Sunday, August 25, 2013

Review: The Sword With No Name (movie)

Okay, so a little while back I was flipping through the now-heavily picked over offerings on Netflix in search of some light entertainment.  Now that we've finished the Heroes series (which we loved) and the Supernatural series (which we also loved) and an assortment of other films (a few of which we loved), there's not much left on Netflix we want to watch.  So I took a chance on a Korean historical/martial arts flick called The Sword With No Name in English.  I've watched quite a lot of Japanese and Chinese films of this type and I really enjoy them but Korean films are a new area for me.

It's based on the historical figure the Empress Myeongseong who comes across as a pretty cool person.  The film's overall plot seems fairly historical but they add in an extra character to make it a love story.  Just before her marriage to the king the young Min Ja-yeong meets a young man called Mu-myeong and he falls wildly in love with her.  The Mu-myeong character is ahistorical but provides the secret forbidden love story which the film is primarily about.

Although there are a couple of swordfighting scenes, a battle, and some assassination scenes it's mostly about the two young people.  My wife who was busy in the next room commented on hearing a very high proportion of sappy romantic music to clashing swords.  Many of the sword duels in the beginning of the film are done in a very dark, fantasy artsy style.  This gave the impression that the general tone of the film was to be dark and fantasy artsy, which is fine, but that wasn't actually the case.  So that was a bit confusing.  I really loved the cultural-historical aspects of the film.  Lots of great palace and city scenes, cool costumes, etc.

I thought it was okay, but not great.  So if you're in the mood for a martial arts/romantic/historical flick, check it out.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

The Yellow Dragonkin

Okay, so here is the third of five posts on the five types of dragonkin which I outlined in a previous post for my new campaign world under construction.  The first two posts sketched out the black (water) dragonkin and red (fire) dragonkin.  Each write-up will include a couple small additions to the original basic dragonkin race build and then some cultural-political notes.

Yellow Dragonkin (Earth)
Typical Alignment: Lawful Neutral
+5 to saves against petrification or poison

The yellow dragonkin were born amidst the mighty mountains at the center of the world and their memories dwell there still.  Alas, few of them today still live in their ancestral heartland.  Those still living there mostly inhabit and defend the temples and monasteries of the Divine Earth Dragon located on her sacred mountain at the very center of the world, Kularazhanura.  The rest live in smaller communities scattered far away amongst the surrounding human lands.  Those living far afield try to make a pilgrimage back to the sacred mountain at least once in their lives.

The tragedy of the earth dragons and their dragonkin was due to their central location, around the elemental pole of earth which was their home and their responsibility to defend.  The other dragons were fortunate to strategically have their backs to a wall at the edges of the world.  Thus they could focus their forces for attack or defense.  The yellows were beset literally on all sides during the early Drake Wars and the later War of Angels and Demons.  Eventually their leader, the mighty immortal dragon Emperor Hharuduun was cut down in battle by the archangel Mordirrian.  Broken in spirit they clung to their mountain fortresses in desperation for a time.  However the growing numbers and power of the surrounding humans and their patron deities gradually wore them down.  In a series of one-sided treaties they gradually handed political dominion over to humans in order to avoid extermination.  Most became mercenaries and hired on as heavy infantry, particularly to the Empire of the Dusk to the west.  As the years went on they were joined by family members and formed settled communities.

The yellow dragonkin are particularly famous for their monasteries where masters teach martial arts to generation after generation of monks.  The earth element which infuses them gives them patience and an enduring spirit.  Thus the discipline and meditation of the way of the monk comes quite naturally to them.  The large fortified monasteries, filled with monks hardened of body and focused of mind, defend the sacred mountain and lend support to communities all throughout the world.

Like all dragonkin cultures the yellows worship the Divine Earth Dragon which birthed their particular race.  Also prevalent is a reverence for the dead Emperor Hharuduun, sometimes including worship as a demi-god.  The earth dragonkin believe that his soul returned to the Divine Earth Dragon and will be reborn again as a mighty hero to restore to them the glories of ancient times.

By the same token the archangel Mordirrian is a cultural villain.  The yellows hate him, any who follow him, and all the angel deities associated with him.  This has often led outsiders to consider the earth dragonkin to be followers of evil.  And indeed there are enough historical cases of the yellows allying with the demon lands against their common enemy to give credence to this belief.

Friday, August 23, 2013

The Aardkin (a player race for Pathfinder)

Okay, so I was perusing the message boards over at Paizo, purveyors of the most excellent Pathfinder rules and other products, and noted a posting for a 3rd party product about a player race called the Aardvolk.  I was immediately excited.  Finally, someone had put together a serious work on an aardvark-based humanoid race!  But wait, the cover just had some werewolf looking thing on it.  Where were the aardvarks?  Well, it turned out to be a cruel hoax.  It didn't actually have anything to do with aardvarks at all.

Choking back my tears of rage and frustration I swore that never again would the Pathfinder community have to struggle on through the darkness without an aardvark-based racial option for their characters.  I turned immediately to the the tome of scholarly wisdom on the subject, the Advanced Race Guide.  There indeed were the incantations and rituals I needed to bring my creation to life.  And so I give you...the Aardkin!

Ulalume_by_bloodhound_omega (


- Standard Points (10 RP)

Ability Score Modifiers:
Standard (0 RP): Members of this race gain a +2 bonus to one physical ability score, a +2 bonus to one mental ability score, and a –2 penalty to any other ability score.
+2 Constitution
+2 Wisdom
-2 Intellligence

Racial Traits:
Linguist (1 RP): Members of this race start with Common plus their racial language (if any). Furthermore, members of this race with high Intelligence scores can learn any languages they want (except Druidic and other secret languages).

