Being in the Main the Mouth of Olde House Rules

Saturday, December 26, 2015

The Alchemist Class for Pits & Perils

While most alchemists are pure non-adventurers, the ADVENTURING ALCHEMIST breaks the mold.  These expert apothecaries are a magician variant that often accompanies adventuring parties, aiding their friends with at-the-ready potions...

First, as previously stated, the ALCHEMIST is a magician variant, progressing (hits and spell points) as that class.

Being the adventurous sort, they may wear leather armor, although shields are prohibited (they need both hands to harvest their ingredients) and fight with one-handed weapons.  This includes magic armor and weaponry, where applicable...

Adventuring alchemists are skilled
herbalists who can make a variety of potions from
just about anything!

This variant is subject to the following:

(1) Characters can brew a number of potions per day equal to available spell points, noting here that they cannot otherwise cast spells, although scrolls remain available to them. 

(2) They may brew any potions they know how to make; three at first level and one per level thereafter.

(3) Success is automatic, and the character is assumed to have potions ready at the start of each new game day barring imprisonment or similar conditions that preclude foraging. 

(4) These potions function at the level of the alchemist, where applicable.  Furthermore, all such mixtures are FAR LESS POTENT than the usual sort and ONLY LAST ONE GAME DAY, after which new potions must be prepared, per the above.

(5) At 9th level (wizard), the alchemist may attempt to brew ANY potion, rolling saving dice for success.  Failure does not otherwise expend spell points, however, subject to the referee, etc.

This class is assumed to gather ingredients from the surrounding environment, always stuffing their pockets with whatever they manage to find and using this to brew their concoctions, subject to any additional rules imposed by the referee.  Basically, they can make virtually ANYTHING from just about EVERYTHING...  

The ADVENTURING ALCHEMIST is basically a magician who replaces spells with potions, but cannot stockpile owing to the weak potency of these makeshift concoctions.  A fun variant, and worth a go!

Friday, December 18, 2015

Star Wars, Pulp, and Retrospace...

In 1977, I sat in a dark theater watching Star Wars.  It was a religious moment to be sure, as my jaw lay in my lap and I saw what must have seemed like the face of God.  Soon after, I'd go on to discover this little thing called fantasy role-playing, and I moved on to Tolkien and fantasy in the classic mode.  But I never forgot what I saw in that theater, and it inspires me still...       

Star Wars is, after all, a fantasy.  And I won't say that Wookies didn't show up in our early D&D campaign!

Years later, Robyn and I are making games, and Star Wars had an obvious influence on our one sci-fi offering; Retrospace!  For those who don't know, Retrospace is the science fiction expansion to our Blood of Pangea game, and it makes sense.  Space-faring exploits are pulp fantasy of the highest order, and Star Wars has everything in common with the daring-do of Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon, with more than a little Tolkien thrown in.  Retrospace channels it all:

The ORDIAN race are tall, shaggy things that speak in grunts and roars (their language is called M'waar).

Star Wars passed the pulp baton on
to a whole new generation of fantasy lovers!

Mack Marack, the sample character, closely resembles a certain space-faring rogue.  It's no accident.  Notice that he speaks droid, which counts as a language.

A variety of droids are available and may be encountered.

Psions exist, and many join the PSION ORDER, founded by the great teacher KENUBA of Sirius.  This semi-knightly order teaches responsible use of the OVERMIND (addressed here) and is countered by the wicked SIRIAN CULT.  Both wield special powers.

The Sirian BURN SWORD can easily sever limbs, but you can get robotic replacements, although too many and you'll become a cyborg with special powers and weaknesses.

BoP and Retrospace are digital only - sorry!

Yes, the Star Wars influence is definitely there, although we'd argue that the pulp writers got there first, and Star Wars owes the genre a massive spiritual debt.  We doubt Lucas would argue any of this, and, indeed, he admits to loving pulp - a lot!

Pulp begat Star Wars, and both begat a new generation of fantasy lovers and gamers.  Blood of Pangea: Retrospace stands on the shoulders of giants here, and this isn't corporate shill as much as an admission that Star Wars changed everything!  But if you do decide to check out Pangea/Retrospace, get the bundle, since the game is an expansion and requires the basic rules.  And perhaps wait until you've seen the new movie.  May the force be with you!

