Being in the Main the Mouth of Olde House Rules

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The Real Roots of Role-Playing...

With the release of "Dave Arneson's True Genius" by Rob Kuntz, we have a book asserting that Arneson did something special.  Well, no disagreement here!  In fact, that's probably an understatement.  Arneson pretty obviously did something incredible and for which our entire hobby is rightly indebted.  Glad to see that recognized...

Now, a disclaimer:  I haven't read this book yet, so I can't fairly comment on the substance of its arguments and won't try.  But the back cover does summarize his thesis:  

(1) D&D was not descended from Chainmail, as many have asserted.

(2) Arneson did something previously unheard of in 2,000 years of game design.

OK, so to the first point, I concur.  OD&D is credited to Gygax & Arneson, but that's not even the important part.  Gygax heard of Arneson's Blackmoor campaign, and the two men joined forces to create the game.  This is just a matter of fact, and there's no reason to think that Gygax was on the cusp of inventing the role-playing concept on his own...

Yes, D&D imports plenty from Chainmail, going as far as to suggest that combat be resolved using Chainmail's rules, but this borrowing was probably inevitable.

Now, to the second point, I'm not a systems/design wonk by any stretch of the imagination and can't speak to what Arneson may (or may not have) introduced to the hobby and won't even try until I read the book and the proper context of this particular claim...

These creative youngsters get it...

On the other hand, here's my thesis, for what it's worth:

Dave Arneson tapped into something abiding in humanity since before recorded history.  

Wow, OK.  Here's my context.  When I was a child back in the early 70s, we engaged in all manner of imaginary play, pretending to be the Six Million Dollar Man, Superman, and just about every other superhero badass popular at the time.  Indeed, my backyard was a LARP edition of Marvel Super Heroes, circa 1974!  We were, dare I say it, engaged in a structured form of role-playing.  We didn't roll dice, but we did follow rules.

Superman could fly.  But the Six Million Dollar Man could not.  And woe to anyone who tried to flip the script and change these around!  We imposed narrative rules, and any deviations were duly coordinated and informally approved in advance.  And talking to others over the last fifty years has yielded similar stories about play and its assumptions...

Blackmoor (and Wesely's Braunstein) added a referee player in charge of the setting and supporting characters and rules to simulate the abilities of the main characters.  Now we can create our own characters and (as an added bonus) never know if an attempted action will be successful.  But while this was both innovative and without precedent, it was also pretty much just a structured form of childhood play, which is better still. 

What possesses grown men (and women) to paint toy soldiers and move them around on a tabletop diorama?  I mean, this probably isn't gonna get anyone laid (and we're not sure we wanna hear about when it might have), but it speaks to a love of something...

And that's the love of imaginary play!  I look forward to reading Kuntz's book, and probably reviewing it here.  Who knows?  Dave Arneson might, in fact, have introduced something previously unheard of in the annals of design.  But it seems to me that, in addition to whatever else he may or may not have done, Arneson also added random numbers and structure to the play we're enjoyed for millennia, and that's cool, although Wesely's pivotal Braunstein (and wargaming in general) had already begun this...

Play is play is play.  And from where we're sitting, imaginary play is a fun thing indeed!          

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

When Gaming Went to War...

OK, so I was ambushed.  Only it wasn't my first time...

In April, 2003, I was deployed to Iraq as OIC of a small combat weather team embedded in the 159th AVN BDE of the 101st ABN DIV (sorry, the contractions stick with you).  We were part of a ground assault convoy headed towards An Najaf, and we were ambushed after a solid 18 hours driving.  First on good hardball in the south and, later, back roads covered with an incredibly fine powder we called moon dust.  And this is where it happened...

And sure as shit, part of our convoy came under attack.  And I thought it might.  We were on this narrow back road flanked by berms.  Perfect ambush conditions.

We felt like the Clampets going
north in this thing (our IMETS weather van)...
  
But it wasn't my first ambush.  Nope, that was 22 years earlier.  It was also late at night, and our party was travelling through a narrow mountain pass flanked by rocks.  It was also an excellent ambush point.  But by 12-year-old self hadn't learned that yet (hell, none of us were prepared for the goblin ambush that followed).  But I remembered it two decades later. 

