Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Elvish Religions

One of my problems as a creative person is that I suffer from a very fleeting attention span combined with an overactive imagination. I start writing one story/idea down and then another quickly replaces it, leaving the object unfinished, then THAT story/idea gets replaced, etc. ad infinitum. It can be a bit frustrating. Anyway, I came up with some Elvish religious tidbits that I probably won't use unless I run a HOW or Unisystem game so I figure I should share them with y'all for inspiration.

(Picture only for clickbait purposes)


Nature-worshiping Elves is really a cliche at this point but by using other religions like those below it's possible to make it less cliche. The cult of Nature preaches harmony with the natural world, preservation of natural beauty/resources and the rejection of "excessive" technology and artificial methods of altering the land. Societies where Nature is the main deity tend to be reactive, only acting militarily when their territories are directly threatened by outsiders' expansion.

The Ur-Elf

"Damn it feels good to be an Elf." The cult of the Ur-Elf deifies, exaggerates, and worships the traits of the Elvish race. It can shoot better than the god of archery, sneak up on the god of sneaking, out-magic the god of magic, and out-swordplay the god of swordplay. You can do all these things too if you're an Elf! (Not Really.) The Ur-Elf (who was going to be named "Amys") is essentially a god of egotism and self-adulation. It was my conception that Amys would be portrayed as genderless, male, female, and/or hermaphroditic depending on the temple in question and local traditions to express the universality of Elvish awesomeness. Inspired by Heedless One, the statues of the Ur-Elf would be made of emerald or jade but now this idea seems a little silly to me. Unlike the Nature worshipers (see above), the Ur-Elf religion encourages aggressive expansion and conquest. I also was thinking that magic in a society dominated by Ur-Elf religion would be stagnant as the leading mages would only care about ye olde Elven magic and not any of that non-Elf witchery.


Since Elves are traditionally forest-dwellers and fires can destroy forests, it seems weird to me that no one seems to have examined the Elvish view of fire. I did toy around with the idea of giving all Elves pyrophobia one time but it seems like something that would work in a story not a game. Anyway, Fire-cults worship and appease powers of fire in an effort to ward off forest fires in particular and all dangerous fire in general. They practice ceremonial burnings of effigies and objects to "feed" the fire so that it won't be "hungry" and burn the environs. They also dance around fires and with torches. While on inside of the group this all seems on the level, mainstream Elvish society sees a bunch of nascent arsonist whackos only a single step away from burning down the city. For this reason, most public Fire-cults are in non-Elven lands.


Much like Nature-worshiping Elves, Elves as the masters of magic is a bit of a cliche too. Elves who worship Magic are viewed by almost all Elvish societies as dangerous loners due to their obsession with power and immortality. It's the goal of many to transcend into something else via magic, something that isn't part of the natural order (so Nature-worshipers don't like it) and which implies that Elves aren't the best creatures ever (so Ur-Elf worshipers don't like it). Magic-worshipers tend to be wizards. They also tend to be found almost exclusively in non-Elf settlements, usually as founders and teachers in magical academies or employed in the government/military.

The Bat

No, not Batman. "The Bat" is a title used when referring to the Elves' god of curses, night, and caves, who is represented by a bat. Similar to the Fire-cults above, worship of The Bat was mainly intended to ward off curses but there were also plenty of curse-mages for hire, which led to a violent suppression of the cults by major Elvish society. I imagined that the worshipers of this deity eventually became wandering Gypsy/carnival analogues who used Elvish skills and magic to entertain the masses. Another idea that I never really expanded is that one of The Bat's major curses is the origin of vampirism.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Obscure D&D Lore

Dungeons & Dragons has been around for 40 years now. As you can imagine, both the roles and the fluff (lore) of D&D have changed a lot during that time. Some fluff remained pretty constant throughout all edition (the difference between arcane and divine magic), some got tweaked between editions (alignment), and a few were radically changed (OD&D's Gnolls and 4e's Eladrin ). This short list isn't going to be too surprising to veteran players but there are some tidbits here that are interesting.

-Gnolls were originally Gnome/Troll hybrids.

-The Gold Dragon was originally the only Lawful (i.e. Good) dragon in OD&D. The remaining five dragons were Chaotic (i.e. Evil) and correspond to what would later be referred to as the Chromatic Dragons.

-There was a UK-published adventure where D&D unofficially crossed over with Warhammer Fantasy. To paraphrase: "In a distant land, the men do not worship the same deities as us . . . they bow to a pantheon of Hope, Anger, and Love . . . and those who will not worship these deities they execute." Hope, Anger, and Love are what Warhammer's Tzeentch, Khorne, and Slaaneesh are embodiments of.