PS: There's FREE planetary and spacecraft worksheets available... 

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Level Advancement for Non-Adventurers

Clerics? Fighters? Magicians?  Thieves?  They're all adventurers, risking life and limb fighting monsters and winning incredible treasure, right?  Well, a lot of the time, yes.  But not all of them leave home.  In fact, most of them probably don't...

Think about it.  Most clerics are attached to a church or cosmopolitan temple somewhere.  But somehow, they manage to rise in the church hierarchy, with corresponding divine powers as per the referee.  It's hard to imagine the Bishop being 1st level and equally difficult to accept that every one was an adventurer before settling down to lead their flock.

The same could be said for fighters, most of whom serve in a garrison.  Magicians are primarily concerned with their books, which doesn't require adventuring of any kind.  In fact, magic is one profession that specifically requires sitting for hours pouring over strange volumes, making adventuring a hindrance.

Finally, why would any self-respecting thief risk life and limb against terrifying enemies when they can rob fat, and substantially less dangerous, merchants in the safety of their home town?     

So aside from establishing that most adventurers are certifiably nuts, this begs the question: How do non-adventuring types increase in level without risking it all doing so?

This is REAL clerical training...

First, it's probably helpful to know what experiences constitute true practice in the first place.  The following is a guide, keeping in mind that adventurers get this as well, but faster:

CLERICS study the scriptures and build their faith.

FIGHTERS practice by sparring with each other or against dummies, noting that exercise also plays a part.

MAGICIANS read (and study) arcane books and scrolls, casting spells and sometimes just exposing themselves to magic.

THIEVES case joints, follow marks, and steal from others.

Obviously, adventurers practice all of the above in life-or-death circumstances, so advancement is accelerated.  But for those remaining at home, level progression still happens, only slower, being subject to the following rules:

1) Daily practice nets 1d6 EXP per month (P&P) or 1d6 x 10 using more traditional systems, provided the individual is actively engaged most days as per the referee.  This works out to 12-72 per year in Pits & Perils, 120-720 in other systems.   

2) Any money earned from professional activities likewise counts towards experience earned, as per the referee's game.

Not very sexy.  But this is what
medieval combat training sometimes looked like...

3) Finally, enemies slain also count, provided these are killed through professional means.  For example, guards and the like protecting their town from invaders.  Sometimes, the local magician helps out, and, of course, thieves often botch things and have to kill (who hasn't learned from their mistakes)...

Of course, lulls in activity, periods of extended peace, and the ever-increasing EXP requirements ensure that most should never surpass 3-5th level, although some will have had prior adventuring experience, and the sky's the limit here.  

Clearly, adventurers get it faster.  When you regularly have to fight for your life and cast your full range of spells in the pursuit of survival, you get lots of practice.  You also get lots of chances to screw up and learn.  Obviously, money flows as well, making adventuring an attractive choice for the brave...

Of course, referees can adjust this to account for whatever their campaigns call for.  The point is that non-adventurers can also advance, albeit much more slowly.  We make much of those who brave the wilds, but shouldn't forget those left behind! 

The above explains how the qualified captain of the guard became such a good fighter and earned promotion without ever actually leaving home.  But it also helps the referee assign levels to their non-players characters and, possibly, having recurring characters advance over time.  Time and skill marches on, after all...      

Saturday, November 28, 2015

In Defense of Race as Class...Again.

Recently, we've seen several blogs and/or postings about race as class; some coming out against it.  So here, we offer up the other side of the coin and share why we LIKE race as class and how it actually ENHANCES the role-playing experience.  But first, here's our official (and honest) position on the matter:

"Each game offers a distinct gameplay experience, and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that.  Indeed, players should freely experiment with games to satisfy their wishes at any given time, noting that variety is a good thing!" 

But on the matter of race as class, we're not entirely convinced that it's as limiting as some would make it out to be...

You can read our (much older) post on the subject here, but to paraphrase: in the absence of divine and/or magical abilities, the only way to adventure is to directly confront enemies or employ stealth, i.e., fighters or thieves.  As dwarves and elves can wear armor and fight with a variety of weapons, all are fighters in a very broad sense.  Dwarves CANNOT cast spells, while elves will do so NATURALLY, so these limitations work.

Otherwise, non-human clerics don't proselytize outside their particular race, and as long as characters have some opportunity to attempt feats of stealth, thieving is covered.

