Tuesday, December 25, 2012

The Hobbit and other ephemera

Merry Christmas! Since my Christmas was celebrated 2 days ago (while my sister and her husband were still in town), that left me free today, so I went to see The Hobbit Part 1. I ended up seeing the 3d Imax version, just because it was the earliest show. I dunno about the Imax part, but the 3d was wasted - it really didn't need it. I went into this movie with low expectations, as most of the reviews I've heard were not very complimentary, but surprisingly, I really liked it. I think I've read the book something like 15 times, so I felt that the movie was pretty okay. I really like how the kept the mystique of Smaug for the next movie. I didn't mind the dwarves - I know a lot of people complained about how stereotypical they were, but hey, they're dwarves. What did you expect? he other complaint I've heard the most is about Radigast the Brown, but other than the bird crap all over his face, I felt there was nothing wrong with him. Even in the novel, he was portrayed as being a bit "odd", so I didn't feel there was too much out of place here (although I could have done without the rabbit-drawn sleigh). I also liked the little hint of how the dark magic was overcoming him as he cured the hedgehog, because in the story, he is corrupted by the Necromancer. I wouldn't rate it as 5-star, but a solid 4 stars.

Anyway, watching this movie has REALLY got me jonesing to do some D&D. I know that I'm a terrible procrastinator, always starting and never finishing, but hey... that's what happens when you are preparing without a group to play with. I still have a whole bunch of notes kicking around for working on my sandbox.... I even came up with a tentative sandbox map, complete with some interesting locales to visit. I think, at this point, my biggest problem is my vision is too grand, in many ways. For openers, I would love to have a sandbox that features some mountain adventures, some island hopping, dark forests, armies marching across the plains, the howl of wolves across frozen fields of ice, dismal depths... but that's not a sandbox, that's a whole freaking globe. 8) Then, there's my whole problem with scaling maps. I read a lot of blogs, and I look at all the little details they put in to almost every hex, and I start to over detail things. When I made the hex map I'm using, I tried to make it reasonable so that most of the "big events" are a couple days' ride away, but now I want to make smaller and smaller maps, with EVERY hex having something. Is this a normal reaction to stocking a hex crawl?

Anyway, I have some ideas of what I want to do, and I've put some thought into my "tentpole" dungeon. I plan to do some manipulating of Keep on the Borderlands, In Search of the Unknown, Rahasia, and a few other online mini-modules to create the locales. If I have the map and details on my other laptop, I might start posting them later on tonight.

I have also been thinking about a few changes in the cosmology of my sandbox world. Although I had previously done some designing to explain the various races of humanoids, I have been doing some rethinking. To summarize, here's what I'm thinking now:
- everything is descended from elves.
- Dwarves are degenerate elves, who turned away from the surface world, and thus lost their connection to magic over the generations. Gnomes are dwarves who have started to venture back to the surface, and are slowly beginning to reconnect with their magical roots. Goblins are dwarves who were warped by their dark desires/evil natures. Hence, dwarves hate goblins, and vice versa,
- the Elves attempted to create "servitor races" for their worlds. Their initial (failed) experiments created all sorts of humanoid races. As they eventually perfected their craft, they eventually came down to their last two creations - orcs and humans. However, the rejected orcs because they weren't "beautiful" enough, and proceeded to create humans, who lived longer, were smarter, and easier on the eyes. Hence, orcs hate humans out of jealousy. When orcs encounter elves, they either grovel, hoping to be brought back into the good graces of their "masters", or they react with unreasoning hatred, wanting to destroy those who rejected them.
- no one (ie. me) is too sure of what the drow are. Most people think they're just an elvish bogeyman.
- halflings. Not sure. Elves who have rejected the use of magic because of all the misery it has brought, and as such are "changing"? Spontaneous mutation? Another failed elvish experiment that nobody remembers? There aren't going to be very many of them, so I can make up whatever story I want.

