Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Viscious Cycles

After all these years, I've identified a basic pattern to my ADD. It isn't universal. My lack of focus doesn't always follow this pattern, but I have identified this as one way my focus shifts.

For example, right now I am working on S&S for Alternity. I'm trying to keep real changes to the system to a minimum, limiting additions, and not adding any sort of mechanics unless unavoidably necessary. In short, I'm trying to keep it simple, which is true to the old school.

However, it is work. It does involve conceptualizing things, tweaking, twisting, and re-spinning certain aspects. Additionally, these modifications will need to be explained to anyone playing (which is a purely academic point), rather than just having us all play from the same book we all know. (We, in this case, being a complete hypothetical, of course.)

So, from all this angst will inevitably spring a desire to get back to something simpler and more pure. Typically, this leads me to S&W WhiteBox. I love that game. The elegant simplicity just sings. Then, I start actually thinking about doing something with it. It is at that point that I see all of its holes which I will need to patch.

Which brings me around to thinking that if I'm going to be doing all that work to make WB play S&S the way I want it to, I may as well be using Alternity as the foundation . . .

Full circle.

Alternity S&S Magic Hazards

Magical power is an addictive thing. Once tasted, the lust for it never goes away. Any time a caster’s power or ability increases the player must make a Compulsion Check. If this check fails, the character’s Compulsion modifier, which begins at 0 increases one step.
If the character is ever faced with the opportunity to increase his prowess, and the player wishes to pass on the opportunity, a Compulsion Check is made against the character’s WILL. If this check is unsuccessful, the player must attempt to obtain the object of the Compulsion. This could be a spellbook, enchanted object, rare ingredients, or magical formula. Anything that could result in the character being more powerful is fair game.
Note that fulfilling the Compulsion is not a suicide mission. If the object of desire is well-guarded or otherwise inaccessible, the character will plot and scheme ceaselessly until he works out a plan for acquiring the object. It is an obsessive Compulsion, though, and will dominate his every thought until he owns it.
Magical power was never intended to be wielded by men. It is corrupting, damaging to a caster’s very humanity. Too much contact with the forces of magic will eventually render the caster a twisted, mad creature, no longer human.
 Casters have an additional Trait, Humanity. It starts at one-half WILL. Each time a casting roll attempted, successful or not, the player must make a Corruption Check, against the character’s WILL. This roll is always made with the Control Die only. Each time it is failed, the next roll is made with a +1 per failure. If the roll fails, the character’s Humanity drops by 1. If the sum of the roll + modifier is 20 or more, the character has acquired an Arcane Taint, selected from the following list:
Negative Aura*
Animals and children react negatively to such a character. Animals and children will never react favorably to such a character and may react very negatively.
 One of the character’s normal physical features becomes disfigured. It is disturbing and discomfiting to look at, but not supernatural or unnatural. Affects Interaction Broad Skill.
 The character finds it very difficult to win the trust of NPCs. Affects Culture, Interaction, and Leadership Broad Skills.
 The character’s physical being is becoming weakened by constant exposure to magic. Affects all Strength Skills, plus Endurance.
An unnatural form of disfigurement. This could take the form of a cloven hoof replacing a foot, an obnoxious odor, eyes of unnatural hue, claw hand, or anything else that isn’t natural about the human body. Affects all Personality Skills.
Odious Personal Habit*
The character develops a personal habit that is so bad it negatively affects his interactions with others. Some examples could include arguing with oneself very loudly, refusing to bath, “nervous" speech patterns, insistence on neurotic behaviors, etc. The possibilities are endless. This affects all Personality Skills.
 The character has become a creature of the night. Any activity undertaken in daylight suffers a +1 Step penalty.
The character has become insane. This is difficult to nail down and should be worked out on an individual basis. No matter what, though, it is bad.
Each time an Arcane Taint is gained it causes a +1 Step Penalty to the associated ability.

Odious Personal Habit
The character develops a personal habit that is so bad it negatively affects his interactions with others. Some examples could include arguing with oneself very loudly, refusing to bath, “nervous" speech patterns, insistence on neurotic behaviors, etc. The possibilities are endless. This affects all Personality Skills.

