Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Nature of Magic in Tékumel

Before engaging upon today's topic, I would like to point out that, today, several blogs are participating in the Obsolete Simulations Roundup, a worthy idea presented by Tim Snider.  Why am I not participating?
  1. Apparently, I wasn't paying attention.  I blame the holidays.
  2. This is pretty much the raison d'être of my blog anyway but what I normally stretch out over a couple of months, I would need to encapsulate in one post.
Still, I would be remiss if I did not mention it for the edification of the dozens of people who might view this page.  Enjoy!

Emblem of the Temple of Wurú The Unnameable, He Who Appears Where
Evil Dwells, the Many-Legged Serpent of Gloom, and Cohort of Hrű'ű

As mentioned previously, the Tékumel solar system left 'our' universe.  It then became a 'Plane' unto itself.  The “multi-dimensional space-time continuum” is “formless energy” that encompasses the various Planes (including Tékumel's).  On page 14 of The World of the Petal Throne, Book 2, M.A.R. Barker writes...
The “skin of reality” which separates one Plane from another is rather thin over much of the planet and it is much easier on Tékumel to “reach through” and tap this inchoate, primal power than elsewhere in the cosmos.
This “inchoate, primal power” (or “formless energy”) acts as the fuel for magic.  If the multi-dimensional space-time continuum is analogous to an ocean, then Tékumel's Plane is analogous to a bubble.  Just as there are many bubbles in the ocean, so do numerous Planes abound in the continuum.  “Nexus Points” are connections between Planes which may be used for inter-Planar travel.  Page 16 informs us that...
A skilled mage can sometimes open...a Nexus Point...A few of these Nexus Points are relatively stable and always give access to the same other-dimensional world...Most Nexus Points are impermanent and perilous to use.
Denizens of these other Planes are called Sharétlkoi (i.e., “Demons”).  There are many Demon races representing a range of power from “semi-intelligent beings, animals, or even lower forms of life” all the way to “beings of such inconceivable power that they approach the 'Gods'...”

On Tékumel, there are two forms of magic:  ritual and psychic.  “Ritual mostly powered by the forces of the Planes Beyond.”  Correct performance of ritual magic produces a consistent effect.  “Psychic magic relies mainly upon the talents of the user himself.”  Since entering their current Plane, the humans of Tékumel have had thousands of years to increase their once vestigial psychic powers.  Such aptitude is represented in a character's Psychic Ability talent.  The two forms of magic are not mutually exclusive.  “In order to work...a psychic spell still requires a little power from the Planes Beyond as a sort of 'catalytic booster.'”  Likewise, “a ritual spell...requires a spark of psychic energy as a catalyst.”

A caster of either form of magic must be able to contain significant amounts of magical power.  This reservoir is called Pedhétl and is one of the five “selves” which compose every living entity.  Each self “has a separate identity and a certain degree of independence from the rest.”  The selves are:
  • Bákte – “the physical body”
  • Chusétl – “the Shadow-Self”  This is the self that exists in dreams and as an astral projection.  When the Bákte dies, so does the Chusétl.
  • Hlákme – “the conscious mind”  After the Bákte dies, “the Hlákme remains in the tomb, hovering near its bodily shell forever in a dreamless sleep unless returned to the corpse by necromancy.”
  • Báletl – “the Spirit-Soul”  In the afterlife, the Báletl “sheds its burden of identity and memory in order to be born anew upon ever more distant planes of consciousness.”
  • Penhétl – “the Enemy...the source of all emotion and passion and the motivating energy behind all action and ambition.”  After death, Pedhétl returns to the extra-Planar “sea” of energy.
Baker writes of “idiot savant[s]” with vast Penhétl but with limited intelligence and psychic ability.  These people are used by temples as “batteries.”  Barker also tells of “anti-psychic individuals” who automatically prevent spellcasting within a 1.5 meter radius.  Also, devices that use other-Planar energy do not work well (if at all) in proximity to such persons.

Humanity is not the only race to produce these “psychic dampeners.”  One-in-fifty Swamp Folk specimens are dampeners and the rest of that race “are genetically incapable of using sorcery of any kind.”  Also, “the Ahoggyá are generally poor magicians and one in every ten is a 'psychic dampener.'”  On the other hand, “Pé Chói and the Tinalíya are exceptionally good at sorcery.”

The energies of the Planes Beyond is more accessible at some locations and not others.  Regions where “spells work easily” are considered magically “fertile.”  Many cities – ruined or current – occupy such fertile areas.  In magically “barren” regions, “No spell operates...and even ancient technological devices work only once” and will not work again until removed from the area.  Aside from this more-or-less stable 'magic geography,' there are mobile “Nexus Points” that travel randomly over the world.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Inspiration: Arklyrell

City States of Arklyrell (halfling not included)

In 1983, Task Force Games published City States of Arklyrell, a fantasy wargame.  Like many such games of that era, players move cardboard counters (representing military units) around a hex map.  Like many such games, conflict is resolved by comparing 'combat strength', rolling a die (possibly modified due to terrain), and consulting a table.  Not so typical is that each player starts the game with a single unit – one of four unique 'Leaders' (Eorl, Cor, Arete, or Arion).  Leaders are unique because each has a different combination of 'Combat Factor' and 'Morale Factor'.  Combat Factor (as might be expected) measures effectiveness in combat; Morale Factor “indicates how persuasive the Leader is.”

In order to gain additional units, a player must recruit them by moving his or her Leader adjacent to a unit (not controlled by another player) and rolling equal to or greater than said unit's Morale Factor.  Strangely, a Leader's Morale Factor is not considered when recruiting units.  The only time a Leader's Morale Factor comes into play is when a unit accompanying the Leader suffers a 'disruption' result in combat; with a greater Morale Factor, a Leader has a better chance of maintaining control.  (Maybe a Leader's Morale Factor was meant to improve recruitment chances but that part was left out of the rules?)  Since all units other than Leaders begin the game as unaligned, they are not color-coded.  It is difficult, therefore, to track who owns a given unit – or if it is owned at all.

Anyway, “The game revolves around the conquest of the eight great Citadels, the seats of both political and economic power on the world of Arklyrell.”  I assume that 'Citadels' equates to the 'City States' of the title.  The object of the game is to simultaneously control a certain number of Citadels – the exact number depending upon the number of players.

There are various types of men available for recruitment – Berserkers, Barbarians, Nomads, and City Men; there are no humanoids/demi-humans, contrary to what the halfling on the cover might suggest.  Otherwise, there are Ships, Rocs, and Ice Worms.  Ships and Rocs can be used to transport troops.  Troop mobility is important in that – as the map below shows – the 'world' of Arklyrell consists of various islands and two coasts.

According to page 5 of the rules,
The mapsheet represents an entire world.  Players may move units off the east or west edges of the mapsheet.  The unit will then enter the opposite edge of the mapsheet, on the hex which corresponds with the hex it exited.
I have “cleaned up” the map slightly and in my efforts I made certain that no island was divided by the map edges.  As can be seen, the north boundary is ice.  The southern boundary is desert, perhaps geographically tropical.  This suggests not “an entire world,” but the northern hemisphere of a planet.  If we accept this hypothesis, then it follows that the map is a Mercator projection and distances of northern latitudes are exaggerated compared to the southern latitudes.  Alas, the distances are uniform.  Of course, since this is fantasy, we are not constrained by conventional logic.  Perhaps Arklyrell is cylindrical.  Another possibility is that Arklyrell is a sphere, but with one side constantly facing its sun.  In such a case, the map would represent the 'twilight ring' between the searing day side and the frozen night.  This would explain why units cannot exit the map along those edges.  Instead of the left/right edges of the map representing west/east (as the rules state), they would represent north/south.

