Crabaugh's version requires more experience to gain levels than the rulebook version..except for level ten.  For most classes, the experience point difference between levels eight and nine is the same as the difference between nine and ten.  The original thief class jumps from 80,000 to 120,000 (and 120,000 becomes the difference thereafter).  If we were to continue the experience table, we would see that the experience amounts for Crabaugh's thief once again become greater than the original at eleventh level (rulebook:  400,000; Crabaugh:  440,000).  Interestingly, my version aligns exactly with the original at twelfth level (520,000) and thereafter becomes greater.


Dwarf
With the Dwarf class, Crabaugh's required amounts of experience are consistently less than those shown in the rulebook; so are mine, until ninth level.  For the original Dwarf, the amount of experience points required for level nine is less than double that necessary for level eight.  (For the human classes, the level nine amount is always twice the level eight amount.)


Elf

The experience requirements for the rulebook Elf double until level seven, which is less than level six doubled.  Then level eight is more than level seven doubled.  Level nine requires 150,000 experience points and thereafter 200,000 becomes the standard difference between levels.  Fascinating.  While Crabaugh's amounts are consistently less than the rulebook's, my amounts are less than (but close to) the rulebook's until level seven, where my amount is more.  At level eight, my amount and the rulebook's amount are nearly equal.  Thereafter, my amounts become significantly greater.

Elves have the same 'hit progression' as fighters and the same 'spell progression' as magic-users.  What if Elves were more moderate in their capabilities?  For instance, what if elves had a hit progression of +1 per four levels?  Not as good as a fighter, but still better than a magic-user.  Then, if spell progression were slower, Elves would still possess fighter and magic-user abilities yet would not equal the abilities of the respective human classes.


Halfling

Halflings can't use normal size armor but they can more easily fit into small spaces.  Crabaugh says, “As long as there is a balance between special advantages and special disadvantages, there's no need to figure a percentage cost for these.”  Although more detailed than Crabaugh's description, I have limited the 'features' of my version of the Halfling to those with effects specified in the rules.

To be continued

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Creatures of Tékumel

Vringálu vs human (art by Sutherland)

Being an alien world, Tékumel is populated with alien creatures.  Many (or most) of these are indigenous; however, some were brought to Tékumel by outworlders long ago.  It is natural to suppose that humans would have brought various animals with them – livestock, pets, and (inevitably) vermin.  However, there are few mentions of terrestrial fauna in Empire of the Petal Throne.  I am aware of only two:  the Chnélh (not to be confused with Chlén – see below) and “a descendant of the ancient earth cow.”  Whatever other Earth species – if any – that became integrated with the Tékumel ecosystem are not significant enough for inclusion in the rules.  The absence of known animals only serves to accentuate the alien nature of the setting.

Barker lets us know there are “no riding beasts available” on Tékumel.  Most travel is on foot; the only exception being “slow-moving carts pulled by domesticated Chlén.”  These six-legged beasts-of-burden have another use.  As mentioned previously, Chlén hide – when properly processed – serves as a substitute for metal in arms and armor.  Don't worry, integument is taken from a living Chlén “and it then takes two weeks for the animal to regenerate it, much like a human grows back a fingernail.”  It would seem that the procedure is much like shearing wool from a sheep.

The animal depicted above is a Vringálu.  Leather goods are made from its wings.  A tanner will pay 100 Káitars per wing.  (The Imperial Káitar – a gold coin – is the Tsolyani unit of currency; one hundred Káitars can buy a Chlén beast.)  The Vringálu is dangerous.  It does not check morale when attacking and its teeth exude a contact poison “which produces a hideous rotting gangrene.”  Exposure to the poison is fatal within three turns unless a 'Cure Disease' spell is used or Tsúral buds are applied.  According to page 67, Tsúral buds are an aphrodisiac.  They are commonly available for purchase at a mere two Káitars.  Ask for them by name!