The character has become a creature of the night. Any activity undertaken in daylight suffers a +1 Step penalty.

The character has become insane. This is difficult to nail down and should be worked out on an individual basis. No matter what, though, it is bad.

Each time an Arcane Taint is gained it causes a +1 Step Penalty to the associated ability.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Alternity for S&S: Initial Thoughts

(I wasn't going to post this, and just keep these notes here as a back-up. I think, though, that I will post them. If I keep them as back-ups I'll delete them and this design history will be lost. I find it very beneficial to trace the genesis and development of these things, especially when I get off track or need inspiration. Please forgive me if these "designer's notes" are a little more stream-of-conscious than usual. That's just how I roll.)

Broad skills for the types of magic as in ZeFRS. They are "free", point-wise, but each comes with Compulsion. This is not a Flaw in the traditional sense, and does not grant bonus points. I'm not sure what it is, beyond the cost of learning magic. At any rate, Every time a sorcerous character increases in magical power (such as improving his broad skill, learning a new spell, unlocking the mysteries of an enchanted item, etc), he suffers a permanent one-step penalty to the roll. Compulsion checks against WILL whenever the character is presented with an opportunity to increase his power and ability.

Spells should be pre-defined rituals, except for Summoners. They command demons to their bidding.

The Cost of Doing Business I want to study up on the cyberpsychosis rules to see about using them as a model for how sorcerers lose their humanity as a result of trucking with dark forces.

All spells are rituals, to some degree. Some are relatively quick, some may take days, but none are able to be cast in combat. Sorcerers employ a variety of tricks and tactics to bring magic into combat, but no matter how the trappings may differ, mechanically, it all comes down to the same thing:

A Focus is an item enchanted to be a receptacle for spells. There are an endless variety of Foci. Some examples are:
  • Knotted ropes
  • Wands
  • Staves
  • Corked jars
  • Flash paper
  • Rings of power
  • Crowns or helms
  • Crystals
Pretty much anything, as long as it is of sufficient quality can be enchanted to hold at least one spell of modest power.

As a general rule, the more spells that are attempted to be placed into the focus, the more likely it will be destroyed in the attempt. Each spell increases the chance of failure, it isn't some flat rate. The relative power of the spell also has an effect.

Obviously, combat is not the only instance where a sorcerer may need to bring magical power to bear in short order. There are many other foci, such as those used in divinatory magic, that are designed for uses other than combat.

That's it for preliminary thoughts. I don't want to reinvent the wheel, so I want to keep the core systems as intact as possible, reskinning where necessary.

Monday, March 19, 2012

ZeFRS Wrap Up

I finished reading ZeFRS this afternoon. Essentially the rules finish up with fairly standard chapters on Hazards (such as falling, fire, and poison) and Life in an S&S World (largely an economy and equipment chapter). These final pages were fairly predictable. They are virtually the same in every game because that's just the way it is. There is very little innovation to be eeked out of an economics chapter (The Riddle of Steel was the last I've seen with its unique and quirky way of handling specific countries' currency based on weight of precious metals contained). That's not a knock against ZeFRS, just a fact of game design. One of this type of coin equals this many of that type. It hasn't changed much. Likewise, hazards. Basically, the hazards chapter for any game simply shows how to plug said hazards into the damage system.

ZeFRS attacks its subject with all the gusto of a northern barbarian. It very exuberantly dives in, seeking to take its new ideas and forge a new type of gaming experience. Unfortunately, it ends up being like a bad teacher. We've all had somebody try to teach us something they are very passionate about and knowledgeable in. They'll explain it in a very quick and cursory fashion, and not understand how we didn't "get it". It is so obvious to them, they can't conceive of it being less so to someone else. That's how these rules struck me. I love how dangerous and risky the magic system is intended to be. But, other than the excellent Obsession rule, how do I translate those ideas into a playable system?

