Being in the Main the Mouth of Olde House Rules

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Papa Emeritus and the Nameless Ghouls...

As Halloween approaches, we've been enjoying the music of the incomparable Ghost, a Swedish metal band that is surprisingly mellow and psychedelic, recalling a mix of Blue Oyster Cult, ELO, and similar acts from the 1970s.  And, refreshingly, their vocals aren't of the tired cookie monster variety either!

Their pseudo-satanic lyrics aren't to be taken seriously or, alternately, should be enjoyed in the spirit of Hammer horror films, if you catch our drift.  This band has a unique stage image, with all of them wearing masks to preserve anonymity and to elevate the music beyond individual personalities.  And so their lead singer is Papa Emeritus, an undead Pope-like character, with the rest being mysterious and nameless ghouls!  This implied history has potential and is excellent fodder for fantasy role-playing games...

So this Halloween, we offer you Papa Emeritus, and since the music tells the story, please visit the external links!

Papa Emeritus is a gaunt and skeletal figure, which suggests an undead origin, although this is uncertain.  He is a clerical figure, appearing in papal robes and bearing the staff of his office, for Emeritus is head of a mysterious and quasi-religious order that has ties to the highest levels of the government and seeks to steer human events towards some mysterious and unknown end.

Papa Emeritus is head of a
mysterious and subversive order...

It is said that Papa was a mortal man invited into the highest circles of the oligarchy only to refuse and be struck down, falling violently From the Pinnacle to the Pit, dying and rising again in his present (and presumably undead) form.  Predictably, he is feared and vilified by the political elites as a heretic and dangerous 
subversive.  Even so, Emeritus is powerful and moves freely through all levels of society preaching his message...  

The deity (if there is one) Papa Emeritus serves is a fallen, rebellious spirit roughly analogous to Lucifer, although this might be a fabrication on the part of his enemies, for the principal gospel of this faith holds that the gods have enslaved mortal men in exchange for a dubious afterlife.  Instead, humans are extolled to seek enlightenment (a Secular Haze) and indulge their earthly whims before succumbing to the cold oblivion of death.  This philosophy, not surprisingly, is feared and reviled by the other gods!

It is left to the individual referee as to where Papa stands on various moral issues, but his ultimate goal(s) should be inscrutable and subject to much debate.  Likewise, while largely reviled and denigrated as wicked, Emeritus is admired by many, especially those struggling under social oppression, and moves freely through all levels of society, often assuming a bohemian demeanor and dressing as a dandy when appearing at important social events.

Alternately revered and reviled,
Papa Emeritus is both a savior and subversive...

Statistically, Papa Emeritus defies description, for he has the power to come and go at will, vanishing when the tide of battle is turning against him and cleverly doing so well in advance of any serious danger.  This makes him virtually impossible to overcome in those rare instances when he confronts his enemies, for he much prefers to work behind the scenes and manipulate others as his needs so require.  Uniquely, he is not subject to clerical turning.

Papa Emeritus (OSR)

Armor Class: 2
Move: 12"
Hit Points: 84
Damage/Attack: 1d6 (staff) or by spell
Special Attack: Spells
Special Defenses: Immunity to clerical turning, teleportation*
Magic Resistance: 50% 
Alignment: Neutral
15th level cleric/druid/magic-user
STR: 12  DEX: 16  INT: 18  Wis: 20  Con: 15  CHR: 18

*Per the spell, but with perfect accuracy.

Emeritus fights with a +2 magic staff and enjoys AC 2 with his clerical vestments.  He always teleports away when more than half total hit points are lost, noting that he avoids confrontation whenever possible, casting all magic-user spells like a cleric and enjoying access to the entire spell list, where applicable.

Some have even suggested that Papa is actually a strange variety of ghost, If You Have Ghosts in your own campaign...

Papa Emeritus and some of his
Nameless Ghouls bearing the order's symbol...

