Thursday, December 31, 2015

Mysterious Island

This year marks the 150th anniversary of a remarkable event that occurred here in Richmond.  Now, this last day of 2015 affords me a final opportunity to commemorate the anniversary and atone for my procrastination.  The event was simply the ascension of a balloon carrying five passengers. The remarkable aspects of the event arise from the circumstances of the voyage and the ensuing adventure of the passengers – an adventure so fantastic, so incredible that the world can only regard it as fiction.

These exploits were dramatized by Jules Verne in his L'Île mystérieuse (first published in 1874).  I use the word “dramatized” because Verne was more interested in telling a story instead of relating a factual account.  As is often the case in his works, Verne sacrificed accuracy for the sake of literary style.  Not that I blame him; if the final result would be labeled as fiction regardless, he might as well “improve” the story.  Of course, Verne was not responsible for all deviations from the truth; some changes were necessary for legal reasons and others were imposed by editors.

The balloon passengers were Cyrus Harding Smith, Captain of the Union Army, and his associates – Gideon Spillet, Boniface Pencross, Herbert Dunn, and the “servant,” Neb.  Please note that personal names were not immune to alteration in Verne’s narrative.  Verne also added a dog.  Anyway, in March of 1865, Captain Smith and company appropriated a military balloon to escape from Richmond.  Due to inclement weather, they had no practical control of the balloon.  As a result, they eventually arrive at a mysterious island.  Here we see  a profound departure from reality on Verne’s part.  Verne’s description of the weather is thus:
Few can possibly have forgotten the terrible storm from the northeast, in the middle of the equinox of that year. The tempest raged without intermission from the 18th to the 26th of March. Its ravages were terrible in America, Europe, and Asia, covering a distance of eighteen hundred miles, and extending obliquely to the equator from the thirty-fifth north parallel to the fortieth south parallel. Towns were overthrown, forests uprooted, coasts devastated by the mountains of water which were precipitated on them, vessels cast on the shore, which the published accounts numbered by hundreds, whole districts leveled by waterspouts which destroyed everything they passed over, several thousand people crushed on land or drowned at sea; such were the traces of its fury, left by this devastating tempest.
In essence, Verne presents a phenomenal storm that lasts more than week, afflicts three continents, and causes inestimable property damage.  This is a case of exaggeration.  In reality, the weather was not quite so dramatic.  Regarding March 1865, Robert K. Krick provides the following information in his Civil War Weather in Virginia :
Richmond’s residents saw a “splendid rainbow” on the night of March 15. The next night “a violent southeast gale prevailed . . . with rain.” Bright sun tempered winds still blowing through Richmond on the 18th, but the dawn of the 19th reminded a diarist of spring in the Garden of Eden. Warm and pleasant weather continued into the 21st, when blossoms appeared on apricot trees.
I had not realized that former residents of Eden were living in Richmond during the Civil War.  Perhaps the phrase “reminded . . . of” was meant to convey “inspired notions . . . of” rather than an actual recollection.  Regardless, Captain Smith and his companions likely ascended on the night of March 16 when there was a “southeast gale.”  In Verne’s version, the party leaves on March 20 and the storm is “from the northeast.”  Verne’s “aerial maelstrom” carries the balloon thousands of miles contrary to the jet stream in about seventy-two hours.  Verne must invoke such a preposterous storm because he chose to place the Mysterious Island in the Pacific.  I suppose there are many mysterious islands in the Pacific, but the Mysterious Island – the one where Captain Smith’s party found themselves – is in the Atlantic.  So why the switch in ocean?  I can’t answer for Verne, but I suspect the explanation (or at least a partial explanation) is that divulging factual information about something mysterious would tend to compromise the mysterious nature of said something.  Mysterious Island is mysterious for a reason and – to this day – the ‘powers-that-be’ have a vested interest in that reason and in maintaining the mystery.

You won’t find Mysterious Island via Google Earth.  Very few maps chart the island’s position and those that do are secreted in secure collections to which the public is not admitted.  A flat-out denial of the existence of Mysterious Island is not feasible, but it is easy enough to suggest that any given reference to it stems from fiction; thereby, the mystery is preserved.  I believe Mysterious Island’s official status (perhaps ‘official non-status’ is more apt) can be traced to an amendment to the Treaty of Tordesillas.  However, the only surviving copy of that amendment is in the Vatican’s Secret Archives; not the Secret Archives that everyone knows about, but the really Secret Archives.  Rumors that pre-human artifacts were found on the island (and that the Church wanted that knowledge suppressed) are unsubstantiated (yet not entirely disproved).

Eventually, Captain Smith and the others encounter Prince Dakkar (more commonly known as “Captain Nemo”), one of the most misunderstood figures of the 19th Century.  (Verne manages to depict him as both a misanthrope and a humanitarian.)  Once again, Verne’s account veers away from the actual circumstances. 

The events of Verne’s Vingt mille lieues sous les mers (published in 1870 but serialized starting in 1869) transpire after the Civil War.  When the story begins, the world is not yet acquainted with Prince Dakkar’s depredations.  However, in L'Île mystérieuse, the exploits of Prince Dakkar are well-known to Captain Smith and company even though they have been on the island since the conclusion of the war, ignorant of any subsequent world events.  In terms of storytelling, Verne didn’t want to weigh down the narrative with exposition from his earlier work.  Since the readers knew about Captain Nemo, then so should the protagonists.

In truth, Vingt mille lieues sous les mers (hereinafter Leagues) follows L'Île mystérieuse, not vice versa.  It was Gideon Spillet who ‘broke the news’ about Prince Dakkar to an astonished world.  Spillet accompanied Prince Dakkar during the events of Leagues and, since he was a journalist, he reported those events. Verne’s account is narrated from the point-of-view of his long-time friend Pierre Aronnax.  No mention was made of Spillet in Leagues due to a dispute over publication rights.  Spillet and Verne reconciled their differences by the time the latter wrote L'Île mystérieuse, so Spillet appears in that story.  Shortly after their reconcilement, Spillet met an untimely death.  However, Verne could not include Spillet in updated editions of Leagues because of complications with Spillet’s estate.  Those complications also prompted Verne to change the spelling of Gideon Spillet to the unabashedly French Gédeon Spilett.  American editions used the ‘Gideon’ spelling.

Prior to Prince Dakkar’s claim to the island, it had been used sporadically as a refuge for pirates (or, alternatively, a staging area for privateer activity).  In any event, I consider theories that conflate ‘Treasure Island’ with ‘Mysterious Island’ to be altogether fanciful.

The destruction of Mysterious Island in a fit of apoplectic volcanism is another of Verne’s inventions.  I guess it makes for a good story.  (SPOILER:  The dog survives!)  In reality, the island fared just as it had previously – largely unknown but occasionally called into some peculiar service.

During the Second World War, Mysterious Island was used as a base of operations by the Blackhawk Squadron.  This multi-national task force employed cutting-edge aviation technology against Axis threats, often of an outré variety.  During this time, Mysterious Island was known as Blackhawk Island.  Notwithstanding the legend of their comic book analogues, the Blackhawks disbanded shortly after the war.  Allegedly, this was done at Stalin’s insistence and was a source of contention at the Potsdam Conference.

Eventually, a colony was established on Mysterious Island.  Specifically, it was an involuntary retirement community for people possessing knowledge inimical to the status quo. Whether the island still hosts this colony is a matter of conjecture.  When inquiring about some things – such as the particulars of Mysterious Island – prudence should be exercised.  After all, questions are a burden to others; answers a prison for oneself.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

The Arduin Adventure Bibliography

Detail from the back cover of Michael Whelan's
Wonderworks: Science Fiction and Fantasy Art

Role-playing game bibliographies (or ‘Appendices N’ as the case may be) tend to list two categories of material:  research works and genre literature.  Depending upon the game, ‘literature’ may be inclusive enough to accommodate motion pictures, television programs, and even music as sources of inspiration.  In addition to including the aforementioned types, Hargrave embraces the aphorism that a picture is worth a thousand words and indicates specific art books in the bibliography for The Arduin Adventure (hereinafter ArdAdv).  Although it makes perfect sense, art books are not commonly acknowledged as RPG inspirations.  Hargrave specifies the following art books:  Alien Landscapes, Beauty and the Beast, Faeries, GiantsSolar WindTomorrow and Beyond, and Wonderworks.  Also, I suppose we can categorize An Atlas of Fantasy as an art book.