By the end of the book I realized something. The rules are chock full of fresh, innovative, and new ideas. Ideas that were indeed ahead of their time. Now, 27 years after the release of the rules ZeFRS is based on, their time has passed. There are a lot of systems that have taken a lot of those ideas (but not Obsession, for some reason) and refined them. All these ideas need is a well-explained system to plug them into and they will shine like the jewels of Atlantis. A system where damage is realistic, combat is gritty and dangerous, and magic poses a very real threat to the very soul of anyone who even dares to learn how to do it, let alone actually casts spells.

It makes me want to bolt these fantastic ideas onto Alternity. Don't groan, I've not made any bones about liking the system. I think it could pull it off. In fact, it seems there are certain ancestral ties between Alternity's resolution mechanic and the ZeFRS color chart. They both feature degrees of success based on the resolution roll. I know they aren't the only two rules systems to have that sort of feature, but I recall reading somewhere that there are design ties between the two. There are a few Alternity-to-Fantasy things floating around. I need to look at some, I think . . .

Ailoria: A New Map

This is a hand drawn sketch (obviously) of a new setting/world. I was waiting for my wife at an appointment she had Saturday morning, and it just came to me. It's going to be a gritty, S&S themed thing. I feel awkward over what to call it. I hate calling it setting because that, to me, connotates something designed as a backdrop for a specific purpose. I don't feel comfortable with world either, because obviously, it isn't. Besides, I know me, if I start calling it world, then I'll feel compelled to venture beyond the confines of this map. I want to keep my efforts focused here.

Anyway, I'm going to develop it along the lines of the small-kingdom concept I discussed in this thread. I'll also be trying out the Welsh Piper's Hex-based Campaign Design.

Speaking of it being gritty S&S, I've come to realize something. I don't want pure, true-to-the-sources S&S. I want an S&S style, but I don't want to throw out the baby with the bathwater. I still want some classic D&D tropes. Some. For example:
  • I don't want the chief adversaries to be limited to humans. I want monsters.
  • I don't want to have to make up some horror lost to time, in order for the adventure to truly have a monster
  • At the same time, I don't want to have to consider the implications of orcs having their own nations. Monsters exist, but mainly as antithesis to civilization and the forces of Law. They are the Bad Guys, and are not to be trusted.
  • Lastly, I want to allow for good, old-fashioned dungeon crawls. I don't want every adventure to be a case of sneak-in-without-getting-caught, grab the loot, and run-out-before-we get-killed.
So, there it is. This will be my design log, which I'm sharing in hopes of getting feedback that will help me do this the best I can. This map is the starting point. I'm going to port it into GIMP and try to pretty it up. That will be submitted for comment, as well.

PS> The name is pronounced EYE-loria.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

ZeFRS Magic

So, magic. The magic in ZeFRS is covered in three pages. Yes, that's right, three pages. There are no predefined spell lists. In fact, there aren't even guidelines for inventing spells. It is suggested that the player and referee should have a meeting of the minds to determine the risk:reward ratio. Frankly, it left me a little flat. I'm not afraid to whip this shit up on the fly, but some sort of guidelines are needed. Without them it becomes very easy to create spells that are completely out of balance and unfair to all concerned. Especially with a magic system that is so dangerous for casters.

All is not lost, however. There are some really cool ideas for imparting the mood of S&S magic. My favorite, bar none, is Obsession. Once a character learns his first magical Talent, he gains a rating in a new Talent, Obsession. It represents the uncontrollable desire for magical power. From then on, every time the character grows in magical power his Obsession rating increases by one. Any time the character is faced with the opportunity to increase his magical power and the player wants to resist it, a roll must be made. If the roll is failed, the character succumbs. Here is a quote from the Obsession section:
if it possible to sate the character's lust for magic without harming his friends, he will do so. But if injuring or betraying them can't be avoided ... well, sometimes a magician just has to do what he has to do...

I think that is an awesome mechanic to model the absolute danger to a magician's soul. It is one thing to foist certain penalties or limitations on them. If they have the choice of when to risk the dangers, then they aren't nearly as dangerous. When they are being compelled to face the dangers, it changes things.

All in all, there are some excellent ideas here for S&S-style magic, they just aren't very well developed. Something along the lines of Barbarians of Lemuria's magic system would be a good fit. Magic in BoL is a somewhat a la cart affair, but with clear advice on how to judge the power of spells.

