Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Order of the Stick Characters for Gaming

Okay, so I really like the webcomic Order of the Stick (OotS).  It features the antics and adventures of a group of D&D type character and it's full of excellent gaming in-jokes.  The artistic style, as its name suggests, is based on very simple figures.  A little while back I was thrilled to come across Derek Weller's blog, iheartprintandplay, where he presents lots of printable paper miniatures for gaming drawn in the OotS style.

I'm considering taking the plunge and trying my hand at drawing some--primarily with the goal of doing character portraits of the PCs in the games I'm involved in.  So I was wondering if anyone else does OotS characters anywhere.  I figure that I should try to see how other artists have expressed different creatures, races, clothing, hair styles, etc.  My first stop, as always when looking for art, was Deviant Art.  And I was pleasantly surprised to find several artists with OotS characters, often in very large numbers.  Keep in mind that these are not formatted paper miniatures, but terrific bits of art (sometimes as avatars for web use).  Here are some of my favorite OotS style artists from Deviant Art:









Monday, December 30, 2013

Review: The Pirates of Drinax for Traveler

Okay, so I just read a post on The Pirates of Drinax campaign for Traveler by John over at the Wandering Gamist.  I still have a fondness for Traveler despite its flaws.  It was the first science fiction RPG I played, back around 1978 or so.  The character generation process was fun and I had a lot of fun generating planets and building sectors.  However we never really found a satisfying way to run a campaign with it.  We just did one-shot scenarios.  The main concept for Traveler of being the crew of a small merchant trader (a la Firefly) didn't appear to us.  Every now and then I pull it out and go over it again for a bit of nostalgia.

But John's post alerted me to The Pirates of Drinax, a free campaign for Traveler by Mongoose Publishing.  The concept is that the players accept a letter of marque from a nearly-defunct kingdom which wants to return to its glory days.  Essentially they are "legal pirates".  It has well done intro information and a set of several adventures.  It looks like it would be fun.  Check it out.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Bearing Down, Pathfinder Style

Okay, so I ran another rollicking session of my "Cauldron 7" Pathfinder game (using the old Shackled City adventure path) last night and was able to resolve a very challenging character growth situation (pun intended, you'll see).

One of the characters is a ranger with the shapeshifter archetype, with a focus on a bear form.  The character, Tuli, started out just being able to transform her hands into bear claws.  But for fun we worked out that she would also transform into a bear during the full moon, lycanthrope style.  Now, because I'm a bit lazy I have the game set in the handy Pathfinder game world of Golarion and that world has a chaotic evil goddess called Lamashtu, Mother of Monsters.  Naturally, when Tuli revealed her ability to transform the other characters were suspicious that she was either a were-bear or somehow tainted by Lamashtu.  The party's paladin confirmed for all that she was not evil, even when transformed.  So they were okay with it--despite the problems of corralling an adventurous (and often amorous) she-bear in town when the moon was full.

So far so good through level 5.  Then we decided to change the level progression from slow to medium to better align with the adventure path difficulty and so I just gave everyone about a level and a half's worth of XP and told them to level up to 7.  But then Tuli's player (Kirk, who does the great journal entries for Katherine from our Castles & Crusades game) decided to try out the summoner class and add two levels of that.

Well, the summoner class calls first and foremost for the character to have a large eidolon, or "pocket monster".  The summoner also gets a lot of related summoning and augmentation spells.  So how to suddenly add an eidolon and arcane spell-casting to a ranger-bear?  It was a very abrupt shift in direction.

I decided to play up the Lamashtu idea and posit that Tuli was indeed "tainted" and so invented the Scent of Lamashtu.  The Scent of Lamashtu means that the goddess has a hold on a mortal rather like a demon having a contract on a mortal's soul.  Usually a mortal voluntarily takes it on, but it can become hereditary as well.  The mortal will become more and more beast-like, transforming fully or partially at various times, and eventually permanently stay in beast form--unless they fulfill certain conditions laid down by the goddess.

In the adventure path the characters had just met a shady NPC called Kaurophon.  This person is human-looking but also half demon.  He has been following events in the region and approaches the party to help him with a dangerous but mutually advantageous quest.  I noticed that the NPC does arcane magic and has a way of traveling to other planes.  Luckily for me Tuli decided to seek Kaurophon's help learning how to summon monsters (in order to start introducing the new summoner class abilities).

Kaurophon quickly suspected that Tuli had the Scent of Lamashtu.  He used his plane travel ability to take her to visit Lamashtu's plane.  There a massive hyena avatar of Lamashtu explained to Tuli that she must mate before the next full moon or she would take on her bear form permanently.  This put Tuli in a quandry because she had only 23 days to the next full moon but didn't want to literally mate with just anyone.

She convinced the party to return to the main city of Cauldron, where she looked up a young cleric who had shown interest in her earlier.  Ironically he was a cleric of Iomedae, a crusading Lawful Good goddess--but Tuli decided to leave full explanations for later.  After a hastily arranged romantic dinner at the party's rented house in Cauldron (the rest of the party away relaxing at the bath house they owned), Tuli got a rather nice mating, thanks for asking.

In the morning she had some nausea and by 9 o'clock was already "showing".  They sent for a midwife as her belly continued to swell.  But to avoid too much attention Tuli went into a small room with a fountain in a rehabbed bit of dungeon beneath the bath house.  There she gave birth a little after noon to a lovely little bear cub with white fur (the eidolon's form).  The midwife freaked out and ran off and the two female party members attending were very much confused.  Most of the party is still very confused about the whole baby bear event--especially because it can talk.  The tiny newborn cub quickly grew to over 200 pounds in about a day and they were off on their next adventure.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Re-Purposing D&D (Pathfinder): Monsters

Okay, so I've been working on building a new campaign world.  I totally scrapped my old one and started over from scratch.  This time, instead of starting with a map of some random region and tossing various unconnected stuff on it (which never really all came together), I wanted something more solidly integrated from the start.  However, I'm now at the point where I need to start detailing the regions.  A big part of this is monsters.  Now, I'm basically assuming that I will be running some version of D&D.  At the moment that would be Pathfinder, even though I'm still a bit leery about whether I can fully absorb the rules as DM.

The problem with putting together a new game world is that once you start applying an existing game to it is that the game's content begins to bend the world to it's will.  With D&D type games there are two or three main parts of the rules which will bend your world: classes, monsters, and maybe spells.  A fourth part is deities, but those are not so hard-wired into the rules and thus are much easier to create in line with your creative vision.  The problem is that using the same old D&D elements makes your game feel like every other game everyone's played in.

So let's talk about the monsters.  A lot of us who have played D&D before know that at any particular level you'll most likely be facing "level appropriate" monsters.  Thus you've met loads of giant rats, kobolds, orcs, goblins, and gnolls before because that's what you'll face over and over again at lower levels.  But I want to run a game which isn't dominated by the classic/stereotypical monsters.  So what are some alternatives?
  • Re-skinning: keep the original stats but come up with new graphics, new names, and a few tweaks to add new flavor; reskin goblins as the Baruka, a race of cunning weasel-people
  • Re-culturization: keep the monster but give it a whole new modus operandi; orcs are a conquered native race serving their colonial elf masters
  • Third-party monsters: there are plenty of published products and stuff online (like on one of those RPG blogs) which will provide creatures your group hasn't met before
  • Lesser known worlds: for early editions of D&D you could grab the creatures from Empire of the Petal Throne, for instance
  • Scratch-building: most D&D games don't come with good DIY rules for building your own, but it can be done; this approach is clearly the most labor intensive but guarantees unique designs

Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Journal of Katherine, Entry 45

Entry 45
I am in my temple writing this entry.  This is the last of three entries that summarize a short trip to the north to accompany my friends while they try to stop the goblins.  We all returned safely, but we had some difficult times.  Our druid and ranger friends each lost an animal pet.  And we sustained injuries but were able to heal afterwards.  I wrote about the trip there, and the way we destroyed the goblin army, so I will continue with our travel back, after the shape changer had intruded our camp one evening, which left a lasting effect on my dreams...

Sleep consists of short moments of my eyes being shut, at best.  The pain I feel is not a physical pain, but a pain in my mind, caused by a choice I made.  I feel I must tell the group about it, especially Trevor.

The next night, we make camp, and I place my bedroll over a small lump that I didn't notice until I am too tired to move.  One nagging root under my bed roll turns into movements of many roots.  I toss and turn, trying to find a flat spot.  I doze off, but soon, the root returns, nagging, trying my patience.  I wake to see roots and vines stretching out in every direction, like a spiders web.  They reach out to cover me, and to Trevor, to Brute, Kull, Ohm Uri, and Boomtuck, to hold all of us motionless in our sleep.  And I see myself walking amongst them.  Now I switch views, as I am the one walking amongst them.  I have a blade in my hand.  I turn and see my other self, as I was before, covered in roots, but my arm is raised, ready to strike.  I open my eyes with a start.  It seems like a dream. My pillow is wet from my tears. 