Hargrave ends the bibliography with a few items that “have served as wonderful sources of fun and ideas.”  Included among these are Elfquest as well as Marvel Comics (“An unlikely, but valuable source of inspiration”).  If we count art books as sources of inspiration, there is no reason why we should construe comic books as an ‘unlikely’ source.  For whatever reason, Hargrave singles out Marvel Comics.  Surely, if Elfquest makes the grade, Marvel cannot be the exclusive source of inspiration among comic books.  Given Hargrave’s acknowledgement of comics and art books (especially the Achilléos book), I find it strange that Hargrave doesn’t mention Heavy Metal.  The remaining ‘wonderful source of fun and ideas’ is “The entire works of J.R.R. Tolkein.”  Complementing that assertion is the inclusion of The Complete Guide to Middle Earth and A Tolkien Bestiary in the bibliography.

For “expanded insight into what is happening in the fantasy gaming world,” Hargrave lists three periodicals:  Alarums and Excursions, Different Worlds, and Sorcerer’s Apprentice.  Notably absent is Dragon ; it’s good enough to advertize in but not good enough to endorse.

Some role-playing games have bibliographies that reference other RPGs; ArdAdv is not one of those games.  However, Hargrave does mention Chaosium's Authentic Thaumaturgy.  Speaking of Chaosium, the RuneQuest (Second Edition) bibliography lists the first three Arduin books in the ‘Other Fantasy Role-Playing Games’ section.  Additionally, the ArdAdv and Runequest bibliographies have one non-fiction work in common – George Cameron Stone’s A Glossary of the Construction, Decoration and Use of Arms and Armor in All Countries and in All Times, Together with Some Closely Related Subjects.

Along with Authentic Thaumaturgy, the ArdAdv bibliography has a variety of books about magic – from reasonably academic texts like The Complete Illustrated Book Of The Psychic Sciences and The Supernatural to the rather eccentric The Morning of the Magicians.  Hargrave also has The Encyclopedia of Witchcraft & Demonology.  As shown in a prior post, Hargrave prefers to spell magic with a ‘k’; he even alters the spelling when the word ‘magic’ appears in the title of a book.  Therefore we see in the bibliography “The Encyclopedia of Magik & Superstition” (sic) as well as “Magik, White and Black” (sic).

Hargrave carries his interest in Japan over into Arduin.  We find in the bibliography Secrets of the Samurai, Japanese Short Stories, Martial Arts (although the title is generic, the book focuses on Japanese martial arts), and – in another instance of ‘magik’ versus ‘magic’ – “Seven Magik Orders” (sic).  The only other reference to a (real world) culture in the bibliography is in the form of The Phoenicians.

Several books in the ArdAdv bibliography discuss fantasy creatures.  Aside from such books listed above, Hargrave includes An Encyclopedia of Fairies, Mysterious Monsters, and Zoo of the Gods.

The Fantasy Almanac has earned a place in the ArdAdv bibliography.  The remaining ‘reference books’ can be sorted into two types:  mythology (The New Larousse Encyclopedia of Mythology, Men of the Earth) and history (War Through The Ages, Medieval Warfare).

In terms of ‘traditional’ fantasy literature (besides Tolkien), Hargrave gives “Personal thanks” to Robert Asprin, Stephen R. Donaldson, and lastly, C. A. Smith “for his fantastic tales of wonder and glory, but mostly for Zothique, the true progenitor of ARDUIN.”

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Gallytrots, Spoorns, and Tantarrabobs

The Two Damsels Rescue Roger from the Rabble (by H. J. Ford)

In this special Christmas Eve installment of Thoul's Paradise, we present an article from Michael Aislabie Denham.  Citing no less an authority than the Bard, Denham assures us that this night shall not be plagued by ghosts nor any other malevolent, supernatural entities.  Denham supplies an abundant list of said entities from folklore of the British Isles; indeed, presentation of the list seems to be the whole point of the article.  Many names are familiar, yet many are unfamiliar.  Among the more familiar terms, we see a reference to “hobbits.”  Apparently, Denham's article is the first written mention of hobbit as some sort of creature.  Absent this distinction, I suspect Denham's efforts would suffer from more profound obscurity than they already do.  Tolkien assumed he originated the word hobbit and had no recollection of being previously exposed to it.  Given that Tolkien was a linguist well-read in folklore, we cannot dismiss the possibility of prior exposure; regardless, there is a certain difference between 'being exposed' to something and 'consciously using' that something.

Happy holidays!

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Spells in The Arduin Adventure

Art by Stephen Fabian

A common misgiving of the (early) D&D magic system was the 'Vancian' paradigm wherein a magic-user must 'forget' a spell upon casting and then re-memorize the spell before it could be cast again.  (Of course, contrary to the notion of 'forgetting' a spell, a given spell could be 'memorized' more than once.)  Different 'spell point' systems were devised as alternatives to the unsatisfactory Vancian method.  In The Arduin Adventure, Dave Hargrave employs a system of 'mana points' for magic magik spells.  However, in The Arduin Adventure (hereinafter ArdAdv), mana points do not obviate the 'forgetfulness' imposed by the Vancian philosophy, but merely act as an adjunct.

In ArdAdv, there are two types of magik:  Thaumaturgical (cast by Mages) and Priestly (cast, appropriately enough, by Priests).  When a mage memorizes a spell, he (or she) must invest an amount of mana specified in the spell's description.  At any point after the spell is memorized, the mage can cast the spell by speaking a trigger phrase.  All thaumaturgical spells take a combat round to cast.  (Apparently, material components are not required.)  “Once used,” the rules tell us, “mana takes 10 hours to 'recharge' to working level.”  Does this mean that if a mage casts a one mana point spell, he (or she) regains that point ten hours later?  If a mage uses half of her (or his) mana points at once, will all of those points will be available after ten hours?

Priestly spells (sometimes called “rituals”) also have a mana cost, but spells need not be memorized.  Mana is expended when the spell is cast.  Priestly spells take an entire minute to cast:  “This is because priestly magic also requires proper obeisance (kow towing) to the god in question and certain rituals (variable according to the spell).”  Priestly spell listings do not describe the particular rituals to perform, so it is safe to assume that – for game purposes – ritual activity is not distinctive.  Regardless, casting a priestly spell during a combat situation would not seem to be a feasible option.  Presumably, mana expended via priestly spells is 'recharged' in a fashion similar or identical to how mages recover mana.

Mage characters begin with a number a mana points equal to their Intelligence plus five points as a result of training:  “A mage must spend years learning his craft, either as an acolyte with an already established mage or at a 'College of Magik.'”  Priest characters begin with a set amount of fifteen points of mana.  Both types of character gain three additional points of mana for each experience level gained.

Rather than spell level, ArdAdv uses the term “order of power (or OP).”  The highest 'order of power' to which a mage has access is equal to half of the mage's experience level, rounded up.  So, through the second experience level, a mage only has access to 'first order' spells; starting at the third experience level, a mage can use 'second order' spells, etc.  The rules do not comment upon the schedule by which priests access successive orders of power.  One could assume that priestly 'spell progression' uses the same formula that applies to mages.

Each mage has a 'book of power' in which the mage writes his (or her) spells.  For each order of power of the spell, at least three pages are required.  There is no other mention in ArdAdv about pages in mages' books.  It takes a mage an amount of time to memorize a spell equal to thirty minutes for every order of power of the spell.  Memorization time is “reduced by half per (experience level) earned over the (experience level) needed to cast the spell.” 

For both thaumaturgical and priestly spells, ArdAdv presents four orders of power – enough for eight experience levels.  There are 32 thaumaturgical spells and 29 priestly spells.  In general, the ArdAdv spells are reminiscent of their D&D counterparts, but typically with suitable name changes.  For example, instead of “Silence 15' Radius,” ArdAdv has “Sound Wipe”; instead of “Web,” there is “Tangle Trap”; and instead of “Mirror Image,” there is “Multiple Image.”

