Thursday, April 30, 2009

D&D Alignments

Here James of Grognardia talks about D&D Alignment

Remember alignment started as labels for factions. Here are the good guys and they cheer you on. Here are the evil guys and you kill them.

However the labels (Law, Neutral, Chaos) combined with the description of the faction members (elves, dwarves, humans vs monsters lead by evil high priests) naturally lead to people attach philosophical ramification to these labels.

The culminated in the introduction of the second axis of good vs evil. Originally only five alignments but later expanded to the familiar nine.

This entire progression of alignment rules was logical at every step. However the end result was less than stellar. A system designed to for wargame factions was shoehorned as the moral philosophy of the D&D universe. Also it got wrapped up with describing the personality of the character.

Now I am not a fan of moral relativism. However I am also not a fan of alignment labels either. The last series of AD&D campaign I ran in the mid 80s jettisoned alignment. Instead which god you followed and which factions you belonged too was more important.

The various Detect Evil and Know Alignment spells were adapted to work with this or jettisoned.

All of this evolved into something similar to D&D 4th. You have a great muddled grey area involving many cultures and different creeds doing what people do over history. Then you have the Demons which represent the creatures that rejected creation and are the enemy of all life in my campaign. They are evil. Even the dark gods of my realm like Set and Kali will happily go hunting for demons.

This is similar to D&D 4th where you have Lawful Good, Good, and Neutral. With Chaotic Evil fighting all of them.

I do miss the personality aspects of Alignment. It was a good short hand for referee a random monster or NPCs. Perhaps a descriptive personality system would better for me and other referee. Perhaps something based on the four "humors".

On one axis you have Extrovert vs Introvert, on the other Labile vs Stable, of course Neutral. The extreme combination will give the four temperaments; Extrovert-Stable (sanguine), Introvert-Stable (phlegmatic), Extrovert-Labile (choleric), Introvert-Labile (melancholic). For our character you would have "nine" basic personalities. N, IN, EN, LN, SN, IS, IL, ES, EL. Combined with notes on what factions and gods will provide a good shorthand as to how to roleplay the character.

Hooray for Fantasy Grounds

Tim talks about Fantasy Ground here at Gothridge Manor.

All I can add is amen for Fantasy Grounds. Still love sitting around the actual table but using FG II +Skype is golden for keeping your old group together. If you have some buddies that are now scattered across the country pick a VTT and voice chat sofware and see if you can't get back together gaming.

I heard of people successfully using Web Cams to place absent friends back with a regular table-top group. Although it it is a bummer that you couldn't reach out of the laptop screen to steal some chips from the next bowl over.

From the Attic: Back in the Day...

My age group (born 1963 to 1968) was one of the last to have to deal with a world without computers in every home. Starting in middle school, I got to work on the old ways and the new way with computers. Typing homework on a typewriter and later the same day using a TRS-80 Model I to print out random tables on a dot matrix printer. Probably the main technology that was the same between now and then was the photocopier. When I went into Middle School after 1977, access to 25 cent per copy photocopiers was becoming widespread.

Some random thoughts on what it was like.

Your main source of information was the magazines, the coming soon back page of RPG Books, and the manufacturer's catalog. The only person you could pester was the owner of the game store.

Yellow legal pads were gold for your initial draft and notes. You were never far from quarter inch graph paper or 1/5 inch graph paper. A Ruler, protractor and a compass for drawing maps was just as mandatory for a DM as dice. Once you get your thoughts in order with the yellow note pad often times you tranfer it to a composition book. The stiff cardboard cover offered a good saving throw against a spilled coke ruining your notes.

Half inch graph paper made good regional maps. For me it was always a tossup between using 1/2 graph paper or hex paper.

TSR had a book of hex paper you could buy. It was a pain to use because it was staple bound but you got a lot. A couple of trick with that books. First you could remove the center pages and get a 17 by 11 sheet. You could cut that paper apart and use a photocopier to make mini-map templates. Also I carefully counted the hexes and trimmed the sheets to get an exact size. Then I drew larger hexes on that. It was designed so everything nested in each other similar to Judge's Guild Wilderness mapping system. I used that sheet on a photocopier to make more. I remember it took 10 tries and over 2 dollars in change to before I had a copy that was lined up with the paper.

Photocopies at 25 cents a copy were used only for the most critical items like character sheets, and chart from the DMG. Many DMs became a master at cutting and pasting their own chart. I even was able to do it for some maps.

For playing Star Fleet Battles using the Photocopier was nearly mandatory for copying energy allocation sheet and SSDs (System System Displays). At the local college the activity room became popular among the locals for gaming because of the big tables and the nearby coin operated photocopier. The tables had a interesting octagon shape that made setting up 8 players sessions easy. Of course if your character died, or you were wiped out of a scenario you could do downstairs to the small video arcade the college maintained.

Maps were strictly handdrawn, if you were lucky you had a set of drafting pens. Out of all the "old ways" this method continues to survive and even thrive in this day and age. While Graphic software is cheap and powerful there is still a learning curve that makes many say to "hell with the computer" and handdraw their maps.

A bit of sadness for me is that since 1995, when I began using the computer to draw with, my extensive collection of drafting equipment, coloring pencils and supplies have disappeared over the years. Lost due to various "spring cleanings" and accidents.

Milk Crates, especially the wooden ones, are perfect for storing game books in. I freaked out early my marriage when I found my Wife had taken half of my crates (two), and nailed them in as part of a shelving unit she made (I lost the argument). They are just that useful. They are also durable as proven when the door flew open once on my car and it hit pavement at 35 mph. It survived with only a slight dent on the metal bracket on the corner. Even held most of the books in it although one end was filled with papers in folders that flew everywhere.

You learned how to file everything proper. If you DM for any amount of time you found yourself with alot of notes and other papers. I remember when those hanging file folder boxes first appeared and promptly bought one for my D&D notes.

My nostalgia is really for the days of my youth not for the tool I used then. Most of it was a really big pain in the a** to use. And the lord help you if you had to fix a mistake. I embraced computer wholeheartedly from first TRS-80 Model I my older brother brought home to today. While I regret letting my drafting stuff scatter, having mastered the graphic software I am able to do a lot more for way cheaper than I could do back in the day.

One final tip, I found that I can do a lot better with my maps by hand drawing the basic terrain. Then you scan it in and put it on a layer of your graphics software. Lock the layer and make another one on top of it. Use your drawing tools to hand trace the terrain into your computer then add the remainder of your map which usually involve using fills.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

More on Tasks

I did some work coming up with Tasks for my Rogue sub-classes

Individual Tasks

Area of Knowledge (Type)
Hard: INT, Average: INTx2
Area of Knowledge represents a field of study that the character specializes in. Recommended areas include: Accounting, Geography, Herblore, History, Law, Mathematics, Natural Philosophy, Physician, Strategy, Thaumatalogy, Theology. Rolls using Area of Knowledge should only have to be made during situations where time is important such as a debate, haggling, or a trial.

Represent knowledge of local finances and the management of goods and money. This is useful for merchant characters interested in setting up trade deals.

Geography, History, Law, Theology
If cultures, religions and different regions are important to the campaign these skills may be further limited in scope. Still working on coming up with tasks for these.

Finding common herbs takes one week and is an average task. If successful 2d6 doses are found.
Finding rare components is a hard task and often requires killing of specific monsters. If successful 1d6 dose are found. If a individual monster is slain only one dose may be harvested.

This skill is typically used in construction, building siege engines and other engineering tasks. It is an average task to reduce the amount of time and materials by 10%. Success at a hard task can reduce the amount of time and materials by 20%.

Natural Philosophy
This represents knowledge of botany, zoology, geology, and other natural phenomena. In most fantasy campaigns technological development hasn’t reached the point where these fields have separated.

If the character has a complete round to observe it is a average task to identify a unknown monster.
It is a hard task to identify a unknown monster in the middle of combat.

If the character has a complete round to examine a passageway it is a average task to tell whether it is sloping or rising.
It is a hard task to examine a cavern or dungeon passage to see if it is unstable and prone to collapse.

This can be used to help a character to accelerate healing. It is an average task to help a character heal 2 hp/day with the character completely healed in 3 weeks. It is a hard task to help a help a character heal 4 hp/day with the character completely healed in 2 weeks. It is a hard task to tend to a character that has been poisoned. On a successful roll a physician will reduce the damage taken from the poison by ½ well as cut the duration of any ill-effects by ½.