I look around, and see Brute on watch, and the campfire strangely illuminates the evil shape changer that invaded our group a few nights ago.  Its motionless body begins to twitch, and then, in the shadows, I see a woman who animates the dead shape changer and it sets about to its killing.  I open my eyes again with another start.  My pillow is now a soaking wet.  I see Trevor this time, walking amongst the group as they sleep, holding a dagger, and my decision to attack him slices through my mind.  I wake again.  The camp looks normal, this time.  The Trevor that I know looks at me with that kind look I saw before, the one where he promised to keep my secret.  That alone calms me. 

When morning comes, I am very tired.  We break camp, and load the carts with our equipment.  Food is bearable.  We head south on the road back to the crossroads, and not long we see refugees, heading north, many of them.  I must admit that I just want to get back to the city.  For once I can understand Trevor and his view of the wastelands, to get back to a warm bath and make myself clean again.  We all hail the travelers, but not in a unified fashion, Trevor and I simultaneously speak, but not the same message, and things go from tired and fatigued to worse. 

A fellow steps up, introduces himself as brother Daniel and without going into detail, he uses what I say to his own benefit.  He is not rational, he irritates and incites the crowd.  He reins chaos right upon us, and for our petty reasons to be individual and without a designated leader that can tell the truth, we almost hand over the keys of victory.  To quiet this brother, I remember a technique used by one of my teachers when there was an unruly student, and they stopped and listened.  So I, summoning the courage and with some help of the Light, command brother Daniel to be quiet.  The evil and malice of this stranger proves stronger and my effect is lost. 

Brute wastes no time, and sets a huge blow to the instigator, but he dissolves into a puddle of water.  "An illusion," is murmured by Trevor, it is nice to have an illusionalogist in one's pocket.  This means the real controller is hiding in the crowd somewhere.  I call upon the Light to expose the stranger, and the Light has guided me well, for all but one drops in a large circle and the real instigator is left standing.  I reach for my scarlet bolt but the jostling of the cart causes the ray to go astray.  But I call out to the others to take him down.

Trevor steers the cart, wanting to get closer to the stranger.  Possessed people grapple us, and several get crushed under the cart.  I hear bones snapping and the anguish screams but we must press on to the one responsible or more innocents will be hurt.   One possessed innocent grabs my arm to pull me off the cart.  I hold fast and instead, hoist him into the cart.  I find my sorceress energy, and radiate my presence through my touch to his arm to break the avatar's charm.  I ask him if he would help us.  He agrees.  That felt fantastic, and I want to effect a mass, next.

Soon, Brute has stopped the avatar's charm, by delivering a chop with his executioner, and thus the fight is over.  The innocents are free from the charm and I move about helping all of the injured.  I remember at the priory, I was summoned to treat the wounds of a man who was punished.  I was forbidden to call upon the Light to heal, but I tended to the wounds the best I could using bandages and salves to keep infection out.  This is what I could do now.  I set about to stop the bleeding and to set bones.  I had Brute, Trevor and the others make splints to help with the breaks.  By the time I finished with the injured, the chaos avatar had died.  People had condemned us just moments ago for destroying their town, and are now praising us.

But, for all it seemed I managed to definitely be  Bob's heroine.  Bob is the one I hoisted into the cart, after he tried to pull me off.  I asked him to help, and he would help for a few moments, then stop and move back to me, standing behind and being quiet.  This annoys Trevor, and he looks at me like it is my fault. 

The next day, many refugees go north, to salvage what they can from the town or the docks.  But most head south.  We return with our way towards Aden.  We press on, traveling all day since we have a late start.  With night approaching early the pathway is dark, yet, Trevor and I illuminate the way so we can see the road ahead.  Bob has been quietly with us the entire day, almost unnoticed.  I thought that Bob would get tired of being with us, like Merity did, and leave.  He stayed.  Trevor becomes very annoyed.

This evening, Brute decides to review the items we took from the chaos avatar.  And that brought up the issue with Trevor holding the magic items.  I felt that with the last incident of the ring, that the items should be with someone else, specifically one that would not use them, myself included.  Trevor has a weak willpower, and I didn't want a curse to fall on him.  Our rule should be that until the true nature of the items are found, they should not be used, for they may cause more harm than good.

When I countered the avatar's charm on Bob, it left a long lasting impression.  Sorcery is tricky and it may give unintended consequences.  When we were at the crossroads, and in the middle of the night, Bob starts singing.  We all wake to this, and the words are definitely meant for me.  He does have a nice voice, and I wish Trevor's voice was nice, too.  But other rude sleepers wake and yell vulgar sayings, Trevor's voice being the loudest amongst them.  I created this problem, so I must fix it.  I go to Bob and ask if he will be quiet, I emphasize to do it for me, as a friend.  And finally he is quiet and the others can sleep, but my nightmares continue.  In the morning, I continue to explain at great lengths that he must stay behind, and that he must find his family and friends, they might be worried for him.  Someone jokes that I broke Bob's heart, for when we leave, Bob is still there, looking at us until we are out of sight.  How insensitive people can be.  Trevor moans a sigh of relief and adds that even I felt Bob was creepy after a while. 

During the next day, I want to break this routine of nightmares and gloom, and so, I think of positive things.  I remember Trevor stating that he cares for me, but he didn't mention it at all on this trip.  I seek Brute to have a talk with Trevor.  Brute was able to get through to him before, so maybe he can again.  That evening, Brute, quite surprisingly and without using any discretion, confronts Trevor and me, and then declares that the rest give us privacy.  Nothing like putting me on the spot.

While Brute and the others leave, it reminds me of how the audience leaves for food during a mushy love scene in an amphitheater.  Then the uncomfortable quiet follows.  I must tell him about the shape changer and how I attacked the back of Trevor - I felt that he must know.  I don't have a chance; I am caught in his spell.  Trevor, with his magic, makes himself dashing before my eyes and with a wide sweep, lays his cloak out on the ground and offers for us to sit.  He has such flair.  I follow along and we sit, like a royal couple having a picnic on a grassy riverbank.  I didn't think he cares that much.  This is spiraling out of control.  I thought that Trevor would have been apologetic, stating that he didn't really mean his statement back at the carnival and he would want to remain friends.  But quite the opposite, Trevor proposes, rather bluntly, that he wants to court me.  I might have agreed in my confusion because I am a bit surprised.  Instead of stating that I must check with Priest Lore if it is possible, I am caught in the moment and suggest an outing, Trevor agrees and adds, "Without the Brute!"

Finally, I break from the spell, and change the conversation to Veronica and how Brute treated her.  And then Trevor hints that they had a rumble or tumble.  Totally taken by surprise at this, I press the situation a bit farther than I should.  I clarify with him, exactly what is meant by "a rumble and a tumble" - to lay as lovers?  This is not what I thought Brute did and why does Trevor think of that?  We call Brute to our talk, and I want to know if this is true.   Brute did not deny and explains that he stated she is a nice person, and it happened.  My concern is with Veronica and that she was not forced, or if she becomes with child, then Brute must be a proper father.  Brute assures me that he would, if that even happens.  But I am not sure how Priest Lore would view this act without a sacred blessing.  Brute seems confused as to how his name is in our conversation and realizing our moment is over, he calls all back to camp. 

I move off to my bedroll, as I am swimming in thoughts and emotions.  In one fell swoop, Trevor reveals not only his feelings for me, but the intensity of them, his plans for a future with me, and that he is such a gentleman and a romantic.  I rest on my bedroll, thinking is this possible?  Why did I make Brute talk to Trevor?  I brought this upon myself.  Is Trevor sincere?  Can this work?  What will Priest Lore think or allow?  And most importantly, will I loose favor of the Light?  I dose off to an uneasy slumber. 

Suddenly, I wake and look up.  I see Keith, a friend I knew from years ago, a sorcerer that rivals Trevor's skills, but the last I heard was that he perished.  Brute seems a little upset that Keith got past by his defenses, but I let Brute know I am ok.  Keith smiles at me.  I speak. "How did you find me?  You haven't changed a bit since I last saw you."  I sit up and continue, "Things are different now.  It is good that you didn't perish, but I want to know how you survived.  Wait, let me wake the others." 
At this point, I stand and turn towards Trevor where he was sleeping, but he is not there.  Did he use the ring?  I turn back to Keith, but it is not Keith, it is Trevor.  I ask, "Did you use magic to trick me, to look like Keith and see my reaction?"  And then a woman with red hair approaches.  She circles him as I stand and watch.  She caresses Trevor, no, she mocks me by healing Trevor like I heal others, only she injures.  Just like the shape changer, she becomes Miranda, the witch!  I move to help Trevor, then the witch grabs him, wraps her arms about him, and pulls him from me.  I run and another set of arms reach out to him, and I press harder one more time, a surge to catch and set the captive free.  Yet a third pair of arms come from the witch and embrace him and pull, faster still.   I scream out for Trevor, and cry as I collapse from the run and wake up from the dream.  I look around, and there is Trevor on the night watch.  It is only a dream.  I roll within my bedroll, and realize I am in a cold sweat.  The nightmares continue.

