Sunday, January 25, 2015

Spell Lists

So, I'm thinking. We have colleges of magic that provide a handy way to "channel" magic users onto a particular path to power. We have clerical domains which define a cleric's deific proclivities. Didn't spell lists do that back in the misty ages of yore? At least sort of.

Look at the Illusionist. I'm too lazy to go rooting about for more examples. If you read this blog, you already know. You may not agree with my assumptions, but you know that there are a multitude of unique spell lists fine-tuned for specific classes. I believe that spell lists were an early effort to "univeralize" at least one aspect of AD&D. Second edition took the colleges of magic established in 1st edition and used them as a tool for defining "subclasses" of magic users. It extended the concept to clerics with the notion of Domains.

Now, I want to make clear: I think it was a good direction. Unfortunately, the more one-size-fits-all a thing gets, the more likely it is to not fit quite right. There may be a certain group of spells that a class should be able to cast, but they belong in a category with spells that have no place in the class concept. Perhaps you want a class to have limited spell casting, not just categorically, but in absolute variety, as well. That is where individualized spell lists come in.

With individualized spell lists running hither and yon throughout a campaign, the question becomes "Can my magic user learn/use spells from a subclass' spell list?" My personal answer to that is "Sort of". My ruling would be that a character could learn from another's spell list if it is of a compatible type of casting, clerical or arcane. If that condition is met, then the character has to research the spell, essentially converting the spell into a format they can utilize. The character would receive a bonus to his research attempt should he have access to a spell book containing the spell, or expert instruction from a caster who knows the spell.

I'm thinking more and more about implementing limited spell lists for certain classes, or ones less limited but still unique, a la the illusionist. I'm not dead set against rangers or paladins having some spell-like abilities, I just feel more comfortable with the idea that they have a much narrower selection. In my mind it makes it easier to view them more as magical abilities, rather than spells. I hate to paint it this way, but I will: they are like Daily Powers. There, I said it.


Monday, January 12, 2015

Numenera?

General query. Anyone with thoughts, experience, or information is hereby encouraged to share. I'm off work today and tomorrow and ended up and the local Books-A-Million. While there I saw Numenera. I thought it looked intriguing, and not having a lot of time to sit down with it and a hot cup of coffee (much as I would have liked), I came home and began furiously educating myself. Up to that point, it was an interest. Then, I came upon this passage, I believe from the introduction:
Then, I was lying in bed one night about a year ago, and in my mind’s eye I saw two figures pulling tattered cloaks around themselves to ward off the chill as they walked. The two trudged across a grey landscape, wary with each step. And as this scene receded, I saw that the terrain they crossed was a massive gear, and the landscape was in fact an unbelievably huge and ancient machine. The key to this scene, I realized, was that the figures were in no way part of this terrain—perhaps they didn’t even understand the concept of the machine—but they were accustomed to it. It was a part of the world they lived in as much as mountains, rivers, and forests are a part of ours.
I feel like I can see that, too, and I too find it strongly compelling. Now I feel driven to run down a great sci-fi/fantasy setting. So, tell me of Numenera, or failing that, your choice for that type of game/setting. I'm mainly interested in all-in-one things, so something like Chronicles of Future Earth aren't really what I'm looking for.

Any advice or thoughts, or pointers to things I may not know about, are heartily appreciated.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Aranor Prehistory

In The Time Before the lands were ruled by the First, the first intelligent peoples given life by the gods. The First were a divine race, being near-gods themselves. They were mighty in all things that were of the Creation. They were all warriors, wizards, bards, weaponsmiths, and artists. They were fearless and absolutely sure of their power. So sure, in fact, that in time they waged war against the gods themselves.

Of course, they were doomed. They did make an accounting of themselves before their revolution was thrown down, though. Ultimately they were defeated. Their punishment was to have their essence split. They were divided into humans, elves, dwarves, and orcs. Some of the First escaped the sentence, and bade their time, hidden from the gods.

