Being in the Main the Mouth of Olde House Rules

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Slatanic Wars (Part I)

Happenings in Yerth (a P&P setting):

Slatinum, that faintly glowing metal prized for its ability to capture and release magical energy, is a component of magical rings and weaponry.  From whence it comes has long been a mystery, and even the sages of the Astral School debate this fact, although the fashionable idea is that it falls from the sky.

It has long been suspected that the Green Dragon, a short period comet with a green tail, is the principle source of all slatinum on earth, falling on close passage.  Indeed, the elven chronicles suggest that the metal is most abundant after the comet's passage, which occurs every century, such that only they (dwarves being less concerned) have any continuous record.

The elves kept detailed records about the short
period comet called the Green Dragon, but say little about it...

So when the mages of the Astral College predicted that the comet's next passage (798 by man's reckoning) would bring it near enough to possibly make impact, there was much excitement.  Obviously, this stood to introduce more of the prized metal.  However, the more astute among them saw the seeds of a great disaster, as a comet of that size could bring devastation upon the world and tamper with its native magical systems in ways terrible and unexpected.

At the time there was still a generation to go, making this an academic issue, although some, like Thelingus Magmerum, continued to seek answers.  Indeed, he was racing his chief public rival, the wicked arch mage Arhezebolis, to an answer.  While Thelingus sought to prepare the world, his nemesis no doubt wished only to secure what stood to be the single greatest concentration of magical power anywhere in the world (and to his own advantage).

Thelingus Magmerum prefers to work alone, but may 
advise or otherwise employ a party of adventurers to further 
his goals.  At any given time he will also carry
1d6 potions and/or scrolls he has created for routine use.

Whoever secures this mighty resource and knows how to shape its energies would see their power amplified to godlike proportions and their being forever changed.  What matter the devastation of a planet when one is a literal god above such things?  And how easy subjugating Yerth's devastated survivors?

Perhaps your own party gets involved?  There's more to come...

Friday, February 20, 2015

In Praise of the DMG

In the earliest days of the hobby there weren't as many games available, and those few that did exist were often so incompletely written (we're talking to you, OD&D) that players HAD to create their own house rules.  This isn't really a failing though, as it was understood (and explicitly stated) that these were just a guide for the referee to follow...

This aspect of old-school gaming has already been talked about by better bloggers than us.  And, in fact, we devote some space to this very topic in our introduction to the Infernal Realms supplement, although our purpose was to emphasize the interchangeability of many early systems and how this made a difference.

After all, part of making your own stuff was converting what you liked from other systems.  The result was a common core and a shared history that made each campaign a regional dialect of some mother tongue, like English with an accent!

This book is practically a general reference
for, and required reading by, anyone running fantasy games!

Now, we design (and play) Pits & Perils, but we also borrow from other sources as well, and have a list of go-to books we use extensively.  One of these is the original (AD&D) Dungeon Master's Guide, and for obvious reasons.  Despite introducing extensive content for that game, much, if not most, of what it has to offer is applicable to any system.  Some highlights include:

Detailed information on gems and the reputed magical properties of each, usable in any system...

Accurate explanations of armor and shields.

Complete rules for henchmen and hirelings that are easily converted to just about anything you so desire.

Rules for insanity, including detailed explanations of the various maladies (and none of them good, except for the game).

Advice and information on campaign building, covering the full spectrum of politics, religion, climate, weather, and philosophy for the placement of wealth and monstrous guardians...

How to build a castle or fortress, including all the fine print, like construction times and the sorts of skilled specialists needed to get the job done.  Something you may wanna get right.

In other words, it's a HUGE trip to your local library conveniently  rolled into a single book for easy reference!

The Dungeon Master's Guide is written for AD&D, but it really doubles as a standard reference for whatever fantasy game you happen to be playing.  Everything since is just redundant...

Put another way, so much of what's been done in other systems is already addressed here.  And when designing Pits & Perils, we didn't even bother to regurgitate what's already been done.  Some things you just can't even touch, so why bother!

If you haven't done so in awhile, crack this book open again and reacquaint yourself with what it has to offer.  We're betting you'll find lots of useful stuff for whatever system you play, whether (__________) or our own Pits & Perils.  Most of what happens in a game is system-neutral; raw materials for the games you make with your friends.  If you want to do old-school, this is how!

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Gorts (A Giant Race for Pits & Perils)

Readers of this blog will doubtless know that we love Hawk the Slayer as the quintessential old-school movie.  This great film had dwarves, elves, and even a giant race, although the latter never really caught on with gamers...until now!  What follows is a giant class (called gorts) for the Pits & Perils game, noting that the name is a reference to Gort, the giant in that movie.  So pick this film up and consider the buy research...