The 'intelligent' races of Tékumel were listed in an earlier post; however, there are a variety of creatures that are semi-intelligent.  Excluding undead, automatons, and androids, these species are:
  • Chnélh – These beings are “Ape-Mutants.”  Although they are untrainable, they are semi-intelligent and fight with spears and clubs.
  • Dzór – Known as “Forest Giants,” Dzór “are shambling, hairy giants...[with] a beak of horny substance and three round eyes with nictitating lids.”  They cannot speak and they prefer using maces and clubs (as opposed to edged weapons).
  • Khéshchal – These birds are valued for their plumage, which is used for decorative purposes and can fetch up to 2,000 Káitars.  A subdued specimen can be worth twice as much.
  • Kýni – Another bird of “limited intelligence,” the Kýni can be trained to speak as well as spy.  They can be captured by luring them with Tsúral buds.
  • Marashyálu – “These supernatural creatures of the ancients are set to guard treasure.”  They are capable of hypnosis and casting illusions.
  • Mnór – This so-called “Shaggy Insect Creature” can use “heavy clubs in semi-intelligent fashion.”
  • Ngóro – Otherwise known as “the Whelk,” this creature is reminiscent of the trapper.  Lying flat, “it appears much like the rough stone flooring of the Underworld.”  A Ngóro can hold miniature weapons with its “millions of tiny cilia.”
  • Qól –“The Serpent-Headed Ones” were originally human but have mutated so that they have “a slender reptilian neck and a flat, diamond-shaped serpent head.”
  • Rényu – Although they do not meet the qualifications of 'intelligence', these man-like humanoids can be trained to speak as well as use equipment (including weapons).
  • Sérudla – Commonly called “the Pale Murderer,” a Sérudla “is semi-intelligent and fights with ordinary weapons.”  Although Sérudla are “not invariably hostile,” it is advisable to avoid their spit; a failed saving throw could cause up to 12d6 damage.
  • Sró – These six-legged “mutants from some ancient reptilian stock are able to wield huge broadswords.”
  • Tsú'uru – These creatures are related to the Marashyálu and serve a similar function.  They have the ability “to determine what the party is most likely to believe” and project an appropriate illusion.  A Tsú'uru “is totally immune to spells, and no form of ESP, clairvoyance, telepathy, etc. will reveal its true identity.”  Only death will reveal its natural form – “a bundle of ropy, lumpy tentacles with a central brain ganglion.”

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Customized Classes (part I)

Art by Dave LaForce

In Dragon 109 (May 1986), Paul Montgomery Crabaugh presented a system for creating 'customized classes' for the (Basic) DUNGEONS & DRAGONS® game.  In essence, he assigned numerical values to various class features; the more powerful/versatile the feature, the higher the value would be.  One could then pick and choose which features to have for a new class, add up the values, and apply the total as a multiplier to a baseline experience structure.  A class with several and/or powerful features would require proportionally more experience points to advance in levels than a class with a moderate feature profile.  The pre-existing classes tend to demonstrate this logic; an Elf requires more experience than a magic-user to attain the same level.  This is, of course, a balancing factor; as starting characters, Elves are more 'able' than magic-users, but magic-users improve with greater rapidity.  In other words, the premise of Crabaugh's system is a 'trade-off' – power versus rate of improvement.

At the time, there were no specializations, backgrounds, skills, or kits; in terms of capability, there was very little that allowed individual characters to be distinctive.  Any given X level Dwarf was much the same as any other X level Dwarf; all X level thieves could be expected to do the same things with about the same amount of expertise.  Without significant alterations to the rules, Crabaugh provided a way for players to have unique characters – by having players design unique classes via a smörgåsbord of options.  Crabaugh wrote, “Every character in a game can, quite literally, be in a class by himself...”

There are a few details about Crabaugh's system that I didn't like.  For instance, when Crabaugh 'reconstructed' the standard classes with his system, the experience tables were not closely aligned with those in the rulebook.  I understood that an exact match was not feasible, but I felt that the system should be 'fine-tuned' to adhere as closely as practical to the existing tables.  Also, racial abilities were offered simply as Halfling, Dwarf, and Elf.  I felt that these abilities should be divided into their constituent parts.  What if I wanted an Elf's ability to detect secret doors, but didn't care about immunity to ghoul paralysis?  Crabaugh's 'cost' for infravision was the same as all Dwarf abilities including infravision.  Needless to say, my sense of fairness was offended.  As such, I crafted my own version of Crabaugh's system, presented here for your edification.