Aside from spells, priests have spell-like abilities.  They can “Turn Away” undead:
Priests have a 10% chance of success for each 10 HP less than 100 the undead have.  Thus, a priest has a 100% chance versus 10 HP undead but only 10% chance versus 100 HP ones.
Evidently, a priest's experience level does not modify this chance.  Also, “A priest can 'Lay on Hands' to heal those of his faith.”  (To use this ability on a character not of the priest's faith, the priest must succeed with “a 'God Reaction Roll' see if the priest's patron deity will allow this to happen.”)  It is quite taxing for a priest to 'Lay on Hands,' but all wounds (other than fatal) will be completely healed.  (This ability is distinct from the healing spells to which priests have access.)

Monday, December 14, 2015

Combat in The Arduin Adventure

Art by Marshall Frantz

Characters in The Arduin Adventure (hereinafter ArdAdv) have a Defense Factor (DF) which “is a numerical rating for the natural (Armor Class) or worn armor a character has.”  Armor Class is defined as “The sum total of a character's ability to actively or passively defend himself.”  Armor Class starts at nine (“Person in normal clothes, with no special protection”) and descends.  However, unlike D&D, ArdAdv AC does not extend into negative numbers.  AC 2 represents “Full plate armor and small shield” or “Half plate and standard shield” or “Scale and Chain mail with tower/kite shield.”  The next AC is not 1, but instead “2+1.”  “Full plate armor and tower/kite shield” is AC 2+2, which is the limit of Armor Class.  However, due to modifiers, Defense Factor extends up to “2+7” (at least according to the Combat Chart).  The rules state, “for each DEX and AGIL point LESS THAN 7 a character has, subtract 1 point from his the same token, for each DEX and AGIL point MORE THAN 12, ADD 1 point to the DF.”  By 'subtract', I suppose Hargrave means impair and by 'add', I suppose he means improve.  “Targets in flight” add four to their DF; characters benefiting from partial cover get a bonus of two.

Wearing armor imposes a penalty on both Dexterity and Agility.  For instance, “Small shields and cloth armor have a penalty of one each...A set of full plate armor with tower shield has a combined penalty of 8.”  Defense Factor modifiers are determined before armor penalties are applied to Dexterity and Agility; however, movement rate is determined after penalties are applied.  The number of feet a character may move per melee round (six seconds) is determined by the formula:  5 × (Dexterity + Agility).  (Each ten pounds of weight carried reduces movement rate by five feet.)

ArdAdv characters also have an Attack Factor (AF) – “a numerical rating of the kind of weapon or attack used.”  The Combat Chart indexes a column of twenty-five weapon types against a row of Defense Factor values.  Examples of weapon types include Maul, Short Spear, Throwing Knife, and “Non-Weapon.”  If I had created the Combat Chart, the laws of semantics would prevent me from including “Non-Weapon” as a “weapon” type.  Instead of weapon type, I would use attack type and have two “Non-Weapon” categories:  pummel and claw.  Anyway, the intersection of Weapon Type and Defense Factor provides a number (Attack Factor) which is the minimum number required to hit on 1d20.  A character's Strength can modify Attack Factor.

Characters attacking a target from the rear get “a +3 bonus to their AF...”  By this, I suppose Hargrave means characters get a bonus to their attack roll.  Also, a target being attacked from behind loses the “AGIL/DEX and shield bonuses” to Defense Factor; this also applies to “downed” targets.  (I suspect that penalties from Agility and/or Dexterity still apply.)  Attacks from the side provide a +2 bonus and attacking from an elevated position grants a +1 bonus.

When attacking, a roll of twenty indicates a critical hit.  If a roll of 20 was required for a successful hit, then the hit is a normal hit instead of a critical.  Unfortunately, ArdAdv does not make use of Hargrave's Arduin Grimoire critical table; instead we are presented with a 1d10 table with each result representing a different body location.  For instance, a roll of '4' means an arm was hit for three points of damage with a 'side effect' of:  “Major artery cut, bleed to death in D20 combat rounds.”

A roll of '1' when attacking typically indicates a fumble.  Just as ArdAdv lacks the Grimoire critical table, it also lacks the fumble table.  Instead, Hargrave presents a 1d10 junior version with results like “Trip and fall, 1 to 5 melee rounds to get up” and “Hit wrong target FULL DAMAGE.”

Weapons in ArdAdv inflict a fixed amount of damage (e.g., a short sword inflicts five points, a flail inflicts ten).  A high Strength score provides a bonus to inflicted damage, but a low score does does not subtract from damage.  Each weapon type is associated with one or more types of damage:  bruising, crushing, puncture, slashing, stab, and tearing.  How these different types are supposed to affect game play is not explained.

Chapter VI, “How to Have a Melee,” begins with:
A melee consists of two parts:  movement and combat.  First comes movement, each character moving all or part of his allowable movement distance.  Then comes the actual combat.  Both parts are carried out in the order of the fastest (dexterity for combat, or agility for movement) to the slowest.
When opponents have the same Dexterity, the character with the weapon that “has length (or reach) advantage” attacks first.  Chapter XI, “A Glossary of Terms for the Basic Adventurer,” does a good job of describing various weapons and types of armor; however, not all of the weapon descriptions include the length of the weapon.

In his Introduction, Hargrave explains that ArdAdv “has a unique modular learning system that permits the gamer to apply any part of it to another system, or part of another system to itself.”  Gamers are apt to 'mix & match' rules in a blithe fashion without regard to whether the systems at issue “permit” it.  As such, there is nothing unique about the ArdAdv system other than Hargrave's acknowledgement that such customization is to be expected.  In this spirit, Hargrave offers “Optional Advanced Rules” for combat.  Said rules focus on the concept of “Coordination Factor,” which is the average of Agility and Dexterity.  (Why not just have a Coordination attribute instead of Agility and Dexterity?)  Instead of a melee round consisting of movement followed by attack, characters have a number of actions based upon Coordination Factor (CF).  Any given action can be movement or attack at the player's discretion.  Characters with a Coordination Factor less than five have only one action for every two melee rounds.  Otherwise, characters have at least one action per round.

In essence, there is a “CF COUNTDOWN” each melee round.  The character with the highest Coordination Factor acts first.  Other actions take place on subsequent counts.  “For example,” the rules state, “my character’s CF is 15, so I divide that by three, which gives me the number five...I now know that every five counts of the melee/movement round my character can perform an action...Thus at 15,10, and 5.”  A character's movement rate per action equals the rate per melee round divided by the number of actions the character has per round.  Such calculations start to get wonky when characters have less than one action per round.  Although Hargrave admonishes that “the GM as well as players will have to exercise a little common sense,” I think that a minimum of one action per round (instead of one action per two rounds) would offer a more elegant process.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Happy Birthday, Leigh Brackett!

Art by Allen Anderson

December 7 is, of course, a date which has lived in infamy.  Yet every date has good associations as well as bad and December 7, 2015, happens to be the centennial of Leigh Brackett's birth.

In Appendix N of the Dungeon Masters Guide, Gygax lists two kinds of authors:  “In some cases I cite specific works, in others, I simply recommend all their fantasy writing to you.”  Leigh Brackett is of the latter sort.  This is interesting in that Brackett didn't write fantasy per se ; she wrote 'science fantasy' (as well as westerns and mysteries).  Yet she certainly influenced – and was influenced by – 'traditional' fantasy.  Regardless, the quality of her work transcends genre pidgeonholes.  Among her claims to fame, she wrote the first draft of The Empire Strikes Back.  (TLDR?  Here's a summary.)

In a sort of homage to Robert E. Howard, Brackett named a character 'Conan' in Lorelei of the Red Mist (written in collaboration with Ray Bradbury).  It seems that L. Sprague de Camp despaired that he partnered with Lin Carter rather than Brackett when he excavated Howard's legacy for more Conan material.

Brackett's most famous character is Eric John Stark, who first appeared in “Queen of the Martian Catacombs,” a story from the summer 1949 issue of Planet Stories.  The cover of said issue appears above; the person in the lower left-hand corner is supposed to be Stark.  There are several things wrong with this representation.

First, just what is he wearing?  Is that Martian lederhosen ?  Second, I'm almost certain that Stark doesn't shave his armpits (although I could be wrong).  Finally and most importantly, there's the matter of Stark's skin color.  According to the story, “His skin was almost as dark as his black hair, burned indelibly by years of exposure to some terrible sun.”  (In The Ginger Star, his coloration is described as “dark purple.”)  Other than the Stark books published under Paizo's Planet Stories imprint, illustrations of Stark consistently show him with light skin.  After all, failing to pander to white male power fantasies would be a bad marketing decision (or at least was presumed to be).