There are seven locations where magical items may be located.  Magical item counters are randomly distributed, face-down at the locations.  Any Leader visiting such a location may reveal the counter in order to take the item.  However, there are only five magical items; the other two counters represent “poison wells” which cause the revealing player to lose a turn.  The five magical items are: 
  • Orb of Battlelust – Automatically recruit Berserker units
  • Diamond Ankh – Automatically recruit Ice Worm units
  • Sword of the Elements – Combat bonus
  • Mace of Kra – Combat bonus (usable in conjunction with Sword of the Elements)
  • Haser's Dust – Can be used once to negate an unfavorable combat result or to retry an attempt at recruitment
In an effort – I suppose – to keep the rules manageable, some situations may arise that do not appear to make sense.  For instance, Ships cannot be attacked unless they are in port.  Ships in port cannot attack and Ships at sea cannot attack one another; however, a Ship not at port can attack a Ship at port.  Perhaps every fleet on Arklyrell represents a distinct 'pirate tribe', but each tribe is free to align with whomever they want.  They do not attack one another on the open sea, but Ships at port are a valid target.  Even so, Ships attacked by ground units cannot retreat to open sea; they can only retreat to coastal hexes.  However, a Ship attacked by another Ship can apparently retreat to open sea.

Movement happens before combat, except a retreating unit could conceivably continue movement in a favorable direction.  Since Rocs must end their movement on land, they cannot attack Ships at sea.

There is no stacking other than a Leader with a ground unit or a Leader and/or ground unit on a Ship.  Therefore, after a Roc unit transports another unit it must have enough movement to continue to an unpopulated hex.  Also, a ground unit cannot embark upon and disembark from a Ship in a single turn.

Leaders cannot be killed; however, they can be trapped if the hex they occupy is surrounded by enemy units.  Rocs cannot rescue trapped leaders because, in order to be transported by a Roc, a ground unit must enter into the Roc's hex.

Lastly, there are two cities/citadels in the 'Arctic' region.  Although not a 'rule' question, why would they be in such an inhospitable place?  How do they sustain themselves?

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Intelligent Races of Tékumel

Long ago,“Man and his nonhuman interstellar colleagues” attempted to terraform the world of Tékumel.  “The blood-purplish jungles were poisoned with chemicals and replaced with the familiar plants of the hundred worlds of Humanspace.”  Intelligent species indigenous to Tékumel “were allowed to survive only upon remote 'reservations.'”  Thus, Tékumel was colonized.  Then something happened.
It is clear now that through some freak of space, some fault in the fabric of time itself, the solar system of Tékumel was cast into some great other-dimensional “hole in the sky.”
In the ages that have passed since that event (tens of thousands of years), technology has declined to medieval levels, magic has manifested, and the indigenous races are no longer confined.  There are various intelligent species on Tékumel, most of whom – including humanity – came from elsewhere.  In Empire of the Petal Throne, Barker describes twelve intelligent nonhuman races, some friendly to man, some hostile, and others neutral.  “There are still other species,” Barker writes, “but players are not likely to encounter them in the areas of Tékumel in which they will operate.”

Barker does not populate Tékumel with elf-analogs and dwarf-analogs, nor does he have 'aliens' that are essentially humans with pointed ears or blue skin.  Barker has crafted beings that are decidedly unhuman, both in form and in sentiment.  For practical reasons, there is only so much information the rule books can convey about each of the races.  This is just as well since – with few exceptions – the nonhuman races tend to stay apart from mankind.  Without further ado, here are the intelligent (nonhuman) species of Tékumel.

Pé Chói (by Karen J. Englesen)
Pé Chói (“the Listeners”) – Among the various races, the Pé Chói are perhaps the friendliest to Man.  The have six limbs and adults are approximately seven feet tall.  Their hightened senses of sight and hearing allow them to easily perceive secret doors and invisible/inaudible entities.  “On a roll of 6 on a 6-sided die they can ESP a neighbouring room or chamber” in a manner, I assume, similar to the Priest spell.  When one of their number is slain, the Pé Chói will exact revenge on the perpetrator unless (a.) the slain Pé Chói attacked first or (b.) the death occurred during a battle in which Pé Chói are serving on both sides.  They are able to do this because the Pé Chói have “racial telepathy.”  This would seem to be quite useful.  The most obvious use would be to establish a long distance communications network; however, Barker makes no mention of any use other than revenge.

Swamp Folk (by Dave Sutherland)
Nininyal (“the Pygmy Folk”) –   These rodent-like beings stand about one meter in height.  They have exceptional hearing and can “see easily in pitch blackness.”   They are known for travelling and trading.  “Although they are capricious, they must be counted friends of man.”  They are ferocious in battle as well as bargaining.  (There is a Tsolyáni proverb:  'To bargain with a Pygmy is to throw away one's purse.')

Heglethyál (“the Swamp Folk”) – The Swamp Folk are four to six feet tall and have six limbs.  “They are squat, rotund, rubbery white creatures...with long slanted foreheads, [and] a bony central crest rising from the forehead and slanting backwards to a point...”  Although they do not employ magic, they are capable sailors and can “detect sloping passages, traps, and dimensional nexus points.”

Tinalíya (by Katherine J. Grantham)
Tinalíya (“the Gnome-like Ones”) – Although referred to by the rules as “humanoid,” these two-foot tall beings have two arms, four legs, and are “covered with horny integument.”  Although scholarly, they are viscous fighters when attacked and need not check for morale.  Each of “their lairs will contain at least one book of magical nature,” at least one scroll, and a few of those ancient technological devices known as “Eyes.”

Ahoggyá (by Sutherland)
Ahoggyá (“the Knobbed Ones”) –
They are knobbly, brownish, bristly creatures 4-5 feet in height, though tremendously broad and strong.  Their upper “chest” is surmounted by four powerful arms, and their eyes and eating apparatus lie beneath these under a horny protective ring.

Hláka (by Sutherland)

Hláka (“the Furred Flyers”) – As their wings and name suggest, the Hláka are capable of flying.  They have three eyes and greyish fur.  “Two arms and two legs are supplemented by a powerful tail fitted with a poisoned rapier-like blade.”  Barker does not inform us of the effects of the poison, but he notes that “Hláka make poor slaves and are always clamouring to return to their homeland.”
Also on Tékumel are the Shánu'u, “larger and heavier cousins” to the Hláka.  Presumably, they come from the same world.  Parties of Hláka are often found accompanied by one or more Shánu'u.  I suspect the relation of Shánu'u and Hláka is analogous to greater primates and humans.

Páchi Léi (by Englesen)
 Páchi Léi (“the Forest Dwellers”) –
They are doughy in appearance and have eight articulated limbs, using the first four to eat, fight, etc. and the remainder to move and balance in the trees of their jungle homes...They have a good chance at detecting secret doors and passages as they pass by them...Their huge, platter-shaped eyes give them nocturnal vision.
Although listed among the neutral species, Páchi Léi have a modifier towards friendliness on the Nonplayer Character Reaction Table and “have often become citizens of the human nations, and one or two examples of generals over human troops are recorded in history.”

Shén (by James Garrison)

Shén (“the Demon Warriors”) –
Their gleaming black scales and dragon-like appearance make them appear to be tall, demonic human warriors in fantastic plate armour.  They have long beak-like snouts and a glittering crest of slender spines, which they can extend or keep flat along their skulls...They walk on two legs and have two arms, as men do, but they also have a muscular tail with a mace-like horny appendage at the end.

Hlutrgú (by Sutherland)

Hlutrgú (“the Swamp Frogs”) – The illustration to the right shows the Hlutrgú as having four limbs; however, Barker states that they are four-legged creatures and that they “carry darts for spearing or throwing, using their four long arms.”  To me this suggests eight limbs, but perhaps there are only four limbs that can be used either as arms or legs.  (The illustrated Hlutrgú is shown grasping a spear with his 'foot'.)  Regardless, they “hate humans and nonhumans indiscriminately” and “have a particularly ugly reputation for torture and atrocities upon humans who fall into their clutches.”
I have not been able to discern if the Hlutrgú are native to Tékumel or if, in ancient times, they were interstellar partners of mankind.