Burrow (3 RP): Prerequisite: Normal speed; Benefit: Members of this race gain a burrow speed of 20 feet. Special: This trait can be taken twice. The second time it is taken, the burrow speed increases to 30 feet.

Claws (2 RP): Prerequisites: None; Benefit: Members of this race receive two claw attacks. These are primary natural attacks. The damage is based on the creature’s size (Bestiary 302).

Natural Armor (2 RP): Prerequisites: None; Benefit: Members of this race gain a +1 natural armor bonus to their Armor Class.

Healthy (2 RP): Prerequisite: The race has at least a +2 racial bonus to Constitution; Benefit: Members of this race gain a +4 bonus on Fortitude saves

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Chronicles of the Amazing Trevor: Chapter Three

With three solid sessions under our belt the group is starting to get the hang of this whole Castles & Crusades thing.  Our latest session was filled with far more violence than certain party members (ahem) would generally prefer.  But let me hand you over to my character, The Amazing Trevor, for a bit of explication...

I was dragged out of bed, almost literally so, at an ungodly hour the following morning.  My midnight encounter with the lovely Katherine--who I must keep remembering to call Keith as per her wishes--still drifted through my mind like a fragrance.  My assorted companions were determined to pursue the ridiculous quest to rescue orphans and fight goblins despite the obvious risk to life and limb with no promise of gain whatsoever.  And so it was that I found myself awake, out of bed, and fully dressed well before noon despite the presence of a delightful feather bed located in a reasonably impressive mansion with a servant on call.  I consoled myself with a brief exploration of the manse's wine inventory.  I had, after all, rescued and delivered the young heir Broderick to the ancestral home and thus was quite entitled to at least a bottle or two of the vintner's handiwork.

Now you are probably wondering why I would leave behind the aforementioned mansion equipped as it was with wines, antiques, beds, and a servant.  Why indeed?  The thought of settling in and taking young Broderick under my wing was indeed enticing.  And particularly when the alternative was trudging about the endless peasant-infested mud-puddle commonly referred to as "the countryside".  The main problem was that the ruling council had been aware of the death of my previous prospective employer, Broderick's father, even before we'd reached Adan with the news.  That suggested that we were indeed involved in something which we should very much avoid.  And the council had also taken the other family members away and sealed up the mansion.  Thus to be discovered in the creaky old pile would entail fleeing to the countryside anyway.

Having selected both a red and a white of promising lineage I rejoined the company.  We said our goodbyes to the scruffy young heir and set off.  As repairs to the broken wheel of my carriage were not possible, not to mention cleaning and fumigation after having carried a load of runny-nosed road urchins, we perforce must ride.  With six of us and only the four carriage horses I ended up on Morris my faithful donkey again.  He's quite the trouper but riding him comes with a side-serving of public humiliation which I am determined to eliminate from my social diet.  I was determined to exchange him for more suitable transport at the first opportunity.

On our way across the city, the greasy little gnome who had posed as one of the orphan children had the gall to present himself and ask "Keith" about joining the Church of Light--and joining our so-called adventure to boot.  His agenda was quite transparent, particularly in regards to "Keith", and I put him off immediately.  "I'm afraid it's quite out of the question old chap.  It's far too dangerous, you see."  To my great relief the mention of danger combined with my resolute stance on the question sent him packing.

Departing Adan, glorious bastion of civilization, we retraced our path to the depressingly rustic traveler's way station which a few days earlier I was happy I would never need to see again.  Upon entering the taproom we were accosted by some drunken sod with breath that would fell an ogre.  He rambled on about strange happenings in the area and made a pathetic attempt to cadge a free lunch off of us with the promise of useful news in return.  Naturally we ignored his amateurish ploy.  Soon after we discovered that the foul stench on his breath was due to some ghastly beverage he was swilling.  I made a mental note not to order any of the house ales.  Kull later helpfully slipped outside with the offending tankard and long-armed it several fields away.

We moved on, continuing along the road in the direction of that farcical attempt at civilization called Turner's Luck, and eventually camped for the night at a typically nondescript bit of scenery.  Some time during the night a dream came upon me.  It involved me being in a cave of gold, then tossing a sack into a river which contained our gnome.  I awoke with a start and was quite taken aback to find the gnome perched in a tree staring wide-eyed at me like a madman.  Unblinking and unmoving, his gaze was unnerving.

On the morn we continued our wearying trudge towards Turner's Luck and the crossroad where we could turn north on the road which most likely would lead to our untimely demises.  We encountered assorted rural types in various states of uncleanliness.  Several regaled us of tales of a band of knights in shining armor who had defended Turner's Luck just recently from a small army of ogres.  Apparently our exploits of a few days before had already grown into local legend.

Later in the afternoon our little sojourn took a jarring turn for the worst.  We espied a small band of armed travelers coming our way escorting a cart.  The had the general look of ruffians about them (a look with which I am all too acquainted) and the cart had a tarpaulin covering the contents.  As we drew nearer the gnome whispered that he recognized one particularly evil-looking specimen with a long scar across his face and ruined eye.  The little chap assured us he'd seen the scar-face commit murders.  Then, with a shock, I also recognized a face in the group.  A face I'd hoped never to see again.  The bald pate and heavy set of his frame was unmistakable--we had best avoid this one as well.