Stark was presented in (A)D&D terms in the 'Giants in the Earth' feature of (The) Dragon #28 (August, 1979).  This adaptation is shown below.  The non-game text is largely correct; however, Stark's skin coloration is absent from the description of his physical features.  Also, while Stark is a mercenary, he's of a type occasionally found in the province of fiction – a 'principled' mercenary.  “He'll sell you out, he'll cut your throat, if he thinks it best for the barbarians,” a character explains in “Queen of the Martian Catacombs.”  Stark aids indigenous peoples oppressed by Terran expansionism.  I think this is a noteworthy qualifier to his mercenary status.

The description includes a random table to establish the nature of an encounter with Stark.  I suspect this is Moldvay's work.  Random determination of behavior defeats the purpose of using a detailed, complex character like Stark.

Most of the 'Giants in the Earth' personalities are definitely fantasy characters, even though they are products of their respective settings.  Inserting them into a traditional fantasy campaign poses no difficulty.  However, characters outside the typical scope of fantasy – such as Stark – require some consideration.   The character's knowledge and technology (such as Stark's “plasteel mesh armor”) can cause unintended (and perhaps drastic) consequences in a campaign.  Also, being transplanted to an alien environment will necessarily alter a (non-player) character's outlook and motivation.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Monsters in The Arduin Adventure

Art by J. Allen St. John

Chapter VIII of The Arduin Adventure (hereinafter ArdAdv) is titled “Monsters and Other Creatures.”  It contains listings for two dozen 'monster' species (or 'creatures' it would be indecorous to label as 'monsters' but nonetheless could pose a threat to player characters).  Chapter XIII is titled “Additional Overland / Special Encounter Monsters” and has listings for a half-dozen 'monsters' not addressed in Chapter VIII.  (I suppose that – similar to Chapter VIII – the Chapter XIII entities are not necessarily 'monsters', but to suggest that they might otherwise be 'creatures' would be gauche.)  In all seriousness, the only reason to segregate the Chapter VIII beings from the Chapter XIII organisms would seem to be editorial.  The Chapter VIII descriptions are in alphabetical order and Chapter XIII is exactly one page.  I suspect that, when establishing the layout for the book, there was room for an additional page of material, but alphabetically integrating a page worth of listings into Chapter VIII was not feasible (perhaps due to time constraints).

Still, while Chapter VIII begins straightaway with the first listing (“Black Lion”), Chapter XIII starts with the following:
These monsters are given to help your game play and show you some of the wide variety available to the GM.  Each has been chosen especially to 'trigger' your imagination into certain areas, so that you can then 'build' your own creatures.  It's not hard, so read on, then create away!
With regard to creating new monsters, Chapter VIII concludes with the following statement:
The GM is encouraged to 'invent' encounter creatures himself.  Things like Giant Rats, Huge Amoebas, Large Lizards etc.  Simply use the preceding monsters as guidelines or try the hundreds of creatures listed in the ARDUIN TRILOGY.

We also recommend the many, many monsters to be found in ALL THE WORLD'S MONSTERS...
Hargrave encourages the Do-It-Yourself ethic but also manages to put in plugs for two products, one of which is his own.

Here is a sample listing:
Desert Saurigs are tail-less and much less bulky than their aquatic brethren.  They stand 5' to 6' tall and are a pale to dark tan color with yellowish stomachs.  They average 36 HP and have DEX / AGIL of 15 each.  They use round shields and a weapon called a Jhang (which is a broad bladed wooden sword with obsidian “teeth” imbedded in its edges.  Consider it as a broadsword for attack but give it 2 extra points for damage).  Their favorite mode of attack is to leap up and kick with their clawed feet (4 points damage each) hoping to knock their opponent or his shield down.
Perhaps the most distinctively Arduin creatures are Phraints – “Bright metallic blue or green, upright man-sized insect warriors.”  Hargrave explains, “They are cold and emotionless warriors with great intelligence who know no fear.”

Hargrave provides some interesting details about monsters of greater familiarity in contrast to standard D&D descriptions.  For instance, he points out that faeries “excel in vexing and pestering dogs and cats (the latter of which has been known to hunt them).”  Cats hunt faeries.  I like that idea.

In our world, a wraithe is a “coarse comb used on a form of warp-dressing or-beaming machine to keep the warp-threads apart.”  However, in Arduin, a wraithe is a wraith.  (I suppose that the 'E' is silent.)  Rather than drain experience levels, Arduin wraithes drain Constitution.  Lost Constitution can be regained at a rate of one point per week of immediate rest; not resting can result in permanent loss.

Giants “are probably the most common of all mythological monsters.”  Additionally, “They are not simply oversized humans, but are entirely different race descended from the Gods and Demi-gods of Old.”  ArdAdv indicates four types of giants but does not provide any specifics about the differences.  The types of giants are:  Desert (or Dune), Forest, Mountain (or Krag), and Sea.  Titans “are sometimes erroneously referred to as 'STORM GIANTS', but are a separate and distinct race.”  They “are wise, but cruel blue-skinned beings...” and they “live only in the far polar reaches or atop the highest mountains.”

Other monster details of interest:  “Usually,” zombies are “found in groups of 13 and 7 only.”  Giant scorpion venom “is fatal to all creatures of less than 51 HP.”  Trolls have “bat-wing like ears.”  Vampire Bats have a “15' wing span.”  Dragons have a number of Hit Points equal to three times their length in feet.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Player Characters in The Arduin Adventure

Art by Ramon Naylor

The first step in creating a character for The Arduin Adventure is to choose a race.  Hargrave's Arduin offers a plethora of playable races; however, for The Arduin Adventure (hereinafter ArdAdv) he presents only six options.  The limited number of races is appropriate for an introductory game, yet it's still 50% more than the number of races in Basic D&D.  The races available in ArdAdv are:  Human, Amazon, Half Orc, Dwarf, Elf, and Hobbitt (usually – but not always – spelled thus with two 'T's).

Amazons are treated as a race distinct from Humans.  For instance, “...Amazons can see better in the dark than humans...”  In Arduin,
There are three distinct types of Amazon.  The most numerous are the sea going “Gypsy Corsairs” who use light leather armor and cutlasses as well as short bows.  The least numerous are a very dark complexioned and tall jungle-living kind who fight with no armor...The third kind...come from the loose coalition of City States known as “The Motherland.”
Amazon “culture stresses 'the warrior ethic'” so much so that hardly any Amazons “have done anything except become warriors.”  So who carries out the non-warrior functions in Amazon society?  Slaves?  Amazon 'men'?

With regard to Dwarves, there are “'Mountain' or 'Dark Dwarves' and the taller 'Stone Downers' or 'Common Dwarves.'”  The Elf types are High, Wood, and Sea.  Hobbitts “usually come in one of three types: the taller, darker 'Gravellers' – who are usually associated with a Stone Downer settlement, the more common 'Plow Foots' usually found in small farm oriented villages and lastly the small and secretive 'Street Wise' or city Hobbitts.”

After selecting a race, players determine character 'statistics' by rolling 1d20 for each statistic.  (Instead of 1d20, I would have had players use 2d10 so as to achieve a more 'realistic' bell curve.)  For statistics, ArdAdv has the usual six D&D attributes along with Agility and Ego.  Agility is “A character's ability to dodge, duck, move about on his feet, etc.” as opposed to Dexterity, which is “A character's ability to wield a weapon or use his hands.”  Ego “is the character's force of will and arrogance factor.”

Statistics are modified in accordance with the character's race.  Amazons allocate eight points between Constitution and Strength.  Dwarves allocate twelve points among Constitution, Strength, and Ego.  Elves distribute twelve points among Dexterity, Agility, Intelligence, and Charisma.  Half-Orcs allocate six points between Constitution and Strength but must remove a total of four points from Intelligence and Wisdom.  Hobbitts distribute eight points among Agility, Dexterity, and Charisma.  Lastly, Humans either add or subtract points – a 50% chance of either.  They add (or subtract) four points between any two statistics.  For any race, the minimum modification for any applicable statistic is one point.  For instance, an Elf must allocate at least one point to each of Dexterity, Agility, Intelligence, and Charisma.  For all characters, the minimum value for any statistic is 5 (except for Intelligence, which must be at least 10).  Also, the maximum value for statistics is 20.