If the character succeeds on a hard task roll he may inflict damage on the opposing unit in the first round of combat. If the character succeeds on a average task he may modify any favorable or unfavorable terrain modifier by 1.

This aids in researching magic. Success at a hard task will identify the powers of an item that is known to be magic in the heat of combat.

Bending & Lifting
Hard: STR, Average: STRx2
This is useful for task involving feats of raw strength.

It is a hard task to bend bars ½” or larger in diameter.
It is a hard task to smash open a locked or barred door.
It is an average task to lift a locked heavy gate.

It is an average task to push open a stuck door.
It is an average task to lift an unlocked heavy gate.

Hard: DEX, Average: STR+DEX
It is an average task to climb with a rope or a steep incline. It is a hard task to climb a sheer face. If the character is encumbered then he is at -2 to his task roll.

Climbing with a rope is at 12 feet per round
Climbing a steep incline is at 8 feet per round
Climbing a sheer face is at 6 feet per round.

Hard:INT, Average: INT+WIS
It is a hard task to listen to a single conversation in a crowded tavern.
It is a hard task to listen through a stone wall or other thick surface.
It is a average task to listen through a door or shuttered window.

Hard:STR Average:STR+CHA

It is a hard task to force somebody to talk. For every hp of damage you inflict up to 4 you gain +1 to the task roll.
It is a average task to force an attacking crowd to check morale. This will fail if you are outnumbered by more than 2 to 1.

Hard: STR Average:STR+DEX

It is a Average Task to Jump over a 2’ foot obstacle.
If the character is encumbered then it becomes a Hard Task.
For every foot over 2 foot it is -1 to the Task Roll.
If the task fails the character will stumble and not clear the height. A roll of a 1 means the character fall prone to the ground.

Hard:DEX Average: DEX+2
This aids in performing tasks involving manual dexterity.

It is a hard task to pickpocket a mark that is alone.
It is a average task to pickpocket a mark that is in the midst of a crowd.
It is a average task to perform a sleight of hand trick when you are 5’ feet or more away from an audience
It is a hard task to perform a sleight of hand trick when you are closer than 5’ feet to an audience.

Hard:CHA Average:INT+CHA

It is a hard task to rally a broken unit in mass combat

In the initial round of a combat a character may engage in a repartee with the enemy. This is a average task and if successful will halt everybody in earshot for 1 round that understands the speaker’s language. The enemy may counter with a repartee of their own. It is stressed that character should role-play this before making the roll. A repartee may not be done in if the character is surprised.

In the initial round of combat, a character may attempt a Witticism on a single individual that understand his language. This is a hard task and if successful the character will gain the initiative due the target laughing or being angered. It is stressed that character should role-play this before making the roll. A witticism may not be done in if the character is surprised.

It is a average task to haggle a price that is 10% better in favor of the character.
It is a hard task to haggle a price that is 20% better in favor of the character.

Hard:DEX Average: INT+DEX
This aids in performing tasks in manipulating small mechanical devices.

It is a average task to disable a known trap.
It is a average task to pick a lock open with thieves picks.
It is a hard task to pick open a trapped lock or a trapped chest with a lock without triggering the trap.
It is a hard task to pick a lock open with inadequate tools.

Hard:WIS Average:INT+WIS
It is a hard task to spot a target that hidden in shadow or well covered.
It is a average task to spot a target sneaking through a well-lit or open area.
Note these task assume that the target has made his stealth task roll.

It is a average task to notice an medium size or large feature of an area in the middle of combat.
It is a hard task to notice a small feature of a an area in the middle of combat.

Professional (type)
Hard: varies Average: varies+Wis
The referee may define additional rules for crafting items made by different professions. Baker, Blacksmith, Cooper, Jeweler, etc. The hard task characteristic will vary based on the profession. For example STR for blacksmith, and DEX for a Jeweler.

It is a hard task to create a masterwork item.
It is a average task to evaluate the worth of a item made by that profession.
It is a average task to reduce the time and material cost by 10%.
It is a hard task to reduce the time and material cost by 20%.

This aids in magical research.
It is a average task to reduce the time and material cost by 10%.
It is a hard task to reduce the time and material cost by 20%.

Hard: STR Average: STR+CON
Need to come up with stuff under riding.

Hard: DEX Average: WIS+DEX
It is a average task to sneak around or hide in areas with heavy shadowed or have heavy cover.
It is a hard task to sneak around or hide in areas that are well-lit or are open.

Survival (type)
Hard: CON Average: CON+WIS
This represents the combined skills of hunting, tracking, and foraging in the wilderness. This may be limited by the referee to specific types of terrain.

It is a Average Task to track a trail less than 6 hours old.
It is a Hard Task to track a trail between 6 hours and two days old.
The terrain may modify the task roll. -2 for rocky terrain, -2 for well trodden pathways or game trails. -4 for high traffic paths like city streets. +4 for snow and sandy surfaces, however the weather may quickly erase tracks.

It is a Average Task to identify the type of creature by its tracks.
It is a Average Task to find 1 day’s ration in Jungle, Forest, and Plains; takes 6 hours to complete.
It is a Hard Task to find 1 day’s ration in Desert, Mountains, Tundra, and Ice Terrain; takes 8 hours to complete.

Monday, April 27, 2009

From the Attic: The day I destroyed the Wilderlands

I wanted to ditch my Wilderlands campaign back in the mid 80's. So I decided to have it go out with a bang. This was done with AD&D.

In my version the Abyss is connected to the Wilderlands. The gateway guarded by a magical ward created by the gods and the wards were protected by permanent hurricane/maelstrom.

The "last" campaign involved signs and portents that not all was right with the wards. (like fireballs becoming 10 times more effective and then returning to normal) The adventures got harder and tension grew. Finally the ward blew allowing the demons free access to the Wilderlands.

The players were about 15th level or so and I used battlesystem as a background for a big epic battle between the PC forces and the demon.s Great fun was had by all but unfortunately they fought just a scouting party.

Aside: Back then If you bought everything for Battlesystem 1st edition you wound up with a ton of dragon counters because of Dragonlance's Battlesystem module.

So after that initial battle was over the PCs were preparing for the main force. I described the roar of the winds generated by thousands of beating wings. I then proceeded to line the edge of the table with the three dozen dragon counters I had.

The players took one look and ran.

They had fun because they knew the Apocalypse was coming and the world was going to end. They just didn't know how it would play out They were really impressed with the line of evil dragon laying waste to the land.

The campaign world I designed to replace the Wilderlands was not as cool and so I returned to the Wilderlands for the next campaign retconing the Apocalypse out.

Recently I did run a sequel using 4e where the players were catapulted into that version of the Wilderlands. It didn't get completed unfortunately. The players quickly lost interest in D&D 4e and we switched back to using the other 4e, GURPS.

My idea was to use the Tiers system of 4e to divide the campaign into distinct phases. Heroic was in my normal Wilderlands, Paragon will see the players thrown into the alternate Wilderlands to deal with the post Apocalyptic world.

If they succeed with their Paragon Quest then they will find a way to go back into time to deal with the demons before the Apocalypse. In ordre to try to prevent the Apocalypse from happening. I thought the high fantasy focus of 4e was ideal for this type of campaign. I may still yet try this on another group.

A plot like this can work with the sandbox fantasy style. The main issue is throwing the players into the alternate timeline. I The main villain of the heroic phase was a leader of a demonic cult and he was setting up a ritual to change the time line.

Now to ensure that this event happened, you need to cover the possibilities
  1. The PCs bag the villain before the ritual starts
  2. The PCs bag the villain during the ritual
  3. The villian completes the ritual before the PC bag him.
#1 is covered by never ever bringing the villian on stage until the last battle. Instead the PCs deal with a succession of every higher ranking minions. I used this technique effectively in the past and it works. Plus there the added advantage of tension because of this unseen menace off stage.

#2 is covered by the fact the ritual backlashes and the PCs are thrown into the alternate timeline.

#3 is dealt with the PCs finding items that will protected them from a successful ritual. It will protect them by causing to exist in newly created alternate timeline. They won't know what they are exaclty for other than they help protect against the cultists.

As for the transition from Paragon to Epic. The desire to escape the demon haunted Wilderlands should be more than enough to propel the players to travelling back into time to prevent it from happening in the first place.

If all this seems to game-like then D&D 4e makes it easy to start at any level. So you can start the campaign at Paragon with the players thrown into the alternate world.

The ideals of Sandbox Fantasy are just that ideals. When applied to the game table you need to be pratical about how you acutally apply them. Players don't like to be railroaded all the time. But if it is cool enough you can get it away with it as a interesting plot twist as long as it is plausible given the premises.