I edged Morris to the side as a precaution as our two groups began to pass.  The contents of the wagon were impossible to identify beyond a metallic jingling but the demeanor of the escorts, seven men and a woman festooned with daggers, was hard as a rock.  Keith hailed them with a friendly query on whence they'd come.  Before an exchange could develop Kull, to my horror, glanced into the cart and exclaimed "Look at pretty gold".  The desperadoes immediately drew weapons and we were in for it.

Naturally, I had prepared mentally for just such an eventually and deftly cast the old colorspray in a rather spectacular fashion:

[Just found this great pic of Autolycus on the net; if it's copyrighted or something let me know and I'll take it down.]
Two of the unsophisticated louts succumbed immediately to the intricacies of the arcane.  The huge odd-fellow Kull seized one of our opponents and slammed him bodily down into a crumpled heap.  Brute swung his ax in a might arc and cut another down with a single brutal chop.  Quite impressive the two of them, if I say so myself, albeit quite unsettling as well.  The gnome, clearly following my lead, also used a bit of the old colorspray to abruptly provide another two with a dirt nap.  Onri the fisherman, moving with surprising competence for one of his profession, wrapped one in a crushing grapple.  The bandit woman, clearly more intelligent than her companions, calculated the rapidly reduced odds and spurred her horse in the direction of the nearest horizon.  That left only one, alas also the largest and ugliest of the lot.  He was invited to surrender but would have none of it.  Kull settled the matter by swiftly and decisively by slamming him into the ground as well.  The panicked look on his face as he hurtled earthwards was actually quite amusing.

As I surveyed the battlefield with great relief, I spotted the gnome already in the cart and pocketing something.  Cheeky blighter!  I had already taken one belt pouch, being quite entitled to certain proceeds from the two I personally felled with my arcane expertise, but the little weasel was clearly determined to take his share of the cart off the top.  I was not alone in my timely observance and we convinced him to cease and desist, at least while there was someone still watching him.

The tarp was thrown back and the contents of the rough cart were revealed as an assortment of valuables.  There were items of gold, silver, and copper as well as a painting and numerous other household items.  Clearly this was not the stock of a company of traveling merchants.  I'd seen smaller similar piles presented to fences for disposal.  This was obviously the accumulated results of numerous burglaries and robberies.  We were dismayed to see a monstrously tacky painting of an elephant.  We had last had the misfortune to view it in the inn at Turner's Luck and there could not possibly be more than one such ghastly bit of paintwork.  Apparently the inn and possibly the rest of the rude little place had been ransacked.

As I took the other of my well-earned pouches of round clinky spendables a discussion ensued amongst my traveling companions as the the fate of the defeated.  Brute, however,  had already taken the matter in hand and begun sensibly dispatching the ruffians.  Soon there was only one of them left.  I was mildly surprised to find Keith and Omri insisting that he be handed over for some sort of trial or something.  As the natural leader of our little band I was called upon for a ruling as to his fate.  A few references to the two types recognized by the gnome and myself and the cart full of evidence, particularly the painting, was all it took to decide the case.  The final bandit was put down like a rabid mutt.  Keith called upon the Light and healed our injured persons, proof that it was indeed good to have a Shiny amongst us.

We returned to the way station with the cart and horses.  A bit of bargaining and we got over 60 lovely golden disks for the pile of loot.  Meanwhile, the gnome got himself literally tossed into the street for attempting to lift a purse which didn't belong to him yet.  I finally sent my faithful Morris on to a new owner and claimed one of our new horses.  Kull took pains to purchase a length of decent quality cloth with which to finally gird his considerable nether parts, which was a pleasant surprise to us all.

We pushed on again and eventually camped for the night.  The gnome took up his watchpost in the cart, eyes staring wide and unblinking into the darkness.  I had never heard of gnomes having such an ability but it certainly made him the perfect sentry.  I had barely laid my head down, or so it seemed, when I was jolted awake by a massive roar from Kull.  At first I thought perhaps he had had enough of the gnome staring at him like that but alas danger was upon us.  A pack of rangy wolves had entered our camp in search of prey.  Kull rushed at them but tripped on Brute.  Taking my cue from the canine nature of our opponents I cast illusionary hounds, which had always been a favorite at the old carnival.  Their ferocious appearance sent three of the rude canis lupus fleeing into the night.

Onri dashed up, knocked one wolf aside and again displayed remarkable skill in grappling another which was menacing the downed Kull.  Kull injured one with a blow of his axe and Brute brought one down with a single shot from his bow.  Now low on arcane capacity I resorted to one of my precious hand-crafted darts.  Happily I scored a solid hit.  Meanwhile the gnome, who had sat impressively still and unblinking through this entire sequence of affairs, got a wolf tail wagged across his face and screamed like a banshee.  Reacting suddenly he yanked on the tail and got an angry set of fangs in his face instead.  Keith waded into the fight, swinging at this wolf and that.  Onri put a brutal-looking crushing hold on his wolf and the two struggled mightily, fangs versus muscle.  Kull cut one furry leg off while Brute downed another with his bow.  For a hulking sort he really seems to have a deft touch with the old stick-and-string.  The gnome sensibly dealt with his attacker by becoming invisible.

The battle continued with bow, axe, muscle, fang, and dart until I decided that it was time to really put on a show for my furry new audience.  A few well-practiced movements later and a very nice dragon image manifested about me.  Unfortunately, in the excitement I had neglected to inform my companions of my plan.  The gout of imaginary flame from my new shape burned one of the wolves but then Brute loosed one of his deadly arrows at the sudden draconic menace.  Luckily the shot went into one of the false hind legs rather than into me.

