Being in the Main the Mouth of Olde House Rules

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Maal, the Accuser

The learned of Yerth hold that when a person dies, their soul becomes "untethered" and roams free, going where the ethereal winds may take them.  But these wandering spirits are vulnerable to the ravenous soul-eaters and foul demons who prey upon the unsuspecting and unprepared shades of the recently dead.  

Only by service to the gods might one be spared, for the soul is delivered immediately, under escort, to their final rest, whether the halls of the various pagan (dwarven/elven) gods or the Triune heaven where saints await judgment...

In the last years of the Old Dominion, the pagan gods warred among themselves over the fate of men they had made and used for their petty amusement.  The Triune was principled and sought to offer men freedom and eternal salvation, and the like-minded gods flocked to his banner and became saints in the new religion.

But not all of them turned...

Some, like the gods of the dwarves and elves, were concerned with their own kind and kept to themselves.  Others remained neutral and withdrew from mortal realms, doing so with the blessing of the ascendant Triune.  Interestingly, many saints are still worshipped in their pagan guise, a source of additional power that might change the balance of power in some future upheaval...

Maal Bael, from an illuminated manuscript
recovered from the ruined Abbey of Saint Tabitha

But it was Maal-Bael, meaning "accuser" who refused to see men as anything but disposable servants and living playthings, even boasting that he had given them their greed so they would be easier to manipulate.  Surely, these beings deserved nothing more than short, violent lives of debauchery followed by an eternity of sport at the pleasure of Maal and his followers.

And many did follow Maal, and, unlike the Triune saints, were elevated (or as Triune monks believe, demoted) to the various demon lords, who were given freedom to tempt men and offer binding contracts in exchange for their very souls.  This is an unstable hierarchy, for the demons know no loyalties save that earned through strength and guile, but Maal is the mightiest of demons.

To quote the Triune verses (translated by Aen): 

Maal Bael, thy words are venom
and the breath of your lies like boils upon 
the flesh of men.  God alone grant us
strength to resist your guile and the many pleasures
offered at the price of our salvation.
 
The Nuhleen Manuscripts (an admittedly pagan source), appears to suggest that Maal Bael was a cosmic prosecutor in some divine court, countered by Triune, the defense.  In those days, both served an even higher power now lost to history and scholarship.  And while the Triunes refer to Maal as "The Devil", he is, in fact, an actual deity, making the religion dualistic in nature and practice...

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Before Pits & Perils...

As we look towards the eventual Pits & Perils second edition hardcover, we dredged up some forgotten drafts of the early game, and a very different game it was in some respects!  In general, gameplay was more "war-gamey", with a greater emphasis on movement, range, and cover, etc.  Here's a little look...

Oh, and it was originally "A FANTASY WAR-GAME" in honor of the game's undeniable war-gaming influences...


Robyn's contributions we're considerable (if you like elves detecting magic and getting spells after first level, you have her to thank, among other things).  The faux-scanned cover imagery was intended for personal use only, and Robyn was rightly recognized in the final (first edition) version of the game.

Here's a bit from the combat rules...
  

This was an early draft; something we played with, although eventually, we just stopped doing most of this.  Formation archery was a real war-game relic, and one that made missile fire quite effective if distance allowed.  In practice, everyone wanted to roll their own attacks, so we discontinued this as well...

That's all for now.  Feel free to try any of this yourselves!

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Alien Wizards of Pangea...

True wizards in Blood of Pangea are removed from the mortal realm, although they watch mankind with a mixture of amusement and/or suspicion, being watchful for threats to their power and interested always in recruiting possible servants.  Whether these mysterious magicians are truly immortal or simply very powerful is left to the individual judge, but may include the following...  

ALIEN wizards hail from another world, perhaps one better represented by Retrospace.  These have alien psychologies and often view humanity with disdain or disinterest (more so even than the more conventional or Pangaean variety).  Alternately, these powerful entities are CTHONIC wizards serving one or more of the terrifying and feared SIX BLACK NAMES, like, Ktuul, etc. 

The former will possess additional abilities as assigned by the judge, while the latter call up any number of demons once per round without penalty and, possibly (1 in 1d6), their patron!