I learned to hone this while running fantasy LARPS. There time and manpower limitation force use to use this technique a great deal many times. I quickly learned what kinds of plots players would have fun with and which they wouldn't.

I don't do this all the time in table-top sessions but it is a nice tool to have in your GM Kit to keep your campaign interesting.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

D&D Task Resolution

My last post I talked about my idea for Rogues. The skills they can do can do by other classes, but they just do them better in exchange for a small hit dice and reduced combat ability.

I probably wouldn't call them skills, but rather tasks. They would be setup so the referee can use them as means of resolving the situations they cover regardless of class.

What about the mechanic itself? I find it useful to look back at the source material and see what they did. While digging through the City-State of the Invincible Overlord I found a rule that Bob Bledsaw used.

Basically if a character felt they could do something extraordinary with an attribute then they got take percentage dice and try to roll under it. Thus a if character wanted to bend bars with his 15 strength he has to roll 15% or lower. They add a few wrinkles about repeated attempts if the characteristic was prime requisite (shades of Castles & Crusades!), and straining yourself if you roll doubles.

I looked at that and while seems like a good starting point I really don't like the percentage roll low. I think D&D works better if you roll high. Plus I want to try to keep percentage dice out of it and just go with a d20. I know that is like newer editions but that one point I think they got right.

However Bob gave pretty low odds of success, 15% for a 15 strength. Plus I want to avoid subtraction if possible.

What I will go with is this. If you want to succeed with a task based on one of your attributes then you need to roll a d20. If you roll higher or equal to a 20 you succeed. You get a bonus for your attribute as follows

16 to 18 +3
11 to 15 +2
6 to 10 +1
3 to 5 +0

Mathematically it works out pretty close. Person with a 15 strength still will only have a 15% chance of success. 18 or higher on a d20.

20 would be an automatic success, a 1 a automatic failure.

In the real world if you are more careful i.e. take longer then you more apt to succeed.

If you are careful it takes 10 times longer to complete the task but you get to add the higher bonus of your intelligence (smarts) or wisdom (perseverance and common sense)

Some tasks (like Spell Research) may have this built in as they always take a long time to do.

Rogues, mentioned in the previous article, will get bonuses to various task over and above the attribute bonus. But they would have sacrificed combat ability or HD because of their focus.

While some will object to any skill system, I think this approach avoids the limitations of the original thief class.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Thoughts on Skills and Thieves

Here Ryan talks about Perception. It got me thinking about skills, the thief, and D&D in general.

I think that for any skill based system You can combine the negotiated approach with the mechanical approach by limiting the times you need to roll.

For example if there is a chest covered by garbage then the player "says I will undercover the garbage" they will find the chest.

If however it is a jewel in that pile. Then I would have a roll because it may be missed despite the player digging through it.

If the player insist on standing at the door and looking around the room. Then you would roll for the chest in the garbage (the garbage is piled up unusually) but there would little or no chance to spot the jewel.

This the approach GURPS takes to avoid incessant rolling of skills. And I apply this technique to any skill based system.

Now for older editions of D&D what I would do it make sure that everybody can to a base series of actions. (Perception, climb, stealth, etc).

The thief class would sacrifice combat ability in order to be good at something else. I wouldn't even call it a thief class. More like a rouge class. A thief would be one of the many rogues that sacrificed combat ability to so something better.

In the thief case, the thief is better at things involving dexterity. A thug in contrast would be focused on strength, and charisma to rule his gang. Other combinations could be made for Conmen, Merchant Adventurers, etc.

The other classes are not prevented doing the skill based stuff. But because they are focused on fighting, praying, or spells they never are as good as the rogue.

The problem with the original Thief that it implies that only the thief can do certain things. Just only the fighter get the high HD and good to hit bonus. Only the magic-user get to cast wizard spells.

If they instead laid out how everybody could climb, perceive, jump, etc, and gave thief a bonus then I think everyone would have a better feeling about the thief class or in my class the rogue class .

I did think of another class that I would consider a rogue, the Mountebank. In my mind a Mountebank is someone who lost some fighting ability but gained the ability to cast a small number of Wizard's spells. Throw in hiding, and sleight of hand/pickpocket I think that would be a good addition to the mix.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Can't stop the sand from running out of the box!

It is always possible to take any play style to an extreme and Sandbox gaming is no exception.

The extreme sandbox is where a GM prepares everything ahead of time, the players create their characters, the game begins, and the GM referees the players through the setting never ever pushing them in any direction.

This extreme view of Sandbox gaming is unappealing to many GMs as seems to devolve them into being little more than a computer simulating a setting.

Not only this an extreme but it is impossible and not desirable.

It is impossible because you can't make up every detail you will need during a session. At some point you will have to "Make stuff up on the fly."

It is not desirable because of the lopsided wargame scenario problem. There were many time during when I wargamed that either I made a mistake, had bad rolls, or ran into design flaws that made the rest of the scenario a mind numbing grind that I was going to lose. Because many board & counters wargames are complex you couldn't predict when this would happen (except for the design flaw, once you know about it).

Running a Sandbox game as a totally neutral setting will, at some point, lead to grinding sessions that are not fun and feel like a waste of several hours. See my Cow story for one that occurred on my watch as a GM.

However you do have control over your Sandbox Game. You won't be able to control the exact results. But you will be able make sure that the vast majority of time they are interesting and fun results.

There several ways this can happen. First you can control the premises of the campaign. For a crude example a Sandbox based on Judges Guild Wilderlands is different than a sandbox based on Traveller's Spinward Marches. A better example is setting the campaign in City-State versus Viridstan. One is a free-wheeling port of call, the other the imperial
capital to the Wilderland's largest Empire.

Also remember part of the premise isn't just the locales and npcs. Part of it is the events that will occur in the "future". Remember these are the events that will occur if players do NOTHING or never had existed. Once the player start interacting with the setting some of them will chance. Some will not. But having them will give a sense to the players that they are on larger stage. And once they see that they can alter the course of your setting's history then the players will start to invest more into the campaign and be more proactive than reactive.

Next is a realm where players have some control over and that is the premises of their characters. A campaign where the players start out as crusaders from the Church of Mitra will be very different than a campaign where the players are involved with the thieves of the Brotherhood of the Lion.

The hallmark of Sandbox gaming is that the players have the freedom to go where their motivations take them. However the GM also has some option. At every point there is going to a number of possibilities the GM can decide to do in respond to the player's action. Here is where your experience and creativity will come into play. You examine those choices and find the ones that are the most interesting to play out. It doesn't always have to be the most probable as long as it is fun.

Making these choices is really where the GM's creativity shines in a Sandbox Game. It becomes a lot of fun as you go back and forth between yourself and your players.

These are the tools I used to keep my sandbox game interesting and fun. Avoiding another Hunt for the Cow!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

A Sandbox Tale

In my third year of college I was refereeing Fantasy Hero. It was one of my first campaigns that wasn't AD&D. Like all my fantasy campaigns it was set in the Wilderlands. This time it was in Viridstan the largest city.

For various reasons the players were being chased by the guards and the secret police, the Black Adders. The party split and one group turned a corner and ran down a blind alley. They asked "Hey Rob! Are there any doors?" I looked at the map and said "No Doors". The small group then asked "I know I go through a window!". I said "No windows either.". One of the players sighed "Come on Rob, there are windows you are messing with us.". I said "Look I understand, but on this map I have, they are all marked." I whipped out the map and showed them the symbol for window and the symbol for doors. And sure enough they were not any in that particular alley. The players groaned and awaited the arrival of the guards knowing their luck has turned.

Now was the story about them being captured by the guards? No. What it about them being NOT captured by the guards. No. There wasn't any story save the one that resulted from describing what they did.

Now did it suck being bagged by the Black Adders. It sure did. So what happened in Viridstan.

This unfortunate turn of events changed the course of the campaign. The other groups of players managed to escape leaving two in the hands of the Black Adders. I ran the next session in two halves. The first half involved the two being interrogated by the Black Adders. Now I had a lot of choices to handle this. I fleshed out some prisoners including some with good information they could use later. They did a good job and found out from one of them how to gain entrance into the palace itself. Then the second half involved the rest of the players plotting to bust them out.

In the end they busted the two out. Not only they busted the two out. They used the knowledge that was gained to killed the people running Viridstan and ignite a revolution. When that was finished they found themselves in control of the largest city of the Viridstan.