-At one point during AD&D 2e, Yeenoghu (variously the god of Gnolls or the demon prince of Gnolls) was identified as a god of the Giants, and a Giant himself.

-The AD&D 2e multiverse was created by two supergods cosmic snakes who are/were the most powerful beings in the multiverse. 

-In AD&D 2e, Archons (Lawful Good celestials), Asuras (Chaotic Good celestials), and Aasimon (angels) are the transformed souls of Good creatures in the afterlife but Guardinals and Eladrin are actually extraplanar races whose origins have no ties to mortal souls.

-Adding to the above, Asuras, Guardinals, and Eladrin are not immortal like Archons and Aasimon. They do live for a long time though. Guardinals seem to have the shortest lifespans of the three.

-OD&D and Chainmail Gnomes are just Dwarves that live in hills instead of mountainous areas.

-In AD&D 2e, Stygia (one of the Nine Hells) has "ancient tentacled gods" frozen underneath the ice. These descriptions seem to reference the art in Planscape that showed an "evolved" Nupperibo (minor devil) and an "ancient Baatorian" (the inhabitants of the hells before devils moved in).

-In D&D 3.5, probably based on the lore above, Zargon from the Basic D&D module B4 The Lost City was retconned into being an ancient Baatorian despite the fact that the concept had been discarded by the tail end of AD&D 2e.

-Wizards of the Coast created a campaign setting for AD&D 2e based on wuxia. It was only released online (with each chapter as a separate PDF), regarded as crap, and was never again mentioned by WOTC.

-The Witch, an AD&D arcane spellcaster class created by Gary Gygax and published in Dragon Magazine, could not effect clerics, Djinni, or Efreeti.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Weird Dreams

I stayed up a little too late while reading excerpts from the late AD&D supplement called Guide to Hell, a detailed look at the Nine Hells of Baator and the Lawful Evil Baatezu. I've never cared much for D&D's Devils but it did have some interesting little tidbits that I'll probably detail in another post.

This morning I had a dream inspired by what I read. A Lovecraftian Great Old One (unnamed in the dream) somehow took over a swampy layer of Baator. Due to declining power it was forced to assume a three-dimensional form based on its worshipers' beliefs: The entity appears as a light-skinned and powerfully built old man wearing buckskin robes. He has a long, neat white beard and equally neat white hair (think of Christopher Lee in his role as Saruman in LOTR). His eyes are pupilless and solid white. Twig-like horns emerge from the crown of his head. This interloper wanders through the swamp, untouched by layer's water, mud, or beasts. Explorers surveying the layer have discovered areas where bramble weaves together with many-eyed green tentacles to block off some areas. It is unknown what these eldritch cordons guard.

Developing an RPG 1: The Fluff

I've been sporadically working for two months on a roleplaying game  tentatively titled Wrath of The Giants! It's mainly a creative exercise just to see if I can make something that works. In the game the Chaotic Giants are the protagonists and the horrible Law-spreading mortals are the antagonists. It's supposed to be a pretty rules-light affair but we'll see how it goes.

The first thing I'd like to share is the history I've thought up for the setting. I'm going to skim/summarize a lot of parts to keep it brief.


I'll start with the gods. The gods had existed since time immemorial, their generations countless and their origin long forgotten. The were nourished by the [legendary super awesome god fruit tree] but as time went on, the tree bore less and less fruit. Fearing starvation, they rounded up their best artisans and commissioned them to make a new food source. The artisans made what would be The World.

The World in its early stages was wracked with horrific natural disasters of every type as elements melded together. Terrified by the energies they sensed from The World, the gods kept their distance while greedily gobbling up its energy.

From the energy unleashed by The World's birth throes, the giants arose. The World began to slowly drift into slumber. For centuries or even millennia, the giants ruled all. They created writing, art, cities, and sailing. The giants lived in a paradise.

At this point, some of the gods gathered up courage to survey The World and see if anything was broken during the early cataclysms. What they found were these things crawling around in their food and messing with it. The godlings attacked the giants and were rebuffed. This is the event that starts the enmity between gods and giants.

After this, the artisans noticed that instead of being Lawful Cheesy, the energy the gods are consuming is actually Chaotic Ranch flavor; the gods worry that at best this extra helping of Chaos will mutate them and that at worst it will make them explode. The only thing that can explain this imbalance is the giants, so they have to go.