No big story here.  No dissertation.  I was injured, but rode out the deployment, seeing a few more skirmishes and surviving an airstrike on a nearby enemy position that came close to taking our convoy with it (hours later, the fireball still glowed faintly like a setting sun on the horizon as we set up camp miles away).  But what I am saying here is that tabletop gaming prepared me for this sort of thing in its own small way, and probably saved me.

Yes, we spent the last two weeks explaining how Wesely and friends had to detour away from wargaming to create RPGs.  But I fully recognize that role-playing has a strong tactical element and owes much to the wargaming tradition.  Add that to math, grammar, and good problem-solving and communication skills; all the vital life lessons I owe to role-playing...

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

The Braunstein Experiment: Wesely Weighs In...

Last week we talked about how Wesely's Braunstein was the precursor to role-playing as we know it today because Braunstein directly inspired Arneson's Blackmoor, and Blackmoor inspired OD&D.  Hell, Arneson's earliest games were called medieval Braunsteins, for Pete's sake, which speaks to the very real connection between two friends who knew each other well and played in one another's games going way back...

And in order to pull off this amazing feat, Wesely had to step outside of wargaming and tap into something different; namely, what we'd call role-playing these days!

But Robyn and I were only just born the year Wesely ran his first Braunstein (there were four of them in all), and it seems silly to speak for him when we have access to the undisputed expert on all things relating to his creation.  So the good major weighed in, and we're all the better for his sage advice.  Modern role-playing was born out of an experiment more turbulent and undeniably fun than any of us could have ever imagined: 

Wasn't Braunstein just a setup for some planned wargame?

No. it was not my initial intention.  If the “adventure game” I had planned turned out to be a dud, I was ready to switch over to a Napoleonic wargame, and just hope no one would remember how I had wasted their time.

Was there any connection to your wargames?

While I let them imagine that we were gathered at my folks basement to fight out a Napoleonic battle, I really did not use anything from our Napoleonic rules (since only a few Prussian troops even got onto the table, and no French arrived to fight).  I was ready, if the "adventure game" I had designed turned out to be a flop, with everyone complaining “Aren’t we ever going to fight?” to just give up and have a column of French cavalry and artillery show up and start attacking the town, and turn the evening into a “normal” Strategos-N wargame.  However, that did not happen, so the link with our Napoleonic wargame rules was pretty thin. [Note: We're sure glad it was a hit!] 

Wesely's took a major detour
from his Napoleonic games to our benefit...
(artwork by Jennifer Mei)

OK, so how did role-playing figure into your earlier experiences? 

The one thing in common was that I had done little bits of proto-role playing in earlier Napoleonic battles, pulling out some late-arriving player to tell him “You are the owner of the tavern in this town, and the local Spanish guerrillas visit you a lot.  Last night they were boasting about planning an ambush of the next French supply column that comes through the pass west of town.  The French have sent  a cavalry patrol into your town looking for the guerrillas.  They are offering a reward for information.  You should decide what you are going to tell them.” And then I would tell the French cavalry commander to talk to the tavern owner.   After which I would assign  a command (French, Spanish or British) to the “tavern owner” player.  This kind of livened-up the proceedings in our battles.  It increased the “fog of war”, and saved me from having to invent all of the dialog between the French player and the local civilians. [Note: This really speaks to the hobby's evolution]

But weren't some of the other games you played doing this?

Again, this role playing was not spelled out in my Strategos-N Napoleonic rules nor was it in Strategos: The American Game of War the 1880 US Army wargame rules that inspired me, beyond a very loose suggestion that the referee could provide information that might be obtained by talking to local civilians.  Much of what we now expect in an RPG, the interactions between player and GM (or as I called him, the referee), the referee telling the player to roll dice rather than just declaring the result, players being given a LOT of room to come up with tricky ideas, and so on, was not planned in the first Braunstein, but evolved as I floundered forward through the two flops (Braunstein 2 and 3) and then got it working well in Braunstein 4 and its successors from June 1969-September 1970.

We thought the division of play into turns might be one thing you retained.