ArdAdv offers the standard four classes – Warrior, Mage, Priest, and Thief – and also offers Forester.  Apparently, the classes are open to all races and there are no level limits.  Each class also adds one point to at least one statistic.
  • Warrior:  Strength and Constitution
  • Mage:  Intelligence and Ego
  • Priest:  Wisdom
  • Thief:  Dexterity and Agility
  • Forester:  Constitution and Agility
Each class offers certain abilities.  Mages and Priests can both cast spells; in addition, Mages can sense magical magikal things and Priests can sense evil.  (I suppose that good Priests sense evil while evil Priests sense good, but I could be wrong.)  Warriors have a “chance of detecting ambushes and avoiding 'surprise.'”  Thieves can hide “in darkness and shadows” while Foresters have a “chance of following any track or spoor.”

“Finally,” Hargrave explains, “each character is allowed one character quirk or special attribute if it is not too outrageous.”  Hargrave didn't see fit to include the Arduin special ability charts in ArdAdv, but he encourages players to use “imagination to make each character unique and different.”   He also suggests the Arduin Grimoire “for those who have difficulty” in this regard.  The sample character, Jothar, is a Human orphan raised by Elves.  So, he “knows a lot about elves and elven ways (a rare thing for humans).”  Jothar also has +2 with bows.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

An Introduction to the World of Adventure Gaming

Art by Brad “Morno” Schenk

With the exception of 'Inspiration' posts, this blog tends to examine role-playing games that are complete – or at least claim to be complete.  As such, your humble host has elected to focus on Dave Hargrave's The Arduin Adventure rather than his Arduin Trilogy since said trilogy was presented as supplementary material. Having 64 pages, The Arduin Adventure book was sold individually and as part of a boxed set that included character sheets, two sheets of “magikal” item cards, and a die with “a total of twenty (20) sides numbered zero through nine twice each number.”

In the detail of the cover image shown above, we see the subtitle An Introduction to Fantasy Role-Playing/Adventure Gaming and it is in this context that The Arduin Adventure stands out.  The Arduin Adventure (hereinafter ArdAdv) was published in 1980, one year before the release of the Moldvay edition of D&D.  So, the contemporaneous, equivalent product from TSR was the Holmes 'Blue Book'.  According to its preface, the Holmes edition was “aimed solely at introducing the reader to the concepts of fantasy role playing...”  In this regard, ArdAdv compares favorably and could arguably be considered superior.  Essentially, the Holmes edition is a 'starter' set:  “Players who desire to go beyond the basic game are directed to the ADVANCED DUNGEONS & DRAGONS books.”  Hargrave references other Arduin products as options but only as options; he emphasizes that players and Game Masters can rely upon imagination.  While the Holmes edition rules “allow only for the first three levels,” no experience level limits are presented in ArdAdv.

In fact, the experience system in ArdAdv does not involve charts or large numbers.
Each character will gain one experience level (EL) for each five adventures completed (through fourth level). Thereafter it takes 20 adventures to gain each additional EL.
It's certainly not detailed, but it's satisfactory for an introductory system.

For many role-playing games, the rules begin with character generation.  This is not so with The Arduin Adventure ; the first topic after the introduction is an explanation of the Game Master's responsibilities.  Hargrave makes three points:
1.  Know all of the rules you have all agreed upon (and have the rule book(s) handy to settle disputes).
2.  Have not only the desire, but also the time to give the creation of each game’s “script” the attention it needs. It will take a good GM at least one hour to ready a game for play properly (usually the night before).
3.  Have the trust and confidence of all of the players so that they will not argue with his decisions. This confidence can only be earned as the GM demonstrates his integrity and honesty during the games. If the players feel that they are being short-changed by a GM, the play will soon become bogged down in arguments and hurt feelings. So, a GM must always maintain a detached and impartial attitude towards every player and every player’s character no matter what the GM’s personal feelings are. A good GM sees only the game, not those who play within it.
On the following page Hargrave states, “A GM never tries to run the players' game, but only operates as a referee, acting out the parts of the monsters or other things or people the characters meet.”

Later in the rules, Hargrave announces that the Game Master is really “a STORY TELLER!”  Some 'old school' aficionados prefer to distance themselves from the notion of game-as-story.  Here's a quote from Gary Gygax:
The adventure is the thing, not "a story." If you want stories, go read a book, If you want derring-do, play a real RPG and then tell the story of the adventure you barely survived afterwards. The tale is one determined by the players' characters' actions, surely!
Evidently, Mr. Gygax felt that stories are not the focus of “a real RPG.”  My philosophy is that the play of any game is a story – chess, poker, hopscotch – any game.  Gygax uses the terms “the story of the adventure” and “The tale.”  So, obviously, there's a story involved even in “real” role-playing games.  If the adventure is distinct from the story, then the adventure is the medium in which the story forms.  It is probable that Gygax meant two things in his quote:  (1) that the adventure should shape the story and not vice versa and (2) players should not influence the outcome of the adventure except through the actions of their characters.  I am not adverse to either point but, ultimately, a role-playing game generates a story.  How the story manifests is a matter of play style.  In any event, the Game Master is the impetus of the story.  (Hence the Game Master is really “a STORY TELLER!”)  In short, if you're pretending to be an elf in a make-believe world of magic and dragons, you're a participant in a story making process.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Take a Troll to Lunch

Before engaging upon an exploration of The Arduin Adventure, it is necessary to understand the beginnings of Arduin.

In 1977, prior to the release of the Advanced D&D books, Archive Miniatures published Dave Hargrave's The Arduin Grimoire.  This work was followed by several other volumes and adventures, but those later books are not the subject of this post.  In the “Forward,” Hargrave presented the book as an amateur effort with no intention “to replace or denigrate any other fantasy role playing supplement or game, either professional or amateur.”  There was an unstated presumption that the Grimoire required the Dungeons & Dragons rules as a foundation.  In terms of appearance, the Grimoire was quite amateurish and doubtless was a seminal influence on the ambiance of Encounter Critical.  However, to its credit, the Grimoire featured the early artwork of Erol Otus.

As a supplement, The Arduin Grimoire included new classes, new spells, new magic items, new player character races, new monsters, and an assortment of other new rules.  The advertisement reproduced below appeared in issue #6 of The Dragon (April 1977).  Counting its covers, the Grimoire indeed spanned one hundred pages.  There was something on every page, even if only artwork, but we must indulge “jam-packed” as an article of hyperbole.  In your humble host's salad days, photocopies of the special abilities charts and the critical and fumble tables made the rounds and were accorded “official” status without quite knowing their provenance.  The special abilities charts had titles like “Special Abilities Chart for Thieves, Monks, Ninja, Highwaymen, Corsairs, Assassins, Traders, Slavers, and All of Those with a More or Less "Secret" Nature” and included results such as “+1 to all character attributes but –2 versus all magic (even clerical)” and “Woodsman, +1 dexterity, +3 with all missile weapons, hide like angels.”  The critical table included effects like “Forehead...Gashed, blood in eyes, can't see” and the fumble table had results like “twist ankle...lose first attack, and one half of agility/5 min.”

The Arduin oeuvre is unabashedly 'gonzo'.  One of Hargrave's goals was to provide options and inspiration beyond the standard “Tolkeinian” [sic] paradigm.  In a section of the Grimoire titled “Notes on Player Character Types,” Hargrave lectured readers about limiting themselves to “classical” character tropes:
Never will you hear the complaints of Brownie infantry squad as they whine about that stupid half-ogres cheshire cat that keeps looking at them and licking his chops.  And never is such a lonely word.  Don't be lonely, take a troll to lunch.  The world is a small place but is even smaller still in relationship to the myriad worlds of the entire Alternity (alternate eternities).  Do not be a small player from a small world, embrace the whole Alternity and give the different types a chance.  I think you will find that the world your game is in will become a lot more fun if you do.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Black Lotus Moon (SPOILERS)

Art by Peter Laird

Had Tom Moldvay lived, he would have been 67 years old today.  At Thoul's Paradise, we typically celebrate Moldvay's birthday by focusing on one of his contributions to role-playing games (of which there are many).  Today, however, we look at Moldvay's fiction.  It is your humble host's understanding that the well-read Moldvay aspired to be a fantasy novelist.  Alas, his only entry in the Internet Speculative Fiction Database is for a short story, Black Lotus Moon, published in the Dragontales anthology.