Once the Lessers, as the First refer to the "split" races, had developed sufficiently the First came out of hiding. They very carefully assimilated themselves into Lesser society, albeit as overlords and rulers. They had carefully laid out boundaries for themselves, to prevent them gathering or coming into conflict, in order to not draw the gods' attention. They became known as the Mage-Lords.

The Mage-Lords bred, bred with, and otherwise manipulated the Lessers to create new races and/or modify the original Lessers to better fit their needs. They were ruthless and cruel, vengeance burning hot and bright in their hearts. Some descended into a madness the depth of which only godlings such as they could fathom. These became known as demons and devils.

The empires of the Mage-Lords were vast and powerful. The Mage-Lords possessed a command of magic and artifice the world has never known since. The states and provinces of their empires were interconnected by dimensional gateways and teleportation devices. Paired scrying mirrors were used for communication. Many of the greatest cities were connected by paved highways. Trade was facilitated by these paved roads, as well as by caravansary at regular intervals.

For generations the Mage-Lords were content to rule within their enclaves. Eventually, though, they turned ravenous eyes on their brethren. Their wars forever changed the world. They shared minor secrets of their magic and artifice, instructing certain talented Lessers. Some were deployed as battle mages. Some were imprisoned in magical smithies, slaves set to making magical artifacts of war.

For thousands of years these wars were waged. Eventually all of the Mage-Lords became embroiled in these conflicts. The gods were content to allow these wars to play out. They realized who the Mage-Lords were and watched as they killed each other off. Eventually, there was only one, called Zagrath. Swollen with pride, he believed that having killed all of the other Mage-Lords and assimilated their power, he was ready to vie against the gods.

He marshalled his forces and summoned great and terrible magic. He opened a gateway to the gods' realms and sallied forth. The struggle was titanic. Zagrath bested many of them before he fell. Eventually the gods, at first divided, came together and overcame the upstart. They visited every manner of suffering on him they could conceive. Finally, when they tired of their sport, they threw him down. Literally. Already broken and mad, he plummeted from unimaginable heights to crash into the world. What was left of his mind was lost in that unending fall, and what remained of his body was utterly ruined in his landing.

He landed on a peninsula extending from the southeastern shores of Calanthas, known as Fahldrag. He crashed into a mountain whose original name is lost to time. Now it is called Sloth Negaimus. It is widely believed that Zagrath lies there still, where he fell, a mad godling in a ruined body, plotting revenge and conquest.

There are whispered legends of lost prophesies that as Zagrath warred against his brethren, he kept them alive. He didn't merely assimilate their power. He kept them alive after a fashion, tapping into their living power. Some say that without Zagrath to hold them in thrall they will regenerate their former power and return to torment the world. Most of these legendary prophesies are scoffed at by sages and intellectuals as fabrications of charlatans and hustlers.

There is also the prophesy of Niamician. It is well-recorded and attributed, even if it isn't widely respected. No one knows exactly what Niamician saw in his prophetic vision, but it drove him irretrievably mad. His only writing of the prophecy was this:

"When Zagrath rises, dark and bloody,
clutch tightly your fear with one hand,
and weep your despair into the other."

Thursday, January 1, 2015

2300AD Throwback (but not because it's Thursday)



I absolute adored this game when it came out. I tend to like my sci-fi a bit more gritty than the typical Traveller-esque space opera (although I have a serious nostalgia soft spot for that game). This cover, from the original edition, roped me in the moment I laid eyes on it.

The chick looks coolly dangerous, with that big ass gun and dog-thing. The guy looks a little less capable, holding his big ass gun with both hands and looking like that is as high as he can get it. His helmet looks entirely too big, and his entire impression is of a kid playing with his daddy's military gear. But that chick can probably take care of whatever happens without him, anyway.