I think back to when I was younger, and of the fun Keith and I had, it was an innocent fun.  It was a fantasy, too, like the way the dream started.  Trevor is eyeing me in the moonlight, more confident knowing that he made his move.  Now there are more items we must talk about.  Yes, he finally says it.  And the whole group knows it.  But is this what I want?

Next morning, we all wake to drops of rain.  It is damp and gives me a chill in this late autumn morning.  I pull my hood over my head and tuck my hair in.  A little more time to still be dry, for this rain will last all day.  By the time we eat and pack the cart, the rain has soaked our clothes, weighting them.  And the heavy cart turns the road into muddy ruts.  We press on all day, slipping and falling in the mud, progressing slowly and stopping only briefly.  The city gates are about to close and we are the last to pass through this night. 

When we get to the city, the group goes separate ways.  Brute apparently has a feather bed to check on, and the rest may go to a tavern or to Broderick's house. Trevor accompanies me to my temple.  I petition the night watchman to let me stay.  And he agrees, but will not allow Trevor, understandably, and he is fine with that.  I can now make my plans to be a part of this family, and to perform my duties.

I turn to Trevor, thinking about all that we have been through, but see what a mess he is.  I must be a mess, too.  Only in contrast to the watchman do I notice.  However, I see past the dirt, grime, battle and rain soaked clothes and see a fine smile behind those muddy checks.  I want to give him a hug but, that would start a bad rumor - not the way to begin my stay here.  Instead, I formally thank him, and ask if he will be fine.  He reassures me.  I have a pain, knowing that we will be apart.  How can this hurt?  But I must stay here.  This is where I belong.  How much easier this would be if I were just a sorceress, and not on the path to be a priestess.  My people must see me as divine and on a pedestal; I must be the example that they must strive to be.  Will I see Trevor again, yes, I will, but as a suitor?  He will most likely forget about what he said, and I will not be required to break another heart.
I cover a tear in my eye, turn, and walk into my new home.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

First off I give you my best wishes for a Merry Christmas, a Happy New Year, and any other holiday you celebrate around this time.  This has been a mixed year for me but I hope it has been a good one for you.  Thanks to all my readers for visiting my humble blog.  I have every intention of continuing it for the foreseeable future and keeping it as worthy of reading as I can.

My general plans for this blog for the coming months includes:
  • more in-character Castles & Crusades game session write-ups from Trevor (and Katherine if my collaborator Kirk is amenable)
  • more maps, particularly in the style of Dyson Guru and Jackson Guru; I was very pleased that my present this year was a new printer/scanner to replace the one that's been dead for lo these many months.  I can now do more maps and scan them in for your perusal.  I'd like to get some more artistic activities rolling and drawing maps is a good place to start.
  • an attempt at some Order of the Stick webcomic style drawing.  I really love the paper miniatures in this style over at "iheartprintandplay" and I'd like to try my hand at doing some.  I'm thinking of starting with doing "portraits" of the characters in our Castles and Crusades game and then the characters in my Cauldon Seven (Pathfinder) game and my buddy Steve's Pathfinder game as well.  I'm not sure how successful I'll be in the end but it's a simple enough style that I may be able to pull it off.
  • more world building posts for my long term project for a new campaign world; I'm finding my self influenced by some of the darker and weirder blogs to make my new world a bit weirder as well, but we'll see.
  • trying to make some cool-looking journal books like Janet does over at It's A Little Like Magic; I bought one of her journals as a Christmas present for my daughter and she really liked it a lot.
  • more reviews of games, movies, and whatever.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Review: Battlemap Trenches

Okay, so I just bought my first "pay what you want" (PWYW) product, which is Battlemap: Trenches from Lord Zsezse Works.  I decided to pay about 50% above the listed average for the product because I felt it was worth more than the average.  The main reason I bought this product was to go with the WWI RPG "dungeon crawl" rules I've been working on.  I thought it would be nice to have some professional, full-color trench tiles I could make trench systems with quickly.

Anyway, on to the review.  This product comes with one pdf with twelve 6-inch (150mm) full color terrain tiles, and two images (gridded and ungridded) of the completed trench map you can make with it.  The artwork is high quality and there is a lot of nice detailing throughout.  They have duckboards on the trench floors, sandbags on the parapets, and random bits of equipment and supplies.  For my purposes of a WWI setting the 55-gallon oil drums don't look quite right, but that's just a quibble from my particular perspective.  (Actually, the 55-gallon drum was patented before the war in 1902 by lady journalist Nellie Bly, but visually it gives the impression of a WWII/modern setting.)

After looking at the twelve tiles more closely I was disappointed to find that they are not a fully geomorphic set.  It's more like they drew up a scene of a section of trench and wire out front, then cut it into twelve pieces with little regard to where the cuts went.  It's actually more of an encounter map.  The company does make another set which does appear to be a proper geomorphic set.  I may buy that one later.  I think this would be a better product if it used more geomorphically designed tiles.

So, if you're looking for an encounter map, this should do nicely.  But if you're looking for a set of fully geomorphic tiles, buy something else.

Friday, December 13, 2013

More Thoughts on ACKS Custom Classes

Okay, so I'm still poking about in the Adventurer Conqueror King System (ACKS) Player's Companion following my triumphant(?) use of the riches contained therein to recreate the White Monk class from Final Fantasy.

The core concept in creating custom classes for ACKS is allocating your build points (BP).  You get four BP and you have five class categories into which you may allocate them: Hit Dice, Fighting, Thievery, Divine, and Arcane.  Obviously the four categories align with the basic four class types in D&D so essentially you're mixing and matching the four for your base.  Each category actually starts with a value of 0 and you can leave a category at 0 if you wish while allocating BP elsewhere.  Custom racial classes get 8 BP to start, but their maximum level will be affected depending on how many points you actually use.

But then I thought, what if you put all four of your BP into Hit Dice Value?  That would be kind of a wierd class.  Well, you'd look like this:

Hit Dice Value: d12 [XP Cost 2000]

Fighting Value: 0 (like a mage)
Attack Throws: +2 per 6 levels
Weapon Selection: Restricted (choose four of: club, dagger, bola, dart, sling, sap, staff, whip)
Armor Selection: Forbidden
Fighting Styles: 1
Damage Bonus: none
Cleaves: none

Thievery Value: none

Divine Value: none

Arcane Value: none

Saving Throw Progression: should be based on highest value of Arcane, Divine, Thievery, or Fighting, or if tied then whichever comes first as just listed.  But our Hit Die Hero class (?) has 0 in all of those, so the default, based on the priority, is Arcane progression.

Prime Requisite: according to the rules this should be based on your saving throw progression, which would be mage here, making INT the Prime Requisite; we'll you'll be good at riddles anyway.

Strongholds and Followers: hmm, again this is based on your Fighting/Divine/Mage/Thievery value; but this class doesn't have any values in any of these. As per the rules this class doesn't actually meet the minimum requirements for a stronghold.  I guess you'll have to go back to your little village and fend off sponging relatives when you retire.

XP per Level: starts with needing 2,000 XP for level 2 and progresses as per p.85 of the ACKSPC.

But what the heck sort of class is this?  You're naturally resiliant, but can't wear armor, can't fight, can't cast spells, have pathetic weapons, and will never rule a stronghold...hmm, kind of sounds like Bilbo.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Music and Gaming: Using YouTube Mixes

Okay, so there is a lot of discussion over music and role play gaming around the net.  Personally, I've never used music with my games as a DM.  But not because I don't want to, but because the technology just wasn't there.  In the olden days it was harder to find music which was right for gaming and most of that time I didn't have a sound system to play it on anyway.  Having music during play would have meant constantly turning a cassette tape over about every half hour.  It would have been more distracting than uplifting.

However, about ten years ago I was in a D&D 2E game run by my friend Rob in England.  Rob was the first GM I ever saw who actually included atmospheric elements in his game.  He always had "epic" music playing in the background.  This was mostly movie sound track music--something I hadn't considered before.  The music was suitably atmospheric and also, importantly, instrumental.  I think that playing songs with vocal lyrics would interfere with talk at the table at odd moments--with the possible exception of lyrics in languages you don't know.  I have a lot of music on my mp3 player which is not in English and I find it less distracting when driving or writing.  Rob also had the lights down and candles here and there around the room to add a great medieval feel, but that's a post in itself.

Today I still think about adding music to my games but I still really don't have a sound system up to the task.  I think that you really need something playing nearby at a low level but with enough quality of sound to come across even at low volume.  Currently I only have small computer speakers and that won't cut it.  The other thing you need is "epic" music.  Luckily, there's YouTube to the rescue.  Just search on "epic music mix".  There are lots of very long mixes (1 to 4 hours) with terrific epic instrumental songs seamlessly blended together.

So if I ever get a proper sound system I'll cue up some epic mixes in the background with my games and kick things up a notch.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Chronicles of the Amazing Trevor: Chapter Ten (Chaos Day and Night)

In this chapter our hero is forced to engage in several distasteful acts of violence without the solace of any sort of quality alcoholic beverage whatsoever...