Some assumptions are in order.  First, every class has at least one characteristic (usually the prime requisite) that must have a minimum value of nine.  Second, there is no ceiling for non-human class experience levels.  Third, classes gain a hit die every level up through the ninth level; after which a fixed number of hit points are added per level.

Additionally, classes can gain abilities at certain levels.  (For instance, clerics gain spellcasting ability at second level and thieves can use magic user scrolls at tenth level.)  The 'cost' of the ability is not applied to the amount of experience needed to gain a level until the class receives the ability.  Logically, abilities should only improve but it's possible, for instance, to change to a lower hit die at a given level.  The only 'ability' that can't be changed is 'saving throw class'.

Table 1:  Baseline Experience
This is the standard experience table.  Each customized class will have a total multiplier that will be applied to the 'experience required' to gain a level.  For our purposes, the table goes through ninth level, but additional levels are easily extrapolated by adding 32,000 experience times the multiplier per level beyond that listed on the table.



Table 2:  Saving Throw Class
This is the 'base multiplier' for any given class.  The choice of saving throw class merely indicates the saving throw table to be used, it does not confer any other distinction.  The choice of 'Elf' as a saving throw class does not mean that the character is an Elf.



Table 3:  Hit Dice/Hit Points
As mentioned above, characters gain an additional hit die per level through ninth level, for each level beyond that a specific number of hit points are added.
Table 4:  Hit Progression
This refers to the number of experience levels required to advance one 'increment' on the Character Attacks table.


Table 5:  Armor Allowed
The equivalent Crabaugh table included:  'shield', 'leather', 'any without shield', and 'all'.  I decided to present it as 'leather', 'chain', and 'plate' with 'shield' as an option for any.  A class with chain allowed can otherwise wear leather just as a class with plate allowed can otherwise wear chain or leather.
Table 6:  Weapons Allowed
This table incorporates a few weapons not included in Crabaugh's table.  The selection of 'Longbows' requires 'Bows' as a prerequisite.  The two selections are separate because there are undersized classes that can use bows but not longbows.









Table 7:  Various Abilities
Starting abilities for thieves are grouped together for convenience.  'Decipher Writing' is the ability thieves gain at fourth level to read languages, maps, et al.  Likewise, 'Use Magic- User Scrolls' is the ability thieves gain at tenth level.  'Turn Undead' refers to the cleric ability.

If skills are in use, additional skills may be obtained.  The first such skill has a modifier cost of 0.05; the second, 0.10; the third, 0.15, etc. Such skills could represent knowledge not commonly available and may only be learned by members of a particular race or guild.  Instead of skills, Crabaugh had a table listing the various NPC specialist 'abilities' (e.g.:  Animal Trainer, Engineer, Spy, Navigator, et al.).  He tried to base the 'costs' somewhat on the monthly salaries of the specialists.  I don't think Crabaugh went about this in the right way.  some specialist abilities are appropriate as skills (e.g., Armorer) while others might best be represented as classes in and of themselves (e.g., Spy).

Table 7 also lists a negative modifier, thereby reducing the total multiplier.  This modifier is appropriate if a class has more than one characteristic minimum (such as 'Halfling') and or a minimum greater than nine.  For instance, a characteristic minimum of 13 would be cause for a - 0.14 modifier.
Table 8:  Non-Human Abilities
The table includes abilities described by Crabaugh (although not necessarily with the same costs) as well as particular abilities associated with Elves, Dwarves, and Halflings.  'Construction detection' refers to a Dwarf's ability to find new construction, slanting passages, shifting walls, etc. 'Dodge like a Halfling' is an Armor Class bonus of -2 when attacked by creatures larger than man-sized.  'Hide like a Halfling' refers to Halflings' aptitude at hiding.  'Regeneration' is the ability to recover one point of damage per turn (except when the damage is caused by fire).  'Secret door detection' is the ability of Elves to find hidden or secret doors.  'Shapechange', allows a character to shift between his or her 'normal' form and the form of a particular, predetermined non-magical animal.  The change requires one melee round to complete.  The animal form does not accumulate experience points; all experience earned goes to the normal form.  'Specific immunity' means the character is not susceptible to a particular condition, such as an Elf's immunity to ghoul paralysis.