Hopefully,  will post some more details of my thought planning later tonight. I would LOVE any feedback that the meagre readers of this blog may offer.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Castles Made of Sand (continued)

More musings on my (hopefully?) upcoming D&D/LL campaign....

Alignments: rather than the traditional view on alignment, here's my take on what alignment means. In a nutshell, Lawful means you believe in and pray to a higher order which organizes your universe (gods, saints, demons... whatever). Chaos means no hokey religions for you.... nothing directs you future but your own actions, and when you're dead, you're dead. Neutrals waver between the two... they'll say that they don't believe in divine intervention, yet pray to the gods when the need arises. I believe we would call them "hypocrites". I have also toyed with alignments meaning: Lawful believes in the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, neutral belives the needs of either side must be weighed to see which is more beneficial, and chaos means the needs of the few outweigh the needs of the many. This is still an idea in progress.....

MAGES: oh, boy. I have been doing a lot of reading the last couple of days (of blogs like B/X Blackrazor and Rolang's Blog of Doom) about mages. A lot of what I have read, I am planning to incorporate somehow. I have also been influenced by reading through Joseph Bloch's "A Curious Volume of Forgotten Lore" project, and am looking forward to reading my copy of THE COMPLETE B/X ADVENTURER, before I know entirely what I am doing with mages. While I personally have never had a problem with the way mages work (having played them almost exclusively throught my D&D life), I love some of the ideas floating around. As it stands right now, here's what I am thinking...
- mages can use magic swords once they achieve 4th level (still no armor though... for now).
- I am going to go to a more free-form magic system, using the idea of "spell points" for determining how many spells a character can cast (basically, each level of a spell equals that many points, and magic-users get a number of points of spells to cast each day; for instance, a mage that can cast 2 1st level spells and a 2nd level spell has 4 spell points (1+1+2) to play with for the day).
- I have been toying with giving some variety to the types of magic available. For now, magci-users can be Wizards (who have to memorize their spells each day) or SORCERORS (who can spontaneouly cast). The trade-off was going to be, Wizards get a bonus number of spell points (equal to the number of languages they could learn) each day to memorize spells with, while Sorcerors could do the unmemorized "spontaneous cast" of anything in their spell book. HOWEVER..... after reading some stuff today, I think I may throw a few more goofy ideas in. The idea of mages' brains storing spells, so mages can acquire more power by eating other mages' brains, WILL BE  somewhere in my game. I also plan to use ritual magic in some form, where human sacrifice is either a requirement, or gives a mage more power. I also read about "chaos numbers" in Rolang's musings, which I want to incorporate somehow (maybe with sorcerors?) (the idea being every time you cast a spell, you add to your chaos number, which is randomly determined when your character is created, and when they hit their chaos number... strange things happen). I am also considering some sort of system (yet to be developed) where the # of spells per day stat simply indicates the # of spells per day that can be cast AS INTENDED, and allow magic-users the chance to cast more spells than that, with the possibility of tragic consequences (possible failure, unexpected effects/targets, loss of the ability to cast certain/ALL spells, DEATH) if they push themselves.
- I am working on some sort of counter-spell system as well, where a mage can expend spell points to counter an opponent's spell (if they recognize it), or guess at how much energy to expend to counter it.
- I also love the idea that mages have a special attachment to strange hats. This reminds me of Goblin and One-Eye from Glen Cook's BLACK COMPANY series.
- ALL mages need to have a master (who will likely have to be of a level equal to the character + 2) if they wish to advance in levels. They require masters until they reach level 6. Elves too. No master.... no advancement. Yes, it's a plot hook of epic levels, but I LIKE those kind of hooks.