Dragontales was “An original collection of fantasy fiction and art, presented by the publishers of Dragon magazine.”  The 78 page volume was edited by Kim Mohan who, at the time (August 1980), was assistant editor of (The) Dragon.  Moldvay's story is accompanied by art supplied by Peter Laird, before he gained fame and fortune as one of the creators of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  (Another Dragontales artist, Kevin Siembieda, would go on to produce the TMNT RPG.)

One of the characters in Moldvay's story is a “black-haired, gray-eyed barbarian...clad only in a fur loincloth.”  He claims to be of the “Aesir” tribe from “the northern mountains.”  We also learn that he has “been a mercenary in more kingdoms than you have fingers to count with.”  During the story, this barbarian and two accomplices (one of them a woman) infiltrate a tower to gain treasure.  This may sound familiar, but Moldvay isn't being derivative – he's toying with readers' expectations.

Anyway, the protagonists – two 'thieves' named Tamara and Saris – recruit the barbarian, Arngrim Wolfbane, as an equal partner in a venture to loot the tower of Gorilon, an immortal wizard.  Gorilon sleeps only once a month, during the night of the full moon.  On these occasions, he “retires to his sanctum in the tower to inhale the fumes of the black lotus.”  (Hence, the source of the story's title.)  Central to the plot is the knowledge that...
...while he sleeps, his treasure is protected by safeguards which he claims a clever and daring individual can overcome, as long as the thief uses no magic.  He could easily make the tower impregnable using his magic, but the standing challenge to thieves amuses him.
One of the safeguards is a “demon-monster” (shown above).  Prior to the beginning of the story, Saris found the testament of a thief who tried to raid Gorilon's tower hundreds of years previous.  The document explains that “only a physical attack will kill the demon.”  This is the reason the two thieves bring the barbarian along.

A significant portion of the story details the trio's foray into the tower and Moldvay's role-playing game mindset is evident.  Many sections of the narrative could easily be an account of player characters exploring a dungeon:
          They tapped the walls for secret doors, and scanned the floor...One by one, each twist and turn was eliminated until only a single dead end remained.
          Tamara crept forward, sweeping her spear in front of her to check for traps.  An inch from the end wall, the spear tip vanished.  Tamara continued to push the spear forward.  It disappeared inch by inch until nearly all of it was invisible.  When Tamara pulled the spear back, it slowly reappeared, complete and intact.
          “The end wall is an illusion,” Tamara said.
Did Moldvay create a story from a gaming scenario?  Perhaps it was the other way around.

The protagonists survive the tower and get away with some treasure but the story doesn't end well for the ersatz Conan, as shown below.

Art by Peter Laird

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Adventures in DragonRaid (SPOILERS)

On Earth, we have Halloween.  In Talania – the setting of DragonRaid – there is the Night of the Scarlet Moon:
Every year the two light moons are eclipsed for five minutes by the Scarlet Moon, Moluno...Every baby born to a dragon slave during the eclipse is declared by the dragons to be a sorcerer.  The helpless infant is removed from its home and taken to the School of Witchcraft that lies deep in the Forest of Horrors.  There he is trained from his earliest hours in the art of sorcery, and his life is wholly given over to the dragons.
To the TwiceBorn, such a fate is horrific, but it is a cause for celebration in the Dragon Lands.  Rescue of the Sacred Scrolls, the second adventure for DragonRaid, begins on the Night of the Scarlet Moon; however, the adventure has very little to do with the events that occur on said night.  Yet perhaps we should look at the first adventure before discussing the second.

DragonRaid 's introductory adventure, The LightRaider Test, begins with the player characters having just graduated from DragonRaider Academy.  They come across a bottle containing a message written by none other than the OverLord of Many Names.  The message asks if the characters want to engage upon the LightRaider Test.  If they agree, the writing on the paper changes into a new message with instructions to proceed to the Dragon Lands.  There they meet a non-player LightRaider, a “man of another race.”  While on a mission, the LightRaider's partner, Gareth, was captured by goblins.  The OverLord is sending the LightRaider home.  It becomes the player characters' purpose to rescue Gareth.  Before parting, the LightRaider gives the PCs a pouch of “magic tablets,” most of which are supposed to “produce good results.”  So, DragonRaid explicitly endorses experimentation with strange pills.  Among the various effects, one tablet “makes character invisible until midnight” and two tablets “make a golden bow appear with 3 arrows (of silver shaft and golden points).”

Anyway, the adventure proceeds linearly through a series of scenes called 'sequences'.  There is a combination of combat, puzzle solving, role-playing, and the use of WordRunes.  As an introductory adventure, it does what it's supposed to do – give players (and the Adventure Master) hands-on experience with the essential processes of the game.  Eventually, the player characters rescue Gareth and learn the purpose of his failed mission.  Gareth and the other LightRaider were supposed to rescue another LightRaider, Zekion, and “some portions of the Sacred Scrolls.”  This is the set-up for the second adventure.

Interestingly, the adventure has a 'sequence' to be used should a player character die.  Such a character finds himself (or herself) “in a beautiful grove of trees.”  Not much happens.  Before the character enters the “golden castle” of the afterlife, he (or she) can try to hear the screaming of the damned from “a chasm that drops for an infinite distance.”

The DragonRaid adventures are more like 'choose your own adventure' books than those for traditional role playing games.  This is forgivable in an introductory scenario but is grossly unsophisticated otherwise.  Take for instance the beginning of Rescue of the Sacred Scrolls.  In the middle of the Night of the Scarlet Moon, each player character individually suffers a “compulsive feeling” to find one another.  Each PC separately finds “a parchment and a small leather bag” outside his or her home.  Then, according to the player briefing... are distracted by a small group of people gathered around a lamppost at the end of the block.  They look familiar.  Yes, they are your friends!  You run down the street toward them and soon you are all together.
How can anyone see a small group before that group gathers?  I mean the first two characters have to meet before a 'group' forms.  Anyway, the characters learn that pieces of parchment and the bags (which contain money) were provided by the OverLord.  The pieces of parchment provide instructions for the characters' mission.  After being flown to the Dragon Lands by winged horses, the PCs encounter a talking stag whose name, “Horasis, comes from a Greek word meaning 'the act of seeing,' or 'a vision.'”  Horasis might as well wear a conductor's cap since his sole function is to prod the player characters along the designated course of the adventure.

Strangely, non player characters use game terminology in conversation.  A deer – one other than Horasis – relates to the PCs a message from the OverLord, “It pleases Him to reward each of you with 2 mu for Faithfulness.”  A “mu” is a maturity unit, which is what DragonRaid characters earn rather than experience.  Faithfulness, of course, is one of the DragonRaid Character Strengths.

Just as with The LightRaider Test, there is a 'sequence' for dead characters in Rescue of the Sacred Scrolls.  Yet characters who die in the second adventure have an entirely different experience than those who die in the introductory adventure.  After dying in Rescue of the Sacred Scrolls, a LightRaider 'wakes up' in a “small meadow or glade.”  This 'sequence' can result in different encounters depending upon the player's choices.  One encounter is with 'good' goblins from planet Arkor.  There are specific rules for role playing a conversation with these goblins:
Neither of you can role play anything negative: no fear, no accusations, no threats, no fighting, no disputes, etc.  You will most likely have to inform the player of this, but first let him try without your help.  If he does not understand, then there will be a slight shock when you inform him of the role play requirements.
Other afterlife encounters include a Q&A session with unicorns/angels or seeing “the throne of the High One and His OverLord of Many Names.”

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Some Notes on Lankhmar

Cartography by Geoff Valley & Curtis Smith

In a recent post, I had occasion to reference the Lankhmar™: City of Adventure sourcebook, published by TSR thirty years ago.  Of interest to me are the rule changes made to bring standard first edition Dungeon & Dragons more in line with the milieu of Fritz Leiber's setting.

In Deities & Demigods™, the gods of Nehwon are treated like other gods; they are listed with movement rates, hit points, experience levels, and other attributes which seem incongruous with the nature of deities.  In the Lankhmar sourcebook, gods are treated as abstract entities.  Gods have a Cultural Rank, Area of Influence, Worshippers Alignment, and Symbol.  However, there are two instances where gods have “physical manifestations” and additional, appropriate information (Number of Attacks, Size, etc.) is provided for encounters with player characters.