Hlýss (by Englesen)

Hlýss (“the Spawn of the Old Ones”) – The Hlýss are an insectoid race who pre-date humanity's appearance on Tékumel.  They are described as “aquatic cousins” of the Ssú (see below).  They live on the Isle of the Hlýss with the great Hlýss mother and sometimes travel the seas “upon their hive-like ships, made from a stony bodily secretion.”  They possess “six legs and light chitinous armour, with a row of razor-sharp mandibles beneath their probosces” in addition to a tail with a sting capable of paralyzing opponents.  When encountered, Hlýss are likely to have magical weapons and ancient items of technology.  “The Hlýss collect all sorts of weapons, gems, and jewellery and have the latter set into their body-armour permanently.”

Vleshgayal (“the Shunned Ones”) – The Shunned Ones also pre-date the presence of humanity on Tékumel (and may even pre-date the Ssú).  They tend to remain ensconced in their sealed cities but “emerge from their isolation to seek magical items in the labyrinths beneath ruined cities.”
They are tall, ragged-looking spectral beings, with two extremely long arms and legs...They have a terrible and repellent stench that drives off humans and nonhumans alike.
Ssú (by Jeff Dee)
Ssú (“the Enemies of Man”) –
They are tall, slender, six-limbed beings wrapped in what looks like greyish shrouds (actually a loose integument which keeps shredding and pulling off).  They smell like musty cinnamon and make a high, sweet chiming sound.
Aside from their competency with magic, each Ssú of at least level IV can hypnotize 1-3 persons once per day.  If a saving throw is failed, the victim will be under the control of the Ssú “and he can be freed only by the death of the Ssú commanding him.”

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Characters in Empire of the Petal Throne

Masked guard – Priest Kings' Palace, Hmakuýal (by James Garrison)

Given the strong association of Empire of the Petal Throne and Dungeons & Dragons, similarity of game mechanics between the two is to be expected.  The differences are therefore noteworthy, such as the differences with regard to character creation.

The three 'classes' in original D&D are Fighting-Men, Magic-Users, and Clerics.  For EotPT, the differences are in name only; the three 'professions' are Warriors, Magic Users, and Priests.  Similarly, while D&D has six 'abilities' for characters, EotPT has six 'talents'; four of these abilities/talents are identical:  Strength, Intelligence, Constitution, and Dexterity.  However, instead of Wisdom and Charisma, EotPT has Psychic Ability and Comeliness.  Although EotPT talents and D&D abilities are alike, the scores are determined differently; EotPT employs a flat distribution percentile.  According to section 410...
Should a player roll a totally unsuitable character, the referee (at his option, not the player's) may allow the player to roll over for a totally new character.  Re-rolling individual basic talents is NOT allowed, nor is it possible to transfer points from one talent to another.
Of course, with a flat probability distribution, EotPT characters have a greater likelihood than their D&D analogs of obtaining extreme values (either high or low).  The talent score 'groupings' (and their descriptors) are shown in the table below.  Interestingly, the 'average' range for every talent other than Comeliness is 41-60; for Comeliness, the 'average' range is 21-50.

Psychic Ability “is one's ability to employ magic, attain communication with the Gods, etc.”  It is the prime requisite for Magic Users in EotPT; in contrast to D&D, the prime requisite for EotPT Priests is Intelligence.  'Non-Psychic' individuals are unable to use magic.  'Barely-Psychic' characters can cast spells except those from the highest tier.

Comeliness is only a measure of appearance, it does not include elements of 'personality' that are a part of Charisma.  In EotPT, there are no rules indicating that Comeliness affects NPC reactions or hireling loyalty.  Most of the talents have six 'groupings' while Comeliness has eight, ranging from 'Hideous' to 'Wildly Handsome/Gloriously Lovely'.

A mechanism exists for increasing a character's talent scores.  A percentile die is rolled for a character upon advancing to a new experience level.  With a result of 81-99, a talent score is increased by five points; with a result of 00, a talent score is increased by ten points.  The talent to be raised is determined by rolling 1d6.  If the indicated talent already has a score of 100, “the roll is simply null and void” and there is no talent increase for that experience level.

In addition to talents, EotPT characters have background skills.  A percentile die is rolled to determine how many and of which group; the player chooses the specific skill(s).  There are three 'groups' of background skills:  plebeian, skilled, and noble.  So, in effect, the 'background skill' roll determines a character's original social class – not that it matters.  There are six possibilities:
  • One 'plebeian' skill
  • One 'plebeian' skill and one 'skilled' skill
  • One 'plebeian' skill, one 'skilled' skill, and one 'noble' skill
  • One 'noble' skill and two skills from among the 'plebeian' and 'skilled' groups
  • Three 'plebeian' skills and two skills from among the 'skilled' and 'noble' groups
  • Four 'plebeian' skills and three skills from among the 'skilled' and 'noble' groups
The 'plebeian' group is comprised of various trade skills such as grocer, carpet-maker, miner, perfumer, etc.  Among the 'skilled' group there are:  sailor, bird-trainer, scribe-accountant, swimmer-diver, etc.  The 'noble' skills include scholar, botanist, physician, 'assassin-spy-tracker', poet, alchemist, 'courtesan/Don Juan', etc.  At certain levels of experience, there is a 50% of obtaining additional skills.  Alternately, a “skill may also be learned in the game itself” provided money, time, and a suitable instructor.

Each profession/class has its own list of 'professional' skills.  Each character starts with 2 – 5 professional skills and gain an additional professional skill with each experience level.  Other than during character generation, professional skills must be learned in order, from the top of the list down.  Skills near the bottom of the list cannot be learned during character generation, so those skills will only be possessed by higher level characters.

The Warrior list consists of various weapon skills (such as “axeman,” “bola-slinger,” “crossbowman,” et al.), but the last three skills on the list are:  “sapper,” “catapult-artilleryman,” and “strategist.”

Although termed as professional “skills,” most of the items on the Magic User list and the Priest list are spells.  The first two items on the Priest list are “knows 2 modern languages” and “knows 2 ancient languages.”  Other items look familiar – “detect evil/good,” “cure light wounds,” “protection from evil/good,” et al.  The last item on the Priest list is “revivify.”

The Magic-User list has “astrologer,” but the rest of the items are spells (such as “clairaudience,” “telekinesis,” “necromancy,” et al.)  The first item on the Magic-User list is “control of self,” which can be used for various 'mind-over-matter' effects twice per day.  Examples of “control of self” effects are:  hold breath indefinitely, stop heartbeat, enter into trance, total memory recall, et al.  The last item on the Magic-User list is ominous sounding – “the Grey Hand.”

There are a variety of other spells (called “bonus spells”) that are divided into three groups of increasing potency.  Upon advancing to a new experience level, Priests and Magic-Users have a chance of learning bonus spells.  Priests and Magic-Users choose from among the same population of spells; therefore, only the 'professional skill' spells are not shared between the two professions.

Monday, December 9, 2013

The City Half as Old as the World

Combatants in the Hirilákte Arena; Richard Launius (1987)

Two weeks ago, I indicated that introductory role-playing games ought to have introductory adventures.  By virtue of being one of the very first RPGs, Empire of the Petal Throne is an introductory role-playing game.  However, it does not have an introductory adventure; it has something arguably better.

I have previously discussed Professor Barker, his game, and his world – so there is no need to include that information in this post.  While the setting of Tékumel is too intricate for me to analyze it with any justice, I hope to gloss over what I consider to be some of the more interesting aspects of Barker's world in addition to exploring of the game's mechanics.  (Incidentally, the first edition rules are currently available electronically.)