- only humans can be clerics, because only humans have souls
- clerics worship saints, and all the spells will be reskinned to represent the specific prayers, orisons and appeals to said saints
- I see clerics as more like paladins, without all the special paladin trappings. I may USE paladins, but they will be "the most holy of the holy" type of warriors.
- clerics may use edged weapons, but the trade-off is, they cannot use healing magic if they do so (the idea being, clerics use non-edged weapons because they are less lethal, and the goal of clerics is to allow their opponents to survive, so they can see the "mercy" of the cleric's faith, and covert, if they survive. Doesn't always work that way, though....)
- every cleric must choose a saint to whom they are dedicated
- I am toying with the idea of allowing celrics the opportunity to try and "miraculously" cast spells without knowing the proper prayer, and depending on their connection with their saint for success. I see cleric spells as different prayers to different saints, and not every cleric will know they proper paryer (or saint) to say in certain circumstances. For instance, if they don't know the name of the saint to whom they must pray for the removal of poison from a comrade (in other words, they don't know that spell), then they can make a suitable appeal to their personal saint, who may or may not answer the prayer, with all the attendent hassles that go with that. Think of it this way.... if you're going on a trip, you would pray to St. Christopher (the patron saint of travellers) for a safe journey. However, if you didn't KNOW that St. Christopher was the patron saint of travellers, then perhaps you would simply pray to St. Francis of Assissi, because he's YOUR patron saint, and hope for the best. This draws on some of the ideas of the Catholic Church, without there being one unifying God.
- clerics will work on the same idea as mages for spell points
- I see most clerics as either "born agains", who have survived some sort of trauma, which they attribute to divine forces, and who now seek out to inform the rest of the world of these forces, or religious brothers/sisters who simply seek to make the world a better (or worse?) place through dedication to the ideals of their saint.... and aren't afraid to bash a few heads to get people to realize this ("tough love")
- druids will simply be clerics dedicated to either natural saints, or the "natural pantheon" of saints (Mother Earth, The Green Man, and a few others I have in mind.... think a mish-mash of paganism and Native American beliefs). They may or may not have access to different prayers that regular clerics (probably "yes", but not sure how to do it yet). I simply see druids as medeival environmentalists - they recognize that the earth was here before them, and will be here long after them, so they should look after it.
- I am toying with including the mystic class in here, as an adjunct to the druids. I see mystics as warriors who have become one with nature, so they would be the "militant" arm of druids. MOre on that later.....

- not much changed here. Variable weapon damage is go. I want to find some way of using either weapon specialization, or dumbed down "feats". I still have some thinking to do about this. I also want to find GOOD, USEFUL non-weapon-combat rules. Still reading a few things to figure this out. I want my fighters to be able to portray war-weary soldiers, high seas swashbucklers, brutal barbarians or noble duellists without needin other charatcer classes.
- I haven't figured out what to do with rangers yet. I am thinking of making them a secret society, so characters could only learn ranger skills after being "initiated".

- no real changes here, other than wanting to get away from the stigma of thieves being "thieves". They can be scouts, spies, streetwise agents.... they don't necessarily have to be burglars. I half though about rolling rangers into a thief subclass, as rangers are basically podunk thieves who don't steal anything....

For now, I am sticking with the class XP for levels as they are by the books. I did some mathematizin' to figure out what the average XP/level for all the classes were, and though of doing something like 3ed with a unified XP advancement table, but I can't be bothered. I am also thinking about being a little easier on multiclassing for humans. What I was thinking is, if a human wants to multi-class, that's fine... let's say a 5th level magic-user decides he wants to become a thief. He switches to thief, and puts all his future XP towards that. When he gets enough XP, he becomes a 2nd level thief..... but LOSES A LEVEL OF MAGIC-USER. To me, this seems realistic (you wouldn't 'forget' everything of your old class overnight, but this reflects a slow deterioration of your old skills). Plus, after gaining 3 levels as a thief (meaning they are now a 3rd level thief/3rd level M-U), if they want to start being a mage agian, they can shift back.... but then they start losing thief levels as they climb. I haven't put this in practice yet, but it sounds doable to me.....

