Saturday, November 30, 2013

On Theme

Rey had a nifty post over here discussing a cool idea, where fighters can wear ridiculous outfits and gain the equivalent of chainmail armor class. My first thought was "I totally want to steal that" and my next thought was "Definitely shouldn't steal that."

Or at least, definitely shouldn't steal it for Legacy of the Bieth. I'm shooting to have a certain theme and atmosphere in my setting, where things are washed out and sun-blasted and Sergio Leone cinematography, even in the Zone itself. The fancy peacock outfits of the Imperials and other city slickers wilt and fade in the borderlands. Life means little, death sometimes has its price.

Once Upon a Time in the West
I find myself finding all sorts of things that sound really cool, but I've got to keep reminding myself about what I want in my setting and how I need to get that across. Once I've gotten that established in the setting (and importantly, convinced myself I've gotten that established in the setting), then I can maybe start to expand other areas and use some of the cool bits I've seen elsewhere. But until my stuff...makes its bones, for lack of a better term, I don't want to start heading out of the areas I need to get right.

The same thing applies with the 40K stuff I'm working on. I need to get the right balance between the weird and grotty John Blanche of the early days

"Jaq Draco" - John Blanche
"Ryan, be careful what you shoot at.
Shome things in here don't react too well
to bolter shells."

...with the slick fancy Adrian Smith stuff

"Eisenhorn" - Adrian Smith
"I am a badass despite the fact
that I am also ludicrously microcephalic."

And the question there is going to determine how I reshape everything. I know I want to have something that embraces a lot of the universe and setting assumptions of early 40K, but I know that I want something of the slickness and baroque tomfoolery that goes along with Dark Heresy and the Abnettquisition works. Early 40K fits in really well with Traveller (at least the STARSLUGS Traveller I've been playing recently), but it's an Abnettquisition premise that I've been noodling at for about two years that's got me started on the conversion process in the first place. 

None of this is dealing with players, mind you. They're going to keep engaging in their ridiculous-awesome plots and crazy shenanigans and not giving a crap about my fretting over themes. As well they should. 

Joesky Note: Dark Heresy weapons and armor would be a pain in the ass to convert into Traveller's regular combat system. Thankfully, the alternate combat system that Sun-Lord Chris posted over at Hill Cantons actually allows for really rapid conversion. The penetration and armor values from Dark Heresy can come over into Traveller almost directly (with a few tweaks to account for Traveller's baseline weapons assumptions). 

(Yeah, this isn't a full tax. Shut up, I'll do more later.)

Saturday, November 23, 2013

STARSLUGS Signatory, Punk-Dark Imperium of Man

With my primary gaming campaign being on a bit of an SF kick these days, I've been getting more and more excited about an idea I had a few months ago, using Traveller to run Warhammer 40K games. (I have the Dark Heresy RPG and find it extremely impenetrable, though very pretty and with some very cool bits.)
"Nurgle Slug Obliterator," by Panic
Now both Chris and Evan have begun running Traveller games, with the interstellar equivalent of a FLAILSNAILS Convention: the STARSLUGS Convention. (see below)

And this has gotten me excited enough to start getting my 40k system tweaks fully set up for Traveller. I'm envisioning a combination between the wild craziness of the first 40K work, Rogue Trader (gonzo, punk, cynical satire, extremely 2000 AD), and the no less grim but significantly more heroic Dan Abnett envisioning of the setting (not everyone is an asshole, even though life sucks; Chaos is likely going to eat everything but you can still win victories against it.)

So expect some more posts on the matter. The primary areas I'm expecting to work on are going to be creating a new equipment list (using these alternative rules for combat) and a career/lifepath system splitting the difference between WFRP and Mongoose Traveller careers. 

So. Announcing the Punk-Dark Imperium of Man. Let's see where this goes. 

Oh, and related inspirational art blog.

"Enforcer," John Blanche
Simple Translation Agreement Rules Simulating Lastingly Unified Galactic Sectors
In order for freetraders in the Space Cantonment, Directorate Space, and other willing sectors, to prosper and thrive, the referees of those campaigns have set out the following articles in order to ease movement between them.

Article 1
Characters may move between Directorate Space and the Space Cantonment freely provided they meet the standards required in other articles.

Article 2
Characters are bound by the rules of the version of Traveller being used in the game they are currently playing.  This includes things such as the rules for combat (both personal and ship-based), weapon damage, the functions of certain technological items, etc.

Article 3
There is one exception to the rule presented in Article 2: skills.  Characters use whatever skill they possess that is closest to the one in the system currently being run.  This means that characters from the Cantonment (and possibly other CT games) possess broader skill categories than those the Directorate.  Skill acquisition is also based on the characters native system, and not on the system currently being run.  Skill rolls function as other items described in Article 2.

Article 4
Characters may bring their own personal effects with them, but not those held in common with other members of their party/crew.  This includes any ships the characters rolled on the benefits table, assuming the ship is being used by other party members.

Article 5
Psions, astropsychics, and aliens must submit their characters to the referee at least 48 hours in advance so that the referee has the time to read over any relevant sections of their rules/come up with how certain foreign abilities work in their area of space-time.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Arab Travelers: The Head of Badr

One of the marvels that occurred during that battle with the Franks [Baldwin II's attack on Damascus in 1129] was the following. In the army of Hama, there were two Kurdish brothers, one of them named Badr and the other named 'Annaz. Now, this 'Annaz had bad eyesight. And when the Franks were defeated and killed, some of the men cut off their heads and hung them off their saddle-straps. So 'Annaz cut off a head and hung it from his saddle-strap.

A group of men from the army of Hama saw him and said to him, 'Hey, 'Annaz, what's with that head you have with you?'

'Glory be to God,' he replied, 'for what happened between this man and me - I killed him.'

'Oh, man,' they told him, 'that's the head of your brother Badr!'

So he looked at the head, examining it. Sure enough, it was the head of his brother. And so in his shame before the men, he left Hama. We never knew where he set off for, nor did we ever hear any further news of him.

-Usama ibn Munqidh, The Book of Contemplation, p. 128. Trans. Paul Cobb, Penguin 2008.