Anyway, according to the section “Starting the Game,” all EotPT player characters are recently arrived foreigners in the Tsolyáni port city of Jakálla – “Princess of the River, Mistress of Cities.”  Specifically... is assumed that [they] arrive in a small boat...It is also assumed that everyone speaks understandable, though non-native, Tsolyáni and can read the modern form of this language.
No reasons are suggested for why the characters are in this circumstance; none are needed.  Having come “from their (presumed) barbarian homelands,” their lives up to this point are inconsequential.  Strangers are limited to the foreigners' quarter, a sort of ghetto for adventurers.  The rules expressly advise beginning characters “to remain within the foreigners' quarter until contacted for a mission by some nonplayer Tsolyáni character.”  Player characters who venture out of the quarter unescorted “run the risk of making errors in speaking Tsolyáni or in the intricate rules of Imperial etiquette” – risks that can result in circumstances “from derision and laughter to a quick trip to the impalement stake.”

Jakálla Foreigners' Quarter; Craig James Smith
          Upon reaching experience level III, a player character may travel freely within the Empire.  When he or she attains level VI, Imperial citizenship is granted...
In Skyrealms of Jorune, player characters also attempt to become citizens.  This serves as both the motive and focus of play in Jorune, while in EotPT 'citizenship' seems more like an automatic, ancillary effect of successfully partaking in adventures.  Regardless, the “foreigners' quarter” restriction allows the characters and the players to be introduced to the alien nature of Tékumel at a gradual pace.  Yet life in the foreigners' quarter is not comfortable:  “The food is abominable – stomach complaints and diarrhea are common.”  Thus, there is an incentive to leave the quarter behind.  This is accomplished by undertaking missions.
While still dwelling in the foreigners' quarter in Jakálla...[player characters] are often visited by Tsolyáni seeking their services.  This form of employment is advantageous since such Tsolyáni employers or patrons can offer help, money, further personnel, and even magical items.  By undertaking these missions...[player characters] also form social contacts within the Empire and begin to establish a place for themselves, a circle of Tsolyáni friends, etc...
Possible visitors to the foreigners' quarter include (but are not limited to) Evil Priest/Priestess, Good Priest/Priestess, Magic User, Nobleman/-woman, Nonhuman, and Scholar.  Possible missions include (but are not limited to)...
Help in a quarrel, join in political intrigue, assassinate visitor's enemy...Join in an expedition to the nearest Underworld...Become the visitor's champion in the Hirilákte arena...Visit visitor's home (purpose decided by referee)...
Although not specified in the rules, I think there would exist 'agents' that facilitate contact between prospective employers and appropriate candidates.  I can't imagine that important Tsolyáni citizens would spend a significant amount of time in the foreigners' quarter in hopes of coming across a suitable employee among the riff-raff.  An agent would coordinate interests efficiently and with discretion...for a reasonable price, of course.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Inspiration: Arawan

Art by Chris White
          Centuries before the dawning of the New Age an awesome and terrible Dragon came to Arawan.  To the villagers, he was fearfully known as Brimstone.
          For countless years, Brimstone ravaged the land with sulphurous vapor and infernal flame.  Finally, a great and powerful mage, the fabled Thucidibes, came forth to challenge the Dragon's pitiless reign.
          With rites of unspeakable power, and swords of unparalleled worth, the mage launched his arcane assault against Brimstone.  Swords scored the Dragon's body, fire rained against the mage's defenses and magic electrified the air.  Each combatant strove with his mightiest efforts to end, forever, the other's deadly menace.
          Days passed, the conflict raged unabated.  Finally, the mage's defenses faltered before Brimstone's tireless assault.  Seconds before meeting Death, the mage realized that his arsenal lacked one vital ingredient – the unquenchable flame of Heroic Valor.  With his last mote of strength the dying mage dispersed his finest swords to the Kingdoms of Arawan and imbued them with protective cantrips and arcane power.  In the embrace of Death, every man's lover, he hoped the future would bring a man of awesome valor who would, by proven valor, earn one of these weapons and end forever Brimstone's reign of terror.
          Centuries passed.  The mage's death wish remained unfulfilled, Brimstone remained the true lord of Arawan.  Finally, with the dawn of the New Age, man is struggling against Fear's sleepy grasp.  Arawan's Hero-Kings, and their valiant followers, are contesting the Dragon's fearful imperium.
          Will their valor, and the potent Mageswords, suffice against the power that IS Brimstone?
          It is up to you!
Thus reads the introduction for Dragonhunt, “Avalon Hill's trademark name for its game of fantastic battle.”  Released in 1982, the credited designer is Garrett J. Donner.  The back of the box offers a bit more color:
          ...And in this way a New Age came to A Man and he shivered no longer in the darkness.  And in the Kingdoms of Arawan the New Age brought man a war of righteous retribution against the ancient peril of the land, Brimstone.
          We, the High Chroniclers of Arawan, could greatly detail the War of the Dragon for the student, but thus is knowledge too easily gained.  Instead, let the proclamation of the seventh year speak for our valiant progenitors:
          “By order of the Kings of Arawan, for the greater glory and majesty of our most holy God, Morah, let it be known that the Dragon, sometimes called Brimstone, is declared anathema in the sight of both Morah and man, a creature spawned in the darkest bowels of unholy perdition.  By this multitudinous acts of evil, and his centuries of the grossest violation of proper order, has he earned the just anger of man and the pious hatred of our lord, Morah.
          “All vassals and freemen of the six kingdoms are hereby called to arms, in service of Morah and their rightful liege lord, to rid the land forever of this, our scourge.
          “We, the Kings of Arawan, together and severally, do proclaim unceasing war on this Draconian blight and all secret servitors of his cause.  By binding oath, sanctified and potent, we do further declare and insure that he who shall slay the Dragon Brimstone shall be proclaimed, and enthroned, as High King and Lord of the Six Kingdoms of Arawan.  Let all men of true blood heed and obey this, our holy writ.”

Each of the Kingdoms of Arawan consists of a castle, a village, and a cottage.  In the game, the kingdoms don't have names per se, but they can be identified by their castles.  Clockwise from the north they are:  Castle of the North, Moss-Stone Castle, Castle of the Sea, Silver Castle, Sunken Castle, and Hidden Castle.  In terms of units, at the beginning of the game, each player controls a hero, four knights, two snipers (I would have called them archers), and six men-at-arms.

The object of the game is to destroy the Dragon; however, infighting is to be expected among the players.  By capturing castles and villages, a player increases the number of reinforcements to which he or she is entitled.  Of course, a player suffers a set back if his or her own holdings are captured by others.  So as to prevent player elimination, a player's cottage is inviolate.

Units have an attack strength and a defense strength.  The attacking unit rolls 1d6 and adds the result to the attack strength .  The defending unit rolls 1d6 and adds the result to the defense strength; also, the terrain that the defender occupies may provide a bonus.  If the attacker's total attack strength is greater than the defender's total defense strength, the defender is killed.  Likewise, if the defender's total defense strength exceeds the attacker's total attack strength, then the attacker is destroyed.  If both totals are equal, then both units are wounded.

Players roll dice to determine the movement of the Dragon, but any given player might have a choice regarding the direction in which the Dragon moves.  If, during its movement, the Dragon encounters a unit, it will attack that unit.  Dragon combat is handled differently than other combat.  Essentially, 2d6 are rolled and the defender's defense strength and any terrain modifiers are added to the result.  The Dragon Combat Table is then consulted.  When units attack the Dragon, attack strength is added to the roll instead of defense strength.  (Multiple attacking units may combine their strengths.)  The Dragon does not receive benefit from terrain except when attacked in his lair, in which case it is subtracted from the attacker's total.

The Dragon Combat Table allows for three possible outcomes.  One possibility is that a Dragon Card is drawn.  Otherwise, a number of units are killed (or wounded) and/or the Dragon is wounded.  The Dragon cannot die by virtue of the Dragon Combat Table.  The Dragon can endure any number of wounds with no effect other than the Dragon becomes enraged.  Dragon Cards can have various effects.  In some instances, the player drawing the card can direct the Dragon's attack; in other instances, the Dragon may attack the drawing player's units or holdings.  Among other effects, the Dragon may take a nap.