Table 9:  Magic Cost
The cost for the ability to cast spells depends upon two factors:  type and progression.  Cleric spell casting ability is less expensive than magic-user spell casting ability.  Table 10 features ten 'courses' of spell progression, each with a different rate of gaining new spells and new levels of spells.  Each course or 'progression' has a different cost.

Table 10:  Spell Progressions 'A' through 'H'























Updated February 3, 2014
To be continued

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Magic Items in Empire of the Petal Throne

Any sufficiently advanced technology
is indistinguishable from magic.

Clarke's Third Law                    


When Tékumel entered the dimensional plane it occupies in the Empire of the Petal Throne setting, a series of cataclysms called the “Time of Darkness” occurred.
Old machines took on a divine aura, and as they failed, men lost the knowledge to repair them...Natural resources had been carelessly depleted...The wheels of technology require many types of natural resources and deprived of them, they slowly ground to a stop.
Articles of “ancient” technology are treated as magic items in EotPT.  Yet there is a great deal of 'magic' that is not technological per se.  Magic is explained as an interaction between psychic ability and extraplanar energies – and said energies are often associated with beings such as demons and gods.  Either the magic of Tékumel's plane conveniently meshes with old universe technology or the nature of technology has somehow been altered in Tékumel's current plane (or, perhaps, a measure of both).  What results is a mélange of science and sorcery à la Thundarr the Barbarian, not that the scholars of Tékumel would perceive any incongruity.

Among the miscellaneous 'magical' items described in EotPT, there are:
The Chariot of the Gods:  This is a flying vehicle, actually an ancient air car.
The Lightning Bringer:  This is actually a piece of ancient artillery.
The Little House of Tranquil Dwelling...This device was originally found on a planet far from Tékumel in the crater of some long burned out atomic explosion.
Additionally, there is “The Alluring Maiden of Ngá.”  This 'item' is an android with “the ebon hair and paper-white skin common to all androids of the ancients.”  This android operates as an assassin (6 Hit Dice; Armour Class 1).  However, “she is totally mindless” and “because of her lack of individual will she cannot speak or interact socially, and she cannot be assigned other tasks.”  I suppose she is “alluring” so as to have a better chance of approaching her victim.  What was the nature of the civilization of the ancients if they manufactured such technology?  Anyway, whenever her owner gives her a mission, there is a 35% chance she will attack her owner, “symbolising the breakdown of her ancient circuits.”  Of course, an android is an “automaton resembling a human being,” but there are other intelligent races on Tékumel.  One would suppose there would be “android” equivalents of Pé Chói or Tinalíya or other space-faring species friendly to man.  Perhaps such races are opposed to the idea of automatons that mimic them.

In contrast to the 'alluring maiden', there are Underworld beings called Yéleth or Angels of Doom.  These are androids (3 Hit Dice; Armour Class 6) and, like all androids, “They have paper-white skin and hair the colour of polished ebony.”  Unlike 'the maiden', they seem to have independent will and are encountered in groups of 1–4 (or 2–12 in their lair).  There is an item that allows evil Magic Users to create 1–6 Yéleth that will “serve their master loyally and permanently.”  This item is the Du'on Duqala Toruuna (or 'The Scroll of Bringing Forth the Unnamed') and the “text is written in flickering blue flame upon pages of brass.”  The same scroll permits evil Priests to create a similar group of undead beings called Mrúr.  “The construction of either of these beings requires the sacrifice of an equal number of human characters to Ksárul.”  (Ksárul is one of the Tlokiriqáluyal – the 'evil' gods of Tékumel; after the scroll is used once, “Ksárul sends his Black Angel to retrieve it.”)  So the scroll – property of an evil god – allows for the creation of undead or androids, depending upon the user.  In either case, human sacrifices are necessary; sacrifices of other intelligent beings are not sufficient.  This is a peculiar intersection of technology and magic.