Head from Lone Wolf Effects
The shame 'Annaz felt for both his lies and the mutilation of his brother's corpse wound up imbuing Badr's head with strange energies. Badr was slain in defense of Damascus, and still seeks to do so from beyond the grave, but the actions of his brother torment Badr's spirit.

The head of Badr projects a 30' radius bless spell around it when held aloft by a member of the Faith or by someone defending a position. The person holding Badr's head is incapable of telling a lie. For every five rounds that Badr's head is held aloft, all persons affected by the bless spell must save or take 1d2 damage/level, as the pain of 'Annaz's betrayal cuts deep, and severe cuts appear around their necks.

The head of Badr may only be buried when Damascus is safe.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Arab Travelers: The Leopard

Fatimid pottery cup, 11th century.
From here.
Of all the animals, the leopard alone can jump more than forty cubits. In the church at Hunak, there was a window forty cubits in height above the floor. A leopard used to go there during the hottest part of the day, then jump down and go away. At the time, the landlord of Hunak was a Frankish knight called Sir Adam, a real devil of a Frank. He was told the story of the leopard, and he said, 'When you see the leopard, inform me of it.'

The leopard came as usual and jumped up to that window, so one of the peasants went and informed Sir Adam. Sir Adam put on his hauberk, mounted his charger, took up his shield and spear and went off to the church, which was in ruins except for one standing wall where the window was located. When the leopard saw Sir Adam, it pounced down from the window on top of him while Sir Adam was still on his charger and broke his back, killing him. It then went away. The peasants of Hunak used to call that leopard 'the holy-warrior leopard.'

One of the special qualities of the leopard is that if it wounds a man, and a mouse urinates on the wound, the man will die. A mouse never gives up trying to reach a man wounded by a leopard: one person, out of fear of the mice, even had a bed made for himself sitting in the water, with cats tied all around it.

-Usama ibn Munqidh, The Book of Contemplation, p. 123-124. Trans. Paul Cobb, 2008, Penguin.

Leopard, from "The Benefits of Animals"
Image from here.
"The leopard is a fierce enemy of man, unmanageable and ferocious. He eats only his own game. When satiated, he sleeps for three days and three nights in succession; (...) A sick leopard gets well by eating mice. His skin is tender and if he is wounded it breaks with a slight stroke.

The flesh and fat of a leopard, boiled in the juice of olives, serve as a good salve for the sores, abcesses and pimples that break out on the body; his blood is a preventive liniment for all skin diseases."

-Ibn Bakhtishu, The Benefits of Animals, quoted from 1001 Tales of History's post on the book - which you should totally check out, if only to see the other fascinating pictures and descriptions.

Well. There's clearly something up between leopards and mice, some connection here. But why would these two creatures be connected?

Hmm. I am reminded...
“I am reminded,” said the Mouser, “of what a witch told me about adepts. She said that, if an adept chances to die, his soul is reincarnated in a mouse. If, as a mouse, he managed to kill a rat, his soul passes over to a rat. As a rat, he must kill a cat; as a cat, a wolf; as a wolf, a panther; and, as a panther, a man. There he can recommence his adeptry. Of course, it seldom happens that anyone gets all the way through the sequence and in any case it takes a very long time. Trying to kill a rat is enough to satisfy a mouse with mousedom.”

- “Adept’s Gambit,” Fritz Leiber
Clearly the Mouser is misremembering (or the witch misspoke) and it was leopards, rather than panthers, that were in the adept chain of succession. But what if there were some way to short-circuit this process? What if an adept-turned-leopard-turned-mouse could easily slay a man while as a mouse? Perhaps through a wound that they had made as a leopard?

And this would explain why the mice never give up trying to reach the wounded man. Because if they can work their arts on the wounded...ah, the chance to be a human once more!

Perhaps some adept-leopards (leopard-adepts?) retain their loyalties in life, as the case of the holy-warrior leopard shows. Or perhaps this was merely an opportune moment for the adept to strike at a human and return to a human form. Yet it is curious that it did not attack the peasants...

Monday, September 23, 2013

Arab Travelers: Cave of the Seven Sleepers

My route took me by the Cave of the Seven Sleepers. So I stopped there and went in to pray at the mosque, but I did not go through the narrow passage that one finds there. One of the amirs of the Turks who were with me, called Barshak, came, wanting to enter by that narrow cleft.
Cave of the Seven Sleepers, near Amman, Jordan
Photo from itsanillution

I said, 'What are you doing that for? Come and pray outside.'

'There is no God but God,' he replied. 'I must be a bastard then if I can't get through that narrow cleft!'

'What are you talking about?' I asked.

He said, 'This is a place that no son of adultery can pass through - he cannot enter.'

What he said forced me to get up, enter by that spot, pray and come out again without - God knows - believing what he said. Indeed, most of the troops came and entered and prayed. 

Yet, in the army with me was Baraq al-Zubaydi, who had with him a slave of his, a black man - devout fellow, taken to praying a lot, and one of the tallest and leanest people. He came to that spot and tried with all his might to enter, but he could not get through. The poor fellow wept, moaning and sighing over and over, and then left after failing to enter.

- Usama ibn Munqidh, The Book of Contemplation, p. 23-24, Trans. Paul Cobb, 2008, Penguin Books.

This is one of ibn Munqidh's stories which has stuck with me. (Possibly because of his prompt emphasis on his own easy and unobstructed passage. Not that he believes in such superstition, of course.)

From a gaming standpoint, this is a helpful reminder to make a region feel alive through legends and folklore, stories tied to places. There doesn't always have to be anything major to the legends, mind you. It's completely legit to have an ancient hoary legend which doesn't actually have much backing it up! Certainly ibn Munqidh didn't encounter anything significant in visiting the cave...although perhaps Baraq's slave did.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Making Exploration Fun

This is a cross-post from a forum I frequent, Intangibility. A lot of the stuff here is commonplace wisdom among the folks likely reading this blog, but I figure it's worthwhile for me to get my thoughts out on this, if nothing else. 