Often, people cite race as class as being boring and limiting, a position we ACTIVELY disagree with.  To the contrary, this approach is LIBERATING and SUPPORTS unique characters - and for all the reasons that follow below:   

1) When everyone in the party can wear armor and cast spells, a 
bland "sameness" takes over.  Sure, these characters are still distinguished by the people actually running them.  However, games that allow such customization easily devolve into achieving an optimal build, and (human) personalities often fall to the wayside, much to the detriment of the game itself...

AD&D had separate classes and races, but
upon closer examination, races had DISTINCT abilities in
addition to multi-classing, which really goes
back to OD&D's original race as class design scheme. 

2) The "uniqueness" of non-human races becomes similarly blunted with this kind of overlap.  True, such races enjoy specific modifiers that may or may not predispose them to certain profession or skill choices.  But when ANYONE can choose ANY skill, what's special about playing an elf?  Pointy ears maybe?        

Racial modifiers are easily buried beneath all the feats and perks that anyone can take.  But when non-humans have significant and unique abilities on such a scale as to represent a distinctive type of adventurer, they really begin to stand out!  

Dwarves are hardy folk and the elves, alone, can wear armor and cast spells.  And humans are resourceful and may choose from a variety of carefully balanced classes.  Human uniqueness is found in the variety of professions they can choose from, making everyone special and unique as well as co-dependent. 

3) Rules are a constant, while player/GM/referee skill varies, meaning that while cultural distinctions might weigh heavily in a good campaign, not everyone has the ability (or experience) to successfully pull it off.  Encoding racial distinctiveness into the gameplay mechanic ensures that choosing a non-human race means choosing a unique gaming experience...

4) When characters possess broadly overlapping abilities, cooperation is important mainly because there's safety in numbers, and not because there's only one spell caster in the party or a single character who can steal, etc.  The interdependence promoted by race as class (and classes in general) ensures that players absolutely MUST compensate for their friend's various class-imposed weaknesses, which adds a new level of challenge.      

Everyone stands out and, more importantly, everyone depends on the abilities of others, which is pretty much the same thing!

Sunday, November 22, 2015

No Pits & Perils Second Edition?

Recently, there's been some loose talk of a Pits & Perils second edition in hardcover form.  Talk from us, actually.  But upon considerable examination, we've ruled against this and are declaring now that there will be NO SECOND EDITION GAME.

At the same time, we LOVE this system and want to release a final, definitive version for posterity.  Something nice to put on the bookshelf.  So here's what we're doing to make this happen, and what it means for the fans and the future...

First, Pits & Perils was always conceived as an amateur rulebook straight from the early 70s.  This is its entire identity, and transforming it into a well-produced format takes all of that away, with serious repercussions for how the game is played.

Furthermore, combining the supplements into a single volume makes the game both more complex and more canonical, which actively interferes with the referee's own freedom to house-rule.  We prefer that the extra rules remain purely optional.

We aren't Wizards of the Coast, and
don't want to release a new edition of the
game every few years that people feel
obligated to buy.  P&P is (mostly) a done deal! 

Finally, it just didn't FEEL right, so that's that.  But what are we doing instead, and what does it mean?

First of all, we're undertaking a MAJOR EDIT of the rulebooks and culling any errata (we're almost done here).  If you've already purchased the digital books, you'll get an UPDATE in your libraries, with an announcement from us when it finally goes down.

Next, we'll be discontinuing the softcover books, so if you've already purchased them, CONGRATULATIONS, you now own an out-of-print version of the game.  This HAS NOT happened yet, and we'll make an announcement when the time comes... 

We'll see (we're open to feedback), which leads to...

THE COLLECTED PITS & PERILS, which is literally a hardcover compilation of the original (better edited) rulebooks, complete with glossy pages and full-color interior covers.  This is something attractive (not to mention sturdy) for your bookshelves!

Otherwise, we'll finish Basement Adventures #2-4 to round out the series and provide some higher-level scenarios, although this probably won't conclude until late 2016.  As always, you can expect an announcement when new stuff becomes available.

That's it, the updates/hardcover are planned for February 2016!

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Turning the Hat Over...

It's been a rather busy week at Olde House Rules, and not just because of Fallout 4, either!  But thinking about games has really gotten us mulling over all those recurring themes...

