Being in the Main the Mouth of Olde House Rules

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Hathluu (a Pale House for Opherian Scrolls)...

This week, we're serving up a NEW PALE HOUSE for BoP: Opherian Scrolls for use in your own campaigns:

HATHLUU is a lesser-known house, being concerned with torture and interrogations, but also ritual sacrifice, which figures prominently even in Youngling culture.  As such, they serve Uku Utargarath, a demon lord especially fond of graven images and depicted in numerous altars and the elaborate temple in Yaminse.  His servants perform UKU'S OFFERING, allowing them to sacrifice once per day.

UKU'S OFFERING allows the user to convert a single slain enemy, although never any undead, into a BOON; usually, a bit of fantastic good luck within the same game day.  The power of this is always proportional to the strength of the sacrifice made.  

Note that for game purposes, a bound/helpless captive can be slain instantly, and that an agent of Uku will usually appear...

Cruel Uku is disdainful
and delights in human suffering...

UKU (Goru/Goruku/Urukurum) is a huge (12' tall) demon clad in the skins of former enemies, all inscribed in runes detailing their confessions gained through torture.  In combat, he attacks with his single horn for 1d6+1 damage or his whips, a successful hit from which extracts a single confession from its victim and incapacitates them for 1d6+4 rounds from the horrific pain inflicted.

Those entering into formal pacts with Uku may receive a grisly artifact in the form of one of his UKUAN SKINS which, whenever worn, bestows one random benefit (roll 1d6: 1-2 combat, 3-4 magic, 5-6 stealth) as suits the confession of its prior owner.

The city states formerly dedicated to Uku's house have long-since fallen to the Younglings, although lingering cults still occupy ancient ruins and still-active temples in Opherian cities now under human control.  Although reviled, the talents of his elder House, including specialized torture techniques, are in high demand among the Youngling kingdoms, who have no shortage of prisoners!

Note that because this is an especially dark house, judges might limit it to non-player characters.  But if the campaign seems suitable, players can be allowed membership, noting that Uku's house is prone to madness or similar infirmities given its evil work...

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The Paladin's Problem (Law and Chaos)...

Alignment is a thorny issue for some, who prefer to avoid it as unnecessary baggage, while others take it on its own terms in those systems that use it (and we're talking to you, D&D).  But when alignment is fully embraced, there's still some debate about the nature of Law vs. Lawful Good (or Evil), etc.  

After all, doesn't it seem strange that Law should (or could ever possibly) stand in for Good?  Chaos, sure.  The very name is synonymous with evil and unwholesome (or at least suspicious) stuff to be feared and avoided.  But some question Law as GOOD...

After all, not every law is good or remotely just!

Enter the Paladin's Problem.  This guy is supposed to uphold both the law AND the good.  But what if something as clearly evil as slavery is legal and enshrined by the same institutions the paladin has sworn themselves to serve and protect?  What happens when law collides with the good?  It's a tough question, and one whose answer points to how a traditional system of Law/Chaos might actually be superior compared to (later) D&D's axis...    

Now, many scoff at the idea of Law and Chaos as sufficient to represent the full range of choices or to serve as anything remotely close to enough.  But there's something to it:     

So first off, some basics.  Most everyone (or a large enough percentage to effectively count as such) is concerned with their own life and well-being.  They seek out food, clothing, shelter, and meaningful things and/or activities - and no one thinks them selfish for doing so!  Because we've all gotta eat, right?

     
This is the default setting for most.  But what does it take to consider the life and well-being of OTHERS?  I mean, when a starving person steals a loaf of bread from a wealthy shop owner, only the most hard-hearted see them as anything but desperate and wanting to survive.  But take an old lady's Social Security check to finance your heroin habit, and you're a monster, am I right?

Because one is a wealthy person who can afford to part with that single bit of bread to feed someone who might DIE without it and has no other way of getting it, and the other is a helpless widow with little more but a pittance to live on, meaning she suffers more from the loss, and all for a totally SELFISH habit!

Whose life and well-being is being served?  And at what cost to the life and well-being of another?  It's a matter of proportion.

But what really divides the GOOD from the EVIL is the ability to consider the well-being of OTHERS as co-equal to our own, and limiting our actions accordingly.  Rape and murder are off the table once we decide that others have a right NOT to suffer so we can satisfy our own desires.  This is the LAW we impose upon ourselves that limits us in DEFERENCE TO OTHERS.  Thus, Law is GOOD...