A bit more combat, including a particularly intense struggle for Onri to render his opponent unconscious, finally saw the end of the pack.  Onri had some very unpleasant wounds but he bore them with little regret.  Apparently he's quite unwilling to kill if he can avoid it--a very agreeable trait in a traveling companion.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

One Step Closer to 3D...(printing, that is)

Okay, so Makerbot has an offer where you can send away for a sample part made with one of their 3D printers.  Mine arrived today in an unmarked mystery package and it's better than I was expecting.  I got a nut and bolt crated by aubenc, who has quite a few items on  The nut and bolt were made with PLA filament, on a Makerbot Replicator 2 Desktop 3D Printer, with a resolution of 250 microns.  Together the parts are about 20mm by 25mm.  The nice little specs card which came with the part says it took 22 minutes to make and cost approximately US $0.19 in materials.  The finish was quite good, not shiny-smooth, but more of a satin finish look.

My sample next to a "Juliette, Female Sorceress" from Reaper Miniatures

My sample next to a "Juliette, Female Sorceress" from Reaper Miniatures (closer)

Now, my buddies and I are looking to chip in on a machine because 3D printing is totally cool and to make gaming minis and stuff (and whatever else we feel like).  My two main concerns are the finish/resolution and the cost per item.  Based on the item I got today I consider the finish to be acceptable for a home-printed gaming miniature.  However, that's the finish from a Replicator 2, which is $2,200 on the Makerbot site; our crew is looking at more of an entry-level hobbyist kit costing around $700.  Cost-wise I estimate a 28mm size "medium humanoid" figure would take roughly the same amount of material or possibly a bit more, so maybe $0.20 to $0.30 each.  That's excellent.

So, excuse me while I dash off an email to my prospective partners...

Thursday, August 15, 2013

RPG Blog Carnival August 2013: Campaign Creation

Okay, so I haven't done one of these RPG blog carnivals since about May.  That's because the next theme was one I wasn't into and then I sort of lost track of where they all went.  But anyway, this month's is over at Evil Machinations.  There are actually a couple interwoven topics for this month but I'd like to lay out the basic method I now use for campaign creation.

I first started roleplay gaming back in 1978, so the entire hobby was so new that everyone was new to it.  Now, 30+ years later, I have developed a general approach to campaigns.  It consists of three parts, which I call "plot streams", "class bases", and "tinkertoys".

The plot streams are the main plot lines running through the campaign.  These are not set strings of events which the characters march through in railroad style. Rather, they are dynamic sets of circumstances with lives of their own which the characters will come in contact at or near the beginning of the campaign.  I usually like to have three of them running simultaneously.  One plot stream is too predictable and limits player agency.  More than three and a certain overload sets in; it's hard for me or the players to keep track of what all is going on.

Now usually I like to have one or two main streams and then one or two minor streams.  The major streams are the ones that eventually lead to some sort of major consequences for the world if the heroes fail.  The minor ones have more regional/national/metropolitan level significance. In addition, minor ones will usually have some point of intersection with a minor one.  That keeps the players guessing a bit and allows for the minor to merge with the major or perhaps grow into a major one later.  Any stream can have side branches which terminate somewhere and there is always room for individual small side adventures.  Side adventures may be impromptu ones thrown together on the fly at the table or a small scenario written ahead of time.  I like to use the small scenario type side adventures to showcase campaign world background themes.

I design a major plot stream by starting at the end.  What will happen if this stream travels to its conclusion?  The dragons re-establish dominion or demons invade or whatever.  Then I come up with the main personalities driving the stream.  It may be an individual or a group (more on this later).  Each one of them needs personal motives but there can also be larger environmental effects moving things along.  But to start play in the campaign there has to be a small, local manifestation of the major stream which will draw the players in.  That is where I really go to work with detailing to lay out the who, what, where, when, and why of the local event.  The local event must have at least one but preferably two or three leads for the players to follow up.

As the players finish encounters in a stream I am constantly re-shaping what comes next based on what happened in the last encounter.  It's a dynamic process.  Anytime the characters interfere with the stream, the groups and individuals driving it will react.  And this is also where character backgrounds and motivations get woven into the campaign as it progresses.

The characters also start with relationships which I call "class bases".  I usually run fantasy RPGs and prefer class-based systems.  So for each character I establish a relationship based on the character's class.  Clerics get some training from someone and will have a local shrine/temple.  Rogues will have some types they used to hang out with or a guild.  Wizards have a master they apprenticed with or an academy they attended.  These bases provide NPC contacts for information and stream leads, sources of equipment and cash, allies or hirelings, people and places who need protecting, etc.  I generally prefer to have the base be an organization/group even if it's just a small one.  Organizations will contain their own strong personalities, have motives, internal conflicts and alliances, external conflicts and alliances, buildings, and such.  And all of that can be designed simply by starting with the character class chosen by each player.

Finally there are the "tinkertoys".  For each of the major plot streams I like to have several main personalities whose motivations and interactions drive the stream.  I start with one, link it to another, then link them to one or to others and so on.  For instance, person A is in love with B, but B is in a relationship with C, thus A wants C out of the way.  D is also pursuing B and thus also wants C out of the way, and thus has allied with A to eliminate C (but has not revealed to C any feelings for B).  And each of those persons can have family members, fellow guild members, etc. to add detail and complications.

So once I establish the major and minor plot streams, build the tinkertoy for each, and design the bases for each character all we need to do is schedule the first session and we're off.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Pony-induced Paralysis!