You know the drill; rescue the princess, etc.  Fun stuff, but I always liked to turn the hat upside down and switch things out from time to time.  Here's a few examples:

BREAKING IN: Once, I had a thief hired to break INTO a prison to assassinate an inmate before the city could do the job!

BREAKING UP: Another time, an agent of a powerful dragon approached the characters to remove a captured princess who had become unbearable and REFUSED TO LEAVE!  She was a demi-goddess, so our intrepid party had to proceed with due caution!

Turning the hat on its head can
result in varied and interesting adventures!

HELPING THE DEAD: Finally, the servants of a lich, known for being generally solitary and reclusive, approached the characters to enlist their aid in beating a RIVAL PARTY trying to take him down and loot his wealth!  This one had an "interesting" ending.

In all of the above, the players found themselves either entering situations they normally try to avoid/escape or helping enemies against people they would normally support!  Doing this introduces a degree of moral ambiguity (no shortage of that), but also expands the campaign, as the characters must work with traditional foes who make strange bedfellows at best.  Interesting stuff!

If you haven't done this yet, give it a try.  Somehow, we suspect you already have, so feel free to share your experiences...

At least until Fallout 4 sucks us all into its inescapable trap!

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Retro Gear #2: The Silver Sphere

In keeping with our continuing series on Retro-Gear, and with Halloween just around the corner, we present the silver ball from the creepy and excellent Phantasm movie from 1979!  Now if you haven't seen this yet, buy or rent it and enjoy a truly atmospheric experience.  Sure, it's a low-budget movie.  But it's also quite good, and if you take nothing else away from this...

It all begins with the "Tall Men"; a race of extra-dimensional outsiders who appear as large (6' tall) humanoids.  These travel the universe, establishing themselves as legitimate members of society and using the ruse to collect the dead.  That's right.  The Tall Men seek the recently dead for SLAVES; reanimating them through some unknown means and then crushing them down to dwarf size (typically, around 3-4') to suit the gravity of their world.

The dwarfs are shipped in barrels and teleported by means of mysterious metal pillars.  These stand 3' tall and are always found in pairs, having 2-3' between them, with some reports suggesting they operate like a tuning fork, employing vibration to open the way into their red and barren home world...

Standing between these and placing one hand on each pillar is normally enough to activate the portal, noting that those who do so inadvertently can be retrieved by a nearby companion if they can reach into the void within 1 round and make saving dice.  Otherwise, the victim is lost, although, presumably, able to return through some other portal on the other side, and this can signal the start of a new adventure if the referee is willing!

The Tall Men command the silver
spheres and come seeking our dead...

The Tall Men often set themselves up as undertakers or related professionals, exploiting this ready access to the dead for their own nefarious purposes.  Note here that only the most observant characters will notice anything amiss; perhaps their unusually high strength or strange behavior, etc.  Once suspicion this sets in, however, the Tall Men move quickly to silence the curious, whether sending dwarf slaves or dealing with them personally.

DEAD-DWARF (Pits & Perils)

ATTACKS 1(claws) LEVEL: 1 (1-3 HP)  MOVE: 40'  SIDE: C 

The dead-dwarfs are squat and deformed, although this is typically hidden beneath simple cloaks.  They are NOT true undead.

TALL MEN (Pits & Perils)

ATTACKS 1(*) LEVEL: 3 (3-8 HP)  MOVE: 30'  SIDE: C

Tall men avoid engaging in prolonged conversation, but are highly intelligent and treated as physically strong.  They have total control over nearby dwarfs, but will otherwise use a SILVER SPHERE to hunt down their unfortunate quarry.  Another ability includes regeneration (1 HP/turn), and should any limb be amputated, it will become a CADAVER-BUG in 1d6 rounds and attack the enemy.

These dwarfs are killer.  Well,
actually, they're already quite dead...

SILVER SPHERES are as big as a baseball, but appear as a smooth metallic silver.  These are controlled by the Tall Men and are highly maneuverable, flying 60' and easily turning sharp corners at full speed, possibly under psychic command.  Spheres sprout any number of scalpel-like implements, and upon a successful hit (treat as 6th level for attacks), deliver 1d6+1 hits per round until the target is slain or otherwise rescued...

