29 October, 2010

Horror Movies

I don't remember when it happened, but Halloween is my favourite holiday. Through a long series of internal segues, I went from this thought, to wanting to share the various things I'd taken from horror movies to put in my game worlds. Just movies. The inclusion of books and other sources would produce far too much material.
  • The flying silver blade ball from Phantasm
  • The puzzle box from Hellraiser
  • Abbie Normal from Young Frankenstein
  • The vampire's assistant from Salem's Lot. To this day, I'm awestruck they got James Mason to do that.
  • The death-jawas from Phantasm
  • The hide-my-eyes-icky chain hooks from Hellraiser
  • The re-inspired turning attempt from Fright Night
  • Many lines, especially "That's to be expected" from The Unnameable
  • The hand-in-the-eye from The Gate
  • The killer severed hand from Evil Dead 2 (moreso this version than the Addams Family)
  • More than one undead has been heard to wax poetic with "I'll swallow your soul!!"
  • Succubi, demon-summoning, and tons of atmosphere from Spectre
  • The Thing from .. The Thing. This version specifically, due to the head-spider.
Ah, such sweet memories.

25 October, 2010


First of all, this isn't a new class. It's merely a different method of casting for a magic-user. In most of my milieu, there are dozens of different casting systems by which a worker of magic can cast their spells. Generally, characters will start out with a very basic system, much like or identical to what is detailed in the rules, and will then discover other casting systems as they travel around and experience the different cultures of the world, or worlds.

With cartomancy, the caster uses cards. For flavour's sake, they are probably larger than common modern playing cards, more like a large tarot deck. Their inherent magic is no greater than that of a spellbook, and in practice they function in much the same way. The mage may or may not have the ability to make cards themselves. Either way, to acquire a new spell, the mage must acquire a new card(s.) When casting the spell, the card is used in lieu of any material components, though it isn't 'used up.'

When the wizard has more time on his hands, he can use the cards for divining purposes. This should take about a turn (ten minutes) and should only provide answers to simple questions. One possibility would be using a short table for the result. I'll use the example of a mage doing a card reading for the question "is there a secret door in this room?"

  1. Yes or No - a clear answer, but any more specific than this shouldn't be possible, at least for a low level mage
  2. The answer is near, but you must do another reading - spend another turn laying cards and roll again
  3. The cards will not answer - for an unknown reason, the cards can never say if there is a secret door in this room or not

If the magic-user only has a handful of first level spells, you may want to say that each spell consists of multiple cards so that there are enough to do divinatory readings. Another option would be having a larger deck of cards, with only a few of which actually detail spells.

Other possible options might include limiting the number of cards one can have available at any one time, thereby limiting how many spells the cartomancer can have access to at once. This could easily be explained as conforming to any specific number of cards involved in a reading. For example, one of the standard layouts for tarot readings involves using 9 cards.

20 October, 2010

Fifteen Games

Here are my 15. Some of them I probably wouldn't even want to play again, but they are ones I won't forget, and which (for better or worse) will continue to influence me.

  1. DnD, Moldvay, AD&D 1st, AD&D 2nd
  2. Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, 1st
  3. Axis & Allies
  4. Talisman
  5. Traveller
  6. Wizardry
  7. Marvel Superheroes
  8. Guild Wars
  9. World of Warcraft
  10. Chess
  11. Call of Cthulhu
  12. Zork
  13. Clue
  14. Magic: The Gathering
  15. HeroQuest

19 October, 2010

Airships Now Arriving in Eberron

I've got classes figured out to a manageable state, so I'm going to go ahead and open my Play-by-Post Eberron Labyrinth Lord game. It will play out, surprisingly, in the 'Eberron - Labyrinth Lord' section of my message board.
This is The Place
Anyone is welcome to come by, sign up, and roll up a character. All you'll need to do is fill in the typical board registration hubbub, using the name your comments are posted under here, and I'll activate you. Instructions for making a character, which dice method to use, etc. are in this thread.