A few other miscellaneous magical items are:
The Magical Chest of the Topaz Godlike a Bag of Holding, except it's a box.
The Mighty Wall of Thúmiscreates a wall of bronze for two turns.
The Jade Bowl of the God-King of Purdánimcan be used to exchange minds with a member of the same species for 24 hours.
The Trumpet of Metállja – “can summon any android or automaton within a 6 inch radius to do the bidding of the user for two turns.”

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Whence the Underworld

Underground City of Derinkuyu (source)

In order to prepare for a campaign, page 5 of Men & Magic provides the following advice:
First, the referee must draw out a minimum of half a dozen maps of the levels of his “underworld”, people them with monsters of various horrid aspect, distribute treasures accordingly, and note the location of the latter two on keys, each corresponding to the appropriate level.
Establishing an “underworld” is essential in early D&D ; indeed, the first word is 'Dungeons'.  The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures booklet explains how to create an underworld, but in-game rationale for these 'dungeons' is limited to mention of a “huge ruined pile, a vast castle built by generations of mad wizards and insane geniuses.”

Without a rationale, 'dungeons' are merely the backdrop for free-wheeling – if not gonzo – scenarios.  I cannot resist quoting Peterson on this matter:
...a funhouse-like underworld of wealthy monsters – a hole in the ground that exists for no discernible reason other than for adventurers to extract gold from it, filled with improbable creatures and situations...
Not that there's anything wrong with that, but such a thing is not well suited for a detailed, 'serious' setting like Tékumel.  Barker's world does not lack for adventure possibilities, yet there are many underworlds in Tékumel and Empire of the Petal Throne features underworld expeditions.  “It is...desirable,” Barker writes, “to have an Underworld developed upon logical...lines, with large complexes of tombs, temples, or other contents carefully worked out.”  While Barker falls short of adopting a paradigm of 'dungeon as community', he asks the prospective referee to consider the future ramifications of a party's explorations.

Barker explains why the underworlds exist:
Scattered over Tékumel are innumerable half-buried, half-forgotten ruins...there are tunnels of melted rock and steel constructed during the days of man's first glory; there are jumbled heaps destroyed by the cataclysms which rent Tékumel when the planet was cast into outer dimensional darkness; there are catacombs and subterranean labyrinths dating from more recent empires, cities, temples, pyramids, and fortresses dedicated to the lost and unremembered gods of half a hundred kingdoms.
Furthermore, there are underworlds beneath currently populated cities.  Barker explains this is due to the concept of Ditlána:
...the ceremonial “renewing” of many cities every 500 years:  cellars and foundations of an old city are filled in and roofed over, upper floors are razed, and then new and more splendid edifices are built upon this foundation.  Such earlier buried habitations are now full of burrows and tunnels built by humans, half-humans, nonhumans, and the many parasites and predators of Tékumel that subsist upon man's leavings.
Finally, many temples are maintained in the underworld, especially temples to evil gods, “and it is in these that many of the rich treasures of the ancients are preserved.”  (Since they're evil, it's OK to kill them and take their stuff.)

In the 'Developing an Underworld' section, Barker recommends various TSR products:  “These all give the mechanics...and discuss the construction of 'dungeons' in great detail.”  Regardless, he spends a few paragraphs going over the basics – using graph paper, making notations, etc.  Barker then supplies some examples, including “a brief sample of actual play” presented as a dialogue between a referee and the party leader as the party explores the Underworld.