Now this wasn't what the campaign was about. I didn't plan this nor even considered it a possibility. They were in Viridstan to do research on finding the entrance to the Abyss.

The campaign was about putting the Ebony Crystal back in a ward field surrounding the Abyss to seal off a passageway used by Demons.

If I did what story gamers wanted there would have been a window in that alleyway because the players would have put one there. But in doing so the chain of events that lead them to become Overlords of Viridstan would have never come to pass. Nor they would have the elation and satisfaction of doing so.

It not about control. It about seeing players immersed in my setting and refereeing all the fun and crazy things they come up with. This is one of the reason why I call what I do Sandbox Gaming.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Into the First Fantasy Campaign Part 4

Continued from Part 3

The next section after the dungeons is Magic Swords & Matrix. Here Dave Arneson give a pair of tables to generate magic swords. The first 'Magic Swords Personality Matrix "Blackmoor" is a bit confusing. At the beginning there is are a list of entries

Number, Invisibility detection, Magic Detection, etc. Then the entries are labeled A to R, then Red, White, Blue, Purple, Green, Gold, Grey, Black, Maroon, Pink and Yellow.

A entry looks like this
'N' Double Values (4) Orcs, Trolls, Balrogs, Giants; Special values (5) Paralyze, Raise Morale II, Magic Detction II. Strength = +3; Combat=+2; Intelligence=+2; Values:440 GP
Now there could be one of two things going one. Either you draw the card and that the sword. Or you drew a card for each of the entries (Strength, Invisibility Detection, etc) and read the value for that entry from the card. Because of the GP printed on each card I think it is former.

Then we get to the Matrix which generates Magic Swords through a series of tables using percentile dice. Interesting that we have Holy Swords, Fighter's Swords, AND Magician's Sword. I guess we know how Dave dealt with the issue of Gandalf wielding a sword.

Reading this table versus the one in Monster & Treasure you can see the similarities. For example both have a Intelligence scale of 1 to 12. Both have similar percentage chances for alignment. The main difference is that Dave's tables run for two pages and seems to make more varied and powerful swords.

The next section is Gypsy Sayings & Chance Cards. Basically every month Dave would draw one from the deck and it's effect worked into the game. He would draw a year's worth so he can make a logical progression of events out of the random events.

For example #3 was
When three rule the land, the Dark Lord will come.
He notes that this referred to the fact that three players setup a committee to rule Blackmoor and his thought was that the Bad guys would think them too divided to put up effective resistance.

Then he gives a brief legend table and then a more extensive table called chance cards. His notes state that they represent "Strategic Encounters" for the Blackmoor area.

Next he talks about the Original Blackmoor Magic System. He says it was based on the Formula pattern for most magic. That magic-users were limited because they had to prepared the ingredients before entering the dungeons. Some spell had special ingredients that could only be found by adventuring. A magic-user only gained experienced if he casted spells. The magic-user's constitution also played a role in limiting the number of spells cast.

Next is a list of magical items with some whimsical items as a tricoder.

The next section is Special Interests. Basically Special Interests are things that character can spend gold in between adventures. Some of things that are talked about are Wine, Women, Song, Wealth, Fame, Religion, Hobby. He gives some charts and examples to help use the charts. This followed by a sub-section labeled "How to become a bad guy". It starts off about how Dave awarded XP and levels then eventually goes into Alignment changes.

Next are maps and a description of Svenson's Freehold. One of the more successful of Dave's players. After that is a section devoted to Richard Snider's Additions. Richard Snider (of Lords of Creation fame) was another early players and developed house rules for Dragons and misc subjects like Population, Wizardry Apprenticeships and so on.

Next Section is about Loch Gloomen which was of early importance as the players wore out their welcome Blackmoor.

I hate to say this but the last three pages are totally incoherent in organization or theme. I get the feeling that last pages of Dave's notes were being typed up in the order they were found.

The sections are (in order)

Bleakwood (Next to Bramwald) which give the interesting tidbit that some of the regions of Blackmoor were mapped out in a form a scale model suitable for miniature wargames.

Magical Items Summery.
A table involving Dragons and their treasure
(This page has a bad sketch of the city of Father Dragon. It looks like somebody made two circular wall in a sandtable, one inside another. the inner circle is filled with rocks mounted with a ball stuck on rod.)

Then we learn about Orcs, Isengarders, Bandits, Nomads, Trolls, Orges, Wights, True Trolls, Rocs, Tarns, Basiliks, Balrogs, and Giants.

Finally FFC concludes with a sketch made off of a photo of a scale model setup the town of Glendower. It was setup in the local hobby store.

Tomorrow concluding thoughts.

Monday, April 20, 2009

The Day Whimpy killed me.

Here Tim talks about Whimpy his lucky d20.

Among the three of us (Tim, Dwayne, and myself) Dwayne DMs the least. But when Dwayne does he uses a particular dungeon as his end game. I believe it is X5 Temple of Death. He knows this dungeons like the back of his hand and has perfected running it to a fine art. He is always fair, however but no character has survived it. It also been modified from the failed expeditions so you couldn't gain an advantage from reading the module on your own.

One season Tim and I were tired of DMing and decided to run in Dwayne's campaign. I played a mage name Thil the Cowled, and Tim played Slice Handler. We used AD&D with Unearthed Arcana. Tim angle was dagger specialization. And boy he could throw them. Combined with Wimpy he was a terror to all those he met.

Thil was my first AD&D Wizard in 6 years. It was a struggle at first, it was with character that I lost it with su-monsters one time (Tim can tell that story). But eventually I found my footing as the higher level I got. Eventually we started getting clues about this certain temple.

Now I have never experienced Dwayne's Temple of Death. But Tim picked up on the fact that where we were heading. I don't remember too much about how we got there. Only that it involved some undead rowing a boat. We had to trick them to row us out to the temple. Midway it seemed like they were about to turn on us when Slice (Time) picked up a skull from the bottom of the boat, and stuck his hand in it. He worked the jaw, while saying "Row the Boat!". After we finished laughing we picked up ourselves off the floor and Dwayne ruled that we made onto the island.

The temple was very hard. Tim and I had to use every bit of our character's abilities and our wits to get through. In the end we TRIMUPHED! The first people to have beaten Dwayne's Temple of Death. We were exhausted and just about everything we had was expended. In the room we found ourselves had an altar. On the altar was a severed hand, and an eye floating in a bowl of water.

Well it was obvious what they were. I was playing Thil as a neutral magic-user who was looking to be known as a great Archmage. I didn't have any grand plans other than just getting to high levels. But here was the Hand and Eye of Vecna! So Thil gave into the temptation. Thil picked up a sword. Tim saw this and immediately went "Oh no" and started readying Slice. Thil loped off his hand and stuck the hand of Vecna on after making a save to remain standing.

Understand that Tim played Slice Handler pretty well and that the situations that he escaped because of his dagger specialization and Whimpy was amazing. I was pretty sure that my moment of weakness would cause me my life. But I forgot that that Whimpy can't make a save worth a damn. So when Thile attacked Slice Handler, he just tore him into.

Since Thile's best spells were already expended, all Thil had was damage spells and what the hand gave. Thil tore up Slice pretty good. Finally it came down to the final round. Slice was out of daggers, as well as being down his last hit point. Thil had more spells to fire.

Initiative was rolled and Slice won. Tim sighed and then looks at his character sheet. All of the sudden he gets excited and points at a line and asks Dwayne "I still have this earring, right!". Dwayne nods yes. Tim goes on "I rip the earring from my ear and throw it at Thil." It turned into a full sized Dagger. Tim rolls Whimpy and rolls natural 20. Which in our game mean a critical hit. Tim rolls the critical and does triple damage or something like that. But the result was enough damage to take me down. What I could I do? Slice managed to take down Thil.

The aftermath was anticlimactic, Slice severed the Hand of Vecna and cast it away. He staggered out to a well deserved retirement being the only character to ever survive Dwayne's Temple of Death.

That was the day Whimpy killed me.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Boris the Bagger moves to Gothridge Manor

My good friend Tim Shorts aka Boris the Bagger has started a blog here Along with Dwayne and myself the three of us has been gaming together for 25 years. He has a lot of stories, and insights to share so head on over and see what he has to say.

It is because of Tim that my writing improved enough to be published professionally and he continues to edit much of my work. So I look forward to see what he has to say.

Into the First Fantasy Campaign Part 3

Continued from Part 2

After reading about Caste Blackmoor we wind up on page 23 in my printing. The next section is titled the Into the Great Outdoors.