So what's the point in attacking the Dragon if you can't kill it?  Well, the Dragon can only be killed with a Magesword and the only way to get a Magesword is to “prove” your valor by wounding the Dragon three times.  Using a Magesword to attack the Dragon is handled differently than other forms of combat.  In Magesword combat, the attacker receives a random number of Magical Defense counters and the Dragon has a number of counters that represent his body.  Basically, the attacker rolls a die and the corresponding Dragon counter is removed.  Then someone rolls on behalf of the Dragon.  If the result of the roll corresponds to a Dragon counter that has not been removed, then one of the Magical Defense counters is removed.  The process repeats.  If the Magical Defense counters are depleted, the attacker loses.  If the Dragon's counters are depleted, the attacker wins.

Variety is added to the game by 'fantastic beings,' no more than two of which will be in play at any given time.  Based on turn order, players can choose which fantastic beings enter play and (to some extent) control their actions.
  • Banisher – If the Banisher attacks a unit and prevails, the player controlling the Banisher sends the unit to any unoccupied hex on the board.
  • Berserker – If the Berserker moves and kills a unit, it is possible for him to move and attack again that round.
  • Demon – Other than Heroes, any unit killed by the Demon is removed from the game.  Units other than Heroes and the Dragon cannot kill the Demon but only wound it with a 'kill' result.  If a player's Hero kills the Demon, the forces of that player can obtain additional Magical Defenses for use in attacking the Dragon.
  • Disperser – The Disperser can cause adjacent units, other than the Dragon, to move away from the Disperser.
  • Dragon Charmer – If the Dragon Charmer is in the same row of hexes as the Dragon, he can cause the Dragon to move away from or towards him (but only if the Dragon is awake).
  • Eagle – A player may use the Eagle either (1) to transport one of his or her units to an unoccupied hex on the board or (2) to 'harry' another player's unit.
  • Paralyzer – Units adjacent to the Paralyzer cannot move or attack.  This power does not affect the Dragon, other fantastic beings, any unit in possession of a Magesword, or any unit occupying a castle, village, or cottage.
  • Revivor – A player controlling the Revivor can return a dead unit to play.  This power does not work on units killed by the Demon.  “The Revivor has no power in Hell.”
  • Teleporter – The Teleporter can be used to teleport a player's unit to any hex (presumably unoccupied) adjacent to the Teleporter.
  • Troll – The Troll ignores 'wound' results.
A quest to kill a dragon is by no means original and – by itself – offers little in the way of inspiration.  It is the setting of Dragonhunt that offers inspiration for RPG scenarios.  Kingdoms ostensibly unified in combating a Dragon but taking advantage of the situation to gain territories at the expense of one another.  The Dragon is akin to a force of nature, but a kingdom can make surreptitious attempts to affect the Dragon's choice of targets by means of lures or magic or enlisting the aid of fantastic beings.  The hunt for the Dragon need not be the adventure, it can serve as a backdrop for a stage upon which Hero-Kings, fantastic beings, player characters, and a host of other entities may strut.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Astrologer's Tower


An introductory role-playing game ought to have an introductory adventure.  For Wizards' Realm, that adventure is called 'The Astrologer's Tower' which – including the floor plan – exceeds five pages by a couple of paragraphs.

Creating an introductory adventure can be a difficult prospect when you consider that, in effect, you are attempting to teach a first-time game master how to run an adventure.  Yes, it should also serve an an introduction for the players and demonstrate application of the rules, but educating a GM is most important.  Examples in the rulebook should show how to apply rules and – nowadays, thanks to computer games and other media – most people have a basic notion as to what players do.  GM advice and an example 'script' of a GM interacting with players is fine (if not necessary), but all of that is theory while the introductory adventure is actual practice.  The success or failure of how the adventure plays out affects the participants' liking of not just the game, but RPGs in general.  So, yes, it's quite important.

Ideally, the introductory adventure helps the game master create an enjoyable experience for everyone involved.  It is not necessary to hold the GM's hand (e.g., “Read the text in the grey box to the players...”) nor is it necessary to explore the subtleties and finesse of being a GM.  It's all a matter of achieving a balance.  Give the players enough information to get their interest, but don't subject them to an infodump.  Introduce an appropriate objective, but don't let the players think they're being railroaded.

So, the characters of the authors and playtesters of Wizards' Realm are all buddies and they call themselves 'The Company of the Keep.'  Stats are provided for some of these characters and some have a presence in Mousehole.  In the introductory adventure, the editor's character – Lady Felicity, 7th degree physician and fencer – has been abducted by the foul Wizardess Margali.  Most of 'the company' are conveniently indisposed; the one remaining member has a broken arm and recruits the player characters to rescue the damsel.  Besides the damsel-in-distress trope, the “You all meet at an inn” trope is also deployed.  In an introductory adventure, I think it's fine to use tropes blatantly.  Tropes are something recognizable to which participants can relate.  Tropes offer a comfort zone – a foundation upon which participants can role play.

Anyway – assuming the characters survive and the players have a continuing interest – the adventure provides the party with a monetary reward, the goodwill of powerful non-player characters who can act as allies/mentors/contacts, and their own base of operations in the form of the eponymous astrologer's tower.  These results, at least, seem well-suited to encourage further gaming.  However, the execution of the adventure is less than ideal.

The player characters are present when the proprietress – a member of 'the company' – receives “a note and a map” informing her of Felicity's abduction.  None of the inn's other patrons “are eager to be off to the 'haunted tower',” which leaves the player characters as the last hope.  The NPC says:
You look like a hardy lot...and I have need of your aid.  If you will take this map and can bring Lady Felicity back, I will see that you are handsomely rewarded.
There's that map again.  If the characters get a map, the players will want to see it.  Unfortunately, no map is provided.  So maybe what the map looks like isn't important; maybe it's just something that allows the characters to find the tower.  We'll see.  The NPC continues:
Be warned!...Margali is a potent foe, and she surely has henchmen waiting on the high road.  If she's prepared for Sir Tarl, she's more than ready for you.  Best you take the swamp paths to avoid the road entirely.
The adventure can be divided into three phases:  the introduction, “swamp encounters,” and the tower.  In case you couldn't tell, the party is expected to reach the tower by traversing the swamp.  After all, the high road “leads to certain doom!”  Now, if the henchmen were expecting Sir Tarl and/or his well known compatriots, why would they accost anyone else?  Are they supposed to prevent all traffic on the high road?  That's not the worst part.  It turns out that the tower is located on the coast – a fact that the players could clearly notice if they were allowed to see a map showing the tower's location.  The quickest means of getting to the tower is by boat and boats are available for hire in Mousehole.  So, characters are supposed to travel through the swamp only to find that the tower is on the coast – a fact they should have known by virtue of the map.

Also, without a map, there's no way for the game master to determine the amount of time it takes to reach the tower; the adventure only notes that the journey takes more than a day.  For every four hours, a roll is made on the encounter table.  Some encounters can only take place once; the only way there can be no encounter is if a 'once only' result is rolled a second (or later time).  Most of the encounters involve fighting something, like spiders or hobbit bayou bandits.  There's a quagmire that the party can avoid if they are “checking for such dangers.”  However, such caution cannot allow them to avoid the snake pit.  One of the encounters involves a poor man's Baba Yaga.

The adventure notes that “Margali's goons” have cleared out the tower.  Regardless, there are a few traps and obstacles, two of which make no sense if Margali's goblins are expected to report to her.  Here's the thing – Margali waits in a room on the highest level and that level has an observation deck.  If Margali has the wherewithal to station henchmen on the high road, why wouldn't she have a couple of goblins as lookouts?

The climax of the adventure occurs when Margali summons “doublegangers” to fight the party.  Each character confronts an exact duplicate of him or herself while Margali gets away.  Of course, Margali was expecting Sir Tarl and company and they would have fought their duplicates.  At least this is a plausible way for the party to survive a trap intended for characters much more powerful than they.