Note that a god doesn't have an alignment, but the alignment of the god's followers is specified.  'Area of Influence' refers to the geographical area of Nehwon where a god exerts power.  (These areas can overlap.)  'Cultural Rank' is the “power” of a god relative to other gods (within the context of the city of Lankhmar).

Characters of mortal disposition – including player characters – have Social Levels, which “generally represent how important an individual is regarded by others in [Lankhmar].”  The Overlord of Lankhmar has a Social Level of 15, the highest level possible.  According to page 74, “A Player Character's Social Level is equal to 1/3 his level of experience, with a maximum of 10.”  Some situations are listed which can modify Social Level.  For instance, spending “at least twice as much money as folk of the equivalent [Social Level]” raises Social Level by one; a public display of cowardice reduces Social Level by one. 

Non-player characters who do not have a character class “have a social level established by their profession and their level of accomplishment within the profession.”  The descriptions of the various guilds indicate the minimum Social Levels of guild personnel.  For instance, with regard to the Moneylenders' Guild, an apprentice has a minimum Social Level of 2; a journeyman, a level of 3; a master, 5; and an official, 6.

Social Level affects the results of encounters.  When using the Encounter Reaction table of the Dungeon Masters Guide (p. 63), “Each level of difference [between the PC and the encountered NPC] gives a 5% modifier (up or down, as appropriate) to the encounter reaction dice roll.”  Also...
When a PC encounters members of the city guard that would otherwise accost the character, there is a 10% chance per Social Level of the character (except for level 1) that the guards will ignore the character and go on about their business.  Thus, a character of SL 4 has a 30% chance of avoiding a guard encounter.
The characters of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser “must spend twice as much to maintain the same social level as normal inhabitants of Lankhmar...[and] twice as much to attain the next social level compared to most Lankhmarians.”  Unfortunately, no table is supplied that indicates the amount of money a person of any given Social Level spends to maintain that level or advance to the next higher level.

Also, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser are “susceptible to the charms of beautiful women.”  If Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser are being used as player characters and they do not “act as if charmed in the presence of a woman with a [high] Charisma,” their Social Level can be reduced.  For Charisma 18, the loss is 1 – 6; for Charisma 16 or 17, there is a 50% chance of losing 1 – 6 Social Levels.

It seems reasonable that a couple of adventurers would need to spend more money than 'normal' people in order to attain and maintain social status; 'normal' people are embedded in the community while adventurers have a tenuous connection.  Yet a reduction of Social Level for failure to succumb to feminine wiles seems a bit forced.  The 'susceptibility' of the Mouser and Fafhrd is a matter of role-playing.  Should good role-playing be rewarded or should lack of role-playing be penalized?  (Or both?)  I am inclined to offer a carrot rather than brandish a stick; however, in this case we are dealing with established characters with a distinct idiom.  As such, it may be appropriate to impose a penalty when that idiom is not respected.  Still, in my estimation, Social Level is an unfitting target of that penalty; a reduction in experience points is more suitable.  Does that sound too severe?  Either embrace the role or play an original character.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Easter Island

Art by Pierre Loti (1872)

The following Robert E. Howard poem, "Easter Island," was published in the December, 1928, installment of Weird Tales.

In reality, the mo'ai face inland.  I supposed we must extend some degree of literary license to Mr. Howard.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Character Development in DragonRaid

LightRaiders (i.e., player characters in DragonRaid) have ten Character Strengths (listed here).  There are also abilities derived from these strengths.  All LightRaiders have Courage, Endurance, Hope, Knowledge, Listening, Quiet Movement, Vision, Wisdom, Evade Enemy, Recover From Injury, and Resist Torturous Investigation.  “Wisdom,” for instance, “gives men good judgment in determining a course of action.”  On the other hand Knowledge “consists of understanding gained by experience, as well as the amount of information gathered over one's lifetime.”  A character's knowledge 'level' is determined by finding the average of Joy, Patience, Goodness, and Faith.  

Extrapolating the “Fruit of the Spirit” to concepts like physical capabilities and weapon use is an arbitrary exercise.  For example, Vision is determined by finding the average of Patience, Faith, and Hope; Listening is figured by adding Patience and Self-Control to twice Peace and dividing the total by four.  A derived ability only improves to the extent that its constituent 'strengths' increase.

There are also elective abilities of which each LightRaider is allowed to have three.  Among these are abilities that allow a character to use certain weapon types:  Battle Axe, Military Fork, Spear, and War Hammer.  A character has an Ability Level of 1 for any of these elective abilities “not specifically chosen.”
  • Blend With Surroundings – “the ability of a LightRaider to blend into a natural setting.”  With an ability level of 10, a character “has a good possibility of making himself almost invisible in wide-open places.”
  • Climb Skillfully – Self-explanatory.  “A character with a (Climb Skillfully) Ability of 10 may be able to climb up polished stones that have no handholds.”
  • Converse With Animals – similar to the Talk with Locals ability (see below), “except that it involves communicating with non-talking animals” (as opposed to talking animals).  A character having this ability at level one – the default – “may have trouble communicating with animals.”
  • Hatred Of Evil – “a burning desire to destroy evil in any form.”  When attacking dark creatures, a character with this ability deals more damage and has an enhanced chance to hit   Love is included in the formula for figuring this ability.
  • Merciful Compassion – “a feeling of deep sympathy for another's suffering or misfortune.”  This ability “is necessary in order to help a dragon slave or a fellow LightRaider in trouble.”
  • Persuade Foe – “the ability to talk an opponent into doing something you want him to do.”
  • Righteously Mingle With Evil – “a character's ability to resist being soiled in evil surroundings.”  With an ability level of 10, a character “can attempt to go into the most evil situation and yet avoid being tarnished by his association with evil beings.”
  • Sense Evil – “the ability to sense evil coming from dark creatures or dragon slaves.”  At ability level 10, a character “may even sense traces of evil in creatures who are basically good.”
  • Talk With Locals – “the ability of a character to talk with the people living in a certain locality.”  I guess this means 'speaking with NPCs' (assuming the NPCs live somewhere).  A character at the highest ability level “has a good way with people and can probably communicate with a hostile person without getting angry.”
  • Track Enemy – “the ability to follow a creature.”
  • Water Movement – “can be classified as one's swimming ability,” but just calling it 'Swimming' was apparently out of the question.
It is evident that some of these abilities substitute for actual role-playing.

By meeting certain requirements, a LightRaider may adopt a special role, most of which grant useful benefits.  For example, a character with sufficiently high scores in Endurance, Righteously Mingle With Evil, Hatred Of Evil, and Self-Control can become a member of the OverLord's Guard.  It is assumed that starting characters will not have special roles but given the random nature of character generation, the possibility exists.  One assumes that a character can only qualify for one special role at a time; however, this is not expressly mentioned.