More later.... it's 2:30 am, time for bed.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Castles made of sand

Some thoughts/background/house rules I plan on implementing in my campaign:

I'm using a B/X / LL hybrid, since they're pretty much the same thing. No level caps for demi-humans. Variable weapon damage. AEC classes are in, but not available to starting characters (I might change this RC "super-classes" instead, like the Mystic). Campaign is going to be more swords and sorcery, with less magic, and pretty much every magic item (especially weapons and armour) will have a name and a story. I will be using "weapons of quality", so it is possible to have +1 weapons without having magic. "Shields Will Be Splintered" is in effect.

The idea for this campaign is very much swords and sorcery. One of the great mysteries of life will be the idea that only humans have "souls", so to speak, so only humans (and in some rare cases, wild elves, which will be explained later) can use divine magic. Dwarves were created without the influence of magic, so they have no magic ability (I was thinking of making them like the Yuuzhan Vong in recent STAR WARS literature, who are a "dead zone" to the Force, but I felt that would unbalance things too much. I am open to suggestions on how to make this work, unless I go with the assumption that PC dwarves are special to begin with, and part of that specialness is that they actually HAVE a connection to magic). Elves think they can connect themselves back directly to the first making, and as such, don't worship gods... they ARE gods. Halflings have seen what misery magic can cause, and have forsaken any desire or ability to use magic (although they can still be affected by it). Humans were created in the distant past as servants to the first races (elves, dwarves and halflings) - humanoids are the failed attempts at creating humans.

Dwarves: any dwarves ancountered outside of their mountain strongholds are either beardless outcasts, or mercenaries who have been cast out, usually for excessive bloodlust. Dwarves have no innate magical ability whatsoever - this explains their obsession with acquiring magic items, and wealth (to purchase more magic items). Dwarves worship their ancestors. Because of their lack of magical connectedness, dwarves cannot be resurrected, reincarnated or raised if killed. Furthermore, a dwarf must make a saving throw even when beneficial magic is being used on them (for instance, if a cleric tries to cast Cure Light Wounds on a dwarf ally, the dwarf must fail their saving throw for it to work). I toyed with giving dwarves a flat percentage of magic resistance, generated at random in character creation, but for now, this will work.

Elves: elves come in two flavours. High Elves are the degenerate overlords of the world, who use both swords and sorcery to impose their will. Wild elves are those who have seen the destruction their brothers have wrought, and have retreated to the wilds, becoming one with nature. PC elves will either be high elves seeking to atone for the damage wrought by their degenerate kin (or perhaps working towards some secret agenda of their sorcerous kin) or perhaps tortured martyrs, while wild elves will either be militant nature warriors, or mystic living weapons. Basically, high elves think of themselves as direct descendents of the gods, while wild elves have turned from that realization, and worship the power of nature. Because of this, wild elves may be reincarnated, but not raised or resurrected, while high elves can be resurrected and raised, but not reincarnated. I am also toying with developing a new spell list for wild elves, which incorporates some "druidical" spells, and take away a few others. High elves will need a master, just like mages (see below).

Halflings: halflings in this campaign are far more philosophical than the standard "hungry burglar" prototype. Halflings have seen the best and the worst of races, and have withdrawn from a society they see as being doomed. Kind of like Elrond in LOTR, without magic or haughtiness.... maybe more like a magic-less Galadriel. PC halflings will always be either youngsters, out on a "learning expedition" to try and understand the other races and where the world is going, or outcasts who, unlike their brethren, feel that they CAN make a difference in the fate of the world. Halflings worship ideas, rather than personifications of those ideas. Also, halflings as a race have eschewed any involvement with magic, so while it can still affect them, they choose not to use it (although they may still freely use magic items).

Okay, this is getting kind of long. More later.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Putting some sand in the sandbox...

Courtesy of the inimitable Jeff Rients...
1. What's the deal with my cleric's religion? Clerics worship a pantheon of saints, who are theoretically paragons of humanity who impressive characteristics and deeds make them worthy of worship today. They have also been known to worship the divinity of nature.

2. Where can we go to buy standard equipment? Even the smallest town should have a general store or outfitter which can provide basic equipment, and weaponry up to daggers and short bows. Anything beyond that (armor, larger swords, heavier bows, etc.) will require either a blacksmith, or a larger town.