Using blood from the giants, the gods made animals to restore the balance and hunt the giants. Unfortunately, they were rather unskilled in making life so the animals ended up just being animals instead of super disposable giant-slaying machines. The one boon the gods did gain was one they hadn't engineered: A giant ate animals after watching predators hunting, then spread the custom to his tribe, who spread it to other tribes, etc. This introduced hunger to the giants and forced them to eat regularly.

In spite of this, making animals was a huge mistake since the psychic energy the produced congealed with nascent godstuff used to create The World and birthed the fey. The fey are the creations and creators of magic; their ranks include creatures like elves, fairies, minotaurs, satyrs, etc. Naturally, the fey and the giants came into conflict. Eventually the giants realized that fey couldn't (or wouldn't) leave and the two settled into an uneasy peace.

The gods once again started panicking as they noticed that their sustenance was now the equivalent of a Double Bacon Chaosburger with extra Chaos on the side and sent more godlings in to seize fey and giant specimens. Using their new and improved knowledge, the gods created the ultimate fey-and-giant exterminators, the dragons. Unfortunately, although they could create a soul that would return to them for reuse when the dragon was slain, they had no way to hardwire their desires into the dragons.

Dragons have one fatal flaw: They are insatiably curious. Fey and giants quickly learned to bribe dragons with curios, folk tales, gossip, songs, and anything or everything else. Nevertheless, the mere presence of dragons managed to tip the scale of The World's alignment very slightly toward Law.

The gods next attempt to purge the giants and fey were the orcs. The orcs were supposed to be swarm fighters, weak but numerous. It took only a few generations for the orcs to abandon their mission.

The gods made more races like goblins, dwarves, and especially humans who managed to defeat much of giant and fey forces and purge other god-made creatures that abandoned their directives.
Where once the giants ruled the whole world, they now skulk in inhospitable mountain peaks, magma chambers, caves, and swamps.


In Wrath of The Giants! the giants are the dying remnants of a great civilization desperately striking out against their enemies to avenge their ancestors and display their unyielding defiance.

I think I've got the lore portion of the game down, next comes the rules.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Heroes & Other Worlds: A Second Look

In a previous post I gave my first impressions of C. R. Brandon's Heroes & Other Worlds and Magi Carta. After having more time to go over it (and after Brandon linked to my review on his blog), I felt that it was fitting to talk about everything that I missed on the first go.

Heroes & Other Worlds

After more time reading, I've come to appreciate that the two classes have a lot of depth in terms of options. You can create uber-powerful one-trick ponies (who will quickly burn through EN in the case of wizards) or weaker/average characters with more versatile repertoires. Fortunately, both versions seem equally viable.

The Adventuring section is dungeoneering 101 with some rules on poison, fire, secret doors, light, and wandering monsters. Some noteworthy advice is that an addition to a Mapper (who makes maps) the party should have a "Caller," a sort of spokesperson for the group to the GM.

When it comes to combat, HOW is crunchier than homemade fried chicken coated with cornflakes. Unlike in D&D (mainly speaking from a 3.x perspective here) were movement can be done willy-nilly unless you're capable of multiple attacks, HOW's combat is much more cerebral. To cast a spell or shoot a ranged weapon, the farthest you can move is 1 space (5 feet). To be able to defend/react to an attack you have to move half your Movement (MV) value or less and you can't move the next turn. The questions of when to move, how far to move, whether to defend, and how to defend (dodge, parry, block) make combat very engaging. It should be noted that although Brandon mentions both hex and square grids in the introduction, HOW is very clearly designed to operate on hex maps. Facing is mentioned, especially in relation to shields and sneak attacks, but not elaborated upon. I'm assuming that your facing will be whatever direction you last moved in or toward the location of your most recent attack targets.

The default Experience Point system is pretty simple: Characters receive 3 XP for each test successfully passed, with bonus XP if it was an extremely difficult (i.e. a test where you have to roll under a target number using 4D6 or 5D6). The only concern I can think of is munchkins trying to make a bajillion Detect Hidden (equivalent to D&D 3.5's Spot) and/or Detect Lies (equivalent to Sense Motive) in order to rack up XP faster. A strong GM hand will probably curtail that crap should it come up in-game.

The Referee Resources section is very short, giving pointers on how to improvise for player's crazy stunts and advancing a Gygaxian philosophy of creating atmosphere using non-visual phenomena such as smell and taste. It also features a handy selection of NPCs and hirelings.

The treasure section covers all the typical doodads you've come to expect from traditional fantasy, with some appropriately designated "Oddities" thrown in for flavor. One thing to note from the treasure tables is that magic items are comparatively rare.