We first start off with a little tidbit that they started using the Outdoor Survival Board after the first year but it wasn't until the third year of play they moved into it. He is goes on to describe the change to the game that resulted because of increasing wandering outdoors.

Next is a Encounter Matrix for Open, River, Mountain, Desert, Woods, Swamp. You rolled a d20 and a blank entry meant no encounter. This is followed by Avoiding Encounter rules.. a Map Movement Table, Some more travel rules, and a revised price list with a % Failure to Arrive column. Remember those Special Female Slaves you bought well you are facing at 82% chance of them failing to arrive.

Page 25 has two interesting sections. The first "Outdoors in Blackmoor" is detailed discussion of how a referee can judges outdoor travel and encounters. The second is about monster migrating back in after the hex is clear. In MMORPG term how to respawn them.

On the next page comes a section on Drawing your own Map. It somewhat basic but has some good tips in it. Finally on page 27 we get a few charts to help build our own maps including a neat breakdown of a hex into areas so you can roll percentile dice and see where stuff is at.

Finally we get to the Blackmoor Dungeons on Page 28. Now I don't know why it goes Castle, Outdoors, and Dungeons. It just how it is. We learn that the Dungeon was first established in the Winter and Spring of 1970 to 71. The remainder of the page gives some of the background of the dungeon and it's history both in-game and out-of-game. One thing we learn that levels 1 to 6 in FFC are not the original levels but switched over to using D&D because he uses them to run people at conventions. Level 7 to 9 however are original notes.

In quick succession he talks about Sir Fang, the Elves that took over the Castle, and Dungeon Map Notes. We also have a neat drawing by Ken Simpson of a forbidding door into one of the fouler areas of the dungeon.

Next comes a section called "Magic" Protection Point. Now for a long time this section and the sparseness of the following entries didn't make much sense. It wasn't until I was reading the various old school blogs that I finally had a good guess at what happening.

You see the old time referees were just as pressed for time as we are now. Even the more dedicated folks were running out of time because of all the games they were running. The dungeons were not keyed maps we see in commercial products. Near as I can tell basically at lot of the times they drew a map. Only keyed a handful of rooms and for the rest they relied on table or their judgement to stock what in them. This explains why we haven't seen virtually any of the really old dungeon ever published commercially. (Blackmoor, Greyhawk, El Raja Key, etc) because their format is nothing like the commercial dungeons that came later). If you look at the first commercial dungeons they invariably are drawn from tournament modules.

"magic" protection Points describes how Dave randomly stocked the rooms on the various levels. The actual dungeon descriptions from 30 to 33 are quite sparse. Consisting little more than a description of treasure, monsters, and one or two words. For example

3rd Level, Room 4, Mels Room Golden Statue (Boa), Mels Room 30 Zombies AC8, 8 HTK
5th Level, Room 18, 2000 Gp, "Evil" Area, 2 Permanent, 20 Wishes
When you get to levels 7 to 10 the descriptions change to even a sparser format. The format is Room #/Wealth/Protection in Points/(Magic)

7th level Room 10/2000 GP/200/10 Werewolves (Den, Garrows), (75)
9th level Room 29/--/7 Magic Arrows/"Man Easting Sea Weed" (150)

Page 34 has the 10th level , the Tunnel System key, and the key for the Glendower Dungeons. Pages 35 to 43 are maps for the dungeons most of which are drawn at 45 degrees to the grid.

Tomorrow Part 4.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Wresting with Old School

In recent days there appears to be a number of posts on minimalist techniques when refereeing Old School sessions. Here and here are examples.

My view is that, is that we should enjoy the wealth of options we have today. Everything from elaborate Dwarven Forge setups with detailed miniatures, Dungeon layouts projected from overhead onto the table, to session run with nothing more than pen, paper, and dice.

I feel the key thing to remember if you use elaborate setups that you should be able to still be proficient with the basics. Because not every situation is going to call for pulling out the box of dwarven forge miniatures. I know for me my games returns to a more basic setup anytime the players start running around City-State or the countryside. All that on the table is a poster size color player map and a counter (penny, a miniature, etc) to track their location. Sometimes I don't have that and just use one of my 8.5 by 11 black and white player maps with the players making note on their player map.

Things like Dwarven Forge products appeal to our inner geek, but they are also a powerful tool for communicating what in our minds.

That is key.

A successful and fun session demands that the referee and players are able to communicate with each other what the hell is happening in everybody's mind. Without that the game becomes an exercise in frustration. Frankly one of the difference between 1974 and now is that we know more techniques on how to drag what in our heads out to show the players.

Finally not everybody is competent at the verbal only approach of pen, paper, and dice. We all have different strengths and weaknesses. Miniatures, Dwarven Forges, overhead maps projectors allows referees to do things that that they would otherwise would be bad at.

So keep your skills up at using just paper,pen, and dice. If you are using overhead projectors, dwarven forge, etc; I hope you and your players are enjoying the hell out of it.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Traveller stuff that I haven't completed

My day job is being a software developer. I create software to run metal cutting machines. This spills over into my roleplaying particularly Traveller. However I never seem to have to the time to actually finish anything. It takes a bit of work to push software over from being a fun toy to something that does useful work.

Here some screenshots of I have done.

This is Galactic for Windows. It's probably the most complete and function well as a viewer of the Galactic directory structure. For those of who are not familiar with the program it stores everything in folders on the hard drive. The advantage of this approach is that it can manage truly large areas of space. What not complete is much of the generation and editing features. Also it has a partial QuickBASIC simulator inside of the Visual BASIC 6 code which is why it is compatible with Galactic for DOS.

There are also two other distinct family of programs I developed you can see them in the lower left and lower right.

The one in the lower right does complete generation of star systems down to last planetoid. This particular version uses Book 6 Scout rules. Another feature is that I don't roll up the mainword first. Instead I roll out all the physical characteristics (Size, Atmos, Hydro) figure out the tempature and then proceed with the population, gov, law level. What this results in is a nearly empty universe. In a 32 by 40 hex sector there may be 2 to 3 earth like world, double that are bare inhabitable and the rest various hellholes and vacuum rock balls. This was written Visual Basic 6.

The framework I developed for this I adapted to the 3rd edition GURP Space rules. It too generated the worlds physically and then the population afterwards. Same empty style universe. GURP rules has a nice feature that it generate astrographic features as well (nebulas, etc)

The lower left was written as part of me learning VB.NET. It started out as GURPS Interstellar Wars general and and a second version as Traveller 5 generator. I feel it is the most visually appealling of anything I done so far.

If anybody interested in the source for any of these email me.

Oh if anybody wants a nifty ship for Mongoose Traveller you can download the Luminous Nebula from here

Into the First Fantasy Campaign Part 2

Continued from Part 1

After a cool little illo of a wizard blasting the hell of out of a fortress we start to learn about

Blackmoor's More Infamous Characters

Who makes this fearsome rogue's gallery?

The Egg of Coot, Ran of Ah Fooh, Gin of Salik, Marfeldt the Barbarian, the Duke of the Peaks, The Blue Rider, Mello and the Hobbits, of course the Great Svenny, and finally the Bishop. A Chief of the Nomad is mentioned but little is said other than he is fearsome beyond belief. He also known as THE Nomad.

There are some interesting tidbits in this section Of most interest to me are hints of the magic system Dave used. Which was apparently not Vancian.

From the Egg of Coot
Has a huge Laboratory that turns out spells, for selling, which are (of course) perfection itself (30% chance of failure per level of spell).
From the Ran of Ah Fooh
He also has a Spell Workshop that turns out one Level I spell a week, one Level II spell a month with one Level III spell as Year. These are portable but not reusable with only a 15% failure rate.
Sound like the early spell system was more akin to using scrolls then memorization.

For those of you without Chainmail there were originally 16 spells.

Complexity I
Wizard Light

Complexity II
Phantasmal Forces

Complexity III
Protection from Evil (acted a force field against evil)

Complexity IV
Hallucinatory Terrain

Complexity V
Conjuration of an Elemental

Complexity VI
Anti-Magic Shell
Moving Terrain

Plus every Wizard could throw a Fireball or Lightning Bolt every round.

Next we start to read about Blackmoor itself. We learn it has about 1,000 peasants, 100 Soldiers and Nobles, 4 Wizards, 1 Dragon, several Trolls, 100 Elves, and assorted Ents, Orcs, Dwarves, Werewolves, etc. We learn about Blackmoor Castle, The Pits, The Ruins, Wolf's Head Pass, and The Comeback Inn. An interesting comment is made about the Super Berry Woods where the Berrium Maximus lives in the next section about the Town of Blackmoor map.