Their ship is at a very awkward angle, but it has "REBCO SAR" stenciled on the hull, so I'm OK with it. SAR stands for Search and Rescue (in case you didn't know). The early edition of this game was more focused on exploration than anything else. Naturally, some of those explorations would encounter problems and need rescue. This was, and is, an ideal campaign premise for me. A rescue team with a landing ship (the interstellar ships in 2300 aren't landers) being shuttled to a potentially hostile location to rescue some wayward explorers. Awesome stuff.

The choice of background was odd, though. It is a city on the second-most advanced and populated world in the 2300 universe. Rising near the right edge is the Beanstalk, one of two space elevators in the setting. Why someone needs such a well-armed and equipped SAR team less than 5 miles from a major population center is a bit curious.

Even so, this cover screamed my kind of sci-fi, and did not disappoint. However, like Star Frontiers, it did not include starship rules. Those came later, in the form of . . .


I really wanted to like Star Cruiser. That's not to imply that I didn't (or don't), it's just that I never played it. It's written from a very military/stellar navy perspective, to the point that most of the tech is of two types: military and old military. Obviously, the cutting edge tech is almost all military, while most of the best civilian tech is second-generation military. 2300AD never seems to have been intended to play out the merchant-prince type games Traveller supported. These rules didn't do anything for that, which didn't particularly bother me.

Owing to the harder sci-fi paradigm of the system, the only artificial gravity on these ships is inertially induced, mainly via spin-habitat crew quarters. I like this idea quite a bit to this day.

Mongoose came out with a version of 2300AD, as a supplement for its core Traveller rules. I haven't seen it, but it seems to have been well-received, aside from not being complete in itself. There is also a free fanzine, Colonial Times, that can be found on Drivethru RPG.

I've left out a lot about this game. Some of what I've said may be off a little, too. It's been far too long since I spent any time with it. If you like hard(ish) sci-fi, this one is well worth a look, even if you just adapt the fluff to your preferred system.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

The Promised Impressions


Without further ado (and in the order I received them) . . .

Monster Manual

This is simply awesome. Monster Manuals are odd beasts (sorry). They are slam full of ideas, but reading them doesn't really flow. Each monster is almost like a chapter, not always related to any other chapter. The art, and graphic design, are phenomenal. The write-ups are fantastic, giving each monster all the space it needs, and nothing more. I grew to detest the 2nd Edition Monstrous Compendium paradigm of "One creature per page". Some of them just don't need that much space. The stat blocks also appear very user-friendly. The stat-blocks in 3.x/4E intimidated me somewhat.

Bounded Accuracy is evident here, in the monster ACs and bonuses to-hit. For example, from the d20 SRD, an Ancient Red Dragon (because, why not?) has the following AC and to-hit bonus: AC 39 and Attack Bonus of +44. The 5th Edition Ancient Red Dragon has an AC of 22 and an Attack Bonus of +17. Of course, there are other points of comparison, and factors that will influence the relative hazards, but I think this is somewhat telling. When we're talking about characters gaining a class-based maximum of +6 to-hit, an AC of 22 is frightening, but not a death sentence. A character could conceivably hit such a beast without benefit of any magic weaponry or other aids. Not advisable, but conceivable.

This speaks to a desire I've had for a while for my games. Characters who are butt naked badasses. They have the potential to be serious threats, sans magic items. I blogged about that in this post. It also means that creatures remain viable threats further into the campaign.

Player's Handbook

I was already familiar with most of what's in here. The system proper is in the free Basic pdf. This book has more options for characters, mainly in the form of expanded class selection, and optional Feats. I'm not trying to review anything here, or even give details, so this is very subjective. I'm just as happy with 5th as ever following this release.

I haven't really read all of the classes. I like what I have read, though. The Paths idea is awesome, and incidentally, something I postulated in this post. That post is dated from a point over a year into the playtest, and I'm not suggesting that my idea for it was original. My point is that I like the concept.

I love the power curve here, too. The max bonus a character will have to do anything, based solely upon class, is +6, and they don't reach that bonus until 17th level. Of course, there are still bonuses based on stats, and other factors.