And what is a personal CODE, after all, if not a self-imposed LAW that demands respect for the life of others?

Evil stops at the self.  Sure, play nice when it's convenient, or whenever there's something to be gained.  But draw the line if inconvenient or when profitable to do otherwise.  It's a failure to move beyond the default setting.  And this should worry all of us, because the whole of evil is INSIDE ALL OF US, tempered only by our capacity to extend our consideration to those around us.

Thus, we have Law (Good) following the Golden Rule (or Law) and behaving predictably in deference to others, and Chaos (Evil) acting selfishly and unpredictably because you can't count on them NOT thrusting a dagger in your back when they stand to gain from doing so, making it the best description for sure!

Now, back to the Paladin's Problem.  They can freely invoke their internal CODE (Law) in support of Good and oppose an obviously evil practice, like slavery, and the temporal laws that allow it.

Note here that a distinction is made between Law as an abstract philosophy and (lower-case) laws created by governments to stabilize society.  Failure to recognize this leads to the Paladin's Problem in situations of conflict.  But our system doesn't.

Furthermore, a simple axis of Law/Neutrality/Chaos provides an objective basis for clerics and magic items tied to, and requiring, specific behaviors while simultaneously remaining open enough to pacify the nay-sayers.  Whether or not you agree with our position is one thing, but it DOES form the basis for our Pits & Perils system, and not just because it's simplified!  And the "good" men do becomes a self-imposed "law" that respects the lives of others...

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Eunuchs in the Fantasy Court...

Ah, eunuchs.  They've lost all their sexy bits and can safely be left to administer affairs of state and, especially, guard the harem without fear of insurrection and the sort of dalliances that can sometimes muddy the waters of inheritance.  Who better to trust with the many comely ladies left alone for so long...

Except history is a lot stranger than that, and fantasy has always been a good place to throw a wrench in!

So to the first point.  It was thought (or perhaps hoped) that castration performed early enough would prevent the usual hormonal eruptions, meaning less aggression and inclination to carve out dynasties or usurp the throne.  This made them trusted in the courts of Asia and Persia and, indeed, some came to wield great power in their capacity as advisors and regents to the emperors.

But first, let me be clear about this topic.  Involuntary genital mutilation is a terrible thing that happens all too often in certain parts of the world and should be opposed as the human-rights issue it is.  But the ancient world wasn't fair, and gaming offers up many opportunities to explore these important issues.  

In short, these fellows had the ear of the ruler and were undoubtedly privy to important information.  This had implications for the real world, but also in fantasy, where such intrigue may contribute to the drama.  Indeed, the sympathetic eunuch Varys from HBO's Game of Thrones (which this blogger sometimes despairs is a calculated and cynical cavalcade of blood and tits meant to generate attention via Twitter traffic) underscores the possibilities.

Varys brings some sympathetic
behind-the-scenes drama to life at court... 

But however much I may disdain GoT (it's really not so bad), I nonetheless can't argue with the drama (and intrigue) this castrated fellow brings to the story.  And maybe to your campaigns as well, because this is the stuff of high adventure once you start leaving the dungeon and interacting with a world's politics...

So what about the sex?  It's hard to avoid or ignore it when the apparatus of sexuality and procreation is literally snipped off, and early enough to (hopefully) prevent such instincts from arising in the first place.  And the image of the bald, scimitar wielding guard is ubiquitous in the media, especially fantasy!

It's important to understand that there were two ways to make a eunuch in the ancient world (we're leaving out chemical castration, although anything can happen in fantasy).  Full castration meant everything went.  These people obviously weren't capable of sexual relations, removing the obvious conflict of interest here...

But others were partial, meaning the member was left intact and ready for action.  They COULD perform, although without the baggage, they couldn't produce viable sperm.  This meant no offspring to expose a courtly affair.  But it also means that royal affairs are at least possible, and this can shake things up and lead to any number of interesting and rewarding adventure hooks.

The royal court is rife with intrigue,
and it's often the overlooked who see the most...

But to cite a properly historical example, the Roman poet Martial speaks out against a woman who has sex with partially castrated eunuchs, although it's unclear how pervasive this practice was or if anything similar happened elsewhere.  To quote: 

"Do you ask, Panychus, why your Caelia only consorts with eunuchs? Caelia wants the flowers of marriage – not the fruits."