Although 'The Astrologer's Tower' has the potential of being a good introductory adventure, there are logical flaws with which a first-time game master should not have to cope.  Background information about the tower is provided to the game master, but there's nothing that instructs a beginning GM on how to convey any of this information to the party.  Ideally, the adventure should have accommodated alternate strategies or at least provided reasons for the party to prefer the swamp route.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Monsters (& Critters) in Wizards' Realm

As might be expected, Wizards' Realm offers a variety of opponents for player characters.  Rather than a fixed set of statistics for each type of entity, the rule book lists what dice should be rolled to determine Attributes.  For instance, a skeleton has the following Attributes:  Strength – 1d20, Intelligence – 1d20, Constitution – 1d6, Dexterity – 1d20, Agility – 3d10, Charisma – 1d6, Appearance – 1d10, and Luck – 1d10.  The description for 'skeletons' is as follows:
SKELETONS make up the sword-fodder contingent of many a Spellcaster's traps, being easily Animated and cheap to maintain.  For all that, they are deadly foes, as one has to completely break up such opponents.  Even a Skeleton whose limbs are broken will attempt to make a biting attack.  Completely break up!
If your humble host may be allowed to digress for a moment, he would care to comment upon skeletons in combat.  Wizards' Realm combat does not use hit locations, so the notion of a skeleton “whose limbs are broken” is something that occurs only at the Game Master's discretion.  However, it does make sense that a skeleton's effectiveness would be compromised as its appendages are destroyed.  Characters and monsters in Wizards' Realm have an 'Attack Number' based upon Strength, Dexterity, and Agility.  If damage to a skeleton was applied to Attack Number rather than Survival Points, it would reflect a diminished capability of the skeleton to attack; it's not like a skeleton feels pain or could be rendered unconscious.  Just a thought.

Tolkien's influence is evident among the monster listings; 'Great Spiders' are even referred to as Attercoppes.  At least the authors try to use some imagination when naming their knock-offs; Balrogs are Balefiends and Ents are Florana (singular - Florin).  Other literary influences include the Grendl:
The GRENDL is the flesh rending fiend haunting swamp, bog and mire.  The so-called Bayou Bogey (no relation to a true bogey) is driven by one urge: hunger.  To satisfy itself the Grendl will even invade nearby lodgings for prey – and is savage with its victims.  Its most frequent weaponry are its fangs, claws and constricting hug, though in melee the beast has been known to use an arm or leg (of a victim) as a club.  Primarily nocturnal.
Wizards' Realm also presents a system for random monster creation.  Let's make a monster, shall we?

First, we roll d% to determine the monster's size in feet:  83.  Next, we roll another d% to determine 'general type':  34 = mammal.  (“For underwater adventures,” page 48 tells us, “assume Fish or Amphibian, and do not use this table.”)  To find out “means of locomotion,” we roll another d% and subtract the result from what we rolled for the monster's size; less than 75 means “walk/crawl, etc.” while 75 or greater means “fly.”  With a roll of 31, our creature is hoofing it.  Next, we roll on the 'weaponry table' once for every ten feet of size (or fraction thereof).  If the same 'weapon' is rolled more than once, damage from the weapon is multiplied accordingly.  With our nine rolls we get:  Teeth (x2), horns/spines (x2), poison/spray, trample/crush/constrict (x3), and claws.  Although the rules do not offer explanations for 'horns' or 'claws,' we are treated to the following information:
Teeth are a piercing weapon in the monster's mouth; jaws shut like a vise and hold, or make repeat attack.
Trample is usually the technique of large monsters or herds of creatures.
Poison can be in the fangs or claws, spines or even the skin of the monster.  Suggested types are:
Incapacitator, which causes the victim to lose 1d10 of Survival Points per combat turn until rendered unconscious/comatose, and lasts until cured.
Convulser, which causes immediate convulsions and reduces victim by 1d20 Survival Points per turn unless or until cured.
Nauseator, which causes victim to make save on Constitution or become sick and unable to fight for 1d20 turns, unless cured.
Corrosive is usually either contact (skin) or breath/spray weapon.  Does 1d20 damage, and it will blind if a hit is in the face.
'Trample' is appropriate given the size of our monster; with x3, damage is 15.  Spines are good to discourage attacks to the flank; with x2, damage is 24.  Teeth at x2 cause 20 points of damage; claws cause 8.  I like the idea of a nauseating breath weapon.

For every twenty feet of size (or fraction thereof), we are entitled to a roll on the defense table.  Our five results are:  1d10 Armor Rating (x3) and Runner (x2).  'Runner' means, “if getting the worst of the deal, will run away.”  I'm not sure what two 'Runner' results indicate, so I reroll one of them and obtain another 1d10 Armor Rating.  This gives our monster an Armor Rating of 16.

The rules inform us that a “quickie Attack Number may be developed by using size of the creature plus 1d20, plus the weapon damage of the various monster weapons...”  So, since I rolled a 'one' on the d20, our monster's Attack Number is 151 (i.e., 83 + 1 + 15 + 24 + 20 + 8).  As a comparison, a Balefiend without a weapon has – at most – an Attack Number of 140.  Of course, any given Balefiend “exudes an aura of fear,” which would prevent our skittish monster from attacking it.

Friday, November 8, 2013

The Book that Appendix N Forgot

On this date, twenty-five years ago, Barbara Ninde Byfield passed away.  She was an author and an illustrator.  More to the point of this post, she wrote and illustrated The Glass Harmonica: A Lexicon of the Fantastical, since re-published as The Book of the Weird.  The complete subtitle reads:
Being a most Desirable Lexicon of The Fantastical, Wherein Kings and Dragons, Trolls and Vampires, to say nothing of Elves and Gnomes, Queens, Knaves and Werewolves, are made Manifest, and many, many further Revelations of The Mystical Order of Things are brought to light.
The back of my copy describes the book as “a treasure chest of hidden knowledge for those who fancy venturing into the twilight worlds of the Heroic, the Occult, and the Romantic.”  It is, in effect, an encyclopedia of fantasy and fairy tale tropes.  Doubtless, it is the book to which Zeb Cook refers in his foreword to The Dungeon Alphabet.  Cook says, “...I cannot remember the title or artist...It fueled my imagination with possibilities and led me to incorporate that fantastic whimsy into my own games – to want to create worlds with those touches of detail, irony and just out-and-out wonder.”

As an example of Byfield's whimsy, here is a portion of the entry on Hermits:
          ANCHORITES show a preference for thorns, drought, and meditation.  Certain that the next world will be without the above afflictions, they relish their present discomforts, which may include beds of thistles.
As examples of Byfield's illustrative prowess, see her 'Castle' diagram below and her 'Landscapes' diagram at the close of this post.

When I say, “The Book that Appendix N Forgot,” I am referring to the Dungeon Masters Guide Appendix N; Byfield's book is given due credit in the RuneQuest Appendix N.  This is curious in that the influence of The Glass Harmonica is more apparent in AD&D than in RuneQuest.  Some other blog does a capable job of demonstrating the artistic similarities between Byfield's work and 1e AD&D, so I will not duplicate the effort.  However, I will speculate that, in the absence of Byfield's entry on Trollops, Trulls, Bawds, Doxies, and Strumpets, the DMG 'harlot table' would be much less colorful or might not exist at all.  Also, I must wonder if “Rods, Staves, & Wands” would have been so grouped by Gygax in AD&D if not for Byfield's categorization of Wands, Staffs, and Rods.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The Life and Times of Corvus Andromeda

Art by Rick Magyar; Corvus Andromeda (L), Bruce Lee (R)

Once again, we at Thoul's Paradise celebrate the birthday of Tom Moldvay (not to be confused with Robert Moldvay, the man responsible for the 1977 Canadian 'Red Box').  In this installment, we see hints of a common Moldvay universe that permeates different games from different publishers.