Okay, so the Ponies for Pathfinder Setting Book kickstarter project continues to gallop along.  The little project is now up to $10,000.  They're continuously adding stretch goals, the latest being the zebra and a nice map.  No grass growing under their hooves!  One thing which I am particularly pleased to see is that they are soliciting a lot of input from the backers via online polls.  For me one thing which makes a kickstarter project attractive is the amount of input solicited from backers.  This project is also very good so far at keeping us backers informed with frequent updates (as is the 6d6 kickstarter which I'm also backing, BTW).  And one of the latest items which they are polling is what the final name should be.  It's now down to either Ponyfinder or Heroes & Hooves.  Arrgh, I just can't decide!  Ponyfinder ties it in very nicely with it being a Pathfinder oriented publication.  However they recently added D&D 4E stat blocks as one of the stretch goals (already met), and so Heroes & Hooves takes the name to a more general vibe as D&Ding with ponies.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Chronicles of the Amazing Trevor: Chapter Two

Okay, so we recently gathered again around the familiar dining table for another convivial session of Castles & Crusades.  The evening saw many a strange event.  As is now traditional I will yield the floor to The Amazing Trevor to continue the narrative....

So, as I was saying, my plans for a life of leisure under an appreciative (and wealthy) patron died rather horribly along with my prospective noble gentleman in the dusty mill of the rustic armpit called Turner's Luck.  I quickly devised a new plan, however, as one must be flexible in dealing with life's little surprises.  The dead gentleman's bastard son, Broderick, was clearly in need of a firm hand to guide him towards his new destiny (and inheritance) in the big city and I had just the man for the job.

Young Broderick looked to be the perfect protege, naive and yet conniving at the same time.  His natural grasp of situational advantages and budding arcane talents could be nurtured into something worthwhile over time, although his social graces were more akin to something one might scrape off the bottom of one's shoe.  His father had provided support to him growing up but apparently much in the same manner as one would support a favorite dog.  I started to feel a twinge of sympathy for the young fellow until I remembered that my own upbringing had consisted primarily of back alleys and beatings.

We spent the night at the inn with accommodations provided gratis by the proprietor in thanks for preventing the complete destruction of his already ramshackle establishment.  In addition to our earlier efforts, the larger of the odd-fellows had "repaired" the hole in the inn's wall using an enormous boulder he'd found outside somewhere.  The boulder did nothing for the ambiance of the place but if the only horse you've got is a dead one you might as well go ahead and flog it anyway.

Our "rooms" upstairs were merely sections of a larger room pathetically divided into sections with sheets or blankets.  The gnome, who provided us the the obviously false name of Boomtock Fizzlebang, kept waking us up all night with illusions of clinky piles of gold swirling about his head created by his dreams.  Not that I have anything against lovely clinky piles of gold.  Quite the opposite, in fact.  And if we do ever find out his real name there might be a reward attached to it.  I shall have to keep an eye out for Wanted posters.

We arose to depart at a reasonable hour the next morning and I convinced my assorted companions that we absolutely must take the deliciously posh coach which essentially now belonged to young Broderick as next-of-kin to the now-deceased councilman.  To my chagrin I found that I alone amongst them was qualified to drive it, based on some experiences in my youth handling the wagons of the traveling carnival.  I took the driver's seat with as much grace as I could muster and consoled myself that although coach driving was much below my desired station in life it certainly was superior to walking in the mud.

Our progress down the road to the city of Adan was much noted by those we passed.  I drove the coach, accompanied on the bench at times by young Broderick. The two odd-fellows, appropriately named Kull and Brute, strode along on either side in impressive fashion with their long legs easily matching the speed of the carriage.  Inside were the gnome, the fisherman "Onri", the puzzlingly androgynous cleric who went by the name of Keith, and Broderick when he was not up top with me.  I was still rather confused as to why my companions wanted to include the fisherman amongst our number but on a road trip larger numbers can help forestall attack.

We had not been long on the road when we came up on a group of small children also headed in the direction of Adan.  There were about twenty and all quite young and quite grubby.  Clearly they had been stationed here to hit up gullible travelers for spare coinage while maneuvering for the occasional unguarded purse.  I tried warning the others not to fall for it, but when a tiny little girl offered her small stuffed bear to the massive Kull further discussion became moot.  A couple of our motley crew went back to the inn for food and the gnome "lit" a fire with a  reasonably competent illusion to keep people amused.  Eventually the children were fed and watered.  Then the lot of them were actually allowed to board my lovely new coach over my objections as to the obvious thick layer of grime about their persons.  I also noticed that one of the children was actually an adult gnome (or dwarf, they're had to tell apart).

The children also spun a story about an older girl called Merity who had been taking them all to safety after goblin attacks up north.  She and a number of other children were allegedly missing after several attacks by wolves on the road.  The rubes in the party fell for it hook, line, and sinker.  I tried to point out that this was an obvious ploy to lure us into some lonely ambush spot but the others showed an unhealthy keenness to get cut to pieces by hordes of marauding goblins in search of her.  The gnome also came up with some fantastical tale of "goblin gold", no doubt kept in a pot at the end of a rainbow somewhere, and was eager to be off in search of it.  Once again I sensed something of a kindred soul in regards to the appeal of the noble yellow metal--but also a competitor who might eventually have to be accidentally left behind tied in a sack somewhere.

Not long afterward we came to a rest station for travelers at a river.  A vendor of arms and armor had set up his stall there, selling wares from a far away land called "Pongo".  He had with him a massively built bodyguard.  Having no need of armor or weapons of any kind I took the horses for water.  It wouldn't do to have my fine new dobbins collapse from lack of simple care.  Later two other travelers bought Pongo swords from the merchant which snapped off at the hilt after only a few practice parries.  I made a mental note to avoid anything with the word Pongo associated with it.