Following the magic items section is a small "Find your Fate"-style solo adventure that I'll play through at some future junction. Past this is a guide on constructing your own dungeons and adventures, including various random generators, NPC reaction tables, and a sample dungeon. One thing I don't like about this section is the very oldschool "Gotcha!" trapfinding method. Not only does a player have to say where his character is looking for traps, he has to say how that character is looking for traps. This has always felt to me like something easily abused by asshole GMs or that would drag on a game to the point of boredom as the party takes 30 minutes in real time to clear a average dungeon hallway. I'm not in favor of the D&D 3.5 "I roll to find traps" method either, but I've yet to find a good intermediary between what I consider two extremes.

The equipment sections features the ever-essential weapons and armor, miscellaneous tools, and "flavor" items like silk gloves and fancy gloves. The entire section is five pages of rules composed almost entirely of charts. An availability check rule helps determine what items can be found in certain regions. This section is lacking in some fundamental information for tools, like what caltrops actually do rules-wise or how many approximate pages you can write/draw using a single container of ink. These are pretty minor complaints though.

I stand by my earlier statement that Heroes & Other Worlds is a great little system.

Magi Carta

Magi Carta can be divided into three distinct pieces: New rules; revised spells from the core rulebook; and spells converted from the D&D 3.5 SRD/OGL.

For the new rules, I've already opined on the Wizard Staffs and Familiar sections, so I'll focus on the other sections. The first thing here is optional limits to learning spells. For example, a country bumpkin wizard can't start the game knowing Chain Lightning (an IQ 14 spell); he's limited to IQ 8 or lower spells at the start of his career no matter how much of a supra-genius he may be. Another option is a sort of "spell tax" where you must learn low-level spells to learn high level spells. Under this system, in order to learn an IQ 11 spell, you need to have an IQ 10, IQ 9, and IQ 8 spell as well. If you want to learn two IQ 11 spells, you need two spells of each lesser IQ level. It feels too constraining for my tastes.

There's also Cartomancy, spells inscribed on cards that are thrown Gambit-style and can be activated by anyone for the low price of 2 EN. Unfortunately they're pretty difficult to make and for most wizards they'll end up being extra IQ 8 spells. Still, a neat concept.

Dermal Magic is magical scarification that doubles the potential spells a wizard can know. There's also magic tattoos for wizardly wusses which also expands a wizards spell capacity but makes casting the inscribed spells more difficult. By RAW it appears that only wizards can use dermal magic.

Next are Spell Gems, which are similar in concept to D&Desque wands (Magi Carta's staffs are more like GURPS' magic staves). They can either be used to cast a stored spell or thrown as magical grenades.

I already covered Wizard Staffs (and Familiars) but I want to say that despite the awkward composition of the Staff text, the rules seem very sound.

Wrapping up the new rules are Spellbooks. I am so very, very glad that Brandon didn't make Spellbooks Vancian-style items. A spellbook is like a magic scroll but permanent; you can use it to cast spells but the spells won't fade away. Spellbooks are also the only way to learn a spell that is above your IQ (wizards only. Sorry adventurers :< )

As for the old spells, most are relatively unchanged (Enfeeble, Magic Strike). The rest are either expanded/clarified (Drop, Iron Flesh) or nerfed (the Freeze spells, Summon [Spectral] Bear) compared to their core versions.

With regards to the OGL spells, Brandon very sensibly altered many of the effects so that Color Spray is very powerful but not quite as effective as it is in D&D 3.5 (unless you're fighting Goblins).
(Tasha's) Hideous Laughter has also been nerfed so that exploits such as hitting Demogorgon with Hideous Laughter and the unleashing a salvo of murder on him are unlikely. Problematic spells like Sleep are also split up into multiple spells with the weakest like Lesser Sleep only affecting one target.

Overall, I'd say Magi Carta is a really good add-on for players and GMs wanting more thematic magic in their games.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Slivers in Heroes & Other Worlds

Yesterday I was nosing around C. R. Brandon's Heroes & Other Worlds blog and found a nifty Magic: The Gathering to HOW creature converter. It's a nifty little spreadsheet and I really like MTG so it was a good find. Unfortunately, 1) it can really only convert vanilla creatures & 2) it doesn't work well for tokens.

Take Sliver creature tokens as an example: ST 0, DX 8, IQ 2 (chosen by me), MV 4, AR -2.
By RAW in HOW, the Sliver is already dead; by RAI, the Sliver is unconscious and just an immobile bag of XP.