So over on RPGnet someone posted a question about how to make exploration exciting and fun in RPGs. I've been having some good luck with this in the Hill Cantons (~2 years now, forth the Nefarious Nine!) so I thought I'd start the ball rolling on a parallel discussion here.

Chris has a few thoughts here and here.

From the player perspective, some things that have worked well for exploring the Hill Cantons (but now flipped around as statements to the GM) have been:

a) Having a coherent theme/themes. It's important to have dungeons that are not only weird and fantastic, but also have a structure and logic to them. Being able to determine things about the dungeon from your surroundings helps fix the environment together and provide ideas for what else can be around, driving exploration efforts. 

Concept Art for Linage II
b) Using random encounters to provide time pressure. This means that choices have a significance to them because the longer you take to explore, the more dangerous the site becomes. 

c) Jacquaying the dungeon. Creating interesting structures to explore, that have multiple branching paths. Weird geometry, shortcuts, loops - these things make exploration exciting, provide opportunities for sudden windfalls, and suggest new ideas. ("This flooded tunnel might be a path to the next level; let's see if we can figure out some way to get through it!")

Unsure of this image's origin, alas
a) Provide options. In contrast to the dungeon, where you're navigating a presumably utterly unknown environment, I think wilderness exploration benefits from having known landmarks as guideposts to provide immediate areas of choice. The dungeon provides a series of constrained options ("doors are north, south, and the trap door in the corner leading down") but the wilderness is wide open. Give players a map and let them know what the major things around them are! Those options serve as the initial "dungeon doors" of exploration, providing the option for players to set goals and formulate plans. But remember Korzybski here: the map is not the territory. Toss in curveballs, make the map inaccurate (maybe let the players know beforehand that it may be inaccurate!) and add in things that the mapmaker may not have known about.

b) Provide for altering the wilderness. In the HC, we're in a pseudo-domain-game stage, which requires clearing and holding hexes (exploring to make sure they're safe for regular folks, then establishing control over them through patrols), giving us an opportunity and incentive to interact with the environment. 

a) Recognize that you're going to create and prep areas which may not see the light of day. THAT IS OK. Part of exploration means that you're likely going to miss things. 
b) Have interacting parts. Don't make each hex / dungeon zone it's own little bubble. Have groups move around and interact with each other and make use of their surroundings. (A multitude of factions also provides players with another reason to explore: being able to find allies and/or Yojimbo their way through trouble.)

All of these are centered around making exploration contain meaningful choices. Someone on the RPGnet thread suggested that exploration is like a slot machine hit. I think it ought to be more like a hand of poker or blackjack; a slot machine is completely random, but blackjack and poker both require the application of skill along with the randomness to provide an (arguably) more compelling experience. Chance should most certainly play a role, but exploration should also make use of player agency and decisions.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Equipment List Additions

Photo from, found here.
Traditional sword of the Freelanders. Single-edged, with the blade tapering, then flaring out again before tapering to a full point. Deals d8+1 damage, cannot be purchased in towns.

The arrow-guide is placed on the interior side of a bow and allows for greater pulls on the bow and heavier arrows, yielding greater damage and armor penetration (though causing a penalty in accuracy). Users take a +2 bonus to their attack rolls, but will roll twice and take the worse result. Increase the bow damage die by one (so a shortbow fires at a d8, a longbow at a d10) while using heavier arrows. The arrow-guide costs 5 dinars; the heavier arrows cost double normal arrow costs.

The assegai is a short (2') stabbing spear with a leaf-shaped blade, not suitable for throwing. It deals d8 damage but cannot be used for second-rank attacks. It costs 10 dinars. 

The shotel is an extremely curved sword. Its unwieldy nature gives users a -1 penalty to hit in close quarters, but it deals 1d6+1 damage and ignores the presence of shields. 12 dinars.
Photo from, found here

Naft Projector

Proposed Greek fire naval projection system, Haldon and Byrne
From Wikipedia's Greek Fire article
The naft projector, as designed, is not viable for individual use, but can certainly be mounted on ships or placed for structural point defense. Naft is similar to Greek fire; the projector heats the naft before spraying it out through a brass nozzle under pressure (50' range). Individuals within the firing arc of a naft projector must save vs. breath weapon or take 1d10 damage for 2d4 rounds. Not a staple naval weapon because you're creating a fire on board your ship and transporting an extremely hazardous chemical; choppy seas can result in... awkward results.

(I mention not viable for individual use "as designed" because I'm sure some murderhoboes are going to try and find a way to McGuyver this for use in a dungeon.)

Naft Grenade
Greek fire grenades
Athens National Historical Museum
From Wikipedia's Greek Fire article
The use of flaming oil has a long pedigree in D&D, but naft grenades make that easier. A naft grenade has a pre-inserted wick that can be lit and the grenade then thrown; it will deal 1d10 damage as long as it burns. Each round it burns, roll a d4; if the roll is greater than the number of rounds it's burned, then it keeps burning. (So on the first round of burning, it will continue to burn on a 2-4; on the fourth round, it will go out). Naft grenades are officially restricted to use by the military, but available on the black market for (d6+1)x10 dinars.

Lamellar Armor

Metal plates laced together to form armor; generally the heaviest armor that's regularly worn. Like scale armor, but lighter. AC 4, costs 50 dinars. While it counts as "heavy" armor for the purposes of environmental distress, distress checks are made with a +2 bonus (yay, airflow!)

Can be coiled up in a torc before being withdrawn. Deals 1d4+1 damage, but can be concealed easily. Available on the black market for (2d4)x10 dinars.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Appendix N and Inspiration, Legacy of the Bieth

A short while ago, there was some discussion over on G+ about Appendix Ns (comparing the B/X list with the AD&D DMG, looking at the RuneQuest list which is awesome and includes historical resources as well as annotations), so that got me fired up to write one of my own.

Prominently missing from this list is the Arabian Nights. I have nothing against the work, but the fact is that the Arabian Nights is the primary resource for "create a Middle Eastern fantasy setting" and I wanted to move away from that. It's going to exert some influence clearly (see my inclusion of Howard Andrew Jones's work, for instance, which was most definitely inspired by The Arabian Nights and Harun al-Rashid) but at a remove.

