Saturday, January 31, 2015

Free from Sine Nomine

I've mentioned Sine Nomine in a post about Stars Without Number. What I haven't mentioned is just how impressed I am with Mr Crawford's work, both in quantity and quality. Well, he has struck again.

Now he is producing his own free e-zine. This inaugural issue is 15 pages. It has a very nice wrap-around cover. Articles include a new class for Scarlet Heroes, two one-roll generators, one for backwater spaceports and one for abandoned structures. There is also a rather lengthy article detailing the development timetable of Sine Nomine kickstarter projects. All in all this looks to be a very useful addition to the Sine Nomine line.

One small suggestion, though. The layout of Sine Nomine products is very functional. Nothing fancy, no background textures or sidebar art pieces. This is very much appreciated for its printer friendliness. However, title spaces, section headers, chapter titles, and the like typically have the name header followed by a sort of subtitle. The subtitle is white in a black background:

That's not very printer friendly. It doesn't matter if I send it out to be printed, but if you do it at home, all that black ink adds up. And believe me, you'll be wanting to print all of Sine Nomine's stuff. It's that good.

Monday, January 26, 2015

More Cyclopean Ruins

I remembered this morning there was a supplement of weird spells. These seem like a pretty good fit for what I'm trying to shoot for here, but not necessarily a good fit for DCC. Obviously this idea is still in its infancy, with no way of knowing in which direction it will develop. Anyway . . .

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Cyclopean Ruins

Almost two weeks ago I posted a query concerning Numenera. My interest in that book has cooled somewhat, but not the quote that I shared in that post.

I simply can not shake the image of a small band traversing a flat, windswept landscape. The wind howls, pulling at their cloaks as they clutch them desperately around their bodies. The light is failing, and in its twilight seems somehow thin, washed out. They arrive at a cliff face, not more than 10-12' high, curving away to either side, fading into the wan light.

They quickly negotiate that smooth face, gaining its summit. Continuing on their course, a short time later they arrive at a precipice. The lip curves away, behind them this time, symmetrical and smooth, lost in the gathering darkness. One of them takes a tube from a fold in his cloak and places it to one of his eyes. Instantly the distance shrinks before him and he can gaze upon far vistas as if they were at arm's length. There at the edge of his extended vision, he sees another precipice. This one, while curving beyond the limits of his vision, is marked by deep indentations, uniformly spaced and consistent in their depth. They march along the edge of that far cliff, fading from sight.

The view of this scene pulls back, revealing the group to be standing on a giant gear.

So, here is my idea: a post-apocalyptic fantasy set among the cyclopean ruins of an advanced previous civilization. The system I think would be suit my vision? Well, this is a weird, bleak, somewhat hopeless, blend of fantasy with a dash of sci-fi post apoc. It is over-the-top in-your-face balls-to-the-wall and a lot of other hyphenated descriptors. So, naturally, I'm thinking DCC.

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


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.