I'll be shooting for a once-a-day minimum update on my end, but it will probably be more often than that. You can check out my Eberron atmosphere post from a few days ago to get an idea what I'll be trying to do with the setting.

17 October, 2010

Spell Points

"The magic system works fine, and it's part of the 'feel' of DnD.. why mess with it?!"
I've heard this argument many times, and I totally understand it. The DnD spell memorisation system is great. For a DM who gets a lot of inspiration from literature, however, it's in some ways an odd choice. It's one of the singular systems amongst all literature, unique to its own setting. Like LeGuin's true-name system or Anthony's 'I-found-my-special-purpose' system, it's in a niche off to the side of the main body of literary wizardry. By far, the most widespread representation of wizardry in fantasy fiction is a spellcaster who knows certain spells, can cast them at will, but becomes fatigued in the process.

My answer to this, then, is to rely on the well-worn idea of spell points. In my games, these spell points definitely don't indicate some sort of mystical energy reserve, like mana (though that could be another potential niche system.) Rather, it's an abstract measure of the caster's mental wherewithal, much in the same way hit points are an abstract measure of a character's physical soundness.

Here is my posting on spell point rules from one of my online PbP games:

Spell Points

Wizard = Int + (Wis/2) + 1d6 per level

Cleric, Druid, Ranger = Wis + (Int/2) + 1d6 per level

Bard, Paladin, Sorcerer = Chr + (Wis/2) + 1d6 per level

Rather than the cast-and-forget magic system based on the books of Jack Vance, which every version of D&D uses to some extent, I found that this much more open system promoted more creative gameplay. Under a Vancian system, there are a lot of good spells that honestly just never get used since the circumstances where they might be more useful than something like a Fireball are rare enough that hardly anyone ever memorises them. I think this outweighs the 'interesting gameplay' factor of having to plan hours ahead for what spells you're likely to need for the day.

At first level, your spell point total is equal to your prime caster ability stat. In other words, Wisdom for clerics, Intelligence for mages, Charisma for a bard, etc. To that you add half your Constitution score. To that sum, you add half of your Wisdom score, unless it is your main casting stat, in which case you would add half your Intelligence.

Spell points are regained with complete rest, at the rate of 1 per hour.
Your 'main casting stat' is the one your class uses to determine whether you get bonus spells.

The ability that governs bonus spells depends on what type of spellcaster your character is: Intelligence for wizards; Wisdom for clerics, druids, and rangers; and Charisma for bards, paladins, and sorcerers.

If your bonus-spell-ability is high enough to get you bonus spells, this becomes bonus spellpoints instead.  You add the number of points it would take to cast the bonus spells allowed for your level.

How many points does it take to cast a spell?
Here's a quick list:
Level 1: 1 point
Level 2: 3 pts
Level 3: 6 pts
Level 4: 10 pts
Level 5: 15 pts
Level 6: 21 pts
Level 7: 28 pts
Level 8: 36 pts
Level 9: 45 pts

As you can see, it's the points required to cast the previous level spell, plus points equal to the current spell's level. Mathematically, it's the additive cumulative of the spell's level.

At first level, and when you gain a caster level, you gain 1d6 spell points, plus the general modifier from your main casting stat.

After using this system for many years in both low-level and mid-level games, I'm very happy with the results. High level spells are a huge deal to use. Low level spells can be tossed about fairly freely, but my caster players soon learned that it added up quicker than they expected. Wizard cantrips are 1 point each, not free. Any caster has to study their spells or pray daily, or they begin losing their detail and become dangerous to cast. Cure Light Wounds is the only real game-changer here, but in play it has never come even close to making the stylistic difference in the game engendered by healing surges.

In the end, my players still choose to play fighters, and feel satisfied in doing so. Players still end up dead, too. But the experience of magic in the game gels much more closely with what the players saw in their imagination.

I'll go on in the future to detail a lot of the other magic systems my players have run into, including what my players always enjoyed as a great take on the Dying Earth system.