This is currently a bit light on particularly Maghrebi influence, but that's something that I'm trying to fix.

I was going to write annotations for this but got distracted. If you want to know more about my thoughts on one or more sources, please feel free to ask!

"Whispers from the Stone," by Storn Cook
for the Howard Andrew Jones story of the same name

Primary Sources
The Book of Contemplation, Usama ibn Munqidh
The Muqaddimah, Ibn Khaldun
The Rihla, Ibn Battuta

10,000 Ways to Die, Alex Cox
Night and Horses and the Desert, Robert Irwin
Timbuktu: The Sahara's Fabled City of Gold, Marq du Villiers and Sheila Hirtle
When Baghdad Ruled the Muslim World, Hugh Kennedy

Chronicles of Sword and Sand, Howard Andrew Jones
Throne of the Crescent Moon, Saladin Ahmed
Roadside Picnic, Arkady and Boris Strugatsky
The Malazan Book of the Fallen, Steven Erikson (particularly Deadhouse Gates and The Bonehunters).
"Zothique" stories, Clark Ashton Smith (also see generally)
"Outremer" stories, Robert Howard (also see generally)

The Dollars Trilogy, Sergio Leone

"Nice, quiet little town until you showed up."
(Pretty sure that this is A Fistful of Dollars but not 100% sure)

Blue Oyster Cult (see generally)
Powerslave, Iron Maiden
Ennio Morricone

Computer Games
S.T.A.L.K.E.R., GSG Game World
Mount & Blade, Paradox

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Joesky Credit #2: How to Kill Elves

Chris "Sun Lord" Kutalik wanted a table on How to Kill Elves, and requested something d100 based.
Had enough of this lady
running around in the woods?
"Elf Warden" by Jon Hodgson


But here's what I got, just for you.


You have found some elves! And you have decided that you want to kill them. Why? Heck if I know. But you need some assistance. Perhaps a random table will help you figure out How To Kill Elves!

Roll a d100:

1-10 Elves are tied to their trees, so the best thing to do is chop down their forests tree by tree. Don't wear any armor while you're doing this - your courage will scare them off and they won't bother you.

11-20 Inform the elves that you want to hold a pre-killing conference to organize their slaughter. Show up solo, to show them that you're not afraid of their sneaky elven ways. To prevent elven intelligence from finding out your plans, tell your family and associates that you're going on a long trip, and are not sure when you will return.

21-30 Elves are short of stature, like children. Drive them into the forest and abandon them there; they'll surely perish, just like the kids do in those fairy tales.

31-40 Elves claim to have "powerful magic" - show them how real magic-users do things! Hit them with a sleep spell, to show them how weak they are before you kill them. Cast this on a group, to make sure that you can kill the greatest number.

41-50 To truly strike terror into the hearts of elves, find their most powerful champions and charm them into slaughtering the elven population. They will be horrified when their protectors turn against them!

51-60 Lead an expedition to destroy their hidden strongholds in the forest. Take plenty of wagons for supplies, and make sure your troops are all as heavily armored as possible. Discipline is important; be sure to keep to your tight formations while moving through the woods, and wear bright colors to keep up morale.

61-70 Ally yourself with some traditional foes of the elves. Perhaps orcs or trolls! Best to meet with them to coordinate your efforts. Go alone so that they know you don't have any hostile intentions towards them. It is also customary to bathe in a tangy marinade of mustard and lemon juice prior to the meeting. Make sure to inform them of your compliance with this important facet of their culture once you arrive. (A little pepper might not go amiss either.)

71-80 Launch a night raid against the elven settlements you've found, and take them by surprise. Don't let your troops use any torches, you don't want to give away your position.

81-90 The forests are said to have powerful nature spirits that you might be able to use against the elves. Wander around in the forests loudly calling out for these spirits. (It's only polite to let them know why you're seeking them out.)

91-100 Challenge the elves to an archery duel. The winner gets to kill the loser afterwards. Shoot first to unnerve them and throw them off their game. You won't need more than a single arrow.

The PEFRC hopes that this table on How to Kill Elves will be useful for the next time you decide to randomly attack a group of innocent elves. Good Luck!

(c) 2013, Pan-Elven Foreign Relations Committee

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Joesky Credit #1, 1a: Tundra Encounter Table, with Bonus Golf

A little while ago on G+, I opened the floor to some Joesky Tax style assignments. The first one is from Rey, blogging over at Bum Rush the Titan. He wanted an encounter table for the tundra, so here's what I got.

"Tundra," by Matthew

Rey! I don't know how you do your encounter tables. Here are twenty entries on a flat scale; reorganize this for probabilities as you see fit if you use a d8+d12 method or whatever.

1   Herd Animal
2   Wolfpack
3   Frost Giant
4   Sabertooth Tiger
5   Mammoth
6   Remorhaz (Polar Wurm)
7   Berserkers/Nomads
8   Arctic Owlbear
9   Frost Walkers
10 Neanderthals
11 Forest Spirits
12 Nehwon Behemoth
13 Invisible Manta Fliers
14 Ice Gnomes
15 Snow Trolls
16 [To Be Replaced]
17 Frost Elves
18 White Sybil
19 Yeti Cultists
20 Lost Caravan

Winter Wanderers - 1-2 patrolling, 3-4 hunting for (roll again), 5-6 fleeing from (roll again)

Herd Animal - Pick some apropos animal - reindeer, caribou, giant white axebeaks... 50% chance grazing, 50% chance fleeing from... (roll again)
Wolfpack - Can be a regular wolfpack. Can be a pack of winter wolves. If you're feeling gonzo, have it be a shapeshifter which turns into a wolfpack, a la the D'ivers from the Malazan Book of the Fallen. Have the lead animal of the pack be a nine-headed beast while you're at it.
Frost Giant - Winter Wanderer. 
"Saving the Best for Last," Daniel Horne