3. Where can we go to get platemail custom fitted for this monster I just befriended? Good luck... plate mail is extremely hard to come by, often possessed only by the most powerful of rulers, military commanders and religious officers.

4. Who is the mightiest wizard in the land? Depending who you ask, either The Old Man On The Mountain, the Faerie Queen, the necromancer Lim-Dul, or the elvish mage Daerk-xi-Daer
(yes, I am wholeheartedly stealing names from Magic the Gathering. I make no apologies, mostly because none of my players play MTG, so they won't know the difference. Plus, it gives me lots of good ideas to loot)

5. Who is the greatest warrior in the land? Lord Caernavon of Caernave, Whispers-In-The-Dark or the Black Knight of St. Erebus

6. Who is the richest person in the land? The great King Mithraz of the southern kingdom of Ghog is the richest man in the world, although others say the hoard of the wyrm Longfang rivals it.

7. Where can we go to get some magical healing? For simple healing, many local hedgewizards and wise women would be able to provide simple magical healing. For more grievous wounds, one would have to seek out a cleric with knowledge of the suitable prayers and orisons of healing of the various saints.

8. Where can we go to get cures for the following conditions: poison, disease, curse, level drain, lycanthropy, polymorph, alignment change, death, undeath? Poison: most local hedgewizards or druids would be able to heal natural poisons, but for more exotic poisons, one might need to seek out agents of the Guild of Mute Assassins; Disease: appropriate clerics, probably of St. Asclypus; Curse: most curses can be lifted by witches, but beware - a curse can rarely be truly removed, and often can only be replaced...; Level drain: that would probably require some sort of divine miracle, or a mighty impressive wizard...; lycanthropy: that would need a druid; polymorph: if a wizard did it, then probably a wizard should UNDO it, right?...; alignment change: umm...... CAN that be undone?; death: wow, you don't ask much, do you? I mean, there's only been a couple of saints who have ever come back from being DEAD dead... I dunno....; undeath: umm..... death again?

9. Is there a magic guild my MU belongs to or that I can join in order to get more spells? All mages require a master until the 6th Level of Secrets has been attained, at the very least. There is rumoured to be the Illuminated Order of Agamotto that mages may join, but you don't find them, they find you...

10. Where can I find an alchemist, sage or other expert NPC? Most people who advertise themselves as alchemists are charlatans and frauds. One MAY be able to find an alchemist of limited usefulness in a large city, but the best alchemists would be elves, who are few and far between, and do not advertise their services. A reliable sage would only be found in a large city, or perhaps in one of the larger cloistered abbeys. Most other expert PCs would reqiure a sizable city or noble court.

11. Where can I hire mercenaries? Most taverns or union halls will have strong-armed, weak-willed individuals willing to hire on for wealth or adventure. However, for quality sell-swords, you will likely either have to "know someone who knwos someone", or advertise in some rather esoteric channels.

12. Is there any place on the map where swords are illegal, magic is outlawed or any other notable hassles from Johnny Law? Many of the town which have sprung up around religious centers look down on open weapons. Magic restrictions tend to depend on when a mage last wreaked havoc in a town. There are always some out of the way places that may have "interesting" laws, however...

13. Which way to the nearest tavern? Taverns are easy to find, with almost every small town having somewhere for the locals to gather and gossip. They are also frequently found in the roadhouses along well-traveled routes. 1

4. What monsters are terrorizing the countryside sufficiently that if I kill them I will become famous? The Immerwolf of Harrowdown Hills and the Beast of Lake Bezan come immediately to mind.

15. Are there any wars brewing I could go fight? There are always petty conflicts brewing between petty nobles on the frontier, and there are always humanoid incursions on the far borders of the realm that require quashing.

16.How about gladiatorial arenas complete with hard-won glory and fabulous cash prizes? There are rumours that in the deserts of Ahbahz in the far south, there exists such savagery...