It is one thing to embrace the rulings-not-rules, DIY spirit. It is quite another to be left without any direction whatsoever. I just wish there had been a little more in the way of guidance.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

ZeFRS Chapters 2-4

Fellow OSRers rejoice! If for no other reason, brothers and sisters, than the casual ambiguity laced throughout these rules. I love this stuff. So much of it is left open to interpretation, and at the same time leaves the prospective referee feeling comfortable enough to deliver that interpretation. Some rules sets have had passages that left me scratching my head and flipping back and forth until I became disenchanted and moved on. Not so, here. Several times I found myself slightly confounded, and just said to myself "I'll worry about it when it comes up" and kept right on reading. Also, in these chapters, I spied certain passages that I felt needed modification. When I've finished my reading I'll collect my house rule ideas and post them for critical review.

For now, though, Chapter Two: Talents . . .

I fully expected this to be a standard listing of this type of thing, and for the most part it is. There are magical talents listed, which, I assume, are fully detailed in the Magic chapter. There's a fair description of them in this chapter, though, and they are quite flavorful and moody. One thing that struck me while reading these is the cost of magic, in the toll on the caster's body. In many cases the caster acquires a weakness each time he casts a spell, successful or not. At first I chaffed at this a bit, thinking it was very restrictive. It may yet turn out to be, once I've read the Magic chapter. Another thought occurred to me, however. Casters of magic in this game are threatening, simply in the fact that they are able to command these terrible powers. Sure, a necromancer may develop a cloven left foot for even attempting to raise my character's dead grandmother and animate her corpse, but, would my guy want to risk pissing him off? I like that thought. Of course, the spells have to be powerful enough to warrant the gamble, and that remains to be seen. As I noted above, house ruling is a simple matter, and scaling risk/reward should prove to be no problem, if I perceive an imbalance.

Chapter Three covers the Resolution Chart. It's very straight-forward. I'm sure at the time it may have seemed a little gimmicky, but the bottom line is, it works. It is in these two short pages that we run upon our first Ambiguity. Some modifiers result in "column shifts". If you're interested, and without the rules, you can refer to my previous post for a look at the Chart. Anyway, these column shifts seem to have been ill-defined from the outset. There are the individual columns, and these are also bound by heavier column lines in groups of 4 or 5. So, the question arises, What constitutes a column shift? Is it counted by individual columns, i.e. a -1 shift takes column 8 down to column 7? Or, is it counted by the larger, grouped, columns? It gets even fuzzier from there, so I'll stop. Sounds like a muddy mess, right? Here's the thing: All it takes is one simple decision from the referee, and the problem is solved. Make a ruling, before play even begins, let everyone know what it is, and get to it.

Chapter Four is Combat. This combat features some things I traditionally desire in a combat system. Armor reduces damage, the chance to hit is based on attacker's skill, modified by defender's skill, a "damage point" system which models a character's ability to prosecute the fight, backed up by a specific wound system which allows a sense of uncertainty.

Let me expand on that damage point thing. Characters have Damage Points, bought up at character generation, and I'm assuming, improved through play. These damage points seem to represent most of what hit points do: luck, favor of the gods, endurance, ability to shrug off a blow, etc. Damage Points are fewer, and not automatically improved as the character advances. Once all the damage points are gone, further injury invites the possibility of unconsciousness or death.

Then, there's the whole Specific Wound thing. If a hit is truly grievous, it causes a Specific Wound, regardless of armor or other factors. This wound, based on location and damage type, can result in anything from losing the use of a limb, to death. A character so abused is allowed to roll to avoid the effect.

There's a section on Mass Combat, which I haven't read yet (I wanted to get this post in). I know I'm probably forgetting some things I wanted to mention. If I remember them I'll pass them along. For now, it is time to read that Magic chapter . . .

ZeFRS Resolution Chart

Here is my version of the ZeFRS Resolution Chart. I made it to be somewhat printer-friendly, though I did splurg a little with the heavy title text and sword. Either should be easily deleted, should you desire. I wanted something easier on the printer than all those heavy blocks of color. I made this one from scratch, using Libre Office Calc for the "table" part of it, then imported it into GIMP for the title text, "key" text, and sword. The key text is left open so that it can be color-coded to the appropriate section of the chart.