With the release of Moldvay's Revolt on Antares by TSR in 1981, we are introduced to 'Galactic Hero' Corvus Andromeda.  Essentially, the ten 'Galactic Heroes' are mercenaries in the game and we learn that Corvus is an “Intergalactic assassin.”  When game personalities engage in individual combat, all – except Corvus – are considered equal to one another.  Corvus' sole special ability is that he has an edge in such combat.

Corvus by Jeff Dee
Careful study of the Corvus Andromeda counter art leads us to believe it is Corvus that Jeff Dee depicts on the Revolt on Antares cover.

Four years later, Moldvay's The Future King is published by Spellbinders.  The Future King is an odd product; it is an adventure module with its own game system.  It deserves an in depth analysis at another time.  For purposes of the current post, all we need to know is that players in The Future King control specific historical persons such as Cyrano de Bergerac and Bruce Lee.  This publication provides the picture at the top of the post.  Corvus Andromeda serves as a random encounter in The Future King.  Actually he is the suggested encounter if a random encounter occurs at a specific part of the adventure.  At no other point in the adventure is there an opportunity to encounter Corvus.

Page 5 of The Future King affords us the following description:
Corvus Andromeda is a futuristic hero.  He was once a captain in the Terran Starguards but he had to leave the service after killing a superior officer in a duel.  Since then he has been a soldier of fortune, a smuggler, and even an assassin.  Still, he has never lost his sense of honor.  Corvus always dresses in silver and black, the colors of the Terran Starguard.
We also learn that his standard equipment includes a force field, a vibrodagger, and a blaster.

To gain a better understanding of the Terran Starguards, we must look to Moldvay's Lords of Creation, published by Avalon Hill in 1983.  Whereas Lords of Creation provides no details about Corvus specifically, we do gain insight about the environment that shaped him.  The Starguards are part of the 'Imperial Terra' space opera setting.  Page 33 of the Book of Foes states:
A Starguard is one of the elite guards for Imperial Terra in the future.  Starguards have Laser – 3, Photon Sword – 3, and the power of Mind Block.
Corvus' 'Future King' incarnation has no ability resembling Lords of Creation Mind Block, so maybe that power is conferred by equipment to which Corvus no longer has access.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

The Esoterica of Wizards' Realm

Margali the Masked Sorceress
As mentioned previously, the Wizards' Realm rule book contains a significant amount of marginalia in the form of “Realm Elvish” (i.e., English with a different alphabet).  There are two sets of 'Elvish' symbols, runic and script.  There is only one use of the runic form; on the blade of a sword depicted on page 4 is the phrase, “Fear not, I shall be good to your widow.”  Otherwise, the marginalia provides some insight into the authors' campaign and I provide a translation below.  Numbers in brackets refer to pages.

Long ago, when the world-that-is was young:  The bright star lord Fingol wooed and won the faint, fair maid star Finglas.  By that joining was the light called Istys first brought into the world and all life that is drew breath.  To the one whose hand
has shaped the stars be thanks, so be it.  The one who called forth the stars gave form and substance to all life both in the middle gardens and the
realm above and below.  Though the dark and light were separated and the powers that opposed the will of the one were fettered Outside:  Yet do evil powers haunt the midgards.  Evil spirits may be bound but such is
the doom of men that they choose to loose those powers in their own hearts.  For this reason are the speaking folk of the midgards called the Free People.  Those of old who were seduced or mislead by the darkness are called the
forgotten kindred.  Of old the lands which are the Middle
Kingdoms were one under the High King at Pandragae.  Peace was long lived and prosperous until the coming of the Terrible Lords.  In the lust for power which spurred them on, these evil lords brought about
the downfall of more than the high seat at Pandragae.  The fence about the Outside was breached and horror was unleashed.  Ages have passed, though the servants of Istys have gained a measure of victory, the dark powers still live.
Among the Terrible Lords was one called Silva.  In later days his chiefest foe has been one Tarl Eaglemoor, last descendant of the house which once served as the hereditary champions of the High King.  With the power of the sword he bears, the knight
has twice fought and bested Silva, once costing Silva his arm – and the better part of his reason.  More dangerous and more unpredictable than ever, Silva One-Arm now is vanished – whether dead or banished Outside none can say.
Other wizards are abroad throughout the lands of the Middle Kingdoms though they are few in number in these later days.  Indeed, it is the goal of the Wizards' Council to seek out and tutor those upon whom the power rests, that
they may be set in the path of good.  One such wizard is the sombre Darkmoon who, though a servant of the good, is a grim one.  Late did discover his power under the tutelage of Dwarkenath Goldbeard
his mentor – and he was first a fighter before he became a mage.  Now Darkmoon coaches a young human mystic in the ancient art,
Nollander, who rides with the Company of the Keep.
Up beyond Ruberto in the region of the Palewood, the spirit of Larissa, a wizardess long thought departed,remains to protect
the land she cherished.  Whether she is in fact dead or alive, living in some strange enchantment, none may say.
Darkmoon's motto = “Humans are no damn good.”
– New house rules for the Inn of the Three Fates; this is a high class place – act respectable.  No more than three to a bed.  Furniture is costly.  Enjoy your drink – then carry out your own dead.
Don't sit on the cat's chair – he's the wizard's familiar.  Under no circumstances annoy the waitress.  Cash only – no credit.
The festival of Istys occurs on Midwinter's Day.  On that day, Fingol and Finglas merge for a full day of light.
The Eaglemoor motto = “It is not better to be a dead
lion than a live jackal, 'tis better to be a live lion.”
When last seen, Pandro the Hobbit had gone off adventuring again.  Just could not put up with  earning an honest living managing an Infinity Store.
He rode off with Mongo the Berserk – and peculiar.  Mongo's favorite saying = “Mongo like to kill llizard.” [sic]  Mongo eats soup with his fingers.
Nice guy,
Kaffal is by his own standards a Trenfher.  Kaffal's favorite saying = “If they are unbelievers, then what is the problem?”  However, by the belief Kaffal brings
with him from the far south – even the Company of the Keep are, “It makes a few problems.”
When in Mousehole, the best way to find magical aids is to look up Feanol Lightstar of the Infinity Store.  The best way to start trouble in Mousehole is [to] walk into the
Inn of the Three Fates and ask where they keep the girls; a guy could get killed.
Margali the Masked Sorceress, mistress of evil, weaves her webs of intrigue throughout the Middle Kingdoms and few there are who would directly oppose her.  Beware, you who chance to challenge her.
Beware the servants who bear the sigil of the Lady's Tower.
Lydwine in the north country is the holding of Selwyn, Thegn of Lydwine, Felicity's father.
Auld Keep is the ancestral home of Liafail Airgidbann, called Darkmoon.
There are more magics and weaponry in the Infinity Store.
If you have so much money, what do you need with the magic?
Staenbul is the wickedest city in two continents, trust me.
When in Mousehole, don't annoy the elf – any elf.
Blackhammer sleeps with a nightlight – dragons have no eyelid.
Rumor has it that Nollander's hat is a hand-me-down from Darkmoon.
No Moth*, there is no food in that box either.
Have fun.  Lots of luck.
Never order “brownie surprise” at the Three Fates...the brownies are crazy waiters.
If you have any questions, drop us a line – but don't tell them Silva sent you.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, here we go again.
Honest, Robin has never said, “What do we do now, Uncle Tarn?”
Ocdabrae is a nice place to visit when they have a tournament going on – but don't drink the water.
If Moth is standing on your foot, let him.
Unicorns are sometimes seen in the woods above Ruberto – they are seldom approached though.  Remember, only one who is pure of heart may do so.  I suppose that let's out Planer then.
Actually, Tiberius is quite good with a 'bolt of the blue' – ask Blackhammer, if they can even dig him out of the rocks.
The errata sheet:
And some malign influence (Anyone we know?) made a mess of the c/k usage in our marginalia.  (Thanks a lot, Margali!)
*  I'm guessing that Moth is someone's pet dragon.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

A Dialogue

Recently, Alexis claimed to be a D&D snob.  He also claimed that people who play the Red Box edition are “probably retarded or possessing of some other mental deficiency.”  In a later post, he claimed to have said those things “in order to instigate a dialogue.”  Anyway, prior to that later post, Alexis and I engaged in a dialogue.  Alexis has deleted this dialogue from his blog comments.  There's nothing wrong with that; it's his blog and he certainly doesn't owe me anything.  However, for the sake of posterity, I present said dialogue.