The solution I devised was to convert one of the classic buffer Slivers, in this case Sinew Sliver: ST 10, DX 8, IQ 2 (chosen by me), MV 4, AR -2, Other Slivers within 50 spaces get +6 adjusted ST.

This not only reflects the traditional MTG flavor of Slivers but also functions in a very flavorful way; taking out the Sinew makes the larvae fall back into hibernation. By the same token, it makes tactical planning very important because you don't want to lead a Sinew Sliver into a room full of larvae!
Granted, the Sliver Larvae are weaker than a peasant with a Sinew Sliver around. That can always be fixed by throwing a few more Sinews to the group~

Heroes & Other Worlds: First Impressions

I got my copy of Heroes & Other Worlds and its spell splatbook, Magi Carta. I bought this mainly because I saw Brandon 's (the author) enthusiasm on his blog and as an amateur game designer I thought it was neat. I haven't read all through these two books but I wanted to give a reactionary review.

***Edit: I read through all of the core rules and quite a bit of Magi Carta. After you read this post, you can get a more detailed look at them over here.***

Heroes & Other Worlds Core Rules

Described as "[Steve Jackson's] The Fantasy Trip with a dash of Moldvay Basic D&D," HOW is at its core a class-based, stat- and skill-dependent, D6 roll-under system: You roll 3D6 or 4D6 and compare it to a target number with a roll equal to or lower than the target succeeding.
Character creation is point-based: you spend Hero Points to boost your stats (Strength, Intelligence, Dexterity, Endurance) and to buy Skills and/or Spells. It's very reminiscent of GURPS, which is fitting considering its inspirations.

Health is measured by two stats: Strength (ST) and Endurance (EN). You can spend either EN or ST to cast spells. When your ST reaches 0 your character gets KO'd. It reminds me of the Vitality/Wounds system Wizards of the Coast used in the d20-based Star Wars Roleplaying Game: Revised Edition which also incorporates HP-equivalent expenditure to activate Force Powers. It makes me wonder if Brandon was inspired by it and also how viable a Star Wars HOW hack would be.

Intelligence (IQ) is basically only there to give limits on the highest spells you can learn and how good you are at casting spells.

Dexterity (DX) determines how fast you move, how quickly you react in combat, AND your ability to hit things. It's a lot like Unisystem Classic in that regard.
As I mentioned earlier, there are two classes: Adventurer and Wizard. Adventurers are skill-focused (although you can still buy spells) while Wizards are spell-focused. There are also three non-Human races included for player use that are just stat adjustments + a minor ability. The three playable races are Dwarves, Elves, and Halflings.

I skimmed the spell section and skipped the combat section and went straight to the bestiary. It's relatively small but focused with plenty of little fluff to base a setting on. Two bits of fluff I particularly like is Hill Dwarves are the "default" Dwarves and Mountain Dwarves are their unfriendly cousins (a reversal of the typical D&D cliche) and that the Drow equivalent are are refugees who refused to go home after a war ended, much to the Mountain Dwarves' chagrin.

The art is good but many images are pixelated for some reason, which is a shame because it seems like the pixelated art pieces are also really good. There's also some pixelation on charts and tables but they remain legible. At some points it feels like page number references would be helpful, such as adding a note on the Skill section (pg. 16) to flip back to page 10 for explanation of the mechanics behind skill/attribute tests.

Overall and with the caveat that I haven't had time for an in-depth study of the book, I feel that Heroes & Other Worlds is a very good system.


Magi Carta

Magi Carta is essentially a spellbook that features spells converted from the Dungeons & Dragons System Reference Document to HOW rules. Although there aren't as many problems with art in this one, there a lot more problems with the text. For example, the section on Wizard Staffs (pg. 11): "For every 2 ST spent by caster, adds 1 EN permanently." This is the first mention of spending ST in this item's creation and comes in the third paragraph. It feels awkward.

Another weird thing happens on page 13, where Book Worm are described as "a brownish green in color with shimmering skin," but the sentence immediately afterwards that they "resemble longish purple worms" .

There also the rules for Familiars adapted from the OGL which don't make mention of how to actually get a familiar. I know that it's easy to convert that info from OGL to HOW all by myself but missing an essential part of the ruleset is a big mistake.

That said, Magi Carta delivers on the lots and lots of spells front, allowing classic archetypes like Paladins, Elementalists, and Illusionists into the HOW ruleset. It's a good supplement to the core rules despite the mistakes present and it can also be used to convert D&D 3.x's vast collection of spells into HOW spells.