Also there two illustrations; one of the Comeback Inn, and the other of the Main Gate to Blackmoor Castle. The town maps is one of the better early maps I seen. The most unusual feature is that the town plan is drawn 45 degrees to the grid.

Next we start reading about Blackmoor Castle, the Haunted Rooms, the Catacombs, the Tower, and then a more detailed list of the Haunted Rooms. The map shows the castle from the basement to the 5th floor. Again much of it drawn 45 degrees to the grid. This unusual mapping technique persists throughout many of the map shown in FFC.

Tommorrow Part 3.

How to make a Traveller Sandbox

So you are part of the new Mongoose Traveller revival. Or perhaps you found one of Far Future's Traveller reprints. The core rules are pretty straight forward but overwhelming at the same time. There are lot of choices to be made when setting up a Traveller campaign. Hopefully this will help.

  1. Roll up two subsectors side by side.
  2. Note all the high population planets.
  3. Write a short paragraph on each placing them in the context of your background (Empire, Federation, Free Space, etc)
  4. Find any high tech planets (the highest ones you rolled )
  5. Make notes on them.
  6. Find all class A and B starports
  7. Make notes on them.
  8. Scan the remaining planets pick out 4 to 8 that grab your attention.
  9. Make notes on them.
  10. Look at your notes and come up with two to four "plots" that ties one or more locales together.
  11. For each of the planets you have notes make up four "patron" encounters for each. They should start as one sentence each and be self contained in respect to the major plots.
  12. Come up with 6 to 12 general patron encounters that can be placed anywhere in your subsectors. Make them flexible like (set in a seedy starport, etc)
  13. Make up a rumor chart with 10 to 20 items that feeds the players into what you prepared.
  14. Then use the NPC resources that were suggested to make a list of NPCs. Assign them to the various items you created above.
  15. Look at your notes and decided where recurring NPCs will occurs. (Captain of the subsector Revenue Patrol, Custom Offical, Badger the Broker, etc). Probably need 6 to 12 of them. Give them a paragraph description in addition to their stats.

This should take about four evenings of Prep for two sub sectors probably two to three evenings for a single subsector. Each subsequent subsector will be slightly less time to prepare as you can reuse elements.

After your first adventure (or before if you are going to railroad it) evaluate the players actions and decide if any sites will be needed for the next session. Prepare it like however you do your Fantasy RPG module.

Traveller is VERY amicable to the use of Computer Software to generate many aspects of the game. In the 80s on a TRS-80 I would make printouts of a hundred random entries of what every type (subsectors, animal encounters, NPCs, etc) scan the list and pick out the ones I would be using.

Whatever you do don't just accept the first thing that pops out. Relying on totally random results leads to nonsense at times. The Traveller Charts are good but not that good.

The point of all this is to make a "kit" that you can pull out whatever you need for your campaign without spending a boatload of time in prep. Once the kit is formed then running Traveller is pretty much responding to what your players do.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Into the First Fantasy Campaign Part 1

History remembers Statesmen, Philosophers, Kings, and Conquerors. Dave Arneson was none of those. He merely figured out a cool way to have fun that wasn't seen before. Yet in the last quarter of the 20th century and continued into the 21st century his legacy has impacted millions and ignited fires of imagination that still burns today. And it started in a place that only existed in Dave's mind, a place called Blackmoor.

Thanks to the good graces of WoTC, the OGL and the d20 market Dave Arneson's Blackmoor has been republished for a new generation. There was an earlier version that player of Mentzer's D&D got to see. But the earliest published record was the First Fantasy Campaign by Judges Guild.

Sadly this work hasn't been released in PDF form. The most recent accounts say that while any rights that Judges Guild had was returned to Dave Arneson, he passed away before it could be properly revised for a release. I am lucky enough to possess a copy. And for those of you who don't have a copy let's take a trip inside.

The book itself is very sturdy for a softcover. It's cover made of parchment and the interior pages are of the heavy newsprint paper that most Judges Guild products. Despite 30 years of use my copy still together in one piece without anything falling out.

The table of contents is on the second page. Looking at you can see that we are going to be reading about a great deal many things. From the Great Invasion, the Egg of Coot, to info on True Trolls and Tarns. My printing has about 64 pages

Then comes a forward by Bod Bledsaw Sr and a Introduction by Dave Arneson. Written three years after the release of the original Boxed set the two show that there was interest in the origins of roleplaying games and D&D.

Dave explains how his campaign grew organically, first the Castle, then the town, and finally the surrounding countryside. Dave then explain how all of this got out of hand him coordinating six Dungeons and a 100 detailed player characters. Sounds like it had many of the element's of today's living campaign from the get go.

The next section is titled Blackmoor the Campaign. From page 4 to 11 in my printing (I think 2nd) are details on what is essentially a wargame/miniatures setup. It starts off with Dave apologizing for having lost the first two scenarios (I, II) and explaining that these are the notes for Scenario III which was a great war between the Good Guys (Law) and the Bad Guys (Chaos)

He then proceeds to give various prices lists, levy schedules, and example lists for the City of Maus, Duchy of Ten, and the Eggo of Coot. We learnd that Female (Red) cost 25 gp to 100gp, Female (White) 35 gp to 250 gp, and rare Female (Special) cost a princely 300 gp to 3500 gp. The poor guys are only worth 10 gp to 50 gp.

Pages 9 to 11 are useful because they list specifics on making internal improvements. What is a vague suggestion in Book III of OD&D is now expanded into specifics. Roads, Bridges, Canals, Inns, Hunting, Religion, Exploration, Ship Building, Farming, Fishing, Trapping, Arrival of New Persons, and even Tourism.

This is section looks a lot like the notes I later developed when I had a campaign phases involving a lot of armies moving around. I forgotten about this in FFC and later when I reread it I was struck at the similarity. If you going to do wargaming in a RPG there definitely some prep work that is the same regardless of time or system.

After this section comes the Campaign Map Notes. He explains that the original map of the Blackmoor Countryside was drawn from some old Dutch maps. (I would love to know which ones). Is probably explains why there are so many swamps as much of Holland is at or below sea level. Then he goes on to explain how he started using the Outdoor Survival Board.

"Later, the game moved south and the used the Outdoor Survival tm map for this phase of the campaign when exiles from Blackmoor set up shop after the bad scene at Lake Gloomy."
This statement is what started me on the path to the publication of Points of Light and the inspiration for the name and the them of Southlands in the first release.

Also it brings back memories of all the "Bad Scenes" my own player caused that required a change in locale.

Then we come across a hand sketch by Dave of countryside around Blackmoor. He also make a note that in redrawing this for the map in First Fantasy Campaign that he redrew it to line up with Wilderlands of High Fantasy. The southwest corner of Blackmoor lines up with the northern border of the Valley of the Ancients.

Note that the map used the Mentzer Basic release of Blackmoor is virtually identical to the map in First Fantasy Campaign. It has color and a few cosmetic changes. I would say you can get the PDF to see the full map but the recent move by Wizards has precluded that.

Tommorrow Part 2

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Fight ON! Wins!

Here Calithena has announced that Fight On! won the March Author contest at Lulu. While nothing like a top ten ranking at Amazon or the NY Times Bestseller list, this is no easy feat either.

You can read the lulu announcement here.

So congratulations Calithena, and everyone who contributed to Fight ON!.

As for myself I had a lot of fun contributing the Outdoor Map to #2 and the Wild North! for #3. I also own every issue to date.

I want to say thanks to all the fans that helped Fight On! win the contest.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Legends of the Majestic Wilderlands: In the Beginning

The next lands I will be detailing in the Majestic Wilderlands series are the demi-humans realms. However there background you need to know and it takes us to beginning of the Wilderlands

From the void, Veritas came forth and a voice from the void said "Behold". The void was parted to reveal the Wilderlands in all of its glory. Veritas was awed at what the voice had done. The voice spoke again "Go and look after my children for I place them in your care." A golden chime with a silver rod emerged from the void.

Veritas took the chime and rod and struck a single note. Silvanus stepped out of the void, and Veritas said to him "Behold the Wilderlands, go forth and order the earth, the flora, and the fauna for the coming of the children races is soon." Silvanus went forth and labored.

When Silvanus was finished he returned to Veritas, "It is done". While they stood, Veritas stuck another note on the chime. A great rumbling occurred and from the earth; two great multitudes appeared. Then the Voice from the void spoke; "Behold the Elves the glory of the Wilderlands and Man who shall inherit.