Sabertooth Tiger - 25% chance the pet of a Winter Wanderer group.
Mammoth - 50 % chance grazing, 50% chance fleeing from (roll again)
Remorhaz - these things always seemed really goofy but they're going to make it onto this list goddammit! Big-ass polar worm, vents heat out through its spines. Make sure that you're using the diTerlizzi-illustrated remorhaz, no other will do.
Berserkers/Nomads - Winter Wanderers. Don't have to be Norse!
Arctic Owlbear - components from Arctic Owls and Polar Bears. White, makes no sound, deadlier than usual.
Frost Walkers - giant-ass skeletons, as per "Saving the Best for Last" over there to the right. Have old weapons, some chilling or draining powers. Can maybe turn into snowdrifts and then reform, if you're feeling in a particularly T'lan Imass mood.
Neanderthals - in a local cave complex? Frozen in a block of ice?
Forest Spirits - those assholes who try and lure you down forbidden paths, or draw your friends know the type.
"Nehwon Behemoth," TSR

Nehwon Behemoth
 - the four-legged killer whale. Faster than it looks. About as hungry as it looks.
Invisible Manta Fliers - another Nehwon inspired entry. 25% chance they've got an invisible rider on them. Will attack large groups. Have red glowing jewels for eyes, but are otherwise invisible. If they've got a rider, think of an invisible Melnibonean but with 100% less elf.
Ice Gnomes - Not the pointy-hatted guys. They look more like the pech, but with axes and a grim abiding hate for intruders. Winter Wanderers.
Snow Trolls - What it says on the tin.
[To Be Replaced] - Oh it's her. Wonder what crazy shit she's up to in the tundra.
Frost Elves - probably assholes. And this is me saying that; I like elves! Winter Wanderers.
White Sybil - either the prophetess like in Clark Ashton Smith stories, or like Atali in The Frost-Giant's Daughter. Point is, regal proud lady shows up, does mystic mysterious stuff. 
Yeti Cultists - 50% trying to summon/worship a yeti, 50% they summoned it already and are dancing around a fire worshipping it.
Lost Caravan - Wagons? Sleighs? (If sleighs, totally have them have tossed a kid out to save the rest like those old stories.) Is anyone still alive? If so, are they being pursued, or are they just completely lost? 


The second item is from Ferret, who doesn't have a gaming blog and is a bum. He asked me "how to handle that situation where your PCs suddenly need to play golf."
Old Took's great-grand-uncle Bullroarer...was so huge (for a hobbit) that he could ride a horse. He charged the ranks of the goblins of Mount Gram in the Battle of The Green Fields, and knocked their king Golfimbul's head clean off with a wooden club. It sailed a hundred yards through the air and went down a rabbit hole, and in this way the battle was won and the game of Golf invented at the same moment. -- JRR Tolkien, The Hobbit
Stat each hole as a creature of n HD. Par value is 2n. Players make attack rolls to defeat the hole; golf club deals 1d6 'damage.' Apply both Strength and Dex modifiers to attack and damage rolls. Halflings may add a +1 bonus, as they have ancestral memories of creating the game. 

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Monster: Dhees

Dhees, also known as "sniders", are horrendous creatures that skulk about the edges of the Zone. Giant serpents with four spider-like legs and a multitude of eyes, they seek large prey - horses, camels, and of course humans.

The dhees usually strikes from a cave or a burrow that it has dug, gaining momentum for its lunge by digging its spider legs into the terrain before surging forward.

It can of course be read like a book, and is said to contain knowledge about the Zone and its properties.

Snider art by Claudio Pozas, from here

No. Enc.: 1
Move: 120' (slithering, plus generates momentum with spider legs)
AC: 5 (15)
HD: 8
Atk: 2d6 (talons) / 1d6 (fangs, poison) - both attacks are directed towards the same target
Morale: 9
XP: 920

Lunge: Can dig its spider legs into the surrounding terrain to speed its lunge forward. It will hold off attacking for a round to position itself carefully. The lunge is at a +3 to hit, but next round it is at -1 to hit and to AC as it's getting back into position.

Poison: If stung, save vs poison. Pass: take disadvantage on all actions for d6 rounds. Fail: Paralyzed for 1d8 turns. Onset time is 1-2 rounds in either case.

Motion Hunter: The snider relies on vibration and movement to track its prey. Characters may make Dex checks with disadvantage in order to freeze and not attract its attention. Loud bangs or vibrations have a chance of disorienting the creature.

Monday, July 1, 2013


The T160K project is soliciting donations to preserve manuscripts from the Timbuktu Library that were in danger of being destroyed during the recent conflicts in Mali. Folks went to great personal risk in order to safeguard these works and get them to a place of (relative) safety, but now the works are in danger of being damaged due to poor storage conditions.

Apparently they had an Indiegogo campaign that ended recently, which I had missed. But they can still use donations to preserve these works.

Given the inspirations for my setting and this blog, I feel like I ought to toss them a shoutout. If you can, try to chip in a few bucks over at their webpage. These guys would want you to.

Ibn Munqidh would probably even stop his intrigues against you*! (Dude loved books.)

*For an arbitrary amount of time. 

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Team of Rivals

So Chris mentioned that Dwimmermount has rival adventuring parties and was wondering how to model their actions and leveling.

If you’re in the Hill Cantons, you’re lucky enough to already have a rival adventuring party that doesn’t need modeling, because it’s another group of players. (Lookin’ at you two fellas.) But for those of you who aren’t as fortunate/awesome as we are, here is a potential hack to deal with it.

The Traveller RPG has lifepaths that you roll your character through for seeing what they did before becoming a space murderhobo. I figure that we can use the same sort of system here.

Generate the NPC party that you want to have running around as a bunch of rivals. Keep track of what the levels of your PCs are; every time a PC levels, go ahead and follow this chart for all NPCs in the rival party. All rolls are on a d6.

Er...sure. Something like that, I guess.
Image via io9
NPC Levelling Table

Make a throw on each of these to see what the NPC has been up to while you haven’t been looking.
Survival – 3+. +1 to the throw if the NPC is 5th level or higher, -1 if they are 1st level.
Swag – 5+. If they get this, throw on the Swag Table to see what cool thing they’ve acquired in their off-screen gallivanting.
Success – 5+. +1 to the throw if they're 1st level, but -1 if they are 5th level or higher. This sees if they gain a level or not.