[The] division of play into turns was one idea in the first game which quickly broke down when the players started wheeling and dealing between themselves without asking (or even telling) me about it.  My first Braunstein ran for about 12 hours, and so a lot more than three turns, though the players were not bothering to take turns, so who could count?  My planned scoring system went right out the window.

But wargaming got added to your later Braunsteins, right?

Braunstein 4 contains more rules for combat between Army, Air Force Paratroops, Navy Marines and the Guerrillas of the MRAB (Marxist Revolutionary Army of Banania) if any of those players decide to go to war – but ¾ of the players do not have any troops under their command, and games usually end with a coalition taking power, rather than a civil war.   The wargame side of later Braunsteins got reduced to an external threat, more than a chance for tactical play – “If you assassinate the manager of the Imperial Banana Company, will the UK send in HMS Jingo and her Royal Marines to restore order?”

That's Wesely on the left and
Arneson (pre-Blackmoor) at the far table...

Modern War in Miniature always seemed like a proto-RPG.

While Modern War in Miniature, by Michael F. Korns: was a step toward being an RPG, it did not involve any more role playing than any other skirmish-level modern wargame: It does not suggest that players even name the anonymous soldier they are telling to run across the street, let alone create a backstory for him, or have him do anything except try to stay alive and kill the enemy.  It was much like my Strategos-N rules, with a referee talking each player through a brief period of combat, and providing quick rules resolution.  Korns also did not take it any further.  It did not evolve into Brownstone Texas, Blackmoor and Greyhawk, but remained a modern minis game with interesting play mechanics. I had not seen a copy of Modern War in Miniature before I developed Braunstein, so it was not part of the ancestry of Braunstein, and thus of D&D.  Rather it was a parallel prototype, like Count Zeppelin’s airship, which flew before the Wright Flyer, but did not become the ancestor of all airplanes.

Cool!  And finally, we understand you didn't like the term role-playing?

I did not call Braunstein a “role-playing game” because there were already two other things called “role-playing games” and I felt it would be stupid to over use the name, when I was not trying to create another version of either of them.   What were these other things?   

Well, one was a form of group therapy in which patients  would be asked to pretend they were animals and then asked how their animal felt, or thought about  one of the other animals: the idea being that people would be willing to tell you about problems their imaginary animal had, which they would not admit to having themselves: “Say doc, I have a friend who has this problem...”.  The other “role-playing game” was an improvisational theater training device for actors: For example, in the “Cheese shop game” one player is the customer, who asks for any kind of cheese: “I’d like some cheddar, please”, and the other player is the store owner, who tells him he cannot sell it to him: “Sorry, fresh out” This dialogue goes on until one of them repeats himself, at which point the other rattles off a few more cheeses or reasons to clinch his victory.  You may remember this from the Monty Python show, where Michael Palin and John Cleese star in the Pet Shop skit.  SO after trying “multiplayer multiple objective game” (or MPMOG for short!) I settled on “adventure game”.  Unfortunately,  people who had never heard of the Cheese Shop game decided to use “role-playing game” as the generic name, when TSRs lawyers told them they could not call their imitations “games like D&D”.

And there you have it!  Wesely had precious little but vague and unformed suggestions to role-play from his wargaming inspirations and imported very little mechanically into his first Braunstein game.  Apparently, even the division of play into turns didn't pan out, and it took several tries to get the right balance by his own estimation...

Now, this is important, because it appears that Wesely introduced role-playing as a formal element and on an unprecedented scale.  Why else would Arneson be so enamored with the concept if it was already being done in any serious way?  But even if it was, history tells us it was the friendship between the two men, and the fact of their close proximity, that allowed one to influence the other.  So if you have the good fortune to meet Major Wesely at some local convention, be sure to shake the hand of our hobby's founding father!

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

We're Still Not Convinced That RPG's Were Originally Converted Wargames (Braunstein Edition)...

Several months ago, we posted our assertion that modern role-playing games weren't really converted wargames after all, and it met with pushback given that D&D billed itself as rules for fantastic medieval wargames, and that the hobby's pioneers were all wargamers and simulationist of some stripe.  And they made some valid points, so we'll soften our position very slightly (but not by much) to (re)stress the obvious: 

Role-playing is undeniably linked to wargaming, and to say otherwise ignores the essential elements of its history.  But it would also be a huge mistake (and factually wrong) to assume that Wesely simply converted his Napoleonic game to a man-to-man scale.  Or that modern role-playing represents a neat (and linear) progression from wargame to RPG when, in fact, he needed to step away from wargaming to create Braunstein; the hobby's precursor. 