High above the now doubly-ruined town of Cliffside our victorious party surveyed the dreadful scene beneath us.  Vast clouds of pale dust still drifted above the massive pile of rock created by the avalanche.  It was truly tragic that so fine a gem of civilization should come to so ruinous an end.  Ah the taverns, restaurants, and wineries which would never again serve a discerning customer.  Kull enjoyed my last bottle of wine and then we started back down.  The descent was nerve-wracking but without injury.

We surveyed the town from the end of the dock and considered our best approach.  The parts of the town which were not under the fall of rock were already burnt-out shells.  And the dust still drifted about the area.  Then I spotted movement farther down the dock.  There were several entities, pale and unearthly in the dusty clouds.  They moved about aimlessly.  Involuntarily I took a step back.  These must be ghosts now released by the final horrible, destruction of Cliffside.  My skills with arcane weirding were not to be sniffed at but illusionology did not work well on the unliving.  The others spotted them as well--and Kull and Brute were immediately ready to charge.

Before I could caution them about the folly of such a gesture the ghosts became aware of our presence and charged at us.  I heard the pounding of feet as they did so and suddenly realized that it was all a trick.  They were merely ordinary goblins covered head to toe in pale rock dust.  Somewhat abashed I nevertheless filed the idea away for future use on stage or in a nefarious ruse.

Battle was quickly joined and the carnage began.  Almost immediately one of the little fiends thrust a sharp stick-spear into the unfortunate Uhmri--and it stuck.  He staggered, the weapon still protruding from his abdomen.  Then Katherine assumed a pose and made gestures and incantations.  She looked determined, yet slightly apprehensive.  Suddenly a beam of brilliant fiery scarlet shot from her hands and blasted Uhmri's assailant into chunks of flesh.  The former druid was covered in gore but unhurt.  As I prepared my own spell I glanced over at her and saw on her face, for a moment, a flash of what seemed like satisfaction or perhaps even enjoyment.  I wondered if this new found power was going to her head.

Then Uhmri drew out the spear from his wound and deftly threw it into the chest of another goblin.  There were only a few of them here at the dock but I espied more arriving.  I was sure little creatures like these must fear large carnivores so I conjured up the images of a pair of vicious war-hounds clad in spiked leather harness.  They really were quite ferocious, if I say so myself, and I added a bit of foam around the jaws before setting them to snarling and howling.  Several of the arriving goblins promptly turned around and fled.  I allowed myself a well-earned moment of smug satisfaction.  Some of my best work, really.

Just in front of me Brute clove one of his foolish attackers in twain from skull to hips with a mighty blow from Executioner and the two halves fell separately, steaming offal spilling out onto the wooden decking.  Then he gave vent to the nether side of his parentage with a mighty roar.  Several goblins tossed their weapons aside and fled in terror.  But as they routed they passed something else coming our way, something very big.  It was an avatar of chaos with a mob of emboldened goblins around it.

The stag headed thing was seven or eight feet high, sickly scrawny, with one remaining antler jutting out insolently like some rude challenge.  One of its eyes was engorged with hideous intent, the other shriveled to a nasty remnant.  Repulsive pus trickled down the assortment of pieces of armor strapped to its body, attracting a dense swarm of flies.  It carried a long, heavy pike or lance with which to kill us.  Suspecting it might be an unliving creature raised from some shadowed place I drew my enchanted short sword.  It did not glow as it should with unliving near so I put it away.  As I did so I was horrified to see that behind it, obscured by the cloud of flies, was an even larger creature approaching.

With the monster right in front and a crowd of goblins clustered close about it I naturally selected my old favorite, Color Spray, to perform for my unsuspecting audience.  A few well-practised movements and a brilliant rainbow display blasted across them, with clouds of purple fireflies and lovely orangey-red sparks going every which way.  Master illusionology is where magic meets art, you see.  The effects were most gratifying, with the goblins falling over like bowling pins.   The avatar of darkest chaos reeled, his one huge eye wandering in its socket.  I folded my arms with the satisfaction of a job well done and let my companions take it from there.  This was turning out to be one of my finest performances ever.
Sure enough, Brute leapt over Kull in a very well-coordinated maneuver and landed a blow to the head which removed its remaining antler, Katherine loosed a blast of scaret arcane power, Uhmri executed a pinning hold on its leg, and Kull provided the final massive coup-de-grace which severed an arm and butchered its chest.  Alas it then collapsed onto Kull and he and Uhmri were smeared with foul-smelling pus.

But there was no time to bathe, necessary thought it might be, because the thing I had glimpsed through the cloud of flies earlier was advancing on us in turn.  It, too, was accompanied by several goblins.  This one was more in the form of a bear, with mangy fur matted with pus, paws gripping a huge battleaxe, and a mouth filled with fangs which drooled even more pus.  Our companion from The Grove now chose to enter the fray.  Druids rarely involve themselves in civilized affairs but he seemed genuinely insulted by the unnatural acts done to his beloved stag and bear.  With some jerky-animalistic movements and odd grunts, which appeared to be rather unnatural acts as well, he caused a thicket of tough vines to erupt from the earth and entangle our enemies.  Crude but effective, I thought.  Despite his desperate need for a bath and the attentions of a barber this rustic miracle-worker was no slouch in plying his craft.

I was pleased to see that the little goblins were hopelessly entangled.  I was most dismayed, however, to see that the ursine avatar was entirely unfazed.  The weirded vines could not contain his fiendish bulk.  The druid then stepped out and faced it in a strange crouching pose.  Contorting his face in a most disagreeable manner he grunted and snorted at it, apparently speaking to it as a bear.  Unfortunately, the thing was more fiend than bear and he only succeeded in enraging it.  Battle was joined.

Sizing it up I noticed that it was already injured, probably from being near the avalanche we'd caused.  In its weakened state we just might have a chance.  This time it was our fair Katherine who was first to strike, launching another lance of arcane flame into its chest.  Her face glowed a fiery red in the light of her castings.  Sweet as she might appear on the outside my K seemed to have discovered an inner warrior.  I wondered what effect this aggressive streak might have on the passionate encounters I hoped to have with her in the future.

As I pondered, a roar from the bear brought me back into focus and I beheld its fearsome fangs.  Action was of the essence and, K's fiery display still in mind, I brought forth a mighty dragon to bathe it in flame.  Alas, my romantic distraction proved disastrous.  Only as I completed the casting did I spot the crude amulet nestled in the thick fur around its neck.  My dragon appeared, but it was facing the wrong way!  Whoever had conjured up these things had provided them with more than ordinary weapons.  Rearing back it spewed its appointed blast of fire--on us.  Brute and Katherine took the worst of it.  But the diabolic bear still threatened and we were all back to work.

Well, almost all of us.  Uhmri took shameless advantage of his "injuries" once again to approach my K for some personal healing.  However, I was pleasantly surprised to see her bring out a scroll and read its divine text.  A soft cloud of golden motes flowed from the scroll to his wounds and healed him.  This was a welcome development.  Perhaps Katherine had finally gotten wise to his sly game.

The bear-thing fought hard but suddenly Brute lunged in with Executioner and beheaded it!  As before he followed his triumph with a roar only an odd-fellow could produce.  The goblins fled.  I took advantage of the moment to offer my apologies for the dragon spell gone wrong, explaining about the fetish amulet.  We were just assessing our wounds--well, the others were all assessing their wounds--when a deep grunt and rattle of dislodged stones brought our attention back to the front.

Yet another massive avatar advanced out of the rubble of Cliffside.  This one was goat-like, carrying a truly massive club.  Its advance put it near the druid, who attempted a druidical incantation (which included some rather rude belching noises).  Before he could complete his gesture the thing turned and bashed him with the huge club.  The impact actually batted the poor chap backwards through the air to land behind a pile of rubble.  The druid's wolf, as loyal as it was annoying, immediately dashed to the attack but was crushed by another massive blow.

My attention was drawn to Kull.  He was staring at the crushed lupine with a peculiar intensity.  The gentle soul was quite taken with the druid's furry companions and was surely sadder I at this turn of events.  Then his face contorted into a mask of sheer brutality.  With a cry of rage he charged the goat-creature.  Uhmri and Brute joined his attack, Uhmri making an amazing flying kick to the thing's head and Brute cutting deep with his axe.  Its massive club swung here and there but Uhmri managed another strike to the head and it staggered back, stunned.  I paused to consider what an amazing fellow this Uhmri had become, going from ordinary peasant fisherman to dueler of fiends in barely a week.  If only he'd do something about that tacky wolf-skin cloak he might have a chance at true greatness.  Then Kull unleashed his rage and fury upon the lupicidal avatar, killing it with two massive blows.  He stood, breathing heavily and quivering, but slowly regained his composure.  Brute chopped off the thing's head and tossed in over into the town as a warning.  Soon afterwards we heard the remnants of the goblin host departing.  At least that threat was averted for a while.