I have printed this out, and it looks good, completely legible and clear. The "interior" lines on the graph are thin, but I think they look good that way. I used colored pencils on it and this is how it turned out:

I darked up some of the lines by hand, mostly because I knew I wasn't going to waste ink and print it again, so there was no point doing it digitally. Unless I need to print it again, that is. If I do, I'll upload the update.

Friday, March 16, 2012

ZeFRS: Character Creation

So far, I'm liking this game. I didn't find too much about it online, so I thought I'd offer my thoughts for anyone considering it. I know it is freely available, but there are many, like me, who aren't comfortable with wholesale reading on a computer monitor. I prefer to print things like this when I can, and I like to try to make sure I'm not wasting time, toner, or paper. Without further ado, let's jump right into Chapter One: Creating Your Character . . .

Of the little bit I did find, review/overview-wise, it was said that this system was ahead of its time. I've only read the first chapter, but based on that, I wholeheartedly agree. This game was published in 1985. It did not have a predefined set of stats, which is something I've been wanting in a system for a while. I think things like exceptional strength or mind-numbing idiocy should be advantages/disadvantages (or whatever terms you prefer). Describe your character as you see fit, but if you didn't select Strength, then all those muscles you described are window-dressing.
Another thing I thought was incredibly innovative, and I've not ever seen anywhere else (unless I'm forgetting something) is the way the system handles untrained skills use. First off, skills fall under the heading of Talents. Talents can be anything from weapon proficiency, to actual skills (such as Survival), to stat-like things (Strength). Talents are grouped into Talent Pools which are broad categories of similar Talents. The really innovative thing I mentioned is this: When you attempt something you do not have a Talent for, you apply your General Talent Score. It is derived by adding the ratings of all your Talents in that Talent Pool and dividing by 10.
For example, the Fighting Talent Pool consists of all the combat abilities of your character, including individual weapon skills. If your character has Broadsword-5, Mace-5, Brawling-8, and Spear-4, his General Talent Score would be 4. That would be applied to any rolls he makes that would fall under fighting, such as using a table leg to attack someone. 
I like this because it makes sense. The more well-rounded a character is, within a given Talent Pool, the more capable he is within the boundaries of that pool. Some systems impose a flat penalty to unskilled use, some use a "default" system, and there are yet other ways to handle it. Unskilled use of a skill is one of my real sticking points for systems that include skills. I don't want a skill list to limit my players. This seems to be a reasonable, sensible approach. Oh, and if that seems too much like a math exercise, you only do it at character creation, and if a Talent would push the Pool total over a number divisible by 10. All fractions are rounded down.

One other thing that caught my eye was initial equipment. There are three columns, with the player selecting one item from each column. One column is purely weapons, the other two are combinations of armor and adventuring gear.
The armors listed do not appear in the armor table. Not tragic, but definitely an editing oversight. Also, in column three, one of the items listed is 5 gold coins. Looking at the price lists, It is possible to select that and purchase most of the items on the second and third list, making the "5 gold coins" something of a no-brainer.

Character creation looks like it would go very quickly, if the player is ready with a character concept. With a clear concept, Talent selection should just fall into place. Then, it's just equipment and done. That's something else I want for my game. I love the Burning Wheel lifepath thing, and it is a lot of fun to work through, but I don't really want to spend an entire session on character creation. Especially when there might only be two sessions a month.

So, to sum up, I like what I'm seeing so far. Character generation is fast and simple, no predefined stats, and an innovative unskilled system. I can't wait to see how the system handles combat . . .

How Have I Missed This?

I like to think of myself as somewhat up-to-date. I may not like all of the "newer" stuff, but I'm at least aware of it. So I am at a lose to understand how this one has remained below my radar. Especially considering my love for the S&S side of our little hobby.

I haven't read it yet, I only discovered it, literally, about an hour ago. I can't wait to dig into it. This is like some sort of perfect storm, considering my earlier thoughts on campaign design, my recent discovery of the Welsh Piper's Hex-based Capaign Design, and now these rules. It's a nice little trifecta of design philosophy, tools, and system all synching up. I'll let you know how it goes.