The bodyguard entered into an arm wrestling contest with the largest of our odd-fellows, the one named Kull.  Onri seemed to think something was amiss and I had seen enough rigged carnival games to look askance at the bodyguard's eagerness against our massive lad.  And indeed the first bout went quite quickly to the shorter but thick-chested merchant's employee. However our fellow regained his composure and prevailed in the following two bouts.  I magnanimously gave half my wager winnings to our triumphant champion.  Hopefully he'll invest it in a pair of proper undergarments in the near future.

While we were finishing up our activities at the way station, Keith set about attempting to convert some of the locals to his religious persuasions.  One actually took him up on it, no doubt due to the paucity of other entertainment in the vicinity.  The rest of the locals, however, made themselves scarce with alacrity.

We set off again for Adan and came upon a decidedly non-descript fellow coming from there.  He noted that there was an orphanage there which could take the flea-bitten little brats off our hands.  (Gods only know how I'll get the fleas, lice, and stains out of the upholstery, but I digress.)  He assured us that the place was known for training its charges for useful employment, such as cleaning the city sewers.  To my surprise Kull asked the man whether there were any temples in Adan.  Our interlocutor noted that there were many, including ones to Light, Vice, and Law & Order.

Our journey to Adan was uneventful and when we arrived the city was wreathed in a fog, the walls and spires emerging romantically from the mist.  Ah the city, a place of a thousand civilized delights and a thousand more opportunities for entrepreneurship!  We obtained a visitor's day-pass at the gate and were warned that wares from Pongo were not allowed into the city.   That was rather awkward news because on our journey we had discovered that the coach was previously repaired using a wheel of Pongolean manufacture.  But the stout fellows defending the grand portal to civilization were clearly too busy for us to bother them with such mundane information at that particular juncture.

We crossed through the main market on the way to the Temple of Light which Keith was curiously eager to visit.  Now if it was the Temple of Vice I might be persuaded by one (or more) of the Joy Priestesses to participate in a bit of goddess worship.  As we were passing through the multitude of stalls in the marketplace Kull almost became overwhelmed with the magnificence of it all.  Ah yes, I remember my first trip to the markets and my head did indeed spin as well with the vast array of wares displayed there.  It has that effect on many people.  His companion seemed most disturbed by the episode, almost as though he feared Kull might go berserk or something.  Clearly this was his first time in a metropolis as well.

At the Temple of Light Keith was recognized by the clerics as a co-religionist.  Well at least we were now clear on his denominational affiliation.  He spent a bit of time with them before we moved on to deliver young Broderick to his family's mansion.  In particular I could now rest assured that he was not with the Temple of Law & Order and all the awkwardness that might entail later.  The "L&Os" are a desperately stuffy lot as a rule.  Whenever they're in the vicinity it's best to keep a bag of necessaries ready in case one must make a quick exit out a back window.  Besides, if the group persisted with their odd obsession to visit goblin country it would indeed be convenient to have a "Shiny" from the Temple of Light along.  The carnival had always been careful to treat any Shiny with extra hospitality in case anyone needed a curse removed some day or something.

Our arrival at the mansion of the young heir was, alas, far less felicitous.  In fact the place was completely shuttered and bereft of anything even remotely resembling joy.  A neighbor told us the family and staff had been taken somewhere and the house closed by order of the council.  And apparently the council was already aware of the death of their former colleague Remi Natall even prior to our arrival.  This was shocking news.  Was there really no hope of a fine meal, a vintage bottle or two, and a pouch of round, clinky spendables offered in gratitude?  We decided that we must effect entry and look for some clue as to what was happening.  (Also, there might be some fine vintages left in the cellar in need of a good sampling.)  Luckily there was actually one servant left, a mute named Kevin.  He let us in just as the cheap Pongolean wheel on the coach collapsed.

Realizing that we would need at least another day here (and longer if the wine held out) a couple of us dashed back to the gate to get an additional ridiculous day-pass.  On the way there was a hue and cry for some petty thief (obviously an amateur) and the gnome "child" suddenly ran up.  His pathetic lack of professionalism was embarrassing even from a distance.    He desperately begged us to help hide him but I was having none of it.  For a moment I was worried he might soil one of my shoes with some attempted groveling but he made himself scarce instead.

We repaired the wheel, stabled the horses and Kull, and settled in for the night. The house was quite bare of decent sustenance and I'd rather not even mention dinner.  However the house was still fully furnished.  The style was rather nouveau riche with a large number of portraits of relatives--including the recently deceased Remi himself.  Not long after we had turned in an oddly rhythmic squeaking could be heard coming from the gnome's room.  At first some disturbing images came to mind but I decided to put it all down to the little odd-job probably jumping up and down on the bed.  It's just the sort of thing you'd expect from one of the wonky little half-pints.

I dozed off but was awakened by a strange premonition.  I had a vision of Remi Natall in his (rather mediocre) portrait pointing at something which I could not quite make out, possibly a blank square on a wall where a painting had previously been hung. The urge to search something out in the house came over me.  Then I remembered the ghost of the mother of young Broderick who'd been burned as a witch.  An ancient pile of lumber like this one could well have collected any number of haunts over the years.  It might also have, I reasoned, any number of secret rooms and passages where the family could hide treasure.  I conjured up a bit of light and cautiously set off in discovery.