This altar to Nalguib was
found in Barooma, whose cosmopolitan
sorcerers admire its wisdom... 

To give judges some idea of the possibilities here, the following wizards are offered for their use:  

NALGUIB (ALIEN) hails from some distant galaxy and makes pains to conceal its true appearance, although this is vaguely humanoid, albeit hidden beneath its robes.  More so than the others, this one prefers to operate via human intermediaries and is supernaturally impervious to attempts at stealth and deceit, easily detecting lies spoken in its presence (assume 1-5 in 1d6) and otherwise sensing   
concealed or hidden enemies with similar success.

NEMODIUS (CTHONIC) appears as a dark and slender humanoid, being literally a black and cosmic void in human form.  A high priest of the BLACK NAMES, it induces madness (per the rules) against any characters looking upon it for more than 3 consecutive rounds unless it desires otherwise and can easily absorb any unfortunate victim within 10' who doesn't spend 1 MIGHT...    

As high priest of the BLACK NAMES, it adds +1 to all attempts at summoning its masters and is served by 1-2 HOUNDS:

TYPE: Hound of Nemodius  MIGHT: 5  MOVE: 50' DAMAGE/BONUS: +2

The dreadful HOUNDS OF NEMODIUS appear as canine versions of their master, but without the same power.  They attack with a bite and deadly claws and, being drawn from the void, have a 1 in 1d6 chance of completely absorbing any weapon successfully used against them, making them highly effective guardians!

The above are just a starting point for the judge, who is highly encouraged to expand upon them and add more!  For greater ease, assume that statistics otherwise correspond to the Blood of Pangea rulebook (and the campaign setting).  Once again, characters are more likely to meet (and possibly do battle against) the servants of these spell-casters - and with varying degrees of success...      

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Combat in Pits & Perils Part II (Lethality)

Some reviewers have (rightly) noted that Pits & Perils produces generally more durable characters than its OSR counterparts, which can fundamentally alter the experience of a genre noted for its total party kills.  For instance, a first level magician (the weakest class physically) starts the game with a good 5 HP, whereas the average melee attack scores 1 point of damage.

Compare this to D&D, where a single orc can easily kill a first level fighter with one strike should they roll maximum damage with their sword, and this fact, combined with save-or-die poison and mechanical traps, generates a degree of lethality that many players have come to expect of the game. 

Now this is exhilarating, but P&P takes a different approach and does so for the reasons listed below:

(1) It affords the players more "dwell time" in the adventure, meaning they get to participate for at least a while, even if they eventually die (which can and does happen)... 

(2) Furthermore, it makes hit points an actual resource to be managed.  Think about it.  In D&D, random damage can easily bypass any supposed buffer afforded by having "more" hits, making it an unreliable measure.  Hit points in P&P are a more stable indicator of current survivability and, in general, reflect the party's previous choices and/or strategy, etc.       

Even so, death CAN happen, although we suggest reading Part I of this series before going on to learn how... 

But, for starters, understand that certain encounters should be nuisance affairs at best.  No total party kills, but the battle will drain hits and limited spells, making the group weaker for their next fight, often with little to show for it!

The threat of death is an
exhilarating and ever-present threat...

There are many ways to exploit P&P's unique rules to create an atmosphere of menace and lethality, some no further than the basic rulebook and some imagination:    

Animals and similar (natural) beasts having multiple attacks per round (typically, a bite and two claws) are dangerous because they have several chances to hit.  Often, these enjoy attack and/or damage bonuses per level/size for added danger.  For instance, a bear hits nearly half the time, dealing at least 2 points of damage; easily up to 6 per round with the right luck!

Wolves aren't quite as strong, but attack in groups, making them incredibly dangerous.  So be warned...

Some (less-natural) enemies, like gargoyles and ghouls, also get multiple attacks per round and have other special abilities, like a resistance to (normal) missiles or tunneling, etc.

Crocodiles, flytraps, and jellies can drown, digest, or otherwise swallow up their victims whole in a most terrible way...