Braunstein was a game.  But was it a wargame?  That's at the heart of the matter, because games, simulations, and wargames overlap considerably...

Yes, David Wesely was an active wargamer.  So what?  I'm a (retired) meteorologist.  Does that mean our Pits & Perils is a weather forecast?  It just doesn't follow...

A long time ago, in the
fictional town of Braunstein (Brown Stone)...

And yes, the eponymous Prussian town of Braunstein did lay between two opposing armies in his other (ongoing) wargaming campaign.  Fair enough, and I guess we could call it a spin-off from his usual game.  Still, Braunstein didn't require the other's rules to execute and could have easily existed without the events of that parallel game.  

Moreover, the successful execution of combat was never a condition of victory in the original game, where players became bankers and/or students (among other occupations) who found themselves embroiled in decidedly non-combative actions at the table.

To underscore this point, Wesely, despite (presumably) having multiple combat mechanics at his disposal, was completely thrown when a duel broke out.  Indeed, he thought his creation was a failure because it seemed so freeform.  And it was freeform.  Aside from the division of play into turns, there was very little beyond on-the-spot rulings.

Now, much was made of Wesely's inspirations.  He got the idea for a referee preparing the evening's battle from Strategos, The American Game of War by Charles Totten.  But does that make his Braunstein a wargame?  D&D has a referee, and no one considers 5th Edition a wargame.  The Compleat Strategist by J.D. Williams also plays a part, but this is a book about game theory and not some wargaming reference beyond the inevitable overlap...

All wargames are simulations.  But are all simulations wargames?  And where do we draw the line?  Monopoly is a real-estate simulation for sure.  But is it wargaming?

A signed copy of a limited-edition
print of Barons of Braunstein (from Chirene's Workbench)...

I'd say that, at a minimum, wargames should be about actual war and the execution of the same through effective strategy and tactics.  And in order to do this, you need to simulate a world where terrain and weather, among other things, are taken into account.  But we need to ask ourselves if a game where you have to get your (non-combatant) banker out of town with their gold counts as anything close to a true wargaming experience.

Of course, the lines get blurred because Arneson converted the original Braunstein concept into a fantasy milieu that absolutely required detailed simulation.  And wargaming stood at the ready with the rules and mechanical structure needed to make it happen...

And so, D&D was briefly a wargame.  At least until it wasn't.  Or put another way, Braunstein wasn't a wargame so much as a deviation from wargaming by a wargamer interested in trying something different.  It's essential structure (one player per character) and freeform execution were retained, with simulationist mechanics added because the need to introduce special powers and abilities obviously demanded it.  But it quickly became role-playing once it was clear that armchair generals had little to do with the emerging hobby! 

More importantly, given the execution of Braunstein, it owes more to the sort of imaginary play that predates modern (and probably ancient) wargaming by millennia, and this chicken definitely came before the egg, although I'll concede that a close kinship exists.  

But perhaps the best proof of this is that David Wesely, himself, didn't view his creation as a true wargame, preferring instead "adventure game" to describe his innovative idea, and our hobby owes literally everything to one wargamer's foray into something very different...      

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Not the OSR's Middle Ages...

OK, maybe this isn't relevant to some (most) of you.  But we hit the forums sometimes, and we occasionally run into those who mischaracterize old-school gamers (us) as grumpy relics resistant to new ideas.  But it's just not true.  And it never was.  Consider... 

Some have (wrongly) accused the OSR as being manned by dinosaurs resistant to greater inclusiveness and hiding behind the presumed medieval mindset as justification for this tendency.  Thus, for instance, women are barred from the city guard and other positions of authority in deference to medieval orthodoxy because, after all, this is authentic and reflects the period as it actually was.  But this defense fails on the face of it...