Several halls, staircases, and galleries full of dusty, moderately priced antiques later I had found nothing.  But then suddenly a pale spectre came down a hallway towards me.  It was a young woman in a long white nightgown.  She was a vision of loveliness but I feared she might be a spirit.  But the closer she got the more she appeared to be real but walking in a trance.  And she looked strangely familiar: suddenly her features resolved into the face of "Keith" the cleric.  Stunned and intrigued I followed her through the house to the master bedroom--where the gnome had chosen to stay the night.  And indeed the little pipsqueak was in there, oddly entangled in the bed hangings.  I quite honestly didn't want to know how he had gotten there.  He was asleep but making swimming motions and grinning outrageously.  The dream-illusions about his head indicated rivers of gold.

The young woman opened a secret door in the wall which led into a hexagonal room.  Inside she sat before a small mirror and began a magic ritual.  Fearing another summoning of the spirit of Broderick's deceased mother I intervened.  "Keith" awakened and looked about confused.  I explained the circumstances leading up to the situation.  Then she swore me to silence about her deception.  Now, normally for me a promise is more a provisional statement reflecting my current attitude.  But seeing her like that, lovely and vulnerable in a secret place, made this particular promise feel more real than I wanted to admit.

Perhaps a promise really is a promise...

[Special thanks to our DM Kaiser for suggesting Bruce Campbell's Autolycus character in the Xena: Warrior Princess series as a great avatar for The Amazing Trevor.]

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The Souls of Children

Okay, so for my new campaign world I've been mulling over the idea that all living creatures have souls and that because the various types of creatures were created by different deities under different circumstances there are different types or "flavors" of souls.  In addition I've been considering that when a new creature is created, in a womb, egg, vat, whatever, then at the moment of the "quickening" a soul would come and inhabit it.  I'm also mulling over whether souls reincarnate, come fresh from a source each time, or some combination of the two.  And if souls come with their already alignment "baked in", then most intelligent creatures would prefer not to have their child become the abode of an Evil soul (or at least not have it be common knowledge).  So if souls came with pre-determined alignments and people knew it, then that knowledge would influence their behavior.

Wealthy families could afford to have magics (divine or arcane) around the mother-to-be to ward off any evil presence.  Thus, logically, over time the wealthy would tend to mostly have Good or Neutral souls.  The poor, however, would be let open to whatever fate had in store for them--or actually, since Evil souls are being deflected from the wealthy, there logically could be a higher percentage of Evil souls coming to them.  Thus the wealthy classes would have a factual basis (or additional excuse) to consider themselves intrinsically fit to rule over the lower classes.  Naturally, parents unable to provide protection would be concerned about the alignment of their child, possibly even while it was still in the womb (or egg or whatever).  Since paladins, and some others can detect the presence of Evil there would be a certain demand for their services.

And in some places this determination process would even be mandatory.  A Lawful Neutral nation might simply have all Evil offspring killed at birth of avoid future problems.  A Lawful Good nation might establish protected pregnancy places, probably in temples or monasteries, where mothers could stay full time during their pregnancy.  Or the nation  might round up the Evil-souled children and have them brought up in royal orphanages where every attempt to instill Good behavior would be made.  After they were old enough to leave the orphanage they might even remain wards of the state for life, working and living under constant supervision in case their inner nature came to the fore.  Both of these socio-political scenarios have lots of interesting consequences which make for gritty story-telling and building intense character backgrounds.  And if the players' characters become parents themselves at some point then there's really dramatic tension in the offing.

A Chaotic society, however, might forbid any interference in the process of the embedding of the soul.  Or all decisions might be left up to the conscience of individual parents.  Or Evil newborns could be left exposed in the wilderness (or set adrift, as in the biblical story of Moses) to let fate take its course.  Or upon reaching the age of maturity people would undergo a determination ritual.  Persons of confirmed Evil disposition could be given certain supplies, equipment, and coin and sent out into exile to face whatever the gods had in store for them. Again, all of these make for good story drama and character design.

Now, I'm sure some people will complain about how these types of treatment would violate people's human rights, etc.  Well, the idea of human rights is a modern one and pre-modern/traditional societies don't really have those modern types of legal rights.  Those societies usually draw clear lines of what's allowed and what isn't and that's that.  Here are some examples from the "Blue Laws" of the Colony of Connecticut in the 1650's:
  1. No food or lodging shall be afforded to a Quaker, Adamite, or other Heretic.
  2. If any person turns Quaker, he shall be banished, and not suffered to return but upon pain of death.
  3. No Priest shall abide in this Dominion: he shall be banished, and suffer death on his return. Priests may be seized by any one without a warrant. [I believe they are referring to Catholic priests here.]
  4. When it appears that an accused has confederates, and he refuses to discover them, he may be racked.
  5. A debtor in prison, swearing he has no estate, shall be let out and sold, to make satisfaction.
  6. Every male shall have his hair cut round according to a cap. 
  7. A drunkard shall have a master appointed by the selectmen, who are to debar him from the liberty of buying and selling.
  8. No one shall run on the Sabbath day, or walk in his garden or elsewhere, except reverently to and from meeting.
As some (or all) of the above is likely to be very controversial for some readers, please keep in mind that it's all about taking the D&D game concept of alignments, banging it up against the fantasy campaign world ideas I'm working out, and thinking about what the possible consequences are.  I'm also looking to include concepts in the game world which will make for good story drama and character backgrounds.  These are not my personal views about real people here in the real world.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

So Why Haven't They Taken Over The World Then?

Okay, so Nick Wright over at Lawful Indifferent has an interesting new series of posts about D&D 4th Edition.  Well, maybe not so much a series of posts but more a series of punches in the face.  Now to be fair I've only read through the rules and played a couple of introductory games of 4E so I'm not sure whether I'd enjoy an actual full campaign or not.  However from what I know I really do have to agree with pretty much all of Nick's points.

But one of his more general comments got me thinking.