By the way, I put a link to the ZeFRS page in the Free Swag. The rules are free, and there is a companion and a whole heap o' stuff on that page. Give it a look.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Beyond the Reach of Law

The idea of nation-states, with clearly defined borders, is a relatively recent invention. The idea that a homogeneous group of people occupy a sovereign state that is defined by political boundaries, was first forwarded in France under Louis XIV. Many, if not most, fantasy  settings are based on this model. They may not shout it from their pages, but it's there. It's hard to get away from, since it's the world we live in and forms our point of reference.

One thing that has intrigued me for some time is a world where each "king" can only claim what he can hold. In other words, his holdings only extend as far as he is able to project his power. If he can establish a network of vassals to enforce his rule, his kingdom grows. Otherwise, he can only claim a realm that is no more extensive than he can traverse in a day or two's ride. A rebellion may begin far enough from the power base to gather momentum before the king and his army can arrive to put it down. The extents of a demesne are defined by the sovereign's ability to project his will to that extent.

In this spirit, I believe lies the seeds for great swords & sorcery settings. It wouldn't have to be geographically large in order to encompass quite a few "kingdoms". This would, in turn, allow many possibilities for politically motivated situations, or at least political maneuvers in the background. It allows upward mobility for characters, since in this model there won't be vast legions or standing armies. It somewhat mitigates the power creep wherein the leaders have to be 23rd level, so it supports a shallower, gentler power curve (which I love). Finally, it creates a great Points of Light situation. (I hate to use that term, but it is immediately communicative, so there.) Beyond the reach of the local sovereign the territories are also beyond the reach of civilization and laws. Bandits and worse may roam these wildernesses.

This also creates an ideal environment for a Law-Neutral-Chaos alignment paradigm. Law equates to the Rule of Law, society, civilization, and expansion. Chaos maps to the wild forces, untameable, uncontrollable, and ultimately antithetical to the principles of Law. Neutrality could then represent a number of possibilities including true detachment from the Law-Chaos struggle, to selfishness and conceit.

Obviously, this will not support a more renaissance-setting style of campaign and adventure design. So, it won't be for everyone. I prefer a setting where a king's reach is restrained by his grasp, where his authority extends no further than his ability to impose it. I like vast, lawless stretches where the characters are on their own. It is from those vast, lawless stretches that they will ultimately carve their destiny and seek to impose their will.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

State of Mapping Art

As gamers, we enjoy mapping and cartography resources formerly available only to professional publishers and print houses. Now, we have the likes of dedicated fantasy cartography software, such as Campaign Cartographer and Dundjinni, for those willing to pay. There are free-to-use web based mappers, like Hexographer. Then there are more general purpose imaging programs, like Photoshop, or the free alternative GIMP, for those willing to bend the software to their will.

I have used many of the software options available (believe me, there are many more than I listed). A competent operator can generate beautiful, professional grade maps of his setting of choice. The real advantage is the ability to make changes, corrections, and modifications to the maps with relative ease. Through the clever use of layers these maps can contain an atlas' worth of maps in a single file. Scaling is not a concern when "zooming in" to produce local maps from regional overviews. There are a ton of advantages to using these software options, and I won't decry any of them.

Nothing gets me in a gaming mood like a hand drawn map, though. Give me a hex sheet, like these from Welsh Piper, and a fistful of colored pencils, and I am in heaven. For me, there is some sort of intimate connection with the environments, lands, and peoples when I draw the map by hand. The map comes alive for me when I'm not having to "figure out" how to draw it.

Like I said, I'm not decrying the software. I enjoy making maps with GIMP. It's just a different enjoyment, and not quite as personal. As beautiful as the maps can be, software maps always have a certain degree of sterility to them. I swear I'm not saying that to be negative, it just contrasts with the deeper, investment-type enjoyment I get from hand drawing my maps.