GORTS are a race of massively built (7' tall) humanoids who otherwise resemble men.  They reside in the hills near human lands, but rarely interact owing to the fear and prejudice shown them whenever they try, although dwarves tend to be more understanding in this regard.  As a race, they are generally lawful or perhaps true neutral, being mostly honest folk. 

Physically powerful, all gorts enjoy the strength ability in addition to whatever else the player rolls.  Like thieves, players rolling this twice get double strength, adding +1 to any related dice, where applicable.  Furthermore, they get an additional +1 to melee damage owing to their sheer physical might.  Their massive size comes at a price, however, as gorts pay 150% normal cost for armor worn and always consume double rations.

Gorts are large (7' tall), but generally lawful 
and possessing a keen sense of justice (in their own way)...

Note that gorts lack the coordination for bows and other ranged weaponry, except perhaps for thrown rocks, etc.  Furthermore, their size means that magical armor has only a 1-2 in 1d6 chance of fitting when found, and their bulk, in general, makes it difficult to navigate underground environments.

Gort progression is as follows:

              EXP         LVL     HP        TITLE
              0            1      10       Goliath
              400          2      +2         --
              800          3      +4        Hulk
              1,600        4      +6         --
              3,200        5      +8      Behemoth
              6,400        6     +10         --
              13,000       7     +12      Gargantua
              26,000       8     +14         --
              52,000       9     +16      Colossus
              104,000     10     +18         --  
              208,000     11     +20         --
              416,000     12     +22         --
              832,000     13     +24         --
              1,664,000   14     +26         --
              3,328,000   15     +28     Giant lord

As a role-playing note, gorts are constantly hungry and can be played for comic relief in this regard.  They have a ironic sense of justice, however, and are not above imposing a fitting punishment for those violating their sense of rightness, noting that this should always fit the crime.  This challenge is left to the player! 

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Sleestak for Pits & Perils

Growing up in the 70s, Land of the Lost was a staple of Saturday morning fun.  But unlike other Sid and Marty Croft fare, this show was surprisingly complex, presenting a literal nexus of time and space occupied by dinosaurs and extra-dimensional creatures seeking mastery of this mysterious world.  There's enough material for an entire game here, but to keep things simple, here's the sleestak, presented for use in our own Pits & Perils...  

Sleestak      1(*)     3     50'   C     M     2-12     B/II

SLEESTAKS are an evil, degenerate race of reptilian humanoids, the last remnants of a vanished race.  Their appearance is also somewhat insectoid, having bulging eyes and a vaguely conical head, with pincer-like claws that are nonetheless useful. 

Despite their apparent lack of intelligence and fallen nature, sleestak exhibit a limited telepathy, communicating effectively with their own within 30'.  Their speech otherwise consists of hissing noises that are indecipherable by men.  Furthermore, they are advanced enough to produce small, handheld crossbows and employ nets to ensnare their chosen prey.  

For game purposes, assume that sleestak crossbows have a maximum range of 60'.  Their nets can be thrown 10' and require saving dice to avoid being ensnared.  If cornered, they use their claws to deadly effect, but prefer their weaponry... 

Most sleestak live within ancient, forbidden cities found in forgotten places, the ruins of their ancestral civilization, being now occupied out of memory without knowledge.

Sleestaks are primarily reptilian, but have an insectoid
aspect as well, being surprisingly intelligent 

Sleestak society is governed by a council and a leader, noted for their distinctive pendant that is ceremonial, but without any magic unless the referee decides otherwise.  In times of danger, the sleestak council consults the Library of Skulls, a sacred collection of ancestral bones that appear to hold the disembodied spirits of their ancestors, degenerate, but still wise...

The insectoid aspect of the sleestak is suggested by their reproduction, which requires the rare Altrusan moth to fertilize their eggs, protected in large communal clutches.  Here their captured victims, often human, are left for the hungry hatchlings to devour at their leisure, these being treated as 1st level sleestak without the usual weaponry.

To truly appreciate what the sleestak really are, the referee can reference their ancestors, the Altrusans:

Altrusan      1(*)    (*)    50'   N     M     1-2       --

ALTRUSANS appear much like their degenerate kin, but with grayer flesh and the habit of wearing garments.  These were a highly advanced civilization possessing mastery of time and space by means of special light crystals and mysterious pylon structures that enable extra-dimensional travel.  At the height of their power, the Altrusans visited (and perhaps colonized) many worlds, accounting for the presence of ruins in any given place.