Assume these are indestructible and unusable by others, although telepathic control should not extend beyond 120'.

CADAVER-BUG (Pits & Perils)

ATTACKS 1(*) LEVEL: 1 (1 HP)  MOVE: 90'  SIDE: N

These terrible creatures appear as leprous, bloated flies small enough to fit in the palm of the hand.  These can fly at incredible speed and deal an automatic 1 hit of damage per round on contact with living flesh.  Cadaver bugs are easily contained...   

Once again, it is unclear whether the Tall Men are a magical or technological civilization.  These details are left to the referee, who should have no problem introducing them.  Happy Halloween!    

Thursday, October 22, 2015

What's Your Sign?

Astrology was an important part of the medieval worldview, but is underrepresented in many (if not most) RPGs.  So here's a little bit that adds this important element to your old-school games, with an emphasis on common ground between different systems:

First, players must roll 1d12 to determine their SIGN, noting that the actual dates associated with each may vary by campaign and should be left to the individual DM/GM/referee...

                      1 Aquarius       7 Leo
                      2 Pisces         8 Virgo 
                      3 Aries          9 Libra
                      4 Taurus         10 Scorpio       
                      5 Gemini         11 Sagittarius
                      6 Cancer         12 Capricorn

Alternately, players may be allowed to CHOOSE, but then, who really gets to decide their birthday?  We suggest rolling instead...

Astrology was fundamental to the
medieval mindset and can
be explored within RPG campaigns... 

Astrological signs grant abilities as follows, noting that players can decide when to invoke these:

AQUARIUS: Luck; add +1d6 GP to spoils at division of treasure
PISCES: Mysticism; roll saving dice versus magic at +1  
ARIES: Travel; add +10' to movement per melee round 
TAURUS: Well-being; add +1 to healing dice from potions and spells 
GEMINI: Lore; identify any potion/scroll (never magic items)  
CANCER: Reasoning; receive one clue from DM/GM/referee as requested 
LEO: Justice; add +1 to dice for a single non-combat action
VIRGO: Attraction; improved dealing with opposite sex 
LIBRA: Peace; secure favorable response in non-combat situation 
SCORPIO: Vengeance; deal an automatic 1 HP damage if injured in the preceding combat round (must be armed and within range)
SAGITTARIUS: Teaching; add +1 to party actions when the character is in a position to instruct their friends (spy reports, etc.)  
CAPRICORN: Death; re-roll saving dice at +1 in fatal situations  

Note: Powers derived from the above may only be attempted once per game day and never last more than 1 turn, where applicable.

Individual DMs/GMs/referees can add to this and/or develop entirely original systems as their campaigns require.  The stars know all!

Monday, October 12, 2015

Retro Gear #1: Laserblast

Anyone growing up in the 1970s knows it was a special time for geekdom.  Fantasy and sci-fi were present, but far from mainstream, and fantasy fans had to use their own imagination to fill in the blanks and entertain themselves. 

But while such fantasy had not yet become mainstream, there were many movies, some better than others, that benefitted greatly from the innocence of a genre that had not yet become widespread or a product for mass consumption.  These movies were fun fare, but also contained some great ideas for fantasy gaming, which is something we'll continue to explore on this page...

So to get things started, here's a bit from LASERBLAST, a sci-fi film from 1978.  Being a blog of Olde House Rules, everything here corresponds to one or more of our systems, but easily tailored to whatever you happen to use...

The LASERBLAST is a powerful handheld plasma cannon of uncertain, albeit clearly alien, origin.  It appears as a 3' long metal cylinder with a slot on one end to insert the arm and a handle to hold and direct fire with the other, making this a two-handed weapon that precludes double wielding or shield use.

The laserblast irrevocably mutates
its wielder into a homicidal form with an
uncontrollable urge to kill!

As an apparent safety measure, the cannon requires use of a shimmering metallic amulet composed of an alien alloy and probably technological in origin, although without discernable mechanical components.  This appears to impart some basic knowledge of the item and its operation, if only on a subconscious level, such that the weapon is useless without it. 

The laserblast has an effective range of 200' and deals an impressive 3d6 damage.  If used to target any flammable substance, to include internal combustion engines, the judge/referee might assign one of more additional dice of damage within a 30' radius as befitting the conditions at hand, normally +1-2d6. 