And let's not forget the poisonous and/or venomous things, like spiders and snakes, who deal one or more dice of damage instantly if the victim fails to save.  Giant spiders, who seldom go alone, can paralyze their unlucky victims and trim the party's ranks when every sword and spell is needed to survive.

Now obviously, spell using enemies or those with special attacks that emulate magic are very dangerous.  Evil magicians don't need to worry about saving spells and will happily discharge several Bolts into the party before fleeing through the secret door only they know about, leaving the rest to face a hostile mob of goblin henchmen minus their fighter and/or magician (or elf)!

Such enemies abound, and the referee should use them...

There's safety in numbers, and
enemies will take full advantage of this... 

Humanoids, like goblins and orcs, are relatively weak* and will employ strategy to make up for this, often seeking safety in numbers when out on patrol.  These get the outnumbering bonus (+1) while their superior numbers hold and might be armed with bows or similar weaponry.  Poisoned (1d6) darts?  You bet!

Ambushes along walls (or narrow valley passes) are common and, whenever possible, archers will seek out cover to make any 
counterattack more difficult (-2).  Strategy is essential here, and miniatures are always useful in tactical situations.

Finally, stronger orcs might wear armor and employ two-handed weaponry for added (+1) damage.  This is common amongst chieftains, accompanied always by an elite bodyguard and possibly a guardian wolf in case enemies get too close.  All such encounters should be balanced and fair, but challenging nonetheless...

Of course, traps can also deal multiple dice of damage, and the referee should cleverly place these with an eye towards who set them and why.  Again, these can be undone by clever strategy.

None of this is meant to denigrate D&D, which we love for the exciting and lethal experience it offers.  But as play, inevitably, began to focus on role-playing and character identification, even its designers began to introduce rules to enhance character survival beyond a single bloody session.  Provisions like re-rolling any result of 1-2 for hit points (per the Moldvay game) attest to the basic need for survivability in an otherwise dangerous world!

*In general, the more enemies are present, the lower individual hit points should be (1 HP orcs in numbers are dangerous)...

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Magic in Historical Settings...

In the winter of 168/169, the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius was engaged in large-scale warfare along the Empire's northern frontier, fighting several tribes in Czechia, including the Marcomanni and Quadi, and things were not going well at all...   

During this campaign, the XII Fulminata (Thundering Legion) was surrounded by the Quadi and very nearly forced to surrender because it had no water.  Fortunately, when disaster seemed inevitable, a heavy shower relieved the Romans.  Inevitably, given the period and politics involved, this "miracle" was seen as divine intervention, with several traditions surrounding it:

Initially, the event was attributed to an Egyptian sorcerer who successfully invoked the gods.  Alternately, the Christians asserted that devout legionaries had called down this badly needed rain via prayers to their own god in the manner of their faith.

Personally, we suspect coincidence and propaganda (the event was chronicled in a triumphal column), however, the whole affair underscores something important about historic fantasy and how magic and/or miracles might be presented in games... 

First, we have the world as it ACTUALLY WAS.  No working magic and many alleged miracles largely indistinguishable from coincidence; although hotly debated to this day.  This reinforces the historicity of a setting and emphasizes decision-making and role-playing over reliance on special powers and/or magical abilities.

The "rain miracle" was recorded on the
column of Marcus Aurelius, underscoring how magic and
miracles were understood and interwoven into
an otherwise mundane and "historical" world setting...

Alternately, we have the world as antiquity THOUGHT IT TO BE, complete with working magic and miracles.  Both must be reconciled in true historical fantasy.  This can be challenging because the extremes are generally at odds with each other and finding the right balance requires care, discretion, and research.

When developing historical games, regardless of system used, the following is good to keep in mind:

(1) Magic and/or miracles that are mostly indistinguishable from coincidence, but easily attributed to supernatural causes under the right circumstances, are desirable for obvious reasons.

(2) Where more obvious magic is present, it should be rare and otherwise correspond to what people actually thought about how magic worked and manifest itself.  This is where the research comes in, noting that big deviations can ruin things.

(3) It never hurts to emphasize the historical side of things, noting that while dramatic magical manifestations make for excellent fantasy, they deviate strongly from real events.