Backgrounds are awesome, and make excellent hooks into a campaign. I even like the implementation of Feats (at least on paper). They seem to be a gateway to a more limited (and easier to manage mechanically) form of multiclassing. There are feats that allow any class to learn some magic, or cast ritual spells. Weapon and armor feats for the martially challenged. Skill feats to allow non-thieves to dabble in larceny. All in all, a convenient way to customize a character without having to go all-in with a whole new class.

On a slight tangent, I like this for another reason. I have to admit that I liked the concept of prestige classes. In practice it became a min/max holiday. A frenzy of taking a level here and a level there for the sake of a certain combination of abilities. Meh. This is much better implemented and tightly focused. Many of the feats give almost a prestige-class vibe, without the need to have a character with 4 classes just to achieve a particular vision.

Dungeon Master's Guide

This one blew me away. This book is a work of genius on every level. I don't even know where to start. It is like reading the 1st Edition AD&D DMG, if it was written in 2014. It has so many of the things from the original that screamed "DM!" It even has the old Forms of Government table and descriptions. Totally awesome.

The chief way it differs from its predecessor is that the original included tons of advice on adjudicating your campaign. This was vital when you're talking about a game that operated on the concept of DM rulings being part and parcel of every session. This DMG focuses more on conducting the campaign, rather than handling the mechanics. Set the dials and switches, and start the engine. After that, it's all about the story. The rules hum quietly in the background, always ready to smoothly rise to the fore when needed.

On my very sketchy first readings, one of the things I think is pure gold is Appendix A: Random Dungeons. Tables for generating the maps of a dungeon level, as well as "backstory" type details. My favorite tables are the ones for random environment things. Sounds, smells, room furnishings, random books and scrolls. All completely awesome.

The other part that immediately caught my eye was Chapter 9: Dungeon Master's Workshop. This chapter is loaded with optional rules, many of which have their origins in the playtest documents. So, if there was something you liked that was cut from the playtest, like Proficiency Dice, chances are it is in this chapter. The thing I really like about this chapter is that these options are fully realized. This is not a few words of vague advice, like "Rather than static proficiency bonuses, you could roll a die based on level to randomly determine your bonus." No, no. It is fully spelled out, including how it changes the feel of things. Also included in this chapter are optional rules for Honor and Sanity, both very welcome additions.

There is so much to be excited about with this new edition. I haven't even scratched the surface of what I'm excited about, and I have only begun to scratch the surface of what is offered. If you haven't picked it up yet, run, don't walk.

By the way, even if you plan to run a campaign using the free Basic pdf (which is completely viable), you should strongly consider getting the DMG, at the very least. With the advice in it a Basic campaign will seem anything but basic.

I'm Back, Bitches



Call off the search. I have escaped the clutches of the dire time-villain known as the Christmas Peak.

Quick recap: I've been working 70+ hours per week since the beginning of November, so my reading time has been highly restricted. I've read some, but more as some relaxation before collapsing into a fitful slumber. I've briefly touched on several titles. My gaming ADD has an absolute field day under these conditions. Probably the runner-up for Biggest Interest Piquer (I made that word up, it isn't misspelled, so don't look) was  . . .


I love to read and think about Burning Wheel. I also love the hack Luke Crane came up with for Mouseguard. In practice, BW is too story-oriented for me, while paradoxically, it is extremely crunchy. A lot of moving parts, which depend on each other to a (much too) large degree. Torchbearer, though seems like viewing BW through a D&D lens. I didn't read all of it, let alone play it, but I did like what I did read.

Which brings me to the current focus of my creative energies . . .

These are my copies, and not some pic of someone else's I snagged.
Go me!

So, I am fully, firmly, and committedly in the 5E camp. I haven't dug too deeply into my hardbacks yet, but I have previously been reading the basic rules pdf. I want to give my initial impressions, though. Let's get started, shall we?