An object of alien design, the laserblast does not appear to requires ammunition.  Some have speculated that it draws power from the user itself, although it most likely employs some unknown and highly sophisticated internal fusion...

Unfortunately, and owing to its alien origin, most races cannot handle the laserblast without terrible side effects!  After each day of use (including non-combat practice), the user must roll saving dice at a cumulative -1 per day to avoid mutating (perhaps radiation is involved) and being taken over by the judge.

The Toir-Tois relentlessly hunt down
lost laserblasts and the mutated beings who wield
them, but are apparently benign...

Such mutants become homicidal killers who use their power to annihilate friend or foe indiscriminately, although otherwise still vulnerable to normal attacks per the system being used.

Laserblasts make their way into many worlds, even crossing other dimensions such that they may appear in fantasy settings, like Blood of Pangea and Pits & Perils, or more mundane (historical) realms, including Barons of Braunstein or more modern games.  In fact, some report that a laserblast was found on Earth in the 1970s, although its final disposition remains unknown.

While the origin of the laserblast is unknown, it appears that an alien species, called the TOIR-TOIS, are actively engaged in hunting these weapons down and, where necessary, destroying their mutated wielders.  These appear as large (10' tall) humanoid tortoises with hand-held blasters dealing 1d6 damage per combat round:

 TYPE: TOIR-TOIS  LIFE: 15   MOVE: 40'  DAMAGE/BONUS: 1d6 (or +1)

The above is based on Blood of Pangea: Retrospace, although anyone familiar with the source material can easily adapt these to whatever rules are being used.  The Toir-Tois travel between worlds using advanced spacecraft capable of transporting up to 6 individuals and crossing a single system in 1d6 days on notification of activity.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Not As Old-School As We Think...

Now we love old-school gaming and have built our entire catalogue around the idea of emulating it.  Indeed, the amateur production and design alone does something to promote this.  And it doesn't stop there, as many of our design choices reflect old-school ideals as we understand them, and will share again:

Our hobby is 40+ years old, so we need to reconcile the current state of the hobby with its history, and old-school is more enduring than recreating any one system.

In short, old-school means enthusiastic amateurs making their own fun, and although we can't create the hobby all over again, original house rules and a DIY mindset keeps that spirit alive.  This fact accounts for the OTHER elements of old-school...

(1) A division of labor between the players and GM,

(2) An emphasis on decision-making, exploration, and role-playing over systems that "automate" these processes, which means that players must explain exactly how they're searching for traps rather than rolling a spot check for success and,

(3) Open-ended gameplay where players are free to innovate, and referees are encouraged (indeed, expected) to add or change anything to suit their own campaign and/or playing style.

This happens around tables all the time, and as it represents the state of the hobby in the early days, it's a throwback to old-school philosophies that survive (and thrive) to this day...

And our products have been fairly transparent about this as a specific design goal.  This goes for Barons of Braunstein, Blood of Pangea, (and Retrospace), and Pits & Perils.

Crappy little rulebooks manually done
in someone's basement?  Check!  Open-ended
gameplay where players have to work
for it?  You bet!  But this stuff is also
quite modern in approach and design... 

But our games are also quite modern...

(1) All feature a consistent core mechanic.  OD&D was rife with competing sub-systems.  Combat was resolved differently from magic, which, in turn, differed from stealth.

(2) Player characters are generally more durable.  Not every encounter is going to be your last.  Instead, characters accumulate injury over time and MAY die if foolish and/or unlucky.  This creates an environment more akin to books, movies, and television, where a stable cadre of "heroes" engage in continuing adventures and death is an ongoing risk that sometimes plays out...     

(3) In the case of Barons and Blood of Pangea, hit points are replaced with LUCK/LIFE/MIGHT that can be spent improving rolls as well as surviving any physical trauma, etc.

So this is our disclosure.  Pure "old-school" might not exist, although varying degrees persist in modern systems, and the best we can do is emphasize its finer ideals.  Moreover, our own products represent a blend of old and new, and for all their old-school leanings (it's there), what we do is also more modern...

Is old-school dead?  Far from it!  It lives on in every session where the GM makes an on-the-spot ruling or whips out their homemade hit-location tables and/or makes the players explain themselves or act out exchanges instead of rolling dice.  Old-school lives on!   

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 are 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!