Papa Emeritus (Pits & Perils)
  
Demigod (cleric/magician/charisma)
Attacks: 1 (staff)
Level: 15 (31/+10 HP)
Move: 50'
Side: Neutral 
Faith Points: 8
Spell Points: 16 (all spells known)

Per the above, Papa attacks with a +2 magic staff and wears vestments that add +10 HP and function as golden robes of the adept when worn, noting that he enjoys clerical hits and possesses knowledge of all spells on the magician list.  His teleportation ability extends out to 1 mile, and he heals as a demigod, regaining some 1d6 hits per round plus immunity to all disease.

Occasionally, Papa Emeritus will seek a mortal champion, perhaps some player character, to act on his behalf.  These must be of neutral or evil alignment, noting that good or lawful converts risk an alignment change when doing so!  These will be granted the legendary Square Hammer, a powerful relic dealing 3d6 in lightning damage against avowed enemies of Emeritus' cause.

Papa is attended by any number of NAMELESS GHOULS all wearing identical ceremonial masks, but possessing cryptic names like Omega and Water and signing correspondence using special signet rings inscribed with a unique symbol.  Each of these are treated as 3rd level fighters with full hit points by level, full magic resistance, and the same teleportation ability, making them deadly!

Once again, we love Ghost, and the implied story behind them literally oozes with ideas for a Halloween session, so check out the videos we've linked to, support the band if you like them, or just steal their image and our ideas for your own campaigns.  Either way, have a SAFE and HAPPY holiday and beware of the nameless ghouls! 

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The Best Value for Your Buck...

The more I think about it, the more I'm convinced that tabletop role-playing is one of the BEST ENTERTAINMENT VALUES ever, and point to my own experiences from a time before the hobby went mainstream and computer games were just barely new... 

For two years, between 1980 and 1982, I had only three role-playing books; The AD&D Player's Handbook, Dungeon Master's Guide, and Monster Manual (OK, four counting the Fiend Folio, although I roll this one in with the manual).  I had all the classes and magic spells I could ever want and plenty of monsters to stock my dungeons and keep things moving because, after all, freshness isn't about having a new monster every adventure, but rather, having challenging situations.  Oh, and evil NPCs make the BEST villains!

And the AD&D Dungeon Master's Guide offered a LIFETIME supply of excellent DMing advice.  My only other accessory was the DM's screen so I didn't have to consult the tables in-book.

This was enough.  More than enough, really.  You could go forever with just the contents of these books, although I was encouraged to add or change anything, and did so with regularity.  Indeed, this element was the very definition of "value-added" and built upon the initial investment.  It was THE emergent property of the hobby!

Of course, I needed dice and had plenty.  But these lasted long enough and eventually become eroded plastic balls I parted with only reluctantly when I had to.  A small expense that hardly registered against my (really quite modest) early-80s allowance.      

Fantasy Gaming is a treasure
that gives back more than you spend...

Otherwise, I needed paper (including graph paper) and pencils, including colored pencils and ink pens.  But these could easily be rolled into school supply purchases and I never had to buy this stuff myself.  Miniatures were available, but they never really took off in my circles until years later, when Robyn and I wanted to introduce a more visual element into our own games.  So paper and pencil rounded out my modest needs, and I got these free!

Everything else was stuff that money couldn't buy and, really, shouldn't have to buy.  The choices and decisions of the characters in the heat of battle and that truly organic feeling you get when everything goes off the grid and the scenario writes itself through many unpredictable responses.  Once, I had an adventure set in a village festival and made an off-hand comment about a firedrake tied and put on display for the modest sum of 2 SP.  This was too much for the party to bear, and one cantrip later, the beast was released to great chaos!  This little detour took the WHOLE session...

And was BETTER than ANYTHING I had planned!

Of course, we already know this about role-playing.  But my point here is twofold: First, that the best aspects of gaming are totally free and, secondly, that with a MINIMAL INVESTMENT UP FRONT, we enjoy a literal LIFETIME OF ENTERTAINMENT.  With so many products competing for our dollar, there aren't many that can make this claim and live up to it.  Tabletop gaming stands ALONE here...