Nostalgia

Don't rally the villagers and dole out torches and pitchforks here, but I ordered these off Amazon. I don't have a local FLGS. There is a comic shop that probably carries it, as well as a shop that caters almost exclusively to Games Workshop miniature guys. They are both rather tightly focused on their core market (read: elitist), so I don't frequent them very much (read: not ever since the first time). My only other options were Books-A-Million and Barnes & Noble, which are every bit the chain-store giants that Amazon is, and they don't discount shit. How does this equate to the "Nostalgia" heading?

Well, as a younger man, I had to save allowance for D&D swag. I also had to either wrangle a ride to a game store, or order by mail. (Incidentally, I acquired a set of those old soft plastic dice by mail, as well as Eldritch Wizardry) That meant time spent in sweet, maddening anticipation. Waiting for my shipments from Amazon (they were all shipped separately), was very reminiscent of that anticipation. It was an awesome way to get into these books.

Taken as a Whole

My feeling at this time is that this really is a melding of all that has gone before.

It has the obvious roots in the LBBs, shared by all editions, in the concepts of the six stats, hit points, classes and levels.












Philosophically, it has the smoothness of B/X in its operation, ease of play, and ease of DMing.









  Its debt to AD&D I will discuss in the DMG heading.



From 2nd Edition we get kits, streamlined, balanced, and standardized in the form of Backgrounds. This new edition seems to evoke 2nd Edition to me somehow. The move from the baroque language of 1st Edition to the smooth, easy-reading of language of 2nd Edition is mirrored here. 5th Edition is much more pleasing to read than either the law-tome known as 3.5 or the tech manual of 4th Edition. It also uses the concept of colleges of magic and clerical domains, first appearing here.

From 3rd and 4th it draws concepts that unify and streamline. Ascending AC allows a much more unified mechanic. In a real way, the to-hit roll simply becomes another skill roll. The three saves being based on stats, found in 3.x, became the six stat-based saves of 5th. The idea of Feats was born in 3.x. Their appearance in 5th is much better implemented, and entirely optional.

4th even offers useful tidbits. The "rest" structure is alive and well, which I do like (blasphemy? Perhaps). One of the most irritating disconnects in D&D, for me, has always concerned hit points. On the one hand we're told the bulk of the damage a character takes represents minor nicks, close calls, and general fatigue. Yet, if depending on natural healing, it could take weeks to recover from a couple of fights. I have always liked the idea of regaining a chunk of hit points following a chance to catch your breath, take a pull from a wine flask, and slap on a bandage or two.

So, that is my thumbnail sketch of what got us here. I think I'm going to split my initial impressions into another post. I'm going to do it right now, so this isn't going to be one of those time I tease you with something I never deliver. Promise.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Harn

I adore Harn. Simple and to the point. Sure, it's not for everyone or every game, but I love it. At one time I had a LOT of Harn material: the Harnic boxed set, the Ivinia boxed set, all of the Encyclopedia Harnicas, the Kaldor module, the Melderyn module, and 100 Bushes of Rye and Dead of Winter adventures. I also had Nasty, Brutish, and Short. All of this was before a house fire destroyed very nearly all of my gaming collection.


I ran a short-lived campaign centered on Trobridge Inn whilest living in Atlanta. We used GURPS 3rd Edition and conversion notes I found somewhere. It was fun, but we ultimately found GURPS too frustrating.

I have nothing against HarnMaster, having owned the 2nd and 3rd editions, along with HarnMaster Magic, pre-fire. I really like the rules set, but have no problem with the idea of using something else with a Harn campaign.

The point to this is simple: I'm rolling some ideas around for a Harn campaign using a rules set I've never talked about before (at least not to you lot). I apologize for the mystery. I promise I'm not gratuitously amping the drama, I just don't want to give away too much, too quickly. In truth, I found the key to the first stumbling block only this evening.

I really hope I can maintain some steam with this, if for nothing else than to collect some notes that I can refer back to when my mood swings around. And around.