Old-school gaming has always been progressive and wide open to all manner of ideas, setting it far from any supposed Land of the Dinosaurs.  Any and everything was on the metaphorical table.  Everything.  And if you are one of those dinosaurs who cites medieval realism as justification for anything, consider this:  The OSR is just barely medieval! 

So first, calm down.  If you've carefully tailored your favorite ruleset to arrive at something historically accurate (or just close enough), that's one thing.  You've deviated, and at great length, from the rules as written.  But taken at face value and using everything thrown at you in the way of magic and monsters, the OSR is something else...   

Obviously, the presence of actual, working magic in any capacity would have a tremendous impact on whatever culture we're talking about.  Now imagine this magic conspicuously on display almost daily in the larger towns and great cities.  What does it say about the nature of the material universe and the forces that bind it when such power can exist?  And what would it mean to have such an equalizing force in a world where physical strength should otherwise be the accepted standard of worldly might?  It pretty much changes everything.

It's how we get from this...

The fact that this is accepted and not under constant persecution, by itself, precludes the sort of historical model we think our old-school games are based upon!

Face it.  The western medieval world was a Christian world.  And any power not originating squarely from the Trinity was evil.  There were only two sources of power, and if God wasn't pulling the strings, then Satan was at the wheel!  But then, the OSR treats magic as a neutral force to be channeled and used, which puts it at odds with how these things were viewed in the medieval mind.  No, magic as natural science simply doesn't apply here...

Religiously speaking, clerics of Poseidon didn't wander the streets of Prague, so if this is anyone's idea of old-school campaigning, forget it!  And even if we imagine an original setting that just happens to look a lot like the real medieval period, the absence of a monolithic religious entity demolishes one of the cornerstones right off the bat.

Oh, and the fact that OSR deities (1) actually exist and (2) exert actual, tangible power beyond the subjective attribution of natural phenomenon matters.  Man has a habit of fighting over who's god has the bigger package (ahem), and this cosmic measuring contest has resulted in plenty of earthly misery.  But what does it mean when the gods can prove they exist and, indeed, there are several "one true gods" operating in the universe?

Wait?  What's that sound?  It's yet another pillar of "authentic medievalism" toppling!

Finally, the presence of intelligent non-human races changes a lot.  Dwarves and elves are physically and psychologically different (and psychology owes much to physiology), which really puts them beyond anything merely ethnic.  And the fact that elves naturally wield the magic at work in this universe sets them even further apart.  These aren't the Moors, with a different culture and religion, but what amounts to intelligent alien life! 

To something more like this...

And the fact that any of these things exist at all precludes a medieval view of the world beyond the superficially technological.  Yes, it's the Iron Age, and feudal systems will almost certainly predominate.  But the difference wrought by actual magic is considerable...

Magic might be rare and in the hands of a few.  But those who have it will use it, and unlike the real world, where magical accounts are purely imaginary, authentic sorcery would have a profound effect on the outcome of battles and the spread of plagues, etc.  Just imagine if King Harold had access to (actual) magicians during the Battle of Hastings in 1066!

Furthermore, the gods would war among themselves for supremacy and fight proxy wars among their followers, granting them supernatural powers as an enticement and to make them useful against their enemies.  At any rate, it only takes one angry god (or goddess, as the case may be) to reduce a willful city to a smoking crater.  These things are hard to miss or write off as mere coincidence, and they're (mostly) without precedent in real history...

Finally, different intelligent races would almost certainly view one another (and their unique religious and cultural traditions) with some suspicion, even as they traded with one another for desired luxuries.  And the psychological differences wrought through biology would have resulted in a uniquely different cultural and scientific legacy.  Very different.

Any of these things alone, and certainly in combination, would have necessarily resulted in a vastly different historical situation.  And all are hallmarks of old-school gameplay.

Which is to say, it's fantasy, folks.  You can do what you want, and the only ones you need to please are the people in your own group.  You'll get all the reality you can stomach in your daily life, so feel free to eschew realism in a game where you can be a pointy eared elf who shoots magical lightning bolts out of their fingertips!  But if you're playing a historical version of D&D (or its many imitators), congratulations!  This represents considerable effort on your part and belongs to you.  The hobby most of us remember is a thing of pure whimsy...  

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...