We located the druid near a ruined house.  Both his legs were at sickeningly unnatural angles and he was in a bad way.  K brought the power of the Light to him and he was able to stand and limp slowly.  His wolf was beyond hope.  I wondered if Uhmri would want to add this pelt to his collection, but he showed no interest.  Kull scavenged a bed from the ruins for the sylvan holy man and we carried him and his wolf back to the boat.  On the way back K provided more curative power to the druid but for some reason his annoying weasel companion took to hissing at her.  Rather odd, I thought.  But we returned him to The Grove across the lake and said our goodbyes.  Even on a second visit it was clear that this bit of forest is indeed a magical place.  But alas, they have nothing there to drink but magical spring water so I shan't likely go back without good reason.

From there we sailed back across the lake again and retrieved our horses and wagon.  Faylan once again left us to resume her solitary, unwashed life in the middle of nowhere.  She's a decent enough sort but I won't be having her over to the house unless she promises to bathe upon arrival.  The return journey took us southwards down the now familiar track towards the crossroads.

On our first night K and I had the first watch, as was becoming the usual way of it.  She looked as lovely as ever, caressed simultaneously by the firelight and moonlight.  I decided to take a quick visit to the woods to see to my body's urinatory needs before settling in for the watch.  Going into the dark woods was unsettling.  Most of the nights we had camped out here something or someone had come crashing out of the undergrowth.  And what if Faylan was still watching over us?  The thought of displaying my gentleman's bits for whatever or whomever might happen to be hanging about the clearing was not an appealing one, Faylan or not.

And what if it was orcs?  They were reputed to have peculiar "cravings" which led them to kidnap civilized folk.  If I were to be carried off they would assume from my dignified attire, quite rightly, that I was a person of quality.  One of their princesses would take a fancy to me, most likely.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder (lagueuse.deviantart.com)
And then she would trick me into drinking a love potion by one of their witch doctors to get me to marry her, leading to some barbaric ceremony where her I must best her father in single combat to win her hand. (A bit of the old Colorspray should do nicely; no need to injure the old codger.)
The blushing bride and proud father (bloodworxsander.deviantart.com)
 Eventually, with my natural arcane puissance and mastery of showmanship, I would work my way up to Head Witchdoctor.  My princess and I would consolidate our power over all these lands and then...wait, was that a twig snapping?  I glanced about furtively in the darkness but detected nothing.  I finished my business as quickly as I could--damn those druids and their "magic spring water"--readjusted my cloak, and made a decently dignified entrance to the campsite.

I was not prepared for the sight which awaited me.  By the gods, that Uhmri fellow had finally snapped.  He was manhandling my Katherine on the ground right there by the campfire.  Brute was just walking up with his sword drawn.  The odd-fellow was always protective of K and apparently he was about to give Uhmri his just desserts.  But suddenly she yelled at him "I hate Veronica" with great venom and anger.  Then I remembered that Brute and the Big V had "had a moment" together just before we left Adan.  Was Katherine secretly jealous?  Was it Katherine who had finally snapped?  Was Uhmri restraining her to avoid further offending Brute over his new love?  Brute looked fully ready to kill her right then and there.  I rushed over to the trio.  Brute was basically a sensible chap but love often leads to regrettable foolishness.  I planned to declare to K that I loved her and that Brute loved his V and there was no reason for any of us to be unhappy.  (Brute and I would still have to give that Uhmri fellow a good thrashing for touching K, but first things first.).  In a few minutes we would all be laughing about how silly the whole affair had been.

I was about to kneel before Katherine when suddenly she tapped me on the shoulder from behind.  I turned, completely taken aback.  My mind reeled.  How could she be there as well as in the paws of that Uhmri fellow?  I looked back and there in the fisherman's grasp was a hideous man-shaped creature, nothing like Katherine at all.  They explained that it was some sort of shapechanging thing. It had taken my form to approach Katherine on watch, then switched into her form when discovered so as to sow confusion.  They had just figured out which Katherine was the real one and were prepared to dispatch the imposter.  I was relieved beyond words.  Now I could reserve my declaration to K for a more appropriately romantic moment.

Later that evening Kull was checking in the woods while on his watch and found a large sack filled with human teeth.  Apparently the creature collected them.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Trailer for the new Godzilla Movie!

Okay, so I've been a huge fan of Japanese monster movies since way back.  Yes, they were a bit cheesy (rubber monster suits, little toy tanks, etc.)--but they were more than a bit awesome.  Ever since I saw the original Godzilla movie my dream job has been special effects model maker.  Think about it: first you get to build an entire city, then a huge monster, and then dozens of model tanks and planes.  Then you basically blow them all up.  Then they show it on big screens so everyone else can enjoy it.  And then they pay you money.  Sign me up.  But I digress.

Anyway, when the new Godzilla movie came out in 1998 I was super-disappointed.  It had a lot of the elements I was eagerly anticipating, but in the end it was just a big lizard.  BOOOOOO!  That's not Godzilla.

However, this new film looks to bring back the original Godzilla with a lot more city-destroying mayhem, and the awesome honking roar.  The official trailer is on YouTube and I insist you watch it immediately.  Yes, now.  No, that can wait.  If you're really pressed for time (like, in the middle of giving birth or something) just skip ahead to about 1:42 and watch the end bit.  Just awesome.

D&D/Pathfinder Favorites (for Tetsubo57 on YouTube)

Okay, so one of the channels I follow on YouTube is Tetsubo57.  He does a lot of thoughtful videos on gaming (and other subjects).  On Friday he posted a D&D/Pathfinder favorite things poll, which you might find fun, and here are my responses:

1.) Race: half-elf or kitsune
2.) Class: traditionally cleric, but now tied with Pathfinder's oracle and witch
3.) Weapon: glaive
4.) Spell: Black Tentacles; delightfully creepy
5.) Feat: Eschew Materials, keeping track of materials sux
6.) Monster: hmm, maybe dragon turtle
7.) Adventure Path or module: The Desert of Desolation series for AD&D

Monday, December 9, 2013

The Journal of Katherine, Entry 44 "Night Encounter"

Entry 44
The campfire adds warmth and the moon is full.  I have finished writing my last journal entry earlier, and meditated.  Meditation really helps to relax and focus on channeling the divine power of the Light and this other raw energy.  I can feel a wonder beyond anything else.

The others are sleeping, and the forest night sounds are beginning.  Trevor and I have the first watch.  At some point, Trevor leaves for a nature call, and returns.  He looks right at me but does not say anything, none of the usual business talk.  Also, there is a little blood on his outfit, near his neck.  This is very unusual, and I am suspicious, although, I am usually suspicious of Trevor, lately.  He looks at the sleepers.  Something is wrong.  This is not Trevor!  He walks amongst them.  I see through the disguise.  He stops at Ohm Uri.  What happened to Trevor?  He turns his back to me.  A fear flashes through my core, as I think what happened.  My heart sinks.  I hear a dagger unsheathed.  I want to yell, but nothing.  I know this is not Trevor.  He bends down.  I reach for that circle of energy, and raise my arm.  Trevor, if it is you, forgive me.  I cry and close my eyes, and an anguish washes over my face.  This time, the force is painful and very terrible.  I see the bright red light through my closed and teared eyes.  It rocks my core foundation as a cleric and makes mockery of my promises.  The power unleashed could have killed Trevor - or me.  I finally shout out, "Intruder!"

I open my eyes and see Ohm Uri wrestling with me.  Yet, I am standing still, where I was just a moment ago.  No, there is an intruder and what looked like Trevor before, is now looking like me.  Brute is up and ready to swing, but now, is faced with a similar choice I had, but which one to attack?  One chop from the executioner and I would be split like a log of firewood.  Brute asks the other 'Katherine' first, "What do you think of Veronica?"

The other replies to my surprise, "I hate her!"  This is easy.  I may dislike her, but I would not hate.  If she is injured or in trouble, I would help her.  In fact, the very first time I saw her, I sided with her, by being against Trevor.  And, when Brute carried her off like a sack of flour, I felt for her, too.  Thinking the matter is resolved, Brute unexpectedly asks me the exact same question.

I reply, "She is misguided, I do not hold a grudge.  I had hoped that you talked some sense into her, using kind but firm words, over and over again, until it sank in."  This is enough.  Before I finish my sentence, Brute murmurs something about being naive, then turns a huge blow to the imposter.  That blow would have torn me in half and it is disturbing and sickening to see myself, my double, bleed out on the ground.  I want to strike out again, but I wait, as it changes from me back into the hideous evil vial creature it always was, and then it stops moving.

I remember it looked like Trevor.  Where is Trevor?  The blood on the neck - my heart sinks again, only briefly, for I turn and see him, aghast with a similar fear.  I don't think he saw my reaction of concern.  I can only imagine what he thought when he saw two of me, with Ohm Uri pinning my double down and me yelling. Then Brute's attack and he is powerless to stop it.  And all the blood that follows!  Also, I don't think he saw me attacking his back - oh, that would be really bad.

I try to relax and meditate.  Afterwards, I must tell Trevor.