""But that doesn't jive with the fiction in 4th edition world, because monsters range from levels 1-30, inclusively. And so do heroes. And so you have a conundrum. Why haven't the level 26 Yuan-Ti razed all the towns in the world yet? Why hasn't the level 19 Red Arcanian reduced half the world to ash yet? What is stopping them?  There are only three real explanations; either they don't want to, they already have, or they can't."

This is one of the core design questions with D&D/Pathfinder: why haven't the high level baddies, particularly when there are entire races of high level baddies, already taken over?  This plays into campaign world design by the DM.  As DM if you want to have the high level evils in your game then you really have to provide answers.

But then I went over to the Pathfinder SRD site to check out what monsters there are at higher levels, say 15+ that game.  The vast majority of the creatures listed are either dragons, giants, golems, or extra-planar creatures, such as demons.  It's not until you get down to around level 9 that more "normal" creatures begin to show up in significant numbers.

So most of those creatures are in other dimensions.  Thus you can leave them out of the picture until the PCs are ready for them.  Then either the plot takes them to another dimension or you come up with a plot device as to why they suddenly now have some sort of major access to the prime material plane.  Dragons are not from other dimensions (although they could be) but the high level ones are very old and thus there should only be a couple of them.

Also, the evil high level creatures are mostly balanced out by the existence of good high level creatures.  So a demon invasion could spark a counter-invasion by corresponding divine types.  And for every ancient evil dragon there is an ancient good dragon.

Nick also notes that one possibility is that they don't want to.  Creatures in other dimensions may be only dimly aware or totally unaware of what is happening on other planes.  Plus the evil types are usually so busy plotting against each other that the effort of invading another plane could prove a fatal distraction.  There would have to be something of great value there to make the diversion of resources worth the risk.  Dragons, too, are probably so busy with plotting and politics within their own societies that they don't have time to waste on crappy little towns.

But then there's the idea that the high level baddies already have taken over.  Obviously if they're currently in control of the entire world then a party of beginning characters doesn't stand much of a chance.  Or you could have it that they did ravage the world earlier then most of them departed when there was nothing significant left to ravage.  That sets up an interesting post-apocalyptic world setting, with the constant worry that the evil will return one day (like when the characters get to a high enough level).

 However you could also have the baddies in control of just portions of the world.  This is essentially the approach I'm taking with my new campaign world.  The dragons control areas near the five poles of elemental power which the original divine guardian dragons were created to protect; but my dragons are naturally neutral due to their elemental origins so they don't just kill everyone in sight for fun.  Pantheons of evil deities control several regions of the world and life there is grim.  But pantheons of good deities control other regions and so there is hope.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Review: The Ogress of Anubis

Okay, so I'm not really into the OSR, which this adventure module is for, but I am a huge ancient Egypt fanboy.  So naturally I have to check out any gaming anything with Anubis in the name anywhere.  Darn you clever game designer type persons for exploiting my weakness!  The Ogress of Anubis is by Richard J. LeBlanc, Jr. and published by New Big Dragon Games Unlimited.  It is for use with 0e/1e/BX editions of Dungeons & Dragons and compatible retro-clones.

The adventure has a pretty straightforward plot (no spoilers here) involving a ruthlessly ambitious priestess, disappearing children, and a temple dungeon.  I was pleased to see that the entire adventure has lots of ancient Egypt bits throughout, particularly in the authentic design of the temple and in the creatures encountered.  The deities in the module are drawn from ancient Egypt, which might be awkward to work with if your campaign doesn't include any of them.  This adventure would also be useful in a game set in the ancient Egypt clone country of Osirion in the Golarion game world for the Pathfinder game, although you'd have to work out new stats for everything.

The one thing which I didn't like about it is the old school penchant for having lots of random rolling for creatures.  There are day encounter tables, night encounter tables, and even percentages for inhabitants of each tent in several encampments--with each encampment even having its own set of percentages.  Having to roll stuff like that during play is really obnoxious.  I'd prefer a GM's version of the map with the tent inhabitants already written  next to each one.  (Actually I think all dungeons should have a GM version with notes next to each room right there on the map so you don't have to keep flipping around to the room descriptions all during play.  But I digress.)

Overall, It's a solid, straightforward adventure dungeon module.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

So, Castles & Crusades, Where My Mad Skillz At?

Okay, so we're all settling into this new Castles & Crusades game by our buddy Kaiser.  Since C&C is one of the now all too numerous spawn of the D&D old school revival (OSR) it dispenses with frivolous and complicated stuff like, oh, skills.  Instead it uses old fashioned attribute checks but introduces the idea of primary and secondary attributes.  Humans get three primaries, but demi-humans only two.  One of the character's primaries is determined by the class chosen, but the other(s) is chosen by the player.  Checks against a primary attribute have a challenge class of 12 and those against a secondary a higher challenge class of 18; these can be modified by the GM a bit for circumstances.  The player adds the character's level and the bonus of the attribute in question to the d20 roll against it.

Sadly this is as close as C&C gets to any sort of skill system.  For my illusionist, The Amazing Trevor, I made Dexterity one of the primaries so he'd be good at magic tricks, sleight of hand, etc.  But that's a pretty lame way to express character background.  Trevor is supposed to have grown up as a city urchin who ran away and joined a traveling carnival and became a magician.  By the start of the game he'd already have a few years of practice under his belt.  In Pathfinder terms he'd probably be multi-classed rogue/wizard or rogue/sorcerer with plenty of skills appropriate to exactly that background.  But in C&C all I can do to express all that is to make Dexterity a primary attribute.  It's kind of lame.