15 October, 2010

Does a Shifter Weigh the Same as a Duck?

This place has been pretty quiet for a few days while I've been ruminating about Eberron. I've decided on Labyrinth Lord for the ruleset, and I'll be starting out with it totally stock, no house-rules going into it. I've also made some (fairly easy) decisions about some of the player races. They will all be available for players to choose from, just like in the standard setting material, but instead of using the Advanced LL rules (yet) I'll be casting them in the mold of other old-school demi-human classes.

As elves are to fighter/magic-user, so shall shifters be to fighter/thief. I'll be up front with people, however, that playing a shifter isn't going to go over well at all anywhere within the confines of Old Galifar. The reaction would range from 'pelted with produce' to 'public execution,' with a usual average somewhere around 'torch-wielding-mob.' They would be more characteristically realised within my version as the NPC cat-woman sorcerer of Conan's borderlands.

Warforged, if appearing as a player character, would fall into more of the dwarf class mold. They are fighters, with level limits mirroring dwarven advancement. Their immunities are more extensive, obviously, but these and their counterpart limitations are an inherent part of the setting. In my version, they were not produced in nearly as many numbers as in the official version of the setting. They just aren't that much better than human troops to justify the expense. If they didn't have free will, that'd be a different story. As it is, many see them as a novelty of the rich and a failed experiment of the military.

My main remaining decision is how to start out. Eberron provides an incredible variety of starting points for a party of adventurers, but I'd rather not start in a big city, like Sharn. Starting them as post-mourning amnesiacs injects a lot of iconic setting flavour into the campaign right from the start, but on the other hand might seem clichéd.

When trying to evoke a certain setting, I always like to include the setting's published adventures in one way or another. They often form the meat of a setting's character. However, the one first-level module I've found takes place in Sharn, which I'd like to avoid for a while.

Thus, I'm still nailing down the first adventure, but otherwise ready to go. Perhaps some of you out there have an idea of a good way to start!

08 October, 2010

My Hard Drive's Encumbrance

I've been fiddling around tons of art sites today. That's where I generally end up for inspiration for my game worlds, moreso than literature.

It looks like my upcoming Eberron play-by-post game is going to be a mixture of the following:
Warhammer FRP
Studio Ghibli (brobdingnagian airships, constructed servitors, the darker elements of Nausicaa, Castle in the Sky, and Howl)
Lovecraftian pseudomythology, and Dreamlands
Andy Brase
Chuck Lukacs
Vinod Rams
Andy Simmons
Philip Straub
Rico Holmes
American McGee's Alice
Brazil and other Gilliam works

In general, dark fantasy, both in tone and visualisation.

Airships in general are uncommon. The more sea-going ship and boat-like airships are a common example of this sort of vehicle, but definitely not the preferred type. They were the earliest sort, many of which were converted to air travel from actual maritime vessels. Much more preferred are the larger, sturdier, and fully enclosed sort typified by the works of Miyazaki, though lacking wings. This type are far louder in operation, however, due to the greater power and number of the constrained elementals, the abyssal moans and screams of whom can prove highly disquieting.

05 October, 2010

I'd Hit That

The combat rules in OD&D can be confusing. The idea presented in the 1974 Boxed Set is to use the Chainmail rules to run a typical round of fighting. This is a great indication that fighting really isn't intended to be a major integral part of DnD. As we all know though, you will end up meeting something that very much wants to kill you.

For my OD&D message board game, I wanted to distill the Chainmail combat turn down into an easily understood round of fighting for DnD, while keeping the written system. It had to be straightforward, since I'm not able to talk it over with the players in person. Here's what I came up with..

Firstly, two definitions:
Split-move & fire - Only certain units can do this, and usually only mounted units. It means being able to fire missile weapons while moving, and is simulated by moving half of one's move, firing, then moving the remainder of one's move.
Pass-through fire - This happens when someone moves into range of your missile weapons during their movement. If they are in range at the halfway point of their move, you can take a shot at them, as long as you're not moving this round.