In closing, I list some Underworld features described as “Saturday Night Specials” by Barker.
  • The Revolving Rooms of King Ssirandár I, which whirl around and deposit a party in an unknown and unexpected part of the Underworld.
  • Lelmiyáni, the Singer of Doom, who appears in the form of a little girl playing a flute.  Unless saving throws are made, she will lead a party into...
  • The Garden of Weeping Snows, which contains a variety of people that have been magically paralyzed in moments of extreme agony.  At the far end of the garden is...
  • The Palace of Frost, the habitation of Nyélmu the Wizard.  The good Gods have condemned Nyélmu to remain forever in the palace.  Nyélmu likes his guests to stay for an eon or two.
  • The River of Silence is an underground river that cuts across one of the levels below Jakálla.  On an island in the middle of the river dwells Death Himself.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Combat in Empire of the Petal Throne

Art by Dave Sutherland

As might be expected, combat in Empire of the Petal Throne is handled much like combat in Dungeons & Dragons.  For a character to successfully strike an opponent, the player must roll a certain number or higher on a d20.  The specific number is found by consulting a table that indexes the attacker's experience level against the defender's “armour class.”  Non-human attackers instead consult a table that indexes hit dice against the defender's armour class.

Also like D&D, armour class in EotPT is descending; lower numbers represent a greater amount of protection.  Whereas armor class in D&D ranges from 9 (no armor) to 2 (plate armor & shield), in EotPT it ranges from 9 (no armour) to 1 (plate armour and shield of iron/steel).  On the world of Tékumel, iron is scarce; as a substitute, Chlén-hide is used.  A Chlén is “a great, slow moving hippopotamus like animal.”  The tanners' clan is able to alter Chlén-hide so that it is “harder than bronze but slightly softer than iron.”  Weapons and armour made of iron are rare; also, they are heavier and more expensive than their Chlén-hide counterparts.  In fact, metal items are not presented on the equipment list.  So, in EotPT, armour class 2 represents “Plate armour and shield of Chlén-hide.”  Armour classes 9 through 3 are the same in both systems.  Other than armour class 1, all references to plate armour, chainmail, and shields on the EotPT table presumably refer to Chlén-hide.  One could assume that metal items have the next 'better' armour class yet the rules do not state this.  In EotPT, magic armour does not improve armour class, instead it increases the “to hit” number by an amount equal to the bonus.

The chance of a successful hit by an EotPT character is usually slightly less than that of his D&D counterpart.  For example, a first level D&D character needs a result of ten or greater in order to hit an armor class 9 defender, but an EotPT character needs an eleven.

In D&D, the columns of the 'Attack Matrix' represent six 'steps' of three levels each:  levels 1-3, levels 4-6, levels 7-9, levels 10-12, levels 13-15, and levels “16 & +.”  The structure of the EotPT table is the same except the last column is “13-up.”  In D&D, the stated levels are for Fighting-Men; Clerics have 'steps' of four levels and Magic-Users have 'steps' of five.   So, for instance, a tenth level Cleric would use the “7-9” column while a tenth level Magic-User would use the “4-6” column.  In EotPT, the 'steps' are the same for all three professions; a fourth level Magic User has the same “to hit” number as a fourth level Warrior and a seventh level Priest has the same chance of success as a seventh level Warrior.

Priests and Magic Users have restrictions with regard to armour and/or weapons but it is still counter-intuitive that they should fight with the same expertise as Warriors.  As mentioned previously, Warriors have various weapon skills available to them.  Weapon skills are not among those available to Magic Users and Priests, yet those professions are capable of using (some) weapons.  This would seem to suggest that a Warrior's weapon skills allow for greater proficiency than someone without such skills; the rules, however, provide no enlightenment.

Rolling a “natural 20” when attacking means that damage is doubled.  (Damage bonuses are not doubled, however.)  Additionally, the d20 is rolled again.  If the second roll results in 19 or 20, “the opponent is instantly dead, whatever his hit dice may be.”

Sufficiently high scores in the 'talents' of Strength, Intelligence, Constitution, and Dexterity can provide bonuses to hit and damage.  Likewise, sufficiently low scores impose minuses.  None of the talents affect armour class.  Although Dexterity is described (in part) as “one's ability to parry blows,” the rules do not explain how this is accomplished.