The immortal Dave Trampier knew
how valuable gaming as a hobby could be... 

Imagine buying a DVD that becomes a different movie every time you put it in.  Or perhaps a book that tells a different story every time you thumb through its pages.  Of course, superior books, music, and literature are timeless and well-worth enjoying again, but our hobby; the ROLE-PLAYING hobby, is ALWAYS something new.

This is because role-playing is a SIMULATION scripted by people, meaning the PLAYERS, making on-the-fly decisions.  And it certainly helps that the action takes place inside the participant's heads instead of on a printed page or other static medium (modern computer games, for all their greatness, are still inherently limited).

I saved some money, bought some rulebooks and some dice, and proceeded to ask my folks for VERY LITTLE game-related for the next two years, not even at Christmas.  Oh, they recognized that this gaming thing occupied much of my free time.  But they also seemed to understand that it didn't require much more than an over-active imagination, and I remain grateful for their support, because it was the 80s, after all, and the Satanic Panic was out there...

This aspect of the hobby might be SLIGHTLY problematic for an industry that needs to market new products.  Remember, I did't buy much (except perhaps Dragon Magazine) for TWO YEARS, and spent a full DECADE playing a game that Robyn and I made up together, which underscores my point.  Once you've found a role-playing system you're happy with and feel comfortable house ruling, you've stumbled upon the BEST ENTERTAINMENT VALUE ANYWHERE.  So check out the many games available, find some you like, and make adventures happen!

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Perspective (What Really Matters)...

I remember my first day posting on RPG.net.  The original poster requested OPINIONS on something (I believe it had to do with in-game decision-making) and I found myself VICIOUSLY ATTACKED by a total stranger that lasted through several angry exchanges.  We ended up agreeing to avoid one another's threads (like the plague) because it clearly wasn't going anywhere good.  Not the best intro...

A year later, I'm enjoying MY FIRST DAY on Google+, when someone decided to attack our post about a P&P character sheet.  This quickly devolved into an angry exchange, and I accept more than a little responsibility because I took the bait.

Welcome to the internet, right?  I mean, I totally get that and understand what the anonymity of the web can do to people when they think they can hide behind their avatars.  And I TOOK THE BAIT.

But I ended up feeling bad for both of them, especially on the receiving end of my own anger.  I was a military officer for a good decade of my life and can rip ass with the best of them (and won't hesitate to do so, which ISN'T to my credit here).

I'd like to think I'm doing better.  But what really bothers me is what set these people off in the FIRST PLACE...

I had a DIFFERENT OPINION ABOUT GAMES.  That's right.  My personal opinions about GAMES were seen as a terrible personal flaw and an affront to all right-minded people, which suggests a disturbing lack of perspective about what's really important in this life.


Now obviously, I LOVE gaming and game design.  But if I were told that I had to give it up to save Robyn's life, I'd do so in a heartbeat and feel happy for the privilege, because while gaming is fun, people are ALWAYS more important, which is to say:

GAMING PREFERENCES AREN'T IMPORTANT ENOUGH TO ATTACK ANYONE OVER!

Heated, enthusiastic debate?  Sure.  I'll happily offer my own preferences for simple, open-ended game systems.  But I'll never say that people are STUPID or DEFICIENT for thinking otherwise...

I'll debate IDEAS while not attacking PEOPLE, and not just because mere civility demands it.  No, not liking your favorite system doesn't make me (or anyone else) the equivalent of Hitler marching into Poland and doesn't merit ANY KIND of hateful rebuke.    

Gaming is great, but it doesn't define my own character or the character of anyone I care about or respect.  It's creamy icing on the cake, obviously, but that's all.  And when people can attack each other over what amounts to subjective personal preference, they can attack for just about ANYTHING, which is scary... 

For a full year (between 2014-15), Robyn cared for her dying mother and helped her through her final days.  Full-time nursing care is very expensive, and putting her in a home would have been out of the question even if we could have managed it.  So Robyn bravely fought grief and lack of sleep learning (and providing) this care around the clock for an indigent parent who was utterly dependent on others for EVERYTHING.  I'm PHYSICALLY DISABLED and of LIMITED help.