I said:
Lack of desire to play 4e is not snobbery; it's a matter of taste. Snobbery is treating as inferior people who enjoy a different style of play.

Alexis said:
Defining the Red Box as a different "style" of play is like comparing T-Ball to Baseball.

Just so we're clear on the treatment of inferior I'm defining.

You know what else is snobbish, O Perdustin? The insistence that one's choices are somehow made more "noble" because they are a choice. I'd like to see one of you "stylers" defend your choice upon some better principal than the fact that you have one.

Choosing to do something moronic is a choice too. Doesn't make it laudable.

I said:
I don't think that the T-Ball/Baseball comparison is apt. T-Ball is intended for a narrow age range (5 – 8) while the Red Box edition is intended – as you said – for ages 10 and up. Monopoly is for ages 8 and up. I find that game to be insipid, but I don't consider adults who play as “probably retarded or possessing of some other mental deficiency.” Nor do I consider their choice to play any more 'noble' or 'laudable' than my choice not to play or your choice to drink vodka.

Why would people choose to play Red Box? Perhaps they feel that the Gygaxian morass of AD&D is largely unnecessary for what they consider to be an enjoyable game.

Alexis said:
So, basically, in attempting to come up with reasons, you've actually managed to come up with a bunch of opinions that still say, "Because I wanna ... wah, wah."

Remember what I said in the post about the DM using that lack of rules to fuck over players? Without situational rules, the players are at the mercy of the DM's personal whim, which means less player agency and therefore a greater degree of Storytime Play, Jurisprudence, Railroading, etc. By having MANY RULES that I have to adhere to as a DM, my players know that I am not fucking them over.

That's why AD&D was necessary. I think the T-Ball comparison is Dead Fucking On ... all the more evident in that you're only response to it is to say, "No its not."

Like a child.

Guess what. You're playing the game that is at your level.

I don't consider rules to be a "morass." Not in D&D, not in the law, not in physics, not in medicine, not in any endeavor that requires EXPERTISE. EXPERTISE always is complicated and difficult, and butt fuck morons who know nothing about such things ALWAYS think it's an incomprehensible morass.

Guess what, dummy? You're just not smart enough.
Here is the response I submitted yesterday morning which Alexis declined to post:
Let us assume that your personal attacks against me are true (other than that I run the YDIS site – I’m not smart enough for that).  That way, my limited cognitive abilities will not be distracted.

I wholeheartedly agree with your sentiments about rules and EXPERTISE, except when it comes to D&D.  Law, physics, medicine, et al. have profound real-word implications.  The real-world implications of D&D are limited to a group of people sitting around a table, rolling dice, and pretending to be elves.  I believe the difference is significant, perhaps you don’t.

No set of rules can cover every eventuality, so players can never be invulnerable to “the DM's personal whim,” as you put it.  In fact, no one plays AD&D by the book – not you, not even Gygax.  So we can drop the pretense that the rules for a game are inviolate scripture that must be memorized and followed blindly.  Once we accept the notion that the rules are not perfect, we are faced with the task of paring down the rules so that they are efficient and effective.  As JDJarvis states, “no version of published D&D was good enough.”

One of Gygax’ more cogent quotes was, “The secret we should never let the gamemasters know is that they don't need any rules.”  He didn’t churn out rulebooks to establish an “ideal” to which “real players” should commit themselves; he churned out rulebooks to rake in the cash.  Some people like what the rulebooks have to offer; that’s fine.  Some people would rather not be bothered with ‘alignment languages’ and similar Gygaxian nonsense.
Alexis favors complexity in D&D for two reasons (if I understand him correctly):  (1) more rules mean less “DM's whim” and (2) world-building and rule-making enhance the play experience.

With regard to reason #1:  Rules are not going to protect players from a bad DM.

With regard to reason #2:  World-building and rule-making absolutely enhance the play experience; it's all a matter of degree.  Alexis decries the lack of 'investment' among DMs and players.  Perhaps they're lazy, perhaps they're not very intelligent, or perhaps they have different priorities – they choose to 'invest' in their families or careers or other interests at the expense of a make-believe world of wizards and unicorns.  I suppose such people aren't 'serious' enough for Alexis, yet somehow they manage to enjoy themselves.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Acting Conditions

In the World Action and Adventure role-playing game, the type of character that an actor (i.e., player) chooses to play determines the actor's 'acting condition' (explained below).  SHIELD traits were discussed last week. Have a safe and happy Halloween.


Sunday, October 27, 2013

A Visit to Mousehole

(No, that's not a euphemism)

As mentioned in an earlier post, Wizards' Realm describes a sample town – complete with map and a building-by-building listing.  The name of the town is Mousehole (pronounced muz'l) and I provide the map here for your delight and edification.

The script along the right side is 'Realm elvish' for Mousehole.  For those of you who choose to enlarge the image, the elvish script beneath the bar scale reads “So it is written = Darkmoon.”  Darkmoon is the wizard character of Niels Erickson, the sole editor, who is also credited as an author and illustrator.  I can only suppose that the map is Erickson's doing.

With regard to building listings, the town is divided into five sections:  a central section and one section for each of the cardinal directions.

The central section consists of two buildings, the Municipal Offices and the Guild-Hall.  Included in the Municipal Offices are “the Lord Mayor's Office, The Municipal Courts, the Constabulary (all eight of 'em). the Town Gaol, the Reeve & Tax Collector, Customs and the Department of Sundry Works.”

To the west of the Mystic River are such locations as:  the cemetery, the mills, the brickyard, the lumber yard, the shipyard, and Barnacle Bill's Boathouse (“Bildor 'Bill' Splayfoot, a hobbit, proprietor”).

East of the river, there are a variety of establishments.  Among them are:  two liveries, Chuffy Fussock's Ropes & Nets (Chuffy is a hobbit), Parkyn Hammersmith the Armourer, Prospero the Potter, Fograk Facewrecker's Bakery (Fograk is half-orcish), and market stalls “where well as fishermen...bring fresh edibles.”

In the northern section of town we find such noteworthy personages as Umma Childlove (midwife), Meldu (undertaker), Demelza the Wise (fortune teller), Olog the One-Eyed (jeweler), Wort (cobbler), and Hultz (barber).  An open-air theatre, the banking house, and the town watch barracks are also located in the north side of town.

The large building at the southern tip of the town is the local Infinity Store.  (The warehouse for the Infinity Store is across town.)  Also in the south side of town are The Three Fates Inn (“The largest and, reputedly, the best public house in Mousehole”), The Chantry and Monastery of the Revered Order of Istys, and the Lazar-House.

It just so happens that – in the real world – there is a town named Mousehole.  It would seem that the real Mousehole inspired the Wizards' Realm Mousehole.  I present a map of the genuine article below.  (Sadly, I could not locate an image with greater resolution.)  The real Mousehole looks more interesting than the 'fantasy' version.

On the reverse of the (fantasy) Mousehole map, there is a “Campaign Map” (shown below).  The Wizards' Realm setting is known as the Middle Kingdoms – “the realms once under the High Crown.”  The book explains:
Only certain major areas are identified on this map, including major terrain features.  The reason for large open areas here is two-fold:  Not only does it give some idea how little a traveller setting out from one familiar part of the world might know of lands beyond his own, but it also provides the GM and players alike with more latitude in shaping the world in which their characters will move.