The Journal of Katherine, Entry 43, Part 2 "Battle at Cliffside"

The young sorcerer-priestess Katherine makes another entry in her growing journal:

I continue with us all recovering from the landslide.  We climb down from the cliff but Kull stumbles and falls part of the way.  At the bottom, the druid , Daymond, heals him.  Soon, goblins approach from the town that were not caught in the landslide and Brute, using his bow of endless arrows, and Ohm Uri and Trevor, all kill a few goblins as they charge towards us.   But there were many and soon they closed in on us, and I summon the force disk for my shield.

An instant later Ohm Uri is skewered by a goblin's spear, and the point emerges from his back.  This is sickening and made me very concerned for Ohm Uri.  A new feeling stirs within me.  The terrible circling force is there and flows through my arm, almost uncontrolled.  I point at the goblin holding the spear, and a red light beams from the palm of my hand.  Before my eyes, a goblin, the next, it is just gone.  Strangely, I have a strong desire to do it again.  I search the entire area.  Brute scares many goblins that turn and run, but one stays.  I manage to control myself, as his blow is most gruesome, beyond anything that I can write here.  Ohm Uri, covered in the remains of the goblin, performs an awesome display of heroics by grasping the spear, hand over hand, and pulls it out of his wound, the sound is literally gut wrenching.  Then he returns the spear into a stunned goblin who is watching.  Elsewhere, Kull kills two with one swipe of his enchanted blade.  I ask Ohm Uri if he wants me to heal him, but he shrugs off the pain, and jumps back into the melee.

The battle continues, and I again search the area, and see what the goblins call the avatar.  Brute and Faylen described these earlier, but now I see them for myself.  This is a creature from another place.  Sores all over its body ooze puss, the stench smells of disease.  The head is like a deer, only twisted, and an eye larger than the other, and one of its antlers is broken.  Its armor is pieced together from scraps of other armor, nothing is harmonious, and Trevor could give it some tailoring tips.

Trevor leads off with his mastered colored light show, always a crowd pleasure.  This stuns many goblins and the avatar.  Brute follows, striking down from a jump over Kull.  This monstrosity easily gave me cause to grab that energy and, I point my hand and unleash the terrible force at its head.  Again, this feels rather good.  Kull gets the last and final blow.  Then its motionless lump falls on Kull.  I gasp, for I have heard about open sores passing the disease to others if there is contact.  But he seams alright.

Daymond causes plants to twist and grow and reach out to slow another wave of goblin attackers.  And a second avatar appears.  This one resembles a bear, and again smells of disease and has open sores about its body where patches of fur are missing.  But before Trevor could summon the light display, an image of a huge dragon appears, similar to the one Trevor is known to do.  The fire I could not escape and am weakened. Brute, Kull, and Ohm Uri finally slay the creature, and its head is severed.   We notice a charm bag about its neck, and we realize that the charm reflected Trevor's dragon image.

While we wait for yet a third wave of attackers, I heal Ohm Uri, using a scroll that I prepared ahead of time.  This scroll stored the energy necessary to focus and I again called on the Light to heal the wound the spear caused.

A new third avatar attacks Daymond and his body is flung out of view, and then his wolf also goes flying a moment later.  This one has a head like a goat and carries a club, the size of  a tree.  Ohm Uri charges with a bounce on its foot, and again all three fight, landing blows after blows.  Then Kull lays the final blow.  Quickly, we find the druid and the wolf.  The wolf died, but the druid is alive and his leg is bent unnaturally, the bone broken.  I reached for the last scroll I have, and it allows me to call upon the Light once more, and as it happened, without anyone touching it, the leg straightens and the bone heals.

We survey the scene, and hear sounds of movement near the town, but they move away.  It is the tattered army, or what is left of it, leaving.  I look at bodies of the goblins, and notice some have developed sores, similar to the sores on the avatars.  They must have contracted the disease.

The trip back is tiresome; I am worn out.  In a routine, I nursed our wounded bodies back to health.  We take the druid, and his animals, including the body of the wolf, back to his grove on the other side of the lake.  Then we return with the boat to our horses and proceed back to Aden.  Once we are back to the cart, I start to relax.  We return close by Faylen's cave and say our farewells, as she does not want to return to the city.  I am quiet and lost in thought.  I plan my move back in the city and hope Priest Lore will allow me to stay at the temple, seeing how I helped to stop the goblin army.  Maybe I can claim a spot in the cellar to experiment.  We stop off of the road to camp, eat, and rest for the night.  I record this journal entry, then will meditate.

In reflection of this trip into and out of danger, I want write a few thoughts.  Brute sought Death and looked it straight in the eye, and defied it.  I sought Life, and found mostly Death, too.  I could have trained to be a fighter and fought along side of Brute or Kull adding to the ranks.  Or be a singer or even the stealthy and work from the shadows.  I even had, or maybe still do have, a chance to be a sorceress.  But my place is a channeler of the Light, a holy person, a cleric.  I found my being, and would dread the world if I could not be this. 

Sunday, December 8, 2013

The Great Blog Roll Call!

I just recently heard about The Great Blog Roll Call over at Dyvers Campaign.  This is an excellent listing of RPG blogs for your reading pleasure and I suggest you take a look.  I've already found a couple new ones I like.

Oh, yeah, and mine just got added =)  Dyvers had some very kind words for my blog in the description.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Challenge Accepted (sort of): The White Monk Class for ACKS

Okay, so I did a post recently on some quick and easy alternatives for divine classes if you ditched the cleric class.  This was based on some interesting musings on the cleric over at Rachel Bonuses.  But in a response to that (which I totally can't find now to link for you) I was chided for my lack of real creativity in coming up with alternatives to the cleric.  Point taken.  One of the reasons I play Pathfinder is what I call "completeness".  There's so much material already there that you can usually modify or mix-and-match existing stuff to get where you want to go--and then get on with play.

But then I thought that maybe I should take that up as a challenge to create something.  Well unfortunately Pathfinder suffers from the same core problem which has plagued all editions of D&D since the beginning: there are no built-in in mechanics for building stuff.  If you want to make a new class, or magic spell, or monster there are few guidelines.  It's as much an art as a science.  But not so with the retro-clone Adventurer Conqueror King System (ACKS) which I have been perusing of late.  The ACKS Player's Companion includes a great DIY toolkit for making new classes.  So I decided to use this as an opportunity to try making an ACKS class.

But instead of making some sort of cleric substitute, I decided to do a version of a class which has fascinated me for some time: the White Monk from Final Fantasy Tactics Advance.  The White Monk is a blend of monk and paladin--not coincidentally one of the classes I proposed for my preferred entries in the upcoming Advanced Class Guide for Pathfinder.

The White Monk for ACKS

Bangaa___FFTA2___by_CrazyCowCo (crazycowco.deviantart.com)

So, the first thing with a new ACKS class is that you start with 4 Build Points (BP) which are allocated to the main class characteristics.  I figured one should go into Hit Dice Value because they are a tough melee fighting class, two into Fighting, and finally one into Divine.

So 1 BP into Hit Dice Value buys a d6 for HD per level:

Hit Dice Value:    d6    [1 BP; 500 XP]
HP per level after 9th Level: 2 HP

Then since the White Monk is primarily a melee fighter type, 2 BP into Fighting:

Fighting: 2        [2 BP; 750 XP]

And that led to some modifications of the characteristics for Fighting 2 because a monk is a specialized type of fighter:

Attack Throws    Weapons    Armor        Styles    DamBonus    Cleaves        XP Cost
+2/3 levels         Restricted*    Forbidden    2**    +1/3 levels    1/level          1000
*Weapons: claw-weapons (see below); dart,bolas, net
**Basic Style: claw-weapons; dart, bolas, net

Reducing the Weapons by 3 buys 3 custom powers, reducing the armor by 3 buys 4 custom powers, and reducing the styles by 1 buys 1 custom power, for a total of 8 custom powers (which we'll get to in a moment)

Because the White Monk is a holy type, I put my final BP into Divine (I put no BP into into Thievery or Arcane).