Veritas turned to the void and called forth the other Lords. For 40 days and 40 nights the Lords and the children races celebrated in the newborn Wilderlands. On the 41st day they began to build the First City to be their home. After it was finished, the children races sat at the feet of Veritas and the other Lords as their students.

Then after a long life the first of the race of Man died. Shocked the Lords and the two races went to Veritas “A man has died, what wrong occurred that caused this?” Veritas replied “Know that death is part of Man’s inheritance and is a gift given to them by the creator. Beyond death there is a veil which that I cannot see past. Its mysteries have not been revealed.”

This answer did not satisfy all. Many grumbled at this and went to the secret places of the Wilderlands to talk. A group was formed from the Lords, Elves, and Men. They resolved to ask the Creator about the Mysteries of Death. They called themselves the Seekers of Truth. They ventured away from the Wilderlands into the Void itself. When answers were not found they stood at the edge of the void and screamed at the Creator to come and answer them. When no answer came they stood in silence. Then they spoke, “The Creator has abandoned us, Veritas has lied. We must reshape the Wilderlands in our image and defeat death for all.” They returned from the void to the First City and resumed their former roles.

For many months they plotted, delving into terrifying realms of knowledge to augment their natural abilities. Many in the group disagreed. "We have to find ways to create what we want. Not waste time on ways of destruction". Threatened with exposure, those experimenting with destruction agreed to cease their research. However after a few weeks, they restarted their investigations in hidden strongholds away from the eyes of their compatriots.

After ten years the Seekers felt ready to challenge Veritas and his supporters. On the first day of the New Year, they marched to the First City. There were no guards at the gate; puzzled the Seeker moved to the central building of the city, the Hall of Creation. There they saw Veritas and the remaining Lords assembled.

Luceras the leader of the host spoke "We have come to reveal the truth.". Veritas acknowledged her; "We are pleased that you have finally chosen to speak freely". For many hours Luceras and other Seekers laid out their reasons for remaking the Wilderlands. After much consideration Veritas spoke; “You have lived up to the Creator's expectations. Noble are your words, but your requests cannot be granted. For your fates are woven into creation of the Wilderlands. To do what you ask would cause creation to return to the Void and result in the undoing of all that you are. Although the ultimate end cannot be known for Lord, Elf, or Man; we have the Creator’s promise that our rewards will be without measure."

A great shout went throughout the host; here was a fate far more wondrous then they have imagined. But for those who worked at destruction, grumbled. "This is not what we worked for! We wanted dominion, not be the eternal lackeys of the Creator."

There was a great celebration in the First City by the Lords and two races over Veritas' revelation. But the Seekers who practiced destruction left the city and organized their forces. Just before dawn they sneaked back into the First City, using their arts to conceal. At dawn they rose up as one and unleashed their forces on the First City. For seven days there was a slaughter, the first ever seen in the Wilderlands. Many Lords, Elves and Men perished in the fight. When the battle was over First City was burned to the ground and the dead left to the vultures.

The Dark Seekers, gathered the captured Lords and killed them along with the Elves that were taken. They turned men into slaves and used them create great monuments to their victory. There were those who escaped both Elves and Men, along with a few Lords. Veritas survived the downfall of the First City and was able to escape capture. Veritas turned and looked from a distance at the Dark Seekers celebrating in the ruins. “Once you called yourself Seekers of Truth. But the only truth was that you wanted to power and dominion. I name you Demon, for you have rejected creation. All your plans will turn to ashes and the glory of your destiny shall be denied to you.”

The Demons performed horrible experiments on the captive men under their control. Some they stunted their growth, others they made their visage and intellect a horrible parody of their true form. They made weird half-animal forms; horses, birds, goats, and lizard were among the combinations they tried. Meanwhile the rest toiled under the whips of the Demons.

Veritas and remaining Lords organized those of the Elves and Human who remained free. With them they fought the Demons. Over the years progress was slow, a small victory here, suffering a defeat and escape there. But as the conditions worsen the Demon’s slaves, many escaped to join the forces of the free lords.

For a thousand years the Lords waged an Uttermost War against the Demons. The tide turned and the Demons gave up a little each year. Finally the slow retreat turned into a rout and the last forces of the Demons surrendered.

Out of the myriad Lords who celebrated the birth of the Wilderlands only ten survived, Veritas, Silvanus, Dannu, Mitra, Set, Hamakhis, Kalis, Thoth, Nephthys, and Thor. At a great council it was decided that all the surviving Demons were to be imprisoned within an Abyss created from the void. In the middle of the Dawn Ocean a island was created to act as the gateway into the Abyss.

Veritas made the Crystal of the Chromatic Flame and the remaining nine lords created a crystal of their own color from it. (Crimson for Mitra, Ochre for Set, Amber for Nephthys, Emerald for Dannu, Azure for Silvanus, Indigo for Thor, Amethyst for Thoth, Ebony for Kalis, and Ivory for Hamakhis). In each crystal the Lord instilled a part of their essence. About the island they set nine towers and on each of towers, the nine Lords set their crystals. With the Chromatic Crystal, Veritas activated the crystals imprisoning the Demons within the Abyss. The Lords set the Dragons of Set about the Towers to guard them from any whom tried to enter.

The Lords meet in Council again. For ten years they debated over the Wilderlands and the destiny of Elves and Men. They realized that in fighting the war each of them grew to have their own views on the destiny of the Wilderlands and the best ways of preventing demons from regaining a foothold. They agreed that if they remained a new Uttermost War would likely be fought. So they made a covenant, and agreed to withdraw from the world. They would only interact through signs and portents. They would only deal directly those of the races who had faith in the destiny the Lords taught.

Before the council adjourned, Veritas spoke. “The sins of the Demons belong not just to us Lords. Many Elves and Men willingly followed and became Demons themselves. The fate of the two races has now been altered because of this. For the Elves they will endure with the Wilderlands until its uttermost end when the demons are released once more and the void returns. Only after these last days will they finally reach the destiny that been prepared for them. For Man and all the races created from him, the veil is now shut. When they have lived the full measure of their lives, into our care their spirits shall come. When the last days have passed the veil will parted and Man will come into the full measure of his inheritance.”

After speaking this, Veritas turned to Amburien Corlennas the Overlord of the Elves and handed him the Chromatic Crystal. "Keep this as a remembrance of our unity. Let it be an example of what can be accomplished when faith prevails.” Then the Lords departed the Wilderlands to new dwelling along the rim of the Void where to this day they give guidance to the children races.
The first version was written sometime around 1986. It was born out of a notebooks where I went through the Monster Manual, Fiend Folio, and Monster Manual II and categorized all the races. The list of sentient races was very very long.

I wondered "How the hell any fantasy setting can have so many damn races" Combined with my habit of writing long histories, and my love of the epic myths of the Silmarillion, produced In the Beginning.

For a long time I vacillated over who were the Demons. I did not want a repeat of the Bible or the Silmarillion where evil occurs because the equivalent of God's Angles revolted. For a long my notes said that it was the Elves that question the Creator and the Demons. But that explanation gnawed at me as well because I felt it was stretching plausibility for even Elves to challenge the semi-divine Lords.

My solution .. they are all guilty. All three races contributed to the formation of the Demons and suffered the consequences of the Demon's revolt.

One of the elements that was present in all my versions of In the Beginning was the fact that all the other non-Elven races were mutated versions of Man. In my mind this neatly accounts for why all these races look like us and why many of them are inter-fertile. When I get a change to publish this, I can include a Mutant Future style or Encounter Critical style post apocalyptic setting set just after the Demon Revolt.

Some of the elements that were in from the beginning was the Chromatic Crystal, and the Abyss. The Dragon guardians from the start but it wasn't until Update #8 that they were the cool dragon guardians.

After I abandoned AD&D for Fantasy Hero, my first major campaign was steeped in the mythology I created. The players loved it and produced many memorable moments. But that is a story for another time.

Next up is the 2nd part; the story of Amburien Corlennas and the Chromatic Crystal.

From the Attic: Update #8 Dragons of the Majestic Wilderlands

Dragons of the Majestic Wilderlands

Dragons were created by Set during the Uttermost War. They were used as shock troops in the battles against the demons. When Gods and the Children Races triumphed over the Demons, they created the Abyss and imprisoned the remaining Demons. Each of the ten surviving Gods created a crystal harboring their power. Towers were constructed around the gateway to the Abyss to house nine of the crystals (Crimson, Ochre, Saffron, Emerald, Azure, Indigo, Amethyst, Ebony, Ivory). The tenth crystal, the Chromatic Crystal, was used by Veritas the High Lord to activate the nine and seal the gateway. Set’s Dragons were then assigned as guardians of the towers.