Swag Table
1 – Henchman. They get a henchman serving them, who is their level –d4, to a minimum of a 0th-level squire or retainer. Add the henchman to the NPC party for all future rolls on the levelling table.
2 – Big Haul. They hit a good haul in their delving. The NPC can take another throw on the Success line.
3 – Minor Item. They either get something that’s cool and helpful but not magical – awesome horse, treasure map, ancient artifact – or some relatively low-powered magical item.
4 – Magical Item. As 3, but this is the good stuff.
5 – Temporal Success. Gain a minor title? A parcel of land? A decrepit old wizard’s tower? Figure something out.
6 – Trollface. Reroll on the chart (ignoring this), but figure out some way that whatever they get, screws with some current PC plans or goals.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Rules I Don't Use

Following on from my Titan-bumrushing colleague, I'm going to take a look at some rules I don't really use in  my D&D games these days.

Alignment - Hell with alignment. I'm not really into the Great Cosmic Forces clashing right now - it can work awesomely, as it does in the background of the current Hill Cantons campaign, but it's not my bag in terms of what I want as a setting element. And if you're not going to have Zelaznyesque or Moorcockian grand sweeping alignments, then you don't particularly want it as a behavioral guide for PCs. Or at least I don't.

Sure, it never seems to bother Nodwick any...
Encumbrance - ehhh. It's a legit thing, and there is something to be said for incorporating logistical issues to a great extent in one's dungeon delving. The trouble is that it's fiddly and the best fix I've seen (LotFP's implementation) works a bit more awkwardly while playing over G+, which is where I get the bulk of my gaming done these days.

Experience - I know I want to add XP for exploration and discovery, beyond monsters slain and treasure looted, but I need to hack together (or steal) an effective system for doling that out. Or just award arbitrary amounts, but that seems a bit off. This might be something to loot from D&D 5e if they put together something cool; I know that there's been some discussion of a more gamey exploration element.

Movement Rates - Rey mentioned that he lists things on a Very Slow - Very Fast axis. Hell, I don't even bother listing them.

Rey lists Flat Bonus Magic Weapons/Armor, but I don't think that even counts, because everygoddamnone has realized by this point that there isn't anything interesting in a +1 weapon without giving it context and personality.

Magic, In General - building off of the last bullet point, I've cut direct-damage spells and resurrection magic from Legacy of the Bieth. (As I say this I realize that I might want to have a resurrection mechanic, but it's far more involved than finding a sufficiently high-level priest, and of the Unfortunate Consequences variety.)

Weaponry - Any class can use any weapon; this primarily shows up in restricting cleric weapon selection, and honestly it doesn't matter that much if your cleric is using a mace or spear or shamshir they're going to get mutated and die horribly just like everyone else.

The Mark of Amber review has stalled out because work and studies have ramped up a bit, but it is not forgotten. (Nor are, y'know, actual game materials for this setting.)

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Bleys of Glory: Mark of Amber Review Pt 2

Well, I keep forgetting to bring the maps for Mark of Amber with me, so this will be commentary on the individual room descriptions themselves. 

Chateau Sylaire is supposed to be the ancient mansion of a gazillion high level mages; there are seven mages of double-digit levels as NPCs, including two 20th-level mages...and more than a few other mid-level ones. Does Sylaire live up to this promised wackiness?

Well, no. It winds up feeling more like a traditional manor with a few "fun" rooms thrown in. The traditional manor bit could be a good idea; the dominant forces perhaps ought to be the wacky NPCs, with the surroundings playing straight man. Still, you can't help but want to see some goddamn fun house stuff - Chateau Sylaire would be the place to put it in!

We start out with the castle grounds, and a magical garden, tamed so it doesn't eat the guests. (What kind of mad wizards ARE these?) A few tame effects - Venus flytraps that give out prizes, ornate mini-palaces that "are sometimes used as places of trysting" (sex in my D&D?!?) but disappointingly never disappear back underground while occupied. Bah. One page of basic building description and bloat (barracks, stables, carriage house, gates and walls...) although the giant refuse heap has a rumor at least.

The ground floor is pretty boring. Tolerable elements: suits of armor with magen (think vat-spawn but not as awesome) inside, a fancy fountain mocking the guy who persecuted the d'Ambrevilles back in the day, a bunch of robes continually reenacting a long-forgotten ritual. The rest of the 10 pages is uninteresting, with room descriptions and a few boring (!) secret passages. (Oh, and magical HVAC units. Whee!)

The second floor has the Glory Windows, which show strange and vaguely prophetic illusions at sunrise. It's also got a flying carriage house, a room built for family members using fly spells to come in and dry off. Not exciting, but it fits the manse's intended tone really well so it gets a half point. Four pages

The dungeon has a trapped and staked vampire from not-Transylvania (meh), a flesh golem on a hamster wheel pumping water for the house (good!), a magic door to Clark Ashton Smith's Averoigne (hell yes!)...and some boring rooms after that. Golem construction and summoning otherplanar critters shouldn't be boring. At least the d'Ambrevilles have some zombie servants, because c'mon man, they're insane wizards, they should get something fun.

There's nothing egregiously bad in these, but there's nothing super-stand-out either. The best thing is the door to Averoigne, which thankfully never gets super-detailed and serves as a nice spur of mystery. But the standard I have these days is that the door and the hamster wheel ought to be the baseline, not the standouts.
The other thing here is that these set up a "normal" so that they can get turned into scary mode later in the module. That's fair enough, but c'mon. The combo of Zelazny Amberites and Clark Ashton Smith Averoigne deserves something grander and weirder, even as a baseline.

Mentioning that vat-spawn are like magen but cooler makes me start wanting to convert Chateau Sylaire into something more suitably crazy. It should have a veneer of the fancy French manor, and definitely some rooms that fit that purpose - but then the weirdness and eldritch weirdness lurking behind the scenes when you start to sneak around. 