Divine: 1        [1 BP; XP 250]Divine 1 allows the class to cast spells as a cleric of half current level, with a spell list of 5 spells per level; I also eliminated the Turn Undead ability, which bought another custom power

Saving Throws: as Cleric (since it's a holy class concept)

Prime Requisite: CON (monks should be tough)

Now came the tricky part: the custom powers.  From my not-necessarily-correct calculations above I came up with a total of 9 custom powers.  Since some of the custom powers are actually essentially proficiencies used as class abilities I skipped ahead to throw together a set of 28 proficiencies (a standard amount) selected from the Cleric and Fighter lists and then put together a list of candidate custom powers which avoided duplicating anything in the proficiency list.  So far, so good.  However, there is a very non-intuitive chart which allows you to trade off  taking skills at a certain level (this section confusingly uses "skill" and "power" interchangeably) in exchange for more skills at higher levels.  For instance you can trade one initial skill to gain one skill at 5th and another at 9th, or one skill at 10th level for one each at 12th and 13th.  I found this trade-off chart both helpful and confusing.  But here's how my calculations and powers for the class's levels came out:

With 9 custom powers to start (from calculations above), then some trade-offs:
-1 initial skill to gain 1 skill at 2nd and 1 skill at 12th level
-1 initial skill to gain 1 skill at 3rd and 1 skill at 11th level
-1 initial skill to gain 1 skill at 4th and 1 skill at 10th level
-1 initial skill to gain 1 skill at 5th and 1 skill at 9th level
-1 initial skill to gain 1 skill at 6th and 1 skill at 8th level

Selecting powers appropriate to the class and allocating them to the levels results in:
1    Flesh-Runes (counts as 3 skills), Aura of Protection
2    Arcane Striking
3    Meditative Focus
4    Initiative
5    Lay on Hands
6    Spell Storing
8    Blade Dancing
9    Battlefield Prowess
10  Savage Resilience
11  Resistant to Illusion
12  Longevity

Proficiencies: (28, drawn from Fighter and Cleric)
Acrobatics, Alertness, Battle Magic, Berserkergang, Blind Fighting, Combat Reflexes, Combat Trickery (force back, overrun, sunder), Command, Contemplation, Divine Blessing, Divine Health, Dungeon Bashing, Endurance, Healing, Intimidation, Knowledge (philosophy), Laying on Hands, Leadership, Manual of Arms, Martial Training (darts/bolas/nets), Prophecy, Running, Sensing Evil, Skirmishing, Swashbuckling, Theology, Unflappable Casting, Weapon Focus

Then the spell lists.  Putting 1 BP into Divine allows casting as if a cleric of half that level.  By my inexpert reckonings that comes out to:

Spell Lists (from the Cleric lists)
1st Level Spells (gained at 4th level)

Cure Light Wounds
Detect Magic
Protection from Evil
Resist Cold

2nd Level Spells (gained at 8th level)
Hold Person
Resist Fire
Spiritual Weapon

3rd Level Spells (gained at 12th level)
Cure Disease
Feign Death
Remove Curse
Speak with Dead

 Each class gets a stronghold.  The chart for this makes it clear that you go with the class in which you have the most build points.  The White Monk, being a divine type really should have Fortified Church (monastery), but instead must do with a Castle instead.  It's not a big deal, but doesn't feel right for the class.  So I'll just rename the castle a "Fortified Monastery".

Stronghold Type: Fortified Monastery (Castle)

XP Per Level
So now we calculate XP per level for advancement using the base costs from Hit Dice Value (500 XP), Fighting (750 XP), and Divine (250 XP):
1    0
2    1,500
3    3,000
4    6,000
5    12,000
6    24,000
7    50,000 <-- rounded up to 50,000 from 48,000 according to the smoothing rule
8    100,000
9    120,000
10    120,000
11    120,000
12    120,000
13    120,000
14    120,000

White Monk Special Weapons
White Monks primarily use hand techniques (punches) and have developed a set of weapons worn like gloves with claws on them to use with these techniques.  There are also magic versions of these unique weapons.
Hard Knuckles    1d4
Cat Claws            1d6 (requires extra training at Level 3)
Tiger Claws         1d8 (requires extra training at Level 7)
Dragon Claws    1d10 (requires extra training at Level 10)

Holy Claw Weapons
01-40  Cat Claws +1
41-45  Cat Claws +1, constant Resist Cold on wearer
46-50  Cat Claws +1, constant Resist Fire on wearer
51-55  Cat Claws +1, of Striking
55-60  Cat Claws +1, can cast Cure Light Wounds on wearer once per day
61-64  Cat or Tiger Claws +2
65-68  Cat or Tiger Claws +2, constant Resist Cold on wearer
69-72  Cat or Tiger Claws +2, constant Resist Fire on wearer
73-76  Cat or Tiger Claws +2, of Striking
77-80  Cat or Tiger Claws +2, can cast Spritual Weapon once per day
81-84  Cat or Tiger Claws +2, can cast Cure Light Wounds on wearer twice per day
85-88  Cat or Tiger or Dragon Claws +3
89-91  Tiger or Dragon Claws +3, of Striking
92-94  Tiger or Dragon Claws +3, constant Resist Cold and Fire on wearer
95-97  Tiger or Dragon Claws +3, can cast Spritual Weapon three times per day
98-100 Tiger or Dragon Claws +3, can cast Cure Light Wounds on wearer twice per day

Monday, December 2, 2013

Kicking the Cleric to the Curb, Pathfinder Style

Okay, so I was just reading an interesting ramble free-form essay over at Rachel Bonuses on her dissatisfaction with the D&D style cleric and whether you could just get rid of it.  I don't often hear people wanting to get rid of the class altogether.  More often it's a question of how to fix it.  I've never been happy with D&D style clerics because even with the addition of domain spells they are much too generic.  I like playing the class, but I want holy priestly types to be more focused on their deity's portfolio.

An obvious retort to eliminating the class is who's going to do the healing then?  Well, without a cleric it's down to the paladin, ranger, and druid for heals. Fine, but for me the paladin class is really a companion to the pseudo-Christian cleric so it would seem odd to have paladins if there were no clerics.  And what if you're doing an urban campaign?  Rangers and druids are an awkward fit.  And anyway the limited healing from these three classes will alter play in ways which might not suit you.

I think that if you're getting rid of the classic cleric class (and maybe classic paladin as well) then you should look at the oracle and witch classes as in Pathfinder.  In my buddy Steve's game I'm playing a healy witch (which I've blogged about here and here) and my friend Kirk is playing a healy type oracle.  And that's actually working out quite well.  Okay, we do have a cleric in the party but she's lawful evil and doesn't do healing.

But healing aside there is the wider question of being a holy type person for various deity-like entities, large or small, in a polytheistic setting.  The witch and oracle classes address than quite weill.  The Pathfinder witch class has "patrons" which are essentially single-domain deities; there are a lot of them:

At every even level the witch learns an extra spell from the patron's themed list.  You could give the patron deities wider portfolios by giving deities several patron "domains" and then the player selects one spell from the multiple "domains" available--a sort of hybrid gestalt class.  In addition, the DM could declare certain arcane spells and/or hexes to be mandatory or off-limits based on the patron theme.  A witch with a Shadow patron must take any darkness-associated spells or hexes and may not take any light-associated ones.

Pathfinder oracles choose a "mystery" from a listing which presents natural "domains"; and these could be doubled-up as for the witch to make for more multi-faceted deities.  There are plenty to choose from:
Dark Tapestry
Outer Rifts

So right there you have an easy way to replace the classic way-too-generic cleric with very non-generic holy types.  To that I'd add Pathfinder druids but make them take a domain for their "nature bond" rather than an animal companion.

Another option is to consider the summoner class as a clerical type.  The class description notes: "This practitioner of the arcane arts forms a close bond with one particular outsider, known as an eidolon...Over time, the two become linked, eventually even sharing a shard of the same soul."  Yeah, I'm pretty sure that "eidolon" is actually some sort of demon.  So that would make summoners actually demon-worshippers who've sold their souls!  Nice.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

The Journal of Katherine, Entry 43, Part 1 "Blood and Guts"

The lovely Katherine continues her recollection of recent events...

Entry 43

In the morning we meet refugees from the north.  A dirty woman approaches Trevor and he is taken aback, pushing the woman elsewhere - no compassion in him - I am shocked.  Then a group of men want to join us because we will fight the goblins.  Brute scares the poor leader into not going.  Would Brute have behaved like that to me?  I ask Brute to not be so mean.   He wants me to tell the next one who wants to join: "no."

Our sixth day away from the city, and we pass the village we saw before.  Not much has changed.  We continue our way and make camp near night fall, off of the road.  We sleep in rotation, so that we have a constant watch in the night.  Trevor and I on the first, Kull and Boomtock on the second, and Brute and Ohm Uri on the final.

On our watch, I hear something approaching.  We quickly wake the others, and they see one human form limping towards the camp.  Brute calls for me and I rush up not knowing what to expect.  I see Brute carrying young Faylen, and her injured leg is the cause of the limp.  I call upon the Light to heal this good woods-woman, a defender and keeper of the children we escorted a few days past.  I add more energy into the healing this time.  This feels good to me.  A wonderful.

Brute gave me the task of persuading the next one not to come with us.  Young Faylen is the next one.  Once she is able to talk and listen, I give her the options of either going to Aden, the city, or to go back to her cave.  She chooses to go back to her cave, since she doesn't like the city.

However, at the mention of the goblins we are going to fight, she tells the tale of Clifftown, where most of the goblins are.  Faylen says it was a modern place.  Located on the edge of the lake, it had an abundant supply of trade.  All lay in waste now.  The goblins have ransacked it.  She talks of abominations of humans with animal heads nailed to trees.  And of horrible monsters with open sores on their skin.  The goblins refer to them as avatars.  Faylen continues with a story of how the druids casted spells to hold the rocks back from falling on the town.  If we can find the druids to cancel the spell, the rocks will crush the goblins.  Then I ask if she could guide us to the druids?

