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.