The Altrusans were intelligent and psychically
gifted, but lacked compassion, leading to their downfall 

The Altrusans were psychically gifted, being treated as savants of variable level.  As a race, they aspired to a state of perfect rationality, but their lack of compassion and generally self-serving manner (although expressed as rational self-interest) ultimately lead to their downfall.  Even so, an occasional time traveler might be encountered near their former haunts...   

Note that there will usually be one or more pylons near city environments, and these might draw in creatures from many worlds and times, especially dinosaurs.  Again, the referee may consider placing cities and temples in a lost world setting built by ancient Altrusan technology.  The possibilities are literally endless!

Thursday, February 5, 2015

In Defense of Niche Protection

DISCLAIMER: We've played both class and skill-based systems, and there's no wrong way to do fantasy.  However, after stumbling upon yet another forum poster deriding class-based systems as though their favorite approach is self-evidently the best, we had to give our two cents on the subject.  We lose remarkably little sleep worrying about how other people game, but this hit a soft spot, so please excuse us this indulgence!     

Class-based systems are sometimes derided as being limiting and unrealistic, though this cuts both ways.  Herein, we argue that the reverse is actually true.  Class-based systems are more realistic and offer players more in-game choices... 

In OD&D (and our own P&P), characters are adventurers first, and everyone has the same opportunity to make decisions, solve problems, and work together to survive.  Yes, they also have class-specific powers and abilities, but this is just a bonus.

Need proof?  Consider the following:  

As a magician (magic user), have you ever gone an entire session without casting so much as a single spell?  Or has your fighter ever gone an entire adventure without dealing a single blow much less pulling a sword from its sheath?  It really depends on the campaign in question, but the fact that this is even possible argues very strongly for this particular hypothesis...    

In fact, one could play a game with only one class, and there would still be an immense variety of choices and approaches.

I'd find some clever solution here, but I don't
have the "solutions" skill...

This implies a tremendous amount of overlap.  There's no niche protection here.  So where do these classes fit in, and why are they better than a free selection of skills?

First, classes allow each player to have a unique set of abilities that sets them apart.  Everyone wants to be special, and fixed classes make this possible with relative ease.

Remember, when you choose your character's class, you choose their weaknesses too.  Now everyone is needed...

Secondly, it recognizes that some professions require extensive training that precludes other pursuits.  For instance, clerics spend years cloistered in their churches or monasteries, with precious little time for other things.  Ditto for spell casters, who suffer tough apprenticeships bordering on slavery!

Fighters and thieves, on the other hand, are probably illiterate, and entering religious life or undertaking magical study most likely means leaving the campaign altogether...

Finally, it lets each player to decide how they wish to approach challenges in the game.  A personal choice, but also one that demands cooperation and teamwork.  Everyone is special, and everyone contributes - but only when they work together! 

And it helps to remember those weaknesses...

On a side note, character creation is faster, and character development happens during actual play, something often overlooked when everyone strives to have an elaborate back story.

I learned fire magic last week when I
leveled up - hardest two minutes of my life!

Aside from abilities clearly reserved for a certain class (or skilled tradesmen), players (and their characters) are pretty much free to attempt anything they can think of!  

But what about skills?  Aren't skills more realistic, and don't they grant the player more freedom overall?

In some ways, sure.  But we're still skeptical:

First, while skills offer a unique combination of abilities, the player only has so many skill points.  Furthermore, such skills tend to appropriate actions that used to be available to everyone, so overall variety is actually much decreased!

Secondly, they perpetuate the notion that new abilities can be obtained between adventures.  Maybe.  But probably not.  It requires years of formation to become a priest and months of practice to master even the basics of a musical instrument...

And finally, while cooperation remains important, it's because there's safety in numbers.  When everyone can do a little bit of everything, something very important is lost.  Gone is the challenge of covering for one another's weaknesses, and everyone is just a little more like everyone else.  This undermines any attempt to be different or unique in any meaningful way.

As an ancillary effect, character creation takes longer, and most development occurs before a game, making actual play largely anticlimactic.  When success depends upon what you do before a game, something is definitely wrong!  Just our opinion...

Clearly, referees (and GMs) can do whatever they want, so none 
of this is fixed or absolute.  Even so, there's no point in having a skill when it isn't important or meaningful.  If there's a skill governing something, only those having that skill will attempt that action, which is really quite limiting.    

While skill-based systems allow for more different combinations, it's the original, class-based rules that provide the greater number of actual in-game choices.  Let's hear it for the old-school!