There are two ways to get there, by land or by sea, Faylen adds.  Land would take a long time, and sea would be a day.  We must get a boat, though.  Brute plans to take a few sneaky ones, like Ohm Uri Boomtuck and Faylen, past the goblin guards and float away with a boat.  Seems too easy. 

Kull, Trevor and I wait in the rain by a little lagoon for the others to get the boat.  I thought this could be a good time to talk to Trevor about us.  So I clear my head, prepare mentally, get ready to start with a big question, walk towards Trevor, and he vanishes.  If I could curse!  I try my whisper, no answer.  I call out to Trevor, still no answer.  Did something happen to him?  I detect magic and get a faint glimmer.  Was it foul magic?  Then I see something written in the mud, but cannot tell what it is.  Next, I feel a tap on my shoulder, Instinct gave in, so I swing round with my mace and into thin air, for I see nothing there.  Then I hear Trevor's voice saying it's me.  I say, "You told me that you didn't know invisibility.  And now you do.  Why?  I could have hurt you."  He replies, "I found another ring in the folds, but I cannot get it off."  Kull remarks "You should not use magic if it is unknown."  Trevor replies basically, that he takes chances.  Then says he will go and help the others.  And it is quiet.  I call out to him, and no answer.  He just left.  Or I think so.  Sometimes, he makes me so upset.  If I could curse.  I could have hit him, and I wanted to ask him my questions, but now, I really want - stop.

I wait with Kull in silence.  I close my eyes to focus on hearing.  Nothing but the rain.  What seems like hours, Kull then states "They are here."  I see the ship materialize from the fog.  It seems all too easy.

I find Trevor...

I ask him to remove it.   Now he says that since he is dry he might be able.  And he tries and says it is still stuck.  I say, "Put your hand out.  I will touch you."  I didn't want him reaching out to touch me - anywhere.  I put my fingers on the ring and gently pull.  It easily slips off.  What is he talking about it being stuck?  Once I have it, I move to keep it for a "piece of mind."  And Faylen agrees with me, we do not want him snooping around and not respecting our privacy.  But Kull and Ohm Uri side with Trevor.  Reluctantly, I give the ring back.  This is not over yet.

Brute's patience runs out.  We load our gear in the boat and Boomtuck stays behind with the cart and horses.

I look back at Boomtuck, as we slip out into the night.  Kull has stated a number of times that he does not like water.  He hugs the mast.  I find a place in the front, and hunker down.  Slipping through states of consciousness in the night, I lean my head over the boat.  I see little glowing or flashing things occasionally.  This water world is most strange.  Is it real, or am I imaging?  I look up and see the night sky.  Somehow, young Faylen is able to guide the boat.  We all trust her.

We travel all night and it is morning now.  No land in sight.  I did not mind.  The wind is blowing steady and stronger now, and the boat has picked up speed.  Sailing is wonderful.  I like the front.  The wind in my face, my hair blowing back, the sound of the water against the wooden planks, and the spray as the boat goes up and down plowing through the waves, these are treasures of the adventure.  These cannot be bought with coin, they must be experienced.  I move to sit with my legs dangling over the side and look into an endlessness of the water depths.  Every so often I see a slice of silver flash as a fish swims past.  This is the free spirit - the wayward traveler.  My mind wonders of other seas to travel.

Trevor joins me in the front of the boat, and  I point out the wave patterns on the water and the silver flashes of fish.   I show him where the water appears darker the wind is stronger, because it adds to the ripples.  Trevor mentions the fish, and Ohm Uri soon has six and we all have a meal.  I ask for some wine, Rose I say.  The ride seems a little bit more refreshed.  But, I am still upset about the ring business. 

We continue until about mid day.  So quickly it happens.  My intentions are instinctive.  Ohm Uri sees land and in his excitement, climbs the mast of this thin boat.  The boat leans and we over compensate, sending the boat over to the other side.  I see water coming over the gunwales and Trevor and Brute loose their grip.  Kull grabs Trevor.  I manage to have a solid grip on the ore handle and with my free hand reach out and grab Brute.  I under estimate how much the boat leans and Brute hangs free.  All of Brute's mass is put on my small frame.  I will always remember the pop sound when the handle just slips right through my fingers.  I sail overboard into the clear greenish water trailing Brute. 

With my earlier fascination with the water, I did not think I would be this intimate with it.  The water is cold at the initial shock, but now, it feels warmer.  Brute, always so kind to me, tells me to grab his shoulders, and to hang on.  He started to swim after the boat.  Now I can swim, although I am not the best, but Brute, with the reflexes of a savanna cat, grabs a tossed rope, and pulls us closer to the boat under sail.  Water is spraying everywhere, that I must turn my head so I can breath.  Once we are close to the boat, his free hand pushes me up and Trevor, who is looking rather smug, pulls me into the boat.  Now I realize, I am in my rather fine dress soaking wet, and it is clinging to my body, revealing my form a bit more than I'd like.  I look at the rest of the men, they are staring at me, mouths open, and I am over my comfort level.  Faylen is laughing hysterically.  Once Brute is back, he is quick to have the rest turn their heads, so I wrap up in a blanket. 

Trevor offers to use his conjuring to dry my clothes, but I cannot take that.  First, he tricks me into touching his hand when I took off the ring, and now, he wants to press dry my clinging wet dress with his magic.  I know he can sense the touch when he uses that spell, and the thought of him wanting to do that when I am vulnerable - I expected more from him.  I simply say, "I just want to be alone."  I huddled in my blanket, teeth chattering, lips blue, trying to close out the wind...

The boat lands and I am somewhat dryer, now.  We make our way inland, and we hear birds chirping, but also see them up close, and deer came right up to us.  They are tame.  Then it gets quiet, too quiet. 

I call out "We come to seek the aid of the druids.  We want to speak, to parley."  Out comes this man, right from the wood.  I introduce myself, "I am Katherine, of the Temple of the Light, and we seek aid.  This is Kull, and Ohm Uri, and..."  "The amazing Trevor," Trevor adds.  And I continue with "... and this is Brute."  This man interjects, "The Great Brute?  The one that has killed multiple minotaurs in a single battle..."  He continues with the stories, of killing and such, most seemed a bit too unbelievable.  I zone out.  Finally, he introduces himself as Daymond. And he agrees to help, if his friends come along: a wolf, a weasel, and a bird.

We pile back into the boat and Ohm Uri has an idea to rig the sail so it catches the wind, but will pull the boat into the wind.  Maybe Trevor is correct in knowing Ohm Uri is a magic user, for this does seem like magic: to make the boat move into the wind with the sail.  We all agree to let him try.  Brute pushes off and we move about in a huge half circle, heading right back to the beach!  Brute has enough of this.  We row.  The trip back takes longer. 

The weasel, one of the druid's friends, curls up around my leg.  I ask if I can touch the wolf, but Daymond advises against it.  The wolf routinely growls at Trevor.  Good girl, I'm thinking.  Maybe it senses that "cursed" ring. 

Under the cover of the Daymond's fog conjuration, we make it safely back to the lagoon where Boomtuck is waiting.  Wasting no time, the druid knows where to go.  We all make it up to a part of the cliff away from the town and the rock fall.  But the last of the trip is a shear 100 foot climb.  Only Daymond, Kull and Brute will climb it.  I turn to Brute and Trevor, and ask about the people down in the town.  They will get crushed too, I add.  Both assure me they would have been killed already.  I look at the amount of rocks being held back.  I did not protest this idea before, as I did not fully comprehend the magnitude.  The creatures in the town will be crushed beyond being recognized.  I again move to protest, but the druid is out of site and Brute is half way up.  I can only wait for the job to complete.

Then I hear Kull shouting and making a ruckus.  He is challenging the goblins and their king.  Then everyone must hear the rocks.  I get sick, knowing the deaths of possible humans may be near.  Deafening is not enough to describe it.  The ground shook underneath my feet, so much I am almost knocked down.  My heart felt the power and force released.  The dry dust rose so thick that I cannot see the top of the cliff.  I hear only a ringing sound.  Then, Instinct kicked in again as I see Kull lowered by rope through the dust, and as I thought Kull must be near death.  He is bleeding bad from his shoulder, his arm is limp.  I call the Light to aid him, and reach into the pool of energy I have and put my hands on his wounds.  Then I feel it like flood.  A strong pure surge of Divine goodness flows through me.  My eyes are shut, yet, I see beyond the stars.  I feel a bliss.  I open my eyes and see red blood seeping through my fingers, contrasting against the blueish light from the cure.  I sense under my hands, the mess of flesh and muscle form and join where it was torn and cut, veins and tissue reattach to make whole.  The worst of the wound heals. 

Instinct gives way back to Death being so close and great.  I melt out of myself.  I see dust hanging in the air, and I see myself kneeling over Kull, my hands and clothes stained with blood.  I see Brute say something, but cannot hear anything.  Then a darkness envelopes me, as I comprehend the magnitude of the destruction...

(Entry 43 will continue)