The scaling thing I mentioned earlier isn't nearly so convenient by hand, but know what? That's ok, too. I've come to embrace the notion that I can explain differences in scale and other inconsistencies between maps as different cartographers. I've also moved away from serious scales. I find it far more immersive to describe scale loosely and rely on local concerns to define it. A map that covers a region encompassing a town and its attendant villages would like have a scale defined in days of travel, for example.

Of course, there is no reason that both media can't be used in tandem. I like the idea of using something like Fractal Terrain to lay out the "big picture" on a global scale, then hand drawing the areas of interest.

There are a lot of tools out there for campaign mapping, no matter what game or genre you're into. When you're trying to decide what to use, though, don't forget good ol' pencils and paper. As they say in baseball, "Dance with the one that brung you."

Monday, March 12, 2012


The two Alternity core books were the only RPGs that survived my house fire back in May last year. I'm very happy for that, since I did always love the game, even though I've never played it. Imagine, then, how happy I was today when the mail man delivered Star*Drive.

Dark*Matter was the only supplement I owned for Alternity. I had plenty of chances to get Beyond F/X and Xenoforms from the FLGS before they went out of business, but there was always some reason not to. They had cleared out their Alternity stock long before, those titles somehow remained, despite the deep discounts.

I discovered D*M and S*D on Amazon recently, and was able to secure both for slightly under $25. D*M should arrive by the end of the week. Star*Drive came from Sherrie's Stuff. I mention that because I want to say that they did a fine job. It was shipped in a very timely manner. Its condition was listed as Very Good, and it certainly was. The binding is tight, the pages are in excellent condition with no marks or tears, and the cover shows only slight rubbing. If this is their definition of Very Good, something listed as New must be absolutely virginal.

I've only briefly skimmed it, so far. I like the breadth of what I see. It looks very comprehensive, covering a wide variety of far-future topics. I have long been intrigued by the notion of a port of 2300AD to Alternity. This may be the keys to that kingdom.

Exotic Races

It may come as a shock to some, but Professor Tolkien did not invent dwarves and elves. He put his spin on them, as any good author would, but that is the extent of his involvement. The "some" I am referring to are those that decry the inclusion of the "Tolkien-esque" races as passe and old hat. Reviewers have spoken against games that included dwarves and elves. Copy-writers have claimed the superiority of their designs on the back-cover blurb, based on the "No Elves or Dwarves" mantra.

Maybe they are old, maybe even a little tiresome. We are told by some that designs that feature them are outdated or unimaginative. Real roleplayers play races no one can pronounce.

If they are outdated, they are also familiar. I like a basis of familiarity in my fantasy. I have nothing against exotic races, but they need to be the spice, not the meal. I need something familiar against which to contrast all that exotica. That's why I prefer to game in settings like Greyhawk, Forgotten Realms (1st Edition, please, no angst-ridden drow need apply), or even -gasp!- Golarion. Settings like Talislanta may be very imaginative, and they can be great reads and idea-mines, but they don't give me enough reference points to use them whole cloth. If everything is exotic, then exotic becomes the norm, thus ceasing to be exotic.

Then there is the problems inherent in playing an intelligent plant, for example. How does one play such a character, session after session, without resorting to mapping human traits and idioms to the "exotic" character? I'm not bashing on anyone's role playing skills, just raising the point that it takes a level of characterisation well beyond extreme to pull that off. Fine and good, for the player dedicated enough to pull it off. If all the races and/or classes are so far into the exotic, though, then all players are required to give that level of dedication. Every session.

As much as we ridicule a certain dual-wielding drow ranger, his characterisation was over-the-top. Now, imagine a party full of that degree of characterisation. If you can, then good for you. Get your exotic on and don't look back. I, for one, can't imagine it without risking a tension headache. So, I'll have dwarves and elves with my fantasy rpgs, thank you.

Mythika Gazetteer


I've been busy today with Mazes & Minotaurs. I've collected the various Mythika Gazetteer articles from all 10 issues of Minotaur Quarterly. It is a single, fairly large, pdf in the blog's 4shared folder. It includes a copy of the above map, pertinent related articles (but not themed adventures), and a cover I put together. If you have any comments or thoughts, please pass them on. I really enjoy doing stuff like this, so I hope you find it useful.