Most weapons inflict 1d6 damage; however, “daggers, thrown rocks, and miscellaneous light missiles” cause 1d4 damage.  Some weapons – “battleaxes, flails, morning stars, maces, halberds, poleaxes, and pikes” – inflict 1d6+1 damage, but have a Strength requirement of at least 81.  “The great two-handed broadsword favoured by the barbarians of N'lýss” causes 1d6+2 damage, but it requires a Strength of at least 90 and – of course – cannot be used in conjunction with a shield.

As they advance in level, characters can inflict multiple dice of damage upon opponents (depending upon the hit dice of said opponents).  For instance, a fourth level Warrior rolls two dice of damage against opponents with one hit die; a sixth level Warrior rolls three dice of damage against opponents with one hit die and two damage dice against opponents with three hit dice.  The following table conveys the same information as the EotPT chart, albeit with a different presentation.

Table shows number of d6 to be rolled for damage

Warriors are better than the other professions in this regard; for damage increase purposes, Priests are treated as one level less and Magic Users are treated as two levels less.  If a character is combating several opponents equivalent to one another, damage in excess of what was needed to kill one opponent is automatically applied to another.  In this way, several opponents may be slain with one attack.

A character using a broadsword and a dagger “can strike two blows per combat round.”  (Presumably, one attack per weapon.)  For these attacks, the die result needed to hit is increased by one.

A character may attempt a “physical action” instead of 'attacking' a foe.  Attempting to 'capture' an opponent (instead of inflicting damage) is an example of a “physical action.”  Such an action requires a percentile dice roll; if the result of the roll is less than the average of the character's Strength, Dexterity, and Intelligence, the action is successful.  If the result “is within 20 points of its maximum,” the victim should be allowed a saving throw against paralysis.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Zerzura

Obtained from here

Last New Year's Day, Thoul's Paradise enjoyed its first guest post.  Your humble host thought he might start a tradition of guest posts at the start of each year.  For today's post, I asked James Hutchings to supply commentary on a topic of his choosing. He asked if it needed to be exclusive and I replied that it did not.

Zerzura, or the City of Little Birds, is a city supposed to exist in the Sahara. It may have been first mentioned in Herodotus, who describes it as dedicated to Dionysus. Despite this association with the god of wine and revelry, the inhabitants of the city are supposed to be ascetic and stoic in character. Some sources say that the city was founded by Roman legionaries. Other sources claim that the founders were knights returning from the Crusades. The Kitab al Kanuz, or Book of Hidden Treasures, states that the city is guarded by black giants, who prevent anyone from entering or leaving.

In 1481, a camel driver named Hamid Keila reported to the emir of Benghazi (now in Libya), that he had gotten lost in the desert, after the rest of his party was killed in a sandstorm. Keila stated that he was found by a group of fair men, who wore straight swords rather than scimitars. They took him to a city of white marble, filled with palms, springs, and pools. The main entrance to the city was crowned by a carving of a strange bird. The inhabitants of Zerzura, who called themselves 'El Suri', spoke a form of Arabic.

The emir asked Keila how he had come to Benghazi. The latter became uncomfortable with the questioning, and said that he had escaped one night. The emir asked why it was necessary for him to escape from a city where he had been treated kindly. Receiving no satisfactory answer, the emir had Keila searched by his guards, who found that he carried a large ruby set in a gold ring. Keila could not explain how he came by the ruby. Deciding that he must have stolen the ruby from Zerzura, the emir had Keila taken to the desert and his hands cut off.

The emir later mounted an expedition to search for Zerzura, but was unable to find it.

The repeated failure of expeditions over many centuries to find the city suggests to me that it does not lie in our world at all. It seems to me that Zerzura is most likely a distorted account of the City of the Amazons. The martial nature of the Amazons could explain the association with Romans or crusaders. The 'black giants' may refer to the Amazons' god, Daba, who guards the city in a metaphorical sense. Herodotus seems more likely to be referring to another isolated settlement, that of the Mountain of the Father of Wine.