Monday, April 8, 2013

No Corwin Around: Mark of Amber Review Pt 1

Zak recently asked for module review suggestions, and I chimed in with Mark of Amber, which was my first D&D purchase ever and therefore intrinsically interesting to all right-thinking folk. He unaccountably went with Red Hand of Doom instead (some nonsense about 'having a copy handy').
See how chirpy they are about the AUDIO CD?

But Mark of Amber cries out for a review. And since there's probably nobody else around, you guys get me stepping up to the plate!

Mark of Amber was released in 1995, solidly in the late TSR period. It is a tribute/sequel module to the great Castle Amber, but goes the 2e route of providing a lot more (extraneous?) narrative and detail. It also features an audio CD. Remember how I said this was late TSR? They wanted to embrace new ways of putting together modules, which in this case meant a CD with a shitload of terrible French accents and cutesy dialog. I thought it was great in like 6th grade...but it hasn't aged well. At least they had the sense to restrict the dialogue to NPCs, and instructed the VAs to ham it up - much better than the Karamiekos boxed set. If you find that CD...don't. Seriously. Employ some Call of Cthulhu tactics and melt that CD right down.

Jim Holloway did the art for Mark of Amber, and while I dig some of his black and white pieces, the color pieces don't hold up too well. I'll be taking some photos as I go through this, since there don't seem to be too many pieces of Mark of Amber interior art around on the 'net. 

Anyway, back to Mark of Amber. The basic module synopsis: Since the PCs appear to be the Chosen Ones of Prophecy, the servant of the dead archwizard-prince Etienne d'Ambreville, selects them to help guide Etienne back to life and teach him the lessons of how to love and frolic and BE HUMAN. Unfortunately, the archwizard has decided to do this while one of his malevolent younger brothers, Henri, has usurped the throne in disguise and is attempting to covertly shank all of their relatives. So the PCs have to juggle their Power of Friendship work with trying to solve/prevent the murder spree.

 The module is divided into three sections - a room listing for Château Sylaire (aka Castle Ambreville aka Castle Amber), the adventure itself, and an NPCs listing. Some of these are bloated as hell, and including bullshit proficiency lists is not helpful. (Goddammit TSR I will never need to know that Jean-Louis D'Ambreville has the Fire-building proficiency. Why did you guys even make that a full proficiency? Seriously that is starting to get into Mike Mornard's "Use Rope, Eat Food, and Take Shit" level of proficiency granularity.)

Anyway. Placing the mansion room descriptions first feels very weird; you're trying to figure out what is going on in this module and here are all the NPCs being mentioned offhandedly but you don't know why Camilla's relationship with Petit-Singe is or why Henri has imprisoned Richard or anything like that. On the other hand you get a big mansion full of wizardly nonsense to read about so that's pretty legit.

More later, when I actually have the module handy to go through! 

Friday, March 1, 2013

Noms from the Bistro Californium

A German adaptation of In Viriconium
Flying from Albany to DC, I finally read through In Viriconium and the associated short stories by M. John Harrison. I'd read the first two Viriconium books, The Pastel City and A Storm of Wings, after my first go-around at the bar, but misplaced the omnibus during the move and hadn't had a chance to get to it again until now.

I will admit flat out that I didn't quite understand In Viriconium, at least in this first read. The individual scenes are there, I can point to how the characters move from point A to B to C, but it hasn't clicked for me as a unified story or a novel yet. I'll give it a second read in a while, I suspect - I had a similar thing happen to me with Lord of Light, when I read it several years ago.

The wonderful thing for me, though, was seeing the common threads dealt out in the various stories. The Pastel City sets out the basic components - Swordsman, Dwarf, Cellur, Viriconium Endangered - and tells a basic story. A Storm of Wings takes those same elements, shifts them around slightly, and tells a far more brainmeltier and interesting story, but one that follows on from the themes brought out in the first. Then In Viriconium takes the themes and elements and sets them at a 35 degree angle from their original point, while the short stories take the components and redeal them in small segments, like small readings from a tarot deck.

Anyway. A few D&D items came to mind from the books. This is a relatively boring thing to take from the books, with the far more interesting components being the ideas and feel of the novels. Perhaps in some ways this is even going against the spirit of the novels, given the rejection of a clearly defined and codified setting. I mean you do have Harrison quotes like this: "Worldbuilding is dull. Worldbuilding literalises the urge to invent. Worldbuilding gives an unneccessary permission for acts of writing (indeed, for acts of reading). Worldbuilding numbs the reader's ability to fulfil their part of the bargain, because it believes that it has to do everything around here if anything is going to get done." But screw it, here are some items anyway.

From Ian Miller's illustration of The Luck in the Head
Baan / Forceknife: These weapons range from knives to shortswords in size; glowing a thin blue when activated and making a whining hum, they ignore all armor bonuses and deal 1d8+2 damage. A baan can cut through any mundane material. When a baan is activated, roll a d8; on an 8+, the baan will run out of energy after the fight or use in question. Add 1 to the roll for each time beyond the first a baan is activated in a day.

Fulthor's Armor: This set of banded mail +1 emits a dull, pulsating blood-red glow. The strange joints make it uncomfortable for most wearers, giving them a -1 to their Dexterity and a -1 penalty to attack rolls. If the wearer encounters something technological or suitably ancient, roll a d20. On a 16+ the wearer understands the device's function and some of how to activate it; on a 2-4 the wearer goes into reverie for 1d6 hours, and on a 1 they enter reverie for 1d4 days. In the state of reverie, the wearer is locked into visions of the past and must babble unintelligibly about what they see. They can be led about, and can somehow fend for themselves in combat, but ohhh, it's going to be a long and frustrating time.

Iron Wife: This is a series of metal "bones," forming a second skeleton about the wearer. The Iron Wife rises to about 11 feet high; it is treated as the equivalent of plate mail, and its wearer's strength is raised to 18. The Iron Wife takes 30 minutes to power up from a cold start. Each hour of operation, the wearer needs to make an Int check to keep operating the Iron Wife. For every month the wearer is exposed to the radiation leaking from the Iron Wife, they must save vs petrification/paralysis or take a -1 to all saves, cumulative until there is a -5 penalty.