Apparently, the Roman Castrato (boys castrated early to preserve their angelic voices for the church choir) could still perform sexually into adulthood.  And while most harem eunuchs were likely fully castrated, this isn't necessarily the case, and in a world complete with dragons, elves, and actual, working magic, this stuff is hardly beyond the pale and can legitimately be inserted.

The Eunuch brings a lot to the fantasy table.  They held a lower social status, but paradoxically, had the ear of the ruler as they bathed and dressed them.  They were thought to be safe guardians, free of those pesky sexual urges, but were, in some cases, able and willing - and with a banquet of potential paramours!

And ultimately, eunuchs are human.  We aren't our genitalia alone, despite what we've been told, and eunuchs are more than their condition.  These people have hopes, dreams, and desires (if not outright ambitions) of their own, although their circumstances will weigh heavily and might even give them cover.

Recently, a fan of our Blood of Pangea blogged about a sample character who happened to be a eunuch.  We really liked this idea because the whole point of Pangea is to break away from rigidly technical character builds into something more varied and narrative, and I'm pretty sure there aren't many PC eunuchs around...

Eunuchs are routinely portrayed as plump, balding harem guards complete with scimitars or acting as functionaries in some far-flung land.  These are often silent props, and this dehumanizes them unfairly and misses out on many opportunities to craft compelling stories (or adventures).  Imagine a rebellion that hinges on a harem guard and a sympathetic bride, who might also be his lover, and requires the help of the players?  Suddenly these guys matter much!

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Put That In Your Pipe...

Smoking is a popular pastime among hill dwarves (halflings) and quite a few real-world friends both on and offline.  But what goes into their pipes?  Especially in a magical universe where almost anything is possible, and the unexpected is both expected and very, very real.  That's the question we tackle this week, as we offer several gourmet uh, herbs, to put in YOUR pipes!

So, first off, all of this stuff appears like ordinary tobacco, although frequent smokers, and those with a well-developed sense of smell, can often tell the difference.  Furthermore, in order to enjoy their full "benefits", the leaf must be smoked for at least one minute (or round, based on the system being used), although this can be adjusted for realism as necessary:

BLACK LIGHT POSTER: This sticky weed makes the user feel warm all over and generally serene.  Unfortunately, it also makes them highly light sensitive such that any actions attempted in full daylight suffer a penalty of -1, although the inhaler can also see in total darkness and discern invisible targets for 1d6 turns...

Dude, I'm so wasted...
   
Unfortunately, stealth is impossible in this altered state, as the smoker says "far out" and "wow, man" repeatedly!

LAVA LAMP: Popular with magicians and sages, this bright red leaf enhances cognitive functioning such that any magical spells perform at THREE LEVELS higher than the caster's own, and even non-spell casters enjoy a bonus of +3 to feats of alertness or intellect while under its power; typically, 1d6+4 rounds...  

Unfortunately, speed and/or strength suffers proportionally, with combat movement reduced to 10' per round and strength or balance attempted at -3 while the smoker ponders the universe and just wants to chill!  It also makes them a beacon for ethereal creatures, who have a 1 in 1d6 chance of targeting unsuspecting users.

MISTER GREENJEANS: This stuff, popular with certain hungry, laid back hill dwarves (or halflings), is a leafy green tobacco that gets you stoned off your gourd.  Really, that's all it does!  Puffing heartily for at least a round (be sure to inhale) affects the smoker such that all actions are attempted at -3 for a full hour, during which the inhaler consumes double normal rations...

Of course, some are UPSCALE smokers...

Fortunately, the user also enjoys +3 to all saving dice, since the gods, apparently, look after fools and drunks!

WOODSTOCK:  A less common form of Greenjeans, this "tobacco" is virtually indistinguishable except to frequent users.  If smoked in close quarters (no more than 20' x 20'), it has the above-listed effects on EVERYONE through a powerful contact high extending to all within its range, including enemies, who become pacified for the duration.  Optionally, the referee can require saving dice to avoid the room breaking out in anti-establishment protest songs!

Obviously, these are meant to be used on adventures, although with the above side effects.  Smoke at your own risk.

All of the above have been consumed in our P&P campaign and are routinely available from Harry Garcia's (literally head-shaped) shop in Headwater.  Expect to spend 50-75 GP for 1-2 hits and witness some interesting (and influential) clientele waiting in line to buy his all-natural wares!  This is a more whimsical side of our P&P setting, but these can have SERIOUS impacts, so game responsibly...