Dragons Unbound

For a millennia the Dragons guarded the towers. There were no assaults to free the demons, no thieves to steal the crystals and some of the Dragons started chafing at the boredom of their duties. They wanted to be free to soar and hunt in the Wilderlands. Their opportunity came when the Dark Lord came to the Towers with the Chromatic Crystal.

The Dragons prepared to do battle with the Dark Lord, but he knew of the discontent that existed among the Dragons. He sent envoys and made a deal with them.
Follow and aid me, I will not use the Chromatic Crystal against the towers if you do.
The loyal Dragons were not able to prevent the escape of those who choose to follow the Dark Lord back into the Wilderlands. The escaped Dragons flew north with the Dark Lord and aided him in the Crystal Wars. The mountains where they first made their lairs are still known as the Dragon Mountains.

With the renegade Dragon’s help, the Dark Lord was able to crush his enemies and established his empire. At first the Dragons and the Dark Lord ruled as equals. But many of the renegades chafed even at the mild restrictions imposed by the alliance. They left to pursue their own path in the Wilderlands.

The Dragons that remained at the towers were horrified at their brethren’s actions. Torn between revenge and their duty to guard the Towers, they finally decided to send a small contingent to aid the Dark Lord's foes. With the Tower Dragon's aid the forces of good were able to triumph over the Dark Lord.

The war cost the lives of many Dragons on both sides. With the Dark Lord's downfall the renegade Dragons scattered throughout the Wilderlands. Most of the loyal Dragons returned to the Towers, leaving a few to aid the Races against the depredations of the renegades. Some of the loyal Dragon refused to return because the lust for vengeance consumed them.

Dragons Today

There are several different types of Dragon in the Wilderlands today.


These are still the Guardian of the Towers, charged by the Gods to prevent anyone from tampering with the Crystals. They are also the first line of defense against the Demons in case the Crystals ever fail. They are the most powerful of all the Dragons and they will not let any mortal pass to the Towers.

All the colors are found among these Dragons with Black the least common. The leaders of the Chromatic Dragons are colored Gold. The highest honor of Dragonkind is to be allowed to wear the color of Gold.


These are the Dragons that left the Towers with the Dark Lord and aided him in the Crystal Wars. They are very evil and extremely dangerous. Most of them are do not mindlessly ravage the land. Instead they prefer to use their abilities to hide and manipulate the races around them.

Black is their symbolic color, but Red and White are common.


These Dragons left the Towers with the Dark Lord but eventually left the Dark Lord during the Crystal Wars. They were the first to chafe at the restrictions of the alliance and soon escaped to experience the world on their own. Copper Dragons are hedonistic and unpredictable. They are master manipulators; however their plans are more for entertainment value rather than power like the Black Dragons.

Copper is their symbolic color but in general any bright, or flashy color will be found. Many Copper Dragons are known to have gold and silver colors.


These Dragon were among those who were sent by the Chromatic Dragons to fight the Black Dragons. They did not return to the Towers after the Dark Lord’s defeat but instead stayed to destroy all the remaining Black, and Copper Dragons. They are totally consumed by revenge and will use any means to destroy a Black or Copper Dragon including manipulation of the races around them.

Blue is the Color of Thor the God of Warriors and of Revenge. All Blue Dragon are blue, no other color has been noted among them.


These Dragons were among those who were sent by the Chromatic Dragons to fight the Black Dragons. They did not return to the Towers after Dark Lord’s defeat but instead stayed to aid the races against the remaining Black Dragons and the antics of the Copper Dragons. They try to moderate the actions of the Blue Dragons as their focus on vengeance can cause great harm to those involved their plans.
Silver is their color, no other color has been noted in these Dragons.

Dragon powers

All Dragons are reptilian in nature with four limbs, tails, and wings folded into their front limbs. Their hide is made of scales and is one of the toughest substances known in the Wilderlands.

Dragons have the ability to breathe fire, and change the color of their hides. They do not speak as normal people do but instead use telepathy to speak inside your mind. In addition they are known to exhibit many different psionic powers.

A Dragon sense of time/sense is very different than that of the Races. They know their beginnings as well as their ends. For unknown reasons this doesn't extend to the Races only to themselves. It is rumored that the reason that the Races are involved in so many of the Dragon’s plans is that it is only through mortal action that a Dragon’s fate can be altered.

A Dragon is extremely confident of himself and his position in the world. They believe that they are the highest creatures of creation and view other races with contempt. A few dragons, notably the Silver Dragons, have learned of the ability of mortal races to alter their destiny and are now actively are involved with mortals.

For a long time the iconic creatures of D&D did not play a large role in my campaign. I never liked how Dragons were killable in AD&D. After a few easy slaughters in my early campaigns I never used them.

When we switched to GURPS Dragon became epic monsters again. However the dial was turned to far in the other direction. In addition GURPS idea of dragons is like most thing in GURPS they give you a bunch of ideas and toolkits and it up to you to put them together.

So Update #8 was born. Since the Dragons have played two memorable roles in my campaigns. The first is when Duke Draco-lindus and his friend William Enderil were cursed by an enemy and set adrift in time. They visited many different eras including a memorable visit to when City-State was under siege and they though Atrabilorin, the dwarven savior of the city, was the bad guy. I didn't use DM fiat and was able to successfully get Atrabilorin away although it was a near run thing.

It was revealed that eras visited was manipulated by the goddess Mitra. (no this is not a mistype, Mitra is a goddess in the Majestic Wilderlands) While there was nothing she could have done to stop the curse from taking effect, she could manipulate where Draco and William ended up. She chose eras that she felt would instruct Draco about the destiny she has placed before him.

The final era she sent them too was Draco, and William aiding St Caelam the first Dragon rider in calling up the Silver Dragons. During this one of the Silver Dragon, Alesandros, greeted Draco as a familiar friend. Startled Draco and William felt the familiar twist of a time change and found themselves back in the present. Only to be startled again when Alesandros and a dozen other Silver Dragons landed in front them to hail Draco as their commander.

The second time a Dragon appeared in the campaign was during the all Mage campaign where everybody played a GURPS Wizard. Part of the campaign had to do with plots instigated by the Church of Set. As it turned out the players found out that they were orchestrated from our favorite hive of scum and villainy, Warwick.

What they didn't know that the Ancelgorn (yes I spell it differently) of the Majestic Fastness was the true mastermind. Evidently the old dragon saw something about his future he didn't like and has now involved himself with mortals to change it to something more his liking.

Eventually the players forced his hand and forced him to lead his troops in open battle. Mind you up to this point Ancelgorn has remained shape shifted in human form. So the player thought he was some big bad guy.

A memorable moment came when one of the PC Mages, Barton, attempted to teleport him out of his armor. The player put a lot of in-game in researching this variant of the teleport spell and used to great effect. It was costly in fatigue tho so he was careful about when he used it.

With the big bad leader riding with this troops, Barton thought it was a good time to use the spell. Get the leader out of the armor, make a mockery of him in front of his troops and break their morale.

In GURPS the cost of the teleport spell is based on the mass of the target. The more massive the target higher the cost. Being shape changed into human form doesn't mean that dragon's mass has gone away. So when Barton let lose his teleport other he felt a higher than normal resistance. But his skill was high enough to burn through and then the fun began.

He successfully teleported the human form dragon out of his armor and damned near killed himself as all of his fatigue was sucked into the spells as well as from his numerous powerstones, and horded stacks of temporary mana. Finally the remaining needed mana was sucked out of his health driving it below negative health, the point where you need to make a death roll. He succeeded on the death roll and immediately passed out.

The spell enraged the dragon who promptly shapeshifted back to dragon form. This caused both the bad guys and the good guys to scatter from dragon fear. In the meantime Barton's friend hastily used a teleport to escape back to the Guild of Arcane Lore in City-State.

They didn't exactly defeat Ancelgorn. But by forcing him to reveal his true form the PCs threw his plans and his alliances into chaos.

And gave me a good story to tell.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Vin Diesel is one of us.

I read reports that Vin Diesel is a D&D fan. It is another thing to actually watch it. The exchange comes after the halfway point.

I liked "the something like that" reply when the host's talked about playing a goblin. I learned long ago that trying to explain in a causal conversation what really happens in a RPG game is often an exercise in frustration. "Something like that" has served me well in these instances.