Sword: This is a plain, unassuming sword of dark, almost black, steel. Its leather grip is darkened from sweat and age. It has no magical properties whatsoever.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Magical Items of Sanctuary, Pt 2 of X

Abu Fadlan's Finger
This thin chisel is wrought in the shape of a stylized finger, with a perpetually flaking lacquer of dark green. It cannot be broken save by magical force of some kind. Use of the chisel will speed normal chiseling tasks by about 25%. It can be used to chisel a message or glyph into an individual's flesh, an extraordinarily painful process - however the resulting symbols can only be seen under a waxing or full moon. It is said that with the right rituals, the viewing conditions can be changed (so that the message might only be viewable with infravision, for example).

(Inspired by Beedo's post here and items from Planescape: Torment)

The Silver Fist
Actual artifact information here
Boston Museum of Fine Arts
Photo by Elissa Corlini 

This strange item is a hollow fist with several contradictory legends. There seems to be consensus that it was created by the sorceress Inaya the Seeker. Some say that it is to be used as a drinking vessel, and that drinking a cup of wine will imbue the drinker with great strength. There are also whispers of those who drank the blood of their foes - or their friends -from the fist and gained strange powers. These rumors have become stronger in the wake of the Forsaken War, given the horrific acts of the Awlad-i-Dimagh.

Others say that these legends are nonsense and that the fist is to be worn as a (very heavy) amulet. Calling out a name of a deity of the Many ("Ouathar") is supposed to reveal all magics within sight of the bearer, and that the Fist is able to store spells and magics within it for later use.

Still others insist that the Silver Fist is to be worn as a glove, that it can be used to strike the insubstantial and to unleash bursts of force upon striking a foe, knocking them back.


Plate mail is exceedingly uncommon in the environs of Sanctuary, because of the fatigue and discomfort that generally accompany the armor. The Rimeplate is an exception to this general rule. A suit of glimmering blue-tinged plate, the Rimeplate is cold to the touch. If someone actually puts on the armor, they feel a freezing chill throughout their bones as the armor's magic activates, and frost actually begins to form on the edges of the armor. If donned, a wearer loses all Dex bonus and is at -1 to all attacks and  -2 to all saves from the cold, but the Rimeplate is AC 1 (or 19 if you prefer) and prevents any distress rolls due to hot weather conditions. If an enemy attack hits and would deal max damage, it must be rerolled once. At one point, the Rimeplate was in the hands of Caliph Perviz IV, who reportedly made one of his bodyguards wear the armor at all times, just in case the Caliph ever wanted a cold drink.

The Face of Battle

This war mask has been held for many years by marabouts of al-Kursi, one of the ribats located on the trade route back to the Imperial corelands. Passed down from one champion of the order to the next, the mask is said to have gazed upon countless conflicts and battlefields, even dating back to the time of the Bieth themselves.

The countless battlefields of slaughter that the mask has seen have imbued it with a deep knowledge of war; once per day its wearer may reroll an attack or damage roll that they have made,   or that was directed at them. If facing an unclean spirit or skinchanger, the holy verses inscribed on the forehead of the mask will glow a brilliant white, and the wearer will be able to strike more punishing blows at the being (reroll 1s on damage dice). However, in its zeal to strike down the foe, the mask urges its wearer into the fray; they must save vs spell in order to break away from a foe who they have engaged in melee combat. It also grants an extra saving throw against the first effect of the Zone its wearer encounters in a day.

After using the mask for approximately a week, the wearer's features will start to resemble the metallic features of the mask; their mouth will not disappear, but will start to conform to the v's of the mask's stylized beard. The wearer's dreams will always include battle.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Walk Without Rhythm (to avoid the Worm)

Telecanter has a very nice simple mechanic for weather and survival here

Copying it in full: "Each hour you're in distress, roll under your Constitution or take 1 point of damage per level."

I'm going to modify this a little bit, as Telecanter suggests, to account for the weather-specific needs of Legacy of the Bieth. So what are some of the conditions where weather causes distress around Sanctuary?

In the scrublands, it's rocky terrain with scrub brush and other light vegetation around. You don't need to worry about distress unless a weird storm comes up. Folks wearing heavy armor make distress rolls every 4 hours, generally.

In the deep desert, characters will generally make one distress roll if active during the heat of the day. Characters in heavy armor will make one distress roll an hour. Fighting or other strenuous activity will increase these rolls, to one an hour (normal) or one a ten-minute turn (heavy armor).

Being near a Zone anomaly may result in severe distress - all characters in proximity make a distress roll every round.

Lost in Maroc, Greg Slick
See here

Monday, February 4, 2013


Iyad Ag Maha, Freelander
(Image from here)
Thanks to Robert over at Rogues and Reavers for giving me the push on this.

The Freelander is a ranger variant for Legacy of the Bieth, unique to the nomads of the desert. These are the outriders and scouts of the nomads, the warriors of the tribe. New PCs are likely members of the Bani Khalil or Bani Juzayy tribes, which are both relatively near Sanctuary.

Requirements: Str 12, Con 12
Fights and saves as Fighter, XP as ranger from Advanced Edition Compendium

Adept Scout: Freelanders are surprised only on a 1 on 1d6; if on familiar ground, their party will surprise opponents on a 1-3 on 1d6. While in familiar ground, they may also hide and move silently as a thief of their level, provided they are not wearing any armor heavier than leather. It takes 1d6 weeks for a Freelander to become familiar with a given region. Freelanders may track as an AEC ranger.

Hated Foes: Just as with any other ranger generated for Legacy of the Bieth, Freelanders may choose a hated foe from the list below. Every level, the Freelander gains +1 to attack and damage rolls against their chosen type of foe.
  • Undead
  • Skinchangers
  • Demons
  • Servitors
  • Mutants
  • Bieth Constructs
Daring Cavalry: While mounted, Freelanders may make an attack at any point during their movement (rather than moving and attacking at the end of the move). Starting at 4th level, they may also apply their Strength, Wisdom or Charisma modifier (whichever one is highest) to their reaction rolls in order to try and tame some ridiculously badass creature like a triceratops as a mount. 

No Spells: Freelanders do not gain spellcasting abilities.