Robyn is a cancer survivor.  I almost lost her.  People everywhere have SIMILAR stories, and they're ALL more important than whether or not we prefer class or skill-based systems.  And given what all of us struggle with at all times, gaming is one hell of a stupid reason for attacking or denigrating others when we should recognize the basic humanity in one another and act on it always...

Luckily, the online community is OVERWHELMINGLY positive, and Robyn and I appreciate the friendship and awesome ideas for everything from food to role-playing.  And, sometimes, it's help for each other when life happens, because life DOES happen to everyone, and human contact (and civility) is our BEST weapon against the online trolls!

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Our Tips for "Colorful" Hex Crawls

Ah, the hex crawl.  Those fun and random things that feel like genuine exploration because they're so unscripted that even the GM doesn't know what's gonna happen next.  And they can certainly reduce the GM's workload.  But they can also be challenging when multiple charts are consulted, and the randomness can sometimes work against any sense of an abiding, living world.

So in the interest of compromise and the best of both worlds, we present our hex-crawling tips...

(1) COLOR CODE REGIONS

That's right.  Color code your map to delineate different geographic regions, like green for plains and brown for deserts.

You might also consider region-specific restrictions to movement, like 10' per round in bogs or whatever.

Color coding means you can quickly and easily break down regions without looking up names.  And you can color code any corresponding tables as well for (much easier) reference during gameplay.

(2) STOCK "PERMANENT" ENCOUNTERS

This might be a legendary dragon known to reside on a distant mountain peak or a terrible band of robbers with a den deep in the primordial woods, etc.  See what we're getting at?

Dave Arneson's famous Blackmoor map...

Design the lair and stock it accordingly.  These are "little modules" of a sort, but try to keep it to just one or two per region to ease your own workload.  It doesn't have to be all at once.

(3) WRITE "CUSTOM" ENCOUNTERS

Color coding helps here.  Now you can make region-specific encounter tables that are not only shorter, but still capable of substantial variety consistent with the geography in question.

(4) DO THE SAME FOR SPECIAL MAGIC ITEMS  

Potions and scrolls (and other disposables) are fairly common and relatively "mass produced" as it were.  But other things, like enchanted weaponry, should be somewhat unique.  We suggest a general table that emphasizes only the most common objects and refers the user to region-specific tables for more unusual items. 

And when an item is found, CROSS IT OFF THE LIST!  You can add new stuff later, of course, just wait awhile...

Note that this allows the GM to play with the probabilities of locating something if they don't like the list that comes with the system they happen to be using.  Make this your own!

Altitude (and latitude) makes a
big difference and present many challenges... 

Once again, color coding regions makes it easier to reference whatever charts the GM comes up with and actually makes them easier to use during play if you color code the tables too!  

(5) PLACE MAJOR POPULATION CENTERS  

Cities, towns, etc.  This is the VERY HEART of world-building!

(6) BONUS! ADD WEATHER

Weather happens, even in a fantasy world.  And various factors, including elevation and latitude, will profoundly impact how these things manifest locally.  Crafting region-specific daily weather charts is challenging, but generally worth it.  

Now you might not know it, but yours-truly is a semi-retired meteorologist, and we've made a weather chart available for free as part of our P&P Wilderness Worksheets.  You'll probably need to tailor the impacts slightly to your system of choice, but the chart otherwise tracks the movement of mid-latitude weather systems and accounts for tropical weather, which isn't subject to the same rules by any stretch.  We encourage research in any event!

So that's it.  Subdivide your map into meaningful divisions, customize smaller random tables that are easier to manage and more regionally specific while simultaneously inserting permanent and semi-permanent features of the landscape...   

Hex crawls deviate from the usual pre-stocked dungeon and enable spontaneous exploration.  Even so, a truly thriving world DOES exhibit permanent features and occupants, and these should still be prepared in advance to underscore this point.  But with the right balance, you can maintain both randomness AND creative depth!