17.Are there any secret societies with sinister agendas I could join and/or fight? Many... the Guild of Mute Assassins, the Order of St. Hermas, the Path of Thorns, the Illuminated Order of Agamotto, and many we probably don't even know about... YET.

18. What is there to eat around here? Please.... try the fish?

19. Any legendary lost treasures I could be looking for? The Sword of St. Hermas; the Compleat Book of Orisons, Benedictions and Prayers; the Necronomicon; the Lion's Eye Diamond

20. Where is the nearest dragon or other monster with Type H treasure? Longfang dwells in the Spires of Shadows, and his hoard is said to be the largest in all dragonkind...

Any questions? I'll post operative house rules later.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

God bless cartoons

I recently acquired the complete season of the new cartoon, AVENGERS: EARTH'S MIGHTIEST HEROES. In addition to the episode intorducing Thor helping me to actually make sense of what the THOR movie was trying to establish, I copped an AWESOME idea from the episode. In this episode, Odin banishes Loki to the Isle of Silence, an isalnd prison devoid of sound, so that no one can hear Loki's seductive lies. I thought this was a brilliant idea. Imagine an isolated island under the permanent effect of a Silence spell, where mages are banished. Of course, this would rely on the fact that there is some sort of verbal compnent to every spell, but that would be such a great idea. Imagine the chaos and mayhem you could cause adventuring on that island! I think I am going to put the Isle of Silence into the sandbox I am working on, as a mythical place of some importance, until I can figure out how to properly use such a mcguffin.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Off the Wagon

I live in a small town (population, 75). One of the problems I have is finding anyone to do any gaming with. The best I can usually do is maybe get up a rousing game of Monopoly or Risk with some of my current or former students at the rec center.

HOWEVER... the boyfriend of one of my former students came over the other night to play some crib. We started talking about video games and stuff, and I mentioned how I used to be a big nerd, playing D&D and Magic and stuff.... At the mention of Magic, his eyes lit up. "Magic? Like, Magic the Gathering? You play Magic?" Turns out, he was a HUGE Magic geek, who had quit playing because his friends had all graduated up to poker.

Long story short..... my sickness has returned.

I started playing Magic with ALPHA. Yes, I had 5 of the power 9. I continued to collect and play through university, and finally quit just after Homelands, when I sold my entire set to buy a new personal computer (when a good new personal computer still cost about $2700). I would buy the occasional booster pack or starter deck after that, just to see where the game was. I even bought a Deck Builder's Toolkit last year, and got my old Magic buddies back home to do the same, for a one-day old school throwdown (which annoyed me, because an old friend had a bunch of UNHINGED and UNGLUED cards he used in his deck, which messed me up. I subsequently bought 4 World Bottling Kits 8). I NEVER quit playing my original "Duels of the Planeswalkers" PC game though, and had the new game on Steam.

It hasn't taken me very long to get back into the swong of things. I'm still learning some of the new mechanics, and I STILL prefer the older cards, but I am adapting to designing Modern-legal constructed decks. We have mostly been playing Booster Drafts so far, although I discovered that you can buy 10-card packs of Magic repacks from the Dollar store for a buck, so I bought about...... 60? 80? 100? packages over the past couple months to rebuild my "library". I'd forgotten how addictive Magic was.

Anyway, I have now been scouring online resources for advice on deckbuilding. It's interesting to see how playing has changed over the years. I used to be a good player (not great, but I could hold my own), but I doubt I could really compete anymore. Nonetheless, I'm going to try, and try to have some fun. So far, I have assembled 4 constructed decks I'm messing with... Gobbo Gobbo Hey 2K12; Mean, Green and Ready To Blow; Shutdown Touchdown; and What's A War Without An Army? I am also toying with making a few QL Magic decks with my older cards, and maybe trying out a constructed Modern Allies deck, once I look at what I need for it.

So, anyone out there in my small audience play? Anything I should know about modern Magic? I'm listening. 8)