Remember, history can exist without functioning magic because it already did!  Proper historical fantasy, as opposed to mythological fantasy, draws much of its essence from the mundane tinged with enough of the supernatural (just enough) to give it atmosphere and not the other way around because, ultimately, it's the human element that really matters, and this absolutely transcends ALL genres!

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Incarnations of Eddie...

Ok, we love Iron Maiden.  There, we said it.  And not just the classic albums from the 1980s, but their recent stuff as well, and in honor of their latest release (The Book of Souls), we present their iconic mascot, Eddie, imagined as a powerful cosmic entity for Pits & Perils, but easily tailored. 

ED T'HED (or in the vernacular, Edward The Head) is a powerful universal entity who appears much like a dry and desiccated corpse, although otherwise alive and kicking.  It is said that he somehow transcended death to become a cosmic being and now travels time and space in a variety of guises (beyond mentioning), taking numerous different forms as his need so requires...

Ed T'Hed can assume a staggering
number of incarnations as befits his purpose...

He normally appears as a 20th century English metalhead wearing jeans and a nondescript t-shirt.  Whether he originally lived 
in this time or simply has an affinity for it is unknown, although routinely travelling (by unknown means) through Earth's history, pursuing errands known only to him...

While basically neutral in outlook, Ed has a moral streak and is known to challenge demons and work to help those in need: 

ATTACKS 1(*) LEVEL: 10 (30 HP)  MOVE: 50'  SIDE: N 

NOTE: Ed (or Eddie) is treated as an enemy (monster) for hits and attack bonuses (+3 for level).  He typically eschews armor, preferring speed over added protection.  Having overcome death, he cannot truly be slain, rising again in 1d6+1 days, either in his standard form or something else that suits his purposes as per the referee and the adventure at hand...

Eddie is not a spell-caster, but may exhibit other powers suiting his current form, noting that he cannot normally switch between these during the same encounter, as this is tied to his current goal and fixed until it is done.  This may include artifacts that can only be used by him (being summoned from deep space) and cannot be taken from him through any ordinary means.    

Eddie's known manifestations include:    

BEAST-SLAYER EDDIE reputedly descended into the underworld and defeated a major demon lord.  In this incarnation, he wields a enchanted HAND AXE +1, +2 vs. demons and/or devils, although otherwise appearing in his customary form.  It should be noted that in this guise, he is impervious to normal fire.

Eddie, in beast-slayer form,
fears not even the mightiest of demons...

NOTE: Any roll of a natural (unmodified) 12 with this weapon requires the affected demon to roll saving dice or be decapitated instantly, referee so permitting!

POWERSLAVE EDDIE traveled into Earth's distant past and became revered as a god-pharaoh (a story unto itself), suffering death and subsequent burial and resurrection.  Here he appears as a living mummy or, alternately, a sphinx-like creature having a bite and two claws and treated as being large for damage.

With the right purpose, Eddie can
even survive his own death for a limited time...

NOTE: In this form, Eddie is essentially impervious to death, returning in 1d6 rounds (and at full hits), although only once per combat for balance.  This is his LIVE AFTER DEATH manifestation, something Eddie's been known to assume when slain before his present business has yet to be completed... 

TROOPER EDDIE wears a British Trooper uniform and often wields an enchanted UNION JACK that adds +1 to initiative, affecting both himself and any friends within sight of it.  He otherwise carries a powerful CALVARY SABRE +2.  In this form he can die per the above rules, although he will always make a last desperate charge, dealing an automatic 3d6 hits to the enemy if within range.

Eddie has an affinity for Earth and
its history, often fighting in important battles...

NOTE: Eddie can use both the Union Jack and his Sabre, holding one in each hand, conditions permitting.

Ed T'Hed has taken many other forms; including a space alien and, most recently, an Aztec Priest, or so reports claim.  Who knows what other visages await?  We encourage other like-minded gamers to present Eddie in their own systems, as this powerful being passes through countless universes on his many errands.  We love old-school gaming and old-school metal, so roll those dice and UP THE IRONS!