1- Both sides roll a d6. The high roll gets to choose if they want to move first or wait to move.
2- Spellcasting begins.
3- The side moving first takes their move. If split-move&fire or pass-through applies to them, that missile fire is resolved at the halfway point of their movement.
4- The next side moves. If split-move&fire or pass-through applies to them, that missile fire is resolved at the halfway point of their movement.
5- All normal missile fire is resolved.
6- Any melee is resolved.
7- If an archer or longbowman has not moved, and isn't being meleed, they can take a 2nd shot now, unless they've already fired twice.
8- Spells go off.

- In steps 3 and 4 above, 'halfway point of their movement' does not mean half of their total possible movement rate. It means half of the distance they're actually moving. If the goblins are only 20 feet away, and headed toward you, your arrows hit them at 10 feet.
- Step 6, melee, has its own little order to follow. See below.

- In the Chainmail rules where it talks about one side being the attacker, that's going to be whichever side moved into melee. Another way of putting that is whichever side created the melee by moving into range on their movement turn. If you hold your movement, and your opponent advances into melee on you, they will be 'the attacker.'

- 1st Round: First blow is struck by
  • the attacker
  • the defender if they have a weapon two or more classes higher than the attacker (see melee notes)
  • the defender if they are physically above the attacker
- 2nd Round and afterward: First blow is struck by
  • the same side (attacker or defender) which struck first in round one, unless..
  • the opponent has a weapon which is two classes lower, or..
  • the opponent is physically above the side that struck first in round one
Melee Notes:
Here are the 'weapon classes' mentioned above.
Dagger, hand axe - 1
Mace, club - 3
Longsword - 4
Battle Axe (2 hand) - 5
Morning Star - 6
Flail - 7
Spear - 8
Pole arms - 9
Two Handed Sword - 10
Mounted Lance - 11
Pike 12

I love examples! Let's have one now!

Finnigan's red beard bristles as he locks eyes with a skeevy goblin named Gak, 30 feet away. Finnigan rolls a 5 for initiative, and Gak rolls a 2. Finnigan is standing in a doorway, though, so he stands his ground. Gak advances right at Finnigan with his mace, visions of dwarf brains dancing in his head!

When Gak is 15 feet away, Finnigan hurls his hand axe at the little rotter. Finnigan's aim isn't his strong point, and his hand axe spins over the goblin's head. Chin up Finn! The dwarf hefts his big two-handed axe.

Gak closes in and attacks, but with his smaller mace(3) he can't get past Finnigan's axe(5) before the dwarf has a chance to swing. Finnigan meets the goblin with whistling axe strokes (and rolls a 10) but only manages to score up Gak's shield a few times (abstract 1 minute rounds.)

Now Gak is inside the reach of Finnigan's big axe, and does his best to pummel the dwarf with his mace (rolling an 18 to attack and then a 3 for damage.) The goblin manages to batter Finnigan several times, wearing him down.

Ding! Round Two!

Finnigan ended up with first blow during round 1, but Gak's mace is still at least 2 sizes smaller than the battle axe, so now Gak, still inside the axe's advantage of reach, will get the first blow(s.) If Finnigan drops his axe and pulls out a longsword, he could keep his momentum and take first blow for this round as well. However, he has only his axe, and Gak gets to roll his attack.

Good luck Finnigan!

03 October, 2010

Yet Another Campaign

I'm running two play-by-post message board campaigns, and playing in two more. However, I'm still finding myself wanting more to do. Maybe.

I've got two ideas for things I'd like to explore:

  1. Eberron using OD&D or Moldvay rules (including something like Labyrinth Lord.)
  2. Tekumel using OD&D or Moldvay rules (including something like Labyrinth Lord.)

If either of these sounds like something you'd be interested in playing, please let me know in the comments. If enough would like to sign up, I already have a message board of my own set up for the purpose of PbP games. With either option, I would most likely start out with one of the in-setting starting level modules, from there spreading out into an open format.