The special roles are as follows:
  • LionWarrior, WolfSoldier, and BearKnight – Characters in these roles have a telepathic connection to a particular talking animal.  If the lion or wolf is killed, the OverLord does not give a replacement; however, the character may “take up another special character role.”  Although not specifically stated, this would seem to apply to bears, as well.
  • AnimalMaster – A character in this role can have two to four non-talking animals.  There is no telepathic connection.  “If these animals are lost or killed, the AnimalMaster may not replace them for one year.”  Available animals include rabbits, raccoons, squirrels, owls, muskrats, lynxes, foxes, skunks, deer (either stag or doe), rock goats, beavers, and porcupines.  Eagles, Black Bears, and Badgers are also available but count as two animals each.
  • Renewer – This is the healer of DragonRaid.  The Renewer can use the Renewer's WordRune (Isaiah 53:5) three times per day.  Each use heals a number of Physical Vitality points equal to the Renewer's 'Recover From Injury' ability.  A Renewer can heal the same character more than once and can even heal him (or her) self.
  • Knight of the Way – This is what many games would call a ranger.  Such a character “automatically receives a permanent bonus of 2 in each of the following areas:  Track Enemy...Evade Enemy...Blend With Surroundings.”  Of course, a character must already have high scores in these abilities in order to qualify for this role.  The description states, “A Knight of the Way may specialize in one particular environmental setting,” but the benefits of specialization are not mentioned.
  • OverLord's Guard – Otherwise known as an AppearanceChanger.  A character in this role can change his or her outward appearance twice a day “into the form of other men or women.”  Having adopted a different form, “the LightRaider is undetectable by any creature except dragons.”  Whether or not dragons automatically detect an altered form is a matter of conjecture.
  • RescueMaster – Characters in this role have “been taught to overcome great obstacles and difficulties to rescue someone or something.”  On becoming a RescueMaster, a character “receives a permanent bonus of +2 in his Climb Skillfully, Blend with Surroundings, and Water Movement Character Abilities.”  Similar to the 'Knight of the Way', a character must have high levels in this abilities before becoming a RescueMaster.
  • RaidLeader – A RaidLeader is, in essence, a party leader.  Of course, a group of LightRaiders can have a 'leader' even if none of them qualifies for this the RaidLeader 'special role'.  According to the rules, “There can be only one RaidLeader in a party.”  If more than one LightRaider qualifies as a RaidLeader in a given party, they “roll a Starlot” to get the job.  The benefits of being a RaidLeader in terms of game mechanics are not listed but “The OverLord will judge the RaidLeader for his faithfulness to his team, especially in the area of humility.”
  • Guardian of the Light – Only LightRaiders who have “achieved a perfect 10 in all nine Character Strengths” may become Guardians of the Light.  “This should be the goal of every LightRaider.”  Like the RaidLeader, there are no 'game mechanic' benefits associated with this role.  Usually, Guardians teach and assist other LightRaiders; rarely do they go on missions into the Dragon Lands.  This would seem to be a 'role' for retired characters.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

The Two Most Famous Rogues of Fantasy

Art by Keith Parkinson
I am, of course, speaking of Chert and Gord.  Oh, wait, no I'm not.

Since Dungeons & Dragons was inspired by the swords & sorcery literary genre, the natural next step was to model – in game terms – concepts and characters from that genre.   Also, since Fritz Leiber's Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories form a veritable cornerstone of that genre, an adaptation of that duo was inevitable.

In the earlier days of Dragon magazine (or The Dragon as it was then known), Lawrence Schick and Tom Moldvay contributed a feature called 'Giants in the Earth' wherein notable heroes of fantasy were presented in D&D terms.  Of course:
These heroes are all in some fashion exceptional, and thus they deviate a bit in their qualities and capabilities from standard D & D. Also, most originated in other universes or worlds, and so were not bound by the same set of restrictions that apply to the average D & D character. Some are multi-classed, for example. This system has been used to describe the skills and abilities of the characters as they appear in the literature, even though some of these combinations and conditions are not normally possible. In addition, some minor changes have been made in order to bring them in line with the game and to enhance playability.
The rules were such that special accommodations were necessary to portray the characters.  Because they come from “other worlds or universes,” they are “not bound by...[D & D's] restrictions.”  This would seem to be explanation enough, but the apologia continues with reference to how the characters “appear in the literature” and the necessity of bringing them “in line with the game.”  Yet, just as the rules are open to interpretation, so are works of fiction and the characters within. Over the years, Lankhmar's finest rogues have been depicted as D&D characters in a variety of ways.

Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser were given the 'Giants in the Earth' treatment in the twenty-seventh issue of The Dragon (July, 1979).  Here is Fafhrd's listing.

(The) Dragon #27 (July 1979)
Notice that, just as there is a percentage for 18 Strength, there are percentages associated with 18 Dexterity and 18 Constitution.  Here, Fafhrd is a 20th level fighter/8th level thief.  However, “Fafhrd's youth was spent as an apprentice skald” and he “retains some of his training as a skald, and in this respect he can be treated as a second level bard (without the druidic spells).”  Also, Graywand, Fafhrd's weapon, is treated as a +2 sword.

Deities & Demigods™ Cyclopedia
The following year, the Deities & Demigods Cyclopedia was published with a different version of Nehwon's favorite sons.  Here Fafhrd is a 15th level ranger/13th level thief/5th level bard.  His linguistic aptitude is described:  “he can read and write all of the major ones of Nehwon and there is an 80% chance he will understand any obscure one he is exposed to.”   Also, he “is able to climb walls and hide in shadows with a +20% over his usual thiefly base.”  His wisdom has dropped by one and his Armor Class is 3 instead of zero, but at least he has gained a hit point and his strength has increased from 18(94) to 18(00).  Additionally, Graywand is no longer a magic sword, but the name of any bastard sword he carries.

Lankhmar: City of Adventure
In 1985, the pair appeared in the Lankhmar: City of Adventure sourcebook.  Schick, in his Heroic Worlds, claimed this was “one of the best settings for AD&D.”  The characters are presented in three power levels, described as age groups.  Fafhrd is still a ranger/thief/bard, but he doesn't use any spell abilities.  Also, as a thief, his level has decreased substantially but “he climbs as a 15th level thief and is not subject to any modifiers for ice and snow when cling (sic).”  He also gets +3 on any saving throw against cold.  His strength has diminished to 18(75), his intelligence reduced to 15, and his wisdom has fallen to 10.  His dexterity became 17, his Armor Class 6, but his constitution increased to 19.  No mention is made of his affinity with languages.

Lankhmar: The New Adventures of Fafhrd and Gray Mouser
Finally, in 1996, TSR published Lankhmar: The New Adventures of Fafhrd and Gray Mouser.  Instead of a mere sourcebook, it was a distinct, boxed set role-playing game.  The system was a simplified form of – and eminently compatible with – 2nd Edition AD&D, but it is interesting that TSR created a 'starter set' using the Lankhmar setting.  It was then possible to represent the pair of heroes without 'altering' the rules.  The characters are still presented in terms of three power levels, but Fafhrd's only class is 'warrior'.  Also, his wisdom has descended to 9.  Because of his background, he has “a +3 bonus when attempting a climbing proficiency check” and “a +3 bonus to survival (arctic) proficiency checks.”

(The) Dragon #27 (July 1979)
The Gray Mouser was originally presented as an 18th level fighter/thief with 18(63) intelligence and 18(00) dexterity.  With this incarnation, the Mouser has a +3 cloak of protection.  Both of his weapons, Scalpel and Cat's Claw, are considered to be +3 weapons.  In addition, the Mouser is very adept with the sling, which he can fire very quickly and accurately (+3 to hit, 3 times per melee round).

Deities & Demigods™ Cyclopedia
In Deities & Demigods, The Gray Mouser has turned from Chaotic Neutral to True Neutral and is considered a 15th level thief/11th level fighter/3rd level magic-user.  The Mouser's wisdom has declined and his intelligence is 18 (no percentile), but all of his other attributes have increased.  Just as with Fafhrd, his 'magic items' are now considered to be conventional.

Lankhmar: City of Adventure
The Mouser's abilities have subsided somewhat in Lankhmar: City of Adventure, with a reduction in every score save dexterity and constitution.  His aptitude as a magic-user has a ceiling of 3rd level regardless of 'maturity'.  “He is extremely streetwise,” the description attests, “particularly in Lankhmar, receiving a +2 bonus on all rolls for finding information, bargaining and dealing with bureaucratic systems.”

Lankhmar: The New Adventures of Fafhrd and Gray Mouser
The only change of abilities in the Mouser's next version is a reduction of wisdom from 11 to 9.  Interestingly, just as his magic-user level is frozen at third, so has his thief level become static at seventh.  Wait...the listed class is not 'magic-user' but 'black wizard'.  The distinction is not cosmetic as it is with 'fighter' and 'warrior', the 'black wizard' class is a product of the Lankhmar setting.

According to the character class description:  “Those who study black magic have learned to manipulate – though not necessarily master – the essences of death, decay, and even evil itself.”  (As might be expected, this is in contrast to the 'good' magic of white wizards.  Since there is no cleric class in the Lankhmar setting, spells normally reserved for clerics have been appropriated by the white wizards.)  Because of their nefarious activities, black wizards suffer “afflictions.”  When a black wizard reaches fifth level – and at every level increase thereafter – a roll is made upon the affliction table.  Oh, you would like to see this table?  Your humble host obliges.  In the decades prior to Dungeon Crawl Classics, here is how 'corruption' was handled:

If, for any given level, an affliction is rolled that was applied to the black wizard at an earlier level, “the sorcerer has managed to avoid disfigurement for the time being and does not have to roll again until another level is earned.”